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Safaris News -
Info and updates from Wilderness Safaris.
North Island Dive Report from
Monthly update from Lunga River Lodge in
Monthly update from Kapinga Camp in
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Monthly update from Savuti Camp in
Monthly update from Kings Pool Camp in
Baboon Infanticide and Cannibalism at Kings Pool Camp in
Monthly update from Selinda & Zibalianja
Camps in Botswana.
Kwando Safaris game reports.
Monthly update from Mombo Camp in
Monthly update from Chitabe
Camp in Botswana.
Page 2 Updates
Monthly update from Tubu Tree Camp in
Monthly update from Kwetsani Camp in
Monthly update from Duba Plains Camp in
Monthly update from Abu Camp in
Monthly update from Jao Camp in
Monthly update from Little Vumbura in
Monthly update from Vumbura Plains in
Monthly update from Jacana Plains in
Monthly newsletter from the Mana Canoe Trail in
Monthly update from Makalolo Plains in
Monthly update from Pafuri Camp in
Monthly update from Rocktail
Bay in South Africa.
Tree Camp update - May 07 Jump
to Tubu Tree
Tubu has been the LEOPARD kingdom this month! Visitors have been privileged to encounter these beautifully gracious cats on numerous occasions, being able to observe their behaviour and antics for hours on end, and the dining room and lounge area of the lodge are now decorated with enlarged photos of these special inhabitants of our piece of nature!
The Tubu staff would like to use the opportunity to extend special greetings to all of you out there who have visited us during the recent months, and with whom we were able to share the peaceful beauty of Hunda Island. Your presence lives on at Tubu and in our hearts!
As usual, the best game viewing vehicle in the Delta, our Sausage and Marula tree deck and bar area, has offered superb game viewing during the month right in front of the lodge area! Nobody will ever forget the day that a breeding herd of elephant decided to spend the afternoon with us, and the two young bulls had a tussle with each other for the favours of one of the ladies in the herd. The sight of the one fleeing with the victor in hot pursuit, thundering through the water right past the boma and swimming pool area, is now imprinted on the minds of staff and visitors that were watching the true life National Geographic show live from our deck!
The unfortunate zebra that fell prey to some hungry predators three hundred metres from the deck made sure that early morning breakfast had a very special vibe for the next two days, with visitors eagerly awaiting first light to see what was left of the carcass after the night's activities! The last remains, as far as our guides can deduce from the tracks, were dragged into the water by two large crocodiles.
Our two resident bushbuck, having found a safe haven in the thickets of the camp, still survive, and treat us with "special" appearances on a regular basis. Their soft, shy, beauty in amongst the wilderness area accentuates the vast contrasts of nature!
At night, the whooping of hyaenas, the alarm calls of impala and zebra, the sounds of trees and bushes being devoured by elephant, and the occasional roaring of lions, treat and entertain our auditory senses as much as the visual sighting during daylight hours. In the morning the new tracks of animals that wandered through camp during our clumbers, remind us of how close to nature we actually live!
During the next month we invite you to come share our walkways with our elephants, and to indulge in what the animals are up to on Hunda Island!
Greetings from the Tubu Tree team
update - May 07 Jump
to Kwetsani Camp
Kwetsani, surely this means little paradise? This is our first month as relief managers while Shane and Kim have been on their well-deserved month's leave. It is certainly going to be difficult to leave this paradise after a wonderful month with the most incredible experiences.
It seems the animals feel the same way about this paradise as even the lions are not kept away by the floodwaters. Unlike the normal savannah lions these prides wade belly deep to reach Kwetsani Island where they hunt for the graceful and ever alert red lechwe that frequent the floodplain in front of the camp.
Our guests Ian and Thea from the UK had a life-changing experience when they witnessed a successful lion kill on the Kwetsani floodplain. They will, without doubt, always remember watching the lioness stalk and then pounce upon the unsuspecting lechwe, releasing a spray of water as it was brought down by the magnificent predator.
When we look back it seems hard to believe we have spent only a month here, so much has happened, we have seen so many exciting things and shared so many breathtaking moments with excited guests, some of whom have visited us for a second time and still want more, such as John and Louise. Then, others decided to leave a memory behind. After many years of faithful service and many wonderful journeys Mike decided it was time to say goodbye to his trusty and somewhat moth-eaten straw hat which he felt deserved to rest in Africa. Mike's trusty hat met its fiery end in a jovial ceremony on the last evening of their visit before returning to the UK.
There is a common misconception that elephants do not lie down to sleep. It was really wonderful to show some of our guests that this is not the case when one of our resident bulls decided it was time for an early morning nap, earlier this month. The young male was browsing from trees around the walkway just as guests were coming down for the early morning breakfast.
Cameras were clicking as our giant friend browsed right next to the walkway, he then gradually ambled over to his elephant bed next to the lodge where he lay down and slept for over an hour. It was a truly magical experience to see our sleeping giant curled up like an innocent young child, raising his trunk from time to time to sniff the air. Could this sleeping giant possibly have an aggressive bone in his enormous body, it just did not look that way as he lay cross-legged on his dusty bed.
This is not an unusual phenomenon, elephants sleep regularly; however, they generally do so for short periods in the early hours of the morning. When they do sleep they generally prop themselves up against a termite mound making it easier for them to lift their enormous mass.
It is of course always wonderful to see the large mammals, but we also get the chance to show our guests some of the other wonders of the Delta. In one such instance we had the opportunity to show some of our guests a fantastic display by an African Harrier-Hawk, one of the more interesting birds of prey. This is a very handsome bird of prey with a bare yellow face that turns bright orange when the bird is excited. We had a wonderful sighting of the bird with its double jointed feet that it uses to scavenge under bark and in holes of trees for lizards and other small creatures with almost human agility.
The lions continue to cross the island and beyond, returning a couple of days later. In order to do this, they cross deep channels which require that they swim across the deeper water. We are fortunate to have a reasonably shallow floodplain that allows them to wade through at belly height as can be seen on the picture that was taken from the deck of the lodge as one of our vehicles took a close look at the females with their two cubs.
It seems there is always an unusual sighting waiting to be seen. In one such incident we heard a huge commotion with loud snorting and an agonising bleat. On investigation we learned from a guest that she had just seen a baboon hunt a baby bushbuck. Our guest Lucy was absolutely amazed to learn that these seemingly comical animals are in fact also ruthless hunters that will prey on unsuspecting young antelope.
Of course the elusive leopards are always an enormous prize. This magnificent specimen spent almost 10 minutes with Peter and Kitaya from Thailand. We had to have a picture of their special moment and hope they will enjoy reliving the moment as they view the website.
Others had to be content with the rasping sounds that were heard during dinner one evening. The guttural sounds had everyone piling into the Land Rovers for an impromptu night drive in the hope of finding the leopard that was calling so close by. Whilst it was not found guests did returned exhilarated from the excitement of the hunt knowing that the animal was so close to the lodge.
We could continue with endless stories of wonderful experiences and sightings we have had this month, from the porcupines whose rattling quills catch the ears of our ever-attentive guides as we enjoy another meal on the deck. The civets too refuse to be outdone as they catch our attention while they rustle through the leaf litter looking for their favourite diet of millipedes. We could also try to describe the experience of a game drive as we drive through bonnet depth flood waters but we would not do it any justice, one simply has to be part of this to really understand the atmosphere of the Delta floodwaters.
Animals large and small are a part of life here in the Delta. Even greater than this though are the guests that walk into our "home" for their experience of Africa. These are guests we know will leave us as friends as the warmth and charm of Kwetsani and its wonderful staff creep into their hearts, we are so privileged to be able to share these experiences with our guests and to learn about their world as we share ours with them.
As we head into the winter months we have still been enjoying magnificent weather with temperatures reaching 30°C on some days. We have, however, also had a week of cold, windy winter weather with minimum temperatures of 9.4°C that chilled the early mornings and evenings. The daily temperatures have warmed again and the winter days are still providing for lazy afternoons on the pool deck.
As I recall the month at Kwetsani I realise what has passed us by these past 31 days. Ruby red sunsets have blessed us each day, the thunderous roar of the lions too have filled our dining room on many occasions and finally the haunting cry of the hyaena has graced our last night. The memories are endless as each day has presented us with yet another experience in the Delta; it is this that makes us feel so privileged to be Africans!
We hope you too will one day have the opportunity to be infected by the warmth of Africa, indeed the warmth of the Okavango Delta and where else to experience it but at Kwetsani.
Best regards from the Kwetsani team
update - May 07 Jump
to Duba Plains Camp
Weather, environment and birds
May has been very good in terms of game and temperature. As we are heading into the winter season, the temperature had dropped tremendously by the second week of May with warm daytime temperatures being book-ended by very cold mornings and pretty cool nights after sunset. With all the heavy rainfall we had last year, and the fantastic rains in our catchment area in Angola this year, the floodwater has not taken much time to seep into the ground and has spread all over the floodplains of Duba at an amazing speed. Just as quickly as it rose the flood seems to be subsiding and over the past three weeks it has started receding at a surprising rate. We have noticed this in most of the crossings on game drive roads and in other areas around the camp; for example, the pathway between the camp main area and Tent 1 has dried up completely, and the path from the main area to the bathroom is drying up.
With the experience of a large influx of water, driving around the concession is a real adventure as it keeps the concession's reputation of being a birding paradise intact. The abundance of waterbirds along the flooded areas and water pans makes for some amazing sightings. Unbelievably one morning our guides were thrilled by having sighted four Flamingos along Molapo Road, which forms the boundary between our prime game drive area and Paradise Island. According to our guide Reuben, who has been here for seven years, it was the first time he had even heard of Flamingo sightings in the area.
General game sightings have been excellent in the concession. We are usually deprived of our elephant herds this time of the year as they are still feeding well in the Mopane woodland further north of the concession, but this year has been an exception. The elephants have been in the area in big herds ranging from 10 to 40 most of the time. Even though there is no Mopane out on the plains there is plenty that is still attractive to them, e.g., the Sicklebush that has encroached on the camp/airstrip island, Wild Date Palms and some palatable grass in the concession.
Aardwolf sightings are still one of the specialities of Duba Plains and during the month we saw this elusive species on both morning and afternoon/evening drives. We were also lucky enough to see a male leopard this past month and on several subsequent occasions came across his tracks in the same area. Last year's caracal kitten seems to have grown up and we had three different sightings this month of what we presume is the same sub-adult caracal.
There is a hyaena den situated near Baobab Island that is currently active. The age-old conflict between lion and hyaena continues to be a point of interest at Duba. In 2004/05 the hyaenas were responsible for high mortality rates in the lion cubs of the area and over the past month the lions returned the favour. While following the buffalo herd near Baobab Island the Tsaro Pride suddenly left the herd and moved directly towards the hyaena den. There were two or three hyaena cubs outside the den and one of the Tsaro lionesses chased and caught the elder cub and killed it - as is usual, they did not feed on it, simply leaving the carcass on the ground before moving on.
The buffalo and lion interaction
At the moment the buffalo herd is still spending most of their time in our prime game drive area. It has been very surprising that they have hardly crossed into the Paradise Island area this month. Instead they have been hanging around the floodplains that we can access easily during the flood (which is very convenient for us!). As always there have been several exciting sightings involving the buffalo herd and the lion prides. During one of the sightings the guests watched as a cow had just given birth, and soon after dropping the calf, abandoned it to catch up with the rest of the herd. We think this is a tactic of avoiding the risk of falling prey to the Tsaro Pride that was nearby. The pride duly spotted the lonely calf and walked towards it, not aware of the male buffalo that was lying down within the thick bushes close by. It was very interesting to watch another evolutionary tactic in this relentless battle. As the lions caught the calf, the buffalo bull responded to the distress call and ran towards the lions, chasing them off the calf before it lost the last breath! The male then defended the calf against the lions for as long as three hours! Some commitment to a calf that was most likely not directly related to it.
The Tsaro Pride and the Duba Boys have continued to dominate both our lion viewing and lion and buffalo interaction. There has been approximately six kills witnessed in the month of May. As is usual at Duba over the last three years, we are still continuing to witness more lion and buffalo interaction than actual kills which is good to remember when visiting here. We are excited and delighted to report that 'Junior', the juvenile male is still alive making him the only cub in the Tsaro Pride to survive the very high mortality rates over the last three years. It has been very exciting to watch the females teaching Junior how to kill prey. There was a time when one of the adult females caught a buffalo calf, and then released it prompting the young male to get involved; it took him approximately 20 minutes to kill a calf that must have been around a week old while the females were just sitting there, not helping but just watching him. We think he still need some time to learn as very often he has been seen trying to tackle full grown buffalo, and he has been stuck between the horns a few times.
At the moment there is one other cub (from a subsequent litter) that is surviving and we'll hold thumbs for her future. Another of the lionesses is lactating, indicating the presence of very small cubs, but we have not seen these as yet. We suspect that the cubs are hidden somewhere on the northern side of the camp/airstrip. This lioness moves between the northern side of the camp and the south where the buffalo spend most of the time, passing through the camp very often. One of the other lionesses, the well known 'Silver Eye', was been seen mating with one of the Duba Boys towards the end of April. Has she conceived? We are look forward to seeing her cubs about end of July.
The Skimmer Pride has been very elusive this month. When they were seen, it was while hunting buffalo in the Tsaro Pride territory - mainly in the area along Molapo Road which is the main boundary between the two prides' territories. Interestingly, over the last two months when the Skimmer Pride has been seen, it has consisted only of three lionesses (1 adult, and 2 four-year old sub-adults). We do not know what has happened to the other part of the pride (a total of 8 missing). It is very difficult to investigate due to the water level being high and we therefore cannot cross over into Paradise Island which is their main territory. The debate has been that if they were still on Paradise Island, they would not have spent 2 months not coming into the Tsaro pride territory at all, while part of their pride was continuing to do just that (especially when the buffalo herd have not crossed onto Paradise Island for a long time). So far we suspect that the pride must have separated, perhaps temporarily while the water levels are high. Also of interest was a sighting of one of the Duba Boys feeding on a buffalo kill with the females from the Skimmer Pride. Eventually the Tsaro females came towards the sighting and met the Skimmer females with outright aggression! This nearly caused another inter-pride fight but the Skimmer females retreated in time across the water into their territory.
Generally we had a great month!
Compiled by T.L Moalosi
update - May 07 Jump
to Abu Camp
We are at the end of May and there has been a significant change in weather, with very crisp mornings and somewhat chilly evenings.
The flood has now reached its peak, with several different areas being flooded this year. We've learnt about several interesting aspects from our experts who have been out here for many years, one being that the topography of the area has shown us that the water flow has increased on the western side, which could be an interesting point to investigate, as the Delta seems to be forever changing. There is no doubt that the water levels this year have surpassed the flood of 2004 and some say that it has been greater than the flood of 1984.
With this being said, while it has caused some logistical problems, it has increased our game viewing, as the areas have been reduced in size for the game to wander, therefore game viewing has been excellent. Over this month we have had numerous sightings of lion together with cubs, cheetah and leopard, and an absolute plethora of bird life and obviously we have had fantastic sightings of breeding herds of elephants.
An amusing story: Our two Professional Guides were out walking with the elephants one day as we had no guests in camp on this particular day. They were enjoying the serenity of the Delta when from absolutely nowhere appeared a large male buffalo who charged our two gentlemen! With their natural instinct and skills in self-preservation, the smaller of our two guides ran like hell, climbed the nearest tree and sat up the tree for some time, as he calls 'on look out for his partner', but we believe he was scared stiff! Our other guide, the larger of the two, decided to leap headfirst into a rather large Acacia bush, rifle and all, spotting the charging buffalo in time to scramble further into the bush and of course with the thick bush, caused himself tremendous bodily harm, with the severe thorns! However, both survived the day unscathed but we now call them, not "Crocodile", but "Buffalo Dundees".
Over the last month our Elephant Researcher and assistant have been traversing our concession, taking readings, measurements and collecting general data, which is necessary for the ongoing work of this most important Research Programme. They now have over 400 elephants on record, with an incredible amount of detail and other information on each of the elephants and they are able to impart their tremendous knowledge which again enhances the client experience.
In closing we would like to mention that we are very blessed with fantastic staff who continue to go out of their way to allow our guests the total experience of safari life and the experience of our elephants and leaving Abu Camp with many fond memories which they will treasure forever.
Jao Camp update
- May 07 Jump
to Jao Camp
May temperatures were quite pleasant up until the middle of the month when suddenly the cold crept in. Everyone's dress code changed to sporting Eskimo styles and hot water bottles tucked under ponchos on morning game drives. Temperatures some mornings pushed the mercury to only 6°C with midday reaching only 14°C on one occasion. The average temperatures for the month were a daily minimum of 17°C and a daily maximum of 26°C.
With the floods still being quite high the vehicles are continuing to drive in fairly deep water. The flood water is definitely receding though and I am sure in about a week it will be dry in certain areas. Certain areas that had been saturated with water have created a very sensitive and testing environment.
In the mammal department we have had some brilliant sightings of our resident female leopard who continues to present her two little offspring to us; we think it is a male and female. The guides and guests have had great sightings of the small family this last month but game drives are still respecting their space so they can remain comfortable in the area. It is this approach that has been key in allowing this particular leopard to trust us and the game drive vehicles.
Towards the beginning of the month this female leopard was looking very skinny and apparently not overly successful on the hunt. We often witnessed her stalking and chasing without any luck. We're happy to report that she got back in the game just the other day when she killed a female red lechwe. Our guides and guests missed the stalking action, but were quite satisfied seeing her finalising her success by suffocating the prey.
Freddy, the male lion, had a bit of a tussle with two younger males and the spectators watching the battle of the kings realised the immense power of the male lion. Although he walked away with some scratches he still proved this is his Delta paradise and he is definitely here to stay.
We have also been seeing a civet in camp recently which is quite fascinating since they are typically elusive nocturnal creatures and many of us had only seen their distinctive tracks in the dirt before this. We were excited to at the gracious appearance about a week ago of two honey badgers. They entertained guests and guides alike with their bullet-proof bodies and pugnacious attitude.
Our feathered friends have also provided some interest. One of our guides even saw one 'lost' Greater Flamingo in the floodplains! We also had an African Harrier Hawk visit the island to check out some Palm Swift nests in the palms although it was soon chased from the island by the protective swifts.
Some comments from our guests:
• "An absolutely wonderful experience, the staff so friendly, the food excellent, the room was out of this world and to see two leopard cubs was unbelievable." L&B, USA
• "The most incredible experience we've had, our first time to Africa and most certainly not the last." - P&J, USA
• "This has been the most incredible place, not just Jao Camp itself but everything that goes with it. First class service, friendly staff, delicious food and absolutely spectacular game drives. Lions fighting, baby leopards, lovely badgers. It does not get any better than that. Thank you all." - H&D, UK
• "We had an incredible time over our 3 nights. From seeing Beauty and her cubs, to the red lechwe kill. Every moment was more breathtaking than the last." - T,J,L&JK, USA
• "Jao feels like being in the wild with all the amenities. It is a lovely experience and we have really enjoyed our three nights here." J&LH, USA
In a nutshell, we have had another fabulous month at Jao and we enjoyed each and every guest that walked into our home. To all of you out there that are still deciding on coming out to Botswana read the above comments and come and enjoy what the Delta can offer.
Have a great June and we will catch up at the end of the month.
The Jao Team
update - May 07 Jump
to Little Vumbura Camp
April 2007 focused on the re-opening of Little Vumbura and all the advancements "Front of House". I would like to dedicate this report to all the advancements that took place "Back of House", many of which have occurred this month, but others in the last year. Some of these directly affect our guests, like the latest battery and inverter system which offers 24-hour power to the guest rooms, but more importantly our sewage plant which is one of the most environmentally friendly waste disposal systems around.
Before I get into those details, let me first reflect on some of the wildlife action from the month. There is little doubt that we are experiencing one of the biggest floods in several years. The whole of the front section of the jetty went under water, but we managed to make a plan to enable our guests to get on and off the without getting wet. Spurwing Crossing became a real thrill for the guests as the Land Rovers went into submarine mode with the water coming over the bonnet.
Nevertheless, there was still serious action out in the drier areas. The Big Red ion pride has continued to successfully follow and hunt the buffalo herds that are frequenting the area. The cubs are all strong and healthy and growing by the day. Selonyana, our very relaxed leopard, has been seen several times, hunting impala with relative ease now, but it's unclear whether or not she has been able to attract a mate. The Vumbura Pack (now named) of wild dogs also made a two-day appearance with guests from Little Vumbura lucky enough to witness them kill an impala. The adult female was absent and it is hoped that she is denning somewhere.
The Kubu Pride has not been seen much, but on one occasion the 4 sub-adult males learned the hard way that honey badgers don't get their reputation for nothing. A female and her pup had little difficulty taking care of the boys and chased them away in typical aggressive badger behaviour. The sable in the area are still doing incredibly well. The herd I wrote of last month have succeeded in keeping all their calves alive, while we have seen several other herds which have also calved successfully. On the island, the visiting bull elephants have enjoyed our low walkway - stepping over it most of the time, but occasionally walking straight down it. Thankfully we do have a large pile of spare planks to replace those that can't take the weight of these giant, grey guests.
There is no doubt that our human guests love the new rooms and main area at Little Vumbura, but it is the staff who make the REAL difference. We are proud that we have helped make our staff feel safer and more at home on the island in the last year. There is now a raised walkway between the kitchen and the staff village - providing better safety for staff doing early mornings and dinner, and even during the day when elephants are around. We have built a new laundry and improved the kitchen. Two new sets of ablutions were built last year and all gas geysers have been replaced with electric ones. The staff also have a common room with a new battery inverter system for power. A new water filtration system is currently in progress and all houses are due to be re-roofed before the summer.
We have 25 junior staff employed at Little Vumbura, plus 4 guides and 4 managers. A quarter of these are on leave (for a month) at any given time, with staff rotating at the end of the month after three months of work. Our Monday night traditional evenings have been a real success. Our Kgotla (Boma) was built by all the staff a year and a half ago after Molly's brainwave to find a spot for it on the island. All staff join in the singing and dancing, dressed in traditional skins, necklaces and leg shakers. Our new drums have added to this experience as staff become mesmerised by the beating drums during the "trance" dances.
We are also proud of the fact that many of our staff have been at Little Vumbura since it opened 9 years ago, and will be due for their 10-year service awards next year. We currently have two supervisors (Front and Back of House respectively) who we hope will one day succeed in joining the management training programme. One of our mokoro polers, Master, was recently accepted onto the guide training course and we wish him well as he embarks on the three-month course at Kaparota followed by a six-month internship in one of our camps. Little Vumbura has been a strong breeding ground for trainee guides, with many guides learning their skills here. With so many activities (game drives, walks, mekoro, boating and fishing) on offer, there is a lot to learn. Letty and Emang are fine examples of guides who trained here, guided here, and have taken up job offers at Vumbura Plains. This policy will continue to grow as we are now building two new houses, one for a trainee guide, and another for a trainee manager.
We have two new guides who have joined the team. Kelyh and OP are products of our guide training programme. These two young guides are full of knowledge and will benefit from the wealth of experience offered by our other guides Madala Kay and Chief. Molly, Dardley and I have been the backbone of the Little Vumbura management team for over two and a half years, and unfortunately I am the one breaking up the partnership. In February this year, while watching the sunset over the Okavango Delta, my girlfriend Kathleen agreed to marry me, and we have decided to spend some time working in the UK. So it is with a sad heart that I will be leaving my bush family in July, but they will be in my heart forever and I do plan to come back.
Rohan and the Little Vumbura family
update - May 07 Jump
to Vumbura Camps
What a month! The flood has inundated almost 40 percent of the main areas, and game drives are often in water from a depth of 20cm to 1 metre! Most of the open plains that characterise Vumbura Plains are under water, in places so deep and tricky that Little Vumbura is now taking an alternative route to the airstrip. The oval grass plain behind Vumbura Plains has become an oval floodplain, which is fantastic as we can now watch waterfowl and Wattled Cranes from the comfort of the camp. The ecology of the Delta is fascinating, we have not received a drop of rain in almost two months, but the whole place is covered in deep water that fell almost six months ago some 1700 kilometres away.
The new 2007/8 uniforms arrived in camp and today is the day that all staff will have a uniform facelift; we are all very excited and the staff can hardly wait for the new issues. Both camps have changed over to winter gear. This is a most enjoyable time of the year as guests get hot water bottles in bed and on early morning activities. Dinner is also a very cosy affair as each guest gets a fluffy and warm fleece poncho and a fine mohair blanket for their knees. The rooms also get extra blankets on the bed and thick cotton dressing gowns to keep the cold away.
Up until the 27th we had perfect weather with it being cool in the shade and comfortable in the sun, however we received a curveball of a cold front around then 18th with the minimum going from 16°C to 7°C overnight. The average minimum temperature for the month was 13°C. The average maximum for the month was 28°C (22-31°C). The afternoon temperatures hover around 24-25°C which is the perfect temperature for a game drive or airstrip transfer, but the cooler morning drives require a poncho and hot water bottles to keep off the cold. Winter is renowned for spectacular sunsets due to all the dust in the air and the sun hanging lower on the horizon, so have your camera ready and definitely do a boat cruise.
The Sausage trees are starting to drop their long thick 8lb fruits, a good time to be a porcupine as the inner layer of the skin is highly nutritious and tasty. Numerous animals make use of these sausages including elephants, giraffe, warthogs, baboons, hippos and squirrels. The areas directly below some of the bigger trees have been trampled to dust due to increased animal activities. The Ebony trees are pushing out large amounts of small, round green fruits that will grow larger and fall to the floor around September and draw in elephant herds that will spend weeks on end in the camps.
The staple diet for elephants at the moment seems to be the Fever Berry trees. Having the camps situated in Fever Berry woodland therefore means that elephants join us for breakfast, brunch and dinner. Another one of the trees that bears attractive seedpods for elephants is the Camelthorn, where the elephants vigorously shake the trees and the characteristic thud of the velvet seed pods falling to the ground alerts the animal to just perfectly mature seed pods 'ripe for the taking'.
We are starting to see the edges of the newly saturated floodplains turning green with a flush of sprouting grasses and hydrophytes. We are also noticing large numbers of Red Breasted Bream move out onto the flooded couch grass areas and clear the grass to make way for their ease of movement and the building of nests. With such amounts of water pushing onto the floodplains the main channels are for the most part devoid of fish as all the bream, barbel and pike move out of the channels onto the floodplains to breed and feed. There are long sections of flooded roads that are being shared by fish and game drive vehicles and often the wake of the vehicle strands lots of small fish on the road verge, the birds know this so they flutter next to the vehicle to take advantage of the easy pickings.
Much has already been said about elephants, whose increased presence is due to the drying Mopane forests to the north. Many of the shallow pans are drying up so the elephants are moving to the seasonal floodplains to drink and feed on the newly sprouting grasses recently inundated by floodwaters. The normal 'mini-migration' of animals is from the north in summer to the transition zone between the deep dry sandy soils to the permanently saturated marshes in winter. This year, with such volumes of water spreading out in the area, this transition zone has become greatly reduced and therefore higher animal concentrations can be expected due to a smaller surface area.
The season so far has been very good with some very exciting lion-buffalo interactions as well as leopard-baboon and wild dog-impala sightings. A honeymoon lion couple was frequenting the northern rooms of North Camp around the middle of the month; this was certainly a highlight for those privileged to witness this.
The male in the photo is from the 'Eastern Brothers' coalition and the female is the oldest of the two daughters that make up the female compliment of the Kubu Pride, the pride resident around Vumbura Plains. The Kubu Pride had us all a little concerned recently as they were not seen for two months up until the 17th where they came strolling through camp as if they never left, a great relief for us all. For the first time in two years the 'Eastern Male' lion coalition broke their boundary by walking straight through North and roaring as they went - none of the guests in North rooms 1, 2 and 3 had any rest that night.
The pride of lions that frequent the area around the airstrip still have their 5 young cubs, who never fail to put on some sort of a show for the guests. These lions seem to be on a buffalo eradication programme as more than 70% of their diet was made up of Cape buffalo this month.
On the leopard side a new juvenile male was found to the east of the camps, he is still very shy and the picture below is of this young male.
Selonyana the resident female has made her occasional appearance, but not quite so consistently as in previous months. Shaka, a very large male who has not been spotted in almost four months, presented himself early in the morning of the 23rd, but has not been seen since. The general consensus is that he has expanded his territory into areas less easily accessible by vehicle.
The dominant male cheetah, Vuka, was spotted on only four occasions this month and it seems that he is negatively influenced by yhe plains now being underwater, although he will be back when the waters recede.
The hyaena dens continue to entertain the guest and staff alike. There are two den sites which are accessible by vehicle, one on the Tutwa road coming from the airstrip and another north of North Camp on Ronnie's road. The Tutwa road den only has one young female pup while the Ronnie's road den has five pups all of similar age and four adults, through with time it has become evident that it is one hyaena pack that utilises both den sites.
The plains game viewing has been exceptional with large amounts of all kinds of species being found including sable and sitatunga (on no less than three occasions). Kudu and impala have been involved in their annual mating rituals and tsessebe have been a little on the scarce side probably due to the waters wetting their preferred habitat of open plains. The bigger islands seem to be holding a lot of the plains game as these animals get ever increasingly shifted off the floodplains. We are sure that these are good times for the predators, but for the antelope species it must be difficult as they are now subjected to habitats they might not particularly prefer and they now also have to deal with each other and other species within one another's comfort zones.
Very exciting news is that the camp's resident female hippo has given birth to a cute little calf that looks like a warthog on steroids. As mentioned previously the Kubu Pride was absent for some time and this had boded well for the survival rates of the sable herds so prevalent around Vumbura Plains. One particular herd of sable managed to rear 11 youngsters!
Birds and birding
With the waters having pushed in behind the camps the once dry grassland has become waterfowl haven, we even have a resident pair of Wattled Cranes. Black-winged Stilts are arriving here daily and as the waters push forward large congregations of Meve's Starlings, Coppery-tailed Coucals and Spurfowls wait patiently for insects and other food items to be displaced.
Until next month
Jacana update - May 07 Jump
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Winter has embraced our little island paradise of Jacana. Despite a few very cold days, the daytime temperatures have been pleasurable. Winter is always a photographer's delight, with the crisp clear days and the beautiful blue skies. The nights are perfect for stargazing, or sitting around the fire reliving stories of the day's sightings.
Although many of our feathered summer visitors have gone back north, birding is still very good. The Pel's Fishing Owl has been seen on a regular basis close to camp, and other great sightings include the Rosy-throated Longclaw, Slaty Egret, Saddle-billed Stork, and Wattled Crane to name a few.
Game viewing has also been incredible, particularly with regular sightings of 'Beauty', our resident female leopard. No doubt, the highlight of the month was when she revealed her two cubs for the first time, great excitement to our guests and staff alike. They have been spotted a number of times between the jetty and the airstrip and are doing very well.
Our resident bull elephant and some of his younger friends have been regular visitors to the camp this month, especially since the Sycomore Figs at the main area have been in fruit. This has brought some memorable elephant sightings, right from the breakfast table. The high flood levels have also brought a few surprises, such as a young male hippo that has been seen a number of times right in front of camp.
Fishing has also been very good this month, with a number of guests landing, on the catch and release basis, some large-sized Tigerfish.
So, another month has passed, and we hope to see you soon, to share in the excitement and the little surprises that Mother Nature has in store for us in this little island paradise, Jacana.
"Elephant walking up to our tent, fantastic hospitality from every person. Really every experience was impressive. Each staff went out of their way to make us feel welcome." - TE & TK, UK
"Another wonderful experience! Thanks for having us. It was lucky to start with a beautiful sighting of a leopard!" - J&J, USA
"My first exposure to Africa - wonderful! Thanks for everything." - TP, USA
"The game drive, in particular, seeing leopard and cubs. The dug-out trip to see the Pel's Fishing Owl and the trip through the reeds." - A, USA
"Being greeted with song and dance on our arrival. Wonderful setting, Fantastic food, Peace and tranquility. Friendliness of the staff. Fishing trips, boat rides and game drives! Everything!" - M&S, USA
"Seeing hippo and leopard and the boat trip to and from the vehicle. Exciting mokoro boat trip, elephant in camp. Wonderful food & great staff." - T&J, UK
Mana Canoe Trail Newsletter - April 07 Jump
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STAFF ON CANOE TRAILS
We have started this season with Simeon Josia as our canoe guide. He has worked with us before and we are very happy to have him joining us again. Kambel Yona and Kevin van Breda from Ruckomechi will be assisting him on occasion. On the back-up crew we are very lucky to have our full team from last year which will be overseen by Sherrie and Simeon.
On our first trip we could not have asked for more perfect weather. The guests canoed down the Zambezi with a balmy breeze which kept them cool amidst temperatures of about 35 degrees Celsius. Towards the end of April things really started to cool down and we are now wearing jerseys in the morning and huddling around the fire at night. The wind has also picked up giving the canoeists an extra push down the river.
VEGETATION, LANSCAPE AND THE ZAMBEZI RIVER
As you wind your way down the river you will come across the unique Albida forests that line the shoreline in all their grandeur, their presence is what gives Mana its mystery. These tall, shady trees are green throughout winter and provide an abundant food source when times are hard. They are currently in the late stages of flowering which has occurred unusually early this year. We also find that the river is rapidly devouring away the banks and there are more and more trees falling into the water, their lives cut short by a ruthless element.
Take a detour into a channel and the landscape changes instantly. The air is still and all around is cool and green. The water is smooth and your canoe drifts quietly past a rich variety of water birds. Another turn and you are dwarfed by high vertical banks that are dotted with holes made by the Bee-eaters, giving it a honeycomb effect.
When it comes to wildlife, our first trips were a huge success, with some really exhilarating and close encounters.
Our canoes chanced upon a herd of about 40 buffalo coming down to drink in the late afternoon. Their hooves kicking up a cloud of dust made for exquisite photography in the light of the setting sun.
On another occasion, coming round a bend, our guests almost bumped into a young elephant bull feeding on the water's edge. Just to make sure everyone was wide awake he gave an impressive display before running off into the distance.
On the last day of our last trip one very adventurous guest requested an early morning walk as opposed to a lie-in which is what everyone else was doing. She was greatly rewarded with a sighting of a very nervous hyaena which subsequently pointed them in the direction of a pride of three lionesses. The lions didn't seem too perturbed with the human presence and the guide and guest watched the lazy females for a little while before coming back to camp to share the news. The other guests were very envious and would have loved to have sacrificed a few hours sleep for a sighting of a lion.
In general we saw quite an assortment of game, the usual impala, baboon, monkeys, warthog, zebra, elephant, waterbuck and buffalo. Kudu and eland were also seen on a walk which is quite unusual as at this time of the season they are usually still further inland where there is still water for them to drink.
BIRDS AND BIRDING
When it comes to birds, it is going to be difficult to beat a sighting of a Curlew which was seen feeding on a sandbar on the last day of our first trip. It is extremely rare to see these birds on the Zambezi and our area is not even on the distribution map. It is also estimated that only about a thousand visit the south of Africa every year. What makes it even more exceptional is that they would normally have moved on by now but this one obviously likes it so much here that he has extended his vacation. We will be looking out for him again this month! We have also had sightings of an Ethiopian Snipe and its drumming of its wings has been heard on both occasions at Chessa Camp.
When it comes to birds and canoe trails it is difficult to pick out a few sightings as there are so many and each is impressive in its own way. Saddle-billed Storks, Kingfishers and the African Fish-Eagle are particularly splendid and all are guaranteed on canoe trails.
"The friendly people and very comfortable camp" and "The meeting with the mad hippos" - T&EA, France
"Everything! Paddling the canoe, the wildlife (particularly with their sudden appearances), the serenity of the river (particularly in the morning), lunch in the water, the professionalism of the staff, Simeon's knowledge of the environment, the comfort of the camp and quality of the food, the special song that was sung by the behind-the-scenes staff. The drive back to Ruckomechi and all the wildlife." - PD, Australia
update - May 07 Jump
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The beginning of May brought with it cold mornings and freezing evenings. The days have now grown shorter and the nights have become longer. Guests and staff now gather around the fireplace to keep warm in the setting sun. The maximum temperature of the month was 33°C and the minimum was 2°C.
Vegetation, Landscape and Water
The vegetation has made a dramatic change as the start of the winter months takes its toll on the plant life. The colour of the bush has turned from a rich green to beautiful shades of gold and orange-yellow. The fruits of the False Mopane tree have now ripened and animals such as baboons and vervet monkey are feasting on them. In a similar case we can see elephants are now shaking the Acacia erioloba trees to dislodge the swaying grey pods.
Unfortunately the grass has begun to wither away and has lost much of its nutritional value. In some areas the grass has been replaced with thick layers of sand and fine dust. The once green vleis (marshes) have been transformed into a semi-desert landscape and vast clouds of dust can be seen following massive herds of buffalo searching for water. The lack of grass has caused elephants to start stripping bark of the trees and turning them over to feed on the roots for the nutrients which they need to survive.
The lack of the rainfall in our wet season has resulted in the Wilderness camps pumping for water from boreholes earlier than usual. The pumps run 24 hours a day, seven days a week just to keep up with the amount needed to keep the wildlife alive.
Sightings for May 2007 were as follows: aardwolf, bushbuck, reedbuck, caracal, small spotted genet, honey badger, Selous mongoose, slender mongoose, white tailed mongoose, African wildcat, vervet monkey, white rhino, side-striped jackal, dwarf mongoose, leopard, roan, bat-eared fox, spotted hyaena, eland, banded mongoose, common duiker, lion, sable, giraffe, buffalo, kudu, black backed jackal, elephant, impala, baboon, scrub hare, springhare, hippo, tree squirrel, steenbok, warthog, waterbuck, and zebra.
In both the Makalolo and Linkwasha concessions five young male lions have been seen in front of the camps. These males will soon be competing for the territory against our four resident males. Although the new five are young, their size and strength is awesome. The original number of these brothers was seven but last year a run-in with the territorial Ngamo Boys left them with five. This conflict between the two groups will be very interesting to see and some revenge could well be in the future.
Two lionesses were seen in front of camp at the Samavundla Pan. To our surprise the lionesses were not alone and at a closer look we discovered that they had nine cubs with them. The cubs presumably belong to one of the resident males who we saw courting the lionesses between November and December last year.
At Makalolo's front pan there have been two lion kills made in the last few weeks. The first was a buffalo by the new male lions. The buffalo skeleton, which can still be seen along the vlei, served as a reminder of the event for the rest of the month. The second was made by the three lionesses on a wildebeest which happened outside one of our guest tents. At 03h30 the guests awoke to the sound of a stampede followed by the sound of a wildebeest crying out, shortly thereafter followed the sound of crunching bones. In the morning hardly any remains of the carcass could be seen as five hyaena had taken what the lions did not finish.
Birds and Birding
The total number of bird sightings for the month of May was 120 species.
The two kills that happened in front of camp invited a lot of vultures. After feasting White-backed Vultures gave us a close view as they could not fly with full stomachs. The Capped Wheatear has finally returned to the plains and as always we are lucky to have the Lilac-breasted Roller still perching on the side of the road, displaying all the colours of the rainbow at a glimpse. Many juvenile Bateleur Eagles have been seen hovering together along with a pale form Tawny Eagle. The Dark-capped Bulbul and the Red-billed Francolins still cause havoc in the mornings during breakfast as they share cereal with the guests.
"Thank you for your large variety and number of species of animals on the plains in front of the camp, and the elephants drinking from the swimming pool. Best guides and management I've seen." K&JS, USA
"We had a wonderful bush experience with talented and knowledgeable guides, friendly service and excellent food." N&P, UK
Thanks you all for being with us this month.
Raymond Ndlovu, Ellis Parry and Dickson Dube
Camp Newsletter - May 07 Jump
As mid-winter continues to approach, the bush continues to change rapidly. The baobabs now stand sentinel over the hillsides having lost all of their foliage and it is the turn of the Mopane trees as they start taking on a range of rusty hues from yellow through to brown. It won't be long until all the deciduous trees have shed their leaves.
The month of May was characterised by the rutting of the impala rams. Their grunts and growls echoed throughout the nights with the peak of the rut being between 14 and 18 May. There has been much speculation as to what triggers the rut and it has been linked to the phases of the moon. Interesting to note was that 16 May was new moon and based on the noise that night, was very close to the peak of the rut. We will be watching closely to see when the majority of impala births take place.
It was incredible to see how ferocious the impala rams were in their efforts to stake out a territory. On two occasions we came across the fresh carcasses of impala rams. On closer investigation it was clear that both had died in fights for territory as they both had distinct puncture wounds. This is all part of the cycle of nature as there was a slender mongoose feeding on the one carcass and a tawny eagle feeding on the other.
As the numerous pans throughout the concession are now dry, the game has begun to congregate around the Luvuvhu and Limpopo Rivers. There have been pretty much daily sightings of herds of elephants and buffalo and there are a number of elephant bulls and lone buffalo that frequent the Luvuvhu River in front of camp. The Luvuvhu is still flowing strongly, but the Limpopo has been reduced to a few still-standing pools of water.
One the game viewing front, one of the highlights of the month was a sighting of one adult male lion, two lionesses and four 4-month-old cubs feeding on a male kudu. It was interesting to see how the cubs became accustomed to the vehicle over the course of the two days that they fed on the carcass. This was only the second time that these cubs had been seen from the vehicle and we look forward to more sightings of them.
With the grass dying down and the leaves falling from the trees, there has been an increase in the number of nocturnal species that we are seeing on our night drives. Sightings of both lesser and thick-tailed bushbaby, large and small-spotted genet, civet and white-tailed mongoose are becoming commonplace. There was also a sighting of a Jameson's rock rabbit on one of the evening drives.
Another typical Pafuri sighting was that of a Cape clawless otter which was seen amongst the rocks in the Luvuvhu River from the top of Lanner Gorge. Shortly afterwards, a pair of Verreauxs' Eagles flew past, scanning the cliffs for potential prey.
Despite the fact that the summer is over and the migrants have departed, the birding has continued to be great. One morning we set out to check a few of the known Pel's Fishing Owl roosts. The excursion turned up a sighting of one Pel's, but we were also fortunate to see Eastern Nicator, Gorgeous Bush-Shrike and a Narina Trogon. Other interesting birds seen during the month included Grey-backed Sparrowlark, Black Saw-wing Swallow and African Stonechat, all of which were recorded for the first time on the concession. We were also fortunate to see a Lanner Falcon feeding on a dove. Another group witnessed an African Crowned Eagle catch a Natal Francolin and there was also a sighting of a Bat Hawk hunting over the Luvuvhu River.
We have had a fairly dry summer with a below average rainfall. We are all interested to see what effect this will have on the game viewing in the coming months. We will be sure to keep you posted.
Average daily minimum temperature: 9°C
Average daily maximum temperature: 27°C
Bay Newsletter - May 07 Jump
Rocktail Bay Lodge has been through a major change this last month with two pairs of managers beginning their adventures with Wilderness Safaris. The new Lodge Managers are Johann Hanekom and Lindsay Tite, ably assisted by Assistant Lodge Managers, Garon Burchinski and Sharon Gilliam.
We started the month off by hosting the Durban Chapter of Youth Presidents Organisation or more commonly known as YPO. There was much anticipation for this group and it certainly was a jam-packed weekend which went off without any hitches, with activities that varied from volleyball, tug-of-war and boogie boards on the beach to dune dinners and sunset cocktails at the new community centre. We are looking forward their return for a rematch of tug-of-war - YPO vs. Rocktail Bay Lodge Staff (19 against 5 - they had us out numbered). Next time?
As always Rocktail Bay has also been a favourite destination for honeymooners. At one stage we had four young honeymoon couples in camp together! Rocktail has also proved once again to be popular with families and we ended the month with the Pratchitt family from Durban and Johannesburg and what a fun group they were. They spent most of their day fishing or swimming on the beach so we therefore decided to have a buffet lunch for them on the beach. We will still need to tweak some of the operations but all in all it was a lovely afternoon. Thanks to Annatjie for lending us a helping hand.
We have had some wonderful species sightings this month from seals on the beach to Narina Trogons daily. Two of our guests were walking back from Black Rock one day and walked up to a rather large seal sunning himself on the beach. Certainly the first sighting here in a while!
Also the cause of excitement was the aforementioned Trogon sighting. One afternoon Mbongeni came running to the office all excited as he had just seen a Narina Trogon in full sight in the front of the lodge. The following day, Lindsay was by herself by the bar area and again there he was sitting on the umbrella. What a gorgeous bird the male is.
Diving has been phenomenal again this last month with most divers swimming with dolphins, whale sharks and turtles. Even the odd boat snorkellers get the chance to swim with all the big ocean going creatures. Sadly no whales have been spotted off our coast line to date but hopefully shortly. On the mammal front we still get our nightly visits from 'Gremlin" the well known thick-tailed bushbaby (who is apparently the 7th or 8th 'Gremlin' since the original character some years ago) and lunch is shared with the vervet monkeys. We were even visited by a genet up on the dune and jackals near the lodge.
Towards the end the month we held a staff "Thank you/team building" braai which was held, I might add, in the pouring rain. The long-serving Rocktail Bay staff have been spectacular and have been most accommodating and helpful with this new set of management arriving.
Well for now folks it back to work and we shall keep you updated with another letter at the end of June.
From Johann and Lindsay and all at Rocktail Bay Lodge
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