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AFRICAN SAFARI NEWS

January 2008

(Page 2 of 2)

Page 1 Updates
General Safaris News - General information and updates from our partners in Africa.
Wildlife News - Interesting wildlife sightings and photos.
Camp News - Camp specific news, including refurbs, rebuilds, accolades, etc.
• North Island Dive Report from the Seychelles.
• Monthly update from Mvuu Camp & Wilderness Lodge in Malawi.
• Monthly update from Kings Pool Camp in Botswana.
Kwando Safaris game reports.
• Monthly update from Chitabe Lediba Camp in Botswana.

Page 2 Updates
• Monthly update from Kwetsani Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Jao Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Jacana Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Tubu Tree Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Vumbura Plains in Botswana.
• Trip Report from the Green Desert Expedition in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Pafuri Camp in South Africa.
• Turtle news from Rocktail Bay in South Africa.
• Trip Report from Desert Rhino Expedition in Namibia.
• Monthly update from Governors' Camp in Kenya's Masai Mara.


Kwetsani update - January 08                Jump to Kwetsani Camp

What an incredible month this is to describe, it has been an absolute kaleidoscope of colours and visions, dramatic daybreaks and sunsets, rainbows and moon rises, rainstorms and dramatic skies, and of course, always the wonderful landscapes and tranquillity. These moments have al0so often been interrupted by rapidly approaching thunderstorms.

     

An enormous amount of rain has fallen - a total of 298mm during the month of January, which in places gives the impression of the rising flood. Considering that the average annual rainfall in Botswana is around 450mm, the amount we have had this month is staggering.

It seems that we perhaps set the tone for a month of contrasts that we have had. We did so by starting off the year with a very international New Year's Eve celebration. The occasion included fare representing the countries of the guests that chose to see the New Year in at Kwetsani, I am sure they all agreed that there was no better place to do so.

The celebrations started out with Caribbean cocktails that welcomed guests, amongst them residents of the Caribbean, from the afternoon drive. After freshening up it was time for a few pre-dinner drinks before the rhythmic drums beckoned us to the wonderfully decorated dinner table that our waitresses had prepared for the occasion.

The dinner got underway with traditional American corn chowder in recognition of our American guests. By all accounts our creative chefs managed to impress even those that were familiar with the dish. The main course was a feast of traditional Botswana fare consisting of seswa, which is a shredded beef that is prepared for up to 7 hours and then served with a selection of moroggo (traditional vegetables), sauces and papa. This was accompanied by traditionally "braaied" meat to represent the South African contingent present.

The main course was rounded off with Italian panettone "bread" accompanied by homemade cherry chocolates. Once again our Italian guests were amazed at the chef's ability to produce their traditional bread dessert, which we rounded off with liqueurs and freshly brewed coffee. The general consensus was that this was a fitting end to 2007 and that we had managed to start the New Year on a high note with a wonderful evening, which itself was a kaleidoscope of culinary and cultural delights.

After a number of very windy and unseasonably colder days towards the end of December we woke to a beautiful New Year's morning with our grassy floodplain bathed in the most spectacular sunrise, a few Ground Hornbills and a lonely wildebeest filled our panorama. How lovely to have a New Year greeting from two fascinating creatures of our bushveld world. The endangered Ground Hornbills it seems were also out on a family occasion to celebrate the dawning of yet another year. We certainly couldn't question them for choosing Kwetsani to enjoy their gathering!

As mentioned, the month really has been one of contrasts, particularly with regard to the weather. We have certainly had a number of cool and misty mornings that have been a gentle reminder of our winter mornings which are hopefully still a long way off. Quite strange at a time of the year where we are normally sweltering in the summer heat. Of course the moist rainy days have so often left us with wonderful sunsets and moonlit skies with the contrasting cloud patterns and a freshness that reaches deep into your soul. Savouring these incredible, unpredictable and beautiful moments in the Delta has been absolutely wonderful.

It is always a wonderful experience to leave the vehicle on one of our bush walks with our knowledgeable guides; a number of our guests did so this month. As is usual one has the opportunity to see so many of the smaller things that go unnoticed while on a game drive.

Swamp Boubou which has killed a bat

One of the more unusual sightings this month took place while guests were out on a morning walk. The walking party witnessed a Swamp Boubou (a medium-sized shrike) attack and kill a large fruit bat that was lurking in a Sycamore Fig. Considering that these birds are generally insect eaters, and will on occasion even take fruit, this was an exceptionally unusual sighting. Thanks very much to Chris and Judith Stride for this shot that they managed to capture - certainly worth recording.

Flame Lily

We could write paragraphs about the incredible flora that abounds at this time of the year but this is of course not possible. There had to be one exception this month, the Flame Lily, which is without any doubt one of the most exquisite flowers in the area. I'm sure you will agree that the botanical name Gloriosa superba, which implies that it is a 'glorious' plant of 'superb' beauty, is very apt. As is so often the case in nature the Flame Lily's bright colours should sound a warning to the would-be harvester of the flower as it is deadly poisonous.

With waters too low to take the short 10-minute boat trip to Hunda Island and the direct road being too wet to drive we have made the long drive to Hunda on a number of occasions this month. On these occasions guests have enjoyed a full day outing where they have stopped to relax and enjoy a picnic lunch in the shade of the giant trees that abound on the island; the trips have generally been well rewarded with exceptional leopard and other game sightings.

Refurbishment underway at Kwetsani

In order to ensure that your stay at Kwetsani will be a pleasant one we place much emphasis on the maintenance of the lodge. In addition to the ongoing maintenance that our team puts in behind the scenes throughout the year it is necessary to close the doors for a couple of weeks each year. We once again did so on the 17th of January when all of the staff donned their oldest clothes and climbed in to ensure that everything is spick and span for the ensuing year. Decks have been polished, tables and chairs refurbished and metals shined. It is hard work but the camaraderie of the team makes it all worthwhile as each watches their particular area begin to sparkle with a fresh coat of varnish. How proud the housekeepers and deck hands, chefs and waitresses and all the other staff are as they see the results.

We look forward to welcoming you at Kwetsani to relax on our freshly-polished decks while you enjoy this amazing wilderness in which we are privileged to live.

 

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Jao Camp update - January 08               Jump to Jao Camp

With the New Year came grasses, grazers and grey skies. The grasses are high, the grazers are plentiful and the grey skies were showering over them both!

On some days we had as much as 60mm of rain, while on others this was as low as 5mm. Temperatures ranged from 12°C to 37°C. However, on average the days were very pleasant and humidity tolerable. We had a total of 360.5mm of rain for the month which has given the land a head start into the flood season.

Wattled Cranes with a chic

The rains were a blessing for all species among the animal kingdom. Even for the birds. Our Wattled Cranes are striving to fly off the threatened species list. New chicks were marching with grace through the tall grasses of the plains in between proud parents. The wetter environment, especially the rains of this season, has been beneficial to the breeding of these charming cranes. Jao Concession still stands as having the highest number of Wattled Cranes within the Delta.

Scops Owl at Jao camp

Birding highlights of some other intriguing species have also delighted guests. Wings of the Pel's Fishing-Owl have briefly wafted over the concession. Also, the Rosy-throated Longclaws have not been shy as they flitted about the area. A special sighting of a Scops Owl allowed us to get really up close and personal.

The very shy sitatunga has come out of the shadows a few times this month welcoming guests onto the Jao Island. The robust male with sensational spiralled horns lives in the marshy sidelines of the island. A rare and exceptional sighting.

After a few haunting evenings with the lion roars drifting on the winds, the Northern Pride of lions returned to the area after being evasive for most of the month. The trio put on a show for our guests as they ambushed a red lechwe on the floodplains. It surprised the guests as much as it did the lechwe! Our lioness loner who has been estranged with her cub for the past four months has come out of hiding. Although injured, her back leg badly cut, she is looking very healthy as is her cub. We look forward to seeing how she progresses with her healing.

Paw prints patterned the sands as our resident female leopard settled into camp for most of the month with a triple kill. After being chased around the camp by baboons she managed to turn the tables and take one for herself. Meanwhile, she had already stored a baby impala in a tree at the back of the island. Within a week she had taken another baby impala on the other side of the island. Maybe our leopard is eating enough for two? We have our fingers crossed. Adding to the array of leopard paw prints we had serval, African civet and African wildcat.

Monitor eating a frog

The reptiles have been out and about to impress all. Six-foot crocodiles at our hippo pool and every size in between have banked themselves to try and absorb as much sun as the clouds allowed. Plenty of monitor lizards have been roaming around the area, on walkways and the Jao Bridge; much to an unlucky frog's regret.

Amongst our newcomers to the Delta, this month brought two groups of repeat guests to Jao. Here are a few comments from our variety of guests from January:"Chris, Warren, Tara and Cheri treat you as if you are at their home! Victor was the best guide thus far on our holiday- he will be missed. We loved our experience here!" - J&S, USA
"To return to this magical camp and have all expectations exceeded, is truly unique. Thank you Jost for sharing your piece of Africa with us. And thank you Warren, Cheri, Tara, Priscilla, Chris, John, Madeline, Pearl and Joanne for giving us such a beautiful family holiday. You have a very special place in Jao!" - S,S, H&B - South Africa
"Thank you all so much for everything! This is my 3rd time here; I keep coming back and it is spectacular every time. Thanks for a lovely time!" - K - USA
"A great place to relax and enjoy the nature. Thank you for sharing it with us." - K&C - Australia

The Jao Team
PULA!


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Jacana Camp update - January 08               Jump to Jacana Camp

Rain, rain and more rain. With more than 300mm of rain falling in January, the wet season has arrived! Our paradise island seems to get greener by the day. It is also getting smaller by the day as the water levels have started to rise again at a rapid rate.

The rising waters have meant that the red lechwe and baboons that have been a common sight in front of camp for the past few months have moved to drier land to avoid getting trapped by the water. Our resident leopardess has also been spotted a number of times in the past month. The elephants, that have been a rare sight lately, should be coming back to the island as soon as the Marula trees start fruiting.

Bird viewing has still been excellent, with the highlight of the month definitely being a pair of Wattled Cranes with a chick seen not far from camp. The Wattled Crane is an endangered species, mostly due to the loss of habitat through wetland destruction. However, due to the area being so pristine, they are a relatively common sight in the Okavango Delta, and as many as six have been seen on the floodplains in front of camp. Other interesting sights close to camp included the beautiful, but seldom seen Painted Snipe and a Pied Kingfisher feeding on a water snake!

January was also our month for maintenance and refurbishment. The most exciting change to the camp was to the guest tents. Doors were put into the front and back of the tent, doing away with the tent zips and making them easier to enter and making the rooms look larger and more spacious.

We look forward to the coming months as the floodwaters continue to come in, and when the Okavango Delta is at its most beautiful. We hope to see you at Jacana soon to share the experience and beauty of this natural wonder.

Regards
The Jacana Team


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

As a result of a large amount of summer rainfall over the past six weeks, the water table in the area is already very high. As a result, when the annual winter flood arrives it is expected to be pretty elevated. We are all looking forward to seeing the water coming in.

Our adventurous Canadian and German guests staying at Tubu in the middle of this month enjoyed probably the last vehicle ride to our sister camps before some of the crossings had to be closed due to high water. Very much to their delight the water was already over the car bonnets - luckily nobody got stuck and they enjoyed a wonderful day of game driving and mokoro boating.

The calls of hippo are again heard at night and some of our guests saw up to 60 hippo in a nearby pool, splashing around happily. These large herbivores are always popular with guests and their throaty calls are one of the classic sounds of Africa.

Several breeding herds of elephant have moved into the area recently. Some very small calves are with them, barely visible above the tall grass. These relaxed herds have provided some great viewing for guests. One young elephant bull has made Tubu its temporary home, moving between the tents at day and night. The workshop area in the back of house has become its favourite playground, and occasionally we have to hide behind a car or the generator to avoid a close encounter. One of our guides has spent a sleepless night as the young bull decided to rest right behind his tent - the snoring was just too much?

Our leopards never let us down and have been providing excellent game viewing on any given day. A young leopard and his mother are living in the area around Kalahari Pan, a waterhole about ten minutes out of camp. This picturesque little lake attracts lots of birds and plains game and the leopards can often be seen hunting in this area.

Just recently the snarling sound of a leopard interrupted the happy sundowner get together of our guests and the gin and tonics had to be finished quickly. The guests had just jumped back into the game drive vehicles when the young leopard moved out of the tall grass. After some posing on one of the termite mounds it led us to its mother who was waiting not far away!

We hope to see you soon here at Tubu!
Peter, Katrin and the whole Tubu Team


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Vumbura Plains update - January 08               Jump to Vumbura Plains Camp

Weather
January has been a rainy month in our concession which contributed to the ever-rising water levels in the Delta. Most of our roads have been seriously affected by this and we have been forced to close some of the worst affected. Even 'Kalahari Road' which during the annual winter flood does not get inundated by water has been submerged. The water is heading towards the Zambezi Pan which could result in this pan being filled up soon if things go on like this. The vegetation has also changed dramatically; it's all bright green and lush.

Driving in the rain waters at Vumbura      Rain water at the boat station - Vumbura

Predators
The Kubu lion pride had a very rough time these past couple of weeks. One of the older lionesses, a matriarch in the pride, was seen with some bad cuts along her neck. Due to these injuries she was unable to keep up with the rest of the pride and was often seen alone in the Kgoko Loop area while the rest of the pride was concentrating to the east. In a sad and moving sighting a few days later the old lioness was seen being fed upon by spotted hyaenas. The whole pride then split up for a while but they later regrouped.

Young male lion at Vumbura

There has also been a strange male leopard with a big scar across its back that was seen in the Vumbura Highway area. The same leopard was also seen struggling to take a kill up a tree and this was really an exciting sighting for our guests because the dead kudu was twice its size. In the end the young leopard failed and had to feed from the ground for some time before it could take the kill up the tree.

The month of January has also brought some amazing wild dog sightings in the Vumbura Plains area. The latest of these being one of the solitary dog which has been moving in and about the North Camp floodplain and even killing a young red lechwe in camp. This was witnessed by some of the camp managers who watched it all happen from the boardwalk. The pack of 12 dogs have also been in the area and contributed some great sightings as well. Sadly, an interaction between the pack and a clan of hyaena resulted in one of the wild dog puppies being killed by hyaenas.

Drives to the hyaena den proved as entertaining as ever with the youngsters showing great curiosity around the vehicles... there are about six or seven cubs of varying ages at the den.

Plains game
Herds of antelope and giraffe have been common this month; the newly grown lush grass has been providing them with plentiful food source. A large herd of sable antelope has been a frequent sight on the drive to camp from the airstrip, providing guests with an unusual welcome. It is also evident that the big elephant herds are now coming back into the area as big herds have been seen along Thutwa Road from the airstrip.

Sable Antelope at Vumbura     Impalas at Vumbura

Birds
The rising water levels have brought with them a lot of fish into the floodplains providing an abundance of food for the fish-eating birds such as the many Marabou Storks currently frequenting the open floodplains. A fair number of Southern Ground Hornbills as well as Wattled Cranes have also been seen in the different areas of our massive floodplains as well as sightings of Ostrich in areas closer to the airstrip. There haven't been Ostrich sightings until recently and that has been quite an experience for our guests.

Comb Duck at Vumbura Plains

The Vumbura Team


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Green Desert Expedition update - January 08               Jump to Green Desert Expedition

We were warmly welcomed at the Wilderness Safaris office in Maun while we waited for our guide, Emanuel, to collect the other guests who arrived on the Johannesburg flight. The eight of us then departed from Maun to the Makgadikgadi Game Reserve in the impressive Explorations vehicle - a little unsure of what to expect.

The vehicle was ideal for this type of safari, with comfortable seats. Mid-way, we stopped for a packed lunch which was exactly what was needed at that point.

We arrived at the Khumaga camp site, where the camp was already set up by the wonderful back-up team: Bishop (who conjured fantastic meals during this safari!), AB and Rob. The tents were very comfortable. The highlight of the stay here was definitely the white rhino sighting. Besides the fact that it was a wonderful and unexpected sighting, to see our guide that excited was nothing less than spectacular! The summer birding was also fantastic with many memorable sightings and a few 'lifers'.

Green Desert Expedition - Kite      Wildebeests

We met some really fantastic people on this trip. I suppose it is the perfect place to meet like-minded individuals. These guests were really into their fitness regimes, and we were all swept up in their stretching routines at every stop!

Kalahari Lion      Cheetah with a kill

On Monday morning, 14 January, after a last visit to the beautiful hippo pools, we left the Makgadikgadi Reserve and headed for the Central Kalahari. Once again, the camp was all set up as we arrived at around 17:30. The thunderstorms at this time of year were always at the right time thankfully, and were welcomed by all of us as it certainly cooled down the days. Summer is certainly a time of abundance and life and the highlights of the stay here were many: seeing a cheetah kill, encountering a pack of wild dogs, all the plains game with their new-born young and a magnificent Kalahari black-maned lion male which eluded us until now. We spotted him as we left the camp site to drive back to Maun on the last day. We were all in awe by this magnificent creature and as Emanuel said "It was a National Geographic moment".

On the last night, we were treated by the staff to a traditional African meal even though this was not part of the original plan. A main course of 'pap' (a maize meal porridge) with a ground beef and tomato based sauce and NO cutlery, or desert, as this is not part of a traditional meal! We also had a sing and dance performance from the crew which was wonderful! True to the song they performed, we are going to miss you Kalahari!!!

Stretching     

We ended off the trip in the Okavango Delta - absolute heaven. Waking up with the Okavango Delta on your doorstep, literally, was spectacular! It was great to have some different activities here to game drives - we really enjoyed the peacefulness of the mokoro's and the excitement of the boating trips.

"I have to just mention again that the meals on this exploration were really fantastic!! Not too large portions, and very tasty. The crocodile bread they made for us also impressed!! Management and staff at Vumbura Plains were fantastic - Lindi and Franck made a great impression. Emanuel's driving, company and guiding was also great. All in all a wonderful safari - well done!!!"

-Lindi Douwenga-


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

It was another month filled with splendour and intense beauty for us here at Pafuri. The year of 2008 has been ushered in with total elegance. We had some rain at the beginning of the month, but it dried out later in the month and we only had a total of 28mm for January. With this rain (and that received in December) has come vigorous plant growth and the concession has been transformed on a daily basis with a wide variety of flowers and trees flowering in an attempt to attract insect and fruit bats. Temperatures were kept cool by the ever present cover of clouds which often echoed the distant calls of thunderstorms during the evenings; When the sun did peep through the clouds though it got rather warm.

January was a month that was dominated by claws and teeth as well as feathers and beaks. There were fantastic sightings of predator species throughout the whole month. Due to the long grass, the cats were often seen walking along the roads. We had a total of 24 lion and leopard sightings for the month. The concession was traversed mainly by three sub-adult lions, 'lodgers' which temporarily sneak in from south of the Luvuvhu River in the absence of the dominant Pafuri males. These three lions have produced many hours of excellent entertainment for our guests, one incident in particular comes to mind when they provided excellent entertainment and insight during their attempts to catch unsuspecting baboons on the airstrip during one of the morning drives. These three animals were also, strangely enough, accompanied by two cubs in the region of 5-7 months of age that had been abandoned by their mother for some or other reason. This was an eye-opening experience for all. It reminded us all that we are at the mercy of nature and that nature selects only the strongest. Three days after we last saw them one of the cubs was dead due to starvation and the other one had disappeared - almost certainly victim of the same fate as its sibling.

The beginning of the month was very quiet with no sightings of elephants, but later on in the month as things dried out this all changed when the majestic pachyderms returned to the concession to appease their neverending appetites. Breeding herds as well as bulls made themselves at home in the sandveld area around Lanner Gorge.

The area around the lodge was often embraced by a herd of buffalo. On one occasion a herd of approximately 400 buffalo was seen. The tall, lush grasses that now cover most of the concession are irresistible to buffalo and have been attracting large concentrations across the whole concession.

The number of newborn animals in the concession is still on the rise as there is an abundance of food for all. During night drives along the river, one would see hundreds of newly hatched Flap-necked Chameleons measuring no more than 3cm on the vegetation along the road. In certain spots of the river, the water became alive with the hustle and bustle of crocodile hatchlings all scurrying for cover from the watchful eyes of the raptors overhead. Some of the other interesting and more unusual sightings during the month included:

- A pair of black-backed jackals with three pups
- An aardwolf (only the second sighting in the past 30 months)
- Black-backed jackals and various Vulture species feeding on a lion cub carcass
- A crocodile launching itself out of the water to catch White-throated Swallows hawking insects.
- White-backed Vultures and Marabou Storks feeding on African Bullfrogs
- A springhare - also one of only a handful of sightings in the past 30 months.
- A crocodile that caught a porcupine in front of the lodge.
- 7 wild dogs were sighted approximately 3km south of the Luvuvhu Bridge.

The birdlife in Pafuri has trebled with the mass emergence of armoured ground crickets, the inundation of the seasonal wetlands and the abundance of grass seeds. Some of the most amazing birding took place over the month. The biggest highlight was the Striped Crake. This extremely rare vagrant was seen on six different occasions in the concession, and what makes this even more mind-blowing, was that a male and female were seen! This means that they may be breeding migrants in Pafuri. Large flocks of Red-billed Queleas were seen swarming the skies and visiting the river to drink.

With all the rain received during the previous months, some pans and vleis have now filled up with water and are flourishing with aquatic plants. At these pans, birds such as the Dwarf Bittern, Lesser Moorhen, Black Crake, Corn Crake, Pygmy Goose, African Jacana, Comb Duck, and Open-billed Stork were seen during a day's birding in Pafuri. Specials for the area are still plentiful with the regular appearance of Three-banded Coursers, Arnot's Chat, and White-Crowned Lapwing. Large numbers of Harlequin Quails have been present along practically every road.

As one can see the month was filled with many surprises in fauna and flora. Pafuri continues to sparkle as one of the Park's most diverse and undisturbed gems.

Average daily minimum temperatures: 23°C
Average daily maximum temperatures: 32°C
Rainfall: 28mm

Warren Ozorio


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Rocktail Bay Turtle News - January 08               Jump to Rocktail Bay Lodge

The 2007/8 season has been a real gem, with an overall increase in loggerhead and leatherback nesting and hatchling emergence numbers. The loggerheads have shown a substantial increase - from 219 nests at this point last season to 360 so far this season. The leatherbacks have not shown such a dramatic increase, with 105 nests to date compared to 92 nests at this point last season.

Our turtle research team still have all the passion and energy of the beginning of the season, despite many a late night, as they get out there every night with enthusiastic Rocktail Bay Lodge guests for some amazing experiences on the beach. The team are mainly looking for hatchling emergences now, as the nesting season has pretty much come to a close with very few adults emerging from the ocean to lay eggs. The satellite tagging team was seen out again this season putting on three tracking devices. A lucky group of Rocktail Bay Lodge guests had the opportunity to watch the team hard at work putting one of the devices on a leatherback; hopefully we'll get some great migration data from this female.

The erosion of the beach has been really minimal this season, after the massive erosive event last year in March. This factor seems to have added to the great success of hatchling emergences we have seen to date, with 57 nests already emerged compared to the 31 nests emerged by this time last season.

Our honey badger that was devouring the eggs on Manzengwenya beach earlier this season does not seem to have the same taste for hatchlings, as his activity along the beach has decreased. One night we came across a nest that had been dug up by the honey badger. Its hatchlings were approximately a week from emerging from the nest and had been killed but not eaten.

Our turtle adoption programme has had yet another season of amazing generosity and interest from the Rocktail Bay Lodge guests with 71 turtles already adopted. The large community of adopted turtle parents already gathered out there is growing each year and really shows that people care. When gathered in great numbers towards a common goal we can make a difference in the way our environment is being treated worldwide.

Thanks so much for the support,
The Rocktail Bay Turtle Research Team


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Namibia camps
Desert Rhino Expedition - January 08               Jump to Desert Rhino Expedition

For millions of years the desert-adapted rhino and elephant have roamed the harsh desert plains and rugged mountains of one of the most isolated corners of Africa - northern Damaraland in Namibia. In more recent times these unique animals have been joined by a newcomer; the camels of the Save the Rhino Trust (SRT), which are used to monitor and research the desert rhino. The SRT Camel Patrol, consisting of a small team of professional trackers from the local Damara community, their camels and a couple of loyal (but slightly flea-bitten) bush dogs, regularly go out into the most remote parts of the Palmwag Concession in search of the rare desert rhino. Using the camels they are able to reach areas that would be impossible to access by any other means, and under often very difficult conditions perform an invaluable service for the Save the Rhino Trust and for the organisation's conservation effort.

Camel Train - Desert Rhino Expedition

In an attempt to make the SRT Camel Patrol financially self-sustaining, a Camel Safari Project was initiated by the Trust. This project aims to generate income to support the work of the Camel Patrol by taking small groups of people on foot patrol into the Concession with the camel team. These walking safaris specifically target the most isolated regions of northern Damaraland, and traverse some of the most stunning desert landscapes in the country. The walkers not only get to track and observe rhino in a spectacularly beautiful desert setting, but are also able to experience at firsthand the vitally important field work of the SRT, and to see how the financial support that the walk provides is actually being used.

Although the project is still in its infancy, every 'camel safari' that we have undertaken so far has been a roaring success (and with so many lions in the area, sometimes quite literally).The positive feedback that we have received from the walkers has been incredible, and gives us much encouragement. Even so it's not always been plain sailing, and we've had our fair share of ups and downs along the way. The eldest female camel, "Mama", had to be put down when she became incurably sick, but at least she was recycled (the SRT camel patrol trackers ate her! The fatty hump was particularly popular). Nothing goes to waste in an environment as harsh as northern Damaraland! And then "Dries", a friendly old bull camel, was taken by a pride of nine lion when he was out browsing early last year (I believe they also enjoyed the hump). But we've struggled on in spite of these setbacks, and we've had a few high points, too.

Camel safari - Desert Rhino Expedition

Thanks to the camels, we were able to explore a very remote and relatively unknown part of the Concession, deep in a chain of mountains that were impossible to access by vehicle. We were able to rediscover rhino that had not been seen for many years and had even been feared dead. In actual fact, we found that they had migrated into the most inaccessible part of the Concession and had established their new home range there. On one camel safari we were lucky enough to pick up a total of 14 rhino, including a beautiful, tiny day-old calf.

On another occasion last year I had to laugh when, as the tough SRT trackers and I approached a small thicket of dense bush the dogs started raising their hackles, growling and glaring, their eyes fixed on the bushes just ahead of us. There was something lying hidden there. We froze, and trained our binos on the thicket. I could see nothing, but then Mannetjie, the lead tracker and an excellent "spotter", shouted, "Lion" and the next moment all four "hardened" bush trackers were clinging desperately for dear life to the topmost branches of a mopane tree just behind us. I didn't have time to move when all of a sudden the dogs bolted and charged headfirst into the thicket where the "lion" lay waiting? an African wildcat shot out the other side and ran for his life, with the two dogs hot on his tail! There was silence for a moment, and then the trackers sheepishly climbed back down the tree and we continued our walk.

Skeleton Coast - Desert Rhino Expedition

I didn't let Mannetjie forget the episode, and teased him about it for the rest of the walk; but he had the last laugh in the end. We had walked right across the Namib Desert all the way to the Skeleton Coast. Cape fur seals swam in the freezing cold waters of the Benguela current that travels up from Antarctica, and a thick chilly mist hung low over the pebble-strewn beaches. The little band of tired but happy trekkers gingerly pulled their boots off aching and blistered feet, and stripped off all their sweaty clothes to skinny-dip in the icy-cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean. The hardy team of SRT trackers, more at home in the arid desert plains they'd left behind them than in the deep foreboding waters of the ocean, waited and watched from the shoreline. They giggled and made a few comments (best not translated from Damara), when they saw the amazing shiny white buttocks of the intrepid bunch of travellers from Europe. But when the male walkers eventually emerged from the freezing waters of the ocean, and stood there on the beach cold, wet and shivering, and as naked as the day they were born, the Damara could not suppress howls and hoots of laughter that could be heard halfway along the Skeleton Coast, when Mannetjie quipped "Look at that! White people have got their very own mopane worms!"

Gary Booth


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

The wonderful wildlife viewing that we experienced in January carried on well into February. The sheer amount of wildlife along Rhino Ridge and the adjoining plains was astonishing. There were large numbers of Wildebeest accompanied by Zebra, many with very young foals, plus herds of Topi, Coke’s Hartebeest (Kongoni), Grant’s and Thompson’s Gazelle and surprising numbers of Eland, which is always a lovely sight. A large herd of more than two hundred Buffalo have also become resident in this area. Towards the end of the month many of the Zebra and Wildebeest crossed the Mara River and headed south towards the Serengeti (most have since returned during February). On the 24th our guests witnessed a dramatic crossing of the Mara River by Zebra and Wildebeest. This provided an unexpected bonus to the resident crocodiles when one Zebra was taken by a very large crocodile.
 
Along the edge of the riverine forest and close to the Musiara Swamp, Giraffe, Impala, Waterbuck, and, of course, Elephant were seen daily in good numbers as usual. A feature of the Elephant herds at the moment is the large numbers of very young babies, which is always a delight to see.
 
Normally guests at Little Governors are treated to the sight of elephant in the swamp in front of Little Governors but this month our guests were delighted one morning in January when two black Rhinos also visited the swamp . Quite a sighting from the morning breakfast table!

Lion, zebras and wildebeests

With this large amount of wildlife it is no surprise that cat sightings have been so good. The Marsh Pride and Ridge Prides were seen most days and a female with two small cubs has been seen on a number of occasions. Cheetah sightings have also been extremely good with sightings every day. The three brothers have provided guests with lots of photographic opportunities, with guests getting great shots of them hunting. On at least two occasions they have successfully killed fully grown Topi. Topi are quite a large antelope, reputed to be the fastest antelope, so for the brothers to be successful with such a large antelope is quite an achievement. It is a good illustration that co-operative hunting is so much more successful. Other Cheetahs seen in our area are a female with two male cubs and at least two other lone females. Leopard sightings again were good during the month and a particular highlight for our clients on walking safaris was large male, seen in the walking area.

Cheetahs at Governors' in the Mara

We were delighted to welcome back Brian and Annabelle Jackman to Little Governors' in January, and they had some wonderful predator sightings and general game viewing during their two day stay. For those of you who don't know Brian, he is the doyen of safari travel writers in the UK and a great friend of Little Governors'. On a game drive together with Aris (our Managing Director) and his wife Romi, they witnessed the three brother cheetahs succesfully hunt a young wildebeest, then came across a beautiful black - maned lion lying across a mound surveying his territory and six female lionesses who were hunting in it. One of these females spotted the three brother cheetahs and stole their kill. The black-maned lion produced a impressive roar, and Brian and Aris duly named him "Pavarotti".

The naming didnt stop there; Brian also named the resident male leopard “Kijana” (which translates from Swahili as " young man”), because despite the fact that he is fully grown, he shares his mother's territory between Il Moran, Governors’ Camp and the Musiara Swamp (“Lake Nakuru”) and they are often seen together. Indeed we have had regular sightings of them this month. On the Jackmans second afternoon game drive, after the privilege of watching a Serval Cat hunting rodents on Rhino Ridge, they were heading back to camp at sunset when they came across a very large male leopard which had not been seen before, according to Stanley, our head driver-guide at Little Governors'. The leopard was sitting on a large rock over looking the Mara plains and as the light was fading fast they couldn't identify any special features to gives this magnificent animal a name. We will keep this naming priviledge for Brian and Annabelle's next visit.

One afternoon whilst the Jackmans were enjoying an afternoon siesta a black rhino was seen browsing near their tent at Little Governors'. What Brian does not know is that we have now named the rhino "Jackman" and requested Mara Conservancy, whose area Little Governors' is situated in, to adopt this name as well. After fantastic game viewing on the safari Brian remarked to Aris that "the area of the Masai Mara in which we did all our game drives must be the predator capital of the world", a quote he was happy for us to use. He also commented that it was such a pity that so many people, who had planned a holiday of a lifetime, had to cancel their visits to this beautiful country, particularly as no tourist had been harmed in any way during these sad times for Kenya.


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