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AFRICAN SAFARI NEWS

November 2008

(Page 1 of 2)

Page 1 Updates
General Safari News - General information and updates from our partners in Africa
Wildlife News - Interesting wildlife sightings and photos.
Camp News - Camp specific news, including refurbs, rebuilds, accolades, etc.
• 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 Kings Pool Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Zarafa Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Xigera Camp in Botswana.
Kwando Safaris game reports from Botswana.
• Monthly update from Jacana Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Kwetsani Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Jao Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Duba Plains Camp in Botswana.

Page 2 Updates
• Monthly update from Rocktail Bay Lodge in South Africa.
• Monthly update from Pafuri Camp in South Africa.
• Monthly update from Toka Leya Camp in Zambia.
• Monthly update from The River Club in Zambia.
• Monthly update from Ruckomechi Camp in Zimbabwe.
• Monthly update from Makalolo Plains in Zimbabwe.
• Safari report from Mana Canoe & Walking Trail in Zimbabwe.
• Monthly update from Desert Rhino Camp in Namibia.
• Monthly update from Skeleton Coast Camp in Namibia.
• Monthly update from Serra Cafema Camp in Namibia.
• Monthly update from Palmwag Lodge in Namibia.
• Monthly update from Ongava Tented Camp in Namibia.
• Monthly update from Ongava Lodge in Namibia.
• Monthly update from Little Ongava in Namibia.
• Monthly update from Damaraland Camp in Namibia.
• Monthly update from Little Kulala in Namibia.
• Monthly update from Governors' Camp in Kenya's Masai Mara.



General Safaris Updates - November 2008

GENERAL UPDATES
2009 Tour de Tuli Mountain Bike Challenge - Mapungubwe Route
Children in the Wilderness is very excited to launch its new mountain bike event - The Tour de Tuli Mountain Bike Challenge which will take the place of Tour de Kruger in 2009.

Tour de Tuli 2009 is the 5th mountain bike event and this year's route traverses Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa and three National Parks. This mountain bike event promises excellent game viewing opportunities, great scenery, cultural and historical sites and predominantly single track mountain biking of around 300km (186 miles). Further information and cyclist registration forms can be found at: www.tourdetuli.com.


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WILDLIFE NEWS
Fishing behaviour in egrets
Location: Jao Concession, Okavango Delta
Date: November 2008
Observer and Photographer: Grant Atkinson

As the floodwaters of the Okavango River gradually recede it is usual for the channels to gradually dry up in the Okavango Delta. It then often happens that large numbers of fish become trapped in these isolated pools of water and for waterbirds to show up en-mass to take advantage of the easy pickings.

Egret fishing on the wing      Egret hunting on the wing at Tubu Tree

We came across just such a pool whilst on game drive out of Tubu Tree Camp in the Jao Concession. There were good numbers of waterbirds all around the pool, which was still quite deep in places. Some of the smaller fish had gathered in shoals in the middle of the pool, where the deep water prevented the waterbirds from wading to it. Setting the scene was a large crocodile lying on the bank as groups of egrets, herons, ibises, terns and kingfishers waited eagerly.

Egret with a fish

Whilst we were watching I noticed a Great White Egret taking off and flying slowly and deliberately very low over the water. In what appeared to be one motion it slowed, swung legs and feet downward, and at the same time pitched its long neck forward and snapped up a small silver catfish from just beneath the water surface. Great White Egrets are usually 'stand-and-wait' type of hunters, as opposed to birds that get their food on the wing and it was the first time I had seen any egret hunting in this manner. We kept watching, fascinated as the show continued. Over the next hour we saw many similar fishing manoeuvres expertly executed by the egrets, and in most cases they were successful. In one instance an egret snatched and lifted a fish, dropped it back into the water, and without stopping managed to once again grab the same fish, in the blink of an eye. In order to escape the bird's attentions, the silver catfish had sought refuge in the deeper water, but the Great White Egrets, with their larger size and longer leg length, were adaptable enough to be able to cope with that.

They were also quite aggressive toward other waterbirds at the pool, and would chase out both Yellow-billed Egrets as well as Squacco Herons from some of the favoured fishing areas along the bank. A pair of African Fish-eagles watched the scene from the top of a nearby sycamore fig tree, and each time one of them would fly overhead the smaller waterbirds would all rise into the air, for safety.



North Island's 2008 Turtle Season
Green Turtle Hatchlings
On the 8th of November, out on West Beach turtle patrol, Mervin detected a hatched green turtle nest from the tracks still visible, little flies on the nest and a couple of shells pulled out by the crabs.
Some of the photos show several baby turtle tracks that go parallel in a wide band straight to the sea; this differs from crab tracks which wander like 'drunken sailors' all over the beach with no apparent particular aim - well, at least not to us.

Green turtle hatchling tracks in the sand      Green turtle hatchling

These turtle tracks are very shallow and therefore get wiped out by the wind and wave action quite quickly. Upon digging, we found at 70cm depth the empty, open shells of 67 eggs - meaning these were successfully hatched. One rotten egg, four carcasses of little hatchlings that did not make it, probably due to predation by crabs, was found as well.

Green turtle youngsters differ from hawksbill hatchlings by their rounder shapes - hawksbill's being a little more oval, but most important is their white belly.

This appears to have been a rather small nest - normally it should contain between 100 to 150 eggs. Not all would be fertile and with a bit of luck around 100 would have successfully hatched. With predation those that make it down to sea is another story - it's a nasty, nasty world out there if your name is turtle)...

We are donating some of the tissue of one of the hatchlings to Dr Jeanne Mortimer who is presently trying to establish whether we have a separate green turtle population around North Island, or whether there is movement between our turtles and the ones found around the coral islands in the south (where most green turtles are found, whereas hawksbills are mostly around more granitic islands).

Hawksbill turtle coming to nest      Hawksbill turtle      Egg laying - Hawksbill turtle

Hawksbill Season in full swing too
The hawksbill turtle season has started again too, with females returning to our beaches in search of suitable nesting sites. The animal in the photos managed to lay her eggs at Honeymoon Beach.

We take their visit very seriously so as to minimise disturbance through observation and photographs and risking them leaving the shore and aborting their eggs out at sea.

-Linda van Herck and North Island Environmental Team-



Mapimbi - the collaring of a young elephant bull!
Location: Pafuri Camp, Makuleke Concession, Kruger National Park
Date: 30 October 2008
Observer: Walter Jubber

Many a question has been asked about the seasonal movements of the Pafuri elephant population: Why do they move? Where do they go? When do they move? How far do they travel?

Accordingly a research project has been conceived by Chris Roche together with Drs Steve and Michelle Henley of the STE Transboundary Elephant Research Programme and with the endorsement of the Kruger National Park to try and establish answers to these questions. Given the nature of the project, it is critical that GPS technology is used in the investigation. This is in the form of sophisticated (and expensive) satellite collars that are attached to the elephants. This of course requires the darting and collaring of several male and female elephants. Another aspect of the project being conducted on the ground by Pafuri guides Walter Jubber and Callum Sergeant is the individual recognition of the elephants that utilise the area. To date some 40 bulls and no fewer than six different herds have been identified and individual identikits produced for the key animals.

PLacing GPS collar on an elephant      Collaring a bull elephant ay Pafuri

We are hugely excited to announce that the project collared its first animal on 30 October 2008 and that this component of the study is now firmly underway with further operations to take place in the dry season of 2009.

All involved in the collaring operation arrived at Pafuri Camp on the 29 October 2008 for a briefing on the following day's events. This included Chris Pearson and Peter Powell (ConservAfrica), Sandra Basson (Section Ranger for the Pafuri region) and her Ranger team, Grant Knight and Markus Hofmeyer (KNP / SANParks), Dr Steve Henley (STE Transboundary Elephant Research Programme), Walter Jubber and Callum Sargent (Pafuri) and Richard van der Wel and Karen Mitchley (Wilderness Safaris).

At the crack of dawn we got together to enjoy a coffee before the day's exciting events. All aboard we headed in the form of a ground crew and an aerial component in the SANParks helicopter. In constant radio contact we eventually located a herd that met with the requirements and the ground crew was notified as to where we needed to move for a quick and efficient collaring. With all the team in position, Grant moved the herd in the open, where he allowed Markus to tranquilise a suitable individual. In this case a young bull of 12 to 16 years of age, within his maternal herd of nine. Making sure to keep him in an open area for easy access by us on the ground, the herd was moved off into the shade and cover of a riverine thicket on the banks of the Limpopo River by the remarkable flying skills of Grant.

Fastening the collar      Some of the team at work

With the go ahead we moved in for the collaring; the young bull on his side in his deep slumber awaiting his new necklace. Firstly the trunk was straightened to ensure easy breathing and then a blood sample was taken from the blood capillaries behind the ears, some tail hairs for DNA testing, and then the measurements were taken of the feet, tusks and the body.

With the final touches and added nuts and bolts to hold the collar around his neck, we moved out, awaiting the revival of the slumbering little giant. All at a safe distance the reversal agent was administered. Markus made his retreat back to the chopper and lifted off as the young bull rose to his feet, took a couple of seconds to gather his thoughts and made his way towards his maternal herd.

SANParks helicopter

All in a state of ecstasy after a successful and well run collaring, we named the first collared individual of the project Mapimbi - after an historic Venda resident of the area where we collared him.

Sincere thanks to ConservAfrica and SAB for covering the costs of this collaring operation.



African Skimmers on the Chobe
Location: Chobe River, Botswana
Date: November 2008
Observed and photographed by: Helena Faasen and Grant Atkinson

On a recent boat cruise on the Chobe River we enjoyed some fascinating viewing of African Skimmers. The Wilderness Safaris logo was designed around this species, which are only found in pristine ecosystems (the subregion's most unspoilt rivers); areas that Wilderness Safaris is always interested in protecting and sharing with its guests.

African Skimmer      Skimmer on the Chobe river

Long-winged and boldly coloured, it is when they take to the air that they are at their most striking, with graceful and elegant flight actions.

The African Skimmer is the only representative of its family in Africa and its feeding (they skim the surface of large rivers using their unusual bills to catch small fish) and breeding biology (they nest on seasonally exposed sandbanks) make them very unique in the avian world.

The birds breeding biology is fascinating - they lay their eggs either on exposed sandbanks or as is the case on this part of the Chobe River, on a short-grassy bank alongside the water. The newly-hatched chicks have no defence beyond camouflage and their parents. What is really astonishing is how the birds manage to raise any chicks at all, as the Chobe floodplain has many hazards. To begin with there are herds of buffalo trampling and feeding on the grass, hippo emerging from the water and grazing on the grass day and night and large numbers of elephants coming to drink and feed. Then there is the direct threat of predation from an incredibly high crocodile population, water monitor lizards as well as birds of prey like kites and eagles. To top it all off some of the boats that pass by are either going quite fast or are very large and heavy, and push big wakes that cause waves to crash on the shore, further threatening newborn chicks.

African Skimmer with a catch      Nile Crocodile on the Chove river

But despite all these hazards the birds seem to succeed and we were able to see the results of their success. The young skimmers can be recognized by their brown, mottled backs and shorter bills, and some were still sitting on the shore, being fed by their parents. Still a few others were out on the water and actually 'skimming', or learning how to do it just like the adults. We watched as the young skimmers would fly just above the water's surface, bill open and the lower mandible in the water. The young birds were practising without success for some time, and when an adult returned after just one attempt with a fish in its bill it was obvious that the youngsters still had more to learn.

Perhaps skimming for a living is harder than it looks...



One night at Vumbura Plains - Nov 2008
The Kwedi Concession where Vumbura Plains and Little Vumbura camps are situated is a hugely diverse area which covers permanent swamp and riverine islands, seasonal floodplain, acacia woodland, Kalahari apple leaf scrub and mopane woodland. There is even a small area of teak woodland. On top of all this it is a very attractive area.

Wild Dogs - Vumbura      Dogs with a kill at Vumbura

On the first afternoon we thrilled to the abundance of plains game on the seasonal floodplains and acacia woodland fringe: plenty of zebra, giraffe, impala, baboons, wildebeest, tsessebe and regular sightings of elephant. We then spotted the local wild dog pack on the run and did our best to keep up with their frenetic pace as we followed them hunting. We eventually lost them as they headed into a wooded island and when we relocated them we found them already on an impala. It was fantastic to watch how all ten pups were allowed to feed first while the seven adults lay around keeping an eye out for danger. Only once the pups had all finished, did the adults tuck in.

The next morning the Kwedi Concession received its first rains of the season and we decided to enjoy this rather than worry about whether or not it would interfere with our game viewing. We needn't have worried. We soon found the four magnificent Kubu Males feeding on a hippo carcass out on the floodplains. It wasn't clear how the hippo had died but it is quite possible that these four lions had managed to bring it down and were now enjoying the fruits of their labour.

Lions at a hippo carcass      Lions feeding on a hippo      Lions and hippo at Vumbura

These young lions (three years and eight months old) are resident in the area around the airstrip and towards the western edge of the Vumbura traversing area but are not yet dominant over a pride. They were born into the Kubu Pride only 15km to the east of their current territory and three are from the same litter. All of this - relatedness, size, mane development and lack of adult males in that area - bodes well for the formation of a formidable male lion coalition and we wait in anticipation to see what the coming years bring for these males.

-Clive Dreyer-



United We Stand: Lion-Buffalo Interaction in the Savute Channel
Location: Savuti Camp, Linyanti Concession, northern Botswana
Date: 9 November 2008
Observers: Kane Motswana and Noko P Monageng

Sunday 9th November started out grey and overcast - the sort of unsettled weather that we often experience at the start of the summer rains. The air was delightfully cool after the heat of October. The morning's game viewing began with mating lions at Boscia, in the Savute Channel. This brief - but soon repeated - display of "affection" proved to be a mere prelude to an even more dramatic lion encounter in the Letsomo area, around 4km further west.

Lions and Buffalos in the Savuti Channel      Lion crashing through the water

The Selinda Pride has recently been spending much more time near Savuti Camp. They have followed the movements of the game which in turn have been following the movement of the now-flowing Channel. The Pride was camped out for the morning on an island in the Channel. A relatively strong pride of ten lions, they certainly looked hungry and began to show a keen interest in a herd of around fifty buffalo which appeared on the scene just minutes after Savuti guides Kane, Sefo and Spike spotted the lions.

The buffalo herd was slowly moving towards the lions, grazing on the fresh new grass growth where the waters of the Channel have receded slightly. Keeping a low profile, the lions began to move into an ambush position as they inched closer and closer to their intended prey.

There was real tension in the air as the forward movement of both the lions and the buffalo brought these relentless enemies to within 30m of each other - and remarkably the buffalo still seemed oblivious to the presence of the lions.

Lion running through water      Buffalos chasing lions at Savuti      Lion fleeing from a buffalo

The distance between the herd and the pride was diminishing rapidly. There was practically no cover on the island, but the lions were making good use of some shallow depressions to conceal themselves. When the buffalo were almost on top of the big cats, one lioness suddenly got to her feet.

It seemed that she had sprung the ambush too soon, or even decided against an attack. But as she began to back away, and as the situation suddenly evolved from a suspense-laden stand-off into high drama, it became clear that she was the first of the lions to realise their predicament. The Selinda Pride was now trapped between the Channel and the advancing phalanx of buffalo bulls.

As all good predators know, the best form of defence is attack, and the lions surged forwards en masse. The buffalo responded in kind, and charged at the lions, presenting a solid wall of wickedly curved horns, each pair backed by several hundred kilos of beef and attitude.

Most successful hunts against buffalo involve the herd being fragmented, so that weaker animals can be identified and isolated. This herd however was wise to these tactics, and advanced at a rush, all together, leaving the lions with nowhere to go. The youth and inexperience of the Selinda Pride began to show - seven are sub-adults - and as one they turned tail and sprinted for the edge of the water, bounding and crashing into the shallows.

One female narrowly missed being hooked by the first buffalo, and the pride was now in disarray, swimming through the deeper water and not stopping until they reached the safety of the bank - directly in front of the parked game drive vehicles. The day and the island belonged to the buffalo, and the Selinda Pride was left to rue not just a missed meal, but lost face too.

It would be interesting to know what more experienced lions, such as those at Duba, might have made of this situation. However these young lions, who are still learning to hunt buffalo (newly present in this area since the channel has flowed again) lost their nerve and chose a cold swim over a too-hot fight.



Pafuri's paleo-anthropological marvels
Inhabited over a continuous period spanning 1.7 million years, the Pafuri area holds countless clues indicating the lifestyle of its ancient inhabitants and it is important not to overlook the cultural history of the area and how this has had an influence in producing such an amazing area.

The landscape itself is ancient. The rocks in the area date back to the time of Pangaea and Gondwanaland with the beginning of the Mesozoic Period 250 million years ago represented at the base of Lanner Gorge. Above this the Makuleke Sandstones represent the Jurassic and Cretaceous Periods. During the early parts of the Jurassic Period, which lasted from approximately 210 million years ago until about 144 million years ago, the area was extremely arid as is evident by the sandstones of the area. After this the Cretaceous Period (which lasted until 65 million years ago) saw the penetration of the Limpopo River began into the area transforming it into a more hospitable environment. Some 2 million years ago, the Luvuvhu River formed. Flowing from its underground source in the Soutpansberg Mountains it cut a path 200km through the rocks of the area to join the Limpopo at Crooks' Corner.

Close up of stone tool      Hand-axes at Pafuri

It is around this time - some 1.5-1.7 million years ago - that human ancestors known as Homo erectus were attracted to the area. It appears the main attraction (aside from water and floodplain fertility) was the presence of suitable raw materials for Early Stone Age tools. These raw materials took the form of rock and cobbles of non-native materials brought down by the Limpopo and laid down in channel lag deposits along the floodplain. Homo erectus used these gravel deposits as quarry sites. Beautifully crafted hand-axes, which are common, are evidence that this early stone tool culture represents the Acheulean industry which lasted from around 1.7 million years ago until around 250 000 years ago when it gave way to a slightly more advanced stone tool culture known as the Middle Stone Age. The vast numbers of Acheulean-aged stone tools in the region are testimony not only to large numbers of human ancestors that occupied the area, but also the long period of time during which this occupation occurred - more than 1.4 million years.

Tools of the Middle Stone Age are also abundant, particularly on top of hills and mountains in the area where we presume human settlements to have occurred. On top of many hills, at particularly good outlooks, literally thousands of Middle Stone Age knives, scrapers and spear points can be found. The Middle Stone Age begins around 250 000 years ago and ends around 25 000 - 35 000 years ago. This period shows more complex tool use by humans. The Middle Stone age is followed in this region by the Latest Stone Age. The Latest Stone Age merges with the culture of Iron-aged Bantu-speaking pastoralists who moved into the region around 2000 years ago. San rock art which dates back to this period has been found in the sandstone hills along the Luvuvhu River. Alse see an related article here.

From around 1200CE a great cultural civilisation and trade network began to emerge just to the north as is evident at such sites as Mapungubwe. The idea of sacred leadership emerged - the concepts of kings and queens. These early civilisations represented the rise of an extensive trade network which utilised Arab traders plying the Indian Ocean to trade gold and ivory for glass beads and porcelain from as far away as China. Mapungubwe as the first major centre of this trade was replaced by Great Zimbabwe which held sway for more than 100 years, and then Khami.

Stone wall at Pafuri

In around 1450 groups crossed the Limpopo River and founded numerous settlements in the Pafuri region including that of Thulamela on the southern bank of the Luvuvhu. Thulamela was one of several walled cities that existed in the area. In fact there is evidence of additional settlements in the concession. This civilisation declined in about 1650.

The recent history after this period saw the Makuleke people moving into the area around 1820 in an attempt to escape the tyranny of Shaka's Zulu regiments that had raged through southern Mozambique after the fleeing Shangane chief, Shoshangane. They lived in the area up until 1969 when they were forcibly removed by the previous government and signs of their residence here are numerous. Grave sites, shop foundations, ceremonial baobabs and other signs clearly demarcate the various sites of Makuleke settlement in the area.

- Warren Ozorio-



Busanga Cheetah Interaction
Location: Shumba Camp, Busanga Plains, Kafue National Park
Date: October 2008
Observers: Gregg Hughes and Idos Mulenga

The species has a limited distribution in the country, but the wide open Busanga floodplain mixed with broken miombo woodland on the fringes and healthy populations of species like puku, lechwe, reedbuck and oribi make for an ideal habitat. This of course doesn't guarantee cheetah sightings: it is a species whose wellbeing is to a large degree dependent on the densities of other larger predators, such as lion and spotted hyaena. Nonetheless the 2008 season yielded some regular and spectacular cheetah sightings from all of the three camps situated on the Busanga Plains: Shumba, Kapinga and Busanga Bush Camp.

Male cheetahs with a new female at Busanga      Cheetah interaction in the Busanga      Female cheetah holds her ground

In early October 2008 we were on a game drive down towards the southern end of the Busanga Plains specifically in search of the two well known cheetah brothers that have dominated the area for a couple of years. After much persistence, Idos eventually found them resting beside a small bush. What we did not immediately see was a young female cheetah lying some distance away in the floodplain and we spent some time with the two males before the young female stood up some 200m away. Only then did the males and the female become aware of each other.

The two males immediately began to stalk what they automatically viewed as an intruder. Given her wide open surroundings, the young female had no opportunity for escape and simply stood her ground. The coalition ran in and aggressively attacked her with much snarling, slapping and teeth bearing. At some point in this initial interaction however, they realised that she was a female and the intensity lowered as they backed off slightly: A different stimulus now coming into play, both males then starting sniffing around for olfactory clues as to the female's identity and reproductive status.

Males checking female's urine      Male cheetahs checking female scent      The cheetahs now relaxing

She continued to hold her ground hissing and snarling whenever they approached. Nonplussed, the coalition tried at least another five times to approach her and establish contact. Each time she rebuffed them aggressively and after about 20 minutes they began to lose interest and walked away slowly to continue their patrol of the southern end of the Plains. She was obviously not in season (or perhaps even too young) and the males decided their energies were better spent elsewhere. It is likely that this was their first actual encounter with this specific female, even though they might well have been aware of her presence in the Plains from her olfactory messages left in urine and dung. The interaction itself is not atypical of those within a species that does not live socially and which may physically interact only rarely. We felt extremely privileged to have witnessed these events.



A Day at Savuti Hide
A small party of camp guests yesterday suggested that they might like to spend the day at one of the hides in the area around Savuti Camp. Eager to show off the new sunken hide at Mmantshwe and for our guests to experience a day at a water source during the driest time in the area, we of course obliged. At such times of the year water is the source of life and a magnet for all around. A day spent observing who is slaking their thirst and when is a treat - so long as you are able to experience some shade and enjoy some simple creature comforts: Accordingly the Savuti team set off down to Mantshwe to prepare a surprise brunch for the guests in the safety of the sunken hide.

Elephants at Savuti's underground hide      Inside the hide at Savuti      View from inside the underground hide - Savuti

En route to the hide the guests, unaware of their final destination, came across a new coalition of three male cheetahs on a young kudu kill. There was more in store though and they arrived at Mantshwe Hide to find several elephant bulls slaking their thirst and generally relaxing around the waterhole, practically within touching distance of the underground hide.

Within the hide brunch had been set up with window seats looking onto the elephant display that continued to entertain them for the duration of the meal.

On return we were gratified to hear from one guest: "The best day of my life; I will never be happier than this".

- Noko P Monageng-



Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters and Amur Falcons invade North Island
Location: North Island, Seychelles
Date: November 2008
Observers: Linda van Herck, Beer Roux

Beer Roux, a temporary worker on the island, is a keen birder with good birding experience in South Africa. On the 20th of November he reported a sighting of bee-eaters that he tentatively identified as Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters. Given the superficial similarity with the Madagascar Bee-eater, a more regular vagrant to the islands, there was much debate as to the identification. Thanks to the photos taken by Jaco Reymecke however the ID was clinched as Blue-cheeked Bee-eater. This is very exciting as this represents the first record of this species on North Island.

Blue-cheeked Bee-eater on North Island      Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters on North Island, Seychelles

The identification of this first bird was subsequently confirmed by Adrian Skerrit, a prominent Seychelles ornithologist and author, as a juvenile Blue-cheeked Bee-eater. It shows some brown in the crown, similar to Madagascar Bee-eater but distinctly shows a blue supercilium, yellowish throat and overall greener iridescence. After seeing the first bee-eater, staff on the island started to see more of these bee-eaters: at several other places on the eastern plateau, swooping around in groups (a minimum of nine birds around the helicopter landing pad, and five more a little further on).

What has been fascinating is that several other islands (Cousine, Alphonse, Aride, Praslin and Mahé) reported arrivals of the same species on the same day indicating that all the birds had travelled in an extended flock and made landfall at the same time. Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters are rare vagrants to the Seychelles and it is likely that they had been blown off course and sought the shelter of these isolated islands. In November 2001 there was a similar influx by Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters with reports of hundreds (possibly thousands) of birds from at least 15 different islands.

Amur Falcon on North Island

Other avian arrivals in November have been Amur Falcons - a species that arrives here each year around this time as passage migrants that rest on the island for a while on their way to southern Africa.

Amur Falcons have one of the longest-distance migrations of any raptor. What makes it even more incredible is that much of their route is over open seas - the Indian Ocean. The species breeds in Manchuria and the Russian Far East, and winters in south-east Africa, a straight-line distance of over 12,000 km! Relatively few of these birds are detected on migration and their exact route, particularly the spring return through Asia, remains somewhat unknown.

-Linda Van Herck-


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CAMP UPDATES
North Island Revised Closure Dates: 15 May to 15 August 2009
North Island will now closed for only three months next year from 15 May to 15 August 2009, instead of the original seven.

We have altered the second phase of our plans for the island primarily by postponing the building of the three larger villas until we are more confident that there is sufficient demand for them. This second phase will continue to expand on some of the original ideas and the knowledge accumulated over the past five years in order to improve the experience that is uniquely North Island; our intention is to accentuate the concept of a "Journey of Contrasts" by doing significant upgrades of the existing villas.

We have had an overwhelming guest response for us to retain the existing spa and so we will renovate this area rather than replace it and will re-equip the gym. Villas 1 to 10 will be significantly renovated and Villa 11 (Villa North) will be enhanced to be the ultimate honeymoon or romantic retreat. Once again as much of the materials as possible will be reaped from the ongoing rehabilitation process, which will continue as planned and it is hoped that additional, accelerated progress can be made during the closure time of this vital conservation work.

Wilderness Safaris' and North Island's mandate as a conservation organisation means that the environmental element is the first and most important focus in such a project. As such, a significant portion of these changes are geared towards investing in clean air technology, operational sustainability and an overall lighter environmental footprint.

Ultimately, North Island is about the feeling of absolute freedom - freedom to choose and freedom to enjoy breathtaking views, with families and friends in their own private rooms or together in an uplifting architectural piece, set seamlessly into an inspiring piece of nature.


An extra night in the wilderness at Wilderness Safaris Camps
Spring has sprung, US elections are over, and it's time to enjoy some of our magnificent places at a special price.
Book for 7 nights and get an extra night free!
This applies across the board to all camps in all regions, with the exception of Abu, Mombo, North Island and Skeleton Coast Camp.
The 7 nights must be accumulated in one country. Your free night must be used in one of the camps already booked on this specific itinerary.
This long-stay offer has a limited booking period applying to all new bookings made and confirmed to us between 07 November and the end of February 2009. It applies to guests travelling between 01 Dec 2008 - end June 2009 and 01 - 30 Nov 2009. (With regards to bookings for travel in Zambia, this applies from 01 Dec 2008 - 31 July 2009 and 01 Sept - 30 Nov 2009.)


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Seychelles / North Island
North Island Dive Report - November 08               Jump to North Island

Weather and Water Conditions
The sea conditions this month have again provided ample excitement for all farers of the sea and have covered a full spectrum ranging from perfectly calm seas (normally while the winds decide which direction to blow from next) to rough seas predominantly caused from the ensuing north-east monsoon winds.

We had experienced unusually strong winds from the north-east around the 20th which resulted in some of the island boats having to turn back to Mahe due to unpredictable swells but almost as quickly as the winds had arrived they soon disappeared and by the 23rd or so the sea had settled once again. The beginning of the month did however provide us with some excellent sea conditions which has been particularly great for the diving. The winds have been quite undecided but several days of prevailing south-westerly winds, which are quite unusual this time of year, allowed us to visit Anse Mordon on Silhouette Island for several snorkelling and diving trips while this bay is still protected from the weather.

The underwater visibility has however not yet cottoned on to our summer plan and has ranged from five to ten metres to in excess of 40 metres on some days. The rough seas as well as the changes in the winds and the currents have predominantly been the cause of the volatile visibility but which has also resulted in a number of new dive sites being explored while we try to find the best locations to dive.

The sand movement around the island is now well underway and although the sand has not properly started to build up the southern sections of the east or west beaches, substantial amounts of sand have already been devoured from in front of Villa 11 and the west beach bar.

Marine Life
This month we have had an abundance of experienced divers which have allowed us to venture slightly further afield to some of our deeper and less frequented reefs. A favourite this month has been 'Pat Banks' which has again continued to provide fantastic sightings. There can often be strong currents on these outer reefs however these currents also help to attract a wide range of reef and pelagic fish which make these reefs particularly interesting.

Toward the end of the month we also experienced an unusually strong south-north current off the west side of the island which made diving rather difficult on small secluded reefs like Sprat City. Drift diving became the order of the day which also allowed us to cover far more of the reefs on a single dive. The current, although complicating our dive plans somewhat, also attracted large schools of Lunar Fusiliers, Coachman and Orbicular Batfish of which we have not previously seen in such big schools.

Turtle sightings have also been quite common this month and especially on Sprat City where we normally do not spot too many of these creatures. We have repeatedly seen the same large Green Turtle on Sprat City over the last month, either hiding in a cave in the north of the reef or lying in the scattered corals in the south. We hope this individual will remain on this reef for some time to come.

Several isolated pairs of Green Turtles were also spotted on North East Point which was quite exciting. These individuals were unusually inquisitive and provided some great up-close-and-personal experiences for the guests. Unfortunately none of the turtles had tags and thus we were not able to cross reference where these individuals had come from.

Another highlight this month has been the sighting of a pod of Bottlenose Dolphins of approximately 15 individuals while on a trip back from Silhouette Island. This particular pod was unusually friendly and remained next to the boat for quite some time before deciding they had had enough of the peering faces off the front of the boat and ducked below the waves. It is not uncommon to see pods of up to 100 to 200 individuals around the Inner Islands but we predominantly only sight smallish pods of between 5 and 25 individuals that fortunately are usually also more approachable.
There are currently only five species of dolphin in the Seychelles which include the Bottlenose Dolphin, Pantropical Spotted Dolphin, Striped Dolphin, Spinner Dolphin and the Risso's Dolphin. The most common of these is the Bottlenose dolphin which is the only species that we have spotted at and around North Island. Fortunately none of these species are threatened but some of the species are classified as 'Conservation Dependant' meaning that these species were the focus of conservation programmes which may have been discontinued and hence their status may differ from previous classifications.

Another exciting discovery this month was the reappearance of the Grey Reef Sharks which have predominantly been spotted around Aquarium (our favourite snorkelling spot) as well as other selected reefs around the island. These sharks, which have previously been spotted around these favoured areas this time of year, have continued to provide fantastic and somewhat exhilarating experiences for divers and snorkellers alike and especially for novice snorkellers who thought they would just give it a quick try to see if they could spot some nice colourful little reef fish.
This particular species demonstrates very social behaviour and will often congregate in selected preferred areas, they are also very curious and are prone to investigate events in circumstances where food stimuli are not necessarily present (such as divers entering the water). Indian Ocean specimens are generally much less aggressive than other species and are sometimes even fed by divers in some locations although this practice is not encouraged as this interrupts the natural behaviour of the sharks and makes them prone to investigating divers for reasons other than simply curiosity.

Although common, the recorded numbers of grey reef sharks have declined in recent years and with only 1 - 6 pups in a litter and a reproduction cycle of 2 years, a decline in numbers is rather alarming. As of August this year, the Seychelles Government, in collaboration with the SFA, have implemented a new initiative in order to keep a closer eye on the local shark populations and have introduced a new log sheet for recording statistics on locally caught sharks. This is in accordance with the authorities in the Indian Ocean Nation, which is characterised by strong environmental legislation. Unfortunately, shark fishing has become a booming industry in the Seychelles archipelago but with increased legislation and a watchful eye we can only hope that these populations will not be over-exploited in the future.

This month we also inadvertently managed to find some exciting new reefs off the east side of Silhouette. While trying to locate an elusive reef that we had once previously discovered off this beach, we stumbled across a small isolated reef that had an extraordinary abundance of Geometric Moray Eels hiding in the cracks and crevices. More than 42 of these eels were counted during the dive after which the divers lost count. The site has since been aptly named Geometric Reef. It is not uncommon to see groups of up to 10 young eels sheltering in rock crevices but more than 42 in one location is definitely worth writing about. The geometric moray is quite common throughout the western Indian Ocean and is most commonly seen on shallow rocky reefs but also recorded as deep as 40m. The most noticeable aspect of this moray eel is the markings on its head which are characterised by conspicuous lines of black dots along the side of its face and body. The black dashes actually mark its pores and are part of its lateral line system which detect changes in pressure and so can be used to detect movement and vibration in the surrounding water.

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Botswana Camps
Savuti Camp update - November 08               Jump to Savuti Camp

November is a pivotal month in northern Botswana as it usually marks the onset of the rains, and the return of migrant birds: the start of summer.

This year we were almost taken by surprise - perhaps mesmerised by the continued presence of the waters of the Savuti Channel - we didn't quite realise that summer was upon us. Now that summer is indisputably here, it is time to rejoice in all these aestival announcements. After months of waiting, hoping, despairing even, the rains began. This year there was no cataclysmic initial storm, instead the opening salvoes were more considered. Cloudy, overcast skies, with tentative rain ... Only later in the month did the harder downpours open up the sun-baked earth, and the softer deluges soaked straight in to where the water was needed most. The effect of even the first few downpours was astonishing. No matter how many times you see it, this re-cloaking of northern Botswana in green at about this time each year will always be capable of taking your breath away. Nature's matchless colour-card features every shade of green imaginable.

The "new look" Savuti channel      Selinda pride lions at Savuti      Lions in the water at Savuti

There is a palpable vibration in the air, and the world buzzes and rustles. Ponderous dung beetles crash into lights, then lift off again on whirring wings to investigate the next false moon. Puddles in the tracks belong to the terrapins and the aggressive giant bullfrogs. Ever been chased by a frog while driving? Now's your chance! Bee-eaters throng the branches, barely having time to swallow each insect they catch before swooping off to pursue the next one. Female hornbills are now walled up in their tree hole nests, the males kept busy bringing morsels back to help not only the chicks to grow, but their mate's feathers also (the first set having been used to line the nest) so that mother and chicks will all be ready to leave their temporary prison at the same time.

Perhaps the most welcome new arrivals are the baby mammals, many of them born in a rush at this time of year. Suddenly there are baby impala everywhere, tottering around on too-long legs, and peering curiously at every new discovery in their new world, jug-handle ears cocked forwards or swept out like wings, poised for flight. Their mutual grooming, the fact that they are perfect petite replicas of their parents, and the way that they hang out in small kindergarten groups under the newly-leafy feverberry bushes endears them instantly to all our guests.

This verdant paradise is however a hazardous one for such vulnerable antelope. If not a snake in the grass, this sudden profusion of vegetation can conceal myriad predators. One day recently we watched in shock as a lioness bounded from the bushes on the far bank of the channel, right in front of Savuti Camp. A startled impala fawn found itself with nowhere to run, and so plunged into the water. Her spindly legs soon ground to a halt however and the lioness seized her kill and brought it back to the bank to devour. This small meal will again go on to fuel new life, as this lioness we know has two very small but growing cubs, hidden in the dense vegetation on the banks of the large lake we now have to east of camp, and which we have named Savuti Lagoon.

Indeed this is a good time to be a predator: knives and forks were abandoned one brunch as we spotted a lone cheetah stalking in the meadow-like expanses of grass alongside the Channel. It was gripping to watch. The cheetah - lone survivor of the "blood brothers" coalition and now in the twilight years of his life (although no-one seems to have told him this) painstakingly closing the distance between himself and a small knot of impala browsing in the treeline. We held our breath as a single female impala ventured out into the open, bent for the Channel. She walked right past the prone form of the cheetah, just yards from his nose, and yet even when he was between her and the safety of the herd and of cover, he did not flinch. We tried to put ourselves in his running shoes, and figure out his plan and then we noticed a small group of impala fawns that must have caught his attention also. As they moved out into the open too, he visibly tensed, and began inching forward in that peculiar stiff-legged gait that cheetah have.

Wild Dogs at Savuti camp      Mmantshwe Boys - cheetahs at Savuti      Carmine Bee-eater at Savuti

Just when it seemed that this hunt could not fail, a flock of marauding guineafowl bustled onto the scene, and their cackling alarm calls sent the impala scurrying and bounding for safety. Although on the whole finding food is easy for predators during this annual bonanza, this last surviving Savuti Boy faces sterner tests. With brothers gone to the great open plains in the sky, he must guard his territory against all comers. The fact that such prime cheetah real estate is only thinly defended could never remain unnoticed for long.

We thought at first that we had a coalition of two new young male cheetah, and then we found them together with a third. Three male cheetah would be a formidable coalition, and more than a match for the older, wilier cat. They soon acquired a name of their own, the Mantshwe Boys, as we most often found these rangy youngsters in the eastern part of our area, towards Mantshwe Pan (an area itself named for the frequency with which we see ostrich there). To our embarrassment, we soon realised that we had in fact found two male and one female cheetah. A new coalition, to be sure, but also now a fascinating new player in the drama of the speed merchants of Savuti. Her arrival in the area soon attracted the lone Savuti Boy, also, and one evening he was found striding along the edge of the water, giving voice to a peculiar, almost birdlike mewing sound - the plaintive call of a cheetah in love - or at least, of a cheetah in lust. This story has yet to reach its dénouement, but most recently the two younger males have been seemingly searching for their rival, and when their paths cross, the ownership of this territory will most likely be settled in a brief, vicious cheetah spat.

The seasons change, the theatre is redecorated, and some of the actors inevitably have to exit, the stage left to those younger and bolder who following their tracks.

While we have been able to enjoy some great cheetah sightings this month, with these cats being particularly visible, they have not by any means had the Channel to themselves. Whereas October's fierce sun had begun to evaporate the waters of the Channel, it seems that more water is now flowing in again, topped up by the three inches of rain we had in November. There were moments in October when we had cause to fear for the long-term future of the Channel, but all of our concerns have dissolved in ever-higher river levels now. To the extent that we now have resident hippos in front of Camp.A very familiar nocturnal noise in the Delta, but not at Savuti: the nocturnal chortling of a hippo.

We are taking their presence as a sign that the water is more permanent now, that these river horses have somehow judged this to be a home now, and not just an exotic place to visit. Now all we need are some lilies and a few stands of papyrus. The Channel, which we cannot resist calling "Africa's newest river" really does feel as though it is meant to be here, as though it has always been here... It is hard to recall a time when it wasn't here, and yet the start of December marks just four months of water in front of Camp - following on from twenty-four years of a fossil river bed.

In the same way that the animals have had to adapt to this new, riverine reality, so too have we, adjusting everything we knew and believed to be true about Savuti. Our eyes soothed by interwoven strands of green and blue; our faces caressed by cool breezes coming straight off the water and into Camp; our pulses quickened by the coughing roars of male lions striding fearlessly through the Linyanti night. It is hard not to bubble over with enthusiasm when introducing new guests to this part of Africa, a part of Africa which has become even more beautiful over recent months.

The slightly daunting, raw, almost haughty beauty of the dry Channel has been replaced by a much softer, more lush beauty. The Channel area really looks now as though it should be bursting with life, and indeed it is. The living things which made it through the dry months - assisted of course by the Channel - can now revel in a bonanza of new food sources. Flying termites when it rains; new green grass shoots; flowers to probe for nectar. It is an almost perfect environment to be born into, a huge salad bowl warmed by the sun and watered both by the clouds above and the Channel sluggishly snaking past.

The pace and scale of the changes we have seen here this year really merit some pondering, and there is no finer place to do that than from our deck, ice cubes clicking together in a gin and tonic, as the sun slips behind the trees, or the vivid forked lightning shatters the sky like an eggshell. For a change of scene, we sometimes move the entire bar out into the bush and surprise guests with sundowners on the banks of the channel or under the spreading branches of a sausage tree.

Guest Comments
"Kane! One of the best guides we have ever had and a real advocate for Savuti."
"The highlight was sleeping in the hide!"
"Safari, dinner and drinks out in the wild, hunting lions, and the fantastic scenery."
"Tracking the animals with the guides, the atmosphere in the camp, and the staff here is unique, and the scenery is beautiful."
"The staff and managers were tremendous... Our favourite thing was sundowner as a whole group outside on the full moon."
"The animals, the guide - Goodman has been a star! - the staff have all been great and the romantic dinner on our last night."
"Absolutely the best guiding with Sefo - wild dog hunt, lion hunt, and showdown with buffalo cheetah... We will be back!"
"Big Bravo the Savuti team! Keep the friendliness and professionalism, they are the best we have experienced..."

That's all for now from your Savuti November team of Noko, Phenyo, Libby, Emmax, Lorato and Khutse. Libby has now left us to go and be a mother for the first time, and we wish her all the very best for the future. If listening to Mozart while pregnant means that you baby is more intelligent, then just think what a soundtrack of lions, hippos, thunder and frogs can do for an unborn child!

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DumaTau Camp update - November 08               Jump to DumaTau Camp

Temperature and Water Levels
November was filled with promising clouds building up in the midday and late afternoon, but we did not receive a lot of rain. Total rainfall for the month was 75mm. This fell in light showers. The average maximum temperature for the month was 32°C (high: 40°C), while the average low was 12°C (low: 9°C). The weather this month has shown us new movements of animals and also a lot of animals being active during midday. Even though we did not receive large quantities of rain, thundershowers have been happening to the west, east and north of us and have evidently resulted in a rise in water levels as a result: some areas that dried out in October are now flooded again.

Giraffe at DumaTau      Wild Dog - DumaTau camp      Wild Dog seen at DumaTau

Wildlife
We had some fantastic leopard sightings at DumaTau this month: leopards with cubs, leopards with kills, leopards relaxing, leopards stalking, but nothing as unusual as Mr T's experience of watching a leopard swim across the Savute Channel. Mr T had never seen the like in his 28 years of guiding and was thrilled to observe the DumaTau Male cross the deep waters without any problem.

Another exciting sighting that had everyone talking was one where the DumaTau wild dog pack chased a leopard into a Kalahari apple-leaf - a small, not very sturdy tree - where it managed to hold off the attack until the pack moved on. This pack - sometimes called the Linyanti Pack - is the group of wild dogs that we see most often, but this month we were thrilled to see another smaller pack, presumably attracted by the waters of the channel. This pack is currently 9 strong: 2 males, 1 female and 6 puppies.

Talking about rare sightings, our guides and guests were really happy to get to a very active pangolin on game drive on Forest Road. For some of the guides it was their first sighting and we have had only a handful of records from the Linyanti over the past couple of years. Raphael and his guests were also very lucky to come across a breeding herd of roan antelope.

We have been having some good sightings of the one remaining cheetah of the Savuti Boys coalition, previously three strong. Lately however we have had three more cheetah, two unknown brothers and one unknown female, move into the area and we imagine that these two brothers are likely to be the new male coalition in the area.

As far as elephants are concerned, at the beginning of the month we were seeing breeding herds of approximately 20 as well as the usual solitary bulls in camp. Following the first week's clouds and sprinkling of rain however these elephants dispersed overnight. Quite amazing! We still had the odd sighting later in the month, especially in the last week when we started seeing a couple of breeding herds around again. A lot of the zebra have moved as well, but it is great that we still see some in the area along the Savute Channel in particular.

General game sightings have been fabulous especially with the baby impala and wildebeest being born. And as nature dictates, the wild dog, cheetah, hyaena and leopards have been taking advantage of the glut of young antelope. Talking about little ones we had guests that were very happy to have seen two little lion cubs with their mother.

Bateleur Eagle at DumaTau

Birding
The rain has brought out a lot of insects such as cicadas and of course the winged termite alates, not to mention caterpillar larvae. The summer abundance is a boon for the birds and all the summer migrants are back to enjoy this time of plenty. It is always nice at this time of year to hear the Woodland Kingfisher call in the early morning. We were all so happy at the beginning of the month when we first heard the first call. The bee-eaters as well, Carmine, Little, Eurasian, Blue-cheeked and Swallow-tailed, have come out in big numbers to join in on the feast. It is always a pleasure to see all the raptors that we have in the area and most of them (Fish Eagle, Tawny Eagle, Martial Eagle, Bateleur, Yellow-billed Kite, Giant Eagle-Owl and many more) are seen along the productive Savute Channel. With all the predator kills that we have had in the area there is never a time when we miss the vultures as they are the species that guide us to the kills most of the time.

Vegetation
Over the dry season, the surrounding vegetation always takes on a devastated appearance as a result of the lack of rain and of course herbivore and particularly elephant pressure. In spring we start getting shoots on the knobbly combretums and then the fever-berry trees. The mopane are the last trees to beginning shooting and they turn amazingly quickly. In just one week the entire mopane woodland appears to have fresh new leaves and the area is all looking green and new again - especially with newborn animals as well.

We have once again had the pleasure of the Epic Walk group completing their walk at DumaTau this year, and big compliments to Tony and Anthony from the Wilderness Safaris Guide Training Department for leading the walk. Good news is that all the guests made it all the way from Duba Camp to Duma Tau on a walk of over 100km.

Guest Feedback
- "Our visit to DumaTau was one of the most amazing experiences of our lives, not only because of the incredible wildlife but because of the staff that discharged their duties with both the utmost professionalism and genuine friendship. They were collectively the finest staff I have come across in the hospitality business."
- "Our four days at DumaTau were a total highlight of adventure, knowledge, fun and gracious care because of our driver Ron and your professional staff. We felt like family and friends."
- "The staff made us all feel at home - such friendliness and so considerate. Everything was so well planned. The highlight for us was just being here in this beautiful country with beautiful people."
- "DumaTau was perfect, the staff were very friendly and couldn't do enough for us. Food superb, our guide Mocks was excellent and knowledgeable and the wildlife was superb particularly wild dog, leopard and cheetah."

Staff
Managers this month for the DumaTau Dream Team were Kago (KG), Joel, Thomas and Rebecca. Tendani is still with us on her management training programme while Vasco and Miriam were on leave. Theba, Ron, Mocks, Ollie (all photographs in this report), Name and Raphael were the DumaTau guiding team for November. Thanks to all the brilliant staff that I did not mention, for making DumaTau what it is and thanks for the great service.

From all at DumaTau Dream Team we say all the best for the festive season and the coming year.

-Kago-

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Kings Pool Camp update - November 08               Jump to Kings Pool Camp

Another fantastic month has come to an end. The rain is back and is blessing us with its electric energy and roaring thunder. We had some decent rainfall this month and within two weeks the landscape has started transforming into green. All the trees have new green leaves now and the first flowers are already visible.

The "Thonningii male" leopard at Kings Pool      Boat ride at Kings Pool camp      Elephants in the Linyanti River at Kings Pool

Predators
The LTC Pack (wild dogs) gave us some incredible sightings. We saw them many times this month and the pack is still doing well with all nine adult and eight pups still in good condition. Their condition has been helped by the glut of impala lambs in the Kings Pool area. One day Moses found them hunting and watched as they proceed to catch and eat no fewer than eight lambs: an amazing sequence to watch.

As far as lions are concerned, the Border Boys (a coalition of male lions) are all still in great shape and as strong as ever. We saw these Boys frequently this month, on one occasion even on an eland kill together with the LTC Pride. This was incredible given that eland has not been recorded previously in the area. They are only occasionally seen in the Savute Channel area. The LTC Pride is also still doing very well and we had some nice sightings of them this month. Even the two old Savute Boys (Coalition of two male lions) have been coming into the Kings Pool area recently, which has provided a challenge to the Border Boys, but added to our great lion sightings.

Our resident female leopard has been an absolute star this month with regular sightings around Kings Pool camp. She was spotted by our guides many times hunting and killing baby impala and her two cubs (male and female) are still doing very well. Another female, known as the BDF female, has also been encountered a couple of times this month, once in the process of hunting and on another occasion while feeding on a hoisted impala carcass up in a tree.

The male leopard known as the Thonningii Male has once again suggested that he has developed some prowess in preying on warthogs. One morning on game drive with guests, guides Alex and OD witnessed this big male leopard waiting patiently at a burrow in a termite mound. Eventually a warthog holed up inside made a run for it and soon became lunch for this superb leopard.

Guides Moss, Khan and Moses also found this same male leopard on an impala kill together with our resident female (Mopane Female) and her two cubs: an amazing sighting of no less than four leopards at once! On another occasion guides Alex, Moses and OD had a great sighting as they found the Mopane Female up a tree calling for cubs. Instead of the cubs, a sub-adult male leopard turned up and instantly challenged the female. The noise caused the arrival after a few minutes of the big Thonningi Male who looked on from a distance. Only another 100m from the leopard sighting lay the two male lions (Savuti Boys)!

Roan antelopes at Kings Pool      Red Lechwes at Kings Pool      Baby Impalas - Kings Pool Camp

Herbivores
Elephants were still present in great numbers at the beginning of the month but fewer towards the end of the month given the arrival of the first rains here in the Linyanti which have allowed some dispersal. Nonetheless we had some fantastic sightings while on boat cruises or game drives of elephant herds crossing the Linyanti River into Namibia or returning back to Botswana from Namibia.

General game has been excellent at Kings Pool this month. As you know this time of the year sees the arrival of the young of the seasonal breeders like impala. All game drives are encountering this new abundance in the area around Kings Pool. Most herds seem to have doubled in size! Warthog piglets have similarly entertained our guests. Exciting news is that we have also had great sightings of sable and roan antelope this month, including some regular sightings of a large herd of roan.

We are all looking forward to Christmas and New Year and hope to have you here to celebrate those days with us: Alex, One, Gabi, Olivia, Eddie, all the guides and all the Kings Pool staff.

-The Kings Pool Team-

Images by Alex Mazunga

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Zarafa (Zibadianja) Camp update - November 08               Jump to Zarafa (Zibadianja) Camp

November is usually regarded as a month of new life and reprieve from the exhausting heat of October. This year has been no different, with our rain starting with a great downpour on the 5th November, catching us all a bit by surprise. It was only 6mm, but started a change in the bush that continues with each subsequent storm and shower. One huge 40mm storm tested the camp and we came out relatively unscathed. November has brought around 130mm of gentle, soaking rainfall, which has settled the dust and brought a green blanket of grasses to cover the ground. Water lies in round puddles of mud tempting warthogs to wallow at any opportunity while platannas, bullfrogs and terrapins sneak peaks and breaths of air above the surface.

Rains in the Linyanti at Zarafa Camp      Wild Dogs - Zarafa Camp      Cheetah at Zarafa Camp

While the tsessebe and zebra had already dropped their calves in October, we were anxious to see other babies in November. The fawn-coloured (and much camouflaged) wildebeest calves now run ceaselessly on their delicate legs and the newborn impala, skittish as always, congregate in large nurseries.

The rainy season brings many migrant birds to this part of the world. We've all been searching the depths of our memories to remember calls of birds we heard over eight months ago. We've heard numerous cuckoos and thrill to hear the trills of Woodland Kingfishers. A new heronry has formed in a couple of trees in the newly flooded area of the lagoon. We lie in bed at night listening to the stereo frogs and toads calling from puddles all around, in vain attempts to attract a mate through the cacophony.

There have been three wild dog packs moving through the Selinda during November: one pack of eight adults, another of nine dogs (three adults and six pups) and a third, newly formed, pack of two adult females and an adult male. All are very relaxed and spend a lot of their time resting in and around the Zibadianja Lagoon and hunting around our headquarters.

Leopard in camp - Zarafa

It seems as if some members of the Selinda pride have split from the rest. We regularly see a mother with three youngsters (two females and a male) together away from the rest of the pride. They brought down a wildebeest near the edge of the lagoon one morning. The guests returned in the afternoon and spent the rest of the day with them watching the process. They returned to camp, amazed by how much effort and energy the lions spend in opening the kill as well as getting the meat from the bones - it is not an easy process.

The two cheetah brothers that moved into the area a couple months ago have not been seen much in November and choose to spend their days around Savuti. The elephants, too, have chosen to spend more time away from the lagoon, now that the mopane trees have put out new leaves and water is lying in large pans in the woodlands behind camp. Occasionally, they amble across our view, perhaps in search of fresh water.

Leopards have not been scarce in November, with one particular male making Zibadianja a regular stop during his nightly forays. We often see his tracks down the pathways and hear him calling. One night he killed a young male impala and pulled it into the tree above out gym deck. We did not notice until the following evening when, just as we were leaving our tent, we caught a glimpse of a feline shape and distinctive curled tail moving across the gym deck. We had seen his (and some hyaena) tracks the previous day, but did not put two and two together until we saw him in the tree that night. So he had probably spent the entire day in the shade of the Jackalberry, watching us go about our daily business!

During November we've been testing our newly installed solar farm. It was commissioned at the beginning of the month and has faired extremely well, despite the very cloudy skies. We have only needed to run the generator for 30 hours during November, reducing the running time from about 300 hours in previous months, thus significantly reducing our fuel costs and carbon emissions.

From a green and 'green' Zibadianja Camp,

The Zib Team

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Xigera Camp update - November 08               Jump to Xigera Camp

November had some very good rains with a total of 82mm. This has come mostly in the form of afternoon thundershowers. The rains have cooled the midday temperatures a little bit and it has been mostly overcast, making activities more pleasant.

Red Lechwes at Geese at Xigera      Saddlebilled Stork

The resident spotted hyaena clan has lately been very active in dispossessing leopards of their own hard-won kills, but beyond this they have also been doing some of their own hunting. A single ambitious hyaena was seen one morning chasing a herd of red lechwe antelope round a small lagoon. The lechwe stuck to the shallow water as this is where they are most powerful and can outrun even a lion. The hyaena made a brave effort but did not succeed in actually catching the lechwe. Sometimes all that is needed is one mistake on the part of the prey which will result in success for the predator - but this time the lechwe made no mistake and lived to tell the tale.

After following the roars of a single lion, guide Teko found a solitary male on Marula Island. He was big male with a beautiful mane and in good condition. Teko followed the male for some time, watching it scent-mark and listening to it roar as he went further north. A few days later, the other guides came across a lioness early in the morning. She was very relaxed with the vehicle and continued on her way and daily business.

Boating at Xigera Camp      Pied Kingfisher - Xigera camp

It was a sad sight to see an old bull elephant pass away near camp one morning. We had seen the bull two days before and he was clearly not in good condition; an old male on his last legs. He eventually lay down under a big mangosteen tree. We hoped he was just resting but when we checked on him the next morning found he had died. His molars had worn down to mere vestiges so there was no way for him to chew his food anymore, a sure sign of old age in an elephant.

The impala have finally started dropping young after the arrival of the first good rains. There are many baby impalas, legs wobbly and staying close to mother.

We have had continued good sightings this month of Pel's Fishing-Owl, African Skimmers and Sitatunga. Other sightings have include buffalo, giraffe, zebra and bushbuck.

Looking forward to seeing you soon,

-The Xigera Team-

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Kwando Safari Camps Update - November 08

Cool summer rains have brought new life to the Kwando camps as the fauna and flora have suddenly burst with energy. The days have become cooler and the nights alive with new life.

Lagoon camp               Jump to Lagoon Camp
• The local lagoon pride of six female Lions have provided guests with wonderful sightings feasting on young Zebra, the small pride have been hunting around the shallow floodplains and towards water cut road. Guests and guides have managed to track the small pride on a daily basis and witness them taking more than three Zebra this month. To every ones surprise the one day after a long hour of tracking the pride the guide and guests found the pride feeding on a young Elephant, trackers found signs all around the kill of an enormous struggle between predator and prey.
• The three brother Cheetah have been hanging around the Lagoon area over the past month and have been a regular sighting by the guests and have managed to link up with a resident female. The group has been sighted regularly towards Pangolin and River road.
• The pack of eight Wild Dog that produced the six pups late in the year have been doing extremely well and have been a regular sighting by the guests. The pack seem to be spending a lot of time in the Mopane woodland as the game has moved from the thick river forests to the sweet veldt of the Mopane scrubland. Guest had an amazing sighting of the pack as they were on the hunt with a herd of Buffalo and how the adults worked as a unit with extreme measures of communication and skill they were able to separate the herd and attempt the kill. With great success and the young pups following behind, they brought a medium sized Buffalo to the ground.
• With the break of the rains the Elephant herds have reduced in numbers congregating along the river, with the rain pans in the Mopane woodland they have slowly started to dispersed into the back country of the concession. The majority of the Elephant have been young and old bulls in bachelor herds.
• “STOP,” shouted one of the trackers on the one morning game drive as the Guide thought it was just a log on the road that had been pushed by Elephant, but to he’s surprise the tracker had recognized it was an enormous African Rock Python lying across the road. Guests were stunned to see the size of the snake and took a few pictures as the large snake moved into the bushes.
• A lone Hyena had a rough time the one evening as he tried to scavenge from the Wild Dog kill. The pack had made the kill late during the day so were still busy feeding on the kill as the lone Hyena came along. The were barks from the pack as the pups fled into the bushes and the Alpha female led the chase with the whole pack behind her tail, the lone Hyena immediately turned and ran as fast as he could directly into the bush as the pack hastily approached.
• Bullfrogs have emerged from their hibernation and are now a common sight around the rain pans, the beautiful green and yellow markings are truly a spectacular sight to see as the enormous frog hunts around the rain pans.

Kwara & Little Kwara camps               Jump to Kwara & Little Kwara camps
• Buffalo are seen in huge herds during this last month in the Kwara concession and have been on the menu for the Lion in the area, fortnightly kills have been made by the coalition of seven males and on one drive the guests followed the pride from the back of camp just to the west of Kwara hippo pool and witnessed the pride kill two buffalo on one hunt. The morning drive brought great sightings and the late game drive into the night found the guests in between a huge clash of eternal enemies the Hyena clan and the coalition of seven Lion. The attempted raid on the kill by the clan failed as the pure strength of the Lions were by far more superior that the clan of twenty or more Hyena.
• Three Brother Cheetah have been a regular sighting again this past month on the Tsum Tsum flood plains.
• Mokoro trips from the two camps are one of the Okavango Deltas most spectacular activities, guests are always amazed on their outings to see the breeding islands of birds and the elusive and spectacular colourings of the painted reeds frogs. Red Lechwe are a common antelope found in the water logged floodplains and a spectacular sight seeing them running through the delta waters. The one morning took the guests around to the back of the hippo pool by mekoro to find and enormous crocodile laying on the banks of the hippo pool.
• Guest have been sighting various reptiles this last month from water Monitor Lizards to tiny bush snakes since the rains. With the rain it has unleashed an abundance of frogs and insects and smaller fauna to the area after a long dry winter period. Beautiful Fire ball lily’s and flame lily’s are now commonly seen by the guests on the Kwara concession.

Lebala camp               Jump to Lebala Camp
• An amazing month for Lion sightings as there are some prides splitting and joining other prides and two large males roaming the area creating a panic amongst the prides. The two males have been roaring through out the night on the Lebala plains sending the pride of seven females to join up with the coalition of four males and heading south from Johns pan. A second pride in the area of two males and six females found towards the Selinda floodplains have not moved any closer to the Lebala area as the two males are on constant patrol. The one game drive found one of the males by himself constantly roaring to find his partner, the guests witnessed some spectacular scenes as the large male bellowed into the night bringing shivers down every animals spine.
• After a few hours of tracking the guests found a highly mobile and energetic male Leopard heading into the Kalahari apple leaf scrubland, the large healthy cat was followed by the guests patrolling the area and spraying scent marks on pinpointed trees. With a late afternoon thunderstorm the cat was treed for the rest of the day as he climbed up a large Knobthorn to avoid getting too wet.
• Two Impala kills were witnessed by the guest the one day, the morning game drive found the guest with the pack of Wild Dogs hunting through the Mopane woodland and then onto the floodplains until they managed to kill a young Impala, after a great morning the guest retired back to the camp for breakfast and a midday siesta and then return to the pack and with great excitement that afternoon. The pack still eager and hungry attempted another kill on a herd of Impala and lucked out with a second kill that day.
• A Hippo fight in the lagoon at the back of Lebala camp has resulted in the death of an old bull, the fight took a few days and nights as the guest could hear the gruelling clash of the two huge beasts. The defeated bull managed to get out of the lagoon but did not manage to survive his injuries and was found a day later to the north west of the camp. The scavengers were there immediately as they called one another to the Hippo, the clan of Hyena congregated around the carcass feeding for week as they managed to keep the Vultures and Jackal at bay.
• African Wild Cat have been a common sighting this month by the guests during the day and the night drives, Honey badgers are still a favourite by the guests who see them digging and scavenging in trees and bushes.
• Most plains game have calved their young this month and are continuing with some only a few hours old, from the Zebra to the Steen buck. Tiny Leopard Tortoise’s have been seen regularly since the rains have broken, just an amazing amount of new life.

Nxai Pan and Tau Pan
• The builder has found tracks of a young Leopard daily at the new Nxai camp. Elephant have created a stir as they come down to the water hole in front of the camp and cool themselves off from the midday heat. The rain pan is holding some water and the Elephants stir the white calcrete mud and toss it over them selves, the builders witness a white elephant in the making as the glossy white calcrete shimmers in the sun.
• Tau Pan has had some huge male Lions walking around the camp as the construction continues. Herds of Springbuck and Oryx have congregated.

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Jacana Camp update - November 08               Jump to Jacana Camp

Temperature and Water Levels
November is generally regarded as the start of the rainy season, and it did not disappoint. The dry, searing heat of October was broken by some incredible thunderstorms early in November. One storm produced 80mm (over 32 inches) of much-needed rain in one evening. Despite it being the rainy season, the water levels have dropped quite a bit. We have taken the boats out of the water and can now drive directly to camp.

Wildlife
The rain brings new life to the African bush. The impala have started having their young and there is an abundance of new grass and leaves for them to eat. The first heavy rain also brings out all the 'flying ants' (fertile winged termites that emerge to breed and form new colonies). This is a feast for all sorts of animals from spiders, lizards and frogs to monkeys, baboons and birds.

Leopards at Jacana camp      Children in the Wilderness at Jacana

Beauty, our resident leopard and her cub, who is now about eight months old, are doing very well. She has been seen a number of times this past month, especially around our airstrip. The cub is growing rapidly and it won't be long before he is as big as his mother.

The highlight of the month was undoubtedly watching our resident lioness, Broken Nose, and her cub stalking and killing a red lechwe calf on the floodplain in front of camp early in the morning. This we do not get to see very often as there is usually too much water in front of the camp. That evening, she killed another red lechwe calf, but dragged it to a nearby island across the shallow water and beyond our view.

Birding
Many of the summer migrants have returned, such as the Yellow-billed Kites. We have also had numerous sightings of Broad-billed Rollers, a bird we do not often see. African Skimmers were also seen a number of times in front of camp and from the mekoro. Some of the most amazing sightings have been of the Wattled Cranes, a highly endangered bird. We have seen as many as 24 birds in one group feeding along the waterways next to the floodplains near the camp. They are critically endangered due to the destruction of wetlands, which is where they breed. However, due to the fact that the Okavango Delta is such a large protected area the Wattled Cranes thrive here. Summer is definitely a great time of the year to visit the Delta if you are a keen birder.

Children in the Wilderness
November is also a very important month at Jacana Camp because that is when the kids from the Children in the Wilderness (CITW) programme arrive. The programme is run by Wilderness Safaris and every year some of the camps close down for a few weeks to host them. A group of 16 kids from a school in one of the villages surrounding the Okavango Delta spend five nights in camp. They get to go out on all the activities such as game drives and mekoro. Despite living so close to these wilderness areas, most of them have never seen a lion or an elephant before. During the day, the kids were kept busy with different talks and games, all of them fun but with an underlying messages. They were taught about tourism, conservation, environmental awareness, Botswana culture and respect for others. Many of them take the messages and lessons learnt in camp back to their schools and villages. It also gives some of the kids a new outlook and appreciation for these wilderness areas, and they see that by conserving them, it will benefit them in the long run. Some of the kids from programmes in previous years have become guides and found employment in the tourism industry and some have come back as mentors to the new groups of children.

We will miss the children and all the singing and laughter when the kids leave, but we look forward to all our guests who will visit us in December and those who will share the festive season with us, as well as everyone that comes to visit our little peace of paradise in one of the most beautiful places on earth, in the future.

-Clint, Dom & the Jacana Team-

Guest Comments
Highlights: The warm welcome and evening entertainment. The cuisine. Expertise of our guide and Kaizer, the mokoro poler. Our room was excellent and very comfortable. Our main passion is cats and we saw lions and leopards. Absolutely wonderful!

Highlights: The warm welcome, friendly staff, food was great, and of course, all the animals and birds we saw.

Highlights: Staff friendliness and knowledge that was shared with us. Anticipation of needs in advance, under promised and over delivered, Setting and design of camp, Food was excellent. Thank you so very much for everything. We really enjoyed our stay and could not be any happier with everything. The warmth of the staff and personalised service made us feel so welcome and at home at such a far away place for us.

Highlights: Top managed camp with kind and friendly staff. Cooking was excellent. Our guide is also excellent and we have seen a lot of animals. The best was seeing the two leopards on one day. It was a very good feeling to stay in the Jacana Camp and we are very sad to leave it now.

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Kwetsani Camp update - November 08               Jump to Kwetsani Camp

Temperature and Landscape
It is hard to believe that we have reached the final month of the year and what a year of contrasts and excitement it has been so far! November has been an unusually wet month with a total of 99mm of rain, well above the average rainfall for this time of the year. Low-pressure systems over the Cape pushed large amounts of moisture deep into the Kalahari, resulting in a couple of weeks of fairly cloudy weather that produced beautiful cool summer days. Even without the cloud cover we have generally had a strong breeze to ensure a very comfortable month. The dramatic African thunderstorms have also been very impressive!

Fireball Lilies (Scadoxus multiflorus)      Lions at Kwetsani camp

As we reach the summer peak the bush is bristling with action, the heat coupled with wonderful rains has brought every plant and animal to life. The insects are out in full force creating new colonies, pollinating flowers and recycling dead organic matter to pump life into our sandy soils. The area in front of the lodge is littered with fireball lilies (Scadoxus multiflorus), what a superb display this has been! This flower is also known by other common names, pin cushion lily and the one that I really like is 'royal shaving brush'.

Wildlife
In the past few months there has been a completely different dynamic playing out in our lion prides. The original Kwetsani Pride, consisting of two spectacular males, two females and two sub-adults has, over the past year, undergone a huge change. A lioness died, and one by one the males have gone by the wayside; we are not sure what has happened to Freddy and V but they are no longer with us.

In the meantime the sub-adults have grown tremendously. The male who is developing an impressive mane and who is now almost three years old is certainly showing incredible dominance; his half-sister is two years old and is herself a magnificent lioness. Towards the end of last month we had the pride, now down to three, roaring at an intruding male across the channel. We had certainly been expecting this to happen, as it is high time that the young male is evicted to make way for a new pride male.

Wattled Cranes at Kwetsani      Wattled Cranes

We have had nights of roaring, sometimes right on our doorstep as the lions pass through camp. In one instance we found amazing evidence of an interaction between a buffalo and a lion. We read the tracks the next morning in the "Kwetsani Times" that is neatly 'printed' in the island sands each day.

We could clearly see the urgent reaction of the buffalo by examining the footprints; it had obviously met up with the male lion; its immediate reaction was apparently to dart to the right where it had then backed itself up against a shrub. The lion pug marks were literally inches from where the buffalo had positioned itself against the shrub, no doubt the buffalo's lethal horns were seeking out the predator. What an amazing interaction this must have been. Of course a single male lion would not have considered attacking a large buffalo bull but it was clear from the morning news that there was a serious display of dominance the previous night. What fun it was to examine the print and decipher the nighttime activity the morning after!

Finally on the 30th of November we found the new male in our concession together with the lioness, they are apparently celebrating their honeymoon, something we are very excited about! We are certainly in for very interesting times ahead and are very happy to see new blood being injected into the pride; we feel sure that we will see a new litter in the months to come.

It is wonderful to think that our pride is about to grow and it is of course exciting to see a new male taking over the pride. It will also be exciting to watch this dynamic play out, as it is time for the young male to move on. We hope that the spectacular and tenacious young male that we have seen grow up in front of us finds his place within our concession; however it is nature's way to force him out to ensure a healthy gene pool.

Looking into the young male's eyes one sees a giant of a lion in the making: seeing the way he behaved towards the new male last month, when he stood across the channel not giving an inch, simply roaring back at the large male to advertise his presence and his territory was impressive. However, he will have to make way, his place is no longer with his mother, he must move on and establish a pride for himself. This he will only be able to do after a potentially lethal fight for dominance - such is the life of a male lion. And once he has gained his rightful place at the head of a new pride he will have to defend it actively, enduring many battles and many scars before losing it, perhaps within as little as 4 years. At the moment he is sticking with his sister while the new male enjoys the honeymoon with his mother, we will certainly be monitoring these developments closely.

As usual we have had wonderful sightings of Beauty and her cub, we have watched her rapidly growing cub eat the spoils of her skillful hunting, we have watched her ply her amazing skill hunting a steenbok. We realise how privileged and lucky we are to have such an accommodating leopard going about her daily life, together with her cub, totally comfortable with us and seemingly oblivious of our vehicles.

As usual we have had some wonderful activity around camp with the elephants still enjoying the island, a group of 10 buffalo coming back and forth along the floodplain and a number of single old males around the island. Baboons seem to muse at the chaos they delight in creating when they ruffle the open-air guest loo. Whilst we often curse their naughtiness, life would be so dull without these moments. Then let's not forget our permanent residents, the impala that are lambing at the moment, and the ever-present lechwe, bushbuck and warthogs that are seen regularly around camp.

And for the birders, it is a paradise out here. We wake each morning to a cacophony of song and we are serenaded as the sun goes down. While the wonderful evening birdsong gradually disappears as the birds prepare to roost for the night, it is replaced with the ever present high pitched metallic "tinking" and loud "puppy yelp" call of the fruit bats.

As we head into the festive season we wish you a wonderful month and pass on our very best wishes if you are celebrating your faith during this wonderful time of the year.

-Anne, Mike and the Kwetsani Team-

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Jao Camp update - November 08               Jump to Jao Camp

Weather
Greetings from a refreshed Jao Camp! Our thirsty Delta sands have breathed a relieved sigh with the arrival of the first summer rains. We have been graced with many a magnificent storm this month - beautiful, bold bolts of lightning across dark purple skies. The first sign that we are about to be thoroughly drenched is the haunting call of the coucal, accompanied by darkened skies, distant rumbles and the earthy smell of clouds heavy with rain. Then come strong winds, sprinting through camp, wrenching leaves and branches off of trees (and tugging at the odd tent), and then... silence, and the build of noise as a fine drizzle becomes a steady downpour. This is the time that one can really appreciate Nature's majesty and power.

Wildlife
These are not called the "life-giving" rains for nothing - and they have certainly begun the cycle of new life at Jao. Bright leaves have sprouted from the tree branches, enveloping the camp in greenery, and the floodplains are covered in long, fresh grass. Now that there is ample food the animals have recognised that it is time for them to bring their young into the world.

The first animals to reveal their young to us have been the hyaena. The Jao guides discovered a hyaena den on the Jao floodplain a few weeks ago. Only one pup was seen, poking his head out to take a brief and cautious look at the outside world, but we hope that the hideaway conceals many more little ones. In a much bolder fashion, the baboons and monkeys have been parading their young up and down the Jao walkways, barking out protective warnings to passers-by.

Hippo and elephant infants have been glimpsed, hiding behind the great bulk of their mothers, in an attempt to try and escape hungry eyes. The antelope have also dropped their babies, and pint-sized wildebeest, zebra, lechwe and impala dot the floodplains. The Jao impala herd employs a very clever survival strategy, and has just begun to drop lambs. They have been trapped on the Jao Island for many summers now, due to the deep moat-like channel surrounding us. Because they have no place to run, they are captive targets, and the odds of their young surviving our roving leopards and hyaenas are slim. As a result, the patient mothers delay labour until airborne pheremones alert them to the fact that the other impalas out on the Jao plains have given birth. With all of these vulnerable victims out there keeping the predators busy and well-fed, the impalas being born (belatedly) on Jao Island are forgotten, and they are thus out of harm's way.

Our avian migrants, which we so eagerly welcomed back in October, serenaded the rains daily, using the trees in front of camp as their amphitheatre. During the first few days of November, a seat at the brunch table was the perfect place from which to view our African Paradise Flycatcher's nest. The male and female flycatchers rhythmically changed places on the nest, swooping between nearby branches and their delicate nest like trapeze artists. All the while, the female observed her partner's nest construction with an extremely critical eye. She must have at last found some awful fault, as the nest is now no more. However, we were not left without something to watch. The Woodland Kingfishers put on a fantastic and dazzling show in front of their own nest, calling to each other and flitting between the shady branches.

These flashes of vibrant feather have been drawing our attention to all of the other gorgeous birds in the Jao surrounds: African Green Pigeons enjoying the ripe juicy figs; our bright-yellow Black-Headed Oriole couple wooing each other in the cool shade; Yellow-billed Kites surfing the summer breeze; Pel's Fishing-owls hunting at night, Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters chirping from bare branches; graceful Open-billed Storks in flight; tiny Blue Waxbills zipping around; large flocks of elegant Wattled Cranes striding across the floodplains; and, of course, the ever-present African Fish-Eagles, soaring up high.

Together with the great bird watching, great game viewing was enjoyed from the comfort of the main deck, as buffalo, lechwe and giraffe fed within sight. Guests even caught a glimpse of a caracal as it darted out from underneath the Entertainment Room during brunch one day. It is very rare to see these beautiful, elusive cats, so all present were thrilled by the sighting. In another sighting of a beautiful cat, our resident leopard (Beauty) gave diners at the Boma a thrill one night, as she dashed past, hot on the heels of an impala. We honestly do not know when this active mother sleeps! When she has not been on the hunt, she has been posing (with her now seven-month-old cub) in the sausage trees lining the airstrip, making sure that our guests get the most out of their photographic safari. Further away from camp, our small pride of lions have done the same, the young male making for excellent shots with his intense, piercing gaze.

A different kind of pleasure was gained from numerous reptilian sightings around camp. Ample snake food (insects, frogs, lizards and baby birds) have meant an increase in snake activity. Fine specimens of varying kinds were seen basking in the hot sun and slithering about. Joining them on the elevated walkways one day was a stranded Leopard Tortoise. As tortoise legs are definitely too short to climb up that high, this little guy must have been hoisted up and then dropped by a bird of prey. This must have been an attempt to break his shell, and, in so doing, expose his tender flesh for the bird to pull out with its beak - not a pleasant way to be eaten! Likewise, the Jao crocodiles also employ little empathy when it comes to killing methods. Some of our guests were able to view six crocodiles amid a feeding frenzy on the corpse of a young wildebeest, who perhaps strayed too close to the water's edge.

Guest Comments
"All of our drives - night drive! Lions surrounding prey and making a kill. Leopard and cub. Excellent and very helpful staff and guide. Beautiful birds." - Marty and Phyllis
"We enjoyed every minute here at Jao Camp." - Burkhard and Brigitte
"This superior camp was amazing! Exciting safaris. Excellent food. The people are the best. Thank you for making our stay so warm and personal. We will be back some day for sure." - Pepe and Pepa
"Fabulous food, great staff, beautiful scenery and all the wildlife. Also, wonderful and romantic tents!" - Lance and Lori
"Beauty and the cub at a kill. The Pel's Fishing-Owls - two of them! Beautiful elephants. Gorgeous birds." - Bob and Deborah


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Duba Plains Camp update - November 08               Jump to Duba Plains Camp

Weather
November was relatively hotter than October. The minimum temperature ranged between 15-20°C, while the maximum was between 35-40°C. We were also happy to welcome the first substantial summer rains and had one overnight storm, accompanied by the usual thunder and lightning, that delivered 60mm of rain. Incredibly this downpour had an obvious and significant effect on the water table in the concession and the water levels at the major crossing have clearly risen. The floodplain in front of camp was similarly affected. This floodplain has incidentally been a really clear indication of the changed flood patterns in the Delta over recent years. When I first arrived at Duba Plains five years ago, this floodplain became inundated only during the winter flood season and only for 3-4 months. In recent years this area has begun to turn into a permanently inundated area, with resulting change of vegetation (many more sedges), indicating the increasing wetness of the area. This change has thrilled the bird watchers who visit camp and from the main deck we very often see beautiful birds such as Wattled Cranes, African Openbill, Saddle-billed Storks and many other waterbirds. In 1996 when the camp first opene,d this area in front of the camp was mostly dry grassland habitat.

Lion cubs at Duba      Lions hunting buffalos at Duba Plains camp

Mammals
Elephants are still present in significant numbers, much to delight of our guests. As is typical at Duba at this time of the year they are mainly seen in open floodplains where they feed on choice creepers and new fresh grasses. One of the favourites is the wild jasmine creeper that flourishes on the floodplains. Elephants love this plant at the moment and large herds of up to 60 animals make a majestic sight. We expect them to move north-east into the mopane woodlands soon.

The buffalo herd spent most of November in the territory of the Tsaro Pride, moving around grazing on the greener grasses that resulted from the heavy rainfall at the beginning of November. The physical condition, especially of the older cows, has improved rapidly as compared to last month. These buffalo cows have been preyed on regularly by the lions recently because of their weakened condition and the fact that they are prone to becoming bogged down in the wet conditions. We have been seeing many cows heavily pregnant in the herd which is normal for this time of the year. Despite the continued relentless activity between the lions and the buffalo, we have seen fewer kills in November. Quite impressive currently is how aggressively the buffalo are continuing to respond to lion attacks. On many occasions we have watched as the buffalo herd aggressively chased lions rather than simply thwarting an attack and moving on. Our guides of course are always good at sitting back and watching this action allowing it to happen unimpeded.

Lions and buffalos at Duba      Denham's Bustard at Duba

The Tsaro Pride is doing very well, and we estimate at least four out of nine females have produced cubs. It is currently very difficult to tell exactly how many cubs are around, as some of them have not yet been introduced to the pride, there are at least nine new arrivals however. We have seen this process before when many of the lionesses have had new born cubs. It results in the pride splitting up and as a result fewer lion-buffalo interactions. When this is the case the single lionesses prey on lechwe and warthog instead of the more challenging buffalo. Nonetheless every now and again the pride does join up and when they do, for the most part they engage in the usual buffalo interactions which we saw on several occasions this month.

The Skimmer Male - relatively newly dominant in the area - is the father of all these cubs and currently seems to be tolerant of 'Junior', the one surviving male offspring of the previously dominant 'Duba Boys'. Junior has not left the territory since the arrival of the Skimmer Male but his movements tend to avoid this larger rival and he has been circumspect about rejoining the pride. On the other hand the other young male that has been seen occasionally entering the territory has been chased off on a couple of occasions by the Skimmer Male. He is very persistent though and has not given up: he keeps coming back in the area regardless of his encounter with the intimidating Skimmer Male. As I mentioned a couple of months ago he was even seen mating with one of the Tsaro lionesses (Split Ear). She should be giving birth to the cubs of this young male soon. In general, the pride still consists of all the nine adult females and the tenth one being the sub-adult female.

Birds and Birding
Birding remains superb, with extremely rare birds like the Denham's Bustard, Rosy-throated Longclaw and many more flourishing in the open floodplains. Pink-backed Pelicans are still fishing the pans in the central part of the concession which is where most of the fish rich pans are located. It has also been interesting to hear the calls of the Diderick, Jacobin and Black Cuckoos reverberating from the tall trees around the camp. These birds are summer migrants with most having just arrived and are more often heard and not seen. The reason for this is because they are brood parasites and lay their eggs in other birds' nests, leading to them being mobbed by the host species whenever they are visible for long.

Staff
The Duba team: The managers in November were Dardley, Moalosi and Tebby. Bonang (BO) was away on her leave, as usual the guiding team contributed greatly to the success of the month and consisted of James, Reuben, Lets and Moronga.

-T.L. Moalosi-

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