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Safaris Updates - October 2008
Wilderness Safaris Camps ranks amongst the 'Top 50 Eco Lodges in the world'
National Geographic Adventure Magazine has released its pick of the Top 50 Eco Lodges in the world. Desert Rhino Camp, Vumbura Plains, Zibadianja Camp and North Island were all mentioned in the Top 50 in the November 2008 edition. 'These lodges offer great service and comfort in spectacular locations, but more importantly they also support local communities, connect their guests to cultures on an authentic level, create impactful conservation initiatives, and increasingly place adventure at the centre of the experience.'
Wilderness Safaris Camps take top places in Conde Nast Traveler
Mombo and Little Mombo (Premier Botswana) have been ranked 2nd best in the world in the Conde Nast Traveler 21st Annual Readers' Choice Awards in the category "The Best of the Best - the Top 100". Also in the Top 100 was Jao Camp (Premier Botswana) and DumaTau Camp (Classic Botswana). In the category "50 Top Resorts - Africa": Mombo and Little Mombo ranked 1st, Jao placed 3rd, DumaTau Camp came in at 5th place, Vumbura Plains Camp (Premier Botswana) at 16th and Kulala Desert Lodge ranked at 32nd place.
The awards are derived from the Conde Nast Traveler Readers' Choice Survey, the largest independent poll of consumers' preferences. Over 32 000 readers voted this year, on criteria such as Activities, Atmosphere/Ambience, Friendliness, Lodging, and Scenery.
North Island introduces endemic terrapins
Location: North Island, Seychelles
Date: 1 October 2008
Observers: Linda van Herck & Nicky Reyneke
The Seychelles Black Mud Turtle (Pelusios subniger parietalis) is a species of freshwater terrapin endemic to the Seychelles. It is classified as Critically Endangered by the IUCN with only 660 adults estimated to exist in 2005. Only five breeding populations are known in the entire Seychelles and the species is in decline due to the degradation and draining of its natural marsh habitat.
North Island was some time ago identified as a potential reintroduction site, given the presence of suitable habitat and the much vaunted Noah's Ark Project initiated by Wilderness Safaris. First though, several steps had to take place. Chief among these was the identification of suitable habitat and the three primary marshes on the island were then investigated by various study groups, ranging from the Plant Conservation Action Group to ETH, the Island Conservation Society (ICS) and Dr Justin Gerlach, a member of the IUCN Specialist Group on terrapins. This assessment of habitat suitability was complemented by additional studies on food availability by the ICS. As a result of these investigations just one of the marshes was selected for the introduction and recommended habitat rehabilitation carried out in order to create appropriate areas of open water as well as muddy habitat for aestivation purposes of the terrapins.
Once all of this had been achieved the terrapins were translocated from quarantine on Silhouette Island, some 7km away. The 15 animals arrived in July to a huge reception including a film crew from the Seychelles Broadcasting Corporation, scientists, guests and North Island staff.
We are ecstatic to report that in the three months since their introduction the terrapins seem to have settled into their new home and have found the habitat and food availability to their liking. As is typical of the species, four animals are currently aestivating (a kind of hibernation-like torpor) and we continue to weigh and measure each terrapin in regular monitoring to document their progress. A local student is being trained in the process and ongoing monitoring of vegetation through fixed point photography and transects ensures that we keep things in optimal conditions for our new arrivals.
We now wait patiently to document their breeding success which provides proof that they have settled in. All in all this happy event is another progression in our comprehensive rehabilitation of the island.
San Rock Art at Pafuri
Location: Pafuri Camp, Makuleke Concession, Kruger National Park
Date: October 2008
Observers: Warren Ozorio
Amongst the sandstone rocks very close to Lanner Gorge along the Luvuvhu River, there lies a collection of San rock paintings. The paintings have been dated back to approximately 2000 years ago. The San people were the first modern humans to settle in the Lowveld and they were later displaced or absorbed into the Nguni tribes which began to settle in the area. The Nguni tribes shifted away from a nomadic lifestyle and began farming and irrigating crops and colonising the Lowveld.
These particular paintings have been done on a rocky overhang and consist of three discernable images: an eland, a jackal-like creature and a therianthropic being - a painted animal figure with human characteristics. This is interesting as these pictures represent the 'healing or cure dance' ritual of the San culture. To the San, the eland is a very important animal that has been sent to the people to be utilised. The fat and meat, as well as the hide were used by the San, but the most important thing that was obtained was the 'Nom' or spirit of potency. It was believed that when an eland was hunted, while the animal was dying it would release the Nom which was then used by the San to heal, cure or visit deceased relatives and elders in a parallel world. Young men were initiated during these hunting excursions and once an eland was killed a series of small incisions were made on the young hunter's chest, wrists and on the back of the neck. Once the incisions were made, ashes from selected parts of the eland which have burnt are rubbed into the incisions. It is said that the Nom is now absorbed by the main arteries in the body.
That evening, the dance rituals would be performed by the owners of energy, the San shamans. They were usually older individuals who offered spiritual healing and a gateway to the spiritual realm for the other tribe members. These dances would usually be performed either around termite mounds or waterholes, which were believed to be the doorway to and from the spirit world.
It would take roughly fifteen minutes for the shamans to enter a trance that was often induced by ingesting certain roots and tubers of poisonous (and most likely hallucinogenic) plants. It was believed that the Nom would enter the shaman's body through the incision scar at the back of the neck known as the N/ao. It would then travel down the spine and into the stomach where it would 'boil' and then shoot up into the shaman's head, sending him into the spiritual realm. By going into the spiritual realm the shamans were able to cure those suffering from sickness as well as speak to rain beings in times of drought. The therianthropes are thought to illustrate the shamans during the trance phase.
Very close to the site where the Pafuri rock paintings are located is a big termite mound that has a hole dug into the top of it and a clay pot has been inserted into it. Although the connection is tenuous it is possible that this represented a doorway for the San to enter the spiritual realm, the process being depicted in the nearby rock paintings.
In the Kruger National Park the main areas of rock art are known to be in the mountainous and hilly areas of the south-east, but there are likely more paintings scattered on the sandstone rocks of the Makuleke concession awaiting discovery.
Photographs: Callum Sergeant
Nesting collared sunbirds at Pafuri Camp
Location: Pafuri Camp, Makuleke Concession, Kruger National Park
Date: October 2008
Observers: Hanel de Wet
The collared sunbird is a beautiful jewel like bird that flits around in the tree canopy in habitats such as riverine forest. We are fortunate enough to have regular sightings of the species right here in camp, located as we are on raised decks in the riverine forest fringing the Luvuvhu River.
It is a monogamous species and is most often seen in pairs flitting through the canopy in search of insects and nectar - its two main food sources. It is slightly different to other sunbirds found in the region in its smaller size and more specifically in its relatively short decurved bill. Most sunbirds have much longer bills that allow them to probe the tubes of nectar-rich flowers and in the process of moving between flowers play the role of pollinator. The short bill of the collared sunbird does not allow this and as a result it often pierces the base of this tube to access the nectar and thus does not play as important a pollination role. Its shorter bill probably means that it feeds on a higher proportion of insects than other sunbird species and we have had a chance to observe this first hand recently.
Over the past few weeks we started noticing increased activity of collared sunbirds outside the camp office. It wasn't long before we located the nest - built entirely by the female bird - right outside the window. Unscrewing the window frame has meant that we can easily observe and photograph the pair and now that the eggs have hatched and two hungry chicks need to be fed, visits by both the male and female bird have been frequent and animated. They have been flying in every 10 to 20 minutes to feed the chicks and it is clear that insects are the bulk of the food supply ... including some very large grasshopers, as seen in one of the photographs.
The chicks have grown at an amazing rate and it can't be long before they fledge and leave the nest. In the meantime we continue to enjoy the frequent interruptions to our day's admin work.
Third White Rhino Calf Born at Pafuri
Location: Pafuri Camp, Makuleke Concession, Kruger National Park
Date: 16 October 2008
Observers: Abednigo Masuku, Walter Jubber & Chris Roche
The three of us set off early on Thursday morning 16 October, intending to locate a new rhino calf in the Makuleke Concession. As the second calf born since the reintroduction of white rhino into the area in 2005 after an absence of more than 100 years we wanted to confirm its sex and ensure that it survived. We knew roughly where the animals had been concentrating over the past week or so and all it entailed for a successful outing was finding fresh tracks and then a bit of skill and persistence in tracking down the calf and its distinctive mother - a cow with only one ear, the missing ear most likely a result of harassment by spotted hyaenas when she was herself a calf.
Sure enough, we found a series of tracks in the expected spot, including those of a calf, and after ascertaining their freshness we set off on foot. Initially they followed a well-worn wide path, with no fewer than five white rhino following in each others' footsteps away from the drinking spot. After about a kilometre, three of the adults continued along the path while the cow and calf veered away and turned south, the tracks meandering around several low copies and beginning to show signs of feeding in amongst some low mopane scrub. It was here that we lost the tracks.
It was about 07h45 now and likely that the cow had sought shade and had settled down to pass the majority of the day. We stood quietly contemplating probabilities and listening to the soporific, soothing lullaby of the Emerald-spotted Wood-Dove. Having heard nothing that would reveal the presence of the rhino we split up and started moving out in concentric circles looking for sign of their passage. As we did so we simultaneously located a scuff mark and heard the restless alarm 'churr' of a Red-billed Oxpecker. There ? through a tangle of mopane and raisin bushes, was the outline of the cow. We immediately sunk to the ground and raised binoculars to locate the calf. Nothing. This cow even had two perfectly formed ears. We turned perplexed to each other and wondered where we had gone wrong and how we had found a cow without a calf when we had been following the tracks of cow and calf.
Just then she seemed to sense us and stood up with a start, shifting her massive head from side to side trying to determine if something had moved into her space. As she did so, a tiny calf rose from her feet. It quickly dawned on us that we had been following the wrong cow, but in the process had located the third calf born into the area. It was too well hidden in the scrub at its mother's feet to get a good look and we chose to back out of the area, leaving the twosome as undisturbed as possible.
Feeling flushed with success we decided to follow the tracks of the other three rhino and soon found them settled in the shade as well. All in all an exciting and successful morning's tracking in the spectacular far north of Kruger!
White Rhino recorded on Hunda Island, Okavango Delta
Location: NG 25 (Jao Concession), Okavango Delta
Date: 8th October 2008
Observers: Dave Luck, Peter Luthi, Johnny Mowanji and Shadreck Thobolo
On the morning of Wednesday 8th October 2008, seven guests and I departed on a game drive heading south on Hunda Island for a place called Mophane Ridge. The time was 06h15 and we were on our way to dig for sand scorpions that inhabit the ridge area.
As we approached the ridge I noticed reasonably fresh tracks on the road ahead. I pulled over to have a better 'read' when I noticed that they were rhino tracks - not one set of track but two sets! One set was smaller than the other and they could not have been more than an hour old.
I immediately radioed Peter, the manager of Tubu Tree Camp, and told him the news. I asked him for some much needed assistance as we were determined to find these not-so-often-seen animals. Peter and two camp guides, Johnny and Shadreck, were mobile within minutes and headed off to the area north of where we had initially seen the tracks. It was now 06h45 and we had to get moving if we were to track these beasts. As the day progresses it becomes really difficult to read spoor (animal tracks) and our chances of finding them would be somewhat reduced.
The last time any rhino were seen in the Jao Concession (NG25) was approximately three to four years ago, so could these two be the same animals and if so where had they come from? I thought it would be awesome for my guests to actually see them but, more importantly, from a conservation perspective it was imperative that we find them.
It was now warming up and I jumped out of the Land Rover to check the spoor ahead of us. We were 1.3km north east of where we first located the tracks and they were still on the road and looked pretty fresh - approximately 30 minutes old. They were heading towards Kalahari Pan and Wild Dog Pan and it made sense that they might wallow and water before it got too hot. I told Peter of the rhino's intended path and he drove in from the other side between Tubu Tree Camp and Kalahari Pan.
Then the inevitable happened: the tracks went off the road and into some sparse grassland interspersed with acacia scrub. I reversed the vehicle and glanced back at my guests who by now had been totally caught up in my excitement. We turned around and continued our search. We relocated the spoor still on the road and still heading north towards the pans. They were even fresher now and the next thing we heard francolins alarm calling to our right. Could the rhino be in this thick sickle bush scrub?
We went off road and drove for about ten minutes in the direction of the francolin calls. In the sand next to the vehicle were fresh cat tracks - leopard I thought. Should we find this cat or continue? We continued and returned to the road again.
It was now 08h15 and we had to get back to camp for brunch and our flight back to Maun. We had about 30 minutes left to find them - the pressure was certainly on. Ahead, in the sandy road, were very fresh spoor that indicated the beasts had stopped and had turned around.
Peter also arrived and we planned the next move. They would go around to the eastern side and we would head south and see if we could intercept them. The spoor then headed south into some really thick sickle bush and after ten minutes Peter called in to say he had located them! Peter guided us in and, there in front of us were the two impressive rhino and the cameras went wild. We spent about 15 minutes with them and eventually after taking images of their ear notches and just watching them we headed for camp. We had been tracking them for nearly two hours and they had covered a distance of 4.8 kilometres.
Fortunately the ear notches were pretty clear and distinct and the rhinos were identified as both being mature females - Boitumelo (aged 9) and Moremi (aged 11) and both in beautiful condition.
Aside from the excitement for our guests, this was an important moment for Botswana rhino conservation as the last time they were seen in the Jao Concession was four years ago.
Wilderness Safaris would like to extend their appreciation to Johnny Mowanji (Guide), Shadreck Thobolo (Guide) and Peter Luthi (Camp Manager) of Tubu Tree Camp of Ngamiland Operations Safaris (NAS) for their team effort in the assistance of tracking the rhino in NG25. We look forward to future collaboration between NAS and Wilderness Safaris and further monitoring of these two individuals in NG25.
Savuti: Leopard, lions and leopard
Location: Savuti, Linyanti Concession, northern Botswana
Date: October 2008
Observers: Grant Atkinson and Kane Motswana
The months that precede the first rains of summer are usually dry and warm, and in the Savuti area these have typically been months that produce spectacular game-viewing. What is very different this year has been the presence of large amounts of water in the rejuvenated Savute Channel itself. Many people have been wondering just what impact this would have on the game viewing in the area.
Obviously the deep water in many parts of the Channel restricts where one can drive to a degree, but this hasn't taken away anything from the sightings in the area. In fact, the water has just added to the overall experience, with sightings of many species of animals swimming, running or wading in the water taking place frequently. Sightings have been excellent over the past three months as the below account bears out.
The happenings began when Kane Motswana tracked a female leopard into some woodland right on the edge of the Channel, and watched as she stalked and then caught a female impala. The leopard struggled to kill the impala but eventually managed to subdue it. She then pulled it under a bush, and fed. This took place in the morning. I arrived at the camp at midday with a group of guests and followed Kane to the area in the afternoon. The leopard had fed, rested on a fallen tree stump, and then climbed another tree as the sun set and we drove away.
Early next morning we returned, to find that the Selinda lion pride, all twelve of them, had discovered the leopard's catch and had stolen it from her. As I turned off the engine the sound of the two big male lions grunting and growling threats at one another could be heard, as they jostled over the impala carcass. One of the large males suddenly managed to tear most of the impala away and he rushed behind a bush and began crunching away. The rest of the lion pride tussled over the remaining parts of the carcass. Meanwhile the leopard that had killed the impala had not run off, but rather just climbed a tree to watch the events.
The leopard now came down the tree, and instead of running off, she now crept closer and climbed another tree, less than thirty metres from the lions. Now, another leopard arrived on the scene, and the cat in the tree started to call to her, and came out of the tree. The two leopards met one another, and at that point the lions came at them. The leopards first scattered and then both raced up into the trees. The lions lost interest in them, and the impala carcass at the same time, then went down to the river to drink. The females and sub-adults were still very hungry. They made as if they were going to stalk some wildebeest, and then gave up. We waited that evening to see if the lions would cross the water, but they kept moving along.
It was Kane again next morning who found the lions, and this time the whole pride came through the Savute Channel, the younger lions moving very cautiously as they negotiated the Channel - providing yet another spectacular sighting.
Olive Grass Snake feeding on Stripe-bellied Sand Snake
Location: Pafuri Camp, Kruger National Park, South Africa
Date: 24 October 2008
Observers: Walter Jubber
As we were sitting in the camp office catching up on emails, a radio message from the camp staff regarding a snake had me out in a flash. Camera in hand, I crawled in amongst the river climbing thorn bushes that fringe the Luvuvhu River. I crept quietly closer to find an olive grass snake busy consuming a striped-bellied sand snake. It took the former approximately 45-60 minutes to consume its catch, slowly forcing the scaly meal down its throat.
This made me wonder: if it takes the snake that long to swallow its meal, how does it breathe? It appears that the snake unhinges its jaw and pushes its trachea forward enabling it to breathe while feeding. Then, with the aid of its teeth and the movement of the jaws the prey is gradually moved down the snake's throat for digestion.
Olive grass snakes can reach a maximum length of 1.8m or 5.94ft, and often feed on other snakes, which may include venomous puff adders and even the black mamba, although lizards, rodents and frogs are usually their staple diet. These snakes are generally shy and move away when approached, but are known to deliver a painful bite if mishandled. They also pose no threat to humans if bitten, besides some localised swelling and possible nausea.
This was quite a feat for an olive grass snake to catch one of the fastest moving snakes: the striped-bellied sand snake is very agile and equally quick, and its main prey being lizards and birds.
Burrowing Honey Badgers of the Central Kalahari
Location: Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana
Date: 28 October 2008
Observer and Photographer: Grant Atkinson
Even though the Central Kalahari Game Reserve is well known for its big game viewing in the late summer months (January - April) there are plenty of fascinating things to be seen in drier times too. One such example was the privilege of watching a foraging honey badger that seemed totally unperturbed by our presence.
With the grass very short, visibility is excellent in much of the game drive areas, and many of the smaller inhabitants become easier to find. On a recent visit to the Central Kalahari Game Reserve we were able to observe and photograph a male honey badger as he went about his early morning food gathering business. The badger was up before the sun, and was unusually relaxed about the presence of our vehicle nearby. He would walk along slowly, continuously turning this way and that, with his nose to the ground, investigating every hole in the sand that he could find.
These holes were mostly dug by scorpions, and the honey badger seemed to be able to smell whether they were occupied or not. He would begin digging and scrape some sand away, then put his nose to the hole again, walk off to the next hole or if he knew there was a scorpion, leap up and really tear into the ground, head down. The badger's digging ability, perhaps second only to the aardvark's, enables it to extract food more efficiently than other, less-accomplished predators would.
Sometimes he would get the scorpion within seconds of digging, but on other occasions he had to dig deeper, and we watched intrigued as he would lie with his front paws deep in the hole, head up, belly on the sand. He would then arch his back so that his front legs hung down into the sand, and he would dig away, whilst still being able to keep his eyes and ears above ground to keep a lookout for danger.
Some scorpions dig holes that turn as they go deeper, and the badger would spin around whilst digging away in order to follow the twists and turns of the hole. On two separate occasions we spent time watching him at work in this way, and he dug out about fifteen scorpions in an hour's foraging session. Most of the scorpions appeared to be of the genus Opistophthalmus, commonly known as shiny burrowing scorpions: They are known for making extensive burrows which vary from 10mm to 1.5m deep. As stated, their burrows often spiral anti-clockwise as they go down. It is interesting to note that their mouthparts are used for breaking up the soil and not their pincers. The badger always made sure to bite off the tail and sting right away before crunching his way through the rest of the scorpion.
We weren't the only audience that the badger attracted, as a black-backed jackal and a Pale Chanting Goshawk both approached and watched him for a while before moving off. Both these species have been recorded snatching up animals that have been too quick for the badger and have escaped at the last moment. On this occasion neither of the two stayed around for long enough, and the badger did not miss a single scorpion.
During the course of the morning we managed to see 14 honey badgers in total: quite remarkable really. The Central Kalahari Game Reserve must indeed be one of the best places to view and learn more about these fascinating creatures - opportunistic insectivores and formidable predators.
Botswana's Kalahari Meerkats
Location: Deception Valley, Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswama
Date: October 2008
Observer and Photographer:Grant Atkinson
Ever the since the popular British television programme Meerkat Manor, there has been an increasing interest in meerkats (suricates). The result is that more people than ever before want to see these endearing mammals in the wild.
Meerkats are found in the drier regions of Botswana and do not occur in the Okavango Delta, Linyanti or Savuti areas. Instead they are to be found in the Kalahari and on a recent trip to Deception Valley in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, we enjoyed some excellent sightings.
Finding meerkats can be tricky for a few reasons the most obvious being their diminutive size. They are also very alert and often quite shy of people. However, there is one troop of these animals that have their territory in the Okwa River valley, which is in the vicinity of the main camping area at Deception Valley. With a bit of luck and some patience they can be found.
We were fortunate one afternoon in spotting these meerkats at a distance. We watched them for a while to see which way they were moving. Meerkats bed down for the night in a hole, and there was a series of holes with ground squirrels in attendance, not too far away, and right alongside the road. It looked as if they were gradually making their way towards these holes. We drove around and waited for them to approach. The advantage of sitting quietly and waiting for wildlife to approach you is that other creatures get used to the vehicle's presence, and we soon had an entire family of ground squirrels eating, fighting and playing alongside the vehicle.
As the sun got lower, the six meerkats made their way right up to us. One meerkat chased off a squirrel very easily, and then they groomed and bonded and enjoyed the last half an hour of the day's sunshine within a few yards of us, making for some excellent photo opportunities.
We left the meerkats when they went inside their hole for the night. We hope that with all the trips coming up in the next months to this part of the Kalahari, we will be able to keep on enjoying watching the meerkats like this through the rainy season.
The seldom-seen Brown Hyaena
Location: Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana
Date: November 2008
Observer and photographer: Grant Atkinson
It always seems strange to me how little attention we pay toward hyaenas - just because they are neither cats nor dogs they are often overlooked. Two species of hyaena occur in Botswana, with the spotted hyaena being well known in the northern savannahs and the Okavango Delta. Further south, where conditions are drier and harsher, it is possible to see the brown hyaena.
Secretive, shy, elusive: all these words can be used to describe the habits of this fascinating carnivore. Although I was well aware of their existence in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve I had seen only their spoor on the roads in the early mornings on all my visits here.
However, that was to change on my most recent visit. On our very first night in camp, we were about to sit down for dinner when somebody noticed movement in the tall grass fringing our campsite. The beam of a flashlight revealed our visitor's identity, and it turned out to be a very large, shaggy-haired brown hyaena that was very inquisitive as it circled slowly and deliberately around the camp. Brown hyaenas are not regarded as overly dangerous and this animal was just interested in our presence, and likely intrigued by the rich smells coming from our food. It merely moved off after a while.
A day later we were on game drive and as we approached the waterhole at Letieahau we startled a brown hyaena which had been wallowing in the mud to stay cool. The hyaena only moved off a short distance, then lay amongst some trees in the shade and rested. We decided to return later in the day and check on it again.
We sat near the waterhole in the vehicle and just waited patiently, hoping that we would be rewarded with some good views in daylight of this unusual carnivore. We weren't disappointed, as the hyaena eventually got up stiffly, and walked into the middle of the waterhole to drink, before setting out on its evening wanderings. Next morning we found what was perhaps the same animal again, this time prowling past herds of watchful springbok as the sun rose.
Brown hyaenas live in clans but forage on their own. They are mostly nocturnal, so we were very fortunate with our sightings.
Southern Ground Hornbills at Vumbura Plains
Location: Kwedi Concession, Okavango Delta
Date: October 2008
Observer and Photographer: Russel Friedman
An amazing sighting of Southern Ground Hornbills on the Kwedi Concession recently comprised a family group of eight hornbills (six adults and two juveniles). One of the males, probably the dominant individual, was observed 'playing' with the remains of what was possibly a hedgehog. The adult bird also appeared to be trying to remove some of the spiny skin before feeding on the more fleshy parts. An inquisitive juvenile bird, with a characteristically pale-coloured throat, was also seen following the adult, perhaps trying to learn how it is done.
Again, this just highlights the opportunistic, mostly carnivorous feeding behaviour observed in these fascinating birds that have been recorded taking on various prey items.
Their feeding action is precise - the family group forages on the ground, spread out like a ground infantry unit, and searching with their formidable-looking bills for anything that moves: snakes, tortoises, insects, land snails and even small mammals up to the size of hares.
Female Southern Ground Hornbills are smaller and have some blue skin on their throats, whereas the males have only red-coloured skin and a more developed casque. Although they are reluctant to fly, neighbouring groups often engage in aerial pursuits and of course for safety all ground hornbills roost and nest in trees. The group comprises the dominant pair and 'helpers' - normally other adult males, or at least females who 'disguise' their sex by not coming into characteristic adult female plumage (sporting a blue patch on the throat) since the dominant female does not tolerate competition.
The Southern Ground Hornbill is one of two species of ground hornbill in Africa and is the largest species of hornbill. These vulnerable, turkey-like birds are today mostly restricted to larger conservation areas and national parks mostly due to their slow breeding success and their dependence on large tree cavities for a nesting site. Disturbance and hunting outside of parks coupled with deforestation has been major contributing factors for their population decline through most of their previous range.
The sounds of ground hornbills are one of the most characteristic of the African savannahs - a deep booming early-morning call that resonates for kilometres, and probably part of their daily territorial demarcation.
Thankfully these birds are still fairly common residents in Botswana's Okavango Delta, where one has a good chance of seeing them.
Cheetah cubs born at Mombo
Location: Mombo Camp, Moremi Game Reserve, Okavango Delta
Date: October 2008
Observers: Tapera Sithole
For some years now the environment at Mombo has been dominated by lion, with 4 large prides making their home at the northern tip of Chief's Island and ensuring a low population of smaller, more specialised carnivores such as wild dog and cheetah. The demise of the Steroid Boys, the well known male cheetah coalition, more than a year ago effectively put a dent in cheetah viewing at Mombo and only 2 or 3 individuals were known to sporadically use the area thereafter ... the high prey density proving more attractive than the risk of the lion prides.
This situation has remained unchanged over the past year but recently we were extremely excited by the three young cubs seen accompanying the most often seen female cheetah. The cubs are still tiny as can be seen in the photos and are estimated at approximately 3-4 weeks of age.
This cheetah family currently seem to be hanging around the Goss' Floodplains, 92 Dog Den and Serondela Open Areas. The mother of these cute honey badger-like cubs is very relaxed and is clearly at home in the area. We are suspect that the only cheetah male known to us in the area is the probable father. This is the brother of the male which died a heroic death, taking down an impala in the Suzi's Duck Pond area.
We are all hugely excited and just hope we all going to witness the growth of these cubs to triple our local population.
The last few days have teased us with promise of rain. Yesterday evening we watched and listened as lightning struck all around us, creating great squiggles of light in the sky as the thunder echoed across above the trees. We saw the storm pass by en route to drop its life-giving rain over Selinda. We then watched as it turned and headed towards us. The strong winds brought the lightning and thunder ever closer and blew out our lanterns! Then, a few tiny drops fell and it moved off again, carried away by the winds. We thought it was all over. Then, as we were all drifting off into a quiet slumber, the thunder rumbled, the leaves twitched then danced as the wind picked up strength and bursts of light sliced through the slits in the curtains. We lay silent, thoughtful and reflective, breathing deeply to take in the fresh smell of our first rains. The morning brought a fresh appearance to our new camp and the rain gauge read 6mm. So, officially, Zibadianja has been blessed with her first rains.
While we're talking about the elements, great news is that Zarafa Camp has begun to harness the sun for its energy requirements - and in fact as from the 30th of October 2008 has gone totally solar!
It is probably the first premier quality camp in Africa to convert totally to solar power to generate all the camp's 220V electricity demands including the running of ice machines, deep freezers, cold rooms and a number of other energy-hungry appliances that are essential to run a Premier quality operation. Currently, electricity consumed by the camp at night is fully replenished by the solar farm by 3pm the following day - even though some of the days have been a little cloudy, so there is ample energy in reserve.
Not only will our guests be able to reap true peace and quiet now that the generator has been decommissioned but generators of this type push out over 550kg of carbon dioxide an hour so Zarafa's carbon footprint has been hugely reduced. An excellent example for others to follow.
The initial proposed site for Kalahari Plains Camp proved to have extremely saline water (with a Total Dissolved Solids of around 18 000 - which is close to the salinity of sea!) so a new site with potable water had to be found and a permit granted by the relevant authorities. Safari & Adventure Co. has now received permission from the Botswana Government to erect a private Explorations-style camp to accommodate Kalahari Plains guests from 22 December 2008 and through 2009 (valid until the new camp is complete). Therefore for the first three weeks of December, the original Adventurer-style camp will be used. Subsequently, the camp will contain 6 spacious Discoverer Meru-style tents with a central main canopy tent that provides shaded comfort, couches, a reference library and central bar. The tents are spacious and designed to recreate the style of the early explorers - richly colored wooden furniture, pure linens of heavy cotton, en suite flushing toilet and shower and comfortable camp features all adding to the atmosphere.
Andersson's Camp has put to rest its diesel generator; the camp now has 24-hour electricity supplied from a nearby Nampower grid. Apart from it being far quieter now in camp, guests can also read in bed to their hearts' content or burn the midnight oil at the floodlit waterhole with as much tea, coffee or fine red wine as they may choose. The tents have also seen some enhancements: a very tasteful farm-style door was put in place, finished with a canvas wall separating the bedroom area from the bathroom. A full activity range is also now offered including morning and afternoon game drives into Etosha National Park and guided walks on the exclusive 91 000-acre Ongava Game Reserve, as can be seen in the latest newsletter.
Zibadianja Camp is now using a 176-panel solar farm to provide power; the diesel generator becoming a museum piece that will be there only in cases of an emergency. This solar farm will, via a system of batteries and inverters, be able to generate 220v electricity, 24 hours a day throughout the camp, providing power for all guest and staff requirements including machinery and equipment that needs lots of power, such as ice machines, cold storage rooms, and sewerage systems.
Ongava Game Lodge is saving an average of 2 000 kWh every month through investment in solar water heating for guest rooms. Predicted breakeven for this capital investment in renewable energy is 4.5 years.
/ North Island
North Island Dive Report
- October 08 Jump
After having already officially declared the end of the South East Monsoon season at the end of September, the winds still continued to blow from this direction for a further three weeks, although now with substantially less determination. Before the end of the month, however, we were experiencing the long-awaited water conditions of the summer season to come.
During this time, while the winds were mostly undecided as to which direction to blow, the sea calmed perfectly, the visibility was in excess of 40 metres and the swell dropped to nothing more than a feeble flop onto the beach. Needless to say, the diving conditions during this time were fantastic, one could see from one side of 'Sprat City' to the other.
'Aquarium' has again been a special favourite with numerous snorkel and dive trips being organised to this small reef. This site has continued to produce fantastic sightings throughout the month with the chief attraction being the abundance of fish that are found in one particular area. Huge schools of resident Lunar Fusiliers and White Spotted Rabbitfish can be seen schooling thickly together mid-water producing fantastic swirls of colour as they dart from boulder to boulder. Common sightings almost always include large schools of enormous Bump-head Parrotfish (which can really only be compared to the movement of a herd of elephant), small flights of juvenile Spotted Eagle Rays, occasionally a few Grey Reef Sharks and here and there a Hawksbill Turtle. We have also frequently spotted a single particularly deranged Job Fish, which has developed an interesting fascination with the fins of the snorkellers. This Job Fish has a tendency to charge unsuspecting snorkellers while they flap lazily at the surface, unaware that pieces of their fin could well be on the menu. This individual is also always accompanied by a smaller, slightly less determined Job Fish which appears to be learning from the larger Job Fish, although we hope not.
This month we had a great opportunity to return to 'Pat Banks' for a quick reconnaissance dive while conducting a Deep Adventure Dive. The reef was alive with shimmers of Blue and Gold Fusiliers, coffee and cream Chocolate Dips and little Blue Petes which congregate above extensive tracts of Stag Horn Coral. These particular corals provide an excellent habitat for this array of bottom dwellers which prefer to hide out in the branches of the coral for protection from predators. There were also the regular encounters with the ever-present juvenile Nurse Sharks which were hiding in small caves and crevices along with scores of Rock Lobster. The Nurse Sharks, correctly named Tawny Nurse Sharks, can reach in excess of three metres, although it is usually only the small guys we find hiding under the ledges. These sharks are also commonly known as Giant Sleepy Sharks due to the fact that they are predominantly nocturnal and tend to prefer to hide out during the day, often seen lying in disorganised aggregations while they 'sleep'. Nurse Sharks are not aggressive or dangerous and feed mainly on a variety of bottom invertebrates such as small fishes, cephalopods, crustaceans and sea urchins. These sharks have the interesting ability to suck up prey using a powerful sucking motion with their throat. This talent is used to vacuum out octopus, fish and crabs from the reef or it can even be reversed to fire a jet of water at an assailant.
The small cluster of juvenile Spotted Eagle Rays which have been present throughout the winter in front of the restaurant have started to dwindle in number. With the change in the season we expect these small guys to start to move over to Petit Anse for the duration of the summer, as the water here will then be protected from the north-easterly winds. As yet we have not spotted any of the juveniles in their new location but they should start to appear within the next few weeks.
There are still several new dive sites that have recently been discovered that warrant further investigation. These sites, which are situated approximately four nautical miles north-west of the island, rise up to between 18 to 20 metres from the surface with very interesting topography as seen from the depth sounders. This set of reefs can even be identified when viewing North Island on Google Earth. A couple of dives will have to be conducted to properly explore these reefs which appear to be a set of several isolated pinnacles.
The highlight this month was undoubtedly the sighting of a 6m Whale Shark off the west side of the island. The shark was spotted cruising just below the surface heading off in a north-westerly direction.
Camp update - October 08 Jump
October in the Linyanti is a month of exquisite anticipation, and this October was no exception. A palpable sense of expectation in the air, and a real feeling of lassitude as the sun's rays beat down and the relief of the rains always seems to be tantalisingly out of reach.
New life swelling and growing: the once-sleek flanks of the female impalas gently distended by the new life developing within, in a tangle of gangly legs. Aquamarine buds on the mopane twigs swelling inside their protective sticky casings. The timbre of the nightly frog chorus changes from festive to almost demanding, as the clouds promise but don't yet deliver, day after day.
The strain of a long, dry winter began to tell on many of the animals, from the increased skittishness of the tiny steenbok to the worsening grouchiness of many of the elephants. Arriving summer migrant birds brought with them yet more promises of rain, in the voltage-blue wings of the displaying Woodland Kingfishers and the trembling wings of the Yellow-billed Kites.
Sweeping through this parched landscape, the magnificent and incomprehensible Savuti Channel, still pushing beyond Savuti Camp, criss-crossing the fossil river bed in a series of great serpentine loops as it flowed on towards Mmantshwe Pan. Many, many hours of fierce tropical sunlight began to take their toll, and even as the Channel pushed further onwards, the level of water elsewhere has been dropping.
This has in fact been fantastic news for our grazing animals, as the gradually retreating waters leave behind a vivid green flush of new grass shoots in areas that were previously submerged. A regular crowd of impala, zebra, wildebeest and even our nine gnarled "dagga boys", old male buffalo with bosses reminiscent of Supreme Court judges' wigs, were attracted to this new bonanza.
Looking at the water stains on the poles which hold up our star deck, we can see that the water levels in front of camp have dropped several inches during October as the sun's heat got to work. To the west of camp, pastures of lush green grass have emerged from the shallows, forming a gorgeous backdrop to the stately progress of corkscrew-horned male kudu as they come down to drink. They are also the perfect pitches for young elephants as they come rushing and tumbling down to play in the mud and the water.
The Channel has been a benediction to the elephants of the Linyanti. For sure, they have been a little more dispersed this year, as they were less reliant on isolated waterholes (as they would have been every year over the last quarter century). At the same time, they have established favourite drinking spots at various bends in the Channel, including immediately in front of our honeymoon tent!
The presence of masses of water has allowed the elephants to relax, and to actually enjoy a month that can be an ordeal for these pachyderms. And who would not enjoy rolling over in limpid blue water, and then slip-sliding up the muddy banks to spray their chest and back with a cooling shower of liquid ooze? No? You should try it... it comes highly recommended!
The Channel has been a world of opportunity to the ducks, herons, geese and egrets which have flocked here, and a place of sanctuary to at least one hippo.
Male Kori Bustards strutting their stuff, puffed up with self-belief; Lions caught in the act of marathon sex sessions, including one four-day tryst that left the male so spent that he had to enlist his brother to help finish the job; Blacksmith Lapwings shrieking blue murder at any creature, no matter how large, that threatened to walk on their cryptically-coloured eggs.
But always, always the Channel... Mirror-finished in the perfect light of late afternoon, doubling the numbers of snow-white egrets hunched up patiently, dagger beaks poised over the hapless fish. Swirling around the massive legs of a lone bull elephant as he fords the water. Blown skywards as spray drummed up by the hooves of zebras galloping in the shallows.
As the elephants have begun the annual trek back into the newly-green mopane woodlands, even before the rains have truly begun, the Channel has belonged again to the cats, and especially to the lions and cheetahs. Both species have been very much in evidence recently, and they have of course been the best possible lens-candy on game drives...
Cats are generally reckoned not to enjoy getting wet, but equally the big cats do not enjoy going hungry. Much as the predators of the Okavango have had to adapt their behaviour - and even their squeamishness about water - to seasonal flooding, so too have our cats here. To see a cheetah in the wild is a huge privilege, but to see one swimming is a rare sight indeed. Like all predators though, cheetah are irresistibly drawn to where the game is, and if that means swimming the Savuti Channel, then so be it. It might just also mean some excellent photographic opportunities, too.
As the coalition of three male cheetah known as the Savuti Boys enters its twilight era, with only one relatively old survivor, we have seen the dawning of a new coalition. At first two, and now three sub-adult male cheetah together, most often seen to the east of camp. Also sighted: a lone female cheetah, so just possibly we have the beginnings here of a new, speedy dynasty.
The wild dogs have had their day, denned successfully, and resumed their restless, roving ways. The cheetah are concentrating on the savannah grassland areas further east as they retreat before the advancing spearhead of the Channel.
The Channel itself, however, has become the haunt of the lions. The canvas and thatch tents in camp shake each evening as Silver Eye and his brother, two of our resident adult male lions, crash out their challenge to anyone who can hear it - and their warnings contain "friendly advice" to other males to stay away.
Meanwhile the Selinda Pride seems to be taking up residence much closer to our camp, having moved along the Channel, hard on the heels of the water as it has advanced, and treading in the hoofprints of the lowing herds as they have marched down, in thrall to the flowing waters.
Buffalo are not a species we are all that familiar with at Savuti, and from some of the remarkable sightings we have had of failed or botched hunts, it seems that the mostly-young Selinda lions still have some familiarising to do, also. And that includes learning that buffalo often cross rivers, and if they are to be caught, need to be followed.
Although they are learning - and to the buffaloes' apparent distress, learning fast - these lions still seem to have some ancestral distaste about getting their feet wet. Or it may be a more pragmatic, and very understandable, caution about the possibility of crocodiles being present. Either way, a fascinating display of nerves, leadership, grimacing, and reassuring touches ensues each time they summon up the courage to cross over.
Until finally these young lions splash ashore on the far bank, clearly relieved, and then shake their short manes dry. Once across the Channel, the serious business of hunting can resume. On one occasion we had a great sighting of this pride wading and swimming across, and then (almost out of relief) staging a vigorous rough-and-tumble play session which was a joy to observe. Nothing quite like the adrenaline surge of a near-miss with crocs, to bring out a burst of joie-de-vivre!
And finally after all the splashing and spraying, the infinite pause of waiting and swelling, something changed. One morning the accumulated clouds did not breakup, the delicate sound of thunder became more robust, and the first tongue-tingling rain drops fell, each one throwing up a little puff of grey Linyanti dust as though we were being shelled.
Not really a true Botswana summer spectacular, but enough rain to create mini-lunar landscape of tiny craters, and to bring out the bumbling red velvet mites. Mere days later, we caught sight of the first baby impalas, stepping delicately amongst the marvels being brought about by this change of seasons.
Here these first baby impalas fulfil the role of the first swallows in the northern hemisphere - incontrovertible evidence that summer has arrived. The rains are here... now they must just rain on Savuti. Good rains now could reverse the ravages of evaporation, and ensure that the Channel remains until next year's influx of water... It seems that the female impalas are confident of these things, as they have been giving birth very early this year.
So with new impala lambs as our standard bearers, we march on into November... and surely some big electric storms and much more significant quantities of rain, delivered in short, sharp tropical downpours. With all of this still to look forward to, summer at Savuti promises to be awesome...
The highlight was the big cat viewing, and the sense of hospitality and kindness of staff. Proximity of the Channel filled with water for the first time since 1982.
Sundowners with lions and cheetahs!
Keep it as is. We were thinking hard but there aren't any recommendations.
Sefo our guide went above and beyond.
Highlight: having a lion steal my sunglasses! Also having Sefo as our guide!
Highlight: cheetah chase and cheetah kill! Thank you for a fun and perfect experience. Great, great, great!
The staff at Savuti and the cuisine - exceptional!
Kane was a fantastic guide - he worked hard to provide us with the whole wildlife experience!
We also enjoyed the warm and welcoming staff members, especially Dudu?
There is a sense of genuine hospitality here that touches the heart!
Savuti's staff was exceedingly happy and accommodating, with splendid energy.
Highlight? Lions roaring. Kane our guide. The mood in the Camp - so warm and welcoming - yet 100% professional. And the fudge! I loved everything!
That's all from your October team at Savuti,
-Dudu, Noko, Terri, Khutse, Emmax and Lorato-
DumaTau Camp update - October 08 Jump
to DumaTau Camp
We are all very proud in featuring in one of the world's top travel rankings. What a great job everyone in DumaTau Camp did for us to achieve such world class recognition and this award has brought new motivation and drive into everyone here. In the Condé Nast Traveler 21st Annual Readers' Choice Awards, in the category "50 Top Resorts - Africa", DumaTau Camp came in at 5th place.
Lion sightings have been very again good this month; the Selinda pride which has been dominating in our area did not feature at all this month. They were last seen crossing the channel by Dish Pan area to the southern bank heading towards Rock Pan two weeks ago. The Selinda Boys have instead been spending a lot of time along the Savute Channel around Dish Pan, Rock Pan and Bundu Island. This is the same area were the break-away pride of two lionesses from the Savuti Pride are always seen.
Since the older lioness lost her cubs, they have not left the area. Maybe they feel safe here since they were attacked by the Selinda Pride. She was seen mating with one of the Selinda Boys, Romeo. The wounds on her back are looking much better now, she has recovered well. The Savuti Pride and the two Channel Boys were last seen on the Southern bank of Boscia. They were attempting to cross the Channel to get on the northern bank were the Break-away Pride was resting and calling. As they crossed, Silver Eye and Romeo stood up to confront them and show their dominance of the area. The Channel Boys quickly retreated to the southern bank. The Channel Boys are looking very strong and healthy, but are still too young to face the Selinda males.
The leopard sightings have been very exciting; Ollie finding the Zib female, her cub and the Rock sub- adult feeding on an impala. This was unusual to see the Zib female allowing another leopard to feed on her kill. Just four days back Ollie again was in a sighting of an unknown male leopard, which was looking a bit older than the other male leopards we normally see in our area. As he was watching this leopard with his guests, three impala come out from the bushes heading towards the vehicle and where the leopard was resting. He told his guests to get their cameras ready as something exciting is about to happen. These impala were being chased by wild dogs; the first and second impala managed to escape the ambush. Unfortunately the last impala was met by a leopard mid-air. And as he brought the impala down to suffocate it to death, wild dogs arrived to claim 'their' hunt. The leopard quickly went up a tree for safety; the wild dogs finishing off the kill. When most of the dogs went back to collect the rest of the pack and the puppies, only one dog stayed at the kill. This was the leopard's chance - he came down the tree and managed to scare away the dog, pulling the impala kill up the tree. When the pack arrived back at the spot they found nothing to feed on! This was an experience that the guests loved and will never forget and certainly places the term "Survival of the fittest" in context.
Savuti Blood Brother (cheetah) is trying really hard to survive on his own. Our guides have been trying to keep a close eye on him and monitoring his movements. We have found out that he has become strong again and is successful with kills, especially impala. He normally hunts during the mid-day hours, and has been lucky because other predators have not been chasing him from his kill. He still covers a big territory from the Channel through the woodland up to Livingstone Floodplains. A few unknown cheetahs have also been seen east of Savuti Camp, one female with two sub-adult cubs and very shy.
The wild dogs have finally showed up again after a month of being absent from our area. It was very exciting when they were spotted by the Kings Pool sunken hide later moving along the river towards DumaTau Camp. The pack comprises nine adults and eight juveniles. The young dogs are now very playful and running with the pack - just unbelievable to watch. They are all looking very healthy which is the most important thing to see. The pack is also hunting well and very successful in feeding the puppies. The DumaTau pack as not been seen in two months now. We are not sure yet what is happening with this pack: it is either they are denning or they have puppies already and are in a different territory.
Other good sightings are of the 'common' game species and we have already seen the first baby impala. We have also seen at least about three dead giraffes that just died either from an illness or the heat. Vultures then will do their thing of making sure nothing goes to waste. We have also had some good sightings of honey badgers hunting by First Corner. Some good sightings were also had of both black-backed and side-striped jackal. Buffalo are still around which is good, especially grazing along the Channel.
The vegetation is becoming greener now, especially the Croton bushes along the riverine areas. The jackalberry trees are in flower and the African mangosteens are dropping fruits. The mopane woodlands has start shooting new leaves - the vegetation is starting to looking nice and green again even without any rainfall yet.
Staff in Camp
Managers in camp were Vasco, Miriam, Joel, Tendani finishing of her three month probation and Tlamelo completing his level two training at Duma Tau. The guiding team was Ollie, Ron, Lazi, Raphael and Theba.
"Amazing staff, wonderful managers in Vasco, Miriam and the others. The warm environment created by all the staff, superb guiding by Ollie (my new friend). Great schedule of the days, excellent food, and obvious commitment to conservation all in all. What an amazing experience and not just because it was my first time in the bush, the Duma Tau team does a great job. Do not change a thing." - BM
"There are many highlights; we saw a wonderful variety of wildlife, including lion, leopard and even wild dogs, very exciting. But we equally enjoyed the atmosphere at camp and especially getting to know our guide Ollie and the friendly, professional staff." - J&TH
"Everything, but in particular the kindness, friendliness and professionalism of all the staff. Great food too, do not change anything. Keep it as it is, intimate and friendly." - M
Kings Pool Camp update - October 08 Jump
to Kings Pool Camp
October has once again been a fantastic month at Kings Pool. The dry season has peaked in the Linyanti but the scent of much needed rain drifts in the wind. Large clouds have started to develop in the hot afternoons but no rain has fallen yet.
Avian migrants have started returning from their long travels voicing their arrivals with their melodious calls: Didericks Cuckoo, Broad-billed Roller, Walberg's Eagle, Black Cuckoo, Striped Cuckoo and of course the Woodlands Kingfisher. Southern Carmine Bee Eaters have colonized an area close the old Kings Pool Airstrip, providing us with hours of entertainment.
Game, still driven by thirst and the lure of fresh water along the Linyanti River, is still concentrated along the riparian belt.
Elephants are still crossing the Linyanti River on a daily basis, providing us with superb sightings from the camp deck.
The Sunken Hide has also been very effective during October, luring elephants close enough to the hide to touch. There are great photographic opportunities which allow for some interesting composition angles.
Leopards have been an absolute treat during October; sightings have occurred on a daily basis. The mother with her two, now older, cubs is still doing well. She has been very successful with her hunts especially on poor warthog piglets. A big male leopard has also been seen in the area, patrolling his riverside territory with his rasping calls. He is a very relaxed, not bothered with the safari vehicles at all.
The wandering male cheetah has also made an appearance on the Kings Pool stage. He occasionally enters our area from the Savuti region. He is always welcome at Kings Pool but so far has not accepted our humble offer to stay permanently.
Lions have been seen regularly this month with some amazing sightings of lions feeding on elephants. During this time if the year, elephants often die of thirst in the dry woodland which provides carnivores with huge amounts of meat!
The wild dog packs has moved out of their den area in the Savuti Channel and have come to play around Kings Pool. It has been an absolute treat having these endangered carnivores on our doorstep. The pack currently has eight pups with them.
We have had an Amazing time at Kings Pool, and hope to see you all here soon.
-The Kings Pool Team (Nick & Kerry, Gabbi and Olivia)-
Photo Credits: Nick Leuenberger
Chitabe Camp update - October 08 Jump
to Chitabe Camp
October is our hottest month here in the Okavango Delta. To say that we have been enjoying the heat would not be entirely accurate. The daytime temperature has averaged 42º Celsius while the nights have been a positively cool 30 degrees. The plunge-pool has never looked so appealing.
Luckily, Mother Nature doesn't take much notice of such banalities as the weather and Chitabe Camp has once again witnessed some spectacular game sightings.
The wild dogs have been seen almost daily and guests were privileged to witness some good interaction between them and lions on one occasion and leopard and baboons on another.
The absence of any proper rains yet (it does sometimes come as early as late October but would normally fall in February and March) keeps the big herds of elephant and buffalo nearby. A couple of African Fish-eagles have been seen patiently hunting outside Tent 5 most days. Other frequent camp visitors is a handsome pair of reedbuck and bushbuck.
In the past 48 hours we've been watching a dead hippo - killed by another hippo - being eaten by hyaenas and vultures.
Photo credits and thanks must go to Roger Gutzwiller-Binz, fresh from his brush with fame in the southern hemisphere's only German newspaper, Allgemeine Zeitung in Swakopmund, Namibia. Best wishes to him, Albert and Verena - we're all very glad that Chitabe provided a better end to your safari than its inauspicious beginnings would have foretold.
Standby for news on my book, 'Boathouse to Botswana' next month.
Mombo Camp update - October 08 Jump
to Mombo Camp
We went through the month without realising how hot and dry it was just because of the endless excitement from the amount of animal activities and the special animal sightings. The weather as focused by the Mombo station summarised 40º Celsius (104º F) being the maximum and 15ºC (59ºF) being the minimum. The clouds were as blue as they can be in Botswana and the whole month the sky never showed any signs of rain until the last week.
Most tree species have got their new leaves as if the rains have already fallen. Some trees like the rain tree have started flowering where as the mangosteens are fruiting at the moment. The latter provides beautiful cover and home for various animals and several nocturnal species like bats and the Pel's Fishing-owl which hangs around camp. With the floodwaters retreating back to the main channels, there has been a lot of lush greenery exposed in the open plains and this has created an irresistible area to the grazers which now spend most of their time here.
Rhino have been seen more frequently in the game drive areas. Guides got to show guests who were in Mombo during the month up to six rhino sightings of a relaxed cow and calf, in an beautiful open area known as Maporota Plain. It turned out to be one of the females, Kakana, and her calf Valentine which were mostly seen in this area. The oldest and dominant bull, Serondela, was also seen.
The month also produced frequent leopard sightings because Legadema and her cubs are still in the area and we now have three leopards resident in our prime game drive areas. Legadema has done well in looking after her nine month old cubs which are still heavily dependent on her. She struggles to feed them in this lion-infested country and we have witnessed her loosing her impala kill to the Western Pride as she was trying to go get the meat to a safe place. I believe it is another three months before she weans these beautiful cubs. There is also a new male leopard tracked by the guides and each time they spotted it, it was on an impala kill.
The wild dogs seem to feel very unsafe in the area though of the three, we are occasionally seeing two - the alpha male and the younger female. We are all convinced that there is a den somewhere fairly close to us. We only enjoyed three sightings of wild dog in the month of October.
Big herds of buffalo have started moving into the floodplains around camp maybe because of the more nutritious grass found here at the moment. We have had herds of up to 400 in the beautiful plain which the camp overlooks. The fact that the floodwaters have receded also increases the distance these buffalo have to walk now to find fresh water. Most lion prides seem not to follow the herd's movements since they feed on any prey they come across, but the Western Pride is an exception. They make sure that when the buffalo pass their territory, they 'escort' them. There were 40 lion sightings this month which translates that our guests saw lions twice a day or more. The highlight from all the lion sightings turned out to be when the lions killed a warthog close to where Legadema killed an impala kill and the lions then 'claimed' her impala kill as well. The Boro Pride, the Jao Boys, the Moporota Pride, Mathata Pride and the Western Pride (always in camp hunting the resident bachelor buffalo herd) are the prides which the guides recorded.
With the season changing, the herbivores have tended to move into the drying plains and one would easily count four to five species socialising in big groups and herds. On the Mombo Islands we usually see zebra, impala, red lechwe, warthog, giraffe, troops of baboons and good herds of wildebeest in one area and this cements why Mombo is called a 'place of plenty'.
-Taps, Lizzy, Jeremy, Jeltje, Trevor, Simon (executive chef) and Nicole-
Camps Update - October 08
Lagoon camp Jump
• A pride of six female lions and two males have been a regular sighting the past month towards the riverside road, the small pride are said to be in very good condition after this long dry period.
• A nomadic male Lion has been on the move in the area towards mud waters and bee-eater island. The Lion has been following the malamala pride around wild dog pan.
• Leopard are still a highlight in the area with a large male on the eastern side of the airstrip of Lagoon, a female sighted at water cut road but still seemed to be very shy. A very large male leopard along the cut line sighted by the guests in absolute prime condition.
• The Lagoon pack of wild Dogs have been sighted every second day by the guests, they have been hunting Impala daily within guests view, the six pups and three adults have managed to bring some of the Impala down but have also missed on numerous occasions. The pack of fourteen have had better luck with the hunts.
• The three brother Cheetah have been the around the Lagoon area over the past month and have been a regular sighting with by guests.
• A herd of three hundred Buffalo are still roaming the area between the airstrip and John’s pan, there are a number of other herds within the area all ranging between two to three hundred in a herd.
• Very large herds of elephant are a highlight during the dry season and the guests have been seen day old calves within the large breeding herds.
• Herds of Roan and Sable antelope are a daily sighting along the rivers edge as they come from the sand veldt and congregate along the river.
• Within the camp a Martial eagle killed a water monitor lizard and were sighted by the guests over a few days as the eagle feasted on the large reptile. An African Rock python was seen at the bee-eater nest and the guest managed to witness the large snake hunt and kill a bee-eater and then swallow the bird whole.
Kwara & Little Kwara camps Jump
& Little Kwara camps
• Twenty-four different Lion have been seen through out the past month in the Kwara concession by the guests, the young female with her single cub has been regulary seen near Tsum Tsum, Zebra were hunted by the young female lioness but did not manage to bring a kill to the ground. The coalition of seven reduced their numbers on a hunt the one day as six of them tackled a buffalo herd and managed to bring down two large Buffalo. The two Buffalo were not long lasting as the pride fed and three days later managed to bring a Zebra to the ground.
• Twenty-two wild dog are back in the area after a very long time consisting of twelve adults and ten sub adults. During the sightings the guest were amazed to see the pack attack a Lioness and the one day a Hyena that tried to steal their Impala Kill. Jackals were extremely skittish around the Dog kills as they were repeatedly attacked and chased away.
• Three Brother Cheetah have been a regular sighting the past month and including a young pair of Brothers that are within the area. Guests were amazed to see how relaxed the Cheetah were around the vehicles. The three brothers enjoy their time towards Splash Hippo pools.
• From Wattled Crane, Honey badgers and Buffalo it is amazing to see the enormous diversity of the Kwara concession of wildlife.
Lebala camp Jump
• An amazing month for Leopard in Lebala region as a young male Leopard has been sighted by the guests very close to camp on a fortnight basis, the guest witnessed the young leopard feeding on a warthog carcass and then later on that week they found the young leopard on an Impala carcass fighting with a rival leopard for the carcass. A resident female Leopard has regularly been sighted by the guests and witnessed a spectacular hunting event for Springhare on the floodplains of Lebala.
• The female Cheetah with her cub have been sighted regularly by the guests killing every two days. But sadly this month the female has lost her cub during the last week of the month. Two male Cheetahs have been seen in the vicinity.
• The wild dog pack seemed to be split up at the moment as two females were sighted to the west of Lebala and a pack of five further to the west of the camp with their four pups. Towards the south there has been a pack of dogs consisting of eight hunting in the Mopane scrubland.
• A dead Elephant was seen by the guests to the south of the camp, the elephant seemed to be dead from natural causes but has been a field day for the scavengers. Guests have spent many an hour sighting Hyena and Jackal and the many species of Vultures squabbling over the remains of the carcass.
• An incredible amount of young being born this past moth as the Impala have calved including the Wildebeest and Warthogs.
Nxai Pan and Tau Pan
• The builders have reported an abundance of game from wild dog to Lion to large herd of Eland tracks.
Jacana Camp update
- October 08 Jump
to Jacana Camp
The waters are receding quickly and the temperatures have risen; the temperatures for the month were in the range of 18 to 38 degrees Celsius and the evenings were fairly humid.
There is a lot of new birdlife that has come in their hundreds to the drying floodplain waters in front of Jacana Camp. There are groups of African Openbill that are taking advantage of the shallow waters - the snails and small fish which are swimming on the water's edge. The Spur-winged Geese, which move around the tall grasses of the floodplain waters in small groups of half a dozen, are amazing to watch as the big birds swoosh out of the water to take flight. The White-faced Ducks have also come in large numbers and they are seen in the waters that surround the island in groups much larger than a dozen. The food is abundant for our little feathered friends and they are lovely to look at while you relax on your room balcony and just watch them go by.
The birds are not the only ones who are enjoying the Jacana floodplains as we have been visited by the ever so beautiful red lechwe antelope. They have been coming closer and closer to the camp and we have even had the pleasure of dining on the deck with the lechwe in full view of less than ten metres under the moonlight. Another exciting fact is that the female lechwes are now pregnant and some already have young. We are looking forward to more lechwe offspring in the next few weeks. The vervet monkeys are also very maternal this month and we have a couple of new mothers who are carrying tiny little babies who hold on tight to their mothers' bellies for comfort and safety.
The sycamore fig tree in the main area of the camp has fruited again; this brings a variety of birds and animals. The vervet monkeys have been foraging in this tree and eating as much of the fruit as they possibly can and sometimes you can tell that they have clearly eaten too many figs. The occasional baboons come along to get their fair share too. They are not exactly best of friends with the monkeys so sometimes there is a lot of chasing and screaming as the baboons want to dominate the tree and the immediate area. African Green Pigeons are well camouflage in the sycamore fig and they also present in large numbers at the moment. The pigeons are initially difficult to see but if you stand there long enough you will be able to spot at least ten at different spots. After the monkeys, the baboons and the birds have dropped hundreds of this fruit to the ground the other animals come along and clean it all up. The elephants pick the fruit up, three or more at a time, with their trunks; they use their trunks like big suction cups as they feel for the fruit that has fallen on the deck. The lechwe sneak up in the night and feed on whatever is left.
On the morning game drives we have had the pleasure of the graceful leopard Beauty on the Jao floodplains. On this particular morning she was on the prowl searching for some breakfast to feed on with her young eight-month-old cub that was hiding in the thickets for safety. In an open area there were wildebeest, red lechwe and a lone steenbok over three hundred metres away from her. We watched her move with great agility and precise movements to keep her prey from spotting her. She moved swiftly from island to island and from thicket to termite mound to get an elevated view of the floodplains and her prey. As we followed her in the vehicle making sure that we do not blow her cover as it would be an added bonus to watch her bringing down her prey.
Beauty disappears for a few moments into some tall grass and she passes a steenbok just a few metres from her reach. We all waited in anticipation. She walked right through the thick tall grass without even noticing the steenbok. She is now tired and hungry as the day has warmed up considerably. She gives up for the moment as she realises that her other prey is too far to advance without being seen.
As we watch Beauty turn with disappointment another cat is in clear view also on the hunt - the African wild cat is a rare sight to see during the day as they are usually nocturnal. She was less than ten metres from the vehicle and was waiting patiently her prey to come out of a hole in the ground. As we drove around her she just stared at the vehicle for a few moments and continued to do her hunting business.
Beauty eventually retired into a tall shady tree which she climbed with speed and agility. There she spent the hot midday hours, watching out for prey and cooling down for the next hunting excursion.
Tubu Tree Camp
update - October 08 Jump
to Tubu Tree Camp
Hunda Island has become home to some of the famous Botswana rhino. On the 8th of October, Wilderness Explorations Guide, Dave Luck, found the tracks of two white rhino and reported the unexpected discovery to the camp. With a combined effort we managed to track the rhino and then spotted them quite close to camp in an area of rather thick vegetation. The two rhino were identified as Boitumelo and Moremi, originally from South Africa. For further details on this also refer to this unusual sighting here.
We have unfortunately not managed to see these rhino again although their tracks have been seen regularly around Hunda Island. It certainly appears as if they have spent almost a month here. We are hoping that they make our beautiful island their home and we feel optimistic that we will find them again. With the arrival of the rhino, Hunda Island and Tubu Tree Camp have become Big Five country - if only for a short time.
If you call loud enough you may find your lost love again - or at least this applies to lions! Early one morning our guests Quintin and Karen were just about to take their first sip of coffee, enthusiastically discussing the noises of the past night when there he appeared right in front of the camp dashing out of the tall grass - a wonderfully healthy and strong male lion roaring and calling for his lost love. In the meantime his love was watching our waiter Renco who was fetching supplies from the storeroom. When Renco appeared breathless at the main area informing us of his close encounter it was evident he had broken the golden rule - never run - but thankfully for him the lioness's interest was merely to get to her lover as quickly as possible! The two lions met just outside Room 1 where our honeymoon couple Kumar and Lei watched the 'meet and greet' from their balcony. What a wake-up call indeed and never to be forgotten!
How big is a newborn elephant baby? You can hardly see it; it is so small when compared to its mother. One morning there were loads of elephants trumpeting just outside camp. When we got there we found a highly nervous herd pushing and shuffling. I initially thought that it was a struggle to get access to a very small pond of water - the remains of the floodwaters in a sandy gully. But the excitement was not about water - in fact, we had witnessed the birth of an elephant. Elephants will huddle in a group during the birth to provide protection for the female that is giving birth, as the calf is very vulnerable. It also seemed that the other females tried to keep the males away, especially the big bull in musth. It took the herd about 40 minutes to calm down which is about the time a cow is in labour. The newborn calf is doing well and has been seen with the breeding herd several times in and around camp.
It is amusing to watch the young elephant, obviously still struggling a bit with its four legs and that long thing that the adults use to drink and feed. It takes a while for them to figure out how to use their trunk for drinking - small elephants will kneel down in the water and drink using their mouth. The small ones are also sometimes seen stepping on their own trunk as if it does not belong to their body!
Moselesele is the most famous of all leopards here on Hunda Island. Her name means 'sickle bush' in Setswana, the local Botswana language, and it is a reference to her preferred territory. She can often be seen in camp in the early evenings, sometimes stalking impala or red lechwe right in front of the rooms. She has successfully raised two cubs, a male and a female, which are now fully grown, independent and whose picture now decorates our dining area.
We were having dinner at the swimming pool recently with our guests Susan, Betty and Paul, when the leopard walked right past our table, seemingly totally oblivious of our presence. It certainly seems that she was trying to let us know who the real owner of the land is. Moselesele is a very successful mother, and is currently raising another two cubs, about four months old now. Unfortunately she was found with a bad gash on her leg a few days ago; however we trust that she will recover soon, as without her help the cubs will not survive. We definitely want to add a few more pages to the beautiful Moselesele tale.
"Words don't do justice - Ke yaleboga. Three come to mind: Primal - Peace - Magic" - NV
"Thanks for a great safari experience. I am thrilled to have had an opportunity to experience Africa in its true spirit!" - J&M
"Tubu is an amazing place on every level - a thoroughly beautiful place" - J&C
-Peter, Katrin and the entire Tubu Team-
update - October 08 Jump
to Kwetsani Camp
October as usual has lived up to its reputation of being an exceptionally hot summer month; luckily the regular daily breeze provides us with some much needed natural air-conditioning. Ambient temperatures range between 22 and 36 degrees Celsius. We had two days where the start of the summer rains threatened and the few scattered few drops did not make it to the bottom of the rain gauge.
This is such an amazing time of the year, where nature seems to soak up the energy from the sun's rays, with everything coming alive. As the migratory birds return we enjoy the sightings of the Yellow-billed Kites from their over-wintering home in West Africa and now wait with anticipation for that characteristic call of the Woodland Kingfishers returning from southern Africa. Both are significant signs of the beginning of summer. Currently there are wonderful sightings of Wattled Cranes.
This is the season of remarkable change as the receding waters expand the dry floodplains for so many herbivore species. It is wonderful to see small groups of zebra and wildebeest that have crossed the channels to graze on these floodplains; soon we will see more of the plains game species crossing the deep channel from Hunda Island and other areas. It is an exciting time of the year as we wait to see the first of the season's newborn foals and lambs.
Beauty, our resident leopard, has, as usual, been very accommodating and has given guests hours of wonderful viewing. Her cub is growing both physically and in confidence month by month.
Despite lion sightings being rare for most of the month, Beauty must be continually vigilant as the opportunistic hyaenas are always around the next bush waiting to snatch a free meal. On one such occasion Beauty had killed a large male reedbuck that was far too big for the female leopard to drag into a tree. As has happened on so many occasions, the hyaenas were not far off and seemed to appear out of nowhere to challenge Beauty for this significant prize. Guests watched in horror as Beauty, along with her cub, retreated into the palm thickets and hearing the growls and the thrashing in the bushes, perhaps most concerned were the guides who have over the years watched Beauty lose cub after cub to lions and other predators. Luckily the scrap lasted only a short while before mother and cub retreated to safety, their reedbuck lost to the hyaenas.
It never ceases to amaze us how the hyaenas sniff out every opportunity. Despite their reputation as vermin and scavengers, they are in fact extremely successful hunters that kill the greater majority of their food themselves. Hyaenas are well engineered animals with the strongest jaws in the animal kingdom, capable of crushing a giraffe's femur bone. The sloped back, which some seem to feel is the shape of a cowardly thief, is in fact another example of nature's precise engineering. This accommodates the powerful forequarters of the animal and creates an angle that directs the force in an efficient manner allowing the animal to literally rip huge limbs from its prey. These are not animals to be shunned; they are impressive predators, of course opportunistic as well, as they will not hesitate to drive off other predators from their prey or to feed off a petrified carcass.
The elephants have long depleted the massive bunches of fruits that were hanging from the high reaches of the Real Fan Palms. The constant shaking and rustle of palms throughout the night has ceased, however, we are still being visited by lone bulls and some incredibly tolerant breeding herds that are more than happy to mill around with their young, enjoying the ripe fruits falling from the massive mangosteen trees.
Towards the end of the month lion sightings became more common with guests on a morning game drive seeing buffalo, elephant and finally our pride of three lions. Not only was it an exciting drive for guests, it was also exciting for us, knowing that the Kwetsani Pride were gracing our floodplains once more. They are sadly a much-reduced pride after the death of one of the females and the disappearance of Freddie and Vee, the male coalition that dominated the pride for so long.
Earlier this month the lions roared throughout the night passing through our camp in the early hours of the morning. We were convinced we would have some great viewing just north of the camp but were disappointed to find that the lions had yet again crossed the channel just out of our reach.
We were certainly spoiled with great experiences of Beauty and her cub on a kill and were then lucky enough to have excellent sightings of the lions on a couple of occasions. On one such occasion they watched as Beauty was once again robbed of her prey by the lions, this time a red lechwe. Such is the competitive life of a predator.
It is always a pleasant change to get off the Land Rovers and mekoro to explore our habitat on foot. This gives us an ideal opportunity to look at the smaller and sometimes more fascinating aspects of the delta. On one such walk this month Mark and Nikki had the wonderful experience of meeting up with a python, surely one of the more beautiful animals of the African savannah.
Once again this has been a wonderful month, with a superb mix of guests from all over the world sharing some special moments with us. We have as usual enjoyed a wonderful mix of activities, and have had some special bush dinners and brunches under the shade of the large sycamore figs that fringe our expansive floodplains, taking advantage of the wonderful summer weather.
We look forward to hosting you here so that we can share the beauty of our ever-changing wilderness.
Mike, Anne and our great Kwetsani team
update - October 08 Jump
to Jao Camp
It is early days as yet with the normal rainy season due in about a month's time. We are graced with the occasional breeze for relief from the warm sun but for now, that is all. The water channels cannot oblige our boats anymore but mokoro trips are still the tranquil treat here in the Delta, as always.
The elephants are seeking the most nourishing and moist natural 'cuisine', ultimately leaving our beautiful scenery to suffer. Palm trees were brought down from their majestic heights to be masticated in busy molars. Our 'garden' is almost empty of the impressive trees now, with the only satisfaction that a hungry tummy is filled. Breeding herds of up to 40 have been wandering around our very dry floodplains; including up to seven calves seemingly getting lost within the plentiful, mobile pillars surrounding them.
Another towering addition to the landscape is a couple of giraffe and their baby. The young giraffe is sure-footed and reaching for the tallest branches he can manage.
Our local spotted super model, Beauty the leopard, is still parading locally with her mischievous cub. She made a meal of a reedbuck for herself and cub near to the end of the Jao Bridge. Her young cub feasted busily upon the antelope then pranced around merrily with his very full belly. The following day three hyaenas managed to steal the remains and Beauty appeared scarred and distressed; her cub was missing!
A happy ending was in store for the worried mother when she was reunited with the young cub and they could continue their adventures together. The cub had obviously learnt to hide very well from predators and from mom. This was but one of many kills she made this month very close to camp.
The adult male leopard was, for the first time, not so shy for an audience, also seen close by the camp. Most viewers were impressed with the significant size difference between him and Beauty.
Genet, civet and porcupine have been seen frequently on night drives or during strolls to and from the guests' rooms in the evenings.
The migratory Marabou Storks, African Paradise-flycatchers, Meyer's Parrots, Secretarybirds and the popular Woodland Kingfishers have all returned. Their endless melody of tunes each morning stir and welcome the wildlife to another day in paradise.
Around camp our resident banded mongoose have given birth to three new additions to their foraging team. A bit early for the season, we will be awaiting the rest of the team to arrive from the mothers' voluptuous bellies soon.
For the wildlife finale, our very elusive pride of lions stormed backed into the area and treated some very lucky guests on night drive to a successful hunt. The viewers were on a night excursion; at this hot time of year the nocturnal animals come alive in the coolness of the night. Hopefully this is the beginning of exciting November sightings.
October was definitely the most celebratory month we have seen in a long time. We had golden wedding anniversaries, silver anniversaries, birthdays, first timers and honeymooners galore. Jao staff were in song as much as they were in conversation. We have certainly enjoyed each and every person who has visited us this month at Jao and look forward to meeting more wonderful people in the future.
A lot to learn from wildlife. A lot to enjoy from such a place and so nice people. Anne-Marie & Patrick, France
One word- FABULOUS! (Ben & Chloe, England)
What a wonderful place! Thanks for all the food, drinks and hospitality. A great end to an unforgettable holiday in Botswana! (Kurt and Sigrid, Germany)
One of the best points to stay in Africa, hospitality absolutely wonderful! (Henri & Guni, Germany)
Beautiful and luxurious- great guides and lovely staff. Waterways so alive and yet so peaceful. Love you resident elephants. (Donna & Ann-Marie, USA)
Incredible sightings and leopard and cub etc. Sad to leave guides and other staff. (Carol, USA.)
Great experiences, wonderful landscape and lovely staff! Thanks for everything. (Sonja and Stefan)
Warm sunny regards,
-The Jao Team-
Vumbura Plains Camp update - October 08 Jump
to Vumbura Plains Camp
October has always been the final step in an animal's struggle to survive the harshness of winter with diminishing food and water resources. This October has been no exception. It was an extremely hot month up until the 20th when the rain clouds gathered and we received a few scattered showers, cooling the land and providing some temporary relief. As those clouds evaporated and the heat returned for the rest of the month. It seems the rainy season is late, so the struggle continues.
This first rains, albeit very brief and inadequate, lifted the spirits of the animal population.
This October has seen many sad events in our animal population. Saddest of all has been the death of our favourite leopard, the Marula Male. We found him under a jackalberry tree paralysed from the rear hips down. Unable to move he slowly deteriorated until one evening, lions killed him, dragging his body a short distance before leaving him alone - perhaps a swift death as opposed to one from starvation. The following evening a hyaena finished off the carcass.
Several elephants have died this month too. An older bull having died in an open, dry floodplain was fed on by lions and lastly hyaena who, under the searing sun, sought refuge within the carcass.
Our guests also witnessed the sad death of a female elephant over towards the airstrip. On the morning of 19th, a breeding herd was found with perhaps 15 individuals. A number of them were lying down and it was thought that they were sleeping. On closer inspection, it turned out that one of the females, the matriarch, was in fact dead, and the others were congregated around their dead herd-member. It was especially traumatic to watch as she had a young calf who attempted to continue suckling from her. The rest of the elephant herd stayed close to the carcass for the rest of the day, forming a protective group around her. As the day went by, however, the remains began to attract predators, lion first, followed closely by hyaena. The lions gorged themselves on the body for four days, lazily fighting off any other animal that came for a closer look.
Lastly, our guests watched with interest a marauding hyaena clan approach a competing clan's den site where four pups were taking refuge. The pups initially were out of the den, but on seeing the approaching hyaena ducked into the old ant-bear hole. Curiosity prevailed and one of the cubs popped his head out to see if the clan was still present. They were, to the pup's detriment. One of the marauders put her head into the den and managed to grab the pup, crushing its skull with ease. She then dropped it on the ground and they left. Strange behaviour indeed.
The hyaena action has continued and they have even been brave enough to start taking down several kudu bulls.
On a more positive note, the beginning of October saw our pack of 22 wild dog appear in the area with pups. Guests had great sightings of them over a period of three days and were privileged to watch them hunting and following through with a kill. Being such a large pack, their need to hunt more often has been evident. The pack was even seen having a stand-off with a sable antelope. Luckily, the sable defended himself well and intimidated the pack enough to make a getaway.
While guests were tracking a female leopard, the game drives suddenly came upon the dogs enthusiastically devouring an impala carcass, with two hyaena waiting patiently for any remains. Just as the guests were leaving the sighting, they came across the female leopard up a tree. It was presumed that she had been driven up there by the dogs. As the guests looked on, she decided to make her escape and cautiously climbed down the tree. Unfortunately the dogs detected her and a chase ensued causing her to take cover in the next available tree.
With the open plains now drying out, our resident male cheetah, Vuka, has also been seen. Game drives were lucky enough to watch him scent-mark, hunt and in full stride take down an impala.
Lion activity has been equally enthralling, especially as it seems our local pride's interactions with buffalo are on the increase in the concession. The start of the month saw the Kubu Pride split into two groups - four males and three lionesses. The males are favouring the north- westerly area of the concession to avoid competition and pressure from two foreign males who came into their territory. Watched by the game drives, the male sub-group slowly following a herd of buffalo and finally took down a male.
The females have spent the bulk of the month on their own; the older female is pregnant and due to give birth to a new litter. The three of them made an appearance at South Camp, wading and swimming past the Star Deck. They then started stalking reedbuck, much to the enjoyment of staff and guests in camp.
We have developed a new mokoro trail; this new route covers more diverse ecosystems than the previous trail and offers a wider variety of animals to be seen. Mokoro trips provide a wonderful way for guests to understand the intricacies of the Okavango Delta and take a closer look at some of the smaller inhabitants of our beautiful area, such as the painted reed frog (pictured).
With a helicopter now permanently stationed here at Vumbura Plains during the busy season, scenic flights have become the norm and are enormously popular with our guests. Highlights of these flights have included watching a crocodile-lechwe stand-off, and sightings of the rare and elusive situtunga antelope.
And so, an eventful month comes to an end in the Kwedi Concession. We look forward to November, bringing with it the first dramatic storms of the wet season and, of course, the birthing season of impala.
Photo Credits: Nick Wright, Brian Rode and Alex Mazunga
Duba Plains Camp update - October 08 Jump
to Duba Plains Camp
Weather and Water Levels
Temperature varied during October: part of the month was very hot, and the rest was rather moderate due to some rain and welcome cloud cover. Temperatures peaked at 38º Celsius for the month. The floodwater levels continued dropping in October - we now have more open floodplain areas to traverse in our vehicles as opposed to in the flood season. The grass has continued to dry up in October becoming less palatable; this has highly affected the buffalo population, particularly the older cows that have been seen getting stuck in the shallow mud due to their weakened body condition. This has also made them easily fall prey to lions.
Lion viewing has been fantastic in the area. The Tsaro Pride still dominates the lion sightings and wildlife 'wow' factor; the pride still consisting of all nine adult females, one sub-adult female and the Skimmer Male. Two of the females have been seen lactating, but only one of them has proudly shown her three cubs to us.
The Tsaro Pride have been capitalising on the buffalo that have been getting stuck in the mud. It was very surprising to witness some of the lionesses not interested on a easy buffalo meal but preferred to hunt for themselves. The Skimmer Male is still protecting the Tsaro Pride and defending the territory from the other young invader male who has been hanging this area since August. He has also been brave enough to somehow mate with two of the Tsaro lionesses, which are heavily pregnant at the moment. It has always been quite easy for this male and Junior, who is still in the territory as well, to manoeuvre around and avoid meeting up with the Skimmer male. Junior and this new male have been seen several times teaming up and successfully hunting buffalo. Everybody at Duba is looking forward to see how far this new team will go, and how that will affect the Skimmer male in his dominancy.
Out on a bush brunch on the plains recently, we heard a distress call from a buffalo which we ignored for the first few minutes thinking is the buffalo fighting among themselves. When these calls continued incessantly we decided to head to the area, only to find that Junior has just brought down a buffalo cow. With his inexperienced hunting skills, it took longer than normal before he killed his hapless victim. The noisy struggle ended up attracting one of the lionesses that was in the vicinity. It was very surprising to see Junior not tolerating her presence, especially when it was just him feeding on the adult buffalo. This did not last long - after he fed and moved to the shade the female had her chance.
The general game around Duba Plains always provides another facet to the wildlife experience here. With October and the onset of the rains, we have just been experiencing some elephant movements out of the Okavango Delta towards the mopane woodlands in the north. The Duba Plains are still filled with large herds of beautiful red lechwe antelope, mainly bachelor males being seen in large herds after the strenuous mating season. The sought-after aardwolf is still viewed on a regular basis in the area; most of the sightings are of them foraging in the grass near their dens. These small and extremely rare mammals are very territorial and this is probably why they hardly forage far from their dens. We also had two sightings of aardvarks - this took place mainly on the way back to camp on the evening game drives. Aardvark sightings have not been recorded in Duba Plains for quite a long time.
The birdlife has continued to leave us in awe with most spectacular sightings. Since beginning of September we had most of the African summer migrant birds arriving such as Yellow-billed Kites, Southern Carmine Bee-eaters, the unmistakable call of Woodland Kingfishers and many more. Then there have also been flocks of Pink-backed Pelicans, African Openbill and a glut of egrets, herons and other water birds standing around the shrinking waterholes for easy catches.
Staff in Camp
The managers in camp this month was Dardley, Tebby and Bonang with the assistance of our valuable guide team consisting of James 007, Moronga and Reuben.
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