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AFRICAN SAFARI NEWS

December 2008

(Page 1 of 2)

Page 1 Updates
General Safari 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 dive report 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.
• Monthly update from Mombo Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Xigera Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Chitabe Camp in Botswana.
Kwando Safaris game reports from Botswana.
• Monthly update from Jacana Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Kwetsani Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Jao Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Tubu Tree Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Duba Plains Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Kalahari Plains Camp in Botswana.
• Report from a recent Green Desert Expedition safari in Botswana.

Page 2 Updates
• Monthly update from Rocktail Bay Lodge in South Africa.
• Monthly Dive Report from Rocktail Bay in South Africa.
• Monthly update from Pafuri Camp in South Africa.
• Monthly update from Toka Leya Camp in Zambia.
• Monthly update from The River Club in Zambia.
• Monthly update from Makalolo Plains in Zimbabwe.
• Monthly update from Desert Rhino Camp in Namibia.
• Monthly update from Skeleton Coast Camp in Namibia.
• Monthly update from Serra Cafema Camp in Namibia.
• Monthly update from Palmwag Lodge in Namibia.
• Monthly update from Ongava Tented Camp in Namibia.
• Monthly update from Ongava Lodge in Namibia.
• Monthly update from Kulala Desert Lodge in Namibia.
• Monthly update from Damaraland Camp in Namibia.
• Monthly update from Governors' Camp in Kenya's Masai Mara.



GENERAL UPDATES
Sefofane Namibia: new "scheduled" air service
Sefofane Namibia has implemented a scheduled service connecting all the Wilderness Safaris camps in Namibia from April 2009 onwards resulting in many benefits. The vast majority of our guests therefore will fly in air-conditioned Caravans, which are faster and more spacious, allowing for more comfort on the long distances flown in Namibia.

C210 aircraft will be stationed at Sossusvlei, Palmwag and Serra Cafema to do connecting transfers as well as scenic flights. Apart from this new service providing consolidated flying and thus a much minimised carbon footprint, the times are now set and guests will know their departure and arrival times at the various camps well in advance. Such specific times simplify itinerary planning as these set departure and arrival times also mean that flight connections, onward touring and airport transfer arrangements are that much easier to plan and coordinate.


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WILDLIFE NEWS
New Water! New Cheetah!
Location: Savuti, Linyanti Concession, northern Botswana
Date: December 2008
Observers: Grant Atkinson & James Weis (photographs: Grant Atkinson and James Weis)

For many years now visitors to the Wilderness Safaris camps of Savuti, DumaTau, Selinda and Zarafa (Zibadianja) have been treated to views of a coalition of male cheetah that were once three strong. These males have used an enormous home range or territory spanning both concessions and centred on the floodplains around the Zibadianja Lagoon, Linyanti River and of course the grasslands of the Savute Channel.

Two cheetah brothers in the Savute Channel      New cheetahs at Savuti Camp

Some years ago one of the cheetah died after being bitten by a cobra, leaving just two males. They continued to dominate the Savuti area and managed to successfully keep their territory clear of interlopers. Then early in the winter of 2008 disaster struck when the pair clashed with another pair of cheetah in the Selinda Concession. This had fatal consequences for one of the cheetah, who was savaged badly during the fighting and was not seen again. The lone surviving male is still moving in his old haunts, and is still providing great viewing. He continues to scent mark in all the places he did with his brothers. Earlier this year he was photographed trying to fight off a pack of wild dogs who stole an impala he had just killed.

Cheetah running in Savute Channel      Cheetahs crossing the Savute Channel

This approaching summer brought with it much change to the Savute Channel as floodwaters from the Linyanti filled more than 25km of its length as opposed to the usual (for the past 3-4 years anyway) six or so kilometres. Change seems to be coming in more ways than just the water though. Whilst leading a special interest digital photo safari out of Savuti Camp, James Weis and I came across two new young male cheetah moving in the channel. What was most noticeable in their behaviour was just how assiduously they were scent marking all along the channel, including several of the fallen trees that the older male cheetah used to mark on. The two animals look young and healthy. On one of the days that we were out, they came within a kilometre of the single old male cheetah but to our knowledge there was no contact between the animals.

We will be watching with interest to see how the situation develops. Time will tell if the old surviving male can drive these youngsters off, and if they have the nerve and strength to take him on.



Long-crested Eagle sighted at Pafuri Camp
Location: Pafuri Camp, Makuleke Concession, Kruger National Park
Date: 13 December 2008
Observers: Walter Jubber

Life at Pafuri Camp is a privilege. When you arrive at morning tea and stroll out onto the deck coffee in one hand and a muffin in the other you never know exactly what is going to greet you. On some days there are buffalo bulls lying wallowing in the shallows, on other days those great grey gentle giants, the elephants, are present. We have even watched hunting Pel's Fishing-owl and a Bat Hawk at morning tea and occasionally the resident male or female leopard on the opposite bank.

Long-crested eagle at Pafuri Camp

This morning however I was surprised to see a black-brown coloured eagle perched on a dead, washed up sycamore fig. The long, wavy crest immediately distinguished it as a Long-crested Eagle, an uncommon bird in the Lowveld in general. This bird is normally found in the montane habitats at higher altitudes than that of Kruger National Park. One can imagine the scene that developed thereafter: birders and guides alike rushing for cameras and binoculars to capture this elegant bird with its head plumes blowing in the wind.

They are said to be shorter lived than other eagles of the same size, and are typical perch hunters. They find themselves a dead tree which is used as a watch tower and from this perch they swoop down upon their rodent prey. Feeding predominantly on rodents, they do also feed on frogs, reptiles, insects and even fruit, like the figs from Ficus spp., but rarely birds. They are said to have a hunting success rate of around 40%, and are generally solitary hunters from atop their high vantage points. They may be solitary hunters, but like other eagles are monogamous.

So what more could one ask for: a beautiful view with the sun's rays glistening off the water's surface, wildlife moving to the water to quench their thirst and the musical chatter of birds in and around the trees which shade and contour the camp - topped off with an unusual bird? A privilege indeed.



Hawksbill Turtle nesting on North Island
Location: North Island, Seychelles
Date: 14 December 2008
Observers: Linda van Herck

Once they are older than 30 years, female turtles are known to return to the same beaches that they themselves were born to lay their eggs. How they manage to remember after so many years where they once crawled out of their nest, remains a mystery. North Island's beaches are important nesting sites for the critically endangered hawksbill turtle and over the years we have had many spectacular and intimate sightings. This particular sighting took the cake though: we had a hawksbill turtle spending quite some time looking for a suitable nesting place - in our main restaurant!

Hawksbill Turtle nesting on North Island

This particular turtle was tagged (although we are not sure when, where and by whom) and her number SEY 6889-6890 allowed us to contemplate her oceanic existence and the changes that she has seen in her life. Plenty has changed since she hatched on North Island several decades ago. Our arrival on North has meant that a lodge has replaced the coconut plantations and copra factory. Nonetheless, this turtle pulled herself up onto the beach and set about investigating the area that is now flanked by the restaurant. She emerged from the rocks south of the restaurant and walked past the pergola table, moved up between the tables on the sand, and subsequently walked all along the base of the restaurant deck, in an attempt to get where her instinct dictated her to go. She was clearly searching for a nesting site and we imagined her being confused with the changed circumstances.

Hawksbill Turtle coming ashore at North Island      Hawksbill Turtle looking for a nesting spot on North Island

Staff and guests kept a respectful distance so as not to unduly influence her movements while enjoying a special sighting and watched her return to the sea without having laid any eggs. This kind of investigatory behaviour is not unusual and many female turtles engage in what are sometimes called 'false crawls', returning to the ocean without having nested. In fact this same turtle behaved similarly in the 2006/2007 season.

According to our records:
On 28 December 2006 at 8H45 she was seen at the main restaurant, but did not lay.
On 29 December 2006 at 14H15 she was seen close to Villa 7 where she dug but still did not lay.
On 13 January 2007 at 16H15 she re-emerged, this time close to Sunset Bar, where she was finally witnessed nesting.
On 27 January 2007 at 14H15, she returned to the main restaurant and was recorded laying her 2nd nest for the season.

Hawksbill and green turtles can lay two to three times per nesting season, each containing 150 to 200 eggs. They only return to their nesting beaches every two to three years however and thus, while we expect SEY 6889-6890 to re-merge this season, it is unlikely she will return to North Island again until the 2010/2011 season.



Linyanti's Border Boys
Location: Kings Pool, Linyanti Concession, northern Botswana
Date: December 2008
Observer: Andrea Staltmeier

For the last four years a male lion coalition called the Border Boys has been roaming the Linyanti area of northern Botswana.

From an original coalition of six related males, three of them left the Linyanti area, so for the most part we used to observe three of them together. Unfortunately, since June 2008, one of the three went missing; we assume something fatal happened to him. The two remaining Border Boys not only add spice to visitors' safari experiences as all male lions do, but also keep us in suspense about their whereabouts, wellbeing and next thrilling encounter.

Border Boys on an elephant carcass      The Border Boys lions of Kings Pool

The last time I saw them I was lucky enough to find them feeding on an elephant that was around six years old. According to a camp manager in the Linyanti area, they were feeding on a slightly younger elephant three days before this - nobody witnessed if they killed the elephants or were just lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time.

After filling their bellies the lions headed down to the river for some water - their bellies were round and plump after this feed. They moved extremely slowly, taking in a few short stops in between and finally a good rest in the shade provided by a jackalberry tree. While the one lion kept returning to the river for more water the other one was already dozing off. Then along came a warthog. It was obviously not the warthog's lucky day, as it chose to almost walk over the sleeping lion!

Despite his full belly, the Border Boy instinctively attacked and killed the hapless warthog, and then simply lay down next to it, possibly contemplating what to do with this new-found meal. As there didn't seem to be any more space in his belly, he simply dragged it into the shade, plonked himself down and closed his eyes again.

We left the two lions for our own brunch and siesta and were hoping to find them later in the day. As we returned in the afternoon, they had moved on just a little bit further down the river. They were still just lazing around - only adjusting their positions and locations to the wandering shade.

That next evening, while we were having sundowner drinks next to the river, we heard some distressed buffalo moving up and down in the mopane woodland. We jumped back onto the vehicle and proceeded towards the sounds. You could hear animals calling, branches breaking and we had a quick glimpse of a lion in the ensuing darkness chasing buffalo - the smell of dust and sand was tangible in the air. The next morning only half of a buffalo cow was left over, marking another successful kill by the Border Boys.



Pirates of the Kruger
Location: Pafuri Camp, Makuleke Concession, Kruger National Park
Date: December 2008
Observer: Warren Ozorio

On the morning of the 13th December 2008, guide Warren Ozorio left on a morning game drive with guests. As he was driving down the gravel airstrip on the Makuleke Concession he noticed a congregation of juvenile Bateleurs with a lone Tawny Eagle amongst them. As he approached, the flock of Bateleurs erupted, taking flight - while the Tawny Eagle flew off to another perch with something in its talons.

As Warren watched, he realised that the something was in fact a black mamba! The Tawny Eagle began to feed on it, so Warren whipped out his camera, capturing the exact moment as this eagle tore its 'catch' apart and commenced to gulp down the mamba piece by piece.

Juvenile Bateleur Eagle at Pafuri Camp      Tawny Eagle with a Black Mamba at Pafuri

Tawny Eagles are known scavengers and kleptoparasites (stealing and pirating prey from other birds), in this case presumably from a Bateleur that had initially caught the mamba. What is interesting to note is that juvenile Bateleurs are recorded scavenging 85% of the time and adults 70% in the northern parts of the Kruger National Park. Only a small part of a Bateleur's diet consists of reptiles however, of which the black mamba is one of their favourite species.

In this case, a Bateleur must have caught the large mamba. With it catching, killing and trying to consume its meal, it attracted other juvenile Bateleurs and the pirating Tawny Eagle in the area. Immature and sub-adult Bateleurs are often recorded in large aggregations possibly trying to avoid adult birds' territories until they are older.

With all the squabbling going on and then the approach of Warren, the Tawny Eagle took its chance, grabbed and flew away with its stolen meal, which it clearly thoroughly enjoyed.



Proud Parents
Location: Jao Camp, Jao Concession, Okavango Delta
Date: 22 December 2008
Observers: Tara Salmons

Our resident banded mongoose (Mungos mungo) family caused much excitement for us here at Jao Camp when one or more of the females gave birth on the 21st of December to tiny bundles of joy in the sala cover of Room 7.

Pregnant Banded Mongoose at Jao Camp      Banded Mongoose pups at Jao      Newborn Banded Mongooses at Jao Camp

The following morning the troop had moved their newborns to a more appropriate location on the ground, fringed with palms and sheltered from any avian predators. I managed to capture a couple of photos through the density of the surrounds; a 400mm lens accommodates well in these circumstances.

At the moment the adults are very protective, having most of the troop members huddle over the tiny restless bodies who often wriggle out from under the layers of overlaid chins and curled tails. Over time, I'm sure we'll get a better look at them as confidence grows and hopefully we can get a more exact head count of the youngsters (and some better photos!).

Baby Banded Mongooses at Jao      Newborn mongoose pups at Jao Camp

This mongoose species is highly gregarious, living in closed territorial packs with several breeding adults. The banded mongoose forms the largest groups of all the mongoose species. As in lions, the young are suckled communally. Banded mongooses' eyes open around the eighth day after which they become more mobile.

We are all very proud and excited parents here at Jao!



Botswana's Baby Boom
Location: Okavango Delta and the Linyanti
Date: December 2008
Observer and Photographer: Grant Atkinson

The first half of summer in northern Botswana is renowned as a good time to see baby animals; most typical are the cute impala lambs and the odd-looking wildebeest calves. Having just completed a specialist photographic safari through some of Wilderness Safaris' prime areas in the Okavango Delta and northern Linyanti regions, we were fortunate enough to not only see good numbers of baby herbivores, but also a host of young carnivores.

Black-backed Jackal puppy at Savuti Camp      Black-backed Jackal puppy at Savuti Camp      Lion cub at Mombo

First on our trip were some excellent sightings of a group of black-backed jackal pups along the Savute Channel. One was observed climbing a fallen tree whilst its sibling investigated the fresh workings on a termite mound.

The fun sightings continued at Chitabe Camp where a trio of young side-striped jackals chased each other about just a short way from their den and their watchful parents. The young jackals' excitement was evident as their tails swished back and forth, making it easy for us to note the white tail tip, such a useful identification aid when trying to see the difference between this jackal species and its close relative, the black-backed jackal.

Lion cub looking cute at Mombo Camp      Lion cub at Duba Plains      Lion cubs at Duba Camp

At Mombo Camp yet more curious young black-backed jackals approached our vehicle fearlessly to within a metre, whilst their cautious parents watched from a safe distance.

Also at Mombo, we enjoyed time one morning with a group of five lion cubs belonging to some females of the Mathata lion pride. One of the cubs, more adventurous than the others, jumped across a small pool of water, whilst another provided a great photo opportunity for us by climbing up a small termite mound. Lion cubs can be born any time of year, however their breeding season is usually more dependent on social conditions within the pride than any seasonal cues.

At Duba Plains there were more lion cubs, this time a pair of male youngsters belonging to the Tsaro Pride females, and these two boys kept themselves busy with a palm stump growing out of an old termite mound, again providing us with good pictures.

More side-striped jackals were to be seen here too, as well as a pair of bat-eared foxes with a group of four pups.


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CAMP UPDATES
BOTSWANA
Savuti Camp: Sustainably Solar

Being located in remote wilderness areas means that energy generation in Wilderness Safaris camps is for the most part achieved through the burning of diesel in generator systems during set periods of any day. In order to limit the amount of diesel burnt and thus carbon emitted, all camps utilise inverter systems that power battery banks and minimise the number of hours required to run the generators. Not only does this reduce diesel consumption, but it also reduces the ambient noise associated with these machines (mostly housed in sound-proof rooms).

Solar panels at Savuti Camp      Solar-powered geyser at Savuti Camp

Savuti Camp is no different but we recently further improved our efforts at limiting our carbon footprint. Currently more than half of Wilderness Safaris camps across southern Africa employ some form of renewable energy and at Savuti we have recently employed solar water heaters throughout the camp.

The new technology we are using consists of evacuated tube solar geysers which are incredibly effective and have been fitted in the staff village, all management and guide units, the kitchen and laundry. We are now rolling these out in the guest units as well (leaving the old-style electric geyser in case their use is ever necessary in the future). The feedback so far has been fantastic - even after two consecutive days of cloud and very little direct sunshine, the managers reckon the water was still so hot, you could have made tea from it!

By implementing these geysers we have already taken off 15kva off the power draw from the generator and expect that our diesel consumption will be reduced by a further 40%.

Kalahari Plains Camp
The new Kalahari Plains Camp is proving to be a great success! It is set on a dune crest just 3.4 miles from Deception Valley itself. Purple pod terminalia trees provide shade and its elevated position means a cooling breeze is often a welcome addition. Camp staff include local San Bushmen, who add further insight into visiting this wonderful area. What makes Kalahari Plains Camp special is its location: the camp is the closest to the famous game-rich Deception Valley of Central Kalahari Game Reserve, offering easy access for the morning and evening wildlife activity peaks

Sightings in January to date have included lion, cheetah, leopard in camp, suricates (meerkats), hundreds of gemsbok (oryx) and springbok, wildebeest, red hartebeest, jackal with pups, Cape fox with pups, honey badger and 125 bird species. Apart from this, there is much to experience and the scenery of this ancient river valley is wondrous. The Kalahari region is the ideal complement to camps in the Okavango Delta and Linyanti. This area will no doubt become an integral part of a traditional Botswana circuit in future.

Zarafa Camp
Zibadianja Camp, upgraded to an exquisite Premier camp earlier in 2008, has undergone a name change and is now called Zarafa Camp (Arabic for giraffe, a common sight on the floodplain). The four large double or twin "marquis style" canvas tents accommodate a maximum of eight guests. Each one of the tents is positioned along the edge of the Zibadianja Lagoon to take advantage of the exceptional view over the floodplains and savanna. The camp now runs purely on solar powered energy.

Chitabe Camp
The guest tents at Chitabe Camp are undergoing a complete refurbishment at present, scheduled for completion by April 2009. The rooms will keep the safari tented style but will be rebuilt with large sliding doors, opening up to the view of the floodplain. The new larger rooms will have spacious bathrooms with double vanities and each room will be uniquely decorated and feature excellent lighting throughout and charging stations (cameras, laptops) in each room. A small lounge and writing desk will complement the new space. Chitabe continues to offer plenty for kids to do, making it an excellent family destination.

Kwetsani Camp
Kwetsani Camp will be closed 27 January to 10 February inclusive for maintenance and repairs. Seba Camp is planning to add an additional 3 tents (1 family suite and 2 twins), while Abu Camp is closed for all of January for general maintenance (and to give the elephants a well deserved vacation!).

Vumbura Plains
Vumbura Plains will receive extensive maintenance to the rooms, as well as new furniture and decor in subtle, earthy hues. The entire camp will not close however and instead will operate out of Vumbura North from 07 January to 10 February inclusive and then out of Vumbura South from 14 February to 18 March. No bookings will be affected.


MALAWI
Mvuu Wilderness Lodge is building a new dining area in January /February. The camp won't be closing for this process as it will not take very long and work will take place around guest activity times when guests are not in camp. The existing lounge/dining area will become a lounge/bar/library area.

Mvuu Camp and Chintheche Inn will both be getting a light refurbishment in January /February throughout the rooms and public areas, again without closing.

Kaya Mawa will be closed for renovations between the 11th of January 2009 and the 6th of February 2009.


NAMIBIA
Kulala Desert Lodge will be upgrading the interiors of its rooms and main area; the camp will be closed for this from 30 January to 22 February.

Sossusvlei Wilderness Camp is undergoing maintenance and an upgrade of the interiors of the rooms and main area, as well as a pergola being added on the main deck to provide afternoon shade. This will be done incrementally with only two rooms closed at a time between 22 February and 6 March.

Palmwag Lodge will be adding another three twin tents by April 2009.


SEYCHELLES
North Island will close for three months only from 15 May to 15 August 2009. This phase will continue to expand on some of the original ideas and the knowledge accumulated over the past five years. A significant portion of our ambitious refurbishment program is geared towards investing in clean air technology, operational sustainability and an overall lighter environmental footprint.

In order to enhance the experience that is uniquely North Island; our intention is to accentuate the concept of a "Journey of Contrasts" by undertaking significant upgrades of the existing Villas 1-10. We have had an overwhelming guest response for us to retain the existing spa and so we will renovate this area rather than replace it. The North Island gym will be re-equipped. Villa North Island (Villa 11) will be enhanced and become the ultimate honeymoon or romantic retreat. The existing second bedroom will be completely redesigned to include a new double volume lounge, in-villa spa facility, home entertainment center and library.


ZIMBABWE
The new Ruckomechi Camp now has six rooms; during the current seasonal closure (late November to May) a team of contractors will be completing the remaining three rooms.


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Seychelles / North Island
North Island Dive Report - December 08               Jump to North Island

The sand movement along the east and west beaches is now in full swing and the beach in front of the restaurant is now already quite wide. The sand migration on both sides of the island has now covered up all the beach rock that is normally exposed during the winter season. West Beach is currently the perfect location for an evening stroll along the shoreline while the sunset dips below the horizon.

The visibility, having also been somewhat unpredictable in the beginning of the month, has steadily improved to in excess of 35 metres. The persistent north-westerly winds have resulted in an upwelling phenomenon which causes deeper cleaner water to be pushed over the shallower reefs. Coral Gardens and Sprat City have been the preferred locations to dive due to this excessive visibility and due to the fact that the rough seas have made it preferable to dive closer to the island. These sites have also been particularly active during the month and have produced some fantastic sightings; the diving here has been nothing short of excellent. There has however also been substantial current on several of the further dive sites, especially the northern sites such as 'The Spot' and 'Pat Banks', which complicates the diving procedures somewhat but which has also made for some extremely exciting drift diving.

This month the dives have been especially exciting and peppered throughout the month with fantastic sightings of numerous White Tip Reef Sharks, Nurse Sharks, Hawksbill and Green Turtles, large pairs of Spotted Eagle Rays, various species of inquisitive moray eels and numerous sightings of Marbled Octopus (some engaged in vicious fighting). Some awe-struck divers having seen all of the above on a single dive.

The strange direction of the winds experienced this month have caused us to explore other dive sites that are normally less frequented this time of year. Cathedral and Gully's, two dive sites situated in the south west of Silhouette have been a favourite. Cathedral is situated below steep granite cliffs which make for an interestingly different dive experience. The attraction of this site is the deep ridges, pinnacles and walls which are interspersed with small densely populated coral beds and vast arrays of small mid-water fish species. This particular site is also renowned for its sightings of large White Tip Reef Shark and Nurse Sharks which are often seen swimming lazily beneath the massive rock faces or in and out of small caves and crevices nearby.

On one particular dive on Brain Freeze (don't ask the reason for the name), some guests were lucky enough to spot a Sailfish. It is extremely rare to spot these creatures whilst diving and we have only one other recording of a sailfish sighting on 'The Spot' in late 2007. Sailfish tend to prefer deeper water and are not often caught or seen on the inner plateau at all, let alone on the coral reefs themselves. Needless to say, an exceptionally exciting diving experience for these guests.

Another interesting discovery this month was that of a Leaf fish (Taenianotus triacanthus) on a site called Boulders toward the end of December. Leaf fish are actually part of the Scorpion fish family and thus also have an ability to sting unsuspecting victims with the spines along their dorsal and pectoral fins. The Leaf fish are laterally compressed, hence the resemblance to a leaf, but also have the interesting habit of swaying from side to side to more closely imitate a leaf or growth of algae. These are rather a common species around the Seychelles but due to their camouflage are easily missed. The leaf fish also has the strange habit of shedding its outer layer of skin almost twice a month for reasons that are yet undefined.

A pair of huge Spotted Eagle Rays were also identified whilst some of the activities crew were attending to repairs on one of the mooring installations. Juvenile Spotted Eagle Rays are present around the island throughout the year, either in the shallows in front of the main beach during the winter or at Petit Anse during the summer, but the larger adults are very rarely seen and apart from several isolated sightings on Sprat City in the beginning of the year, no further sightings of this nature have been recorded. Spotted Eagle rays, which can grow up to 3.5 metres from wingtip to wingtip, are also sometimes seen in large aggregations while they travel from place to place, sometimes for long distances at a time, but very little is actually known about the details of these long distance flights.

We have again been fortunate enough to spot several pods of Bottlenose Dolphins around the island throughout the month, and two pods in particular (one spotted near Petit Anse and the other near Sprat City) which were unusually inquisitive. The pod that was spotted at Sprat City was a family of approximately six individuals with two juveniles who lingered for some time next to the dive group that was diving nearby before they disappeared back out to sea.

Another exciting discovery this month has been of an unusually large Guitar Shark (Rhynchobatus djiddensis) which is also commonly known as a guitarfish or shovelnose ray. This particular specimen has been spotted on Coral Gardens and Sprat City toward the end of the month. These sharks, although they look quite intimidating and often scare divers due to their unusually large dorsal fin (which is normally the first thing to be seen) are completely harmless and are actually more closely related to the ray family than to any of the sharks. The guitar sharks feed on small crustaceans and other shelled invertebrates and are hence no threat to divers.

Large schools of enormous Bump-head Parrotfish have also been spotted calmly patrolling the reefs around the island in search of tasty coral tit-bits to gnaw at. The sheer size of these parrotfish and the manner in which they bite at the coral often cause large branches of coral to break off from the original coral colonies.

What has subsequently been recorded is that the coral pieces that are broken off often re-grow into new colonies. Numerous examples of this have been recorded on various sites where it has been clear that the coral branches have continued to flourish where they fall. This does not condone the damage of corals but shows us how to respect and admire the way that nature has an ability to manage itself without our uninformed intervention. We now continue to monitor the pieces that have been broken off to watch how they re-establish themselves and are now also able to more affectionately observe the schools of parrotfish while they peruse the reefs.

A favourite this month has however been the sightings of Flying Fish which, when disturbed by a passing boat, literally leap out of the water and 'fly' for hundreds of metres before diving back into the water. The flying fish have evolved this remarkable gliding ability to escape predators, of which apparently they have many - a rather ingenious escape technique.

The flying fish use their streamlined torpedo shape to gain sufficient velocity underwater (up to 60km per hour) to break the surface. Their extended, almost wing-like pectoral fins help to keep them airborne for up to 200 metres. When nearing the surface of the water they can also flap their tail repeatedly giving them further speed and height to continue their journey. The longest recorded 'flight' of a flying fish with these types of consecutive glides is in excess of 400 metres.

There are about 40 known species of flying fish worldwide of which approximately 22 can be found in the Indian Ocean waters and around the Seychelles. We have, as yet, not been able to identify exactly which species we most commonly encounter around North Island but with closer attention we hope to narrow the list to only a few species.

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Botswana Camps
Savuti Camp update - December 08               Jump to Savuti Camp

After such an awesome year here on the banks of the newly-resurgent Savuti Channel, we are running out of superlatives to describe the beauty and drama that is unfolding around us. This has been, quite simply, the most incredible year in the Linyanti in a generation! No exaggeration.

The African Jacanas now have water lilies to trot on, as the first of these flowers became established close to camp this month, their white spearhead flowers poking above the surface and opening out each morning to salute the sun. The damage done by the fierce evaporation of October has more than been undone by the rains of the last two months, and whereas at one stage we were concerned about the drop in the water levels, we are now casting glances at the water as it rises up the poles supporting the fire deck. As the water level rises the Channel is spilling further and further beyond the confines of the banks, overflowing into our game drive tracks and creating lush green wetland habitats to the delight of the Glossy Ibis and Black Heron which are now flocking to the area.

Cheetah with Impala kill at Savuti      Leopard at Savuti Camp      Elephants at Savuti

Nature has completely refreshed the palette she uses to decorate Savuti. Beige and gold are so last season, darling - all the best dressed wilderness areas are now decked out in shades of green, with the water itself appearing in many different guises depending on the light conditions, from turquoise to gunmetal grey. The display of colours in the sky is equally dynamic and impressive - infinite blue heavens splotched with cotton-wool clouds and then there are the sunsets. If it is possible for the sky to ignite, then that is what happens each evening as the last rays of the sinking sun cause a riot of colour across the sky.

Meanwhile, the waters of the Savute Channel, invigorated by the rains, have found a new impetus and are pushing ever onwards, well to the east of the camp now. In a straight line, the Channel now extends some 6 or 7km (almost five miles) beyond Savuti Camp, meaning that it is moving an average of 1.5km (1 mile) per month. In fact it is covering far more ground than this, as it traces its serpentine path across the savannah, switching from side to side of its ancestral course, wherever the ground is lowest. The Channel has now flowed well beyond Mantshwe Pan. As it pushes on towards the distant Savute Marsh, the Channel is creating a wonderful new landscape - gently undulating river banks cloaked in green after the rains, dense growths of feverberry, and always the flat metallic ribbon of the Channel itself. The dead leadwood trees, silently standing sentinel since the last time the Channel flowed and they were drowned, have now been pressed into use as egret roosts.

As this remarkable new river starts to look more like a settled long-term resident than a flashy new kid on the block, the wildlife of the Linyanti is still adapting to the newness of it all. If we look at the recalculated balance sheet for Savuti, we have essentially lost the use of the logpile hide and the extreme close-up views of elephants that it afforded us. Instead, we have gained exceptional natural beauty, and the opportunity to observe herds of elephants not just slaking their thirst, but delighting, rejoicing in the Channel: drinking, of course, but also showering, swimming, snorkelling.

Newborn lion cub at Savuti      Wild Dogs at Savuti Camp

The rainy season each year sees a dispersal of the elephant meta-herds of northern Botswana, as the pans in the mopane woodland fill with rainwater and echo to the space-invader sounds of bubbling cassina frogs. This year, however, it seems that the elephants at least did not read the script, and we have continued to have excellent elephant viewing along the Channel. Elephants have very catholic taste when it comes to vegetation, and will eat almost anything that grows. The sudden profusion of grasses has lured them out of the mopane woodlands and back into the Channel, and we have had several instances where two or three breeding herds temporarily congregate in lush meadows and gorge themselves on grass. For elephant calves, to be young and free in the Savuti Channel is about as good as it gets, and we are witnessing many wonderful episodes of playful behaviour as they delight in simply being alive.

The elephants though do not have the area to themselves, and as they amble along, they often bump into other animals, giving rise to some interesting encounters. During December, we witnessed a very unusual interaction between a breeding herd of elephants and the two young male cheetah known as the "Mantshwe Boys". Although cheetah pose no threat at all to elephants, they still look and smell like the predators they are, and once they detected the cheetah, the elephants bunched up, with a massively pregnant matriarch gathering her extended family around her as they advanced, still grazing, but now suddenly alert.

The cheetah reluctantly moved on ahead of them, ceding just enough ground each time to keep a safe distance between themselves and the herd. Each time they moved, they did their best to appear disdainful and unconcerned, as if they had always intended to move anyway, and the risk of being accidentally stomped on played no part in their plans. One juvenile bull elephant saw this as an excellent opportunity for a display of bravado, and attempted to mock-charge the cheetah several times. The cheetah however were singularly unimpressed, and looked at him down the tear tracks on their faces in a particularly haughty fashion.

Again in the Mantshwe area, more compelling interaction involving big cats. The unusual behaviour of a herd of wildebeest led to the discovery in an open area of a lone lioness, which was paying keen attention to every move of the youngsters. The wildebeest calves, in contrast, appeared blissfully ignorant of the risk of death in the long grass, and even to be confused as to why all the adults were running away when there was so much grazing to be done. Perhaps she was not seriously hunting (although she looked thin enough to be hungry) but the lioness did not really make an effort to hide herself and was soon spotted. As the wildebeest left, she instead indulged in a hair-raising bout of roaring as the sun began to set.

Indeed it has been lions that have provided some of our more dramatic moments at Savuti this month. Lions, it seems, are good at the dramatic! For several days, the ten-strong Selinda Pride was ensconced on the far bank, opposite Savuti Camp. They had brought down a large giraffe and this meal was going to last them a few days. Lions though are supreme opportunists, and one of the camp managers had an incredible sighting early one morning, as a small group of impala scattered through the bush, spooked by the odours of death and lion that hung in the air. One young male tripped over the grim reaper's scythe and literally fell into the jaws of a disbelieving lion, which was able to add fresh impala to sun-ripened giraffe on that day's menu.

Elsewhere, the big male lion known as Silver Eye showed that he was not above a little light daylight robbery, running wild dogs off a warthog kill and stealing the proceeds. Even as he asserted his dominance, a new generation of lion got their first look at the domain they may one day come to dominate. The Savuti Pride lioness which has been holed up in a series of hollow-log dens close to Savute Lagoon, took her pair of two-month cubs on a forced march across the concession, towards the Boscia area. These two cubs it seems are both males, so in these tiny spotted forms we have the potential makings of a future coalition who could one day make the whole Channel tremble at their roars.

One of our resident leopards chose discretion as the better part of valour when he crossed paths with the Linyanti pack of wild dogs which had raised their puppies along the Channel during the dry season. Numbering up to 17 now, this pack is a force to be reckoned with and has more than enough pairs of nipping jaws to persuade any leopard to seek arboreal sanctuary; the one place it can go that the dogs cannot follow. Denied a proper scrap with the spotted cat, the dogs instead indulged in a wonderful bout of play, in and out of a small waterhole, rejoicing in their easy victory and having a bellyful of impala.

While the Savute Channel itself has thrilled everyone who has seen it, it has also provided some fascinating dramas, such as the nightly catfish runs when they all bunch together and advance, mouths open and pale throats gleaming in the starlight, trying to trap frogs and smaller fish up against the bank. Others escape however, skittering across the surface above the voracious barbel, like flat stones thrown across a lake by children.

Unusual sightings like this, or lightning-fast but reluctant cheetah being chased by lumbering but optimistic elephants, can only lead us to ask, whatever next? Will the Channel reach its historic terminus in the Savute Marsh? Will it falter and recede? What wonders does 2009 hold in store for us all?

Guest Comments
"Wonderful trip for a family!"
"Hard to pick any one highlight but the hospitality and friendliness of the staff made our stay memorable. Thanks to Goodman (the best man!), Noko, Terri, Phenyo, for everything. We will miss all of you, and a special thanks to the kitchen staff: meals were superb and we appreciate accommodating our dietary restrictions."
"Friendly staff and guide (Spike), cheetah, large amount of elephants."
"The extremely friendly staff, the surprise outdoor lunch, the singing, drums, the hot water delivery, seeing the animals, the mealtimes with everyone."
"We liked having a surprise every evening as to where we were eating. Sefofane was a very interesting guide and we liked his sense of humour!"
"This has been one of the best experiences ever!"
"Spike was an excellent and committed guide who was intelligent and a pleasure to spend time with."
"Good initiative with reusable bottles!"
"A very dynamic team that makes for a truly memorable stay. Stunning setting!"

Wishing all our readers and Savuti guests, past and present, all the very best for 2009 and here's to another phenomenal year in the Linyanti!
-Terri, Phenyo, Noko, Emmax, KT and Shady-

Images by Kane Motswana

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DumaTau Camp update - December 08               Jump to DumaTau Camp

The year 2008 has been a very good year in Linyanti especially at DumaTau. The Savute Channel has been flowing the whole year and this brought a lot of changes in the area. For instance, as a result of all this water further south, the elephant concentrations on the river front at DumaTau were lower than 2007. Most sightings of the larger herds were in fact along the Savute Channel itself. We loved the new setting and even more so appreciated that fact that this meant far less damage to the camp's water reticulation system from these great, grey behemoths.

Weather
In December 2008 specifically we had a great time. Weather was cool with plenty of cloud cover sparing us the direct heat of the summer sun. Our minimum temperature recorded was 13°C, while the maximum was a cool 30°C. We received 149mm of rain with the storms seemingly building in the north west and moving across the Linyanti Concession. The area is thick and green with water lying in all the seasonal pans and on a few of the concession roads.

Tsessebe at DumaTau      Leopard at DumaTau

Wildlife
Cheetah have been the highlight this month, and we have seen several different individuals. Last man standing of the Savuti Blood Brothers, a coalition that previously consisted of three males, is not doing well at the moment. About a week ago we spotted him on the floodplain near the pool deck. He was limping and looking very thin and hungry. He spent a few days around camp and was seen eating soil. It was sad to see the legendary Savute Channel sprinter looking bad and his time is almost up. Another old ragged male with a torn lip was also seen on several occasion hunting in the Channel and a well known female was also seen once or twice.

It is the young cheetah that have caused a stir though. It seems there has been something of an influx into the area. Two new sub-adult males in the area are not used to vehicles at the moment but have still provided us with sightings. These young males are looking very strong and healthy and nobody is quite sure where they have come from. Guides at Savuti also spotted two young males who moved in from the east with their female sibling. The female has since moved on, but the males were seen more consistently. There was even a point when all five young cheetah were seen in the Savute Channel on the same day, the sub-adult males were spotted by Ollie near Mokwepa Pan hunting impala, while the other three (two males and one female) were seen at Rock Pan.

Lions were mostly viewed along the Savute Channel and areas south of the DumaTau vicinity this month. Both the Selinda Pride and a breakaway group of two lionesses from the Savuti Pride were seen. The Selinda Boys - Silver Eye and Romeo - still remain dominant in the area over both prides. The Savuti Pride was not seen in December and the Channel Boys appeared to have moved on in search of greener pastures.

Zebras at DumaTau Camp

The two lionesses of the breakaway faction of the Savuti Pride have been using the area east of Savuti Camp. The younger of the two lionesses has given birth to two cubs and sightings of this small pride have been good. They killed a young giraffe on Elephant Valley Road and the young female left to collect the cubs. On her way back she brought down a male kudu just by the junction of Bateleur Road and Mopane Road and we managed to view her playing with the young cubs. It was fantastic to see the cubs looking so good and healthy. This is the second litter of cubs these two are trying to raise, after the first cubs died after just four weeks. This is a sign and hope of a new pride forming in our area.

Silver Eye and Romeo have a fair challenge looking after both prides and with some new males spotted east of Savuti Camp they have been spending most of the time around Mantshwe Pan just to make sure no intruder catches them off guard.

Wild dogs were seen every fourth day this past month. The LTC pack has been very mobile between King Pools and the Mopane Bridge. The puppies are looking healthy and the dogs have managed to raise the whole litter without mortality which is fantastic (and unusual). In the absence of our well known DumaTau Pack we have also spotted two unknown packs in our area - one of three adults and six puppies and one of nine adults. Both have moved into the area from the neighbouring Selinda Concession. We are working hard at building up identikits photos of all the animals at the moment.

Leopards have been hard to spot in the thick green bushes. During the first week of the month the Zib Female was spotted by Lazi hunting by Bateleur Pan. She is no longer moving with her cub, the Zibadianja Male, who I recently saw just before Mopane Bridge relaxing and watching two big male warthogs feeding about fifty metres away from it. He could not even scare them off at his age. 'Mmamolapo' was also spotted at the Mopane Junction hunting Francolins, Ollie spent some time with her following and observing the hunting. This past week Ron was having tea at Rock Pan when he heard the squirrels chirping in the bush. On packing up and investigating he spotted the DumaTau male leopard hunting warthogs. He sat with his guests and had the good fortunate to witness the subsequent kill of a big male warthog by this very relaxed leopard.

Plains game has been great as well. Nothing beats a drive along the Savute Channel. At the moment you will certainly see plenty of warthog piglets and impala lambs as well as a good chance of wildebeest, zebra, giraffe and other species. The birdlife is unbelievable. We still find big herds of elephants along the Savute Channel and in the evenings we often see over a hundred elephants by Kubu Lagoon.

Guest Comments
"The food and Lazi's nose (the way he found those wild dogs was amazing). All the staff and management, the bedtime stories about animals you put in the rooms, you are the best".-T&BS
"Wild dog sighting, in fact everything was a highlight; Lazi is one of the most pleasant people that I have come across."- MdS
"Wild dog and lion viewing, the staff was very friendly and hospitable. Thank you! Lazi, Vasco and Miriam were brilliant." - A&GM

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Kings Pool Camp update - December 08               Jump to Kings Pool Camp

The mopane woodland and the Linyanti riparian forest have erupted into a deep green Eden; a far cry from the harsh landscape of the dry season. For the first three weeks of December the rains swept through the Linyanti region on a daily basis filling the seasonal pans located in the mopane woodland with life bringing water that fell in the form of short-lived afternoon thundershowers.

Elephants have dispersed a little due to the availability of water in the woodlands, but we are still having great encounters with these grey beasts.

Eqyptian Goose at Kings Pool      Blue-cheeked Bee-eater at Kings Pool      Hippos at Kings Pool

We have also been having some good leopard sightings in December. Despite the thick bush, our guides have managed to track these undercover operators quite successfully. We are seeing a particular female who has two cubs as well as a shy young male who only provides us with brief glimpses.

Wild dogs have been spotted on a few occasions, but they don't stick around for too long! These incredible hunters are permanently on the hunt, trying to fuel their athletic bodies. They have come into Kings Pool Camp on more than one occasion this month, chasing after baby impala.

Hippos of course are plentiful. A great number of these amphibious mammals have come back to make their residence in the Kings Pool Lagoon. We are also seeing a lot of hippos from the boat, and they seem to have become very relaxed with our presence.

Leopard at Kings Pool Camp      African Barred-Owlet at Kings Pool

Birding has been an absolute treat with all the migrants back in force: Woodland Kingfisher, Amur Falcon, European Roller, Yellow-Billed Kite just to name a few. Water birds are seen around every corner. Each stretch of water is occupied by a small group of Comb Ducks, Egyptian Geese, Black Heron and our resident African Barred-Owlet still give us endless opportunities to photograph it.

We all had a fantastic Christmas and New Year celebrations at Kings Pool and send all our love and blessing to you for 2009!

The Kings Pool Team (Nick & Kerry, Alex & One, and Eddie!)

Photos: Nick Leuenberger

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Mombo Camp update - November & December 08               Jump to Mombo Camp

Mombo with all its wonderful wildlife and magical feel has certainly exceeded expectations this month: phenomenal sightings of leopards, mating lions and a tremendous density of elephants (way more than in previous years at this time).

Vegetation and Weather
November produced mostly fine weather with some late afternoon thunderstorms. Rainfall for the month was only +/- 30mm but enough to start getting the vegetation going. The lowest temperature was 21.7ºC and the maximum was 40.7ºC compared to 36ºC max and 24ºC minimum recorded in December. Rainfall in December was around 60mm.

Lions at Mombo Camp      Legadima (female leopard) and one of her cubs at Mombo

Game Viewing
Game viewing has been excellent. Leopard sightings have really improved now that the cubs are big enough and seem to be getting a lot more independent of their mother. These cubs however still rely on their mother for food. We have often found her feeding on baby warthog, baby wildebeest and impala since it is baby boom time at the moment amongst these abundant herbivores. The most dramatic sight was of her getting herself into trouble with an adult warthog - an attempted attack went all wrong and she was seen running for cover pursued by the mother warthog. All in all, half of the 22 sightings of Legadima were of her on kills.

There is still one wild dog in the area, which seems to be moving around Mombo Island in search of its pack and or any other dog pack in the vicinity. This female dog seems to be accepting the situation that she is alone and is carrying on with life.

The cheetah female which had three cubs is now only left with one. We do not know the cause of death of the other two cubs since they were still at an age when they are very vulnerable to all kinds of predators and raptors. Other cheetah were seen in the middle of November and we even got to see the presumed father of the cubs in the same area as the female. The cheetah population could potentially increase in the area depending on other predator movements, including the splitting up of the lion prides as described below.

Cheetah cub at Mombo Camp      Solitary Wild Dog at Mombo

The Moporota floodplains are teeming with a variety of species at the moment: wildebeest, giraffe, impala and all their young. Most predators, including the hyaena, are finding it easy to get food because of all the newborn animals. Good numbers of buffalo have also been seen - up to 400 animals.

We have recorded lions on almost each and every drive, morning and afternoon. There seems to be a big change in the way the lions of Mombo socialise. The big prides have split up into smaller units and in some cases these splinter prides number less than ten animals. These include the Moporota Pride - formally 24 lions, the famous Mathata Pride, which used to have 28 animals, the Western Pride with its maned, fierce females and Boro Pride, which is sometimes found in the southern part of our island. The ''break-aways'' include the Mathata females which have carried on reproducing out of the main pride and now have very young cubs.

We are also seeing a lot of elephants too - even around the camp (mainly the bulls). In camp, a bull nicknamed Stompie, because of his short tail, broke his previous record of walking through the elevated walkways by destroying seven different areas of the wooden pathway in just 48 hours!

-Tapera S.S-

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Xigera Camp update - December 08               Jump to Xigera Camp

Christmas and New Year has come and gone and the month of December has indeed been a festive time. Apart from champagne, gammon, turkey and Christmas puddings, we have also had some great sightings, great weather and lots of fun! We brought the New Year in with a bash under the stars and we feel 2009 will be as good, if not better than the year just passed.

Weather
December was hot and humid with maximum temperatures around 34°C and a low of 19°C. Although we have had a few days of rain, it was not nearly as wet as November.

Spotted Hyenas at Xigera Camp      Hyenas at Xigera

Wildlife
December seems to have been the month of the hyaena at Xigera Camp, and they have entertained us on numerous occasions.

One morning, Explorations guide Emmanuel, noticed several vultures circling a particular spot in the distance, to the south of camp. Upon closer investigation, he found eleven spotted hyaenas feeding on a wildebeest carcass. They were feeding intently but always alert and keeping an eye out for any other predators approaching. Lions are a major threat to a hyaena's food source and often chase them off a carcass and steal it for themselves should the opportunity present itself.

The hierarchy amongst the clan members who took turns in feeding was visible and clearly evident; the largest of the females are undoubtedly dominant over younger ones. We could not find any lion tracks in the immediate vicinity so suspect that either the hyaenas hunted killed the wildebeest themselves, or it died of natural causes and they found it soon after. It was late morning when we finally left the scene, and in the heat of the day the hyaenas went for a dip to cool down. They would get into the small, muddy pools present in the area and completely submerge their bodies so that only snouts and ears could be seen.

In one instance, there were five of them all having a session in the water together. To add to the excitement of the sighting, there were several raptors waiting for opportunities to sneakily move in and steal a piece of meat for themselves; at which point the lazy and full-bellied hyaenas lying in the shade around the trees would attempt to chase them away. Among the birding crowd were Hooded Vultures, White-backed Vultures, Marabou Storks and Yellow-billed Kites.

Crocodile at Xigera, Botswana      Little Egret at Xigera Camp

A second hyaena sighting involved a lone female in front of camp. She eyed out a herd of red lechwe for quite some time in the early morning light and eventually tried her luck. The sum total of her hunt involved the herd of lechwe running around and around the pan of water in the floodplain and her following suit. She tried this for a few minutes, but realised it would be a fruitless effort, so she gave up and moved on.

This month again the roars of a large male lion very close to camp led us to him. He remained in the vicinity for a few days and one evening moved to the floodplain in front of the rooms for a few hours over sunset to awe us with his strong presence and bellowing roars. It was incredible to watch him with the sky turning from blue to pink to black at dusk.

We have also had some amazing sights of sitatunga. With the water being low as it is, we often see sitatunga on mokoro in the area around camp or at Xigera Lagoon. One morning, KD and one of our guests were lucky enough to witness a herd of seven sitatunga (three males and four females) together and on several occasions the guides have seen anything between one and four individuals grazing together on the more exposed vegetation along the channels.

Birding
We've had some keen birders in Xigera Camp recently and they have spotted some great and not so commonly seen specials throughout the month. These include Rosy-throated Longclaw, Gabar Goshawk, Red-necked Falcon, African Crake, Greater Painted-Snipe and a Grey-hooded Kingfisher. We also had a great sighting of a Pel's Fishing-owl right here in our camp. He flew in from the north-west, straight through camp and perched himself in a large mangosteen tree just next to the swimming pool, providing us with not only a great sighting but with perfect photographic opportunity for those keen photographers in camp.

-Anton, Marleen, Kgabiso, Action, Teko, KD, Ndebo, Diye, Ace and the rest of the team-

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Chitabe Camp update - December 08               Jump to Chitabe Camp

Firstly, my apologies for not writing in November and secondly, Happy Christmas and Prosperous 2009 to all our guests old and new!

November-December is a hot and sultry time at Chitabe Camp - mid-summer - the first rains triggering an explosion in the density of the bush, turning the island on which Chitabe Camp is situated into a jungle populated by brilliant birds, and giant insects. The resident elephant population seemed to have vanished overnight chasing water and food elsewhere, only to come back eight weeks later in giant herds showing off their brand new little babies. In their place hippos patrol our camp perimeter at night, with leopards and the occasional lion for added intrigue.

Leopard at Chitabe Camp      Lion pride on a kill at Chitabe

Game viewing has been exceptional and I think the myth that game viewing isn't as good in the summer months has finally been debunked. The pack of twelve wild dogs continues to excite guests who've witnessed their skill at bringing down young impala. Two individual cheetah have been seen recently too. Leopard in ones and twos have been tracked and observed with regularity.

The two groups of three young male lions continue to hassle 'our' resident four females, who were recently seen hunting and killing a wildebeest in an act of apparent solidarity.

Lion with Impala kill at Chitabe      Dwarf Mongooses at Chitabe

One group of guests were privileged to watch giraffes mating. Snake sightings include the black mamba, boomslang and the endangered African rock python. Bird-wise we've seen everything from the stately Martial Eagle to Rufous-bellied Herons, returning migrant Steppe Buzzards to the melanistic form of the Gabar Goshawk.

Photo credits and thanks must go to Monika Wolf, for her leopard and lionesses pictures and guide Andrea's dwarf mongoose shots as something a little out of the ordinary, and very cute!

On a personal note, my book Boathouse to Botswana, will be available in January 2009.

-Nick Green-

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Kwando Safari Camps Update - December 08

Cool nights and afternoon thunder showers continue in the north of Botswana providing exquisite sunsets across the floodplains and lagoons of the Kwando camps.

Lagoon camp               Jump to Lagoon Camp
• Two heavy black-maned Lions have been the focus this month in the Lagoon area following a pride of five females, there again seems to be a bit of instability as one of the females have left the pride and gone off on her own, there is a possibility of a pregnancy as the guides have told me she was looking very fat before she left. The two males have been regularly sighted by the guest, one week on a giraffe kill and the following weeks on a couple of zebra kills.
• The three brothers Cheetah are still located in the lagoon area and have been sighted 75% of the time by the guests. The brothers have linked up with a female from the area that the guides know well and as a small coalition they have been extremely successful with their hunts.
• A young female Leopard has been a regular sighting out towards muddy waters, she has been witnessed stalking and hunting young offspring of Tsesebe, Impala and Warthog. One day on a morning game drive the guests managed to find her stalking some young Wildebeest.  Sadly she was startled by a pack of wild dogs who managed to chase the young Leopard up into a tree - she had to stay for the rest of the day in the tree and only came down that evening.
• The pack of eight Wild Dog with the six pups  have been doing extremely well and have been a regular sighting by the guests. The pack seems to be spending a lot of time closer to the water from the upper Kwando to the south water cut road. Young Impala are still a daily hunt for the pack as the six pups are now in full stride hunting with the whole pack.

Kwara & Little Kwara camps               Jump to Kwara & Little Kwara camps
• Various sizes of Buffalo herds have been sighted daily in the Kwara concession as they move into the swampy flats towards Godikwa lagoon, Lions and young cubs have been following the larger herds, and guests have been lucky enough to see these Lions as they are swimming across the floodplains and rivers.
• The coalition of seven male Lions chased a smaller pride of Lion this month in the Tsum Tsum area, killing three young cubs and eating them. Guest and guides alike were all horrified by this event.
• Two Giant eagle owls have taken up residency close to camp and have started building a nest in a Jackel Berry tree. The two owls are now a regular sighting on late evening drives.  Guest were amazed to see the pair of owls feeding on a carcass of a small mammal - we were not to sure what the carcass was, probably a rodent of some kind.
The coalition of three Cheetah brothers are still a regular sighting by the guests up on the Tsum Tsum floodplain.

Lebala camp               Jump to Lebala Camp
• An amazing month for Leopard sightings as there has been a hive of activity in the area, a large tom cat has dominated the area towards Zebra road and a few shy younger Leopards sighted towards Wild Dog pan. The resident female Leopard put on a spectacular hunt in front of the guest on an evening game drive down towards twin pools, after an hour of following the female she began her hunt on a dry flood plain stalking a sounder of Warthog. With sudden burst speed the female was literally on top a young Warthog killing the poor animal instantly, as the dust settled she dragged the carcass under a thorn bush and began to feed.
• The Lebala pack of Wild Dog are still all in prime condition hunting throughout the Lebala area and seen daily by the guests hunting young Impala.
• A second Hippo has died this month in the Lebala area, this time we did not find out the reasoning behind the death of the huge animal but it did bring an amazing amount of Crocodile to the lagoon in which it died. Guest witnessed seventeen crocodiles or more feasting on the carcass in the lagoon. Some Crocodiles were said to be sixteen feet or longer as they thrashed and rolled peeling off chunks of meat.
• General game is thriving on the new grasses that have sprung into life with the summer rains, an abundance of young animals are growing daily as they begin to explore new tastes of grasses and foliage.  Kubu pan had a herd of twenty Wildebeest with almost the same amount young.

Nxai Pan and Tau Pan
• Nxai pan has had some interesting turns this past month as the trackers and guides went down for some training and familiarization of the area.
• Large herds of Springbok and Impala have congregated on the main pan as far as the eye could see.
• An enormous male Lion was seen when they went to explore Kama Kama pan, and the Zebra’s are migrating to the area in huge numbers – a sight to behold.

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Jacana Camp update - December 08               Jump to Jacana Camp

Children in the Wilderness
December started with us hosting the last group of kids from the Children in the Wilderness (CITW) programme. All the children were from a small village called Gumare, situated to the west of the Okavango Delta. As usual, it was an outstanding success. The kids had a great time, learning valuable life lessons about conservation, tourism, Botswana culture, HIV/AIDS and much more, all the while having a fun and exciting time. They also got to go on game drives and mekoro trips. For most of them, despite living so close to these wilderness areas, it was the first they had seen a lion or an elephant.

Wildlife
December also saw the wonderful transformation of the area, with the large amount of rain making the bush green and dense. This is definitely a time of plenty. The impala have all started dropping their young and the troop of vervet monkeys on the island has three new babies. After each rain, there is also an abundance of food for many creatures, as the 'flying ants', or rather winged fertile termite alates, emerge from the ground to breed. They are a prized food source for all types of animals, from frogs and monitor lizards, to spiders and snakes, to the monkeys and birds.

Dinner setting at Jacana Camp      Pel's Owl at Jacana Camp, Okavango Delta

Beauty and her cub, which has been named Motsumi, are still doing very well and have been seen on a regular basis. He still relies heavily on his mother for food, but is showing more signs of independence as he is often seen by himself and is starting to practice his hunting skills. He was once spotted stalking zebra, definitely a case of your eyes being bigger than your stomach! He was obviously unsuccessful, and a zebra is a very tall order for a leopard, especially a young leopard only starting to hunt by himself, but he would have surely learnt some valuable skills. He will still be dependent on his mother for a few more months though.

Birding
The birdlife does not disappoint. The summer months is the best time of the year if you enjoy birding, and we have been treated to wonderful and consistent sightings of special birds such as the Rosy-throated Longclaw, Wattled Crane, Slaty Egret and African Pygmy-Geese. We have also had regular sighting of a pair of Pel's Fishing-Owls on one of the nearby islands, their haunting calls often heard during the night.

The large sycamore fig tree at the main area of camp has been fruiting, and this has attracted a lot of birdlife and animals. The monkeys, especially, have enjoyed feeding on the ripe fruit. They have been joined by birds such as the Black-Collared Barbet, African Green Pigeon and even a pair of stunning Broad-billed Rollers.

We also had the honour of having guests from around the world spend Christmas with us. It was celebrated with a scrumptious feast of turkey, gammon, roast beef and traditional Christmas treats such as fruit mince pies and homemade Christmas cake, all around a beautifully decorated table out on the deck under the stars.

New Years Eve was celebrated with a lovely dinner on the deck (pictured), followed by a surprise night drive to a secret location in the bush where we saw the New Year in with champagne and a few Amarula liquors. It was a very special and memorable occasion.

We hope to see you in the coming year at our little paradise camp, out in one of the most beautiful places on earth, to share in the special treats and sightings the African bush has to offer.

Guest Comments
Our stay was amazing. Every sound, everything we saw and experienced is a memory. Your people are an asset to the experience - warm and friendly; always willing to please. Colin and Geraldine: SA, Durban
Game drives and mokoro trip. Personal attention from all! Respect for each other and team work shows between all staff. Tex and Sue: SA, Durban
Marvelous locale; friendly and willing staff. Great areas for drives - superb birding and a management team that catered for my every need. Malcolm, UK

Staff
After the CITW group left, the four camps in our concession (NG25), Jao, Kwetsani, Tubu Tree and Jacana closed to have our annual staff Christmas party. It is a fun day filled with activities and fun competitions amongst the camps. We are very proud to announce that Team Jacana did exceptionally well, winning the soccer tournament (for a second successive year) and the choir competition. Godfrey, one of Jacana's waiters won the Mr. NG25 competition, and Lucian, our waitress coming third in the Ms. NG25 pageant. Jacana also did very well in the play and traditional dancing sections. We are very proud of the team, and this just went to show that the most valuable asset in the camp is the staff.

-Dom and Clint and the rest of the Jacana Team-

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Kwetsani Camp update - December 08               Jump to Kwetsani Camp

The end of the year is upon us, the festive season is in full swing and what greater gift can there be than the Okavango Delta. We feel so privileged to have shared this gift with so many guests this festive season.

The weather this month has been wonderful. Even though we recorded 114mm of rain during the month it has not been too disruptive and has mostly fallen in afternoon downpours. We have had constant cloud build-up and breezy days throughout the month; this has made for very pleasant temperatures.

December has certainly been an extremely busy month. The first weekend was a time for staff to celebrate Christmas and the year's achievements. Seeing all of our staff in friendly competition, kicking a ball, competing for the choir and tribal dances and even doing crazy things like carrying a 50kg bag of cement in their teeth, as part of the Mr Strongman competition, was amazing! Watching the sports, song and dance and all of the other activities we realise what a fabulous, interesting, talented and friendly staff we have.

After a wonderful Christmas Eve celebration, in which the staff shared some of their Christmas spirit through song and dance, we then had lions roaring close by during our Christmas Eve dinner and they later paid us a visit on Christmas Day.

Cheetah and three cubs at Hunda Island      Beauty (female leopard) and her cub

We also enjoyed an amazing sighting of cheetah on Hunda Island. This is the first cheetah sighting by a Kwetsani guest for a number of years. We are very pleased as it seems that the cheetah female with her three cubs has made Hunda Island her home.

The experience encompassed many behavioural aspects of these stately cats. Guests Lynn, Lisa and Michael were able to experience the true frustration of a cheetah mom as they watched her stalking impala very close by, only to be flummoxed by the ever-playful cubs that foiled her attempts to grab an impala for dinner. They then spent the next hour and a half playing, climbing, bonding and grooming their athletic bodies. We were certainly very jealous of their experiences when we saw the pictures they brought back with them.

The trip to Hunda Island was our first for the summer as channels have been too dry to boat and roads far too wet to drive. The round trip by road is rather long but was extremely rewarding. Lynn, Lisa and Michael spent the day enjoying the cheetah and other sightings of elephants, buffalo and a host of other species. This was a day outing with a picnic in the shade of magnificent trees that are so prolific on this productive island.

The behaviour of the Kwetsani lion pride over the past two months has been extremely interesting and certainly uncharacteristic of general pride structure and behaviour. Where we expect males to be pushed out of the pride when they are around two years old, we ended off last month with the lioness separated from her two growing offspring while she was on 'honeymoon' with a visiting male. The two offspring initially kept their distance, however, a couple of days later they were back with their mother with the rather large new lion in their immediate vicinity. It was most amazing to see the young pride male challenge the "intruder" who had at one stage separated the young female from him and his mother.

Male lion at Kwetsani Camp      Lions at Kwetsani

With the honeymoon over the three lions were back together, and we had interesting interactions for a couple of weeks with roaring at night and the intruding male keeping a close tail on the Kwetsani pride. We are very happy that Cheeky Boy, our young pride male, is still keeping close to his mother and sister and will be watching with interest to see how the pride develops. Wouldn't it be wonderful to be reporting the birth of a couple of lion cubs in the next three months!

After leaving our young hyaenas in peace for a month or so, in order to avoid too much disruption around the den, we are now spending some time watching these extremely cute pups. Whilst cute is not a word most people would use for their sloped-backed parents, the pups are born completely black and very fluffy, gradually starting to develop their characteristic spots after a couple of months. Often despised by people, hyaena are extremely resourceful animals; they are incredibly successful hunters and are certainly masters of chaos, which enables them to drive off other predators from their prey.

As a result of the fierce competitiveness with other predators, particularly lions, the hyaena cubs will remain denned for up to nine months before venturing far from the den to hunt with their parents. In order to accommodate this lengthy period of denning, hyaenas have extremely rich milk that allows them to leave their pups for up to a week before returning to suckle them. This is particularly useful in areas where they follow migratory animals, but not that important in the floodplains of the Delta where they have a reasonably small home range.

Our resident leopard Beauty continues to provide many sightings and her cub seems to grow by the day. Having lost so many of her previous cubs we are excited to see this youngster growing rapidly and feel confident he has finally reached a stage where he will reach adulthood and independence.

As the sweet young nutritious grasses cover the floodplains in front of Kwetsani Camp, they bring with them small herds of wildebeest, zebra, buffalo and other species. It is a real treat to have the plain filled with a variety of plains game interspersed with the floodplain species like red lechwe. To see this in the early morning light with the golden glow from the rising sun is an absolute treat.

All in all this has been an incredible year, we have had great weather and it seems we are in for good rains this season. As we head off on our holiday we extend our very best wishes to you and wish you a very prosperous 2009. We certainly hope that New Year offers you the opportunity to visit us here in our little paradise at Kwetsani.

-Mike, Anne and the rest of the Kwetsani Team-

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Jao Camp update - December 08               Jump to Jao Camp

The start to this year's rainy season in the Jao Concession has certainly been eventful with vegetation blossoming everywhere. The rain clouds have provided very dramatic moody skies and spectacular sunsets.

Beauty and her cub at Jao      Hippo at Jao Camp      Hyena cubs at Jao Camp

Jao Camp's resident leopards, Beauty and her nine-month-old male cub, Motsumi, have kept visitors to the Jao Concession on the edge of their seats with their daily antics. Motsumi is growing fast and dominating the prey that Beauty brings down. Interestingly Beauty still allows him to suckle. On the 15th December Beauty killed a steenbok and took it up a marula tree. Motsumi dominated the kill.

The next morning we were watching Motsumi near the Jao airstrip. He appeared to be hunting and suddenly he bounded off through the real fan palm scrub. We followed him and watched as he ran up to Beauty. After the usual bonding greeting, she lay down and he commenced to suckle from her. We watched him suckle for over a minute while she licked him, when he stopped suckling she snarled at him and he then started to play with her. We watched some fantastic interaction and then they both walked off and jumped into another large marula tree to rest the heat of the day off.

The male leopard (possibly the father of Motsumi) was also seen twice, although he is much shyer and more elusive.

Also close to the Jao airstrip we have some new additions to the spotted hyaena clan, with two very inquisitive pups. The pups are about three months old. When we visited the den in the early morning or late evening, the pups would come out of the den to investigate our presence and would approach within five metres of the vehicle.

Water Mongoose at Jao Camp      Pel's Owl at Jao Camp      Rosy-throated Longclaw at Jao Camp

We had a very good sighting of a water mongoose. This animal is rarely seen and normally very shy, but was completely unconcerned by our presence when we came across it late one morning.

The Jao floodplains have great numbers of red lechwe as well as a good size herd of blue wildebeest. Plains zebra and tsessebe were also seen on the floodplains. We watched one day as a southern reedbuck male had a sparring match with another young male.

Jao Island is a good spot for viewing the rare sitatunga. We saw a large male as we crossed the bridge into camp one day and then noticed a female and her young further back. The elephant have mainly moved off to the dryer areas in the west now that the rain has filled the pans providing water for these thirsty giants, although we did see one small breeding herd and a few bulls. These drier areas are now green after the commencement of the annual rains providing alternative feeding areas for elephants and allowing the area around Jao to recover from their intensive feeding. Cape buffalo was also seen in small groups of old male bulls and we also saw our local small pride of lion. Hippo were regular visitors around camp at night and we got good sightings of pods of hippos in lagoons as well as grazing out of water in the late afternoon.

Birds & Birding
The birding has been phenomenal with great sightings of the summer migrants and also the sought-after residents such as the Pel's Fishing-Owl. Other great sightings include the Kori Bustard, Southern Ground Hornbill, Wattled Crane and Slaty Egrets. We enjoyed regular sightings of Kori Bustard and Wattled Cranes were seen in family groups and large flocks of about 30 birds. Another special, the vivid Rosy-throated Longclaw has also been seen daily, with some excellent close up sightings. A group of three Black Coucals were also recorded recently as was an adult and immature Wahlberg's Eagle, both perched in a real fan palm. If birding is your passion, now is the time to visit the Jao Concession!

Update 2 - Wildlife
Not only alive with celebrations, our island and its surrounds have been alive with animal activity as well. As if aware that it was the Christmas season, the birdlife spotted were bedecked in fabulous purple, pink, orange and crimson. Among the three most beautiful bird species this month were the Southern Carmine Bee-Eaters, Broad-Billed Rollers, Orange-Breasted Bush Shrikes and Crimson-breasted Shrike (this species in particular is an uncommon sight in the Delta).

Our predators have been especially active - perhaps trying to hunt and kill the perfect Christmas dinner. A large female hyaena has made several appearances around the Boma, in all probability drawn there by all of the mouth-watering barbecue smells wafting off of the fire. The hyaena pups discovered by our guides last month doubtless belong to this mother.

The pups have been sighted quite a bit since their discovery, and are healthy and growing at a rate of knots. Since the Jao impala herd gave birth to their young at the end of November (our last head count of these cute little ones was a splendid sixteen), there is now, sadly, ample defenceless prey on the island for the taking. Mrs Hyaena obviously knows this, and has been hoping to find an easy meal to take back to her pups, which will only begin to hunt and scavenge on their own within the next few months.

Leopard cub at Jao Camp, Botswana      Impala lambs at Jao Camp      Festive attire at Jao Camp

On separate occasions, our resident leopard, Beauty, and another male leopard were also spotted outside the Boma. Beauty has visited the island on most nights, either giving us a fleeting glimpse or leaving her tracks on the sandy pathways as evidence.

A bit further from camp, there have been many great sightings of Beauty's cub. He is looking all grown-up, and is hunting small prey now, thanks to his mother's dutiful instruction. He has been aptly named Motsumi by the Jao guides, which means 'hunter' in Setswana. Some of our guests were lucky enough to come upon Motsumi and Beauty playing with a dead African wild cat; a very unusual sighting, but one that shows the importance of play-hunting in the development of the hunting skills of the young leopard.

Typically, the leopard mother will paralyze a small animal and give it to the cub to kill, thereby creating an occasion for the cub to learn the appropriate hunting techniques. Motsumi was seen making a successful kill on a springhare, without any assistance from his mother, so the tutoring is paying off. The duo will most likely part ways within the next few months, seeing that Motsumi is gaining his independence so fast.

We may soon have new cub(s) to monitor (but this time it will be cubs with manes). A new male lion has been patrolling the area, keeping us entertained in our beds on many a night with his roaring. At the same time that he has been making his presence known, the adult lioness from the Kwetsani Pride has not been with the rest of the pride. We suspect the handsome newcomer coaxed her away in order to mate with her on some secluded palm island. If this is so, and if their mating has been successful, we may have a few new additions to the Jao lion population in the next few months.

And speaking of new additions, the most exciting births of the year were those that occurred in our 'Mongoose Manor' just two weeks ago. Our heavily expectant banded mongoose mother gave birth to tiny, red, hairless bundles on the sala bed of Room 7. It was wonderful to experience the joy and excitement of the whole troop as they licked, cuddled, and chattered over the babies. Read more here.

The mongoose births certainly draws attention to the great enjoyment to can be had in sighting the smaller creatures, which can be just as awe-inspiring as sighting the mighty elephant, majestic lion or graceful leopard.

Some evenings, after the rains, great sightings of this nature are to be expected as flying termites emerge from their mounds to mate. Large numbers of these insects are attracted to the lights in camp, and provide excellent, highly nutritious meals for smaller creatures. Vervet monkeys, usually petrified by the thought of leaving the safety of the tree tops at night, have been venturing down onto our walkways to stuff their mouths full of this tasty treat. An African Barred-owlet and baby genet were also seen taking part in one of these feasts.

Aside from the action caused by the termites, special little creatures are everywhere around Jao Camp, though it may actually require more effort to find them than is required to find bigger, more well-known animals. This month we were fortunate to have sightings of a honey badger, civet, African wild cat, Cape clawless otters and a few sightings of warthog and Helmeted Guineafowl. Warthog and guineafowl much prefer drier environments than what Jao has to offer, and only move into our area once the flood waters have subsided significantly, so their presence is (to us) unusual and exciting.


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

Leopards
We are normally spoilt with excellent leopard sightings year round but at the moment they really seem to be around every corner. We have three females that are raising cubs and they need to be out hunting on a regular basis. Impala are their prime targets during the wet season and there are lots of newly born lambs around since they started giving mass birth early November.

I have written about our "mother of all leopards", the Moselesele female in a previous newsletter, mentioning that we found her with a bad gash on her right front leg. It must have been a tragic night when the hyaenas caught her by surprise. She probably got separated from her cubs and one of the four-month-old cubs unfortunately got taken by the hyaenas. We know this because we found remains of leopard fur at the hyaena den. As sad as this may make you feel, it is nature and we are in the middle of it here at Tubu Tree Camp. The Moselesele female is fine again and the second cub is now six months old and in very good condition. The Ivory Lady, Moselesele's daughter, is a female of about 2½ years and is also raising two cubs, a female and a male. The male is already fully grown and looks very healthy and strong, but they are still together as a family.

Giraffes on the airstrip at Tubu Tree Camp

And lastly we have 206, the Boat Station Female, who's territory is around the airstrip and further up north, currently staying close to the airstrip (hence her name). The impala consider the airstrip as safe because it is an open area where approaching danger should be seen from far away. But the airstrip is also surrounded by thick bush, which in turn provides good cover for 206. She is also raising two cubs, about three months old; still very small and vulnerable and fiercely defended by their mother, even growling at the game drive vehicles if they get too close! And then we have the male leopards, but we don't want to reveal all secrets here, do we? Best come and see for yourselves!

Happy New Year!
How do you celebrate New Year in the bush? Together with 100 elephants of course! Tubu Tree is a beautiful camp with fantastic rooms and all the luxury you need for a comfortable stay in the bush. But what will you remember of your holidays in Africa? The shower cap? No, it will be an unforgettable evening out in the bush, sitting around the campfire, having drinks with elephants! There are two pans near camp, which we call the Kalahari Pans. Between the pans there is just enough space to pitch up a bar and have a nice barbeque and that is were we met our guests, Brigitte with her party and the Grau family from Spain. But we were not alone. In the distance was the rumbling of some elephants. Some? In the darkness they came, their silhouettes barely visible in the last evening light, their trunks up against the nightly sky, the moon a small sickle, a thirsty bunch of dark bodies pushing forward to the water, dark shadows all around us, twenty, forty, probably close to a hundred walking by and quenching their thirst in the two pans with us in the middle safely tucked away behind the four cars. A night to remember? Most definitely! This is what we come to Africa for!

Python swallowing a Tree Squirrel at Tubu Tree

Cheetah
We saw cheetah in our area for the first time this year in early September. We also found a female around the boat station, which looked pregnant but we did not have the chance to verify this as she disappeared shortly after and was not seen anymore for two months. In November 2008 we found her again with four cubs much further south. What a great sighting! Of the four cubs three are still alive and they seem to be very strong and confident. We think there are two female cubs and a young male, who is very confident indeed. On one occasion the three cubs were seen chasing an adult hyaena in perfect battle formation with an anxious cheetah mother growling in the background, quite understandably fearing for her cubs' lives.

Our cheetah live in an open grassland area called Tubu Corner, where plenty of impala can be found. The taller grass provides excellent cover for the mother to stalk the ever-watchful impalas, but if she manages to get close enough she will be able outrun them on a short distance. Our guests saw her hunting on several occasions - and she has to try hard - feeding three hungry mouths is not an easy job. Guests also witnessed how the mother caught a young impala and brought it back to her cubs. The cubs are still inexperienced and need to learn how to bring down prey by watching their mother and by gaining firsthand experience on small prey.

Sightings in Tubu Tree Camp
Sometimes it is amazing what you can see from your room or the main area - here are just some examples of what happened this month: The Tardy family stayed with us for two days including Christmas. On the 24th we had a bad storm with very strong winds and lots of rain in the afternoon. At around 3pm, in the middle of the storm, a majestic male lion walked in front of camp on the floodplain. The dark clouds behind him, lit with occasional lightning and the thunder rolling over the plains made our hearts beat and our knees a bit weak. On the same evening a hyaena walked up the stairs to the main area, put her head around the corner and had a quick look at our dinner. She decided to flee when she saw our surprised faces and we happily continued our dinner.

What about a leopard sighting in front of camp? Clyde and Mairi visited earlier this month and were relaxing at the swimming pool, watching a herd of wildebeest grazing about 100m away on the floodplain. Suddenly we picked up movement in the high grass: a leopard stalking wildebeest, probably aiming at a young one that was limping badly. We watched the cat for a while until it disappeared in the high grass, then we all ran to the car to get closer to the action. We drove around camp and placed ourselves where the herd seemed to be walking to. Then we picked up a movement just metres away from us. The leopard had already walked all the way around the herd and was hiding behind some tall grass, waiting for the wildebeest to get closer.

Finally there was the python that caught a tree squirrel in camp and the night when hyaenas chased a female lion up a tree just in front of Tent 3. We felt sorry for her, she was up on that tree, stuck between two thick branches and the hyaenas giggling at her. She was breathing very heavily and quite obviously a bit anxious and at that moment I understood the concept of marriage - nice to have a partner around who chases away the enemy!


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Duba Plains Camp update - December 08               Jump to Duba Plains Camp

Weather
Early December was pretty hot and far drier than in November, with minimal rainfall of 40mm recorded. The summer thunderstorms have been building but have just resulted in strong winds with no heavy rainfall as yet.

Birding
The high water table and the good November rains have somehow prolonged the life of the fish traps in the area, which continued to make for phenomenal birding for guests, both for photography and viewing. Open-billed Storks, Slaty Egrets, Yellow-billed Storks and many other waterbirds are still seen in large numbers. Early in the month a beautiful family of three Southern Ground Hornbills were seen at one of the pans with shallow water catching some catfish that were trapped in the shallow mud. This was an unusual sighting for both guides and guests. A few pairs of the uncommon Red-necked Falcons have also been seen recently.

Skimmer male at Duba Plains Camp      Skimmer pride feeding on a buffalo at Duba.

Wildlife
The hotter weather seems to have dried many pans in the mopane woodland in the north and resulted in many elephants returning to the northern Okavango Delta, adding to the already rich diversity of general wildlife in Duba Plains. Just like last month, we have been seeing very large herds of elephants in the area which mainly resulted from the above statement; this used to be a temporary migration between two seasons, but now these elephants seem to be staying permanently.

With all the green palatable grasses on the floodplains, the buffalo herds are in good condition. Even on the islands that are normally dry at this time, there is nutritious grass cover that has caused the buffalo to move around the concession spending more time in those islands than usual. The relentless action between the lionesses and buffalo is continual: the respective strategies of the buffalo herds in defending themselves from lions and lions attempting to outwit the herd enthral us all. This interaction between these two species often results in badly injured buffalo calves and cows. Most of the cows are dropping calves now and this normally changes the hunting habits of lions which mainly pick up newborn calves and any overly protective mother.

The Tsaro Pride is doing very well with a few cubs to feed at the moment. When they have cubs they do not rely solely on buffalo as a food source, because they are not often together, and randomly go for other prey items like warthog and baby tsessebe, but very often they meet up for hunting the larger buffalo. Silver Eye has recently been limping from old injuries caused by lionesses in the pride, a result of the substantial conflicts within the pride that has been ongoing for a long period of time now. Silver Eye has always been the main victim. Only six cubs have been seen in the area, often left on their own.

The Skimmer Male also comes under pressure from the other younger Skimmer Male that has been in the concession for some time. This young male has been mating with some of the lionesses from the Tsaro Pride and he seems to be slowly assuming stability in the territory of the bigger Skimmer Male. There still seems to be a good chance of this younger Skimmer Male teaming up with Junior.

We have recently been happy to see the Skimmer Pride back in the area. This lion pride was seen around camp after quite a long absence feeding on a red lechwe. Recently the Skimmer Pride was seen in the woodlands of old mokoro station hunting buffalo, and as usual they were very successful. It was very interesting to watch them bringing down a full grown old male buffalo with no hesitation at all. The Skimmer Pride now consists of ten lions - three adult females, five cubs of approximately 11 months old and the other two cubs 5 to 6 months old. The Skimmer Pride has over the last five years had an impressively successful breeding record compared to the Tsaro Pride that has had zero success in the same period of time.

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Kalahari Plains Camp update - December 08

Situated six kilometres from Deception Valley, Kalahari Plains Camp offered us the unique chance of an early morning photographic opportunity. After some coffee and a quick bite we drove out of camp towards where the action was.

Deception Valley in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve attracts a huge variety of desert adapted animals: from tiny barking geckos that measure only 5cm to the magnificent oryx (gemsbok). The Valley this time of year has vast quantities of palatable grazing following the rains. Springbok, oryx, southern giraffe, red hartebeest and blue wildebeest can be found regularly out on the huge open valley expanse.

Male Lion - Kalahari Plains Camp, Botswana      Herd of Gemsbok at Kalahari Plains Camp      Cheetah - Deception Valley

We arrived on the valley floor at 06h30 just as the sun came up over the ridge. We scanned the expanse and panned our binoculars from left to right for any shape resembling a predator. Way in the distance, perhaps two kilometres away was a familiar shape: bat-eared foxes. There were two adults and what looked like pups too.

To the right of us looking towards Leopard Pan, oryx, springbok and a herd of blue wildebeest were grazing. Southern ground squirrels peeked up occasionally from the long grasses and scuttled between bushes. Northern Black Korhaans cackled noisily as they flew up into the air advertising their territories.

We drove on to get a closer look at the foxes. A pair of Greater Kestrels flew off the branch they were perched on, magnificent avian predators. Giant Kori Bustards patrolled, regally searching for insects and lizards and in the distance a male Kori Bustard was all 'puffed up' - inflating his neck feathers. This is all part of an elaborate courting ritual - strutting up and down making a loud booming sound reminiscent of a bass drummer beating a regular deep beat. Boom, boom, boom; his neck was white and all puffed out, his tail feathers erect. What a sight.

The bat-eared foxes were playing. Mom, dad and six young kits chasing each other around their den! It was wonderful to observe them and it was still cool enough to see them so active. Something else caught our eye - two Cape foxes and their two sub-adult kits. What a morning so far!

Looking ahead I saw the sign all guides look out for: a herd of springbok were all staring at something across the road. I followed their stare and in the middle of the plains was a cheetah!

We drove cautiously closer as sometimes these cats can be skittish. We stopped parallel to the cheetah and it was perhaps 70 metres from us. It looked up and there between its front paws was a springbok lamb.

Lilac-breasted Roller, Kalahari Plains      Relaxing at Kalahari Plains

Next we were on our way to Letiahau, a waterhole 35km away where most water-dependent animals slake their thirst. There had been reports of lions with cubs in the vicinity and we wanted to see if we could perhaps find them.

The grasses were green now since the rains had fallen here and flowers dotted the scene in hues of yellow, purple and white. Springbok were grazing all around us and occasionally one or two of these gazelle-like antelope would break into a run and do what they are well known for: pronking. This unique behaviour entails jumping high into the air and bouncing along on stiff legs while raising the white hairs on their backs. It is quite a spectacle but really difficult to photograph!

Oryx were also all over the plains and up on the recently burnt sand ridges. A fire came through this central part of the reserve in August last year and since the recent rains this area has 'greened' up substantially.

We then drove on to Deception Pan and decided to do the loop road before heading to the pan itself. Sometimes predators like this open expanse especially after the rains as the clayey consistency of the ground can hold valuable drinking water for prey and predator alike.

Driving next to a large umbrella thorn tree we noticed the head of a Secretarybird lifting up and looking at us. We stopped and were rewarded with the arrival of the other bird - just back from hunting with a morsel of food in its beak. It dropped this at the base of the nest and the incubating bird stood up, picked up the morsel and ate it before flying off the nest and walking away. We had just witnessed the crossover of incubating/hunting responsibilities between these two magnificent raptors.

In the distance under a bush something sat up. There under the shade of thorn tree was the huge head of a male black-maned Kalahari lion. We drove up slowly and parked next to him. He looked quite thin but he was relaxed and he looked at us, enabling us to get some portraits of one of the top predators of the Kalahari. He flopped down and gave a full body stretch and promptly fell asleep.

Letiahau waterhole was alive with game: there were giraffe, wildebeest and oryx drinking and flocks of Red-billed Quelea arriving in droves of hundreds. Violet-eared Waxbills, Shaft-tailed Whydahs and Yellow-billed Kites also took turns at the water. Suddenly a Lanner Falcon dive-bombed the queleas scattering the birds in all directions. So much excitement!

We drove back towards Deception and found a shady grove of trees where we hung some hammocks, put out chairs and enjoyed a great spread for brunch. After eating we settled into the hammocks and had a siesta for an hour. It was great to lie and watch oryx in the distance and count the birds gleaning insects from the branches above us.

On the way back to camp with great light behind us we came across two lionesses sprawled out under a tiny bush. They raised their heads simultaneously with wide yellow eyes staring and then rolled over and continued sleeping. Storm clouds were gathering momentum towards the north-east and we stopped and watched the Cape fox pups sharing a huge rodent. Lightning flashed way off into the distance and we found a place to have sundowners. Sipping an ice-cold gin and tonic, a guest looked at me and said "Dave, you are one lucky man, cheers, friend, and thanks for a fabulous introduction to the Kalahari!"

-Dave Luck-

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Green Desert Expedition update - December 08               Jump to Green Desert Expedition safari

This recent Green desert Exploration certainly showcases what the Central Kalahari Game Reserve is about at this time of year. As a guest enthused:

"Wide open spaces with a huge expanse of sky that makes for amazing sunsets, vast grassland savannah broken by clumps of Acacia trees - this is the picture of Africa that many people have in their minds. In this 'thirst land' environment, you have to be very special to survive. The heat haze during the middle of the day distorted the valley, and it was obvious that most animals were spending their afternoon either hiding underground, like the meerkats and foxes, or sleeping in the shade.

Lion in the Central Kalahari      Black-backed jackal - Green Desert Expedition safari

During our stay we had sightings of Cape fox pups, bat-eared foxes, many springbok with lambs coming to investigate the vehicle, as well as the ever-present southern ground squirrels, always shading themselves by using their tales as parasols!

A young black-backed jackal approached us, peered into the safari vehicle to take a closer look. The family of meerkats (suricates) that apparently recently moved into the Valley presented themselves before continuing the refurbishment of their burrow, and we saw a male cheetah having just caught a young springbok lamb, catching his breath before starting his meal. We also saw a female cheetah with two young cubs some way off, and lionesses sleeping under an Acacia tree in the distance.

The highlight of our stay was by far the last afternoon's sundowner stop. We had poured our drinks and were all merrily tucking into the lovely snacks, when the thunderous roar of a male lion broke the silence. After a few stunned seconds of silence, the call reverberated again across the plains, and we all knew from the tremor in our hearts, that he was close! Then suddenly, we spotted him - it was one of the legendary, black-mane lions of the Kalahari.

Gemsboks in the Kalahari      Springboks in the Central Kalahari      Agama - Green Desert Expedition, Botswana

He walked out into the open plain and we spent some time (in the vehicle of course!) with him before he disappeared in the golden light of the sun setting between purple thunderheads. The distant rumble of thunder reminding us of the hope for rain, and the hope that we will all return sooner rather than later."

The more rain the Central Kalahari Game Reserve receives, the more prolific the wildlife densities become. This is due to the very palatable climax grasses that grow within the ancient valley floor and the fact that many of the grazers choose this area to give birth every year, which in turn attracts large numbers of predators.

-Images by Dave Luck-

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