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AFRICAN SAFARI NEWS

January 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 Kings Pool Camp in Botswana.
• 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 Seba Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Duba Plains Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Vumbura Plains in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Little Vumbura Camp 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.
• Monthly update from Ongava Lodge in Namibia.


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

January yielded 90mm and the vegetation is lush and green. The month has been very humid with hot, cloudy days. The min/max temperatures for the month averaged between 19 and 34°C.

January has been a quieter month for Tubu. We closed the camp for two weeks to do some maintenance, taking advantage of the quiet and getting down to the necessary tasks that are not possible with guests in camp. It mostly involves a lot of scrubbing, cleaning the canvas of the tents, cleaning the decks and fixing whatever needs fixing.

Misty morning at Tubu Tree

With the camp closed for half the month the guides did not get out much, however when they did, they were rewarded with good sightings of giraffe, zebra, tsessebe, kudu, warthog, wildebeest and impala, many of these still with young. We have a small herd of buffalo that is starting to be seen more regularly on Hunda - they were very skittish at first but are slowly becoming accustomed to having game viewers.

Two of the resident lions were viewed on a bushwalk, the guests managed to have a good view of the lions before they slunk off into the bush. On another occasion a male lion caught a baboon in front of camp. The baboon troop were moving across the floodplains having fed on the trees in camp, when one of the stragglers fell prey to a male lion that had been resting in the Tsaro palm island. A mother hyaena was seen at the beginning of the month with three young pups. We have not seen them since and think they must have moved their den site.

The young leopards have provided us with some great sightings. At the beginning of the month a young giraffe that had been looking rather poorly finally died not far from the airstrip. The carcass was quickly found by the Motseletsele female leopard and her two sub-adult cubs. They spent four or five days feeding off the remains of the young giraffe. The mother giraffe returned to the site several times over the first few days, leading to interesting interaction between the feeding leopards and distressed mother. One evening a breeding herd of elephant happened to pass the sighting and they showed some interest in the giraffe carcass but quickly moved off.

Warthog and Oxpecker

We have had many elephant sightings this month, of our regular breeding herd and then several small groups of bulls. One young and frustrated bull disturbed a leopard sighting one afternoon close to Kalahari Pans. Guests were busy enjoying the sight of a young leopard reclining on top of a termite mound in the afternoon sun, when they were rudely interrupted by the young bull who proceeded to trumpet and chase the leopard from the termite mound before turning around to flap his ears at the vehicle. The guide decided to leave the bull to his own devices and move on, leaving the bull trumpeting at the vanishing leopard.

The pool between the camp and the airstrip is finally drying up, the final few Barbel are being picked off by the Marabou Storks and Fish Eagles - up to six Fish Eagles have been seen feeding on the same carcass of a giant catfish. Other raptor sightings have been of Pallid Harrier, African Harrier Hawk, African Hawk Eagle, Gabar Goshawk, Dickinson's Kestrel, Red-necked Falcon, Lizard Buzzard and Shikra. Bleating Warbler, Yellow-billed Oxpecker, Greater Honeyguide, Diederik Cuckoo, Carmine Bee-Eater, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, White-browed Robin-Chat, Terrestrial Bulbul and Green Pigeon were also seen in and around camp.

Looking forward to seeing you out here!

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


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Kwetsani update - January 07                Jump to Kwetsani Camp
The New Year was seen under a starlight blanket as everyone was out and about looking for the family of lions as well as some of the elusive nocturnal species. What a fantastic start to 2007! The two lion cubs are still alive and growing every day. Even though there is some competition on the boundaries of the territory with the northern pride and the two older females to the east. They are becoming a little too brave sometimes and started off on their own to follow their mother on the hunt. This was not really a wise strategy, as the prey animals spread out further and further due to newer feeding areas becoming available. So to try and track down their mother they seem to have gotten lost as she went a long distance to hunt. They even had to sleep alone for one night but luckily everything turned out well and they were reunited with their mother the following day and no harm was done. Now they seem to stay where their mother leaves them and don't follow her on the hunting trip all the time. The skill of hunting will have to be learnt at a later stage. Looking for their food has been hard and the male and the two females with the cubs have crossed over to areas which are a little out of their territory but they need to go where the food can be found.

Lion cubs at Kwetsani

The Delta is looking wonderful at the moment as we have had fairly good rains this month - about 100mm - but we do hope that there is a lot more to come. The mornings are really spectacular with great sunrises and some really good misty mornings. The days build up for storms as only Africa provide but this not every day. This provides for spectacular sunsets coupled with a refreshing cocktail as it all unfolds before your eyes. The temperature has been really moderate for this time of the year with the days been on average in the mid-thirties and the nights cooling off to the early twenties.

Mist in the trees at Kwetsani

The grass is now very tall and very green. The trees and shrubs have shot up all over the place and the islands are great places to find good food. The animals are looking very healthy and most of them as well as the young of the warthogs, impala, red lechwe and even the occasional hippo outside the water are doing really well. The mokoros are still the main highlight and provides a real safe, unique and tranquil experience of the nature of the Okavango.

The Floodplain Leopard (Beauty) has been keeping herself well hidden and we have not had great viewing of her this month. In fact we have only seen her on two occasions. There was another leopard, a smaller one, seen around Kwetsani Camp island but she is however very shy and moved away as quickly as possible.

Elephant at Kwetsani

There is promise of a great flood this year but one can not really tell so far in advance as to where and how much of the water will go. No one has ever really been able to predict the flood exactly as the land is ever-changing. One does not always know all the factors and that's what makes it so exciting. Looking forward to a spectacular Okavango flood!

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Jao Camp update - January 07               Jump to Jao Camp

The heavens are yet to open up properly as we had only 72mm falling in January. The days have been very mild in comparison with last month with early morning being almost chilly with a thick cloud of mist hanging over the area like a blanket. We have seen a very dramatic drop in water and all the water channels are closing up fast only to be pushed open later in the year by the new floods. Speaking about floods we are all very excited about this year as the flood charts are looking very good, it all just depends now where the water will go? Will it flow east, central or west, we will see!

One of the most exciting sightings was the chase of old Vee (one of the local territorial male lions) by two younger males that have come onto the concession. Vee was walking towards a palm island where two unsuspecting younger male lions were lying and as soon as he smelt their scent he rampaged after them chasing them towards Jao floodplains. Shortly into the chase one of the younger males gathered some confidence, stopped and challenged Vee with the other male behind him, and so this became a game of cat and mouse with Vee being chased all the way down towards the floodplains. The unwitting younger males did not know that Vee was running towards Freddy who was mating with a female somewhere in the Jao floodplains and if they had to meet up the youngsters would be getting a big hiding. The reason for this remark was that these two young males were in such a pristine condition with not one scar and old Vee and Freddy, the professional fighters, look as if they were in a war! The two young cubs are still alive and well and sticking with the two females but we were worried that if those two big boys had to lose to the younger males the cubs would automatically be eliminated by the young males. It would be a shame if that had to happen.

Our resident female leopard has been scarce this month with only one good sighting. There is good reason for this as she now has a vast area to cover because of the water that receded so far. Two new youngsters are still along the Jacana route but very shy and hide away quickly when approached.

The baby boom is still on the go from last month, with exciting sightings for the guests. We now have 12 impala babies on our Jao Island. They have been very lucky in that the leopard has stayed off the Island since their arrival in the last four weeks! They are just the cutest little things! The banded mongoose have had their fair share of little ones as promised and they are just too adorable when running after mom constantly looking for something to eat.

The birding has been outstanding with the huge numbers of big waterfowl in the area. The waterholes around have been inundated with great numbers of Open-billed Storks, Red-winged Pratincoles as well as Crowned Plovers nesting close by. The Wattled Cranes and the Saddle-billed Storks were not far away. There has been good increase in Bee-eater numbers from the little to the European and then the Kingfishers were abundant with the Woodland being the most evident and vocal. With some isolated wild fires in the area it was amazing to see how the raptors react to the smoke and the fires, going into a feeding frenzy with the majority of the raptors being the Yellow-billed Storks joined by some Brown Snake Eagles and even a Fish Eagle or two.

The reptiles have been very active - we are seeing lots of crocodiles and water monitors. Snakes as always are few and far between but we are still seeing lots of harmless bush snakes.

Some comments we had from guests in the last month:
"Wonderful people paying attention to me and my surroundings. Lovely outdoor eating and dancing" - JH (California - USA)
"Your accommodations, courtesy, hospitality and incredible morale are only surpassed by the beautiful diverse game animals and the expertise of the guides. The staff here is world class, courteous and professional??Thank you" - JC (Boston - USA)
"Our highlight was the leopard with 2 cubs, eating from a giraffe with a full show most of the morning. Great place all round excellent staff, fantastic guide Victor" - P& M ( London - UK)

It is great having fun in the bush and even greater sharing it with people of the same mindset and interests. Hope to see all you African lovers soon at Jao.

JAO TEAM


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Seba Camp update - January 07               Jump to Seba Camp

The last month at Seba has seen some major changes in the environment and however much we expect them at this time of the year; they are always both welcome and exciting. This is a time of rain, and rain in the Delta means life. Early in November we saw the impalas drop their lambs and now at the end of January the young ones have lost their gangly legs and are beautiful miniature adults. The wildebeest calves were born in late December and they are so unlike their dark mothers, being a soft fawn, with long floppy ears, looking more like donkeys than wildebeest.

The Acacia trees blossomed over Christmas and the bush was full of the butter-yellow balls of Acacia tortilis and the creamy lambs-tails of Acacia fleckii whilst the exquisite red and yellow flowers of the Flame Lily were seen climbing over the undergrowth. Over all of this budding greenness came the millions of brown-veined whites, a butterfly that migrates across the Delta at this time of the year. Day after day we saw them moving eastwards, looking more like a snowstorm than insects on the move.

Mid-January saw the beginning of the major rains and with it came the mushrooms; creamy white, delicious fungi that push up out of the many termite mounds overnight. We collected them and cooked them for supper. Another food source after the rains are the billions of termites that emerge to mate and leave piles of delicate wings around every path-light. The camp suddenly seemed full of birds making the most of this feast - our banded mongooses, squirrels and local genet family all have potbellies.

Whilst all this life was coming into camp the collared elephants were leaving and although it is sad not to have them so close to camp for our daily studies, it is wonderful to know that they are roaming out there in the bush, free and doing what wild elephants should. Mafunyane (20 years old this year) has wandered way off to the west of the concession and when we followed him, having been provided with his location from the satellite collar, we found him in the company of Aristotle an older bull. Thando has moved back up north-west of Seba Camp, between Jao and Tubu Tree Camp, and was last seen from the aircraft in a breeding herd of 20 elephants. Seba, the youngest radio-collared elephant of 13 years, has really been on the move and almost visited Maun! He has been around 60km south-east of Seba Camp, a long way from home and close to the buffalo fence, but with a breeding herd of around 40 animals.

Nandipa continues to elude us since she lost her collar last year but we had a brief sighting of her and her little calf, Ntongine, over Christmas (a present for us all!) and both were looking fit and healthy. Since the rain started we have not had so many wild elephants around and the breeding herds have virtually disappeared but we do occasionally see some of the wild bulls and yesterday a group of eight wild males came right to Seba Camp to visit.

We have not seen the cheetah family or the wild dogs for a while but have had Lea (our lioness mother) with her four grown-up cubs around camp, plus a new visitor of a lioness with two tiny cubs. The hyaena den had three cubs in it before Christmas; one had all its spots and was around six months whilst the other two still had the gorgeous chocolate-brown coat they are born with.

So life at Seba continues to grow and change, just as it should at this time in the Delta!


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Duba Plains Camp update - January 07               Jump to Duba Plains Camp

15 December - 15 January
First of all, we at Duba wish all our readers and previous guests a fantastic new year. We'd like as well to thank the fast growing number of people asking for news and regular updates on the Duba wildlife population.

Over this festive season, the Plains of Duba have definitely been a "place of plenty". Buffalo cows are dropping their calves, turning the area into a giant "kindergarten." The boom has of course played into the lion's paws, but it has not all been plain sailing, with buffalo confidence at high levels after several retaliations and rescues of calves resulting in slightly wounded lions.

On Christmas Eve, near Makwelekwele, several lionesses of the Tsaro Pride were spotted harassing the buffalo herd. An attack was finally launched on a big bull. These impressive beasts are not easy targets, with high levels of testosterone and adrenalin combining to make them an enormous challenge to even large lion prides, fighting all the way until their final breath. This is exactly what happened on this occasion, with one of the lionesses being wounded in the process and leaving the male limping. Nonetheless, she will recover and the 800kg carcass represented a Christmas windfall for the pride.

The first days of January were unexpectedly successful for the Tsaro Pride. We had guests at the time who were on their first African safari and every single one of their game drives was highlighted by phenomenal interactions. On their first morning game drive, south of Lion Pan, the lions pulled down a buffalo calf. The whole pride, including the Duba Boys, participated in the hunt. Very confident with the presence of the two males, the kill was supposed to be an easy task and the pride settled over the downed calf, almost ignoring the herd. Two big bulls had different ideas though and charged back, horning one of the Duba Boys who leapt into the air before finally disappearing under a bush in panic! The young buffalo down on the ground had his spine broken and was distress calling. The herd bounded together even more, before finally accepting the fatality of the challenge and abandoning the calf him to the big cats after a long hour of agony.

On their second game drive, near Nwoka Island, a lone lioness attempted to kill a buffalo cow. Once again the herd teamed up, challenging her and allowing her erstwhile prey to regain its feet and disappear in the middle of the protective wall of horns. The rest of the pride then joined in the hunt and the chase started again, the Tsaro Pride managing to bring down another cow, which this time did not enjoy a successful rescue attempt by the rest of the herd.

And on their third game drive, another spectacular kill happened. This time only the lionesses made the kill of a pregnant buffalo cow, the Duba Boys observing from a distance. With two lionesses clamping their jaws over the cow's throat and nostrils, it didn't take her long to die and immediately the feeding frenzy began. Although lions are gregarious, social and affectionate most of the time, when it comes to food they behave like vicious enemies, growling loudly, fearlessly fighting over their meals.

And to finish on a positive note for the future...we recently located two new sets of adorable cubs which we hope will perpetuate the future of the Tsaro Pride. The previous litters have unfortunately disappeared once again, but these new arrivals are getting stronger day by day.

It's not all about lion and buffalo however. The migrant birds have thrilled all and sundry the regularly seen aardwolf's cubs have now left the protection of their den to live their own independent lives!

Francois Savigny at Duba


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Vumbura Plains update - January 07               Jump to Vumbura Camps
The past month has been dynamic in terms of animal movements, weather and charismatic species consistency.

Weather
The mean maximum temperature for the month was 31°C (a low of 24°C and a high 34°C). The month was relatively mild with only five days of the month reaching 34. The mean minimum was 19.5°C (a low of 12°C and a high of 23°C). We still receive classic thundershowers in the afternoon, but much less compared to those earlier in the month; however 70% of the month was associated with overcast and/or partly cloudy conditions with a gentle breeze.

Mammals
The elephants are now tending to spend longer periods in the immediate vicinity of the camp. The herds that come to drink are very nervous of noises coming from the camp, this being an indication that they are moving in from areas in the north, far from people. The smaller pans to the north and north-west are mostly just mud wallows now so this is probably another reason for now seeing more herds daily.

The best thing about the elephants in camp is their unwavering punctuality with guest arrivals and departures. Along with their refresher towels and welcome drinks, guests get the elephant welcome parties - these first impressions are priceless! The guests have also had some unforgettable experiences with elephants at close quarters and family group interactions at mud baths and swimming parties.

Buffalo have been somewhat scarce with two relatively large herds out in the Appleleaf country, making up the five sightings for the month. The most suitable habitat and grazing for them this time of the year is in the Mopane and Kalahari Appleleaf woodlands; in time they will move back into the traversing areas around camp.

There were some interesting movements in the lion world of the Kwedi. Two new females with three cubs appeared unannounced. A pride that the guides have never seen before, the general assumption is that they may have come out of the far north or one of the neighbouring hunting areas. Sightings of these lions are so far inconsistent.

The pride known as the Big Red females and the Kubu Boys (two adult males and two adult females with their cubs) were last seen in the early part of the month and are probably not moving over extended areas due to the demands of the cubs. The two adult males are magnificent specimens and are the most impressive sightings for guests lucky enough to see them. We are holding thumbs that they will move back to their old haunts. Maybe when the cubs grow up a bit these lions might spend more time in areas accessible to guides, providing some competition for the more frequently viewed Kubu Pride. The Kubu Pride is made up of three adult females, their cubs and four sub-adult males, and they have been on the track of a few small buffalo herds that came into the northern areas of the concessions during the month. The Xugana males from the east were present on a number of mornings at the North Lagoon, and seem to be extending their range.

The leopards that frequent the game drive areas have maintained their elusive nature and sightings have been very limited. The Selonyana female made an appearance at North Camp on the 13th but has not been seen with any consistency since. The leopards are definitely still around as the guides get tracks almost every afternoon, but have difficulty in locating them through dense bush and long grass. The common thought is that Big Boy (Dominant Male) is spending his time with another unidentified female to the east of camp. Two younger leopards move through the area from time to time but these two are also low-profile characters and possibly not quite accustomed to vehicles and people yet.

Hyena den at Vumbura

The hyaena dens continue to entertain the guest and staff alike. There are two den sites approachable on game drive: one on Tutwa Road coming from the airstrip and the other north of North camp on Ronnie's Road. The Tutwa Road den only has one young female pup whereas the Ronnie's Road den has five pups all of similar age and four adults.

Cheetah have certainly come to party this month with guests being fortunate enough on two occasions to witness kills, one of impala and another right in front of the vehicle of a tsessebe. Vuka, a large male, is frequently spotted in the vast open floodplains to the south-west of the airstrip. Sightings were very productive at one stage with the Vuka male being found twice a day. This particular cheetah is magnificent.

Cheetah at Vumbura

As far as other species are concerned zebra every now and then move in huge numbers through the area around the airstrip providing a kaleidoscope effect for the guest, sable are spotted with uniform regularity and here again a few youngsters are around. A large herd of 34 sable was sighted early in the month, but these large herds spend their time in the north-east. Most plains game are now finished with dropping youngsters and some of the impala are already weaned; however saying that there are a few 'laat lammetjies' (late arrivals) still appearing here and there.

Birds
Vumbura is a hive of activity for the more scarce waterfowl including African Skimmers, Black-winged Pratincoles and Slaty Egrets. Wattled Cranes have been seen in gatherings of up to 6 around the main pan. The Yellow-billed Kites seem to be moving out slowly or have started hunting other prey, like frogs or insects in areas away from the vicinity of the camps. A group of Ground Hornbills visit the North Camp lagoon about twice weekly. The birds are also deep into the love season, with Green Pigeon, Paradise Flycatcher, Red-billed Francolin, Kurrichane Thrush and Black-headed Oriole raising their broods within camp confines.

Aquatic
The floodplains are all dry now and these areas are drawing large numbers of grazers making beautiful vistas. The lights around camp are swarmed by thousands of mayflies at night and in the late afternoon the fish activity in front of the camp is quite spectacular.

Gatherings of up to 100 dragonflies frequent the North Camp main area deck in the afternoon and then move down to the water to lay their eggs. Numerous flies get taken by bream, which perform technical aerial manoeuvres to snatch the flies from the air. The bream are finished constructing their neat little bowls for breeding and depositing eggs and nesting fry. The nests are very close to the bank, possibly to avoid predation from barbel; however the elephant herds do severe damage by walking over the nests. The fish in the bigger channels have become very inactive, both in feeding and movement, this is probably due to fewer and fewer bait fish entering the system off draining floodplains, another thought could be the waters are now very low and water temperatures are dropping. Tigerfish seem to be moving away from Pipi Island. The pike are in a bit of a lull at the moment and don't seem to be very active. Large-mouth bream are almost completely inactive, making up a tiny percentage of the catch.

Shifting seasons, particularly from summer through autumn and into winter is always a very interesting time as there is a lot of new life and a lot of changes across all eco-spheres. We are still in a dynamic part of the year and we look forward to experiencing the jewels of life the Delta has to offer. We are all waiting for the big flood and can't wait to see if the open oval pan behind camp will become an inundated floodplain by June.

Compiled by G.C. Corbett

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Little Vumbura Camp update - January 07               Jump to Little Vumbura Camp

Elephants at Little VumburaThe festive season in the bush is generally always - festive! With the rains falling, the herbivores have plenty to eat - and with their babies dropping too, so do the predators. After a fairly dry start to the month 120mm of rain fell in three days to quench the area. This was the only rain to fall during the month but it was enough to boost the growth in the bush. This meant that game drives, boating, mokoros and walks were unhindered during the whole month, apart from one wet afternoon. Christmas was celebrated in traditional style with turkey and gammon. The New Year was celebrated in unique Little Vumbura style - each guest was given an empty egg and a piece of paper to write their wish for 2007. The paper was rolled up and sealed inside the egg, and thrown into the Okavango Delta to be carried to some magical place. The champagne flowed at 12-00 and we were all treated to a Greek New Year's wish sung by the Antoniadis family.

The month has been an exceptional one with regards to game viewing with large numbers of young animals being seen. The birding has also been incredible with all of the migrant species now present and being seen in huge numbers. The rains arrived midway through the month and the temporary pans and waterholes are all once again full and the vegetation lush and green. This makes such a dramatic change from the dry brown landscapes seen here in the dry season.

There have been some new additions to the resident lion prides with a total of nine new cubs being born over the last four months.

The Big Red Females, who are two beautiful lionesses from the west of the concession, have both given birth to cubs. The younger lioness gave birth to two male cubs in September. These two cubs are healthy and very much part of the pride now. The older lioness, which had lost her previous litter to the dominant male leopard, has four new cubs. These little lions are about three months old now and all seem to be healthy.

The "Kubu Pride", consisting of the three adult lionesses and four sub-adult male lions now has three new additions. These three little lionesses are approximately three months old and have been seen regularly with the main pride.

Kubu cubs at Little Vumbura     Older cubs at Little Vumbura

One of the highlights of this months viewing was of the Big Red Females out near the Hippo Pools. They had been feeding on a huge crocodile which in itself was an amazing sighting. The crocodile was very large, measuring approximately four metres and must have weighed in excess of 400 kilograms; we are still unsure if the lionesses actually killed it. Both lionesses had been seen along with the two older cubs, all feeding on the carcass over a period of three days.

We had been to the sighting the day before and had seen no sign of the lions although there was still plenty of meat left on the crocodile carcass and decided to return the next day to try our luck again. Not expecting to find the lionesses, it was a huge and very welcome surprise to find not only the two lionesses and the two older cubs but four new cubs suckling and playing around their mother. These lion cubs had never been seen before and they entertained us for over two hours with their antics.

However on the return to this area the following day we found the lionesses asleep but no sign of the cubs. It was only a commotion that alerted us to their presence. The cubs had been resting under a Wild Date Palm thicket. It was with some dismay that we saw the cause of the commotion, a 3-metre black mamba! We had our fears confirmed when only two of the smaller cubs appeared. We spent the entire afternoon with the lions with still no sign of the other two cubs and left just after sunset.

We all agreed that the cubs had been killed by the snake and without any further sightings of the lionesses or the cubs for the following week we resigned ourselves to the fact that the lion pride was now down to six members. Lion cub mortality is exceptionally high especially within their first year and although unfortunate it is something we all accept. So it was with lots of excitement that Kay arrived back in camp after an evening drive to report that he had found the entire pride including all four young cubs! So there is a happy ending to this story. The cubs are all doing well and over the month provided us with some wonderful sightings and as of now they are all healthy and becoming a big part of our safari area.

As for the Kubu Pride, they have been concentrating their activities around the Zambezi Pan area. The three new cubs were first seen moving around with the pride in the beginning of the month and have provided us with some fantastic viewing as some of the photographs will show you.

We have also had the pack of African wild dogs in the concession over the month and one of the best sightings we had of them was late one afternoon while following them through the Kgokong Loop area. They were looking for prey and being an open area it was a treat to watch these long-legged canines moving through the plains. They did have more company than the game drive vehicle - in the form of a spotted hyaena. The hyaena, realising that the dogs were hunting, loped on behind them almost assured of a meal if he could keep up with the dogs. The dogs had other ideas though and following the lead of the alpha male all rushed at the hyaena biting him on the rear and badgering him. All the hyaena could do was try and protect his rather vulnerable behind by backing up against a large termite mound and fending of the nimble dogs with vicious growls and its powerful jaws.

The male cheetah has been seen regularly and has been relishing the baby boom in the bush at the moment. He was seen feeding on impala lambs, tsessebe calves and a wildebeest calf during the month. It is always a great sighting to see this graceful cat sitting on a termite mound scanning the horizon for a meal.

Male cheetah at Little Vumbura     Sunset at Vumbura

As mentioned before the birding has been amazing, we have had a number of Pel's Fishing Owl sightings over the month including seeing three in 24 hours. These large ginger owls are very secretive and a great tick on any birder's list. We have also had large numbers of Wattled Cranes and Slaty Egrets moving around the drying channels foraging for food. One of the birding highlights was the presence of a Rosy-Throated Longclaw, which we managed to see on three different occasions. The diversity of birdlife in the area was shown when tallying up the number of birds seen during a three night stay by guests who had seen 160 different birds.

All in all a great month and with the renovations happening early on in the New Year Little Vumbura can only get better and better! Season Greetings from the Little Vumbura Guiding Team

Early January:
On the 6th of January 2007, the last guests left Little Vumbura for the last time - their will be no arrivals until April. Two days later, it was impossible not to shed a tear for this amazing camp that so many Wilderness Safaris employees have called home over the last 9 years. The building team moved in and due to the fact that all WS camps are built with minimal permanent structures, the camp was demolished in no time. However, all sites were impressively cleared of all foreign material and the new Little Vumbura is growing fast. Watch this space for further progress.

Best wishes for 2007,
Rohan, Molly, Dardley and Eva


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South Africa camps
Pafuri Camp Newsletter - January 07                  Jump to Pafuri Camp
Although the 56mm of rain we received in January has largely transformed the Makuleke Concession into lush greenery, there are still some areas on the concession that are very dry and in desperate need of rain. The grazing is relatively good however and the young antelope, especially the impala lambs, are doing well.

The Limpopo River is not flowing nearly as strongly as it did this time last year, in fact it's very low, but still a stunning sight that is attracting a lot of water birds and game to its banks. Crooks Corner is still a hive of activity with crocs, hippo, and a wide variety of birds. There's now only one small section of the Luvuvhu still flowing into the Limpopo, so what remains between the two rivers is one large sandy beach which is ideal for birdwatching and game viewing from the high and well-sheltered river bank.

The drive west of camp along the Luvuvhu River heading towards Mangala is still proving to be full of surprises. With its beautiful views of the river to the left and Hutwini Mountain to the right, you just never know what might be around the next bend. We have encountered large breeding herds of buffalo crossing the road and making their way down to the river several times this month. I have also come around a bend and met with an old male lion that is continuously marking his territory in this area.

Two nights ago Colleen and I were driving home from the camp and came across a baby porcupine that was just walking casually down the road towards us. Even when I stopped the vehicle and dimmed the lights he was not fazed in the least as he went about his business. What a great sighting.

There is a section of this road that winds its way for a short distance through a forest of winterthorn trees, and it was in these trees, around about the middle of the month that we had an excellent sighting of a Pel's Fishing Owl. An exceptional sighting this month was an influx of raptors attracted by termite emergences. At one stage there must have been easily 70-100 raptors spread along the whole length on our airstrip - Lesser Spotted Eagles, Wahlberg's Eagles, Tawny Eagles, also including Woolly-necked Storks, Black Storks, Marabou Storks, White-backed Vultures and Lappet-faced Vultures: A truly special sighting.

Some of the month's highlights:
1) Three bushpigs sighted on Rhino Boma Road north of camp.
2) A springhare that was sighted one evening near the airstrip.
3) An excellent sighting of a male Pennant-winged Nightjar on the 5th of the month.
4) 20 Open-billed Storks south of the airstrip.
5) A sighting of a baboon killing an impala lamb in front of the lodge on the 15th.
6) A second Racket-tailed Roller nest (only the second for South Africa) was discovered by Simon, our head guide, on the 11th of the month.
7) A herd of about 20 eland was sighted at Mangeba Pan on the 12th.
8) Two lionesses with 6 sub-adults were seen hunting baboon right near camp on the 14th.
9) On the 17th of the month two sable antelope cows were seen near Palm Vlei.

Mammals
Despite the breeding herds moving off into Zimbabwe and further south into Kruger as they do at this time of year we continued to see elephant bulls in groups of up to three during January. Herds of buffalo, blue wildebeest Burchell's zebra, waterbuck, kudu and nyala were seen on a regular basis as well as the smaller species such as bushbuck, steenbok, grey duiker and klipspringer. Some of the local specials such as bushpig, Sharpe's grysbok, eland, springhare, sable antelope and yellow-spotted rock dassie also excited our guests and guides, and the smaller nocturnal mammals always caused a stir when seen: porcupine, black-backed jackal, white-tailed mongoose, caracal, African civet, large spotted genet and African wildcat. Lion viewing was good with sightings every other day during the month of a core group of the Pafuri Pride consisting of the old male, two lionesses and 6 sub-adults. Leopard were seen less regularly with sporadic sightings of a large male on the Luvuvhu Bridge and a female at Mangala.

Birds
We have had 246 recorded species this month, including: Black, Woolly-necked, and Saddle-billed Storks, African Spoonbill, Racket-tailed Roller, Southern Carmine Bee-eater, Grey-headed Parrot, Black Crake, Three-banded Courser and of course our great sightings of the Pel's Fishing Owl.

Climate
Average minimum temperature: 23.4°C
Average maximum temperature: 36.7°C
Rainfall: 56mm.

Geoff Mullen

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

New Year greetings from an alive and buzzing Rocktail Bay Lodge!

We have had the most fabulous start to 2007: Marvellous sightings of mother turtles, an abundance of adoptions, and our most special event of the month, of course, our first glimpses of adorable Loggerhead hatchlings!

Gugu spotted our first nest of hatching Loggerhead babies on the 7th of January, just south of Rocktail Bay at pole 56. This is much earlier than last year, when we only spotted our first hatchlings on the 19th of January. Since then we have seen Loggerhead hatchlings from a total of 18 nests. We also came across a Leatherback nest that had already hatched, and all that remained of the hatchlings were their tiny little tracks heading seaward. Seeing these tiny little beings just makes you wonder how ANY of them survive out there in that big rough ocean - it is truly only the magic of Mother Nature.

While some eggs were already hatching, plenty of mothers were still coming up to lay their eggs. The first drive of the year was a very wet and stormy one, but this did not deter one little Loggerhead from coming up to lay her eggs. The group of guests looked on as Mbongeni measured the first turtle of 2007. On closer inspection, Mbongeni saw that she had already been tagged with tag number ZARR555, and she measured 83cm long by 62cm wide. On arrival back at the lodge, we looked into our data and found that she had been tagged on the 30th of December 2006. Unbelievably, on the night of the 3rd of January, who should we bump into again nesting on the beach - ZARR555. Amazingly, this turtle was found to have successfully nested three times within five days - that's a lot of work for one mother! The team here at Rocktail have nicknamed her "Busy Bee", unofficially however as she has not been adopted yet.

Overall through the season, we have had an amazing interest in our 'Adopt a Turtle' project, where 68 turtles have found loving families. We still have many turtles, such as 'Busy Bee', waiting to be adopted of course and if any of you are interested in adopting a Rocktail Leatherback or Loggerhead Turtle, see the details at the bottom of the newsletter.

Our largest Leatherback of the month was spotted in the wee hours of the morning on the 26th of January. The time was 03H55 to be exact when Gugu and Chris came across her on Lala Nek beach. Gugu micro-chipped and then measured her - an amazing 1.73m long by 1.2m wide. That's one big mother!

Our smallest turtle of the month was seen on the 11th of January, also in the early hours of the morning, at 03H25 to be exact. Gugu was also the researcher that night, and they came across her while driving down Mabibi beach. Gugu tagged her, and then measured her in at 70cm long by 59cm wide. Maria, Connor, Darren and Niamh Madden totally fell in love with her, and adopted her and christened her Eabha (the Irish equivalent of Eva).

In total over the month of January 2007, we have had 51 successful Loggerhead nests, as well as 16 successful Leatherback nests. For the season, up until the end of January we have seen and recorded 230 successful Loggerhead nests and 78 successful Leatherback nests. We also had a total of 17 turtles adopted through the month of January, and we would like to thank everyone who welcomed a turtle into their family.

We are now moving into the quieter time of the season. Sightings of mother turtles should start slowing down, while sightings of hatchlings should increase.

Here's hoping you all have a fantastic month,
Andrew, Shannon, Simon, Gugu, Mbongeni and
The Rocktail Bay Lodge Team


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Rocktail Bay Dive Newsletter - January 07                  Jump to Rocktail Bay Lodge
It's that time of the month again where you receive an update on everything that has happened over the past month at your favourite diving destination. Another amazing month of summer weather has passed, sunny, hot and humid with two or three cloudy days. We got some relief at the end of the month when a south-westerly wind brought in cloudy and overcast weather with some rain, cooling us down.

Water temperature hovered at a pleasant 25 - 27°C for most of the month. The odd drop in temperature was due to too much north-easterly wind, which tends to drop the visibility and the temperature at the same time. We then wait patiently for a south-westerly to blow; this is the 'doctor' wind, bringing in warm clean water.

The sightings were always good, even on days when visibility wasn't the greatest. The low visibility meant that there was a lot of food in the water and therefore a lot of fish life feeding midwater, hunting on the reef and being hunted. On a dive at Gogos a Grey Reef Shark was observed being followed closely by four Potato Bass as it hunted along the reef. More than likely the Bass were hoping he would flush a fish out the reef and they would get an easy meal. Bluefin and Blacktip Kingfish followed us around on dives darting out in front of us every now and then in the hopes of catching something. Some were seen chasing a free-swimming Geometric Eel back into a hole; others chased an octopus across the reef until he found a hole to slip into. Every reef has been alive with activity.

We have seen Clown Triggerfish, juvenile Razor Wrasse, Lionfish, Paperfish, many different snappers including Black Snappers (Black Beauties), Crayfish and Porcelain Crabs. Juvenile Scorpionfish no more than 6cm big were spotted on more than one occasion, which is small as some of the adults we see are up to 30cm in length.

Dives at Aerial produced some rare sightings: A small Ghost Pipefish floating around between the seaweed. The Pineapplefish has continued to hang around in his cave but he has had some other company in the cave besides the sweepers and us. There has been a big Marbled Electric Ray barely visible under the sand, a Potato Bass and Round Ribbontail Stingrays as well. Seems like everyone wants a piece of his real estate on the reef! On our last two visits to the cave we couldn't even go down into it because of the huge Round Ribbontail Stingray that had decided to make the cave her home.

Ray sightings are on the increase with the warm water. Ribbontails Sharpnose, Bluespotted and Honeycomb Stingrays have been seen on most dives. On low visibility dives Honeycomb Stingrays are hard to spot as they lie on the edge of the reef on the sand. A Devil Ray circled below us during a safety stop on Pineapple. He swam up a bit a few times to take a look at us. We even spent some extra time on our safety stop to see if he would move off, but he stayed with us the whole time.

Turtle season continues and the first groups of hatchlings have been seen heading for the ocean. On one cloudy day we had a surprise sighting. As we were driving down to the launch site for our first dive of the day we saw Loggerhead turtle hatchlings heading down the beach. We stopped the vehicles and watched as the last of them passed in front of us and headed out to sea. Large female Loggerhead turtles are still seen sleeping under ledges waiting for nightfall so they can go ashore to lay their eggs. A Hawksbill Turtle followed us around the reef the entire duration of one dive. On some dives Loggerhead or Green turtles would swim right up to us to investigate. A lot of turtles have also been seen on the surface. On the 10th while the Bunger family was scuba diving, son Jethro got the chance of a lifetime to snorkel with a giant Leatherback turtle! This is something only a handful of people have experienced.

The mother Raggedtooth Sharks are still with us and on the increase. The most we have sighted on one day was 16. Raggie dives have been brilliant with the sharks coming right up to us so we can see the sand on their bodies and even the algae growing on some of the shark's teeth! Snorkellers have also had lovely sightings of the Raggies viewing them from above as they loll around the reef. Snorkellers have also been lucky to see some Blacktip Sharks zipping in and out around them, whilst they watch the Raggies. Formations of beautiful Eagle Rays were also seen in that area.

During the summer months there is an increase of Blacktip and Gray Reef Shark sightings. On a dive at Regal divers were fascinated watching a Whitetip Reef Shark getting his teeth cleaned by Cleaner Wrasse. The shark approached the cleaning station slowing down as much as possible mouth wide open so that the little guys could get their job done.

Bloodsnapper is our deep dive at 50m. It is not often dived as you need perfect conditions, no current and good visibility. Willem and Jacqui Wessels were keen on the dive even though the current seemed a bit strong. When we got to the bottom there was a thermocline at 35m and we didn't get to see much of the reef. But as with all deep dives the dive is only over when you get on the boat. As we ascended a Zambezi Shark circled below us for the rest of the dive. While our attention was riveted on the Zambezi a shoal of nine Blacktip Sharks came in for a look as well. They swam towards us but every time we looked in their direction they swam off quickly in the other direction. The one shark they really wanted to see they saw on their last day, a beautiful 6m female Whaleshark.

As always the dolphins stole the show interacting with the snorkellers. Lekion our boat assistant could not resist reaching out and touching one as they played around him. The grin on his face told a thousand words. While the divers were diving at Aerial Darryl saw a large school of Spinner dolphins approaching Island Rock from out to sea. There were about 150 of them in the school and they were just hanging around in the bay, performing their characteristic spinning jumps. A rare sight as these are ocean-going animals and not often seen this close to shore. The divers were serenaded with clicks and squeaks but unfortunately were not close enough to see the show.

All in all, a great start to the New Year!

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

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Namibia camps
Serra Cafema Camp Newsletter - January 07                  Jump to Serra Cafema Camp
With time and water everything changes.

Indeed, and the longer the time, the more the change. Take the Kunene Valley in northern Namibia. Forged, carved and shaped by frozen glaciers, charging water and incising streams for millions of years, the Kunene Valley stands as it is today. Millions of years have seen a landscape transformed and a narrow linear oasis now defies the oldest desert in the world. The living desert has a perennial, flowing, living ecosystem running through its northern extreme, traversing canyon and sand sea and eventually spewing life, nutrients and colour into the Atlantic's Benguela current. The Kunene is a wonder of the Namib and in the summer months as the water level rises, a new wonder of change is witnessed, not one that takes millions of years, but a transformation that occurs as you watch, an unexpected change: In minutes and hours, a rebirth of life on earth in super fast-forward.

Namibian coast near Serra Cafema

As the waters from the southern Angolan highlands cascade down into the Kunene catchments, a river takes shape that after tumbling over the bare Ruacana rock face, heads due west and into the northern Namib Desert. Steep and unforgiving canyon sides seem to steer the water westwards and for a large part of its travel to the Atlantic, the river is completely confined by sheer exposed sterile rock. Intermittently however, the rock recedes and floodplains with lush vegetation interpose. Here life abounds. Huge acacias, makalani palm trees, salvadora bushes and reed beds host, shelter and hide a surprising diversity of wildlife, some so endemic that they occur along the Kunene and nowhere else in the world - such as the Cinderella Waxbill.

However, it is the summer months and following particularly good rainfall in the distant Angolan highlands that a true explosion of life graces the Kunene valley.

At Serra Cafema camp, a spectacular floodplain lies between desert dunes, canyon rock and the flowing river. For the most part of each year the river is confined to its traditional confined course but with the distant rains, it begins to explore a new seasonal territory and fingers of water creep into the floodplain. Here a dormant giant of nutrients, latent life and new territory awaits. Within hours, even minutes, a completely new ecosystem awakens and springs to life. Arrival of life follows the traditional path from invisible and small upwards along the scale of morphology. You can actually sit back and watch it happen. Schools of small fish invade previously dry mudflats; schools of larger fish follow and so on until even large Kunene crocodiles move in to savour the new feeding grounds. Pygmy Kingfishers, less than half the size of the freshwater prawns below, seem particularly active, taking advantage of the new fast-food outlet. Birds of prey, rodents, snakes and non-human primates all follow. Dormant seeds germinate and a desert floodplain blossoms in the afternoon of a summer of plenty. Although a-seasonal, this section of desert borrows this hectic season of plentiful from seasonal highlands and when the rain stops, life retreats once more to the river. But the floodplains are now recharged and a peaceful dormancy prevails once more - waiting.

Such is a summer in northern Namibia where the mighty Kunene slices through the desert. But the Kunene's summer bounty has one more vital function. Floodplain nutrients, plant debris and life are hurtled into the Atlantic at the Kunene mouth and here again a separate ecosystem is maintained. Freshwater terrapins, marine turtles, enormous crocodiles and sharks abound in a sea of plenty, all fed by a dynamic inland system. The chocolate-coloured fresh water pushes deep into the blue-green ocean, forming a huge arc, a strangely coloured mix of sea and fresh water, and in so doing the Kunene delivers a final gift of summer to the planet.

Conrad Brain

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Ongava Lodge Newsletter - January 07                  Jump to Ongava Lodge

Andrew in the Hide

I am frequently asked by guests if in my wildlife veterinary work it is satisfying to treat individual animals. The answer must be 'yes' but the fact of the matter is that in the wildlife sphere, we don't look so much at the individual but at the population. Success is measured not by recovery of an individual, but rather at the contribution of that individual to the herd, flock, pride, clan or group it belongs to. These results are not immediate but you definitely reap what you sow and just the other day this was made graphically clear to me at Ongava Game Reserve.

Andrew is an Irishman and he and his wife were spending their last night in Namibia at Ongava Lodge. Their Namibian travels had taken them to Serra Cafema, Sossusvlei and Damaraland Camp and the next day I was flying them to Windhoek International. He beamed excitedly, as only the Irish can do, about the trip so far and how he wanted to take some iced water, a bottle of white wine and himself into the hide at Ongava Lodge waterhole and pass the late afternoon away. Leon, the GM at Ongava, walked him into the hide and returned to where I and other guests were sitting on the deck overlooking the waterhole and the hide. It was a calm peaceful African afternoon and soon the Double-banded Sandgrouse would be appearing with their sunset chorus. The little hide looked tiny, inconsequential and peaceful; we could almost hear the ice tinkle in the glass as Andrew poured his sundowner.

Then everything started to change. Appearing out of the Mopane and almost brushing against the hide, a white rhino cow and calf noisily strutted to the waterhole. We all started to imagine what Andrew was doing - perhaps knocking his glass over as his view was obscured by a massive piece of rhino hide. With typical rhino antics the cow and calf put on a theatrical display before melting into the Mopane once again. Two giraffe also watched the rhino and on their departure approached the water to drink - but alas it was not to be. Three black rhino stumbled in chasing the giraffe off a few metres. Then two more black rhino appeared and both had small calves. Seven black rhino in one frame and unbelievably a half-size sub-adult calf then also joined the seven. From the deck we were able to identify the rhino and simply watch a spectacle that is probably one of the rarest scenes on Earth.

Also watching was a small herd of black-faced impala, three warthog, two Spotted Eagle Owls and around 500 Double-banded Sandgrouse, all displaced by eight black rhino! Andrew was of course also watching - from only a few metres away, a voyeur to an event very few ever see.

It then struck me. Over the past decade and a half I had caught, handled or treated almost every rhino in front of us. Some had been wounded, some caught in wire, some simply needed to be marked and some just seemed unwell. But what we were seeing was not the efforts deployed on individuals, but the true success of a population. In front of us three small rhinos jumped, played and emitted catlike calls. Other wildlife large and small waited their turn to drink and in the distance, to complete a perfect evening, two lions roared. A stable ecosystem prevailed and that is what every effort in the past was aimed at.

The flight to Windhoek International the next morning ended a trip like no other for Andrew and his wife. Their smiles were from ear to ear when I said farewell at the departure terminal and I knew instinctively that we had not seen the last of them in the wilderness areas of Namibia, even if some Irish luck had something to do with it.

Conrad Brain
Ecologist, Wilderness Safaris Namibia

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