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AFRICAN SAFARI NEWS

April 2008

(Page 2 of 2)

Page 1 Updates
General Safaris News - General information and updates from our partners in Africa.
Wildlife News - Interesting wildlife sightings and photos.
Camp News - Camp specific news, including refurbs, rebuilds, accolades, etc.
• Monthly update from North Island in the Seychelles.
• Monthly update from Savuti Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from DumaTau Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Kings Pool Camp in Botswana.
Kwando Safaris game reports.
• Monthly update from Little Makalolo Camp in Zimbabwe.
• Monthly update from Makalolo Plains Camp in Zimbabwe.

Page 2 Updates
• Monthly update from Jacana Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Tubu Tree Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Jao Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Kwetsani Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Little Vumbura Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Duba Plains Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Pafuri Camp in South Africa.
• Diving update from Rocktail Bay in South Africa.
• Monthly update from Skeleton Coast Camp in Namibia.
• Monthly update from Serra Cafema Camp in Namibia.
• Monthly update from Damaraland Camp in Namibia.
• Monthly update from Governors' Camp in Kenya's Masai Mara.
• Quarterly update from Campi ya Kanzi in Kenya's Chyulu Hills.


Jacana Camp update - April 08               Jump to Jacana Camp

Autumn is in the air and the changes are visible everywhere: the days are becoming shorter, the nights longer, the temperatures are slowly decreasing and the water levels getting higher.

Standing on the front deck of camp, enjoying breakfast before heading out on the morning activity, one watches the sun rise from the floodplain - rising a little further north on the horizon every morning, indicating that winter is on its way. Despite relatively temperate weather, we had a bit of a cold snap when wind blowing over the snow-capped mountains in South Africa brought an icy chill.

The water levels are continuing to rise and the main floodplains are now almost totally submerged with water. Interestingly, the waters stopped rising for a few days, and the water actually dropped slightly, until the second surge came in. More of the water channels are accessible by boat now, making it more possible to find the elusive sitatunga antelope. In fact, sitatunga has been seen a few times from the mokoro trips and the boat cruises. Jacana has a very high concentration of these aquatically adapted antelope, but they are not often seen due to their elusive nature, and therefore remain an exciting sighting.

Western Banded Snake-Eagle     African Jacana

The floodplains are a birder's paradise! The Marabou and Saddle-billed Storks are often seen. Some of the rarer birds, such as the Slaty Egrets and Wattled Cranes are also regular sightings in and around the floodplains. Other lovely bird sightings in and around camp have been the African Jacana, the rare Western-Banded Snake-Eagle and the amazing African Harrier-Hawk, which has been seen hunting on the island a number of times.

The Jao Lion Pride has been seen on a regular basis on game drive and our resident female leopard, Beauty, has also been spotted a number of times. This is probably due to her accessible territory becoming smaller as a result of the rising water and the fact that she still has her cubs hidden between our airstrip and boat jetty. She has still kept the cubs well hidden, and they have not been seen since they were first spotted in March.

One of the game viewing highlights during March occurred when the lions had actually chased Beauty up a tree. The whole pride had surrounded the tree, with the leopard perched as high up in the tree as she could possibly be. Lion are known to kill leopard if given the chance. This was seen a few years back when one of Beauty's sub-adult cubs was killed by lion. Now she is more experienced, and did not give the lions a chance.

Beauty also treated our guests to one of the most thrilling sightings one can hope for on safari. Our guests watched as Beauty slowly and methodically stalked and killed an adult red lechwe, right in front of them. This is surely a memory that will last with them for ever.

African Fish-Eagle

The higher waters in front of the camp have also been a regular hunting ground for a pair of otters. These aquatic animals are using the shallow floodplains to hunt for fish and other aquatic vertebrates. An incredible sighting occurred right in front of camp as everyone was having tea on the deck. An African Fish-Eagle landed in a large tree by the main lodge and watched the otters hunting. As soon as the otter caught a fish, the Fish-Eagle swooped down and plunged into the water in an attempt to steal the fish from the otter. On this occasion the eagle was unsuccessful.

The guests were also treated to the sight of a Red-billed Francolin with her day-old chicks walking past the boma area. The Francolins are a common sight on the island and their loud calls often dominate the bird songs in the mornings and evenings.

Newly designed tents at Jacana      Vervet Monkey

We are very proud to present our newly decorated and redesigned tents. Before, the entrances to the tent and outdoor shower were only accessible by tent zips. Now we have installed easy access sliding doors to the front and one door leading to the shower. The canvas was removed and gauze replaced giving the room a more spacious feel and further sealing the room from insects and curious vervet monkeys. We also have new furniture to make our guests even more comfortable: lovely dark wooden desks and ottomans have been added as have extra seating, new linen and décor.

We hope to share the beauties and mysteries of the Okavango Delta with you in the near future.

Regards,
The Jacana Team


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Tubu Tree Camp update - April 08               Jump to Tubu Tree Camp

The floodwaters have now definitely reached Tubu and are filling up the floodplain in front of the camp, forming a beautiful shallow lagoon which is attracting large numbers of red lechwe and birds. We have also seen hundreds of Marabou Storks flying in from great heights, sailing down gracefully in large circles and gathering for a feast in the newly formed lake. They have been joining Saddle-billed Storks, African Darters, Great White Egrets, Wattled Cranes and many more. Of course one or more African Fish-Eagles are usually majestically surveying the beautiful scene from a favourite perch right in front of the camp. We are also happy to see a family of Ground Hornbills around the camp. Their deep unmistakable calls sound like oboes and together with all the other birds they form a lovely and unique bush philharmonic orchestra that can compete with any human effort.

Red Lechwes at Tubu      Leopard with a kill

With the rise of the water we are doing daily mokoro (dug-out canoe) trips which are a popular way of exploring the floodplains. It is the traditional form of moving around the Delta and a great experience for everybody visiting the region. It is all about enjoying the water, the flowers and all the smaller creatures living in proximity to the water.

The floodwaters also filled up a pool that is situated on the road towards the airstrip, the deep water now supporting five hippos and several enormous crocodiles. Sometimes we see the hippos walking in front of the camp at dawn. One of our guests was pretty sure a hippo spent some time feeding under and around his tent - and yes, by checking the tracks, he was right.

The marula fruits have stopped falling from the trees and we have managed to get through the bombardment without any guests being hit. There were some days that we thought about giving out helmets...! The daily visits of our elephant "Sam the Grim" have stopped. He has been replaced by a bachelor group of five bulls who started knocking down the palm trees around the camp - probably out of frustration because others had already eaten all the marula fruits. They provided great excitement for our guests as the elephants were all standing around the fallen palm trees, feeding on the leaves and the soft upper parts, splitting the logs with their tusks and moving and lifting these heavy trees like matchsticks. Somehow they reminded us of hyaenas feeding on a carcass. Honestly we are glad they have finally left Tubu Tree as it took considerable time each morning to remove the signs of their nightly feast!

Aardwolf at Tubu

We also had a very rare sighting of an aardwolf two weeks ago and again today (1 May) and a Tubu guest even managed to take a photo. We also had sightings of civets, wild cats and porcupines this week.

All pictures taken by Howard Abikoff - thanks for sharing, Howard!

Tubu Greetings!
Peter & Katrin and the whole Tubu Team


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Jao Camp update - April 08               Jump to Jao Camp

This month a hint of winter has crept in with crisp cool mornings and a slight chill to the evening air. The days still welcome the warmth of the sun however and the birds continue calling as if it were spring.

Lioness and Red Lechwes

Jao's water activities are flourishing: The annual flood has arrived and our motor boats are in the water to treat visitors to water-based trips and fishing. As always, the mokoro trips are still the ultimate relaxing Delta experience. The inundated floodplains are alive with red lechwe, tsessebe and wonderful birdlife with predatory species loving this backdrop of abundance.

The two male lions of the territorial coalition recently split up for unknown reasons and only one brother has been seen roaming around. He has attached himself to the Northern Pride of lions, an adult female, a very cheeky sub-adult male and a juvenile female. This pride has been very successful with hunts and has been viewed with a variety of prey over the month.

Leopard at Jao Camp

This pride has also been bullying our resident female leopard. This spotted beauty was trapped up a tree with the three lions camping beneath. The ambitious sub-adult male attempted to climb the tree but being a heavy boned feline ascending a vertical trunk he surrendered quite promptly. The leopard waited it out for most of the morning until the once curious lions became bored and moved on.

Other than being stranded up a tree, our resident female leopard was caught in action with a winning hunt of a red lechwe. The suspected nursing leopard has kept herself well fed and healthy, as a good mother should.

The bull elephants have come back to the Jao Island investigating the grounds for their favourite ripe fruit, the marula. Not to be outdone, the island's resident Red-billed Francolins have been grabbing attention with risky endeavours. On one occasion, we witnessed a ferocious attack between two male Red-billed Francolins - the territorial dual ending in the fatality of the weaker francolin. Awed onlookers were blown away by the ruthless battle. In addition, another protective Red-billed Francolin mother was using a distraction display (in order to protect her chicks) on a banded mongoose. When the mongoose nearly got the better of the mother francolin, she managed to fly away just in time.

Mongoose chasing a Francolin      Western Banded Snake-Eagle

Chris Barnard was honoured with an outstanding sighting of a Western Banded Snake-Eagle feeding on an olive grass snake. This eagle has been sighted before clearing the grasses of a number of reptiles including the spotted bush snake and even the notorious black mamba.

A few other rarities include sightings of sitatunga antelope, a pair of porcupines and a beautiful Pel's Fishing-Owl. This particular owl is regularly spotted on the Jao Island. The Rosy-throated Longclaw, so typical of our floodplains, was also seen taking a chance fluttering over the forms of four sleeping lions.

The Jao Team


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Kwetsani Camp update - April 08               Jump to Kwetsani Camp

April has certainly been a month of change. The floods are approaching rapidly and after three weeks of wonderful warm autumn weather the morning temperatures plummeted as the south-easterly winds carried icy winds from the Drakensberg Mountains over 1000 kilometres away. The winter warning luckily lasted only a few days before we were again enjoying wonderful autumn days.

We have, of course, taken the opportunity to get our evening fires blazing during the cooler autumn evenings where we sit gathered around the warmth of the glowing coals at the edge of the floodplain soaking up the marvellous sounds of Africa. What a thrill it was for Mary and David, our guests from York, as well as the others who couldn't leave their chairs till late in the evening while the lion roars literally shook the ground around the fireside. We look forward to many more evenings experiencing the mood of Africa around the burning embers.

The wildlife experiences this month, like the weather, has been ever-changing and absolutely wonderful. Seeing animals is one thing, experiencing powerful interactions and intimate behaviour is another. One of our honeymoon couples, Rachel and Jim, witnessed one of the most exciting experiences this month while out on a game drive late one evening.

After an incredible day in which they had been greeted by lions on their arrival at the airstrip and enjoyed a leopard sighting en route to camp, that same evening, while searching for the predators again, they heard a loud snarling on the airstrip and on investigation found a honey badger fighting off two lions. In true character the extremely fierce and tenacious badger was able to fend off the lions using its incredible speed, obnoxious smelling defensive scent and its ferocious bite. These are experiences one normally takes a lifetime to encounter.

Leopard at Tubu Tree Camp      Lion watching a leopard at Tubu

In another very intriguing encounter our guests Linda and Beckie watched an encounter between Beauty, our resident leopard, and a pride of lion. The lions had Beauty trapped in a tree with one of the lions climbing several metres into the tree in an attempt to get hold of the leopard. Fortunately the bulky feline reached her limit and had to jump to the ground. The lions continued to hold Beauty captive for many hours.

We have subsequently had numerous wonderful sightings of Beauty who produced a litter some time in March. As a result she has been hunting regularly to ensure that she is able to produce enough milk to feed the growing cubs. Not only does she need to expend a tremendous amount of energy to tend her cubs she also has to keep them continually on the move and well hidden to avoid a fatal encounter with the lions that will not hesitate to kill her offspring if they are detected.

Mokoro trip at Tubu

As the floodwaters rise we are starting to explore the channels and floodplains by boat and mokoro. It is truly wonderful to experience all of the wildlife and interactions that happen in and around the rising waters. For those of us lucky enough to live so deep in the Delta it feels like we have had life injected into our bodies as we reach that time of the year where we again climb aboard the boats and move through the channels.

The greatest excitement of all is that we are able to resume our trips to Hunda Island, a 1 500-hectare island consisting of mixed acacia woodland where we will be greeted by graceful giraffe and herds of zebra and wildebeest. We now look forward to many months of game drives and day trips on Hunda where we can picnic in the shade of a tree, usually with herds of wildlife in view.

Saddlebilled Stork with a snake      Zebra and foal

At this time of the year many creatures need to make a hasty retreat to escape the rapidly rising waters. As they do so other predators lurk in the shadows to take the opportunity of snatching an easy meal. Caton and Wayne, who shared a number of their wonderful photos with us, watched the colourful Saddlebilled Stork quickly snatch a retreating snake, its hard long beak being the perfect weapon to do so. Whilst people are often very anxious when they encounter snakes it is in fact a privilege to do so as this is a rare occurrence. It is at times like this that it allows us to demonstrate the unfair perception and hatred that we have for these creatures that are so vital to the food chain. They will certainly not pose any threat to you should you be one of the lucky ones to encounter and learn about them from our knowledgeable guides.

Wherever we look there are fascinating interactions between and amongst species all competing for the productive resources of the Delta. Even the graceful White-faced Ducks that soar overhead with their characteristic whistle will fiercely defend their rights when necessary.

After a truly amazing April there is a great deal to look forward to as the waters rise and expand the areas that we will explore in boats and on Mekoro and Land Rovers, we hope that we will be sharing our home with you in the not too distant future.

Best regards from
The Kwetsani Team


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Little Vumbura update - April 08               Jump to Little Vumbura Camp

At the end of March a young male fought with the Vumbura lion pride and was separated from the rest for almost a week, spending his time searching for the group and calling loudly for them. When he eventually located them the whole pride mated with the younger of the two lionesses and appeared to have "bonded" back together again. They divided their time this month hunting in the far north and north east area of the concession, although they weren't seen feeding until late in the month when they killed a buffalo. The Big Red pride appeared late in the month and were sighted sleeping not far from camp.

Lions at Little Vumbura

A young female leopard killed an impala early in the month, making a good sighting. The guides discovered her on the ground feeding, and she then took her kill into an overhanging tree and proceeded to drop titbits down below!

Pel's Owl at Little Vumbura      Chameleon

Aside from the cats, the rest of the game and birds were very busy, with a great sighting of a Pel's Fishing-Owl on Darter Island. Even the smaller island residents were of interest - the bar area had a visit from a pair of chameleons which became a daily competition - who could spot them first!


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Duba Plains update - April 08               Jump to Duba Plains Camp

The camp is looking great and very different after the refurbishments that were done in February. More seating space has been artistically created in our lounge by moving the bar. In addition walkways have been built connecting the swimming pool deck to the main area, as well as from the main area to tent 1. This is going to be very useful especially when the annual flood comes in, normally inundating the previous ground-level walkways.

We have been experiencing temperature changes as from the beginning of April, as low as 7°C, down from 18-20°C the previous months. Due to floodwater around the camp in winter, it seems to be slightly warmer than the plains that dominate our game drive area especially in the chilly mornings and on evening drives. The annual floodwaters also began to arrive in the concession as early as mid-April this year - this was noticed mainly in front of the camp, and on most of the major crossings in the game drive area.

General Wildlife
Both day and night the air now reverberates with the sound of trumpeting and rumbling elephants that have returned from the mopane woodlands to our north. This is the time when the vegetation in the north dries up and water in the pans become too muddy for their comfort. They then move into the Delta for the evergreen plant life and the permanent water. It is always wonderful to have the same elephant bulls coming back year after year. We also seem to have had more unusual sightings of aardwolf, civet and bat-eared fox in April.

One of the highlights of the month's sightings was something completely different and also the first time the guys had ever seen it in the area: They were following lion and buffalo when they came across a cow that had just given birth and was viciously defending her newly born calf from a male leopard that wanted to take it down! He was unphased when the vehicles moved up to take a closer look and managed to take the calf with everybody watching! This attracted the attention of some lionesses that moved quickly into this scene, causing the leopard to flee for his safety.

The buffalo herd is still looking very healthy: We witnessed a lot of calves being born in March and April; this normally increases the interaction rate as the lion target the newly born calves. It is also interesting at this time to see how the herd can be very defensive trying to protect the calves. On most occasions the cows do end up abandoning their calves for their own safety however.

Lions
For the most part the Tsaro Pride still remains the one dominating our lion sightings at Duba Plains. The individuals comprising this pride still number nine adult females, a single adult male (the remaining Duba Boy), one sub-adult male (Junior) and a young female.

There have been many social changes within the pride. We have been wondering what is going to happen within the pride since the death of the one Duba Boy in January 2008. The Skimmer Male comes into the territory more often, and it is very interesting to see that he seems to have settled in the territory at the moment, spending an increasing amount of time there. This caused the destabilisation of the pride initially. Junior, the sub-adult male, has been chased out of the pride by this male, and we have not seen him with the rest of the pride for a period of almost three consecutive weeks to date. The juvenile female was also chased away by Skimmer Male as he was mating with her mother. Recently she has been seen back in the pride though she does not stay with them.

It is very surprising that both females that always looked after Junior are not concerned about his disappearance, and the mother of the juvenile female does not appear to show concern while she is away. Both of these females have been mating with the Skimmer Male. There was a time when both Junior and the juvenile female were seen teaming up with the Duba Boy (who is also suffering from the presence of the Skimmer Male) hunting buffalo. The Duba Boy has been very quiet since the arrival of the Skimmer Male in his territory, showing neither resistance nor reaction at all. He seems ready to give up on his pride and territory as he has become more of a satellite male than ever before in his life.

At this stage, three of the lionesses that mated with the Skimmer Male in January during the struggle that led to the death of the other Duba Boy, have cubs. Only one out of the three have been seen twice in April with three cubs with her, while the other two show signs that they are suckling, but cubs are not yet seen. The guides have been amazed by how the Skimmer Male gets involved in the hunting.

One of the theories with regard to the division of the pride over the last year has been that they were separated because they were raising Junior and the juvenile female. Since they no longer spend time with the rest of the pride, the lionesses have now been seen most of the time in numbers of six or eight which has not happened for the last year or so, thereby giving credence to the theory.

On two different occasions, the Duba Boy has been seen hunting warthog and red lechwe on his own - successful on both occasions. We watch his progress with interest and wonder what the near future holds for him.

The managers at Duba for the month of April were Moalosi, Bonang and Dardley. We would like to take the opportunity to welcome Dardley to the Duba management team. Dardley has been involved with Wilderness Safaris Botswana since 2002, joining us in that year from the Zimbabwe operation. For most of this period he has been working in the Vumbura area and so the move westward to Duba is not a long distance one. Our guide team, with a valuable, vast experience of the concession, its wildlife and nature, was James 007, Lets and Carlton.

-Moalosi-


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South Africa camps
Pafuri Camp update - April 08               Jump to Pafuri Camp

The elephants, those Great Grey Giants, have returned to the concession. One wonders where exactly they roam in the summer months and how and when they decide to return, but return they have, crossing rivers and mountains to rejoin us here in the Makuleke for the dry winter season. We've been entertained by both bulls and herds, some splashing in the waters of the Luvuvhu River in front of the camp and enjoying a good old mud wallow, which helps with irritating ectoparasites and acts as a natural sun block and cooling agent. A few bulls have moved into the ethereal fever tree forest downstream from camp and we watched one testing trees for structural weakness. Finding one which met his requirements he gave the mighty tree a huge heave, pushing it over with a loud crash. As the fever tree lay upon the ground other bulls joined him, feeding on the branches and bark.

Elephant at Pafuri

In camp the daytime splashing activities of the elephants were replaced by a cacophony of sounds at dinner: From the eerie screech of a juvenile Pel's Fishing-Owl, joined by the low bellowing hoot of its parents, to a whooping spotted hyaena and the chest-vibrating roars of the lions roaming this area.

Leopard at Pafuri     Leopard at Pafuri Camp

April was a good month for mammal sightings and we enjoyed a couple of fantastic leopard sightings that were highlights for all lucky enough to be present. On one occasion we had the pleasure of coming across a 3- to 4-month-old leopard cub at the Manqeba windmill. At first the little fur ball disappeared into the long grass and we retreated for a sundowner overlooking Rudyard Kipling's aptly named the "great grey-green greasy" Limpopo River. After dark however we returned to the site and to find the mother contact calling for her cub, which obligingly dashed across the road in front of the vehicle to reunite with her. She then began to affectionately groom her offspring before the two of them moved off through the tall grass and into a clearing where she allowed her cub to suckle while she finished grooming it. On another occasion we were also rewarded with a great sighting of a year-old leopard cub, which was exceptionally relaxed around the vehicle.

April in general was an action packed month. Brett Greenaway had the amazing opportunity to watch a 3.5m crocodile eat an African civet. Certainly one of those once in a lifetime opportunities. Crocodile diet usually consists of around 50% fish, with the remainder made up of a cornucopia of prey items - civet certainly falls into the latter category! Warren Ozorio watched a black-backed jackal make an attempt on an impala lamb, and also had a front row seat view of the awesome power of a African Crowned Eagle capturing and eating a vervet monkey. The powerful talons of this eagle are capable of delivering a crushing force of three pounds per square inch (1.36kg per 2.5cm) and it is a formidable hunter, pairs often hunting cooperatively.

Ground Hornbill      Eagles in flight

We also had some great sightings of honey badger and bushpig seen on drive by Godfrey Baloyi, and the birds also got in on all the action and weren't shy to display some interesting behaviour. A pair of Black-chested Snake-Eagles talon-grappled in flight (seen by Warren Ozorio) and an adult African Harrier Hawk incessantly mobbed an immature Martial Eagle until it eventually got the idea of leaving the former's territory. Birding was great all round with Callum Sargent and I enjoying two male Chestnut-vented Titbabblers fussing over a female. Specials seen over the month included: Lesser Jacana, Southern Ground Hornbill, Thick-billed Cuckoo, Thrush Nightingale, Böhm's Spinetail, Mottled Spinetail, Pel's Fishing-Owl, Eastern Nicator, River Warbler, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Olive-tree Warbler, Dickinson's Kestrel, Retz's Helmet-shrike, African Cuckoo Hawk, Grey-headed Parrot, Senegal lapwing and Temminck's Courser.

So all-in-all it was another fantastic month in Africa in a small wonderland of the Kruger National Park called Pafuri.


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Rocktail Bay Diving update - April 08               Jump to Rocktail Bay Lodge

April has been a pleasant month, weatherwise, with mostly sunny days and calm seas. Viz. has ranged from 15 to 25m, averaging around 18m for most of the month. There has been a slight drop in water temperature from 26 degrees Celsius, down to 24 degrees by the end of the month.

Slingers (Chrysoblephus puniceus)

Pineapple Reef is a wonderfully diverse reef, offering something for everyone - from big potato bass, parrot fish, turtles and moray eels (on a single dive we counted a total of nine big honeycomb eels); to little cleaner shrimps, mantis shrimps and paperfish; to a huge variety of seaweeds, sponges and corals. One of the special sightings at Pineapple is an ever increasing amount of slinger (Chrysoblephus puniceus). These fish are wonderful to see as they have been all but fished out in other areas along our coastline - to get the chance to see them in such numbers, and such good sized ones, during a dive, is very special.

Regal Reef produced a couple of shark sightings this month. Regal is like an underwater maze, a labyrinth of little caves, gullies and huge pinnacles reaching up towards the surface. Each gully that you swim down is like a new adventure, coral walls surround you and creatures big and small are all around. At the beginning of the month divers saw a white tip reef shark (Triaenodon obesus) sleeping in a cave and watched her for about ten minutes before moving on. Then, as they swam out of the gully, they saw another slightly bigger white tip swim past.

There were other shark sightings this month, including a number of grey reef sharks and a tiger shark at Pineapple Reef! The divers were watching a grey reef shark swimming across the sand and as the divers turned back towards the reef, to their surprise there were another four sharks circling in front of them. Just as the adrenalin dropped, along came a nice 2 or 3m big tiger shark to get the heart rates going again! On this same dive a large black ribbontail ray was spotted, it had two big cobia swimming with it. These fish accompany the rays, looking for a free meal: as the rays do the scuffling in the sand looking for food, the cobias pounce on anything trying to escape.

There were also four separate whaleshark sightings this month. The first was on the 10th, a wonderful sunny day and the divers were heading to Regal Reef. This was to be Tony's first sea dive! As they were travelling Darryl spotted two bottlenose dolphins, and then a big pod of spinner dolphins. These are quite a bit smaller than the bottlenose and get their name from their behaviour - they literally jump out of the water, spin in the air and then dive back down again! They were great fun to watch, especially the baby who was really showing off, jumping time and time again. Then as they left the dolphins, they saw the whaleshark and got a chance to snorkel with it. All this before enjoying a wonderful first dive at Regal - some divers have all the luck! Congratulations Tony on completing your PADI Open Water Diver Course - wishing you many more exciting dives!

The second and third sightings were on the 14th and 15th. The 15th was also Martin's first dive in the sea. Martin completed a PADI Discover Scuba Diving course and was rewarded by seeing an 8m whaleshark up close and personal. We had just completed our dive at Aerial where we saw three green turtles, potato bass, and a giant kingfish (Caranx ignobilis) which lived up to its name of 'giant.' We finished our dive a bit before the other divers that were at Pineapple Reef, so we decided to snorkel above them. We saw two potato bass and a huge turtle that looked like a rock on the sand, when along she came. The whaleshark was heading right towards us and literally swam straight through us; I had to move out of its way as it actually swam right into me! The rest of the divers had just surfaced and they raced over to join us.

Whale Shark

The last whaleshark sighting for the month was on the 27th and was a 50th birthday present for Andrew Smith! Diving and snorkelling with a group of good friends for the weekend is a great way to spend a birthday! Everyone had a wonderful time snorkelling with bottlenose dolphins and the whaleshark.

Manta Ray

The other majestic, plankton feeders - the manta rays - were not to be outdone. We had three different sightings of these beautiful creatures on dives, twice at Pineapple Reef and once at Brewers Garden.

It is now time to officially bid Karin a sad farewell. She tried to leave once, and came back, but now she really does have to go to Australia and further her studies in genetics. We wish you all the best and will miss you! (Just one more visit before you go?)

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


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Namibia camps
Skeleton Coast update - April 08               Jump to Skeleton Coast Camp

At first sight here one can easily be excused for thinking it all seems very barren. This however cannot be further from the truth, and upon visiting this area, one soon realises that some of the most amazing wildlife and awe-inspiring landscapes on earth is found here.

On arrival at Skeleton Coast Camp our thoughts were: we've reached our destination with only mountain and camp vistas, now what? Little did we know what the immense beauty of the Skeleton Coast was to be unveiled to us over the next couple of days.

Fun on the sand dunes      Seal colony at Skeleton Coast

Our visit to the natural springs confirmed that this beautiful place does support life as animals clearly come to drink from these springs: we saw signs of gemsbok, springbok and black-backed jackal. My thought was to jump off the vehicle and taste the water itself but I had to contain myself, especially on the first day's activity! The roaring sand dunes were completely fascinating - and we contemplated for a while on how good it feels to be in touch with nature, bare feet and all, sand in our trousers, full of childish giggles and hysterical hyaena laughs - not forgetting the lion roar-like sounds the dunes make at the aptly named Roaring Dunes.

Sitting on the top of the vehicle (in special customised seats) we made our way to the coastline. It's easy to see how this coast earned its name as 'Coast of Skulls' - treacherous early morning fogs (although life-giving to nature here) and strong currents that caused many shipwrecks.

Incredible vistas      Interesting desert life      Lithops at Skeleton Coast

It's amazing how the weather changes drastically from very hot to ultra-cold in an instant as one moves closer to the coastline and the terrain levels from sandy dunes to flat gravel plains. Feet were dipped into the Atlantic Ocean waters like a fondue dipping - lightning quick - but on the contrary 'brrrrr' ice cold. Life seen towards and along the coast included springbok, gemsbok, arid-adapted birds (Gray's Lark, Ludwig's Bustard, Tractrac Chat), crabs, a washed-up octopus and a black-backed jackal spotted when we returned from the Cape Frio Seal colony. Salt-encrusted plains were in abundance; at a far distance they can mistakenly be seen as part of the ocean with mirage-like mountainous borders - simply captivating. In some places fragile lichens carpet the gravel desert, and bizarre stone plants are highly evolved in water conservation.

Sundowners were enjoyed next to large sandy cliffs, a fitting end to a wonderful day. We also visited the Clay Castles: one cannot help being lost in thought amongst these huge boulders and clay mounds washed up over time.

Prayer Seabelo - Wilderness Safaris Journey Specialist


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Serra Cafema update - April 08               Jump to Serra Cafema Camp

Prayer Seabelo, a Wilderness Safaris Journey Specialist, recently visited Namibia. Here are her thoughts on Serra Cafema.

On arrival and on our way to Serra Cafema Camp, the mountains had lush grass and flowers all over giving a beautiful contrast with clouds gathering rain. We had a sundowner at a high viewpoint overlooking the Kunene River and enjoyed a stunning sunset. After the warm reception in camp, we got a feel of our tents and we were not disappointed: space was clearly not an issue with very elegant décor and the bonus of our suite overlooking the Kunene River.

Green desert at Serra Cafema      Chameleon at Serra Cafema      Green desert at Serra Cafema

The main area is amazing, emphasising the idea of 'no need to rush, just to relax and go with the flow'.

Activities in camp included boating trips on the Kunene River, environmentally sensitive quad biking and tranquil nature walks. The camp really embraces unity amongst the local people, including those found on the Angolan side. The Himba community we visited not only benefits in terms of direct employment but are also being supplied with staple foods like maize meal from the camp.

When we boated down the Kunene, children on the Angolan side of the river were ecstatic to see us - even though we must have appeared small due to the distance. They were running along and cartwheeling on the sand to humour us while the elders waved to greet us and continued with their work.

Kunene River      Holding a snake      Himba hut

Not only did this trip educate us on what this country has to offer but the manner in which nature and people co-exist reminded us to be humble at all times.

Prayer Seabelo - Wilderness Safaris Journey Specialist


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Damaraland Camp update - April 08               Jump to Damaraland Camp

Weather
The Damaraland area has had a wonderful rainy season this year, amounting to about 210mm, which is remarkable considering it is normally dry and arid. The rains have now cleared up and we've been experiencing our usual hot days and balmy nights. The 1st of May marked the first inklings of the coming winter months with a cold evening and chilly winds, but after a few days of cold weather we're back to our regular mild temperatures. Yet our nights are getting longer and days a bit shorter, with sunset starting at about 17h30 at this time of year. Our winter constellations are peaking through, and on a moonless night the Southern Cross, Scorpio, Orion Constellations and the Milky Way galaxy all light up the sky in a dramatic display. With the new seating areas around the pool and fireplace, we just sit in the evenings and gaze at the stars.

Green desert at Damaraland      Donkey cart

Vegetation, Landscape and Water
Damaraland can only be described as exquisite at the moment: With rolling hills and mountains covered with knee-length golden grass as far as the eye can see. At night, under a full moon, it can almost be mistaken as a blanket of white snow down the valley and surrounding mountains - but the soothing noise of crickets and warmer evenings keep you from being mislead. The wet season was so good that the grasses have come up and thrived and the area is just beautiful. All the milk bushes (Euphorbia) have flowered and are now sporting their plump fruits that are a beautiful green colour. The river ran a few times, although briefly, during the rainy season and has left the riverbed rejuvenated and ready for the upcoming dry winter months.

Elephants at Damaraland      Local woman at Damaraland

Wildlife News
Exciting news in Damaraland is the birth of more elephants to Rosie's Group who are now three members larger since December. They have been keeping to the Twfelfontein areas so we have not seen them in a while, but look forward to their return from the mountains and into the Huab River when winter sets in. Oscar's Group and the Tuskless Group have been closer to camp and we've been seeing them daily: Sometimes at a bit of a distance when they are travelling along the mountain paths, but usually we are still having wonderful contacts with these amazing desert-adapted pachyderms. They are making headway after the tragic death of their matriarch in December and we're still not 100% sure as to who exactly has taken over the position, but can say that the two females looking very likely for the position are daughters of hers. Our guides have also recently had some incredible sightings of black rhino as well as six spotted hyaena chasing a kudu two weeks ago. The latter is a rare sighting in our area, although these animals do exist here, and the sightings just prove how conservation in the communal areas of Torra Conservancy are making a difference. We've also had additions to the Helmeted Guineafowl flock in camp with a few more little chicks running around and they're what you hear calling first thing in the morning and as the sun sets.

Other News
After a devastating loss in a regional soccer match (2-0 - in which some of our guys played) to the local team of Etosha, the guys were very let down and training commenced with renewed vigour and the hopes to beat them next time. Camp staff has also been up to a lot of training in recent months: management training, chef training and upcoming guide training. We also had a chef exchange from Zambia - Santos, who spent three weeks with us. It was an absolute pleasure having had him here and we hope he takes a bit of Namibia home with him, as do all our visitors.

Due to Desert Rhino Camp closing down due for renovations, we have had the rhino trackers from Save the Rhino Trust (SRT) as well as the guides from Desert Rhino Camp staying with us and doing rhino tracking in the Springbok River area. They have had some beautiful sightings of rhino with their guests and certainly add to the atmosphere in camp where knowledge and advice is being passed around between the guides.

-Nadja le Roux-


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Kenya camps
Governors' Camp update - April 08               Jump to Governors' Camp

Little rain fell in April in the form of a few large rain storms towards the end of the month. Cool early mornings with temperatures of around 19 degrees C have given way to warm days with temperatures of up to 30 degrees C at midday. The combination of rain and sunshine has brought on a burst of growth and the grasses are long and lush with a profusion of beautiful wild flowers. Cycnium Tubolosum or the “Tissue Paper Flower”, covers the grass verges and the forest margins; nearby we have seen many Abutilon Mauritanium, which is yellow with a flower similar to that of a Hibiscus, Pavonia’s and Hibiscuses themselves. In the gullies the beautiful blue Ipomoea Cairica is blossoming and we have been treated to the magnificent sight of the flowers of the yellow and red Flame Lily (the aptly named Glorosia Superba). Out on the grasslands and especially up on Paradise Plain the beautiful red Klennia Abysinnica is blooming.
 
Three herds of Impala are now resident in the woodlands of the Marsh area together with good numbers of Defassa Waterbuck. A herd of sixteen giraffe are resident in the forests around the camps and are often seen browsing on the trees. Large breeding herds of elephant (counting up to fifty members in one herd) are in the Bila Shaka grass lands and the Musiara Marsh with many young calves, the youngest of which is just a week old! The abundance of soft grass is keeping the elephant herds well fed. During the rainy season their diet changes as the growth of fresh grass provides them with a wealth of necessary minerals. This also gives the precious trees of the riverine forests and the acacia woodlands a much needed respite.
 
With the arrival of the rains, the resident Bila Shaka / Marsh Pride male lions have had to patrol the boundaries of their territory continuously scent-marking the area as each rain storm washes the previous scent marks off. On the 18th of April we were entertaining some Tour Operators and they received a dramatic demonstration of this. We were driving back from Governors’ Camp to Little Governors’ Camp and came across the two Bila Shaka males lying across the middle of the road. One of the males got up, nonchalantly strolled past the vehicle and when he reached the back tyre he swung round, lifted his tail and liberally scent-sprayed the vehicle and its occupants! Quite an introduction to the Masai Mara! The rest of the pride is doing well. We have seen them feeding regularly on a hippo carcass and topi kills, and the females have been bringing their five cubs out into the grasslands to explore. Towards the end of the month the dark-maned lion Pavarotti was seen with an injury. We are unsure whether he received this fighting with the other two pride males over females in oestrus or with another lion, but I am happy to report that his wounds are healing although he is still limping a little.
 
The Ridge Pride of five lionesses and three sub adult males has also been doing well. Towards the end of the month they were seen on the carcass of a dead hippo semi-submerged in a muddy pool and they could only devour the top of the hippo. A couple of days later the rest of the hippo was consumed by around fifteen spotted hyena. We have also witnessed the males of the Ridge Pride digging hapless warthogs out of their bolt holes in the lower plains area.
 
We continue to have lovely sightings of the resident cheetahs. A lone male has been seen hunting on the plains and grasslands flats near the entrance to Little Governors’ Camp. Honey’s three adult male cubs continue to hunt up on the ridges and down in the gullies, and the female with her two thirteen month old cubs are doing well out on the grasslands. There is also a heavily pregnant female out on the plains looking for cover and a safe secure place to have her cubs, so we expect her to give birth anytime now.
 
The leopards resident to our area are also thriving, and many guests have been fortunate to see  Pole Pole and her son Kijana. They continue to share the territory in the woodland area between Il Moran and Little Governors’, and a new large male has also been seen in the same riverine forest between these camps. There is also another resident male who‘s territory includes the forest further down-river  between Governors’ Camp and Private Camp. We are privileged to have so many of the beautiful elusive cats on our “doorstep”. This is truly “Big Cat” country.

Flame Lilies in the Mara     Young Ridge Pride males feeding on a hippo carcass
Flame Lilies in the Mara & one of the young Ridge Pride males feeding on a hippo carcass

This month has been all about the birds, which have been extraordinary. The Musiara Marsh is such an important area for many bird species and this month they have all been out in force. Tens of thousands of European Barn Swallows on their migration to Europe have been roosting in the swamp every evening, and at dusk we have witnessed huge clouds of them diving and swooping over the grasslands adjacent to the swamp hunting grass-hoppers, crickets and small insects.
 
The first rains brought on a growth of grass which has now matured and produced seed, so there are many seed eaters coming to feed and breed. The abundance of nutritious food heralds the mating season as the chances of conception are increased, and we have been privileged to witness Red Collared Widow-birds, Fan Tailed Widow-birds, Pin Tailed Whydah’s and Yellow Mantled Widow-birds all transformed from their dull plumage into magnificent breeding plumage.
 
With the growth of the long grass the Weaver birds have been out harvesting grass to build their new nests. If the hen doesn’t like the new nest she dismantles it and makes the male rebuild it until she is happy with it and agrees to be his mate. The Widow-birds have been doing the same and the females have also been inspecting the male’s long breeding plumage tails to identify a good mate.
 
The abundance of insects, frogs, tad poles and fish has meant that there are lots of storks (Yellow Billed and Saddle Billed), Grey Herons, Fish Eagles and Sacred Ibis’ feasting in the swamp . Many Juvenile Bateleur Eagles are nesting on the fringes of the forest overlooking the swamp from where they have a perfect vantage point to spot their prey and hunt.
 
A solitary European Roller has been seen several times in the gully before Paradise Plains. This roller is a migrant from Europe and Asia, and visits this area between October and April before beginning his long migration north. This small bird has a magnificent bright blue head, throat, belly and wings.
 
The insects have also been busy. The ants and termites have been reproducing. The king and queen mate, then the queen lays the eggs, some of which are reproductive’s, some soldiers, and some are workers for the colony. The reproductives have wings and when they are ready they fly out of the nest, find a partner and then dig down into the ground to start their own colony. During the rainy season the ground is softer and for this reason the ants fly out during a rainstorm and then dig down into the soft earth. This whole reproductive cycle provides a feast for the birds, and we have seen lots of Sooty Chats parked on termite mounds all over our area waiting for these ant and termite reproductives to emerge.  

Out on the plains we have been serenaded by the singing Bush Larks and in the evenings back in camp Fireflies have lit up the night.

We hope to share the magic of our corner of the Mara with you sometime soon.


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Campi ya Kanzi update - April 08               Jump to Campi ya Kanzi

Game and landscape
We gladly received very rich, early rains. All is blossoming and green; Kilimanjaro is completely covered in snow. The river is flooding, and the elephants are happily playing in the mud. Nosero, the lioness living around the camp, gave birth to three cubs, her second litter. Her previous cubs, a male and a female, are now nearly three years old, independent and still roaming around camp.

Green grass and hills after early rains      Waterfalls on the Ol Turesh river

The female cheetah living near Longido has once again successfully raised three cubs, who will soon be independent. Elephants are doing well in our Reserve, as well as in Tsavo, where an air count done last month showed a significant increase compared to the previous census.

      Elephants at Campi ya Kanzi

The bigger family (see www.maasaitrust.org)
Many thanks to all of you who are generously supporting us.
Our education, conservation and health programs are all doing well, but constantly need your support.
We are now employing 44 teachers, 44 game scouts, 1 doctor and 5 nurses: your help is badly needed.
 
New supporters: Edward Norton is joining our USA foundation as the new president. Kristin Davis will be in our Advisory Board. We are planning many events in the fall: San Francisco, Santa Barbara, New York, Atlanta, and Boulder. We will let you know the dates in a few weeks.
 
Simba Project
Our consolation scheme, to protect all predators, faced a critical moment recently. Two lions (living in a nearby Group Ranch) were poisoned at the end of December. We arrested the Maasai responsible for the killing. The community rallied around us and agreed to fully prosecute him. He was found guilty and charged a fine (a small one). There are two ways to look at this accident: the negative is the death of two lions (female and male), the small fine, and the fact that apparently the Simba Project did not succeed in avoiding the killing. The positive one is to consider that since Luca’s arrival in Maasailand, 12 years ago, there has never been a sentence against a Maasai for the killing of a lion, never before has the community rallied against one of them, and that in Maasai reserves near Amboseli three lions were killed just last month, and nothing happened to the Maasai who killed them.
To us it means Simba Project is working: we have the understanding and the support of the community as a whole; we were capable of getting the case prosecuted. We will lobby for more serious sentences, but we are moving in the right direction.

Simba Project      Lucrezia helps tracking the collared lions of the Simba Project

To run Simba Project it costs nearly $20,000 every three months: we really need your support to get going.
Our lion population has increased in 12 months from 15/18 to 29/30, thanks to the birth of many cubs. We need to keep protecting them. The cheetah population has increased, and so have the leopards (a female near the Maasai village has three cubs and she has been preying on livestock recently: without Simba Project she would probably have been killed, with the consequent death of her cubs).

We wish to have you at Campi ya Kanzi soon, all our best,
Luca, Antonella (with Lucrezia and Jacopo), Samson, Clare, Stefano and all the Maasai of Campi ya Kanzi

The entire team at Campi ya Kanzi

Keep supporting our efforts and we will keep accomplishing a lot together.
See here below what your donation will do.
 
What your money will do:
A donation of…
$100:  Pay the salary of a kindergarten teacher for 1 month
$120:  Pay the salary of a game scout for 1 month
$215:  Pay the salary of a teacher for 1 month
$350:  Pay for a set of books for an entire class for 1 year
$500:  Pay the salary of the coordinator of the Trust for 1 month
$550:  Buy medicine, needles, antibiotics for 3 months
$600:  Buy a hand held radio for the game scouts for Ever
$750:  Pay for a pupil at secondary school for 1 year
$1,440:  Pay a game scout for 1 year
$1,800:  Buy all the books the school needs for 1 year
$2,500:  Pay the salary of a doctor for 1 month
$22,000:  Cover for the entire payroll of the Trust for 1 month

And more money can….
$6,000:  Build a waterhole to draw more wildlife and elephants into the reserve
$18,000:  Buy a second hand Land Rover for helping the dispensary and the scouts
$45,000:  Buy a Land Rover ambulance for the doctor, to assist the entire community
$50,000:  Annual fee for the Maasai landlords to establish & then maintain a conservancy
$75,000:  Run Simba Project for 1 year
$75,000:  Create a black rhino sanctuary
 
The Maasai Foundation of East Africa (www.maasaifoundation.org) is a US 501 c (3) nonprofit corporation that has supported the Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust with grants for wildlife conservation, medical and educational projects. Your donation will be directed to the sector, project or program you choose.
 
Checks may be mailed to:
The Maasai Foundation of East Africa
P.O. Box 1413
Santa Barbara, CA 93102
USA
 
Credit cards:
Go to www.maasaifoundation.org 
 
Wire transfers may be sent to:
The Maasai Foundation of East Africa
Santa Barbara Bank & Trust
20 E Carrillo Street
Santa Barbara, CA 93101
Account number 01 07 45 90
Routing number 12 22 20 593
 
Donations may be made in Kenya to the Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust:  
Transfer USD using MT103 through:
American Express Bank Ltd.
New York, USA
SWIFT : AEIBUS33
Fed Wire Routing No: 124 071 889
 
For the Credit of:
Commercial Bank of Africa
Nairobi, Kenya.
SWIFT : CBAFKENX
Account : 731141


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