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South Africa camps
Rocktail Bay Lodge
update - December 08 Jump
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We are now at the peak of turtle season and after a very slow start (we only saw our first Loggerhead on the 4th of November and our first Leatherback on the 7th), we are now seeing the ladies coming out thick and fast to lay their eggs.
As always these have been the most prolific turtles in our study area of 25 kilometres. In December we recorded 111 nests being successfully laid. On 47 occasions females came onto beach but chose not to lay - these are referred to as false crawls. They are caused by various reasons that we can only speculate on but, simply put, if a female loggerhead feels that conditions are not ideal for nesting, she won't lay.
In total that brings our total number of successful loggerhead nests to date this season to a 173 nests, with a total of 98 recorded false crawls. Obviously not all of these females were physically seen doing their bit for turtle prosperity. We did however have encounters with no fewer than 36 loggerheads this month, which brings the season's total so far to 67 sightings.
These very endangered and deep-diving ladies of the ocean nested successfully 24 times during December. This species is a lot less prone to making false crawls. This is maybe due to the fact that when they choose to pull their bulk of up to almost a ton onto the beach, they are committed to making it count. We only recorded two false crawls this month.
The total of leatherback nests that we have now recorded in 2008 is exactly 40 nests and only the two false crawls. Of these 24 nests we saw 12 of the females lay their eggs and in total we had 20 sightings of leatherbacks lay their eggs this year.
There are always nights that stand out. The turtles all seem to rush the beach at the same time to try and get their eggs in the ground. Here are some highlights of this month:
7 December - 16 tracks were recorded (14 from loggerheads and two from leatherbacks). Only one female loggerhead was seen and only five of these tracks were from females that did not lay.
17 December - Again 16 tracks were recorded (15 from loggerheads and one from a leatherback). Again only one female loggerhead was actually seen and this time only four of these tracks were from females that chose not to lay.
20 December - This time 14 tracks were recorded (13 from loggerheads and one from a leatherback). Again only one female loggerhead was physically seen and this time only two of these tracks were from females that chose not to lay.
The highest number of turtles were seen on the nights of the 10th (four loggerheads and one leatherback), and on the 26th and 27th where two loggerheads and one leatherback were seen on consecutive evenings. On the 8th and the 16th three sets of leatherback tracks were seen which was the most to date this season. They all nested successfully.
On the 8th of December Rocktail Bay was featured on Radio 702 (a South African talk radio station) and "green gifts" were discussed. For many years we have given guests the opportunity to "adopt" turtles that we have recorded, tagged and micro-chipped. These funds are ploughed back into the project and used to purchase new tags, micro-chips, scanners as well as measuring equipment and the previous funding of a satellite tracking programme for leatherback turtles.
The show was extremely successful and quite few turtles were adopted. Guests adopting a turtle receive regular updates through the season covering the happenings on our beach and we let them know directly their turtle returns to lay again.
This month only five turtles returned that had previously been adopted, and all of them from the 2005/6 season. Four were loggerheads and one a leatherback. Maggie Boyd who adopted a turtle by the name of Peach was lucky enough to have her loggerhead visit us twice this season.
The hatchlings will probably start making their appearance late in January and then a whole new phase in this amazing process starts all over again.
Rocktail Bay Dive Report - December 08 Jump
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In the beginning of the month we saw lots of anchovies washed up on the beach. These small fish are chased by game fish such as kingfish, which hunt in the shallow waters close to the shore. They take advantage of the turbid water to catch their prey and in so doing they sometimes chase their prey right out of the water and onto the beach!
Turtle season seemed to have a late start this year but by December was certainly in full swing. We saw many tracks heading up the beach towards the dunes as we drove along the beach to the launch site; not to mention all the turtles on the dives. There were lots of big male and female loggerhead turtles cruising along the reef or sleeping in caves and under ledges. One female was impossible to mistake, she had chosen Aerial Reef as her daily resting spot and was often seen sleeping in her cave or against the edge of the reef. She had three barnacles on her shell, so she was easy to identify.
We said a final goodbye to the humpback whales as we saw the last ones on the 12th December. We were enjoying our picnic breakfast on the beach and watched them playing just behind the waves, mother and calf enjoying the calm blue sea, just as much as we did!
Returning from the last dive of the day, at the beginning of December, we came across a pod of bottlenose dolphins just behind backline, with one mother having a newborn calf with her. Much like a human baby learning how to walk, these little ones have to learn how to breathe on the surface, gracefully, like the adults. This takes a bit of practice and we watched as the calf smacked his little nose on the surface of the water repeatedly while trying to get the technique right! This same group seems to have adopted a humpback dolphin which seems quite happy to swim with them, which is an unusual occurrence.
On the same day Darryl spotted what was either a tiger shark or a very small whale shark. We had to be certain we identified it properly before jumping into the water! Luckily for us it turned out to be what was one of the smallest baby whale sharks Darryl and Ondyne had ever seen - approx 2½ metres long. During the rest of December we had three other whale shark sightings.
Summer conditions bring more shark and ray sightings. Leopard shark, more grey reef sharks, including one shark in particular who has been named Bruce: a finless shark. He is missing the top section of his dorsal fin but that does not seem to slow him down, we have seen him on many dives at Gogo's, Aerial and Regal Reef. An interesting fish that is often mistaken for a shark is the guitar fish - it has a big dorsal fin very similar to that of a shark. We have had so many big ray sightings: honeycomb stingrays, sharpnose stingrays, huge black ribbontail rays and beautiful eagle rays.
Other sharks that we wait in anticipation to see at this time of year are the ragged tooth sharks. These sharks are normally found in the colder waters off the Eastern Cape but undertake an annual migration. The males and females move northwards to the warmer waters around the Durban area and are seen at Aliwal Shoal, where they mate. This year there have been many more sharks than in previous years, with divers counting up to 100 sharks on the Shoal! Once mating is completed, the males go back home to the colder waters but the females continue their journey northwards towards our waters. They rest in the warmer waters to help with their pregnancy and will normally stay in our area for approximately three months, so this is a very exciting time of year. We were thrilled to see the first 'raggie' on a dive at Yellowfin Drop on the 26th December; then the very next day we saw three at Pineapple Reef and on the same day a second dive at Pineapple produced four 'raggies'; on the 29th one female was seen at Gogo's.
On the 30th we had a wonderful snorkelling trip: everyone snorkelled with bottlenose dolphins then hopped in the water behind Island Rock where they saw turtles and some big eagle rays and even one ragged tooth shark. Island Rock is where the female ragged tooth sharks eventually gather once they have all settled in, so we decided to have a good snorkel around and check how many were there - we counted a total of eight! Looks like they are starting to gather and considering the numbers of sharks that were seen at Aliwal Shoal, we are hoping to see a lot more females arrive soon!
Congratulations to all those who completed diving courses with us this month. Well done to and wishing you all many more wonderful dives with us in the future!
Darryl, Clive, Michelle, Ondyne
The Rocktail Dive Team
Pafuri Camp update - December 08 Jump
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Another year comes to a close, but spells the dawning of a New Year with equally eventful and spectacular moments. The beginning of December was still very dry with the need of rain being evident, but with the lack of rain we still have the pleasure of the great grey beasts (elephants) gracing the area with their presence. The norm is that the elephant movements within the Pafuri Makuleke Contractual Park begin as the rains start, when they move away from the river at this time.
Weather and Water Levels
The heavens erupted and rain began to fall on the 19th December, with a total of 118.8mm splattering over the scorched earth for the month and causing the green growth to erupt. The year of 2008 has been a dry one with a total of 200mm for the Pafuri region, with more than half falling during December 2008.
With the smell of rain and the moisture becoming evident on the ground, the flying termites or alates start emerging on mass, bringing out all to feast on this easy food source. Some predators like white-throated (rock) monitors were seen gorging themselves on these high protein snacks right next to the safari vehicle. Lesser Spotted Eagles, Southern Carmine Bee-eaters, Abdim's Stork, chacma baboon and even thick-tailed bushbabies also got into the mix, not forgetting all the hornbill species.
With the rains falling in the catchment areas along the Luvuvhu River we were certainly surprised to see it in full flow on the 24 December 2008. A good Christmas present, and it definitely complemented the Christmas Eve dinner, set up in splendour at our pool deck, with tables all grandly decorated complete with glittering lights. The Limpopo River also began to flow on the 29th December 2008.
December also graced us with a sighting of two wild dogs, an adult male and female. This follows on the sighting some months back of a pack that numbered five.
The lions weren't shy either with guests watching the dominant male lion of Pafuri dash after and kill a nyala bull close to the camp's workshop, then drag it off into cover as if it weighed a couple grams. Guests were also privileged to watch a lioness carry her young cub to the safety of cover and we had two sable sightings.
But let's not forget about the scaled kind - a black mamba of approximately 2.5m was watched chasing after a thick-tailed bushbaby and her young from tree to tree with it looking like a flying snake gliding from branch to branch in pursuit after the bushbabies.
December is a time of some good bird species being seen which included Dickinson's Kestrel, Dusky Lark, Dwarf Bittern, Eurasian Golden Oriole, Lesser Spotted Eagle, Long-crested Eagle, Narina Trogon, Pennant-winged Nightjar, Red-capped Lark, River Warbler, Scaly-throated Honeyguide, Steppe Eagle, Temminck's Courser and the stunning Three-banded Courser.
Camp update - December 08 Jump
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December got off to a brilliant start with a very special visitor coming to call at camp. It was late afternoon on the 1st of December, and who should wander on by, straight past Tent 12? Zambia's only free-roaming rhino! Yes, that's right, he walked straight past Tent 12, while staff and guests watched him, and he did not seem in the least bit perturbed by our presence. He actually stayed around camp for a couple of days, until eventually moving off. Although he has moved away from camp, we have been seeing him frequently on our game drives this month: always a huge highlight for our guests!
I don't know if any of you remember at the end of our November newsletter we mentioned that we had seen African wild dogs in the Mosi-Oa-Tunya National Park. Well, they are definitely here to stay. Wild dogs are hard to find at the best of times, so to see these canines (who shouldn't be here!) being charged by buffalo was absolutely priceless, and some of Toka Leya's guests and guides got to witness this once-in-a-lifetime sighting in the middle of December.
Our guides came across two wild dogs, which were on the move, and as if that wasn't enough excitement for our guests, they attempted to run down a buffalo, which was quiet happily minding its own business. Obviously, the size difference between a buffalo and a wild dog is large, and basically the dogs did not stand a chance against a large female buffalo. Amon, who was one of our guides at the sighting that day, said the scene that played out right in front of his vehicle was hilarious. The buffalo made a full on charge towards the two dogs, and chased them for about a hundred metres before coming to a stop and snorting a final warning. The dogs eventually stopped too, but looked around with curiosity still in their eyes, before skulking off with their tails between their legs. Utterly amazing!
Other interesting characters, which made an appearance on the banks of the Zambezi River during December, have been our Livingstone elephants. We have had numerous sightings of them from our boats while our guests have been enjoying sundowners on the river. We have noticed that there seems to be a resident family of pachyderms on Long Island, which is about three kilometres upstream from the Victoria Falls. We managed to get some great photos of them one afternoon; the light was perfect!
And of course, another highlight as always for our guests coming to Toka Leya Camp is to go and see the great Mosi-oa-Tunya! And she sure is smoking! The water levels have risen considerably during the month of December, obviously due to the rainfall in Zambia, as well as at the river's source. The Falls are looking more impressive and the smoke is rising a little further into the air every day. One of our guests snapped this when they went on a thirty-minute helicopter flight.
December is the season to be jolly, and there was plenty of jolly going around. We celebrated our first Christmas and New Year this past month, in a way that we don't think our guests will forget! On Christmas Eve we spoilt our visitors with a traditional dinner fit for kings and queens. Celebrating the end of 2008 and the start of 2009 was done in the form of a traditional evening. All our guests were given "Chitenges", a traditional Zambian sarong, to wear for the evening.
We will leave you with a photograph that was taken on the 30th of December, which just confirms (and we are not biased at all) that Zambia has the best sunsets in the world!
'Thank you for a perfect ending to our safari.' John & Susan. - Singapore
We look forward to hosting you in the coming year of 2009.
The Toka Leya Team-
River Club update - December 08 Jump
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Climate in December
December at The River Club was a warm and balmy month, with the mean average temperature reaching 24 degrees Celsius - the highest average temperature was 30 C while the lowest was 19. We received a nice amount of rain - 169mm for the month and the humidity was quite high, being 71%!
Around The River Club
The two honeymoon chalets, Livingstone and Rhodes, have each had a beautiful new sundeck and a large splash pool built. All guest chalets also have had the showers refurbished and bathrooms painted.
With the rain season, the scenery around the Zambezi River is totally transformed. All the trees are bushy and green which contrast beautifully with the blue sky - and very dramatically when the sky is grey and heavy with clouds.
One of the most exciting moments ever happened when the birth of a baby hippo in the Zambezi was witnessed from the lower deck of the swimming pool. It doesn't get better than that!
The Victoria Falls have returned to their full glory with approximately 7 million square metres of water pouring over the rim every minute!
Guest comments in the visitor book:
"The hospitality was fantastic, nothing could be faulted and the company was delightful? and that isn't to begin on the superlatives of the position. What an experience, dining al fresco in the Gazebo overlooking the river listening to the birds calling was pretty much perfection. We have travelled a lot but this place is special and one day we hope to return!" - The C Family, UK.
Simonga Village Project Update
Progress has been made on a number of fronts:
The Police Station has been completed and is ready for commissioning.
The foundations for the nursery school are complete and the building can start to take shape. The education department will provide the furniture and a specific donation has been made to provide necessary equipment for cooking food for the nursery school children.
Simonga Basic School will reopen on 12 January where the newly formed PTA will approve the school registers. The River Club 'guest donations' will once again pay for the examination fees for grade 8 and 9 pupils and will also provide transport costs for those pupils attending school in Livingstone . Emphasis this year will be on monitoring pupil progress and this will be achieved by fully involving the PTA in decisions with the Village Project Manager regarding funding for specific pupils.
The donations of stationary, mosquito nets and clothing received last month were very much appreciated by the schoolchildren and the villagers. It was a wonderful way of finishing off 2008.
Here's how the Zambia Daily Mail described this exciting event:
Extracted from page 3, Zambia Daily Mail on Wednesday 3 December 2008:
RIVER CLUB DONATES TO SIMONGA BASIC SCHOOL
Livingstone's River Club yesterday donated 348 mosquito nets and education stationery worth K15 million to Simonga Basic school pupils. The Company's village project manager Christelle Belot said K12 million was spent on mosquito nets while K3 million was used to buy educational material.
Ms Belot said her resort made the donation because it was aware that malaria was a killer. She said children are at risk of suffering from malaria because of the rains, during which mosquitoes breed.
"If children suffer from malaria, then their education is affected. And once that happens, there will be low turn-out in class. This is the reason we decided to contribute these nets... we want the children to stay healthy."
"We get these donations from our guests who come to spend some time at the lodge and the village," Ms Belot said.
School head-teacher, Chester Mufalali, commended River Club proprietor Peter Jones for the donation.
"River Club is an all-weather friend to the school and the surrounding community. We are so grateful, especially that the mosquito nets have come at the right time," he said.
Makalolo Plains update - December 08 Jump
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The rains have set in with rainfall for the month at 187.5mm; heaviest downpour was on the 13th with 54.4mm. Max Temp 38ºC. Min Temp 16ºC. The days are fairly humid with humidity levels at 55%.
Vegetation, Landscape and Water
The vegetation, as expected at this time of year, is lush and green; the air is filled with freshness and smells of the various flowering plants. The water levels in the pans have risen and there is water everywhere for the animals and birds. Game walks are not conducted at this time of the year due to the thick vegetation and water. The good rains have flooded some of the game drive roads, and have created temporary homes for the terrapins.
Probability sightings for the month of December:
100%: baboon, giraffe, hippo, black-backed jackal, kudu, steenbok, springhare, warthog, waterbuck, zebra.
81%: banded mongoose, vervet monkey, tree squirrel.
55%: Cape buffalo, cheetah, common duiker, elephant, white rhino, roan, sable.
Wildlife sightings have been good, considering the rainy season is upon us and the animals have a lot of food available, throughout the concession. Small elephant herds have been sighted late in the evening. The big herds have dispersed throughout the national park. The white rhinos have been seen in front of camp; two rhino bulls were even observed fighting over their territory. The winner then marked part of the concession as his new-found land.
The sub-adult lionesses have had their first litter: females and cubs were seen relaxing on the road oblivious to the vehicles. Cheetahs were seen again, we hope they will stay around and make Makalolo Plains their home.
The herbivores, namely impala and wildebeest, have young ones in their herds; hours are spent observing these new lives as they explore their new surroundings, amazing all at the marvels of nature.
Predators of the invertebrate world are active, with spiders, wasps, and ground beetles all displaying their predatory skills. Hundreds of beetles are busy laying their eggs and preparing for the next generation, so are the other species that breed at this time of the year. The rainy season brings an opportunity to appreciate these smaller aspects of nature as they burst forth in the activities of life. This is a time of plenty, where food and water is available and in abundance, giving nature a chance to rejuvenate and multiply.
Birds and Birding
More summer visitors have arrived, thus increasing the species sighted for the month of December to 204. The pans and depressions are full of water, making it a haven for the waders and other water birds. Greater Painted Snipe, Black-winged Stilt, Black Stork and Avocet are some of the numerous species seen this month.
The weavers are still nesting in camp, the Kurrichane Thrushes have been seen feeding their young around the camp. A rare sighting was recorded of a Spotted Eagle-Owl and its chicks roosting in a tree. Most of the Egyptian Geese have goslings trailing behind them.
"Camp and animals were great but the staff made it memorable, thank you for making this a trip of a lifetime" K & C
Desert Rhino Camp update - December 08 Jump
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In the first week of December we had very hot days going up to at least 40 degrees Celsius. But from the 23rd the weather had a sudden change in temperature - during the day we enjoyed 25 degrees during the day and 14 degrees at night. Morning fog has been coming through from the coast. We only received few drops of rain - not even 1mm! We seem to receive most of our rains from February and luckily we still have grass cover from the last rainy season.
Wildlife and Landscape
Wildlife viewing in the rainy season is a bit slower as all the animals mostly move east where the first rains fall. But on the mammal-viewing side we were able to see Hartmann's mountain zebra, kudu, gemsbok (oryx) with their young ones, springbok, graceful giraffe, jackals and ostriches with large chicks.
We also had the pleasure of having lions in Desert Rhino Camp and surrounds. Since August 2007 we have had the opportunity to watch the same pride of seven lions over and over again - it has been amazing to see how the three young cubs have grown in this time.
Going out on drives we often pass Zebra Spring which is usually excellent for wildlife coming to drink mid-morning. What really struck us was how amazingly quiet it was; you could literally hear your eardrums making a noise! At that very moment I felt so privileged to be able to work in this pristine wilderness and to be able to enjoy such wonderful experiences.
The Damaraland landscapes are amongst the best in the world - even with less wildlife at the moment you don't feel as if you've wasted your time in coming to Desert Rhino Camp. The area is filled with untouched beauty; the vastness and remoteness will certainly take your breath away.
We also offer guided walks from camp - the guides have intimate knowledge of the local fauna and flora. You'll also have a chance to see one of endemic plants - the Welwitschia mirabilis. Ben, one of the dominant black rhino bulls in the area, is now frequently seen around Groot Axab Spring - one can say that he is not too afraid of vehicles. On one occasion he came within 10m of the vehicle! Teabag, a young rhino bull, gave guide Gotlod a big scare. As they were approaching him he suddenly turned and moved towards the vehicle. Luckily the wind was in their favour and he just passed in front of the car.
Dr Flip Stander, conducting research on desert-related lion, was also in camp for two days. All the staff had an exceptional opportunity to touch a lion that he had darted; the experience never to be forgotten. The lion that was darted was a sub-adult male that moves together with a pride of six other lions. We also had some lion behaviour training with Dr Stander - which was a great success. Staff also came over from Palmwag Lodge and Damaraland Camp to attend this course. Igna from Desert Rhino Camp came first in the test. Well done!
One of the big scatter cushions that were taken from the main area by a leopard in June was found by Chris Bakkes while on one of his walks in the bush. It was stacked (like an animal kill) up in a tree in the river bed. Perhaps the leopard was practicing for the real thing!
Igna and Daphne - Managers
Kapoi and Helen - Assistant Managers
Harry and Gotlod - Guides
Morne - Trainee Guide
We'll leave you with some food for thought: "Great works are performed not by strength, but by perseverance". Samuel Johnson
Wishing you all the best for 2009!
-Daphne and Igna-
Skeleton Coast Camp update - December 08 Jump
to Skeleton Coast Camp
The mornings and evenings have been cool, but the days have been rather pleasant. We already received more than 15mm of rain in the vicinity of Skeleton Coast Camp, which is amazing considering the time of year and general aridity of our area. Some guests even tried a swim in the Atlantic as the water is not as freezing cold as to what it was a couple of months ago.
Wildlife and Landscapes
With the early rains this year we have seen the desert changing incredibly over the last two months; some areas are already green and so much more than what we usually see in this area. The Horausib River already came down on the 10th of December, at first not very strong, but a few days later started flowing stronger. One could easily notice from the animals' behaviour that the rivers are coming down as the elephants and lions moved into the mountains in the Purros area. In camp we received more rain this month (all 15mm of it!) than our average rainfall in a year and it is not even our 'wet' season yet. We have enjoyed incredible sunsets from camp with the evening light on the clouds creating the most spectacular colours in the sky.
Unfortunately we lost a baby elephant in the Horausib River. None of us are sure what exactly happened; the guides found the dead baby elephant about 15km from Purros in the Horausib River. The mother showed distinct signs of distress and aggressiveness with us driving past the baby elephant, clearly showing the maternal nature of these fascinating pachyderms.
The guides also have noticed that a new lioness is walking in the Horausib River. Nobody saw her as yet, but her tracks certainly betrayed her presence. The Desert Lion Research team confirmed that she appears to be staying in the Horausib River and most probably came from the Hoanib River.
Lion sightings in the Horausib River have still been a huge surprise to most as no one really expects to see any cats in the desert. Guests have, on occasion, stayed out late to sit and watch the lion cubs playing with each other after sunset.
Food is still a problem for the lions: they had caught a gemsbok (oryx) about 7km from the Horausib River mouth. Leaving the kill they walked back to the cubs to fetch them and then returned to the kill to feed. Sooner or later we might see the lions walking on the beach...
Our guests have regularly seen schools of dolphins swimming past Rocky Point.
Wilderness Safaris donated soccer shirts to the Purros Soccer Team. It was handed to them by Chris Bakkes and Michael before they left for the soccer tournament in Ses
ein. We would like to thank Deborah and Robert for donating balloons, pens and crayons to the Purros School while visiting Purros during their safari.
We also had a French film crew at Skeleton Coast that is busy making a documentary on the Himba people, the seal colony at Cape Frio, the Horausib River and the desert-adapted lions.
A fabulous time in an inspiring environment - what a beautiful world and we have learned so much! I hope that we can return - until then, we have our memories and our photographs. Thank you so much!
Managers: Charl and Daleen
Relief Managers: Anthony and Michael
Guides: Gert, Kallie and Jonathan
Other News - The Fate of the Dunedin Star
In this month's newsletter we would like to share something about the Dunedin Star shipwreck close to Angra Fria which is situated north of our concession. We want to thank Robert who was one of our guests at the Skeleton Coast Research Camp for sending us this very interesting story.
In early November of 1942, the Dunedin Star sailed from Liverpool bound for the Middle East with Cape Town her first port of call. She carried 21 passengers and 85 crew members, which included women and children. Unescorted and to avoid submarine attack she sailed close to the West African coast.
Three weeks into her voyage, at 10.30pm on the 29th November 1942, her hull was holed by a submerged object. The Dunedin Star, being in danger of sinking, was beached on Namibia's infamous Skeleton Coast - 500 miles of raging surf and burning desert, the most violent and desolate shore on earth, approximately 400 miles north of Walvis Bay. The next 25 days was to become the most traumatic rescues of WWII including an overland rescue party, ships and Ventura Bombers of the South African Air Force. All the passengers and crew were eventually rescued, the last of the survivors arriving in Cape Town on the 28th December 1942.
Serra Cafema Camp update - December 08 Jump
to Serra Cafema Camp
Weather and Water Levels
December typically sees high temperatures, rising to as much as 40º Celsius on one occasion. There has also not been any measurable rainfall in the last few weeks. The Hartmann's Valley, unlike the Marienfluss and other areas, still has some remnants of last year's grass.
There has been a noted rise and changing of colour of our beautiful Kunene River with the rains that have been falling in Angola. The usual glittery green has now been replaced by a muddy brown - this colour is due to the sediments and minerals that are washed from streams and tributaries that only flow into the Kunene after enough rain has fallen. For the rest of the year those little rivers are simply dry riverbeds that network across the desertscape.
As you will recall from our last newsletter, there has been much excitement with regards to birds for us. As it happens, the pictured Madagascar (Olive) Bee-eater was spotted just next to our boardwalk leading into Serra Cafema Camp one morning; darting in and out of a nesting hole in one of the banks of the river.
Nile crocodiles have also been making their presence known closer to camp recently. With a rise in the water levels of the Kunene River and the current being so much stronger, they move out of the main stream and into calmer areas. We recently observed a juvenile crocodile seeking sanctuary just in front of the deck of the main area and guests can have a real good look at this prehistoric little creature whilst enjoying their coffee in the morning!
Speaking of crocodiles and views from the front deck, one afternoon a cow was spotted floating down stream with three crocodiles busy feeding on it and tearing it apart. This cow had obviously been drinking from the river and the crocodiles had taken the opportunity.
To the local Himba people cattle are an integral part of their lives - they represent a connection with their ancestry and their wealth. Throughout most of the year the cattle graze in the mountains and plains away from the river. Only in times of drought, or when there is not enough grass and water available in other areas, do the Himba bring their cattle to the river. Despite the fact that there is still plenty of grass available due to our good rains last year, it seems that this one may have strayed.
On the activity side of things, December has been exciting as ever with sensitive quad-biking trips into the dunes being an absolute highlight.
On Christmas Eve we made a family table out on the front deck. The evening was made special with crackers, laughter, a fabulous menu and everybody joined in the singing and dancing.
For New Year's Eve we decided to take a more traditional southern African approach with "Potjiekos". With this traditional local method of cooking, all ingredients are added in large cast-iron pot that is usually suspended over the open fire. The pot mainly contains meat, a little water and various vegetables with spices then added to the tasty stew. The combination of the homely camp fire, great company, a flavoursome pot and plenty of bubbly made for a special occasion with which to greet the New Year!
Clement Lawrence, one of our camp guides, has been awarded a sponsored two year bursary to complete his National Guiding Certificate. Clement joined us at the end of 2006, after completing an introductory course to guiding. Since then, as I am sure many of you will agree, Clement has been an outstanding team player, consistently delivering an excellent guiding experience for his guests.
- "It was our second stay and it was again fantastic. The New Year came in a wonderful way! Thanks to all the staff - you are the best!"
- "We thank you all for the most fabulous days, the children adored it all. Certainly the coolest camp in the whole of Africa! We will be back. Thank you all for your kind and thoughtful care of us all."
Palmwag Lodge update - December 08 Jump
to Palmwag Lodge
Early December was extremely hot and then we had some rain which thankfully cooled things down a bit. The rain does mean fewer elephants around Palmwag as they seem to disperse away from the ephemeral rivers. Sightings of elephants in - and close to - Palmwag have been less.
Wildlife and Other
The Palmwag Concession delivered wonderful game viewing during November and December. On a full-day Damaraland Excursion guests found black rhino, elephant, lion, hyaena and cheetah. Incredibly, leopard has also been seen fairly regularly and on a single night three were seen.
Dr. Phlip Stander held a lecture on Tourism and Lions, which was attended by guides and managers from Palmwag Lodge, Damaraland Camp and Desert Rhino Camp. The lion ecology in this part of Namibia is absolutely fascinating.
December is also the time for festivities and a good excuse to overindulge with some good food. The New Year's party at Palmwag Lodge was a big event, and all previous service records had been broken. Dinner was served to 92 visitors on New Year's Eve and the Poolbar buffet was open until midnight.
Ongava Tented Camp update - December 08 Jump
to Ongava Tented Camp
Moderate temperatures were experienced this month ranging from 19 to 35ºC with a regular cool breeze at night. Ongava Tented Camp was blessed with a few rain showers early in November and during the second half of December.
Wildlife and Landscape
Although it is becoming more difficult to spot wildlife due to the more abundant water, opportunities for wildlife viewing still abound. For more adventurous guests tracking rhino on foot is still very productive and both black and white rhino are seen daily. Nature walks through the sudden green and flowering hills and plains is almost literally a walk through the "Garden of Eden".
The main area at the camp is now home to breeding Lesser Masked Weavers with three chicks already, while we are all waiting for their striking cousins, the Chestnut Weavers, to pay their annual visit to the camp and area. The OTC Lions, still a major attraction around the camp, continue to assist management with wake-up calls from as early as 3am with their roaring.
Elephants in Etosha National Park have started their migration from the pan areas towards the north-east and southern parts of the Park. Plains animals, especially springbok, are proudly showing off their newborn lambs for the season. The sight of hundreds of cute offspring certainly provides much excitement and lots of oohing and aahing from guests.
Guest Comments - Highlights of their safaris:
- "Black rhino, zebra and waterbuck at the waterhole, lion noises all around our tents."
- "Getting stuck in the mud, haha."
- "Seeing all the lions and rhino on our last night."
- "We loved that the camp was so close to nature - you really feel part of it all."
Ongava Lodge update - December 08 Jump
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Maximum temperatures for December were 38º Celsius with a minimum around 18º C. Our rainfall so far for December is 110mm and the veld (grassland) has responded beautifully - a total turnaround from two months ago. Green grass is now commonplace, the trees are covered in lush foliage and birds are building nests everywhere you look - especially the Southern Masked Weavers. These opportunistic birds are building their nests close to the dining area and what entertainment they are to look at during all their nest-building antics and enthusiastic courtship behaviour.
In the afternoons we have had some thundershowers which sometimes continue into the night bringing a nice cool temperature in the evenings at dinner time. Game drives on the reserve have been 'interesting' of late, due to the waterlogged roads.
Early in December two Greater Flamingos were seen at the waterhole at Ongava Lodge. They stayed for two days and left again, possibly moving on to breed at Etosha Pan which is not that far from here. Both birds were adults. Not long after the flamingos left, some Red-Billed Teals made their appearance at the waterhole as well. These sightings are due to the good rains we have had, as it is very unusual to see flamingos and ducks on Ongava Game Reserve.
A remarkable flap-necked chameleon was also spotted at the dining area and was the most incredible colour.
Game drives on the reserve have been productive and sightings ranged from banded mongoose to giraffe. Drives into Etosha National Park have been a little quieter mammal-wise due to the good rains, but there certainly were enough sightings to keep visitors entertained.
The pictured monitor lizard was taken at the Okaukeujo Camp waterhole in the Park.
A was seen at the waterhole in front of Ongava Lodge on 21 December 2008. He stayed in the area for about 15 minutes before moving on. This camp waterhole has been a real hive of activity and between 21 and 23 December alone we have seen zebra, waterbuck, black-faced impala, kudu, giraffe and oryx. Apart from the water, the animals seem to be drawn by the short, nutritious grasses growing around the waterhole.The white rhino named Longhorn and her calf were seen on the reserve in the latter part of the month.
Game drives into Etosha National Park have still delivered elephant sightings on occasion although the majority of the elephant population has moved north in the Park with the onset of the rainy season. Lions are also being seen regularly, both in the Park and on the reserve.
We had quite a few remarkable guests this month, but the ones that really come to mind were two couples who visited us this month. It was the one couple's 30th wedding anniversary and the other couple's business's 30th birthday. They were travelling together throughout Namibia. We congratulated them with fruit baskets in their rooms, a bottle of champagne at dinner and a special cake for dessert.
Fantastic staff, exquisite food, great decor and very well blended in with the surrounding environment. Would come back on a heartbeat!
Teacher was a great guide! Fantastic lodge and good Staff!
Fantastic place - love the Nature.
A fantastic camp with nice vibe, wildlife and excellent staff. Thanks at all!
Hein van Wyk (Relief Manager for Ongava Game Reserve) has resigned to our loss, but will be spending his time at home with his wife and children and doing some freelance guiding.
Some of our guides and one of the managers have attended the weapons and walking training for seven days which went very well. Now more guides will be able to do nature walks with our guests on the reserve.
Kulala Desert Lodge update - December 08 Jump
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Some rain and a spectacle of thunder and lightning was evident during the first two weeks of December. Since then we have had a considerable drop in temperature during the evenings and early mornings. During the day especially after 10h30 it is still very hot with temperatures easily reaching 45º Celsius.
Wildlife and Landscape
This past month has seen an increase in the amount of scorpion activity, as we had some rain and this could be flooding their underground burrows. It is wonderful to see these creatures of the desert.
The landscape has also undergone a slight change in appearance as a blanket of fine grass covers the dune bases adjacent to camp.
Activities this month include early morning outings to the dunes of Sossusvlei and the optional balloon trips over this 'red sand sea' remain one of those worthwhile once-in-a-lifetime to-dos.
'Tis the Season to be Jolly' and we took a lot of trouble to make it special and somewhat different. We went all out with our planning of menus, table layout and decor. We celebrated Christmas lunch with a buffet comprising of bread selections (even homemade olive-and-herb bread), three light, colourful and tasty salads, roast turkey and beef, savoury rice, parsley potatoes and fresh vegetables, an array of sauces, cheese and fruit platters and a dessert selection to satisfy all.
For dinner we had another buffet, comprising totally different dishes, to the surprise of all our guests. Special thanks go out to the kitchen team, Gerson, Philadelphia and Alfred who worked tirelessly to achieve and adhere to high expectations.
For New Year's Eve we had a full house, and all were expecting a blast. We began with a traditional Namibian barbeque or a braai as it is locally known. We kept the champagne flowing (in reality it was sparkling wine, but it's the thought that counts) as Raphael and Pelle were serenading the guests with upbeat Damara music.
-Romondo Abiah Jordani-
Damaraland Camp update - December 08 Jump
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The temperatures in December were rather hot with readings in excess of 40ºCelsius recorded on some days. Clients and elephants alike were left rather exhausted, and the camp pool was put to great use! Cloud build up later in the month helped ease the discomfort considerably.
Wildlife and Landscape
We've had some ups and downs at Damaraland Camp after a very busy season but rave reviews, incredible wildlife sightings and new additions to our desert elephant family keeps everyone going.
Despite having a few rain spells of at beginning of December (a total of 10.9 mm recorded for the month), Rosie's Group is still in the immediate area of Damaraland Camp, and we've been fortunate enough to find this specific elephant herd on each drive, leaving the guests spellbound by the four small calves in the group. We've also been incredibly lucky with black rhino sightings during the last month.
Governors' Camp update - December 08 Jump
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December brought cooler mornings (averaging 15ºC) and hot days (averaging 36 ºC) out on the plains. A little rain fell keeping the savannah grass green and the wildflowers in bloom including Gloriosa Superba, Scadoxus Multiflorus, Crossandra Nilotica and Clerodendrun Myricoides, and the sweet scented Gardenia Ternifolia. In the woodlands many of the Warburgia Ugandensis (African green heart) trees and Tectlea Simplicifolia are in fruit. Much to the delight of feasting monkeys, baboons and families of elephant.
Elephant families with tiny calves have been feeding on the Warburgia fruits in the forest and on the soft grasses of the marsh. There are also many bulls in musth and a few have been seen mating.
The young plains game born a couple of months ago are growing, thriving and frolicking in the grasslands. Topi dominate the high plains with crèches of up to 12 young calves with their mothers grazing nearby. Around the riverine woodlands close to camp giraffe families with young calves have been feeding. Large herds of impala females with young fawns were very close to the camps with bachelor herds nearby and warthogs with two month old piglets have been grazing on the fringes of the marsh. Warthog sows were seen with 3-5 piglets and often with another young adult female (born last year) who helps with the raising of the young.
We were delighted to see a small herd of breeding eland in the marsh together with a few good sized bulls. bush buck males and females have been grazing on the edges of the woodlands in the early morning and evening and on the east side of the marsh the short grass has exposed small units of female Bohors Reedbuck. In the last 8-10 days there have been many zebra and wildebeest moving down from the Koiyaki conservation areas towards the Musiara Marsh driven by a lack of good grazing and competition with Masai cattle in these areas bordering the reserve.
Two large troops of resident Olive Baboons have been foraging around the fringes of the forest and the marsh. Baboons are terrestrial primates and have a more omnivorous diet that their arboreal cousins with insects and some meat included in their diet. The males do not maintain life-long social ties with their kin and so female kinship forms the core of the Olive (Anubis) Baboon society. The females do not emigrate from their natal groups and so female kin tend to have life-long associations. Within a troop, there is a dominance hierarchy of matrilines. In general, an individual female occupies a place in the hierarchy immediately below her mother. Dominance relationships appear to develop from infancy, when maternal kin intervene in encounters with other baboons. On the morning of the 29th there was a show down of baboon activity with a tremendous noise and many males running around. The commotion caused many females to jump into the Mara River and swim across. In the confusion one infant fell into the rapids of the river and was swept fifty meters downstream before it was retrieved by its panic stricken mother.
On the 23rd one female Black Rhino was seen on the west side of Rhino Ridge and also earlier on in the month a female probably the same one was seen near the Musiara airstrip.
The Bila Shaka/Marsh pride of three males, four breeding females and their nine cubs of varying ages have been near our airstrip and on the edges of the marsh. They have been feeding off the resident buffalo, zebra, topi and eland. One of the males was mating with one of the females and another male is in poor shape. He appears to have broken his lower jaw and has trouble eating, his left lower canine is broken and he is scarred on his face.
The paradise/Ridge pride of 4 males and females are continuing to thrive and were seen towards the end of the month crossing the Mara River into the reserve.
The female cheetah Shakira has been regularly hunting Thomson Gazelle fawns and hares up on the ridges and down on the plains and her three cubs (now five months old) are healthy and growing stronger. The three nomadic cheetah males have been out on the plains hunting Thompson Gazelles. A coalition of males like these three will travel great distances in search of prey and the possibility of females in estrus.
The female cheetah Malaika now only has one cub (nearly two months old), on the 19th we noticed that one cub was missing we suspect that the cub may have been taken by a resident leopard as leopard are partial to killing and eating other felines.
The female cheetah Alama made a great recovery and now has the strength to hold and suffocate larger prey species and is feeding off Thomson Gazelles and their fawns. Tragically two days ago she also lost two of her cubs, we think once again to a leopard.
Speaking of leopard, we have had lots of fabulous sightings of leopard again this month. Kijana the young male has been seen regularly on the edge of the marsh. A female and cub has been seen on the banks of the Talek River and a large male has been in the forest near Il Moran, venturing close to camp in the evenings.
We hope to share the magic of our corner of the Mara with you sometime soon
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