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Safaris News -
General information and updates from our partners in Africa.
Interesting wildlife sightings and photos.
Camp specific news, including refurbs, rebuilds, accolades, etc.
Monthly update from North Island in the Seychelles.
Monthly update from Kings Pool Camp in
Kwando Safaris game reports.
Monthly update from Mombo Camp in Botswana.
Monthly update from Chitabe Camp in Botswana.
Page 2 Updates
Monthly update from Kwetsani Camp in
Monthly update from Jao Camp in
Monthly update from Tubu Tree Camp in
Monthly update from Vumbura Plains in
THREE Trip Reports from the Green Desert Expedition in
Monthly update from Pafuri Camp in
Monthly update from Rocktail
Bay in South Africa.
Monthly update from Ongava Lodge in Namibia.
Monthly update from Little Ongava in Namibia.
Monthly update from Serra Cafema Camp in Namibia.
Monthly update from Damaraland Camp in Namibia.
Monthly update from Doro Nawas Camp in Namibia.
Monthly Update from Desert Rhino Camp in
Monthly update from Governors' Camp in Kenya's Masai Mara.
update - February 08 Jump
to Kwetsani Camp
Two months have now passed in the New Year and autumn is slowly approaching - the days are a little shorter and evening falls before we even know it. The rain is slowly coming to an end with only 98.5mm falling this month. The rains have been very good this year and the wilderness has enjoyed every drop. The approaching flood is going to be boosted with all the rainfall and the water table is much higher than normal for this time of year.
As the rains disappear and the season shifts into autumn, the birds are on the move so to speak. Many intra-African migratory birds are already returning to Equatorial Africa. The African Paradise Flycatcher has left already, the cuckoos are still here but will depart shortly and last to leave will be the Woodland Kingfisher. Not many babies have been seen around Kwetsani, unlike last year. Disappearing with the rains too are the fireflies or glowworms Pyractomena borealis - which are actually beetles and not flies. The firefly is an amazing insect: an adult firefly gives off 100% of its light as light, whereas a light bulb gives off 10% as light and 90% as heat.
The lion cubs have grown; if you were lucky enough to visit Kwetsani and see them, you won't even recognize them now! One morning, just after brunch, the guests were taken out again by our guides who noticed alarmed lechwe running in the open floodplain, and knew something must be happening. On arriving at the lechwe sighting, they noticed the lions hunting; they had stumbled upon an ambush. Ten minutes later they were watching three lions devour an adult lechwe.
The morning of the 29th we discovered a hidden surprise - A new lioness was seen in the area with a young cub. The sightings have become regular and the cub is believed to be a little girl. We all hope they will stick around our area for a while.
February has been a birthday and anniversary month here at Kwetsani; we celebrated ten birthdays and five anniversaries - literally having a birthday party every day of the week. What fun we all had!
We look forward to seeing you back at Kwetsani soon! If you have a special occasion coming up, why not come to the most beautiful place on earth and celebrate it with us!
See you soon,
Jao Camp update
- February 08 Jump
to Jao Camp
After all the good rains recently, the sun reappeared with the onset of February and settled in for most of the month. Rainfall for the month was one generous storm and a few other short showers. The annual floods are slowly but surely creeping in, and we are looking forward to getting the motor boats in the water in the coming months; fingers crossed it is as soon as possible. Temperatures have been an easy-going 31 degree Celsius maximum and 19 degree Celsius minimum respectively.
The entire month of February was devoted to maintenance so the camp is ready for the coming year's visitors. The renovations were done by some very dedicated workers - housekeepers, carpenters, general assistants, chefs and camp managers all helped in revamping the camp and guest tents.
The guest accommodation received the most attention with Jao's talented carpenters building indoor showers in each of the rooms, in addition to the spacious and scenic outdoor shower. Our guests had often commented that they would like an indoor shower too and we have managed to meet this request within the style of the room. New handmade sliding doors have also been fitted in the toilet area for improved privacy. New cupboards have been fitted and extra natural lighting added for those full moon nights.
Out of the corners of our eyes, even though we have been preoccupied with camp renovations, wildlife has still been busy around camp.
A group of seven Spur-winged Geese have temporarily moved into camp. The Pel's Fishing-Owl has been quite friendly this month too, perching in dark shaded trees often to surprise unsuspecting managers. The evocative booming call of Southern Ground Hornbills has kept us on the look out for these threatened birds. This rare species has been spotted foraging around camp or perching in trees nearby, as if tentatively observing our progress.
Our resident female leopard is somewhere near camp and is mostly seen late afternoon. Since our guides have been using their eagle eyes for maintenance, the baboons had to make us aware of when the patterned beauty was around with their barking alarm calls. Our resident banded mongoose pack kept us entertained when they visited around the office and we enjoyed seeing the new additions to the group.
One young male impala has been kicked out of our 'Jao Herd' which is permanently in camp at the moment. He took to hanging around the office for our company, but is now spending his time a little further away as he gradually gets used to being alone. At the end of the month elephants visited us again and they have found a new sleeping place close to the office.
Jao is looking 'spick and span' and we are ready to welcome in a new season of wonderful people to show off our camp to and share this remote wilderness area with them.
See you soon,
The Jao Team.
Tubu Tree Camp
update - February 08 Jump
to Tubu Tree Camp
We can happily announce the birth of a baby bushbuck at Tubu Tree Camp. We spotted the small cutie a few days ago while it was investigating the area in front of the lounge together with its proud mother. Its steps still missed the elegance and grace of the adults but it is certainly just a matter of time.
The local leopards of Hunda Island have been very active in February. On one occasion we were having dinner when suddenly the alarm calls of the impalas resting in front of the lodge caught our attention. Everybody headed out to the deck and we saw a big male leopard walking by. Probably the same leopard has also been seen hiding under the swimming pool area. It is a perfect hiding place as the impalas often come very close. A few days later we found the leopard feeding on a pregnant wildebeest. It was a sad sighting as the feet of the unborn were already visible. We are not sure if the wildebeest died from giving birth or if the leopard killed it - claw marks could clearly be seen on the wildebeest's head and the guides agreed that he played his part somehow.
On another occasion, after a very successful game drive our guests decided to go back to their rooms to quickly freshen up before having dinner. On the way to their room they bumped into a large rock python blocking the walkway. The guide in front bypassed the python but found a second python just two metres further on. The battle was lost and the whole group moved back to the main area - of course the pictures were proudly shown to the other guests while having another drink at our fantastic Tubu Bar.
A monitor lizard couple has chosen the tree in front of room 1 as a potential love nest. To the delight of our guests they were able to witness the courting of the two, the male actually trying to attract the female's attention from the deck of the room. We have no information if this attempt had a successful ending but of course we hope so.
Peter & Katrin and the whole Tubu Team
Plains update - February 08 Jump
to Vumbura Plains Camp
The month of February has truly been an exciting one with more action taking place in and around camp than elsewhere.
Starting off with the weather though, we have to mention that February has been a real relief from the wet of the previous two months. We had almost three weeks of perfect sunny weather gracing our fair plains. Our average high temperature for the month was 31° Celsius, with the average low a very bearable 21°Celcius. The mercury rose to a max of 35° Celsius this month. The mercury also dropped to a minimum of 19° Celsius on more than one occasion in February, with the definite winter chill in the early hours of the morning. There was still quite a lot of heavy rainfall at the beginning of the month with one early morning downpour producing 40mm on the 8th and a good afternoon shower 30mm on the 26th.
The wild dog sightings were once again amazing, more in camp however than out on drives. They tallied up a total of 4 kills (including 3 impalas and 1 female kudu) in 72 hours. The dogs brought down most of their prey in the 'backyard' of the camp in full view of some, showing once again the sheer speed, agility and teamwork that has made them so famous.
The Kubu lion pride has been seen often in January, mainly visiting the two hotspots namely Zambezi Pan and Jacki's Pan. On one occasion they spent four days with full bellies sleeping off the stomach aches from gorging themselves on what we assumed to be a fully grown male wildebeest.
Vuka, the adult male cheetah, has also been wandering in and about camp this month, adorning a termite mound in front of camp with his graceful spots. He has also been seen on a number of other occasions stalking impala on the floodplains and then found at a later stage with a full stomach and a content look on his face. There has been a big male lion of late voicing his opinion in the early hours of the morning to the east of camp. He has on two occasions been observed, but very briefly, and seems to be quite camera shy.
As far as the other spots are concerned (those in the form of rosettes), the guests had a wonderful sighting of a male leopard and a female leopard sharing a leadwood tree close to Mbishi. We found out later that the male had brought down a female kudu and was doing his best to woo the lady by offering her his prize.
Birds have been prolific as usual, due to the wonderful waterways in and around camp. The Wattled Cranes still grace us with their presence, the Southern Ground Hornbills can be heard just around early breakfast time, and African Fish Eagles serenade at tea time.
And lastly, on the green side, the Zambezi teaks are in flower, the marula fruits are falling (much to the elephants' delight), and wild flowers are abundant. The bush is at its lushest and most beautiful.
From Vumbura Plains, we look forward to seeing you here in the bush soon.
Green Desert Expedition update - February 08 Jump
to Green Desert Expedition
On a recent tailor-made two-night trip into Deception Valley in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, I have never seen the Kalahari so green and lush, swathed in a delicate colour of tiny flowers with rich hues.
The drive from the Hainaveld Airstrip to Motswere Gate took us an hour and a half and we were in camp two hours later. Situated amongst acacia scrub on the western side of Deception Valley tucked well to the south of the other camps we enjoyed, so to speak, staying 'out on the edge'.
The weather was kind to us after the weeks of scattered downpours that have soaked this area. For the two days that we were there it was clear skies throughout the trip. The night skies were clear too and the stars and planets were an incredible sight each evening we were in camp.
We had heard that some wild dogs were around and concentrated our first afternoon drive to the east of the entrance road leading towards the Leopard Pan Loop Road. A family of meerkats were out catching the last rays of sun at their burrow entrance and off in the distance and all around us in a '360°' were gemsbok, jackals and springbok. Noisy Northern Black Korhaan males were advertising their territories with loud rasping cackles, their bright red beaks and pied plumage conspicuous on the greenness on the grass. Kori Bustards were abundant and when we trained our field glasses on one, we could see two or three more in the same depth of field off in the distance. During the trip we counted 124 in one morning!
We sat facing east with the light behind us and we concentrated on scanning the tall grass in front of us some 300m away. As the sun got lower and cooler we both noticed a pair of round ears sticking out the grass and then one dog got up and walked around briefly before lying down again. We waited maybe ten minutes before they all got up and stretched. There were nine dogs, comprising five adults and four pups from last year (9 months old) and they looked hungry, having chased some springbok in the morning without any success.
We watched as the fading light painted the wolves orange, black and white and then they disappeared into thick scrub. We had to get back to camp by 7:30 so we drove off, ecstatic to have had the unique opportunity to have seen them in this harsh environment.
I was woken at 04h00 the next morning to the sound of lions calling to the east and I lay in the tent waiting for the rustle of the camp staff to stimulate me into getting up from my comfortable cot. It was just before 05h00 and after dressing I made my way to the vehicle to prepare for the morning drive. The guests were woken up with the sound of hot water splashing into their hand washbasin and a friendly "Dumela Mma" or "Dumela Rra".
The fire crackled and the last stars of the night twinkled before they went to sleep and the fresh coffee tasted so good. Breakfast was interrupted by the excited camp staff as they pointed out a leopard walking near our tents some twenty metres away! A young adult female was walking between our tents and sat on the ground in front of one of the guest tents before proceeding to drink water out of her hand basin! We sat drinking coffee and watched her for an hour before she walked out of the camp perimeter and disappeared into the scrub ? what a start to the day!
We took a picnic with us and spent the whole day out in the Lekhubu/Letiahau area and saw good sightings of cheetah (two sightings: one single male and on the second sighting two females). Gemsbok, red hartebeest and springbok were prolific as well as Ostrich including chicks, Kori Bustards and of course the 'raucous red-beaked pied chicken'. Other bird species were numerous with flocks of Red-billed Quelea in breeding plumage being the dominant small species. Lanner Falcons, Amur Falcons and quite a few Lappet-faced, White-headed and White-backed Vultures were seen. Secretarybirds (9 in total) were walking the walk in the short grass either in pairs or as singletons.
For lunch we pulled up to a grove of acacia and spread out some ponchos and had a feast. We then had an hour siesta watched by shy gemsbok and hartebeest before packing up and headed back past the two cheetah females. We continued searching for the lion but despite loads of tracks all over the place they were elusive. Deception is a place where lions are so numerous sometimes, that you can practically drive over them!
After another stunning star-studded sky sitting around the fire we collapsed exhausted and quickly descended into the Dreamtime. I dreamt of the leopard but she was now in the tent with me looking with soft amber eyes at me watching her with my nervous eyes. She then curled up and slept and when I woke up later she had gone.
The next morning after once again hearing the lions roaring during the night we were lucky to glimpse a huge male walking parallel to our vehicle some distance off on the ridge. Not far to our right a single cheetah was eyeing out some springbok but they were always one step ahead of him.
We drove back to Maun sad that our stay here in the Kalahari was so short but really amazed at what we had seen. A pack of nine wild dog, three cheetah sightings, lion, gemsbok and springbok, ostrich and hartebeest, honey badger and meerkat and loads of birds ? 83 species in all.
A great time in the desert.
Green Desert Expedition #2
The guests flew into Deception airstrip and were met and welcomed by the team on the ground. On the way into camp we had some good sightings of springbok, gemsbok, black-backed jackal and could not believe it when we came upon three cheetah sleeping in the grass. This was the first big cat sighting for the group and they were over the moon with joy. Just as we thought it could not get any better two steenbok come running out of the bush in the direction of the cheetah. We where all left with our mouths open as the cheetah got up and started to chase down the steenbok and we had full sight of the hunt. But the cheetah were out of luck as the steenbok got away by the skin of their teeth. The three cheetahs returned from the hunt panting and looking disappointed but settling in for some great photographic opportunities as the sun was setting behind us. The sky turned crimson red with the setting sun, not a bad way to start a safari!
The next morning we got up just in time for the sunrise up over Deception Valley. Kane, the second guide for the group, soon called us in for a leopard sighting just outside the camp. This was a very interesting sighting as it showed just how adaptable and versatile the leopard is. Most super predators will only kill others to reduce competition as they all feed on similar prey species, but do not always feed on their competitors. This leopard had just killed a black-backed jackal and we got to see her taking her kill up an umbrella thorn tree and starting to feed. The last morning we had two black-maned Kalahari lions interacting, roaring and playing in front a big herd of gemsbok and about five black-backed jackals following them, also calling.
Green Desert Expedition #3
While based in the Makgadikgadi National Park on our final Green Desert Expedition for February 2008, we undertook a day trip to Nxai Pans National Park in order to search for the large herds of zebra that move into that area during the summer rainfall period. On the way to Nxai Pans we had some good birding with Purple, Lilac-breasted and European Roller showing up, as well as some giraffe, red hartebeest and a shy cheetah. In the park the two waterholes were surrounded by large herds of zebra, drinking, waiting to drink, and grazing on the short grasses that grow in the area. Blue-cheeked, European and Carmine Bee-eaters were taking advantage of the abundance of insects in the area, and added colour to the scene. Yellow-billed Kites and Pale Chanting Goshawks were the most abundant raptors on the day. We parked the vehicle near a waterhole, and sat back and waited for the zebra herds to approach and drink. Later on, we did a slow circuit of a section of the pan, and enjoyed a great sighting of some elephant bulls mud bathing in a rain puddle close to where the open grassland becomes woodland. The very pale colour of the mud made the sighting even more notable. Springbok and giraffe were also seen. We returned home to Makgadikgadi in the late afternoon very satisfied with our day's viewing.
We left early the next day for our drive to Central Kalahari Game Reserve, and our camp in the Deception Valley area of the reserve. Driving through the village of Rakops, we encountered huge flocks of Red-billed Quelea coming to drink at a big pool. The grasslands in this area are farmed and the Quelea were sharing the water with several herds of cattle. We reached the Okwa Valley in the reserve, which is the prime viewing area, around 14h00, and enjoyed a picnic lunch with views of gemsbok (oryx), ground squirrels and a Lanner Falcon. Later that afternoon on our game drive we saw a shy cheetah, and many springbok, gemsbok and blue wildebeest.
Next morning, out before sunrise, we came across a group of lion. A large, dark-maned male walked by several herds of gemsbok, whilst a female and her two sub-adult female offspring tracked along behind. One youngster made several approaches toward the gemsbok, but it all proved part of the learning curve. The lions investigated some interesting scents, and played with one another before heading away from the road and into some thick vegetation. We stopped for tea, and watched a Red-necked Falcon hunting Quelea without success. Before heading home we found another lioness and a very large male lion. They were both walking determinedly and we followed them for a while before they moved into the scrub. That afternoon we searched unsuccessfully for meerkats but enjoyed many sightings of jackals, ground squirrels and some Greater Kestrels.
The following day started quietly, and a little overcast. We drove a little further, and picked up three young lion, slightly shy, lying in an open area. We continued towards the Letiahau area, and saw two cheetah resting in the shade of an acacia tree, then found two more lionesses, one looking for the other. They met up and also moved to the shade. We also had a good view of a honey badger digging for food. On our last morning a pride of eight lions showed up, with no adult males in attendance. They were walking and watching as they moved along the valley floor not too far from the main campsite. We used the rest of the morning to drive to Maun where we climbed aboard our charter plane for the flight into the Okavango and Xigera camp.
Two nights at Xigera enabled us to spend some time exploring the channels and floodplains in aluminium power boats and also in mekoro, and we enjoyed some spectacular Delta scenery in this way. Some wildlife highlights were a brief glimpse of a female sitatunga and her fawn, as well as several buffalo and good numbers of red lechwe antelope. Hippo and crocodile were also seen, as well as many interesting birds such as Wattled Cranes, Saddle-billed Storks and White-fronted Bee-eaters. The wet Delta experience beautifully rounded off and balanced the trip.
update - February 08 Jump
to Pafuri Camp
The Pafuri region has been adorned with the brilliance of yellows and oranges, courtesy of the many blooming Hibiscus and Barleria species. And if this was not enough, the likes of the russet bushwillow and red bushwillow showed off their highly coloured pods.
Eruptions of another sort gave Pafuri large populations of the scary and ugly-looking armoured ground crickets and dark clouds of flocking Red-billed Quelea. The thunder-like rumbling of the Queleas' wings as they flew overhead whilst feeding on grass seeds and the large flocking action around the water's edge at Mangala just caused one to stop, and try to apprehend this awe. The roads themselves were alive with armoured ground crickets, with the males shouting their irritation when one either stepped too close to one or they felt a little threatened.
The large numbers of these species have caused an abundance of prey for many other species. Hundreds of White Storks descended upon the crickets, with Marabou Storks, European Rollers, Brown-hooded Kingfishers and Lesser Spotted Eagles lavishly enjoying this feast of crickets and sometimes even the Queleas.
In other predator-prey interactions Callum had the opportunity to stumble across a female leopard stalking a bushbuck and Edward had the opportunity to watch another leopard attempt to chase down two nyala ewes. In the latter cases it seemed this leopard was a little too hesitant as her indecisiveness resulted in the nyala ewes making their escape.
The true assassins and attackers this month were of the feathered kind however. On occasions the guides and guests had the pleasure to see the fighter-plane dives of the Amur Falcon on Red-billed Quelea as they swarmed around drinking spots along the Luvuvhu River. Grey-headed Bush-shrike and Southern White-crowned Shrike moved from one Quelea nest to the next stealing eggs and killing the chicks inside. Steppe Buzzards were also observed raiding Lesser Masked Weaver nests and several occasions.
Although the assailants witnessed this month were mainly from the air and ground, we also were thrilled by the site of a crocodile launching itself from the water to catch a Three-banded Plover. On another occasion six crocodiles seen later in the month feasted communally on a buffalo calf caught while the herd was crossing the Luvuvhu River.
The great grey giants returned to the area this month with Brett enjoying a sighting of approximately 100 elephant coming down to drink at Mangala where they enjoyed the cool, refreshing water of the Luvuvhu River. I also enjoyed the playful antics of some teenage bulls splashing around in the water as two elephant herds congregated along the Luvuvhu's banks. The herd threw dust over themselves and calves chased one another around their mothers legs, before moving quietly to the great mountain range of Hutwini, the ancestral Mountain of the Venda. No better ending to a fairytale day.
One night while coming back from the historical Crooks' Corner we were treated to the sight of a female large spotted genet and her two kittens crossing the road at Fernandez Store. Warren also had a special glimpse of a caracal while on game drive: a special sighting indeed, this tan-coloured African lynx-like cat being very shy and elusive, yet beautiful and breathtaking when seen.
Callum and Brett guided a Johannesburg bird club on their mission to see Thrush Nightingale and Thick-billed Cuckoo. No less than 198 bird species were seen over three nights, although the Thick-billed Cuckoo eluded them. Highlights were Thrush Nightingale, Pel's Fishing-Owl, Lemon-breasted Canary and Böhm's Spinetail.
Some great birds were seen this month including Black Sparrowhawk, Racket-tailed Roller, Lesser Swamp Warbler, Olivetree Warbler, Marsh Warbler, Icterine Warbler and Three-banded Courser. The highlight of the month was when Jonson spotted an African Finfoot lurking in front of the lodge, a big find, the only previous record being at Lanner Gorge.
A great month, with interesting sightings, mass population explosions and congregations of animals, shy animals showing themselves and still the presence of water in some of the pans, vlei and rivers, allowing waterbirds still to be seen.
Just some of the reasons why we live in Africa.
Rocktail Bay update - February 08 Jump
to Rocktail Bay Lodge
New lodge managers Tal and Genene will be very welcome additions to the Rocktail team when they begin in a couple of weeks in mid-March. Shaz and Garon will then be freed up to officially commence their new role as Relief Managers between the two Rocktail Camps, allowing Gareth and Liz a well-earned break from Rocktail Beach Camp slightly further down the coast.
The end of the 2007/08 turtle season is just around the corner, with our last nocturnal turtle drive scheduled for midnight on the 14th March. The last nesting mother was seen on 21st February, but hatchlings are still appearing, with Chris Boyes, our MSc turtle research from Stellenbosch University, lending a helping hand every now and then to some stragglers. The adoption programme has been well supported this year, with 80 leatherback and loggerhead turtles finding new parents. Twenty-four turtles remain un-adopted on our waiting list though, so let us know if you'd like to help out.
One of our best turtle sightings this month was of a female loggerhead who happily came ashore in the last of the daylight, providing excellent photo opportunities for the lucky guests on turtle drive.
In camp, our family of four thick-tailed bushbabies (Burkell, Burkell, Burkell and Crackerjack) are being seen less regularly at the dinner table these days, as their natural food in the coastal forest is plentiful at present. They still manage to keep guests awake at night though by running across the chalet roofs and uttering their eerie baby-like cries.
And last, but not least, many thanks and fond farewells to those who chose to enjoy a summer break with us at Rocktail. We enjoyed the company immensely and hope to have you back soon.
Shaz & Garon
update - February 08 Jump
to Ongava Lodge
The main area of Ongava Lodge is receiving an upgrade, being enlarged with a new deck. Adelaide Stanley from Little Ongava paid it a visit. These are her impressions.
"Being a visitor to Ongava Lodge, I have seen the changes brought on. Of course with any interior renovation, one becomes sceptical and almost anticipates some sort of mishap. But, a good change can be like a broom that sweeps clean after a mystical thunderstorm has washed out all the dust and old, to leave a completely new world.
"This in my opinion is what had happened at Ongava Lodge. The first time I saw Ongava Lodge, which was March 2005, I loved the dark, mysterious African feel when you entered the main area. It was different, yet also comfortable and you could relate to it.
"I have always loved the deck at Ongava Lodge, which made you feel closer to the animals coming to drink at the waterhole. It was almost unreal sometimes - you felt you could almost touch the animals! There are occasions when some of my guests from Little Ongava want to visit Ongava Lodge, out of curiosity and also because they wanted to see the difference. And always, that deck just got them closer and they were thrilled. A complete contrast to the aerial view we have up at Little Ongava.
"With the new interior renovation, you feel lighter when you walk into the main area. Which I think keeps up the spirit, especially if you have had a long day in Etosha, or just been rhino tracking on foot, or whether you simply just had a long day yourself, after check-ins and running around organising things.
"Of course as Ongava had more rooms added it made sense to enlarge the main area for dining purposes. Now, there is a beautiful newly added deck, definitely stylish, and a feeling of complete freedom as you sit there in the fresh air, having a drink, watching the animals come to the waterhole, and the sun going down on the other side. Soul invigorating!
"It is for sure a fresh look to Ongava Lodge, and also invigorating at the same time. The natural beauty of the reserve is brought in, as the inside decor adds to this splendour and is not overwhelming."
update - February 08 Jump
to Little Ongava
February, as across most of the sub-region, was characterized by exceptional rains which provided welcome relief to all the animals on the reserve. The landscape was transformed into lush greenery, and many animals have given birth recently - notably blue wildebeest and springbok. Many flowers are in evidence - it was quite a sight to see fields of purple Crinum lilies.
Ongava Game Reserve is a 30,000 hectare private reserve on the southern boundary of Etosha National Park and the vegetation is dominated by mopane woodland interspersed with pretty dolomite outcrops.
Little Ongava, a luxurious, small camp perched on one of these outcrops enjoys endless views of the African plains below. Activities for guests centre on game drives and walks on the reserve and trips into Etosha National Park itself.
Birds this month deserve a notable mention due to the wonderful wet conditions. We did not have to go far to find birds, starting directly from the main area veranda! Here there was Southern Masked Weaver nesting, Carp's Tit, Southern Grey-headed Sparrow, Pearl-spotted Owlet, Familiar Chat and Short-toed Rock-Thrush.
Kapona, one of the guides, collected some immense fresh mushrooms on the reserve, which were enjoyed as a tasty starter at dinner by all guests in camp. After these recent rains, there was also a major emergence of mopane moths which were enjoyed as a protein-rich snack by many - striped tree squirrels, groups of Bare-cheeked Babbler and Red-eyed Bulbul were some of the takers. One morning at breakfast we were alerted by the calls of Hartlaub's Francolin, and after some searching we found a covey of three birds - a very tricky Namibian endemic to find.
Drives on the reserve were also very interesting for birds and mammals alike. Monteiro's Hornbill, Eurasian Hobby, Buffy Pipit, Chestnut Weaver, White-tailed Shrike, Squacco Heron, African Harrier Hawk, Violet-eared Waxbill, Barred Wren-Warbler and a stunning male Shaft-tailed Whydah were some of the sightings. A recent springbok kill had several vulture species fighting for the scraps -White-backed, Lappet-faced and a single White-headed Vulture.
On the mammal side we recorded Hartmann's mountain zebra, Burchell's zebra, red hartebeest, southern giraffe, springbok, blue wildebeest, black-backed jackal, a lioness with cubs, slender mongoose and greater kudu. Other highlights for guests were tracking white rhino on foot and a special sighting of Anchieta's dwarf python. Certain guests had a leopard come drink one evening from the infinity pool right at their suite!
Day trips into Etosha remain productive and open up some different habitats to those found on Ongava. The wet conditions did make mammal viewing difficult as animals were no longer concentrated around the waterholes in the park. Plains game was still much in abundance however with predators like lion being seen too.
Particular guests did one morning birding trip into Etosha National Park which was extremely productive - Double-banded Courser, Spike-heeled and Red-capped Lark, Kori Bustard, Northern Black Korhaan, a pair of Secretarybirds, Ostrich, Pale Chanting Goshawk, Lanner Falcon, Pygmy Falcon, Sociable Weaver to mention a few. Due to the wet conditions with several small pans forming everywhere and the main pan filling, they were treated to some unusual sightings for Etosha: a flyover over of Greater and Lessser Flamingos which were picked up by their peculiar honking calls, a flock of Fulvous Duck and a Black Heron. In the more wooded areas they found Pririt Batis, Icterine Warbler, Chestnut-vented Tit-Babbler, Red-headed Finches, Marico Flycatcher, Kalahari Scrub-Robin and Long-tailed Paradise Whydah.
Serra Cafema Camp
update - February 08 Jump
to Serra Cafema Camp
February at Serra Cafema has been a month that will stay in our minds for as long as we live. It has been a month of change, of discovery, as well as non-stop fun!
Towards the end of January, the surrounding Hartman's Valley was looking harsh and stark. There was hardly a strand of grass anywhere, and no rain clouds in sight. Even the desert-adapted gemsbok (oryx) were finding it difficult to cope with the unbearable conditions and many of them could not hold out any longer, and lay down on the desert sand, never to move again. Numerous gaunt carcasses littered the northern end of the Valley between the airstrip and camp.
Just when we thought that it was going to be the driest year ever, a welcome sound rumbled down the valley with a cool breeze in tow, and the first drops of rain hit the desert around Serra Cafema. Since then we have had rain practically every day through February. Our newly-acquired weather station has been doing a fabulous job keeping track of the exact amount of rain that has fallen here during February. We have had an astounding 118mm of rain during the month, and this for an area that usually only receives somewhere between 25-50mm per annum! It really has been an absolute windfall and the desert has reacted spectacularly.
The transformation of the desert happened almost immediately. The day after the first rains, new shoots of grass began appearing randomly all over the desert. In less than a week there was a thin luminous green sheen on all the mountains around camp and on the sand dunes themselves. Within three weeks, there was grass as high as 30 centimetres all over the entire area, with amazing new flowers in-between the grasses. One of the unique succulents that we have been lucky to see in bloom this month has been the Hoodia currorii. As many of you know the hoodia plant has appetite suppressant properties, and is quickly becoming a booming product around the world. Demand has resulted in poaching and exploitation of this unusual plant, which makes seeing it in its natural state just that much more special! Overall it really is a far cry from the barren valley that we knew only a few weeks ago.
Obviously, with all the rains the Kunene River is full and flowing rapidly; flowing so rapidly in fact, that it took both our boats downstream with it one night this month. The waterway, which is the reason that the river banks are a permanent oasis throughout the year, rose two and a half metres overnight. This was due to the authorities opening the floodgates of the Ruacana Dam, which is situated upstream from our camp. After a lot of hard work by the Serra Cafema maintenance team, the boats were rescued, and it won't be long before we are boating on the Kunene again.
The swollen waters of the river have also resulted in some unusual guests in camp. The camp itself has become an island separated from the main land by smaller streams of the main river, some of which run right through the camp. So, it was much to our surprise, when driving out of the driveway one morning, that we spotted a crocodile lying in the road. Obviously he was after some fish that had been trapped in the smaller streams; he was stretched out across our entrance road with his mouth wide open waiting for fish to jump in. How about that for an easy dinner?
The other wildlife in the area has also loved the rain. The gemsbok and springbok look plump and content, feeding on the new grass that is their life source. We have also had two sightings of the elusive brown hyaena in the area during the month, as well as numerous sightings of a family of Cape foxes frolicking in the greenery and at their sandy den site. Another mysterious species that we saw this month was the Namib chameleon. He was photographed in the middle of the Hartman's Valley during the heat of the day.
As always, the birding has also been amazing. We have had many special sightings of Benguela Long-billed Larks which have thrilled the birding guests. Out in the Valley we have seen both Ludwig's Bustard and Rüppell's Korhaan, other specials of the area. In the foliage on the riverbank around camp we have been seeing Olive and Little Bee-eaters darting and diving as they try to catch insects above the water. The Acacia Pied Barbet also made an appearance on many an occasion, as well as a pair of Dusky Sunbirds. A pair of Pririt Batises have also been spotted outside the main area. This small black and white bird is endemic to the south-west of Africa, and a real special by all birders' standards.
As you can see we have had an extraordinary month, full of surprises around every corner. We wish you all the best for the coming month of March, and hope to see you all here soon.
The Serra Cafema Team
update - February 08 Jump
to Damaraland Camp
A Bit of History
The concept of Damaraland Camp first came into play 14 years ago when Wilderness Safaris began negotiations to start a joint tourism venture in the Torra Conservancy with the Damaraland community. Two years later, in 1996, a 15-year agreement was signed and the camp was built.
Over the years the camp has won several awards in conservation and sustainable community development and to date has maintained its rating from the Namibia Alliance awarded to eco-friendly camps.
The Camp & What is Changing
Since its start, Damaraland Camp has been classified as a Vintage Camp - ten canvas-style tents, approximately 35m², on ground level.
The new design differs greatly and the camp has now been upgraded to a Classic Camp. There are still ten tents but they have almost doubled in size to about 60m². The tents are now also raised off the ground and have cool thatch roofs. Interiors now boast a larger walk-in dressing area, while outside there is a new seating area on the deck.
The main area will be changed too - new lounge/library area, decking extended and totally shaded, new entrances. The bar will be transformed into an exciting new sunken design and the original stone walls will now be plastered to create a smoother effect. The fireplace will also alter position and there will be more seating areas where guests can enjoy an afternoon around the pool or dinners al fresco under the stars.
Everything from decor to furniture to cutlery is soon to be changed and Damaraland Camp is going to look very different indeed. As the first Wilderness Safaris Camp in Namibia and now over 11 years old, we can't wait for its transformation.
Staff and builders
Some staff who wanted an opportunity to work at another camp during the rebuild did so - we have a chef down in South Africa and a guide and housekeeper at nearby Doro Nawas.
The remaining staff are all involved in preparing the meals for the builders on site as well as providing regular water runs every hour from 11 o'clock onwards to keep the guys hydrated in the hot sun. Our guides and maintenance staff have all been involved in the building too.
About 60 individuals have been hired from the local community as casual workers. Many of them have worked before in building and construction, but are unable to find steady jobs in Namibia. One guy walked 40km to camp to ask for a job - nobody can say no to that type of determination!
As well as the casuals we have carpenters, thatchers and plastering teams on site and at a later stage will have to accommodate electricians and the guys putting in the new "Trickle System" (see below).
Environmental Efforts during Building Process
This area is very fragile and once a pathway has been made it is very hard to rehabilitate the ground afterwards. In order to protect our pristine landscape, areas were sectioned off by tape to stop builders walking or driving everywhere. It has been great to watch the men take their own initiative after a while and tell each other off when others try to take shortcuts.
Great efforts were also made to save our aloes around camp. Architectural lines from the swimming pool were modified a little as the new wall was right in the path of an aloe. We hope the architects and designers don't notice, but saving that aloe was a priority!
The road coming into camp is being used as the site where all the building rubble has been dumped before being put onto trucks and taken back to Windhoek. Large plastic sheets were also put out, on which all cement mixing was done.
New Eco-friendly Camp Design
For the new sewage system we have installed a "Trickle System" - all water from the toilets, showers and wash-basins runs into a tank where it gets filtered and recycled before being released back into the environment.
Most of the walls in our new tents use sandbag 'bricks' which have then been plastered over. This is far more eco-friendly and has created a huge job opportunities as up to 30 000 bags of sand had to be packed.
Where the original tents were we have had to rehabilitate the area. This was achieved by creating a team of temporary staff dedicated to this task. Good rains recently also encouraged the grasses to re-grow in this area.
One of our Assistant Managers, Cornelia Adams, completed a Course in HIV/AIDS in 2005 and is a peer educator at our camp. She is a member of the Torra Conservancy and started in Damaraland Camp 11 years ago working her way up to her current Position. Corrie has taken it upon herself to run several workshops in the evenings with our staff as well as builders who are interested. The idea is to talk about and educate some of the local people here about HIV/AIDS. As well as informing the people of how the virus is transferred, she has been telling them where they can get tested and how important it is to know your status. Corrie would one day like to be an HIV/AIDS counsellor for Wilderness Safaris Namibia and also her community.
Nadja le Roux and Damaraland Staff
Doro Nawas Camp
update - February 08 Jump
to Doro Nawas Camp
The community-run conservancy of Doro !Nawas is situated in Damaraland, around 100km north of Brandberg, Namibia's highest mountain. The spectacular Doro Nawas Camp is nestled against a small hill in a vast ancient floodplain which is sheltered by the dramatic red Etjo sandstone range and the flat-topped Etendeka Mountains. Our drives concentrated on exploring the dry Huab and Aba Huab river systems, the open plains and numerous rocky outcrops found in the area.
This is not big game country, but one is constantly struck by the vastness and serene tranquillity of the landscapes here, no matter how long one has worked in the area. On the mammal side over the course of the month we did commonly encounter gemsbok (oryx), springbok, meerkats (suricate), bat-eared fox and chacma baboon. The real prize however is locating the unique desert-adapted sub-species of the African elephant in the Aba Huab or Huab riverbeds that dominate our valley. There are two regularly seen herds, both of which are relaxed with vehicles and ecotourism encounters and provide fantastic viewing with relatively close approached and good photographic opportunities. In the one herd currently there are two recently born calves, the one less than a month old!
The birding here is just as interesting. Highlights over the course of the month and even in the period of a single game drive included Madagascar Bee-eater, Carp's Tit, Bare-cheeked Babbler, Red-billed Francolin, Grey-backed Cameroptera, Crimson-breasted Shrike, African Cuckoo, Red-crested Korhaan, Little Banded Goshawk, Damara Hornbill, Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill, Acacia Pied Barbet, Common Scimitarbill, White-backed Mousebird, Southern White-crowned Shrike and African Hawk-Eagle.
The Huab River while very similar in vegetation and characteristic species is broader and more dramatic and quite different in that it has several springs as the bedrock is close to the surface. Here we found Three-banded Plover, Cape Wagtails and several Black Storks.
The open plains are a very different habitat - scattered mopane trees and Euphorbia damarana dominate, with the odd smelly shepherd's tree, welwitschias and pretty Namib star bushes. Birdlife on the plains is typically sparse but we do see Scaly-feathered Finches, Dusky Sunbird, Namaqua Sandgrouse, Ruppell's Korhaan, Bokmakierie (a colourful bush-shrike), Rock Kestrel, Grey-backed Sparrowlark, Karoo Chat, Mountain Wheatear, Ostrich, Lark-like Bunting, Ludwig's Bustard and Black-chested Prinia. The real surprise of the month was finding a stunning male Montagu's Harrier, which caused great excitement. An unusual phenomenon in these plains is the occurrence of fairy circles - large circular bare patches whose origins are much disputed. Theories range from termite activity, to toxicity caused by Euphorbia plants to electromagnetism. I think the termites win for me. A certain rocky ridge had displaying Benguela Long-billed Lark.
At night we were often spoilt with fine dining and enthusiastic singing from the staff - the song 'Amarula' will always be remembered! From the camp after things have quietened down the faint call of barking geckos resounded all around to remind one of the sanctity and solitude of this landscape.
Visits to Twyfelfontein, the nearby World Heritage Site, remain regular. This is a San rock art site featuring a plethora of rock engravings and paintings depicting wildlife and abstract patterns. Twyfelfontein is set amongst spectacular red Etjo sandstone formations, and well-placed walkways lead you to the best sites. An unusual mammal often encountered here is the dassie rat which scurries through the jumble of rocks and boulders. A small natural spring or fountain is attractive to the birds and can produce White-throated Canary, Red-eyed Bulbul, Speckled Pigeon, Pale-winged Starling and Lark-like Bunting. Verreauxs' Eagle nest here (rock hyrax is abundant), and the shepherd's trees have Long-billed Crombec and Yellow-bellied Eremomela. A reptile highlight was the colourful Namib rock agama.
Other interesting geological formations in the area and visited with guests are the Organ Pipes and Burnt Mountain. On the way to Burnt Mountain we often stop and look at some large specimens of male and female welwitschia plants - primitive cone-bearing plants restricted mostly to Namibia.
Desert Rhino Camp - January / February 08 Jump
to Desert Rhino Camp
Life continues at Desert Rhino Camp in a remote part of the wild and vast Palmwag Concession in north-west Namibia.
Over the course of January and February we enjoyed many successful tracking expeditions of the area's black rhino, including the core of animals whose ranges and territories are in the vicinity of camp and who we have got to know very well over the years: Animals such as the bull 'Speedy' as well as several cows and their offspring. We couldn't have achieved anything like the hit rate we did without the invaluable tracking assistance of the Save the Rhino Trust (SRT) trackers we work so closely with. Without this committed and passionate team, the lot of the free-ranging desert-adapted black rhino (Diceros bicornis bicornis) would not be nearly as secure.
Most days involved our proven approach to locating these desert denizens. Effectively while the camp guests enjoyed an early morning game drive with their guide, the SRT trackers would sweep the area for fresh rhino spoor, concentrating on favoured springs and noting the daily presence or absence of black rhino in the area. Having located a trail fresh enough to follow the trackers then set out on foot to locate the animal, following barely visible sign over the harsh and rocky ground for kilometres at a time. Once the animals are found the guide and guests form Desert Rhino Camp are then called into the area by radio, leaving the vehicle at the closest point accessible by road and then setting out on foot.
For every sighting we endeavour to observe the animals and then leave them without them ever having sensed our presence: Voyeurism if you like? but of the most ethical kind and essential to ensuring that we do not negatively impact on their behaviour. To do so in such a harsh environment could easily result in heat stress or some other negative impact - an influence we are not prepared to have.
Of course other desert-adapted wildlife thrives in the area, particularly after generous rains such as those we received in the first half of February. Species such as oryx, springbok, Hartmann's mountain zebra and others are regularly seen, while very occasionally we encounter lion and other large predators.
We have some sad news for this year however.
On 14th of February 2008 the well-known rhino cow Diana died. She was a much studied and well photographed rhino and a regular sighting on safari and the mother of seven recorded offspring. She died in the Agab riverbed, west of Groot Agab Spring which was her territory. She started losing condition about a year ago, shortly after the birth of her last calf - welcomed by all as one of the few newborn females. Her previous calf was called Takamisa and guests and staff at Rhino Camp saw him reaching adulthood. Today he is a young strong bull. Diana's condition deteriorated to such an extent that she was unable to effectively protect her young female calf. The calf fell prey to lions in November last year which was a sad and tragic loss. Diana's life was intensively recorded by the late Blythe Loutit and Mike Hearn. Old age and natural cause seem to have been the cause of death.
Governors' Camp update - February 08 Jump
to Governors' Camp
We have had another wonderful month of Game Viewing here in the Governors’ area of the Masai Mara.
Rain arrived early in the month and brought a green flush to the grasslands which were drying out due to the high winds. The rains brought on a beautiful blossoming of wild flowers on the plains, cycnium tubolosum (white tissue paper flower) was seen everywhere. We also saw the yellow flowers of abuliton mauritanium, the blue wandering dew flower (commelina) and the orange and peach cossandras. These wildflowers bring colour to the plains and are always a delight to see.
The zebras have been crossing the Mara River back and forth this month and then spreading out on the plains to graze. Last year a large area of the Mara was burnt in a bush fire and the lush new growth is now attracting large numbers of plains game including Thomson and Grants Gazelles, Topis, Impala, Cokes Heartebeest and warthogs. The warthog families have lots of piglets on the plains this month and many have proved too easy a meal for the resident prides of lion.
The Bila Shaka and Marsh pride of lions have been doing well this month. It seems the three new dominant males (including Pavarotti the dark- maned male) have sired new offspring. Two of the females (including ‘one eye’) have five cubs which we estimate to be around a month old. Their eyes are now open and they are wobbling around on little legs. Their mothers keep them well hidden and away from danger in the croton thickets. On the 16th of February guests witnessed the pride devouring a hippo carcass and a few days later they were seen on a zebra Kill.
The Paradise or Ridge Pride is also thriving. This is a large pride with three males, five females and eleven cubs that we regularly see in the Paradise plains area and near the riverine woodlands. There are a further two females, three young cubs (who we estimate to be around two months old), six sub adult cubs and one male from the pride, who have now moved to the other side of the Mara River.
We have had lots of wonderful cheetah sightings this month, Honey and her three male cubs (23 months old) have been seen on the plains and the areas south of the Talek River and the three males have been seen hunting up on the ridges and down on the plains. Another female was seen this month on Paradise plains where she successfully hunted an impala only to lose the entire kill to a hungry hyena.
The leopards are also doing well this month, Pole Pole (pictured above) and her son Kijana have been seen in the Riverine forests near Little Governors’. Zawadi and her cub has been seen out on the plains and another female with two large cubs that (we estimate to be 20 months old) have been seen in the rocky croton thickets near the Mara River, her cubs are old enough now to move on (leopard cubs usually leave their mothers at around 18 months) so we expect that they will part company soon.
Jackman and the other black rhino we saw in December and January continue to be seen; these black rhino love to browse on croton bushes and are often hidden away from view in the thickets. Guests were thrilled when they recently witnessed these two chasing one another out on the plains.
The Musiara marsh and riverine woodlands have been popular with the elephant families again this month. Many of these family units have very young calves which is always a good sign of health in elephant herds, since the females will often miss oestrus cycles when stressed.
We have had some lovely walking safaris this month with guests seeing family units of elephant and herds of up to twenty giraffe in the acacia woodland. An aardwolf has been seen on a few occasions just after dawn and many Tawny eagles have been seen nesting.
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