(Page 1 of
Safaris Updates - June 2008
Unusual Albino armoured ground cricket at Kulala
Location: Little Kulala, Sossusvlei, Namibia
Date: June 16, 2008
Observers: Jennifer Dickinson & Johan Fourie
Those who have travelled to southern Africa over the past summer and have included southern Namibia and the northern Kruger National Park in South Africa as part of their trip will be very familiar with the armoured ground cricket - a rather large (40-50mm), grotesque and prehistoric looking insect.
In favourable seasons these crickets enjoy a population explosion as the eggs that have lain dormant in the soil over the past eight or nine months hatch into life. At times like these after good rainfall seasons the crickets are nothing less than abundant and are a significant source of food for a variety of predators, most often attracting large congregations of storks and eagles to their irruptions, but also being preyed upon by a myriad other bird and mammal species. They are cannibalistic and in fact even feed off dead members of their own species.
At Little Kulala, while the end of summer has signalled a decrease in cricket numbers, we are still encountering hundreds of these creatures. Recently we were surprised to find an unusually coloured individual as we went through our daily clearing of the decking and room areas of these common creatures.
The normal cricket is coloured a mix of purple, deep red and sombre browns and is generally pretty cryptic. This individual however seems to have had the pigment washed or bleached out of the carapace and instead is an un-pigmented worn ivory colour.
Osteophagia in Sable
Location: Makalolo Plains, Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe
Date: 12 June 2008
Observers: Mike Bester & Willem Botha
Osteophagia refers to the consumption of bones and bone fragments and is known to occur in a number of herbivorous mammal species. Aside from the spotted hyaena famous for its bone crushing abilities, species like giraffe and porcupine are well known gnawers of bones. The latter in particular is well known for dragging bones, sometimes very large individual bones, back to its den sites where its characteristic incisor marks identify the gnawer as being a rodent rather than some large mammalian carnivore!
This practice is thought to make up for calcium and phosphorous deficiencies in the diet and is most common during the dry season when grazing is sparse and also during pregnancy.
Recently while on game drive from Makalolo Plains in Hwange we enjoyed watching a sable herd and were surprised when we noticed a young animal root out a large leg bone from within a blue bush thicket and then awkwardly gnaw it.
Mombo's Maned Lionesses
Location: Mombo, Moremi Game Reserve, Okavango
Date: 24 June 2008
Observer: Tony Reumerman
During the late 1990s through until 2002, a rather peculiar lioness and her pride used the immediate vicinity of Mombo camp in the Okavango Delta, Botswana. 'Martina', as she was named, was a huge muscular lioness with a mane resembling that of a four year old male lion (pictured at top). The remainder of the pride consisted of another (maneless) lioness and her two cubs. Martina herself was never seen to conceive and give birth to cubs even though she was observed mating on one occasion.
This pride never managed to successfully settle down in the area. This was most likely due to the high density of lions and the intense competition amongst male lions for territorial control. As an apparent young male with a pride, Martina was regularly harassed and hounded by marauding male lion coalitions and eventually left the area, the pride moving to the south and west never to be seen again.
So what caused this genetic abnormality?
Over the years of her presence around Mombo many a debate about her genetic makeup was held at the dinner table and fireside. Was this an expression of gene carried on the x chromosome? Was this merely a freak mutation, never to be seen again? Was this a result of genetic mutation due to intense in-breeding? Was this a recessive gene able to be transferred to offspring?
Whatever the reason, her genetics doomed Martina to reproductive failure and caused her pride to be forced out of the area. By the same token however she was a superb hunter and was not harassed by spotted hyenas as a result of their 'perception' that she was an adult male lion.
The mystery was never solved and the story of Martina became history.
A few years later, during the winter of 2005, Alex Mazunga, one of the Mombo guides located a new, previously unknown pride on the western edge of Mombo Island. He notified me on radio and as they had just pulled down a buffalo I was rather excited and responded. On arrival I noticed that they were extremely nervous and definitely unknown to myself and the Mombo guides. We gave them the rather prosaic name of 'The Western Pride'.
Months passed by and the pride slowly settled down, conducting their hunting and mating activities without being bothered by us. There was absolutely nothing peculiar about the pride and they become regular stars on the Mombo game drives, producing offspring in the summer of 2005/06 and settling down in the immediate vicinity of the camp, focusing on killing buffalo in and around the channel. They have occupied this niche since then, avoiding the territorial conflicts of the larger Moporota and Mathata Prides that have continued over much of 2007/08.
During April of this year Brandon Kemp and I were out on a safari and located the pride snoozing very close to the camp. As per usual I was snapping away. The pride were casually interacting as they were awakening. Something was wrong. Before I could put my finger on it, Brandon said "Hey, did you see that?"
I was stunned! The young 'male' lion that had just walked past the land rover sported no obvious male genitalia! 'It' settled down next to another lioness facing us. We quickly hauled out the binoculars and noticed that this cat had a small face like a lioness, an apparent large body and a well developed mane of a two to three year old male lion. Wow! How could this have been overlooked in a regularly seen pride for so long? And even more so what was this all about? Just as we were absorbing all of this, we noticed that the other two lionesses had small manes!
The discovery was overwhelming: The potential questions and answers, even more so. Are these lionesses related to Martina, or rather just products of the same circumstances that bred her?
It is impossible at this stage to answer these questions, but we look forward to many more sightings and fireside debates in the years to come.
White Rhino at Vumbura Plains
Location: Vumbura Plains, NG22, Okavango Delta
Date: 23 June 2008
Observers: Glynis Humphrey, Poster Mpho & Andy Anderson
On the morning of 23 June 2008 ST, a Vumbura Plains guide, identified white rhino tracks crossing Ronnie's Road just to the west of Phitsi Pan. The response to ST's announcement of 'tshukudu' (white rhino) tracks on game drive channel was met with some disbelief. The other guides responded with, "You mean 'kubu' (hippo) or kudu tracks". Hippo tracks can be confused with rhino tracks and ST admitted to being a little hesitant in calling in the tracks that he had found, since finding white rhino tracks in an area where rhino have not been seen for 20 years is truly a rare event! He stuck to his guns though and insisted that they were rhino tracks, something that confirmed a report a couple of months ago by Laurence (Little Vumbura manager) of rhino tracks near the Vumbura Airstrip.
ST could not follow up on the tracks on game drive since they were heading north into an area without a road network, but Andy Anderson rapidly rounded up a small tracking team consisting of Issac and Aaron (mechanics) from the Kwedi office. They began following the fresh tracks heading north from Ronnie's Road. The tracks led them to a pan where there was evidence of the rhino resting and dust bathing. Judging from the tracks, they could see that they were tracking two individuals. They persistently continued in a north-easterly direction for approximately 3km. Eventually at 11h00 they sighted two rhino grazing in an open area. The three of them perched on a nearby termite mound and observed them for 15 minutes from approximately 50m away. No ear notch identifications were possible. The wind changed direction and the rhino picked up the tracking team's scent and ran off a short distance before slowly moving off in an easterly direction.
The environmental team were then informed and Poster Mpho (rhino monitor at Mombo) and Glynis Humphrey (conservation ecologist in Maun) headed out to Vumbura with the telemetry tracking equipment and ear notch charts to identify the animals.
At 13h00 in the afternoon, Glynis and Andy headed out to obtain a GPS position of the tracks and the last known location of the two rhino. The telemetry tracking equipment failed to identify any known signals of the reintroduced white rhino population, where currently rhino are fitted with transmitters. We walked the perimeter of this area, and found the last set of tracks heading in a north-easterly direction into mopane scrub. Poster was due to arrive late in the afternoon.
All three of us set out the next morning at 06h30, first checking Zambezi and Phitisi Pans to see whether they had been back to drink in the early morning. No signs of their presence were detected. At this stage the tracks in the area were two days old. There was a large amount of animal activity in the area, obscuring the rhino tracks. The area in which they were found was predominantly Kalahari apple leaf, mopane scrub with a few great Zambezi teaks scattered between intermittent grassland patches. We surveyed the area for three hours, with no sign of their presence. Whilst Poster and Glynis were tracking, a pack of 13 wild dogs bounded past them, their bellies bulging and their heads covered in blood. Their kill was discovered en route away from the area; the pack had killed a mature kudu bull. After surveying and exhausting this area by means of tracking we decided to drive a remote track heading north towards the Linyanti.
At this stage it was about 14h30 in the afternoon, when most animals seek shade, stop grazing and stand motionless beneath the trees. Poster was himself taking a small nap, Andy driving and Glynis between the two of them scanning the road for tracks. Just as Poster stirred from his afternoon snooze, he noticed rhino tracks crossing the road. We instantaneously started tracking; no words were used, we communicated only through hand signals and whistles. Fresh warm dung indicated that we were close. Poster continued tracking and Glynis and Andy observed ahead. One visual of an ear spotted by a prancing Andy signalled our success!
Two white rhino were in line of sight: a cow and a young bull. They had moved 14km since their first location north of Ronnie's Road. We estimated the age of the cow to be approximately 11 years of age, and the young bull of 3 to 4 years old. A steenbok's presence spooked the rhino which subsequently caused them to move into the open. Perfect for photography! They were in excellent condition. Furthermore, they had no ear notches, indicating that they are not individuals which were relocated by Wilderness Safaris to Botswana in 2001. Thus, this may be the first sighting of naturally roaming white rhino in Botswana since 1992, when the last wild-ranging rhino were moved to the Kgama Rhino Sanctuary. We speculate that these animals may have therefore come from Zimbabwe.
Spotted Hyenas profit from Wildebeest
Location: Tubu Tree Camp, NG25, Okavango Delta
Date: 25 June 2008
Observers: Grant Atkinson
Over the course of 2008 Tubu Tree Camp on the remote Hunda Island in the Jao Concession west of Chief's Island has become known for the quality of its spotted hyaena sightings. South of camp a clan often gathers near the extended den site in the early evening before setting out alone or in small groups for the evening's territorial patrol and foraging.
Whilst on a privately guided safari in June we stayed at Tubu Tree Camp for two nights, and had a characteristically excellent hyaena sighting.
As we drove past the waterhole called Kalahari Pan we found a badly injured wildebeest standing in the water with two spotted hyaenas lying right alongside the water's edge. We were not certain how the wildebeest sustained the injuries, but they were serious.
As we watched one of the hyaenas walked closer, causing the wildebeest to stumble and then collapse, struggling briefly before it sank under the water's surface and drowned. The hyaenas approached the water's edge and we expected them to wade in and retrieve the carcass. Instead they then turned and walked off. Although this seemed somewhat strange behaviour we decided to return later in the day, and sure enough, right around sunset, the hyaenas returned and pulled the wildebeest carcass to the edge of the water, and began to feed. They were now three in number, and were soon joined by two more. Suddenly two of the hyaena stopped feeding, and began growling, staring intently into the bush. At that moment we heard impala snorting in alarm in exactly the area that the hyaenas were looking. We waited and watched. Minutes later, a male leopard materialized on a termite mound some 30 metres away. By now it was almost completely dark, and he began to creep closer, eventually coming to a halt behind a very small bush, perhaps ten metres from the hyaenas. Two of the younger hyaenas took fright, and ran off, but the others stood their ground, and one even made a short charge toward the leopard. After some minutes things calmed down, the missing hyaenas returned, and the leopard remained crouched and motionless.
We left them like that, returning at first light next morning to find the hyaenas finishing off the wildebeest, and leopard tracks heading away from the area. The hyaenas bickered amongst each other as they jostled for position, and then two of them began pulling the carcass from opposite ends, eventually tearing it in two. They were by now back in the water with the remnants of the wildebeest, and after some time of watching this interaction and as the morning heated up, all five of them loped off into the bush.
Leopard hides cubs in disused Hamerkop nest
Location: DumaTau, NG15, Linyanti
Date: 13 June 2008
Observers: Dennis Dikakanyo
On the afternoon of 13 June 2008, my guests and I (on a Migration Routes safari) had been watching a male lion from the Selinda Coalition feeding on a kill and decided to leave him to his meal and meander along the Savuti Channel towards the raised platform overlooking the Zibadianja Lagoon.
As we moved along the edge of the flowing Savuti Channel we were surprised by a female leopard, spotted by one of my guests as she pounced at a francolin in the lush vegetation. Even though she was a little nervous we began to follow her as she hunted in the undergrowth, keeping a respectful distance and allowing her to relax. After a while we managed to get a good look at her and realised that she was a new leopard to the area, one we did not recognise. Nonetheless she allowed us to keep following her and led us all the way to the riverine woodland adjacent to the Zibadianja Lagoon.
Here she cautiously approached a tree with a Hamerkop nest in its fork. She hid behind a fallen log and spent a couple of minutes cautiously peering at the viewers. We waited patiently whilst she was hiding. She gained confidence and vigilantly ascended the tree towards the Hamerkop nest. We then realised that she was heading straight for the nest.
At this point we thought she must be targeting the nest for whatever avian fledglings lay within, whether the Hamerkops themselves or other species such as Egyptian Goose or Barn Owl which often displace the original occupants. The nest had two entrances and she climbed into the second. It was apparent that she was looking for something inside the nest. She then settled and lay down within the nest as can be seen in the adjacent photographs taken by Victor Horatius.
We thought that she had simply chosen an unusual resting place. The next day, however, another guide (Mr T) reported with great excitement that he had observed two 3-4 month old cubs in the nest. Now, this is an interesting spot for a female leopard to be leaving her cubs whilst she is away hunting. Who knows how often she has peered out at us as we've driven by oblivious?
Pangolin at Zibadianja Camp
Location: Zibadianja, Selinda Reserve
Date: 16 June 2008
Observers: Ilana Stein, Caroline Culbert
It was a warm, cloudy day when we visited Zibadianja Camp in the Selinda Reserve, and so far game viewing had been very good yielding impala, zebra, wildebeest, kudu, guineafowl, and elephant. A herd of 1 500 - 2 000 buffalo was truly an amazing sight.
Our generally quiet morning suddenly became exciting when we off-roaded to where Dukes, a Zibadianja guide, had tracked the Selinda Pride - all 12 (2 males, 3 females, 5 juvenile males and 2 juvenile females) - who were all very alert and attempted to attack a small herd of buffalo. The latter bunched up and the situation ended in a stalemate - still, an amazing interaction to watch.
The game drive that afternoon began well. We headed off to see the two Selinda Brothers - cheetah siblings that Gordie and Dukes had spotted on their way back from the airstrip with guests earlier on. We found them lying nonchalantly on a termite mound, showing off their photogenic skills. It was a very close sighting but we eventually left them to see if we could find the lions for two new guests on the vehicle.
However the lions would have to wait. On the way, Gordon spotted a small brown mound shuffling through the grass a few metres away from the road. He gave a yelp, echoed by those of us who realised what this was, and whirled the vehicle around to stop next to what was undeniably and thrillingly a pangolin! The beast tried to waddle off but to no avail; he (unless it was a she) had some very excited people around him so he just curled his snout under him and pretended he was a large artichoke. But it was too late, we had realised we were looking at a once-in-a-lifetime sighting.
Pangolins are found in Asia and Africa, but there is only one species to be found in southern Africa - the Temminck's or Ground Pangolin (Manis temmincki). It is covered with hard scales of the nail material keratin (which is why it resembles a giant artichoke), feeds on termites, is secretive, nocturnal, small and endangered - hence the almost impossibility of seeing one and hence the excitement.
It's also meant to be good luck to see one according to local lore, so the other guides who were in the area came to spend time with it, bringing their excited guests with them. As the sun set, we all stood looking at this amazing creature that occasionally would allow us a glance of a face with a long snout and bleary eyes. After a while we left him to waddle determinedly off into the grass. We turned around and returned to camp, all feeling immensely satisfied with such an incredible sighting.
Out of range Cuckoo Hawk recorded on Skeleton Coast
Location: Hoarusib River, Skeleton Coast Camp, Namibia
Date: 28 June 2008
Observers: Courtney Johnson
The Cuckoo Hawk is a secretive and elusive species high on the wish list of many birders. In southern Africa it is restricted to the riverine and broad-leafed woodlands of the eastern part of the subcontinent. As far as sightings at Wilderness Safaris camps go, it is only seen with any regularity at Pafuri and Rocktail Bay in South Africa, but also occurs in northern Zimbabwe and northwards into Zambia and Malawi.
While on a recent trip to Skeleton Coast Camp in Namibia we took a drive up the dry Hoarusib River and were baffled in our attempts to identify a juvenile raptor that we located here. Initially it looked like an African Goshawk but as we got closer and were able to examine the bird it was clear that this was not the case. Being a juvenile did not make the identification any easier, but eventually after much debate and then also wide consultation using the photos thereafter we decided that it was a juvenile Cuckoo Hawk. This was based on the overall 'jizz' of the bird and in particular the large eye and pronounced white supercilium. The yellow cere and sharply decurved bill also helped. All of these features are visible in the image we took of the bird in the Hoarusib and are in interesting contrast to the second photo presented here of an adult female bird taken at Pafuri during the same week by Mike Myers.
This species, also known as the African Baza, is extremely rare in Namibia and is regarded as peripheral. It is seen regularly only in the moist woodlands of the extreme north east - basically the Caprivi Strip and some of the Zambezian woodlands to the west of here and it's national population is not considered to exceed 200 birds.
Beached Whale Shark at Rocktail Bay
Location: Rocktail Bay Lodge, iSimangaliso Wetland Park, South Africa
Date: 30 June 2008
Observers: The Rocktail Team
Whale sharks Rhincodon typus are huge fish found in tropical waters across the world. This is the largest living fish species and contrary to what might be suggested by its size and its 'shark' status, it is actually a slow moving filter-feeder, using its huge mouth to gather phytoplankton, krill and other small organisms. It is found mostly in the open ocean but is also sometimes encountered closer to shore in certain sites around the world.
Sightings of the IUCN listed species (Vulnerable) at Rocktail Bay occur mostly in the summer months when divers and even snorkellers are able to enjoy exceptional experiences in the water with this huge fish species (individuals seen here have exceeded eight metres) as the adjacent image taken in May this year shows.
On the 30th of June we were devastated to discover a whale shark that was washed up onto the beach at Lala Nek, our snorkelling spot. The animal had apparently died at sea and had been fed on, presumably by other shark species, before washing up onto the shore. While it was an interesting and unusual opportunity to examine the fish close up, it was obviously a bittersweet experience.
Last year, also in June, no less than three whale sharks were found washed up near Black Rock (one to the north, and two to the south of it) and three others in similar predicaments to the north near Kozi Bay were also reported. These carcasses were investigated by the Natal Sharks Board to determine the causes of death with no firm conclusions reached.
A South African study between 1984 and 1995 concluded that most whale shark strandings involved young animals and although an exact explanation for the phenomenon was not possible theories ranged from the narrow, steeply-sloping continental shelf, close proximity of the Agulhas Current to the shore, and beaches with heavy wave action. As the theory goes, whale sharks feeding off the east coast in these conditions may be caught too close to 'back-line' and then lack the energy or vigour required to move back out into the open ocean.
North Island - Environmental Update
Progress continues apace as far as the Seychelles White-Eyes introduced from Conception in July 2007 are concerned. Ongoing monitoring has revealed that a minimum of 9 chicks were produced this past summer breeding season. In addition all 25 transferred birds are still alive six months after the transfers, bringing to 34 the minimum total population on the island - almost 10% of the global population of this endangered species.
Two of the fledglings have already been ringed by our partners in this project, the Island Conservation Society (ICS), and the birds are now seen and heard on a daily basis, often at very close range. In particular, they have become regular visitors of the Trema orientalis trees bordering the small vegetable garden as well as the Phyllanthus trees on the plateau. In the former, they are often seen feeding together with an increasing number of Blue Pigeons - another bird species endemic to the Seychelles and which appears to be thriving on North Island due to our rehabilitation of the Island's flora.
As for progress in the implementation of our vegetation management plan, 40 hectares (20% of the total island surface) have already undergone partial or full rehabilitation. One of the lessons we've learnt is about the importance of keeping up with post-rehabilitation management. In addition to removing exotic invasive species and planting carefully selected endemic and indigenous species, the latter must subsequently be further supported against reinvasion of any exotics. However over time, we hope that with increasing restoration of such delicate ecological balances, management should gradually decrease, allowing the island to return to its natural rhythms.
Adult Moorhen continue to be seen virtually everywhere on the plateau areas, very often accompanied by chicks and immature birds of all age ranges, thereby indicating that birds continue breeding throughout the year. Their presence all around not only entertains visitors spotting downy "Daffy Ducks" (mind you, they are rails rather than ducks!) on high legs and enormous feet, but more importantly appears to be controlling the previously more pronounced African land snail population explosion.
Chicks of the two recorded White-tailed Tropicbird nests have in the meantime successfully left their nests, while this year, on the Chelonian front, we are delighted to report that our beaches, especially on the west side, have been visited far more often by female green turtles in search of nesting areas compared to last year. No less than 63 tracks were recorded over the previous three months. On one occasion a female emerged near the West Beach Bar early one evening on 11 June to the delight of guests and staff present. Unfortunately her nesting attempt was unsuccessful and she returned to the ocean without having laid any eggs.
The Savuti Channel flows on towards Savuti Camp
Location: Savuti Camp, Linyanti, Botswana
Date: 11 July 2008
Observers: The Savuti Team
All year we have been excited about the potential of the waters of the Savuti Channel once again reaching Savuti Camp. This hasn't happened for nearly a quarter of a century since the Channel stopped flowing and dried up in the early 1980s, the apparent result of a shifting tectonic plates and their effect on the Linyanti fault line. For the past couple of years however the waters of the Zibadianja Lagoon, the source of Channel, have spilled over into the normally dry ribbon of grassland and have penetrated some 6-7km 'downstream'.
Given that the Lagoon is more than 21km 'upstream' from Savuti Camp this has been exciting but not exactly earth-shattering. This year however something changed. Heavy summer rains in the catchment of the Kwando River which feeds the Zibadianja Lagoon cannot have been the only reason. Perhaps the fault line has indeed shifted again. Whatever the reason the water has progressively penetrated ever further down the Channel with every passing month. There has been ebb and flow but the inexorable trend has been to continue to flow down the Channel towards camp.
As of today the waters are only 1.9km from camp in a straight line distance. The natural curves of the Channel mean that the actual distance is further than this, but given that the water has come more than 19km downstream from its source and is moving forward perceptibly each day we do believe that it is only a matter of time before it once again flows past the front of camp. When we measured this recently it had moved 270m in 72 hours - an amazing 90m per day!
The adjacent images show the Channel at Dennis Road close to Boscia. The visibly flowing water continues to attract a myriad of water birds and many "typical" Savuti Channel birds, e.g. Grey Heron, Egyptian Goose, Comb Duck and Saddle-billed Stork, are present in the most productive areas.
While taking these photographs we were interrupted by a lone wild dog chasing an impala across the Channel in front of us.
Enjoy the pictures, and here's to Savuti Mokoro Trails in 2009! We are truly living in exciting times in the Linyanti. It's great to see guests getting excited about the renaissance of the Channel too!
The inimitable Desert Rhino Camp has undergone a deserved rebuild. The camp retains the same location and character but the rooms and main area have undergone major improvements that bring it into line with the Namibian Classic camp offering. Desert Rhino has lost none of its charm or intimate feel and is certainly an outstanding destination on any Namibian itinerary. A three-night stay is ideal to truly experience all this wonderful area has to offer.
The camps here are gearing up for a spectacular dry season. Ruckomechi Camp and Little Makalolo Camp have been completely rebuilt and are looking exceptional. Winter game viewing is excellent at the moment and the election unrest is behind us. At Little Makalolo all the rooms and main area are more spacious - all offering great views of wildlife coming to drink at the camp waterhole. The new Ruckomechi has several novel new features and elephant are often seen swimming in front of camp to reach a reed island directly opposite camp. Low walkways now also connect tents to the main and pool areas.
Three spacious new rooms have been added at Mvuu Wilderness Lodge, all built in the style of Classic Camps across the group. These extend the camp further along the small life-filled inlet just off the Shire River and have been received with enthusiasm by guests in the last couple of weeks.
The newly built Toka Leya Camp has opened to rave reviews and the stalwart River Club continues to improve its guest offering. The River Club has now added air conditioning to all guest rooms as well as wireless Internet to the main area. A new gym/spa has also been built which includes a sauna, jacuzzi, exercise machines and massage beds. The old massage tent has now been rebuilt as a gazebo and serves as a small wedding venue or alternate dining area. Massages by the in-house masseuse and beauty treatments are part of the relaxing hospitality for which the River Club is so famous.
The new African art gallery at Kings Pool Camp is a great success and exhibits items from across the African continent - certainly showcasing wonderful local art!
PALMWAG CONCESSION, KUNENE REGION, NAMIBIA
The Kunene Region (formerly Damaraland and Kaokoland) of north-western Namibia has become a world-leading conservation model thanks to the dedication of many passionate people and organizations such as Save the Rhino Trust (SRT). In an area that can only be described as one of the most dramatic on Earth, the formation of community wildlife conservancies has ensured the continued protection of desert-adapted wildlife.
One such area is Palmwag: 450,000 hectares of inspiring Namibian wilderness and home to the unique desert sub-species of black rhino (Diceros bicornis bicornis), the only rhino in the world to have survived on communal land with no formal conservation status. Desert Rhino Camp is the ideal gateway to this area and has been beautifully refurbished recently (see Camp Updates above). It continues to offer guests a very novel safari experience: tracking black rhino, on foot, while directly contributing to the preservation of these prehistoric creatures.
For more information on the camps in this area, have a look at Desert Rhino Camp, Palmwag Lodge and the Desert Rhino Expedition.
/ North Island
North Island Dive Report
- June 08 Jump
The clarity of the water has been quite erratic with the visibility on West Beach dropping to a dismal five to six metres during the middle of the month but which then quickly cleared to in excess of 30 metres toward the end of the month. This, together with the recent overcast weather and some intermittent showers, is uncharacteristic of our winter season but the clean water was welcomed nonetheless. The sand on the Island's beaches has continued to shift quite quickly as we have experienced rather large swells throughout the month which have helped in scouring away the sand in front of the restaurant. Some of these swells washed right up to the library windows during the new moon. The beach in front of Villa 11 is now, however, quite extensive.
Snorkelling directly off the main beach against the rocks has again been fantastic with some excellent sightings of various rays that have been congregating here for some time now. Our must commonly sighted rays are the Spotted Eagle Rays which have almost become resident in the bay. We also now have frequent sightings of larger schools of the Feathertail and Porcupine Rays which have also taken to hiding in the shelter of the bay.
The diving this month has been wonderful and although we had several days where the visibility was not good, in general we had excellent dives with an array of exciting observations. The first of these observations involved dolphins. It is quite rare to spot dolphins during the winter months but we did manage to catch a glimpse of a small pod of Bottlenose Dolphins on a fishing trip at the beginning of the month. This pod was particularly active and circled the boat several times before disappearing again but not before a fantastic display of jumps which had our full attention. Apart from this isolated sighting the dolphins have remained rather elusive.
One particular highlight this month was a night dive which we conducted on 'Sprat City' which provided some fantastic sightings, some of which we have not seen before. The night dive started off with great expectations as we caught the final rays of a picture perfect sunset from West Beach while we waited for night to settle. The wind was calm, the water was a dark indigo blue and we were ready to go. Upon entering the water, we noticed that there was an abundance of phosphorescence which, when you wave your hand through the water, causes these tiny organisms to light up giving the impression of hundreds of tiny stars floating in the water. The reef was also alive with rock lobster that were spotted crawling over the reef near the ledges and caves. These critters, which normally hide well away during the day, now came out to investigate the happenings of the reef. The Hinge Back Shrimps, which also hide away during the day, also came out and were spotted by the refection of the torch light from their tiny red eyes, similar to the reflection of crocodile eyes in a river. These shrimps are not shy and we were able to get extremely close to properly examine their after-hours behaviour.
We were fortunate enough to have an extremely close encounter with a huge Green Turtle which emerged from a cave whilst we were swimming past. We then spotted a smaller Green Turtle sleeping in another cave later on in the dive but managed to slip past without disturbing the animal.
The most fascinating encounter on this particular night dive however was the sighting of a nocturnal Sleepy Sponge Crab (Dromia dormia) which was spotted crawling out over the reef. This is the largest of the sponge crabs and can grow in excess of 20cm. This particular species of crab, which is normally only seen on moonless nights, is characterised by the fact that it carries a piece of sponge or soft coral which it holds in position over its back by the last two pairs of its legs. These legs are reduced in size and directed more or less in an upward direction in order to be able to carry this cargo. This strange behaviour as well as the furry appearance of the crab, which is from algae growth, is part of its disguise and helps it blend into its environment and hide from predators such as octopus. The sponge actually continues to live and grow and the crab constantly trims it to size. The sponge camouflages the crab so well that it is usually almost impossible to spot unless it moves. The sighting of the Sponge Crab is particularly exciting as this species has not been spotted on any of our previous dives; its camouflage may have something to do with this.
Despite the huge excitement and productivity of the night dive on 'Sprat City', the reef has had us holding our breaths as we eagerly continue to await the arrival of the sprats themselves. We sighted two small schools of Slender Sweepers on the lower ledges of the reef; these are the first of the sprat species to arrive but as yet none of the other species have made an appearance yet.
We especially await the arrival of the Hardyhead Silversides which create the most excitement and action on the reef. We are not the only ones in anticipation of the arrival of the sprats as we have been monitoring several relatively large schools of Yellow Tail Jacks and Golden Pilot Jacks as well as the ever-eager resident Dogtooth Tuna which have also become quite impatient for this feeding phenomenon to begin. To keep us amused in the interim there have been the usual sightings of the White Tip Reef Sharks as well as occasionally here and there a small Green Turtle which have been spotted swimming lazily over the reef.
Camp update - June 08 Jump
Of course though, this is not just any channel, but the Savuti Channel, making a serious push from Zibadianja Lagoon down towards the marsh for the first time in a quarter of a century. The waters ceased flowing in 1982, and the "stolen river" had completely dried up two years later, causing untold trauma to the resident hippo and crocodiles.
The death of the Savuti Channel all those years ago bequeathed us a unique legacy, a ribbon of savannah grassland twisting sinuously through the mopane woodlands of the Linyanti, a unique pathway for zebra migrations and elephant congregations.
Unchained by seismic shifts in the underlying sands (at least that is the best theory we have), water from the Kwando Wetland System, which has been pouring into Botswana from Angola at near-record levels over recent weeks, is swelling the lagoon near DumaTau, and then pushing into the Channel, like a prodigal son walking his childhood streets again for the first time in decades.
The water can be seen flowing across the channel bed, seeking always the lowest points of each depression and relentlessly advancing by as much as 30-50m (30-50 yards) per day. Perhaps some of the older elephants recall the last time the channel flowed, but for the majority of our animals, and all of us, it is the first time that the waters have reached even close to Savuti Camp. We had the huge privilege this month of hosting a couple who had previously camped in the Savuti area in 1979, when the channel last flowed. A lot of memories came flooding back for them, borne along on the stream, and it was fascinating to listen to their stories.
And that is perhaps the strangest and most puzzling part of this tale of riparian renaissance - the Savuti Channel seems to turn on and off in an approximately 30-year cycle. The explorer David Livingstone saw the Channel flowing when he travelled through the Linyanti (he was also mauled by a lion in this area); whereas subsequent explorers recreating his routes could not find it.
We estimate that by the end of July, the water will have reached the camp itself - and we are some 18km (11 miles) from where the channel leaves Zibadianja Lagoon. The channel has now stretched out its silvery tendrils well beyond Dish Pan and is in the Boscia Area.
Our bush dinners have been enlivened by the gleam of reflected starlight in the inky surface of the channel at night, and the festive calling of the frogs echoing along the river banks as they rejoice in this unexpected extension to their home habitat.
The leading edge of the resurgent river is marked by a noisy and quite possibly surprised gaggle of geese, egrets, storks and ducks, feasting on the life swept in by the waters - and the frogs! Perhaps none of these sightings would be so unusual in an Okavango Delta camp, but here they are quite simply remarkable.
To see Saddle-billed Storks, Red-billed Teal, Slaty Egrets and flights of White-faced Duck passing low overhead are special moments. So much of the magic of northern Botswana lies in the surprises, the unforeseen moments that confound and exceed your expectations. And now we are living in the midst of a historic transformation - if anything the Savuti area, the legendary vein of life connecting the Marsh with the interlaced rivers to the north, is now even more magical.
And of course the animals and birds that frequent this iconic Camp and the surrounding harsh yet still prolific bush also have to adjust to these changes. Heavy local rainfall last summer - particularly in January - means that the bush is still much greener than we would normally expect to see. The leaves are tumbling from the fever berries now, opening up new vistas through their skeletal, naked branches, but there are still pools of rainwater lingering in some of the deeper pans in the woodlands. This means that the game, and in particular the elephants, is more dispersed than at this stage in previous winters.
Even with the channel flowing again, the camp waterhole remains a magnet to game, and in particular the elephants. For many of these elephants, the Savuti waterhole is hardwired into their navigation software; its existence as a true jewel of the Kalahari is ingrained in their DNA. The channel represents abundance, but it could also be fleeting, a flirtatious flood playing with us all. And of course there is no way of knowing what will happen as this year unfolds, or next year. Will the channel flow continuously from now on? Are we entering into a 25-year wet cycle, mercury rising as has happened in the past, or is this a freak occurrence and has the Savuti Channel really (as some assert) breathed its last?
Despite all the water flowing into the Channel, this is in fact our dry season. Not a cloud in the sky, which has taken on that unfathomable azure tint so emblematic of the Botswana winter. The night skies are breathtaking, with even three of Jupiter's moons visible among the stellar icing sugar sprinkled across the vast blackness of the night.
As this is indeed our winter, it's getting cold. Try -1°C (30°F) for size... brrr! The compensation is the wonderfully balmy daytime temperatures of between 25°C and 30°C (80°F and 90°F). Over the years we've come up with some excellent strategies for defeating even the chilliest dawn: A carefully orchestrated combination of blankets, fire pits, ponchos on the vehicles, and especially the "hotties" (hot water bottles).
This month, on two separate occasions, wild dogs successfully chased and brought down impala right in camp. A tremendous racket down in the Channel one evening advertised an even more dramatic event - lions had brought down a zebra foal. They were not however destined to enjoy their hard-won meal, as at this point, and doubtless attracted by the commotion and scent of fresh blood, a clan of twelve spotted hyaenas fell on the lions and drove them off the kill. The resulting brawl, punctuated by fierce snarling and manic giggling lasted for much of the night as ownership of the carcasse was the subject of some very heated negotiations.
The opportunity to do walks in the Savuti Channel bed - to check out the flow of the channel and learn about the smaller "game" adds a whole new dimension to your Savuti experience, not least since we have been able to recruit Kane to Savuti Camp as a guide and leader of fascinating Bushman cultural walks.
From a Bradfield's Hornbill struggling to swallow a flap-necked chameleon to a sighting of a replete Martial Eagle, its white "bib" of chest feathers stained pink with fresh blood, it is the details which astound. At other times of course, being in the vehicle can seem like a better idea, such as when a Hamerkop nest in a tree near Zibadianja Lagoon turned to be being used by two leopard cubs, with only their tail tips visible!
Savuti Camp is a very special place, and the addition of a river is making it even more wonderful. So we invite you to join us here to marvel at all nature's treasures.
-The Savuti team: Ross & Katherine, Conny, Terri, Mosa, Emax and Lorato-
DumaTau Camp update - June 08 Jump
to DumaTau Camp
DumaTau Camp has been very busy this month, with a full camp every day. This in turn kept the guides busy and the game sightings have also been phenomenal. Even though it has been quite cold by our standards, we continued to give guests an unforgettable experience including bush dinners at Kubu Lagoon with a warm fire to sit around.
The water in the Savuti Channel is still pushing along and it has passed Fallen Boscia area and heading to Savuti Camp which is about three kilometers away. With only five months to go before the next rainy season starts, we believe that the flood waters will pass Savuti Camp.
Wildlife sightings have been very good. We had the Selinda Pride around camp for a couple of days. The Savuti Pride was sighted just after Livingstone Crossing mid-month stalking zebra. Lemme followed them until they jumped on one of the zebras. His guests witnessed all the action of the kill. The other two Savuti females have been sighted around our area hunting or with the Selinda Boys. These two lionesses have not been with the pride for about two months now.
The Selinda Pride has been moving in our area up to Livinstone Crossing. Around the 8th of June these lions were tracked by Kane, a Savuti Camp guide, from Mokwepa road to DumaTau floodplain in the morning. Later that day, in the evening, they moved along the tree line and rested just in front of the guest units and proceeded to drink water close to the pool. We watched this sighting having sundowner drinks by the pool; it was a great evening watching the pride play in the floodplain. After the sun went down they started moving into camp between tents four and five. Relief managers, Sandra and Martin, followed the pride around camp and kept a close watch until they were by the Transit Route. The following day they were spotted hunting at Letsumo. After two weeks they were seen on the southern bank of the Savuti Channel heading towards Selinda and we have not seen them since.
The Selinda Boys are still enjoying their new home, as they now split up patrolling the territory. The other male has been seen on many occasions with the two Savuti lionesses. Silver Eye has been moving on his own roaring trying to locate his brother. Ronald spotted him chasing the DumaTau Male (leopard) from a zebra foal kill. After a week the two brothers united and our guides were in on the sighting, guests commenting that the two were really blood brothers as they watched them hug, play and groom each other for about thirty minutes. The two still reign as the soldiers of this area. The Savuti guides said that when the Savuti Boys roar east of Savuti the Selinda Boys would roar and move towards camp, passing to Muntshwe Pan. This would make the Savuti Boys go silent. Around the 16th the Selinda Boys were spotted by Ronald just by Tona Pan feeding on a dead elephant bull. They have been feeding on this elephant for some days; it was a big meal for the Boys.
Leopard sighting have been a little more erratic this month - quality rather than quantity so they say. We have finally identified the female leopard with the two cubs as the Zib female. She was spotted by Lazi just after the Mopane Bridge actively hunting. Lazi followed her for some time and she fnally climbed up a tree which had a large Hamerkop nest in it. The two cubs were spotted inside the nest, an amazing sighting for the guests - they thought that it was out of this world. The DumaTau male was also spotted by Ron around Elephant Valley Road on a big female kudu. He fed on the kudu the whole day on the ground as it was too heavy for him to take up the tree. Later that evening spotted hyaenas took over the kill and finished it.
Cheetah were not seen that much in our area, although the Savuti guides spotted them close to Muntshwe Pan moving towards Savuti Camp. They were also seen hunting impala.
Wild dog sightings have been good: the Linyanti Pack was seen around Dead Wood area relaxing and looking hungry. Lemme also spotted them around Fisherman Camp hunting. The same pack was seen on an impala kill at Kubu Lagoon by Lazi. The DumaTau pack has not been seen in a long time, and with the flood waters high in the Savuti channel we are not sure where they will be denning.
'Common' game species has been good too: big numbers of zebra, giraffe and elephant are all back in the Linyanti area. One particular elephant, dubbed George, is spending a lot of time in camp. There have also been some good sightings of elephant herds on the boat crossing at Osprey Lagoon. Small cats and mongooses have also been seen; things like African civet and wild cat. Birdlife has been excellent - Verreaux's Eagle-Owl, Rufous-bellied Heron, Arnott's Chat, African Marsh Harrier, unusual juvenile Bateleur aggregations, Martial Eagle, Kori Bustards, African Wood Owl in camp, Senegal Coucal, Southern Ground Hornbill and flocks of thousands of Red-billed Queleas some of the month's sightings.
We have been doing some 'back of house' visits with guests in an effort to highlight the efforts the company is putting in with regards to environmental awareness and sustainable practices. Projects in camp are to build a platform at Kubu Lagoon to use as a sundowner spot in summer as there will be a lot of elephants around at this time of year. We have moved the DumaTau Sunken Hide to Muntshwe Pan and will be using it when we do day trips to watch elephants coming to drink.
The managers for the month of June were Vasco, Miriam, Sandra, Gabbi and trainee, Martin. Kago has been on leave, while Gabbi also enjoyed a two weeks break. The guides were Theba, Ron, Lazi, Lemme and Dennis. Ollie and Mocks are on leave and we have three trainee guides rotating between DumaTau and Kings Pool.
-That's all from us at DumaTau-
Zibadianja Camp update - June 08 Jump
to Zibadianja Camp
At the new Zib Camp, we notice a couple of African Jacanas fighting and chasing each other along the water's edge, peeping their distinctive call. We watch how a herd of elephants gently emerge from the treeline, slowly making their way to the water, pausing briefly for a dust bath in front of one of our tents. Then we see them gingerly start to cross the water, a daily ritual we never tire of seeing. African Spoonbills and egrets, White-faced Ducks and herons, African Pygmy-Geese and pelicans punctuate the shallow water's edge in front of camp forever probing and prodding for food.
Every morning while we sit round the fire watching the early morning light catch the grass and reeds in the lagoon and listen to the lions roaring somewhere near the Savuti Channel, we see flocks of Red-billed Quelea snaking across the sky, disturbed from their night-time roost in the reeds.
We have been blessed with many wonderful sightings within camp: Elephants drift silently around between the tents and walkways, feasting on the feverberry trees, unaware of the many eyes and lenses fixated on them - all in awe to be able to witness such a huge animal up close.
The wild dogs decided to spend the whole day resting in the shade of the jackalberry trees outside Tent 2. The baboons were incensed by this and a large male successfully chased the dogs off and sat right on the edge of the shade in victory! Later he became bored and moved off and the dogs returned to the shade. They headed off to the Savuti Channel as the sun was setting and, although we were sad to see them go, we were happy to have shared the day with them. However, the following morning they were back in the shade of the same tree.
As the sun begins to set and the air cools, the hippo begin their chorus and the Hartlaub's Babblers quieten. A Pearl-spotted Owlet whistles nearby, the toads' calls ripple across the water and the pink-red-orange light reflects off the lagoon.
Leopards have passed through camp in the night unseen, but their spoor remains in the soft sand pathways, evidence that they investigated our camp. Occasionally, their rough sawing call wakes us and we sit up in bed intent on finding out where it is and what it is up to.
Game sightings away from camp have been wonderful too. We've witnessed the takeover of a cheetah territory near the old camp, with the "old boys" losing out to two, younger newcomers in a dusty battle that left the older two scampering off in different directions. Since then, the younger cheetah have been seen regularly in the area and have killed at least two impala and a reedbuck.
Looking out across the lagoon towards the old camp we remember how excited we were to be building a brand new one. And now, after the sweat and tears of all those involved we can sit and enjoy our new "baby". Thank you to everybody who made this camp the beautiful, peaceful, luxurious place that it is.
-Stuart and Tessa-
Mombo Camp update - June 08 Jump
to Mombo Camp
We are deep into our African winter. The lowest that the mercury dropped for the month was 6.5C and the hottest temperature that we experienced was 29C. As these were just the extremes, a more accurate picture of our weather is given by the mean temperature, which was a very comfortable 18C. However, we would remind anyone travelling to the area at this time of year to come prepared with warm clothes for the early mornings and evenings.
The floodwater has pretty much reached its peak this month, with the brimming floodplains making for beautiful vistas strewn with water birds and red lechwe. With no precipitation, the interior of Chief's Island has continued to dry, forcing most of the animals onto the edges of the floodplains to find water and grazing.
It is a stunning but not uncommon sight to come across a floodplain on which you can see big numbers of impala, Burchell's zebra, red lechwe, blue wildebeest, warthog, giraffe and elephant. The birding at Mombo Camp has also been special, with the diversity of habitats correlating with an incredible array of bird species. A special sighting this month was a Martial Eagle with an egret kill.
Our three dominant lion prides have remained the same for the month of June. The largest two prides, the Mathatha and Moporota Prides, have been constant with regards to numbers. The Mathatha Pride is still dominant in the east but have been seen fairly infrequently as they are generally some distance from the camp. The Moporota Pride have moved further to the north of the camp and have also been keeping their distance, meaning that sightings have also been slightly less frequent than usual.
The lions seen most this month have been the Western Pride. This group of lions appears to have made Mombo Camp the heart of their territory and have regularly provided entertainment for guests through the day as well as the night. Between their territorial patrols and buffalo hunts, the pride has been seen in camp regularly this month. Unfortunately they have lost one cub since our last report and the pride is now down to two cubs. The females with manes continue to thrive and the pride dynamics don't seem to be suffering as a result of this genetic abnormality.
An incredible lion sighting this month involved one of the Moporota Pride females and her three seven month old cubs. She was temporarily split from the rest of the pride and decided to take the opportunity to teach her cubs a lesson or two in hunting. She caught and brought down a young giraffe without killing it. For the next 30 minutes she left it to the cubs to try to kill, occasionally helping out as the giraffe got the better of the cubs. It was a real privilege for all that were there to witness these dramatic events.
Our movie star female leopard, Legadema, has continued the good work of raising her two cubs and they are both doing well. On one very exciting evening in camp we had Legadema casually walk the whole length of the boardwalk, paying absolutely no attention to those lucky enough to be watching.
We were very pleased to discover that we have another female leopard to the north of the camp with a slightly older cub. This was a leopard that hadn't been seen for a while, something that would be explained by the fact that she had given birth. We are hoping that as the cub gets older she will continue to show herself.
Leopard sightings this month haven't been limited to females only. We have had two males that have both been seen in the immediate vicinity of Mombo Camp. This is not necessarily a good thing for Legadema or her cubs. On one occasion, a game-drive vehicle found Legadema and her cubs on an impala carcass. Two different male leopards then arrived, with the one male chasing Legadema and her cubs off the kill and then the other male. To have five leopards in view at one time is something very unusual!
Wild Dog & Cheetah
We have had good sightings of both male and female cheetah although their movements continue to be quite unpredictable. The wild dogs have given us some exciting moments as they are always an unexpected sighting at Mombo Camp. As they occupy big home ranges one is never sure where these animals will pop up. It is the same pack of three dogs which continue to move into this area although it is likely that they are spending more time to the south east of Mombo away from the intense lion activity. A number of guests this month were lucky enough to see the dogs hunting, which is a true display of stamina as they followed for kilometres on end until the dogs finally made a kill.
Rhino, Elephant & Buffalo
Rhino sightings were good this month - a number of sightings of big bulls as well as adult cows. Pictured is Mmabontsho (the black rhino cow) and Sergeant (the white rhino bull) photographed by Clive Dreyer which are pretty regularly seen together. Unfortunately no black rhino bulls are resident in the north of Chief's Island yet within her normal home range.
The elephant sightings have been excellent this month as these beasts have moved away from the dry interior of the islands and toward the floodplains. We have been seeing large herds of these beautiful animals, many with tiny babies in tow.
Large buffalo herds have on the other hand been quite scarce this month as they have moved deeper into the Delta. However, our resident group of bachelor bulls continue to call Mombo Camp home and are seen on a daily basis. This month we have again seen that the size of these old males has not spared them from attack. Lion attacks have been fairly common but on one notable occasion the distress calls of a buffalo from the floodplain in front of camp attracted our attention. Looking through the camp telescope revealed a buffalo thrashing in the deep channel in the grasp of a Nile crocodile. The fact that the buffalo lost the battle indicates just how big and powerful a crocodile can be!
One incredible afternoon highlights what an amazing month it was at Mombo. All the vehicles left camp and found the Western Pride not far away. These lions began to move and before long got into a buffalo hunt. Unsuccessful, the guides were pondering their next move when wild dogs ran past. Everyone followed the dogs on a long hunt which resulted in them killing the impala a fair distance to the south of camp. As the dogs were finishing up the impala there was a call of cheetah from a location the south-east. The first group to arrive was observing the cheetah when a caracal arrived on the scene. By this time the sun was setting and everyone began the drive back to camp. However, the bush was not done yet and 500 metres from camp the guides picked up Legadema and her two cubs! Whilst this wasn't a typical day it reminded us all of the unpredictability of the bush and how you can never be sure what's around the next corner.
-Jeremy, Lizzy, Taps, Kirsty, Nicole, Simon & all at Mombo-
Xigera Camp update - June 08 Jump
to Xigera Camp
Temperature and Water Levels
June has been relatively cool with an average high of 25°C. Having said that it has not been as cold as last year and many feel it has been quite a mild start to our winter. Interestingly enough the floodwater we measured at the camp bridge has started to drop already, maybe this will not be a big flood after all?
Exploring the far channels and floodplains by boat has resulted in special finds. There have been some sitatunga sightings this last month - two affording clear views of this rare wetland-dwelling antelope. The sitatunga is so specialised that it only occurs in permanent marshes and this antelope is often seen on boat trips from Xigera Camp.
One morning also produced a sighting of a juvenile male leopard on a termite mound, showing some curiosity in the drifting boat before disappearing into the scrub. On another morning a female cheetah was seen keeping a watchful eye on a herd of red lechwe antelope. The cheetah did not seem to mind the presence of the boat and allowed guests to take some good photographs. Shortly after leaving this sighting the same group spotted a pride of lions walking along the water's edge. They viewed the lions for a while before the big cats went to sleep under a wild date palm clump, out of sight.
The localised spotted hyaena clan have had a few new additions. One female has taken up a den in a termite mound close to camp and at least three pups (suggesting the presence of another adult female) are kept hidden here during the day. They can sometimes be seen early morning or late afternoon around the entrance of the den. The guides keep a strict protocol at the den parking the vehicle and watching from a distance and also only allowing one vehicle at a time so as not to disturb the hyaena family. This seems to be working well as the youngsters are starting to relax and walk around in view of the vehicle. We have also had a few hyaena sightings right in camp and have even watched them cross over the bridge in the evenings while we are having dinner.
We had two sightings of Bat Hawk this month which got the birders quite excited, both were at dusk. Other species sighted include Slaty Egret, Malachite Kingfisher, Saddle-Billed Stork, Palm Swift, African Golden Oriole and Brown Snake-Eagle to name just a few.
We look forward to seeing you out here.
Anton, Marleen, Kgabiso, Question, Teko, KD, Ndebo, Diye and the rest of the Xigera team.
Camps Update - June 08
Another beautiful month in Botswana, with quite cold mornings and evenings but during the day – it was very pleasant to be out and about in the bush. We had some amazing sightings throughout all our camps in June – but the highlight had to be the Wild dog puppies at Lagoon.
Lagoon camp Jump
• The Wild Dogs had some puppies back in May, and as is policy we left them to their own devices for a few weeks before we allowed our guests to go in and view them. At first we thought we were blessed to have 7 puppies, but you can image our surprise when it was realized that in fact there were 12 puppies in all. The puppies have been sighted on a regular basis and seem to becoming quite photogenic.
• The Lions have bee been very regular in the sightings, but it seems that the coalition of four male lions have split. The lions have been eating well and always seem to have full bellies proving that even though the coalition have split – that they are still very apt at hunting
• Leopards have been putting on some amazing game viewing and the one that sticks in our minds is when a male leopard was sighted on an evening game drive stalking an Impala – when suddenly he jolted at full pace past the vehicle in pursuit of the Impala and miraculously took the impala in mid air
• Three cheetahs have been seen in the area surveying the area – they are three brothers and we hope that they stick around.
• As is usually at this time of year – the breeding herds of Elephants have been seen along the floodplains and woodlands and even though our sighting are of herds of 150 plus – we expect many more in the area in the next few months.
• Like the Elephants – the buffalo have moved into the area and herds of up to 400 + have been seen on a regular basis in the Lagoon area – quite a sight.
• It is not just the predators and large animals that have been impressing our guests – we had a very exciting moment where 4 ground hornbills and a puff adder had a stand off – but the puff adder was no match for the large birds.
• Dazzles of Zebra into the hundreds have become common sights at Lagoon, as have large numbers of giraffes – 28 in one sighting as well as Wildebeest, impala, Tsesebe and Kudu.
Kwara & Little Kwara camps Jump
& Little Kwara camps
• The lion in the Kwara area have been amazing – the one that remains in the minds of the guides for June is when 2 male lions descended on an old male buffalo and a violent battle ensued – they fought for over two hours before the lions gave up and the buffalo was left behind with heavy injuries, but he did survive the attack.
• Another beautiful sighting was on Marula Island where a pride of 4 males and 3 females we seen relaxing and a couple of them where mating.
• It seems that not only the lions have been mating – our guests were privileged and stunned to see a pair of leopards mating – not a very common sight at all.
• Then at a later stage a female leopard put on a wonderful show by having a delightful meal of a baboon in the camp. The rest of the baboon troop were not impressed at the loss of a team member and they managed to chase the leopard away.
• A single female cheetah managed to bring down an impala on the Tsum Tsum plains and was very lucky not to have any competition with feeding on the carcass for three days.
• The pack of five wild dogs have been hunting throughout the area but with no luck while the guests have been on game drive.
• Generally the game reported by the guides has been described as brilliant! Hyena have been common around the area and our guests have had many sightings of them scavenging around the kills and camp.
• Honey Badgers also seem to be a favourite this month again in Kwara. On one night drive the guests were spoilt to see a female carrying her young in her mouth.
Lebala camp Jump
• As is common this time of year – the flood waters come down the Kwando river and this year it is very large. This is a wonderful thing as the general game has been phenomenal around the Lebala region. Red-billed quellea have been congregating along the river in the millions, and the noise is quite deafening and the sight of millions of these little birds is a sight to behold.
The trackers in Lebala worked very hard at tracking Lion into the mopane scrubland where after three hours of tracking – 2 old females and 2 sets of young cubs were found. The family all looked well fed and healthy. A further 2 male lions were also tracked further in the area and once again – they seem to be feeding very well.
A single relaxed male leopard has been seen quite regularly and has put on some wonderful display’s of agility. On one drive – they guests stayed with him whilst he put on a show of trying to catch some warthog along the rivers edge, but to no avail. He moved around marking his territory and slowly disappeared into the marshes and we hope to see more of him in the future.
Not only are the Leopards impressing our guests, but a female Cheetah was seen on one drive feeding on an Impala carcass. She had a five-year-old month cub with her and our guests have had a few sightings of her and her cub since.
It seems that not only Lagoon has been having some Wild dog action – at Lebala a pack of 7 dogs have been reported hunting in the area on a regular basis, and one of the morning game drives saw the Dogs mating – we will keep our fingers crossed for that. This pack of 7 seems to be quite settled into the area and were seen one day with a leopard trapped up a tree. A second smaller pack has also been seen in a different area throughout the month.
The sightings of small predators have been great; Civet sightings along the roads have provided guests with great sightings. Honey badgers, black footed wild cat, Caracal and the Mongooses have been highlights on the evening drives.
Camp update - June 08 Jump
Temperature and Water Levels
The grassy plains has taken on a more golden colour; the lush green grass of May has all but disappeared, now only following the Lufupa Channel as it weaves through the Plains. Beyond this channel, the water levels have receded dramatically and we are now able to drive between all of the camps in the area, enhancing our game drive potential even more.
Mother Nature waved her magic wand, and cast our first proper winter's morning over the plains on around the 12th of the month.
Winter sunrises and sunsets on the Busanga Plains are some of the most amazing in the world. Continental breakfasts have definitely been a highlight for our guests this month: there is nothing better than enjoying a hot cup of coffee, sitting around a fire, watching red lechwe grazing in front of camp, all as the sun rises through the mist.
With the swamp levels dropping dramatically, a whole host of new mammals have arrived in our area. The 2nd of June brought us our first sighting of a herd of roan antelope, and up to the end of June we have seen another three herds of about the same size also move into the area. Along with the roan, wildebeest have also arrived, and a number of different herds have been seen around the Plains. Another common sight around the area this month has been large pods of hippo sunbathing on the channel banks. We have also had a number of hippo coming into camp in the evenings, feeding on vegetation and moving around beneath the elevated camp walkways.
Isaac stumbled on a spectacular scene this month, out on our Go-Devil boat: while cruising down the Channel, Isaac spotted a large Nile crocodile lying half submerged in the water. He turned the motor off, and slowly snuck up to the sunbathing reptile, only to see it launch into the water and catch a barbel - this a catfish species found in the rivers of Zambia. Isaac and his guests watched the reptile devour the fish and they were thrilled to say the least, knowing just how lucky they were to have witnessed a crocodile hunting.
Besides all of these wonderful herbivores and reptilian carnivores we have been seeing, the cats have also been the flavour of the month.
The Busanga lion pride have been all over the Plains this month: in and out of the various camps; east, west, south and north - we just don't know where they are going to pop up next. We heard them roaring through the night on the 8th, and when we woke up the next morning, there they were strolling past the helicopter pad, right through camp. From the boardwalks we watched them attempt a hunt on a herd of puku, but were unsuccessful. On the evening of the 14th, the lions again decided that Shumba Camp would be a great place to spend the night, and so decided to lie down and sleep in our 'driveway'. There was much excitement in camp the next morning, as our guests were enjoying their cups of coffee. Instead of staring out east at the sunrise, everyone was staring out west, at our driveway, where ten lions were sleeping peacefully. They moved off shortly after sunrise, following their instinctive search for food.
A couple of days later, after more unsuccessful hunts, they looked like they had had enough of going hungry. They were lazing about in the sun at Hippo Pools when our game drive vehicle stumbled across them. Almost magically, they got into formation, and started stalking a herd of puku. Remarkably, in a matter of twenty seconds, they managed to take down not one, but two puku before our guests' eyes. This is by no means an every day occurrence, and everyone that was on the vehicle that day really appreciated how special that was to witness.
Another cat that has arrived on the plains is a lone male cheetah, who has taken a liking to the area between Kapinga and Busanga Bush Camps. Our guides and visitors saw this elusive predator on and off over the last couple of days of the month, but the one sighting that really sticks out is when he successfully hunted a female puku. After the kill he looked absolutely exhausted, but definitely enjoyed his spoils that afternoon.
One very special bird that people travel thousands of miles to see is the Racket-Tailed Roller - restricted to the broad-leafed woodlands of south-central Africa and Zambia in the epicentre of their distribution. We are fortunate to have a resident few in the miombo woodland at our airstrip and our helicopter pilot was lucky enough to get this photograph of one perched on a dead tree stump!
-Andrew, Shannon, Phinias, Mwami, Lexon, Isaac and The Shumba Team-
Lunga River Lodge update - June 08 Jump
to Lunga River Lodge
June has given us cool nights and dry weather. The wet areas (seasonal vleis and dambos) in Kafue National Park and the area around Lunga River Lodge are drying up as the dry season gets underway. Temperatures during the day are currently around 25 Celsius but in the very early hours of the morning it can drop to almost 0 Celsius.
Lunga River Lodge itself was visited by a number of animals in June. The little dambo behind the camp attracts a lot of wildlife, from elephants taking a mud bath to hippo moving around during the night feeding on grasses. Different species of antelope such as impala, puku, bushbuck, grey duiker and even oribi are regularly seen at the dambo, especially in the afternoon. Having prey species close to camp also attracts predators. A leopard with her cub visited Lunga River Lodge one evening and a pack of wild dogs killed an impala ram in front of the guest rooms one afternoon.
Buffalo herds this past month also visited the area a few times, some being about 100 animals strong. On one of our night drives we were lucky to see four sub-adult male lions that managed to kill a buffalo.
The walking safaris along the Lunga River for interested guests were exceptional for birders in particular and in fact birders always say that Lunga River Lodge is heaven for them. Ross's Turaco, Chaplin's Barbet, African Finfoot, Black-backed Barbet, Red-Throated Twinspot and Spotted Creeper are a few of the many birds that you can see in the Lunga area. During the walking safaris guests also experienced the excitement of tracking two elephants and there were also good sightings of bushpigs.
Special Guest Experiences
All of our June guests have so far arrived at camp by boat. After landing at the airstrip they are transferred to a boat station nearby and then taken on a slow river cruise to camp. By the time the guests arrive at Lunga River Lodge their bags are already in their rooms. It was a popular addition to our repertoire and sometimes guests were lucky enough to spot their first wildlife (such as crocodile, hippo, elephant and various bird species) from the boat on the way to Lunga.
On a few occasions after dinner we took the guests on the boat with a little nightcap. From the river you have a beautiful view of the sky filled with stars. Whilst the guests were enjoying their drink the guide would point out the stars and constellations: A relaxed and beautiful way to end the day in the bush.
In June we started with the 'rapid brunches' (pictured): Guests go out with the boat and stop at a spot on the other side of the river to do a walking safari. After the walk they continue to the rapids by boat. In the rapids there is a brunch table waiting for them. After the walk it is nice to take of your shoes and cool off your feet in the fresh water of the Lunga River!
Altogether a fantastic start to the 2008 season for Lunga River Lodge and we are curious about what the rest of the season will bring.
We hope to see you soon at Lunga River Lodge.
Busanga Bush Camp update - June 08
The beautiful red mists of sunrise over the Busanga Plains are a stunning sight at this time of year, and a fantastic place to start the beginning of the season. Although watching the silhouettes of puku and red lechwe at the front of camp in the morning has been a chilly experience, the tranquillity of the morning mists has more than made up for having to wear an extra layer or too! A fairly quiet start to June quickly disappeared as we got busier by the day, and with the floodplains drying up quicker than last year, the game viewing has also been relatively good for the time of year.
Along with the blankets of mist have come with some very chilly mornings and once the sun has set the temperature has been dropping away again, finding us snuggled up by the campfire most evenings. The daytime has been warm most days but the occasional high winds around the middle of the day have brought the temperature down and caused us to hold onto our hats every now and then!
During the first half of the month the game drives were seeing the Busanga lions almost every day and the pride could be found around the camp every couple of days. These great sightings reached a climax on the 17th when the pride walked through the middle of the camp whilst hunting in the middle of the day - a great, if somewhat humbling, experience for everyone present!
Sadly they weren't seen again for a few days as they crossed to an area that's inaccessible for the Land Rovers due to the water. We later discovered that they had made the rare kill of a hippo which had kept them busy for a few days!
Viewing from the front of the camp has been characteristically good this month - puku and red lechwe can always be seen grazing during the day and Saddle-billed Stork, Wattled Crane, African Fish-eagle, Lilac-breasted Roller and Cattle Egret are just a few of the birds regularly viewed from the camp. Both morning and evening the hippo can be heard enjoying the last of the swamps and can sometimes be seen walking out on the floodplains in front of camp.
A real treat this month, and definitely worthy of a mention, was an afternoon sighting of a serval slowly and cautiously making its way right past the front of camp. As well as this we have been lucky to have a beautiful herd of roan antelope often near the camp, as well as the blue wildebeest, warthog and vervet monkeys who frequently make an appearance.
Lufupa River Camp update - June 08
We thought May had been an exciting and challenging month; June proved even more so due to very high occupancies and the completion of Lufupa River Camp, our sister camp situated just upstream of Lufupa Tented Camp. Back to back bookings in both camps kept staff out of mischief and running off their feet! The new airstrip was put to good use too - the first landing was an extremely exciting event and the team of employees thoroughly enjoyed seeing a Cessna Caravan touch ground for the first time.
The small finishing touches of a camp is often the process that takes the longest and although we are still awaiting the 'pretty dècor stuff', our main area and deck has 'wowed' many a guest and many successful brunches (pizzas!) and dinners have been enjoyed at the all-new Lufupa River Café.
Lions were definitely the flavour of the month, leopards following a close second. Cheetah have been in the area but were seen less often than in May. There were also three fantastic wild dog sightings - one in particular is worth mentioning. Solly and Bas were driving back from the airstrip one morning and saw this flustered, frightened-to-death scrub hare shoot across the road, followed closely by a pack of 14 ravenous wild dogs! Much to the spectators' disappointment (or relief!), the little hare managed to dive away and escape! There have also been sightings of African wild cat and porcupine on night drive but unfortunately no spectacular photos.
Typical for the time of year, the mornings are cool and the air quite dry. The daytime temperatures have been lovely.
-The Lufupa Team-
Toka Leya Camp update - June 08 Jump
to Toka Leya Camp
As the camp is situated along the Zambezi River, we have had pretty cool misty mornings, but as the day progresses the temperature has risen to a warm sunny day. The evening campfires have not only been a place to catch up on the day's happenings but a great spot to escape the cooler evening air. It's at this time of the year that we have said 'whoever thought of hot water bottles deserves a medal" as these have been really handy to warm the beds in the evening.
A large Nile crocodile has frequently been seen by the banks of our Tent 4. Since it seems to hang out at Toka Leya Camp, the crocodile has been named Imusho, after an old village that existed here years before Mosi-Oa-Tunya Park was proclaimed and Toka Leya Camp came into being. Another regular is bushbuck that comes into camp and does not seem to be scared of us humans. With regulars like these, our great grandparents would have probably come up with a myth to say these are our protectors; they guard our land.
Elephants have been seen in camp, and on one evening were right next to our bar. One gentleman then announced, 'No more wine for me, I'm already seeing elephants at the bar!' A pod of hippo have been seen on a beautiful white sand bank across our bar area on the river while guests enjoy a local beer called 'Mosi' which is the local name for the Victoria Falls.
As Toka Leya Camp is usually a last safari stop for many of our guests, it has been a plus for them in having a last chance to see endangered white rhino on their game drives in the exciting Mosi-Oa-Tunya Park.
Private dinners by the sundeck overlooking the Zambezi River have been brilliant for honeymooners, wedding anniversaries and hopeless romantics. Most guests have also commented on the rainbow at Victoria Falls that is often seen in the afternoon.
Our tour of the Falls enjoys views from several spots including the guided walk and the Livingstone Island, the latter a site believed to have been the place where David Livingstone first saw the falls from. Viewing the Falls from the air on a helicopter flip has also been a popular experience for guests.
Camp update - June 08 Jump
June has most definitely bought about a crisp chill to the early morning and there is a distinct drop in the temperature as the sun sets behind the Kaila Mountain range. The average temperature in the morning is 12°C, warming up throughout the day getting rather hot around mid-afternoon. The average maximum temperature for this month was 25°C. The wind whistles thought the camp from mid-morning but luckily it dies down just after lunch making the afternoons splendid, whether spent on the river or a game drive.
Vegetation, Landscape and the Zambezi River
The rainy season bought a bloom of colourful Indigofera and although it has thinned out tremendously there is still a rather thick blanket covering the red-earthy ground. The Purple Pan Weed and Wild Basil still grace the plains of the concession but they are now changing from the brilliant greens of the rainy season to the dull hues of the dry season although they still give off their strong scents as sunset approaches. Those trees so characteristic of the lower Zambezi, Winter Thorn Faidherbia albida, have started dropping pods enticing the likes of the elephant and baboon to come through the camp and gorge themselves. Natural waterholes and pans are drying up rather quickly producing thick, sticky mud that has now solidified. These pans have intrigued our guides as they spent an afternoon walking through collecting different pieces of mud with the tracks of leopard, hyaena and Nile crocodile.
During June sightings of chacma baboon, elephant, hippo, impala, vervet monkey, tree squirrel, warthog, waterbuck and zebra were commonly seen. Buffalo, eland, greater kudu and lion took a little more work and were not seen every day. Night drives often produced other nocturnal mammals like large spotted genet. Special sightings this month included side-striped jackal, bushbuck and porcupine.
Our resident lion pride has been frequent visitors and seems to have made themselves very familiar with the old camp locality. This was the core of the territory last year and regular site for late night hunts of impala and zebra, but their frequent presence there this year may have something to do with the incursion into the area of two different groupings of lions: a coalition of four young male lions and a separate lioness with 4 sub-adult cubs.
In the new camp, elephants have kept everyone on guard as they meander through the site picking any stray albida pods as they go. On numerous occasions we have witnessed them swimming over to the islands in the Zambezi River, on occasions being pulled off course downstream by the river's strong current. All that is visible to those watching is the elephant's trunk. Those brave enough to cross do however soon find shallow water and continue their journey across where they enjoy the lush green reeds of the islands. We have also had a visit from two special elephants that have not been seen since the start of the rainy season. It seems that these two well known individuals, so regular a fixture in the old camp, have followed us to our new home.
Perhaps the highlight of the month was a leopard kill near the Little Ruckomechi River. Whilst on an evening activity the guides were following a hyaena that lead them to a male leopard sitting on a broken albida tree feasting on a baboon. They were able to sit with the leopard for a good half hour before the leopard left his kill and went to relax under the cover of some nearby Indigofera.
Game viewing is improving on a daily basis as animals start to congregate and feast on the green shoots along the floodplains.
Birds and Birding
Throughout the whole month of June a total of 170 bird species were seen. Some of the more interesting sightings are as follows:
It is written that the Greater Flamingo and the Grey Crowned Crane are common birds in the Zambezi Valley but we are lucky if they are seen within the Ruckomechi Concession. Therefore you can imagine the excitement when a both birds were sighted this month. The flamingo was spotted wading through the waters of a small pan rather far inland from the river whilst on a walk. The Grey Crowned Crane has been seen on a few occasions around Parachute Pan and the floodplain in front of the camp. The small water channel running in front of the camp is host to numerous water birds but we have had fantastic kingfisher sightings. Attracted by the shoals of small fish we have seen the Malachite, Brown-Hooded(although mostly insectivorous), Giant and Pied Kingfishers as they display their great fishing skills.
We would like to welcome Julian Brookstein who will be our assistant manager as well as joining Kevin and Sibahle on the guiding side!! Unfortunately we bid farewell to Garth and Anna Marie but we wish them the best of luck and every success in their future. Caro, Shayne and Charmaine have been behind the scenes ensuring that guest leave having enjoyed their time with us and not to forget Alistair who has kept us all on our toes with his great sense of humour as well as keeping up with the continuous vehicle maintenance. We have also had the pleasure of Bryan and Mathew from the Mana Canoe Trail around camp assisting the Ruckomechi guides and lending a helping hand.
-The Ruckomechi Team-
Makalolo Plains Camp update - June 08 Jump
to Makalolo Plains
It's mid-year and already the middle of the Zimbabwean winter here in Hwange National Park where temperatures have been dropping to zero degrees Celsius. Early mornings are chilly, with afternoons warm and pleasant. Game drives are starting later, as most animals only begin moving when the temperatures are higher. Afternoon temperatures are between 20?C and 26? Celsius though, which is very pleasant.
Vegetation, Landscape and Water
The vegetation has turned, as expected; to the yellow-brown colours typical to this time of year - especially the ordeal trees. The animals are beginning to utilise the major waterholes and their aggregations during the warmer parts of the day are a pleasure to watch. The couch grass around the waterholes is still green and utilised by the buffalo herds.
Sightings for the month of June were numerous with waterbuck, baboon, elephant, giraffe, impala, hippo, black-backed jackal, kudu, springhare, tree squirrel, wildebeest, zebra and buffalo all being common sightings. Also regularly encountered have been grey duiker, sable and lion. More uncommon mammals observed during the month has been eland, spotted hyaena, African wild cat, cute bat-eared foxes, dwarf mongoose, white-tailed mongoose, striped polecat, gemsbok and aardvark.
This has been a month for cats as amazing sightings were witnessed. One evening there was a commotion with baboons barking and squealing. In the morning the noise was investigated and a dead baboon was found hanging in a tree, evidence that a leopard had invaded the tree last night and killed one of the resident female baboons. Later on, the leopard was seen feeding on the carcass. There were no baboons in the area for a few days; however calm has been restored as the families of baboons are now back at their usual sleeping spot. This was not to be the end of seeing this leopard - it was seen on numerous occasions this month. It was even observed one evening by guests on a game drive, walking casually on the road, the guide followed it with the vehicle for a considerable distance until it disappeared into the bush. A cheetah was seen at Ngweshla Waterhole on two consecutive days. Guides and guests were thrilled as this is a very rare sighting for the area.
A new male lion also made a dramatic entrance to the Makalolo Plains, claiming a buffalo kill from four females who are resident in the Makalolo Plains and chasing off the hyaenas that were planning an ambush. The lions spent the whole day near the waterhole close to camp. Several animals could not approach to drink that day, except for an elephant bull, which started feeding close to them until sunset, when the lions decided it was time to leave and finish off the buffalo carcass.
Birds & Birding
During the dry winter months, the birding is generally quiet, and 113 species were sighted. The Southern Yellow-billed Hornbills have started eating the fruits of the large false mopane trees fondly called Rosewood (Guibourtia coleosperma). A Dickinson's Kestrel was observed one late afternoon, sweeping into a group of doves, but the doves were too fast for it. The resident Red-billed Spurfowl alerted the camp staff to the presence of an Egyptian Cobra one day.
Guides: Dickson Dube, Hupu Dube, Raymond Ndlovu, Lawrence Yohane and Godfrey Kunze
Hostess: Nelly Chinyere
Management: Amon Johnson
-Till next month from the Makalolo Team-
to Page 2