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AFRICAN SAFARI NEWS

May 2008

(Page 2 of 2)

Page 1 Updates
General Safaris News - General information and updates from our partners in Africa.
Camp News - Camp specific news, including refurbs, rebuilds, accolades, etc.
• Monthly dive report from North Island in the Seychelles.
• Monthly update from Savuti Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from DumaTau Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Chitabe Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Mombo Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Xigera Camp in Botswana.
Kwando Safaris game reports.
• Monthly update from Shumba Camp in Zambia.
• Monthly update from Little Makalolo Camp in Zimbabwe.

Page 2 Updates
• Monthly update from Jacana Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Tubu Tree Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Kwetsani Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Abu & Seba Camps in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Little Vumbura Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Pafuri Camp in South Africa.
• Monthly update from Skeleton Coast Camp in Namibia.
• Monthly update from Serra Cafema Camp in Namibia.
• Monthly update from Damaraland Camp in Namibia.
• Monthly update from Governors' Camp in Kenya's Masai Mara.


Jacana Camp update - May 08               Jump to Jacana Camp

May has seen the floods that have been coming in over the past few months leveling off and the water levels have stopped rising. The level is in fact almost a foot lower that what it was the same time last year. There have been some incredible sightings and experiences in and around Jacana this month.

Beauty and her cub      Jacana tent

One of the highlights must be the regular sightings of Beauty, our resident female leopard, and her two month old cub. The cub had not been seen since March, when she was born, but Beauty has been bringing her out to explore her surroundings more regularly. We all hope that she will grow up to be as graceful and relaxed as her mother, but she will have many obstacles to face in her life.

Jack, our resident bull elephant, has also been a regular visitor to the island, and the guests have been treated to the sight of him eating the ripe figs that have fallen from the sycamore fig tree by the main area. He has also spent many nights sleeping on the island, with his snoring being heard from the other side of the island. Contrary to popular belief, elephants can sleep lying down, and for extended periods. They do prefer spots where there is a slight slope, such as next to a large termite mound.

We expect to see more of Jack, and other elephants on the island as the palm trees' fruits start to ripen. It is a sight to see the elephants shaking these palm trees to dislodge the fruit.

Birders would have been totally satisfied with the incredible sightings we have had over the past month: Lesser Jacana, Slaty Egret, Wattled Crane and Saddle-Billed Storks have been spotted regularly. The Pel's Fishing-Owl, a "big tick" for many keen birders has been seen a number of times on mekoro excursions. These large brown owls are adapted to catching fish in the Delta waters at night, and their deep haunting calls are evocatively heard regularly during the nights at Jacana Camp.

The African Fish-Eagles have also been seen catching fish, right in front of the main lodge area. Their distinctive calls, which many people describe as the 'Call of Africa', are constantly heard during the day.

African Harrier-Hawk at Jacana      African Harrier-Hawk with a Starling

The birding highlight undoubtedly has been the observation of African Harrier-Hawk (Gymnogene) hunting on the island. On one occasion we watched as it flew up to a dead palm tree with a hole in it that was being used as a nest by a Burchell's Starling. The parents kept bombarding it but after a few seconds it pulled out the chick and flew off with it to the nearest tree. A few days after that we watched as it did the same, this time it was the nest of a pair of Meyer's Parrots. Once again, it managed to pull the helpless chick from its nest. The African Harrier-Hawk has been seen almost a dozen times on the island over the past month.

With so many unique and interesting sightings this month, we cannot wait to see what the African bush has in store for us next month, but will share these again with you.

Clint, Dom and the rest of the Jacana Team


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

A lion mother moved into our area together with her two cubs killing a zebra just around the corner in front of our lunch spot. Guests had the great opportunity to follow these lions on their hunt from Kalahari Pan towards the lunch spot and they witnessed how the lions dashed out of cover pulling down the zebra in the shallow water - just in front of their vehicles. What a thrill! The lions fed on the zebra for several hours, but not in peace. The carcass of course attracted crocodiles, some of them certainly more than three metres in length, their gloomy eyes shining in the lights of our spotlight. The biggest one even tried to pull the carcass into deeper water with only a quick dash and hearty roar of the young male making the crocodile retreat back to deeper water. A spotted hyena clan then showed up in good numbers wanting their share of what was left of the zebra. The battle raged on for many hours and we still heard them fighting in the early morning hours. One guest, Allen Eng, mentioned that this was the best game drive of his life. It was a pleasure Allen!

Lions with a Zebra kill at Tubu      Lioness at Tubu Tree

Our leopards kept us busy as well. Normally we have to look for them but sometimes they come right to us. One afternoon, a female leopard killed an impala right in front of one of the tents. We had Dana Allen in camp, a professional photographer, who has certainly seen it all over the years. Dana mentioned to us that he had heard the alarm calls of the impala and actually went to see what was going on. Not seeing anything special he went back to his room. Only later when he was ready to go on the afternoon drive and the guide came to pick him up, they eventually noticed the dead impala. Dana said it was the shortest game drive of his life: It only lasted two seconds and happened in about three metres. Leopards truly are silent killers!

The temperatures in May have been unusually high with nice and pleasant sunny days. We do see sycamore fig and jackalberry trees fruiting already now, actually three months too early. The pleasant temperatures have also encouraged many of our guests to make use of the swimming pool area. Sitting at the pool, having a drink or reading a book has been great - with one of the most spectacular views in the whole Delta. The flood waters have formed a shallow lagoon in front of camp, attracting red lechwe, zebra and water birds in great numbers. Occasionally we also have breading herds of elephants strolling around, of course to the great excitement of everybody. All our rooms are facing the floodplain and the view is so fantastic and there is so much to see that guests Axel and Karin actually decided to skip one game drive and just sit at their room and watch the sun going down.

Come and enjoy the Tubu hospitality soon


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Kwetsani Camp update - May 08               Jump to Kwetsani Camp

This month we were blessed with the swift flowing waters of the Okavango Delta starting to reach the Jao Concession bringing change to both the scenery and wildlife. These life-giving waters are the best thing to happen to this beautiful area (year after year) and it is also our passage to reaching all corners of the concession. We have now started boating activities to all areas of the concession offering different landscapes, vegetation and game viewing opportunities for guests.

Elephants at Kwetsani      Flooded roads at Kwetsani

The waters are slowly and steadily creating wonderful lagoons which provide ample daytime 'spas' for the hippo and elephant populations. The roads to Kwetsani are now also flooded and currently look like some of the Delta's watery channels. You can drive and have full views of fish species (catfish, bream) and crocodiles swimming beside the vehicle.

Watching nature from the comfort of a traditional dugout canoe (mokoro) is the ultimate Delta experience: unbelievable closeness to water life is almost unexplainable; a quiet and tranquil activity indeed. On these mekoro trips you get to see a plethora of water birds, colorful painted reed frogs and fascinating insects. Through this you also see and feel the magic of the Delta as you get a better understanding of this watery wonderland.

Lion in a tree      Male Lion at Kwetsani

Exploring Hunda Island (a larger island of savannah grasslands and deep water channels) provides great game drives for impala, zebra and giraffe. These are species that prefer to live on dry land and feed on certain grasses and Acacia trees. Hunda provides a great stage for day trips and picnics as there are secluded waterholes and a hide with a view onto the marshlands - the hide is great spot for game viewing and bird watching.

In Kwetsani the early morning sun rises as if one is playing with light switches - slowly making the horizon brighter as the bird dawn chorus heralds another day. We enjoyed watching red lechwe prancing, perhaps in delight of escaping predators of the night.

The Jao lion pride are a common sight at Kwetsani: During the day they go unnoticed and usually sleep in shady, secluded spots. After sunset, they become active and are really vocal at this time. They are now on the hunt and roar to each other across the floodplains. Some mornings as we wake to the melodies of the resident birds, the lions slow down from another hectic night of hunting in front of the lodge.


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Abu & Seba Camps update - May 08               Jump to Abu Camp           Jump to Seba Camp

The floods have arrived
The seasons and the weather change and the Delta takes on its new persona. Last year's flood was very high. We wait with baited breath to see what this year will bring. So far the flood has been moving slowly and steadily. Every year is different, bringing new adventures.

The rainy season was a big one this year, with over 580mm of rain falling. This has meant that we have had permanent water in the area and it has been hard work getting around as many of the roads and crossings were still wet. The annual floods arrived in camp on the 8th April, making it even harder to get around! Of course this does not affect the elephants - water isn't going to stop them, but it does affect their movements. The vast floodplains are now covered in water meaning that valuable food resources have all but vanished. They are now restricted to the dryer areas and the size of the area that they utilize is smaller.

The floodwaters bring back many of the water birds; the Wattled Cranes have returned and it is always a pleasure to see the Hamerkops hard at work rebuilding their mammoth nests high up in the trees. Water Thick-knees have taken up residency at the bridge and the Malachite Kingfishers are also back in force using the posts along the bridge as their hunting perches. As these species have arrived, so we have said goodbye others, including Black Cuckoo, Yellow-billed Kites and Woodland Kingfisher.

Kitimetse is now a mother
On the 12th February, there were celebrations in Abu Camp with the safe arrival of a new elephant. Kitimetsi gave birth to her first calf, a female, in the afternoon. She has been named Lorato, which means 'Love' in Setswana. Kitimetsi has taken to motherhood like a duck to water, and is very loving and affectionate to Lorato. Gika, Sherini and Cathy, the other adult female elephants, are very excited about the new arrival. But perhaps the most excited is young Naya: she is overjoyed to have a younger female cousin and will not leave her side.

Kitimetsi (which means 'I am lost') is a 12-year-old wild Botswana elephant who joined the herd at Abu when she was a youngster and had been abandoned by or lost her herd. We shall never know what happened, but we are grateful that she is now part of the Abu herd. She is a lovely elephant and always keen to please, she is also exceptionally intelligent and is one of the first to learn new things. It will be interesting to see which traits Lorato has inherited.

At the moment Lorato is busy learning about life as a young elephant, in particular about the long appendage on the end of her face: her trunk. It will be a little while yet until she has full control of it.

Mafunyane meets his match
Peter Cooke
The end of the rains has seen Mafunyane, one of our original released elephants, return from his long sojourn out west. As he has a satellite collar on, we are aware of his location on a daily basis and it has been interesting to see that he has spent most of the last three or four months (the rainy season) in the drier grassland areas about 15km west of Abu and Seba Camp. His visit out there is probably a result of the rich new flush of grass that the rains bring.

It always strikes me as impressive that Mafunyane and the other elephants manage to find this fresh grass so quickly. However, the ability of elephants to detect storms from many miles away due to acute infra sound hearing as well as a wealth of learned knowledge gained over the years through hanging out with knowledgeable, senior bulls certainly seems to pay off!

His return from the west to the mopane- and terminalia-dominated bush area near our camp makes my life a lot easier. It means I do not have to periodically brave the deep water crossings that result from the heavy rains to go and observe him. I honestly think that if he had of stayed out west much longer I would have had to replace my truck with a boat!

Mafunyane looks fit and well fed and as usual, although he appears to be on his own, he is never too far away from a big adult bull. And it was in the presence of another regular seasonal visitor to our camp area, Napoleon, that I observed some very interesting behavior last week. Male elephants, upon leaving their natal herd, spend much of their time alone or in transient bachelor groups. Social behavior within bachelor herds helps them to establish their place within the pecking order (knowing one's place in the elephant pecking order is highly important to avoid injury when competing for females!), as well as learn vital knowledge as to the whereabouts of food and water at different times of the year.

This behavior in Mafunyane has centered around Napoleon, a handsome bull of around 30 years in age. Despite being nearly 20 years old himself Mafunyane is still a youngster and is dwarfed by Napoleon, who at 30 has nearly reached his full height - although certainly not his full weight! I was watching Napoleon, taking notes of his behavior when out of the bush came Mafunyane, bold as brass and approached Napoleon from behind. Napoleon, not too happy at being disturbed during his early morning breakfast, turned round sharply and pushed Mafunyane hard in the flanks with his tusks. Mafunyane appeared rather surprised at this and turned and walked off quickly before again approaching Napoleon, this time from the front. This was obviously a more respectful approach as Napoleon allowed Mafunyane (who stands almost a meter shorter) to entwine trunks, a classic form of greeting. They stood there; trunks entwined for almost two minutes until Mafunyane, emboldened by his success then started pushing Napoleon. Napoleon was definitely not in the mood to take this behavior from such a young upstart, and a good five minutes of sparring ensued. This involved much pushing and shoving and crashing of trees around them. Eventually, Mafunyane, realizing that he was coming off worst turned his back on Napoleon, who with a final push in the flanks chased him off.

It was quite a good-natured play-fight and there was little risk of injury. But the whole incident served to convince Mafunyane that he had some time yet before he was big and strong enough to challenge Napoleon, and indeed the other significantly bigger bulls in the Delta for his right to a female.

As usual, pondering on the event afterwards I could not help but to draw some parallels between elephant society and our own!


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Little Vumbura update - May 08               Jump to Little Vumbura Camp

This time they were observed stalking and successfully hunting Buffalo in the water. They made their kill and pulled it onto a drier area of the plain and as you can see from the photograph ate more than enough! They slept there for a couple of days before moving off and tracking the buffalo again. This time however the buffalo were better prepared and gave chase themselves.

Lions at Little Vumbura      Elephants at Little Vumbura

The Big Red pride were also hunting successfully, this time seen feeding on a young zebra in the far north of the concession.

Several herds of sable were seen, many very close to camp, often congregating with herds of wildebeest, impala, tsessebe, zebra and giraffe.

In camp the elephants were very busy, a few young bulls - including one with no tail - were feeding and sleeping on the island, making use of the termite mounds as "beds". Very relaxed with people, they "posed" for many photographs, but did keep a few guests awake at night with their snoring! One evening a whole herd waded through the water to come and feed on the island, bringing their youngsters with them: A very special sight.


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

The Pafuri region has begun to dry out and the winter cold has come seeping in, yet by mid-morning and during the afternoon the jerseys are off and the shorts are on. We have been blessed with beautiful clear, sapphire-blue skies, rays of sunlight illuminating the fever tree forests and the bright red and white flowers of the impala lily. Also flowering are the cucumber bush and woolly caper bush, their sweet scents gracing our senses. The Limpopo River is slowly drying and Crooks' Corner has become something a crocodile haven - large numbers (30+) of Nile crocodile of all sizes frequenting the sand banks and enjoying the warm sun. The usual hippo pods are never far off, nostrils and eyes breaking the water's surface before submerging for another 5-7 minutes.

We had a great month with many spectacular sightings of both mammals and birds. The eland have congregated into large herds with one particular group of 43 seen regularly: The massive bulls with their darkening forelocks and huge bulk contrast sharply with the fawn color of the calves. Both the eland and a single roan bull seen only once this month have been frequenting the floodplains of the Limpopo River - part of the region's RAMSAR site and home to specialized species such as the Lemon-breasted Canary. Then there were great clashes of the titans with two, spiraling and twisted horned kudu bulls clashing horns together with such power and ferocity that it echoed and sounded like a gunshot. On another occasion two evenly matched elephant bulls confronted each other with ivory and bulk meeting head on. Buffalo herds varied from between 100 to 600 in number. The latter herd congregated at Mangala, drinking in the late afternoon with their fluffy, brown calves following their mothers to the Luvuvhu River before heading back to grazing in the woodlands.

Feathers, talons and beaks graced the skies and perches, with some interesting sightings for guests and guides to share a like. Callum Sargent watched as a White-crowned Shrike attempted to feed on the ferocious stinging and hissing Matabele ant. Warren Ozorio watched a Verreaux's (Black) Eagle feeding on a Rastafarian-looking Crested Guineafowl and on another occasion a Tawny Eagle sharing its Yellow-billed Hornbill meal with its juvenile. Other sightings included a vociferous African Fish-Eagle attacking a Goliath Heron and a Grey-headed Bush-Shrike sneaking into a dove nest to kill and eat the chick.

The animal world is all about opportunity and taking the risk and chance that is brought forth, as seen by an adult male baboon killing and eating an unfortunate bushbuck lamb. Baboons will definitely kill and eat nyala and bushbuck young during the dry part of the year, possibly to increase their protein and moisture intake.

Leopard and Lion revealed themselves on several occasions, to the delight of all and Callum Sargent was rewarded with a female Leopard making a Bushbuck Lamb kill close to his vehicle. We also had quite a lot of activity of Leopard around and through Pafuri Camp itself with a female and her cub frequenting the area for some time. The female caught an Impala ram and fed on it close to Room 6; the carcass later being scavenged by a large crocodile attracted by the ripe aroma of the carcass.

We also enjoyed sightings of some more secretive and less often seen species like bushpig and Cape clawless otter. We had two otter sightings in May and it is always a joy to see these large otters frolicking and playing in the Luvuvhu River. As far as bushpig is concerned we had one phenomenal encounter: On a walk we made our way to a remote area of the concession, named Dakamila. On approaching an isolated pan surrounded by giant sycamore figs and jackalberry trees, we stopped as we watched two bushpig sows feeding on the algae that covered the pools surface. We made a quiet approach and watched them as the photographer of the group snapped away. We were only discovered when the slightest breaths of air wafted towards them. As they smelt us, they ran in all directions, and were gone. We all ventured casually forth when suddenly the previously unseen boar, who had been wallowing and slumbering in the pool, erupted and disappeared in the brush behind his two sows.

Birds were good, with the bird list including some exciting sightings of the following among many others: Arnott's Chat; Red-backed Mannikin; Fulvous Duck; Verreaux's (Black) Eagle; Yellow-throated Petronia; Bohm's Spinetail; Grey-headed Parrot; Pel's Fishing-Owl; Eastern Nicator; Black Stork; Peregrine Falcon; African Cuckoo Hawk; Bat Hawk; White-backed Night-Heron; Cape Vulture; Three-banded Courser; Kori Bustard; Capped Wheatear; Sterling's Wren-Warbler and Racket tailed Roller.

The maximum temperature recorded this month was a hot 42°C and the lowest, a cool 7°C: Another crazy and exciting month at Pafuri.

Walter Jubber


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Namibia camps
Skeleton Coast update - May 08               Jump to Skeleton Coast Camp

A retiree from London, a global traveler from New York, a couple of country bumpkins from KwaZulu-Natal and two corporate bush babies from Johannesburg took an incredible scenic flight over Namibia's northern interior. This was just the start of our safari in the Namib Desert; we were soon sand-blasted together in a Wilderness Safaris customized stretch Land Rover, exploring the Skeleton Coast.

Clay Castles      Brwon Hyena

Our Herero guide, Bariar (named after a long-gone Russian politician), and rookie Overland guide, Jimmy, from the "strip" - the Caprivi Strip that is - masterfully planned and executed our Skeleton Coast National Park tour.

As if the flight in was not enough to blow us away, then the drives around the desert in the customized stretch Land Rover certainly did. You can expect vast landscapes and extreme environmental conditions. The coastal fog gently lifts, uncloaking a fragile desert ecosystem; lizards disappear in front of your eyes, much like the fate of a few well-known sailing ships. Dunes roar and Cape fur seal pups mostly snore the days away. We crossed rivers that haven't flowed for five years, avoided quicksand and discovered clay castles: a masterful product of wind and water erosion.

Himba people      Roaring Dunes

There were many wildlife tracks, apart from that of our Land Rover, enticing us out into the desert. While out walking one afternoon a trail of large paw prints closely followed by a smaller version led us straight into a brown hyena's sandy den. Not wanting to disturb the sleeping 'strandwolf' (the Afrikaans name for these shaggy-coated creatures) we headed back to camp for a cold Tafel Lager (the best local beer).

This place has many secrets to share - and a visit with the local Himba people was just one. These nomadic tribal people drift through the eastern pastures bordering the Park seeking out new grazing for their livestock. With the recent rains they were resident in the vicinity and we were privileged to see a village together with their basic dwellings and gain an insight into their age-old way of life. With shy smiles they happily shared their beef stew, washed down with warm milk from the herd; it was a 'Kodak Moment' for sure.

Fishing at Rocky Point      Cape Fur Seal

On the 'Southern Tour' to Rocky Point on the cold Atlantic Ocean coast we shared the beach one afternoon with the usual suspects: BBJs (aka black-backed jackals), Kelp Gulls and a couple of menacing Lappet-faced Vultures scavenging on the fringes. We were even given the opportunity to try our hand at ocean fishing. Bariar showed Jimmy his best fishing knot and baited the hooks with some pungent pilchard bait. I think we did a respectable job, catching five black-tails in quick succession between us. Bariar, tired of watching the side show, stepped in to show us how it was done. This quickly resulted in raucous laughter when his sunglasses appeared dangling at the end of his fishing rod entangled in the pilchard's head!

A little further along the beach we stopped at the memorial honoring Angus McIntyre and Mathias Korabseb, brave crew members of the tug Sir Charles Elliott which was sent to rescue the passengers stranded when the MV Dunedin Star ran aground in November 1942. On this wonderful happy afternoon it was hard to relate to the survivors. It took almost two months of rescue efforts to get the 21 passengers and 85 crew members back to civilization. Incredibly the only fatalities were McIntyre and Korabseb. It was a fitting way to end our Skeleton Coast Safari.

-Caroline Culbert-


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Serra Cafema update - May 08               Jump to Serra Cafema Camp

In March, Serra Cafema experienced an extraordinary flood which swept through the camp as the Kunene River rose to unprecedented levels. An entirely new environment evolved around the camp, with the swollen river lapping at the doorway of Room 8 and a torrent of water flowing under the entrance boardwalk. Following the flood however, the camp had to close its doors to guests for 10 days while the staff at Serra Cafema rose to the challenges and set about putting things right as quickly as possible.

Since then the desert has continued to bloom and enchant our guests with a variety of flowers, unexpected wildlife sightings and a luminous green sheen covering the mountains and even some of the sand dunes.

Kunene River at Serra Cafema

In April, the temperature continued to be hot and steamy despite the arrival of autumn, with day time temperatures averaging 36 Degrees Celsius and falling to around 29 Degrees at night. The humidity ranged from around 25 percent to 75 percent during the peak of the day. As soon as we hit May, however, winter finally arrived and we are now enjoying warm days of about 30 degrees and cool, refreshing evenings where the temperature dropped as low as nine degrees!

Guests are once again able to explore the river on board our very own 'Kunene Explorer'. As you may remember from the last newsletter, our trusty boat was washed away in February's storms but we managed to rescue it down river before too much irreparable damage was done. It is now as good as new and fully operational.

Guests have been enjoying sightings of a wide variety of bird life such as Goliath Heron, Madagascar (Olive) Bee-eater and Yellow-bellied Eremomela. The Madagascar Bee-eaters recently headed off to Gambia, to find warmer climes. In March, a Senegal Coucal was also spotted and identified by Douw Steyn, one of our most experienced Explorations guides. This is a highly unusual sighting and caused much excitement in camp.

Serra Cafema in bloom      Palms at Serra Cafema

Other interesting wildlife sightings have included an African wild cat in camp and brown hyena around the pool area early one morning before guests arrived for breakfast. The uncommon Hartmann's mountain zebra were recently seen close to the airstrip and numerous Ostrich have started to return to the Hartman's Valley after the good rainfall. In addition, we continue to have regular sightings of Nile crocodile, who continue to bask on the sand banks, keeping half an eye open for their next meal. Chacma baboons, who live along the river bank and up in the hills above the camp, are also frequently spotted too.

Victoria has an unusual lodger in her house - an Anchieta's dwarf python has taken up residence on her bookshelf. This is a rare and extremely beautiful snake.

The local Himba communities in the Marienfluss Conservancy are happy and relieved at the wonderful grazing for their cattle which has come about from the rains since March. Visits to the Himba settlements in the area continue to be a popular activity for our guests. The simple lifestyle and calm nobility of the Himba people leaves a lasting impression. Many people tell us how privileged they feel to have had the opportunity to visit these nomadic settlements and meet the people who survive in such a vastly different environment to that which most of us are used to.

Life at Serra Cafema continues to enchant our guests and staff alike. The ever changing landscape and the rise and fall of the Kunene River bring constant change and surprises in our desert environment.

We wish you all the best for the month of June, and hope we can look forward to welcoming you here soon.

Warmest regards from all of us,
-The Serra Cafema Team-


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Damaraland Camp update - May 08               Jump to Damaraland Camp

'Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out (cycling) in the midday sun', or so the saying goes.

Mike Hearn Memorial Cycle across Damaraland - a life-changing experience for this cycling group full of memorable encounters.
Recently, a group of ten Englishmen and women, who were neither cyclists nor particularly fit came to Damaraland; some had not even been on a bike for 20 years since childhood. But the story of Mike Hearn is persuasive: his charisma, his extraordinary work for 12 years with Save the Rhino Trust (SRT), Namibia, and then his tragic death, aged 32, in Swakopmund.

Equally inspirational is the continuing work of SRT, the dedication of its 'soldiers' whom over 26 years have fought to save the desert-adapted black rhino (Diceros bicornis bicornis) and preserve a priceless habitat for all wildlife in the Kunene Region. Saving this rhino species is not simply about saving a primeval desert dwelling creature which appears to belong rather to the era of the dinosaurs rather than modern man; saving the rhino ensures the safe future of every species occurring in this area.

Thus ten unknowing British volunteers left their comfortable middle class homes in central London. They had no knowledge of Africa, but with faith they worked hard to fund raise for SRT, for the challenge to cross Damaraland by bike from Ugab to Palmwag through rocks and sand, traveling off road. An exceptional rainy season had turned the terracotta-coloured rocks to a vision of glorious savannah, but the season was tragically late. So the cyclists, who had expected the cool of the winter, were faced with soaring temperatures up to 45? Celcius. Debilitated by unaccustomed heat, the cycle became an endurance struggle. The dramatic rockscape of tabletop mountains, sandblasted cliffs in strange forms is wonderful to behold. Except between midday and 3pm on a couple of the days, when the gaze is grimly fixed to the track beyond the front wheel, focusing with determination just to get through the searing heat. Much of the terrain is loose gravel and sand through which one cycles is a hideous ordeal, expending precious energy and effort.

"Euphoric moments came a-plenty: dawn departure from World's End into the Palmwag Concession found us madly cycling alongside a herd of Hartmann's mountain zebra in the golden light. Fixed upon crossing the road, they ran with us for 50 metres before pulling ahead and cutting across our path, just a few metres ahead. Day Two found us cycling over fresh lion spoor. Similarly we were nervous to discover a large male lion had passed close to our tents in Ugab. But these euphoric moments were tempered by tough reality: Anne-Marie, a frail mother of two, flew over the handle bars. Covered in bruises and blood pouring from her head she was determined not to stop, and to complete the challenge. Skilful schooling by our leader Tokkie Bombosch found even the weakest cyclist conquering the appallingly steep pass at Fonteine on the Khorixas road."

The greatest exhilaration was the triumphant arrival into Damaraland Camp, a Wilderness Safaris joint venture with the local community. Its recent revamp with exquisite taste and design has produced hugely spacious rooms. The cyclists' expression was one of wonder and ecstasy, as they sank into the deep sofas, or slipped into the cool of the pool after four nights of camping in the dust and the wild. Then the final reward after seven days in the saddle was the glorious arrival at Mike Hearn's grave, near the Rhino Centre, Palmwag raising a glass of champagne to the setting sun and a glass of Meerlust (his favourite wine) at the celebratory dinner.

"The following day we set out for a day out rhino tracking with Rudi Loutit. The rains had dispersed the rhinos far and wide. We were tentative and not very hopeful. But the skilful trackers spotted spoor as early as 8.30 am and we were off on the trail. What a prize for all our efforts: a cow with tiny calf, and a bull in attendance. We followed on foot awestruck and rather scared lest they spot us. It was a beautiful end to an incredible journey."


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

May was generally a dry month in the Mara. A little rain fell early in the month and morning temperatures averaged around 17 degrees celcius. The grasslands are now drying out after the rains and the long grass is awaiting the arrival of the wildebeest herds.
 
The big news to report during May is the unexpected arrival of the zebras in huge numbers. Thousands of them are in our area of the Mara covering the Musiara Marsh, Paradise and Topi Plains. These zebra are the residents of an area east of the Masai Mara Game Reserve and they normally migrate into the Reserve every year but this year the migration has happened earlier than we would expect. This may be due to competition for grazing with Masai Cattle in the concession areas bordering the Game Reserve. The zebra have been filing down towards the Mara River in large herds and towards the end of the month we were seeing them crossing the Mara River on an almost daily basis. The resident crocodiles seem delighted as their annual feeding frenzy arrived a few months early and we have seen very large crocodiles maneuvering into strategic crossing points along the river. On the 23rd five hundred zebras crossed the Mara River; on the 28th a further two hundred crossed with the crocodiles snatching a couple of zebra on each occasion, and on the 30th a very large herd crossed the Mara River and six were taken by crocodiles. On another occasion twelve Thomson gazelles bravely took the plunge and crossed the river ahead of the zebra herd. Sadly all twelve Thomson gazelles were taken by crocodiles and the following herd of zebra all managed to cross without incident! The following day many zebra were seen crossing again and our driver-guides remarked that these are the best sightings of zebra crossings we have had in many years.

Zebras in the Mara at Governors'
Zebras filing up to cross the Mara River


With good grazing around the Marsh, small herds of eland, our resident Impala herds, Defassa waterbuck, warthog families, male Grants gazelles and a large herd of around three hundred Cape Buffalo with very young claves have all been seen daily in the area. The large elephant herd (numbering around one hundred and fifty) are also enjoying the good grazing around the Marsh and on the plains. The little “ellies” are growing bigger and stronger by the day and providing a lot of wonderful entertainment for guests and guides alike; some of the teenage males have been seen running around trumpeting and chasing the zebra and topi grazing on the edge of the Marsh.
 
The male black rhino “Jackman” has been seen out on Paradise Plain, and early in the month at 07:00am he was with a female black rhino and a calf close to tent number 5 at Governors’ Private Camp. They were browsing quietly for a few hours and later in the morning they crossed the River in front of camp and disappeared into the forest.

Black Rhinos and Topis       Zebras crossing the Mara River
Two of the black rhinos and Zebra crossing the Mara River


The Bila Shaka/Marsh Pride of lions has been eating well with the sudden influx of zebra. The females and their five cubs have been feeding on zebra and topi kills. The dark maned lion Pavarotti who was injured in April is continuing to heal. We were delighted to discover that one of the females has two new cubs which have just been introduced to the rest of the pride, which now has a total of seven little cubs. One male and a female were seen mating so there may be more on the way, all very good signs of a healthy pride.  
 
The five young males ousted from the Bila Shaka pride have been also been feeding well this month. They have taken over the territory around Paradise Plain and seem to be specialising in hunting hippo. In the last ten days of May they killed three hippo which they devoured with the help of a large pack of spotted Hyena.
 
Out on the plains the lone male cheetah has been hunting impala and another male has also been hunting Thomson gazelles towards Paradise Plain.
 
The leopard “Pole Pole” and her son Kijana have been seen on a daily basis between the forest and the Marsh, watching and hunting the antelope grazing on the verges of the Marsh. The new large male leopard has also been making his presence felt in the forest near Il Moran Camp and the other single male has been skirting the edge of the forest towards Governors’ Private Camp.


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