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South Africa camps
Rocktail Beach Camp
update - October 08 Jump
to Pafuri Camp
Life is a beach here - all 40km of it. Not to mention the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. The humpback whales are heading south, migrating down the coast to their summer feeding grounds in the Southern Ocean; accompanying them are new calves born in the warmer waters around Madagascar. These mammalian behemoths are now being replaced by giant leatherback and loggerhead turtles that have started arriving on our beaches.
The 15th of October marked the official start of turtle season, when the research team from neighbouring Rocktail Bay Lodge, began patrolling the beach at low tide for nesting turtles. Not be outdone, our eager guests patrolled the beaches night after night, scouring the sand for a glimpse of these phenomenal creatures all the way from Lala Nek to Manzengwenya.
Our efforts were finally rewarded on the 4th of November, when we found our first loggerhead turtle nesting in a dune. It was a breath-taking sight - a metre long turtle industriously digging her nest. We witnessed her methodical preparation and flipper dexterity as she scooped the sand from beneath her belly, creating what will be a home for her eggs for the next 60 days. She then slipped into a trance-like state and began laying her clutch of approximately 60 eggs - the climax of her arduous trans-oceanic journey. It's incredible how dedicated these animals are to the continuation of their species, especially when one considers they will never see the fruits of their labour.
In other local news, a pair of Scarlet-chested Sunbirds has recently moved into the Natal wild banana near the pool; a rock monitor lizard has made a home beneath our pool deck; and whale sharks (a typical summer migrant) have already been seen visiting our waters.
South African residents should look out for us on television on SABC3 this month. Magazine Programme, Top Billing, will be featuring Rocktail Beach Camp as one of the world's "Top Travel" destinations and dive spots.
-The Rocktail Beach Camp Team-
Rocktail Bay Lodge
update - October 08 Jump
to Rocktail Bay Lodge
Children in the Wilderness
The month started off with a very successful inaugural Children in the Wilderness programme hosted at Rocktail Bay Lodge. The fun had by the 22 children in camp was life-changing. It was truly an experience that won't be forgotten by the children and staff who worked so hard to make it such a success. The children participated in activities such as arts and crafts, HIV education through plays, environmental awareness and educattion, team building, confidence building, sand castle building and loads more.
Turtle season has started!
Before the start of the turtle egg laying season, Rocktail guides and management joined a turtle monitoring training camp run by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife. Training involved learning about turtle biology, habits, conservation and the all important monitoring and research. The programme highlighted the importance of the relationship between Government conservation and the turtle research done by Wilderness Safaris over the last 16 years.
So far there have been no turtle nest sites found on Rocktail's monitoring area. Last year the first nest was found on the 23rd of October so this year's turtles are running a little late. Cooler ocean temperatures are thought to part of the reason. In previous years when nesting has started late in the season they finally arrived in a flood of nesting activity. Let's hope this year is the same!
A visit by Rand Barbet Bird Club to Rocktail Bay Lodge shifted the current focus of turtles to birds for a few days. Some of the species of interest seen were Black-throated Wattle-eye, Brown Scrub-Robin, Green Twinspot, Green Malkoa, Tambourine Dove, Lemon Dove, Olive Sunbird and Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher, all of which were seen at the bird hide in camp and Southern Banded Snake-Eagle and Rosy-throated Longclaw some of the special species seen out on drives in the area.
Rocktail Bay Lodge
Dive Report - October 08 Jump
to Rocktail Bay Lodge
August had traditionally been considered our windy month, with the north-easters battling the south-westerlies, in a backwards and forwards tug of war along the coastline; but it seems as though the seasons are marching forwards, as we experience these conditions now in October! Most days have been wonderfully sunny, with a handful of overcast days and only two days of rain. Viz has averaged around 12 to 15 metres for most of the month.
We continued to see humpback whales throughout the month. Most of the sightings were of mothers and calves, travelling southwards on their way back to the Antarctic. Mothers tend to travel close to shore with their babies as this affords them a bit of protection; further out to sea are many more predators, such as sharks and orcas. We have also been lucky to see quite a few whales breaching: performing wonderful leaps in the air, followed by a thundering splash!
The Thomas family got really lucky on the 15th. They were heading out on an ocean safari, just the five of them with Darryl and Ondyne, when Darryl spotted a southern right whale and her calf! They are not very common in our area as the water tends to be slightly too warm for them so they do not often come so far north - but when they do it is a wonderful treat!
October is the beginning of turtle season, where we get the privilege of seeing female loggerhead and leatherback turtles come ashore at night to lay their eggs. The season always starts though with a few laughs under the water. Tony, Emma and I were diving at Pineapple Reef when we spotted a firefish under a ledge, and we settled in on the sand to get a better look. As Emma and I were looking under the ledge, I felt something knock my cylinder, thinking that it was probably another diver kicking me by mistake I ignored it and carried on looking at the firefish. Then I felt a tapping on my cylinder and thought that perhaps Tony was trying to call me, so I turned around and looked straight into the face of a loggerhead turtle! The male turtle had been trying to get a grip on my dive cylinder with his jaws! Tony watched the whole thing and we all had a good laugh while we watched the turtle swim slowly away.
This month we have had ten separate opportunities to snorkel with whale sharks. On the 19th we snorkelled with a whale shark which we saw as we were travelling down to dive at Coachman's Ledge. The dive ended with us being joined by another whale shark on the dive - it came right in to have a good look at us! We then snorkelled with a third whale shark on the way home!
Other shark sightings this month have included a couple of grey reef sharks and two more male ragged tooth sharks. We are still waiting to see when the first female raggies will arrive and will keep you posted. Congratulations go to Jade, Felix, William, Dianne, Dale and Claire for completing their Discover Scuba Diving Courses and Sarah for completing her PADI Open Water Diver Course. Well done and wishing you all lots more wonderful diving experiences!
For those of you who have not yet met our new PADI Instructor, we are pleased to introduce you to Ondyne Dobyne. She has dived in many areas abroad and was based in Australia for some time, but she has returned home and we welcome her as part of the Rocktail Dive Team.
Yours in diving,
Darryl, Clive, Michelle, Ondyne
The Rocktail Dive Team
Images by Jess Wall
Camp update - October 08 Jump
This month has seen us receive our first rains of the season cooling us all down from the 40 Celsius heat we have been experiencing for the last two months. This is now a very interesting time on the Busanga Plains as we are already seeing changes in the vegetation. Grass is going green, the sausage trees are producing their unique fruit and the game is taking advantage of the new shoots emerging from the dry dusty earth.
Once again lion have dominated our game drives with regular sightings of the Busanga and Papyrus prides. The Busanga Pride has entertained us from camp frequently with their daytime hunting antics. One afternoon from Room 5 we watched as a lioness hunted a lechwe and successfully brought it down only to drag it to the manager's house and stay there for a few days. This of course made going home at night a little interesting to say the least. Furthermore we suspect she is pregnant which is good news for the pride. We also witnessed that lions are true opportunists when on game drive one afternoon just outside camp. Male lechwe were so engrossed in their battle for supremacy that they didn't see a lioness casually strolling up to them. The lioness, not even going into stealth mode, moved towards the lechwe at a slow pace and then pulled the male down with relative ease. The other male lechwe bounded off and accepted victory by default.
Perhaps a unique event for some of our guests was to witness the Busanga male lion mating with one of the females in full view. For a period of four days they separated themselves from the pride and mated at least eight times in an hour. Let's hope this means another generation of big maned, powerful Busanga lions is on its way in the next 90 days or so.
The Papyrus Pride has been sighted more frequently moving at times into dangerous Busanga Pride territory. These young lions are a joy to watch. Although powerful and close to adulthood they still have a little bit of a cub's mentality as they stalk and pounce on each other before they move off for the night.
Another exciting highlight this month at Shumba was two elephants in the camp for a few days. These huge majestic bulls came into camp in the early afternoon to feed off the fig trees close to Room 4. We encountered them a few times this month and seemed very relaxed around the vehicle which was a real pleasure.
General game has been good with numerous herds of wildebeest, zebra and roan.
It seems that the liquid call of the Coppery-tailed Coucal otherwise known as the rain bird lived up to its name this month. These birds have been calling regularly over the last few weeks. We see these birds often on game drives but one afternoon this month we saw a rain bird eating what appeared to be a fairly large water snake. These birds have a regular diet of lizards, insects and small mammals but to witness one totally consume a fairly large snake was something of a special sighting. Other birding highlights have been large groups of African Open-billed Storks flying high over the hippo pools, Grey-headed Kingfisher, Red-billed Teals, Yellow-billed Kites doing some daring maneuvres over camp and a few sightings of the rare Osprey.
Until next time,
-Chris, Katja and the Shumba Team-
Lunga River Lodge update - October 08 Jump
to Lunga River Lodge
October has also brought the first rains of the season to the Lunga area. We had a couple of days when it threatened to rain, but it turned out to be all talk and no show. The days got extremely humid, and we must have experienced temperatures of 40º Celsius. Then finally on the morning of the 21st October, we awoke to cool cloudy weather, and the pitter-patter of rain on the soft soil around the lodge. That evening, the clouds rolled away to present the most beautiful October night sky. We looked up at the crystal-clean twinkling evening sky, inhaled all the new scents the rains had brought and then a lion roared in the background.
October has proved to be an incredible month in the east of the Kafue National Park. Besides having many visitors pass through camp, and many new additions to our Lunga family, our game drives, boat cruises and walking safaris have been incredibly productive.
On the 1st of October our first new addition to the Lunga family arrived. So, what is black and white, prickly and only comes out a night? Well, he is now known as "Porky Ola Porko", as so christened by some of our staff and guests. Yes, that's right, we now have our very own resident porcupine, who has decided to make Lunga his home, and he has fit in perfectly from day one. During the day he spends his time sleeping at his various points around the lodge, but at night he is out and about, rattling his quills as he ambles past the dinner table. He has proved to be a huge hit with everyone that has come to visit this month, and we are hoping that he will stick around (no pun intended).
Spring is the season of babies, and we are proud to announce that our resident tree hyraxes have new additions to their family. On the 13th of October we were introduced to the two new bundles of fur. For the first couple of days they did not stray far from their mother, but towards the end of the month they have been exploring the rest of the tree they live in, and learning what it is like to be a tree hyrax. We have also had a resident herd of impala who have also brought along their lambs into the dambo behind camp. The impalas have also been sharing the water source behind camp with a breeding herd of elephants and a troop of yellow baboons, who all have little ones in tow.
Out and about, game and bird viewing has also been excellent. We have had numerous sightings of charismatic species on our game drives and boat cruises. The 29th turned out to be particularly productive, of course with Sam in the guides seat, how could you go wrong? Sam and his guests stumbled upon a female leopard. They turned the engine off and just sat and watched this healthy spotted cat go about her business. Then, all of a sudden, she went into some tall grass, and the next thing they saw that she had an impala foal in her mouth, and went up the tree to enjoy her not-so-hard-earned meal. Once they were finished enjoying this sighting, they started driving down the road, and who should they stumble upon? Another leopard, this time a male, walking down the road. Our guests were beside themselves when they returned to camp - it's not every day that you see a leopard, let alone two.
The next day, Sam and our same guests went on a boat cruise, and they found a pack of 11 wild dogs on the western side of the Lunga River. They sat and watched them for a good while, before they moved out of sight. The following day Sam once again managed to find the pack of dogs, this time from the vehicle, and our guests enjoyed a most memorable sighting of these endangered canines.
On the river, we experienced a not-so-common sighting of a Nile crocodile feasting on a Defassa waterbuck. Sam was on the scene, and explained to us when he got back to camp, that they watched the crocodile lock its jaws around a part of the waterbuck, and then twist around and around, to detach the chunk of meat from the animal. Crocodiles are not able to chew, so they have to resort to this spinning action in order to get pieces that they are able to swallow.
Comical moment of the month has to go to one very embarrassed hippo. Our guests were enjoying their sundowners out on the river one evening, and were watching a pod of hippos go about their grunting and groaning. The next thing, a hippo stood up out of the water, the water level was only up to his feet, so his entire body was out of the water. He started walking and to everyone's utter surprise, tripped over a rock, and fell nose first into the water. An eruption of laughter came out of the boat, and the hippo glared back at the humans with one eye, stood up, lifted his stately head and strode back into the water, and never looked back. Some of our witnesses even commented that the hippo looked like it turned pink - very entertaining indeed!
We also experienced some incredible birding along our river this month. We have come across a Broad-billed Roller's nest just across the river from camp, and one of our guests got an incredible photo of this multicoloured bird. We have also seen African Finfoot, Giant Kingfisher, Green-Backed Heron, Ross's Turaco, Schalow's Turaco and of course the ever-present African Fish-eagle.
Well, we are now going into our final month of the 2008 season, and are sure it is going to be a good one.
-The Lunga Team-
Kapinga Camp update - October 08 Jump
Our last guests at Kapinga Camp leave us on the 3rd of November and it is with a heavy heart that we will say goodbye to another rewarding and exciting season on the Busanga Plains.
We finally received our first, much-anticipated rains of the season on the 9th of October when a rain shower settled over the parched Plains - much to the delight of the staff and animals alike. All the smoke and dust hanging over the Plains were washed from the chalky skies and every plant and blade of grass was basking in the flush of fresh, new life. Throughout October the air was filled with the heady smell of silver cluster-leaf and acacia flowers and the greenery of sprouting leaves could be seen all over Kapinga Island.
Once again during October the lions of the Busanga Plains have continued to entertain our guests and guides with their antics. The Busanga Pride was regularly seen this month roaming the plains between Busanga Bush Camp, Hippo Pools and the Lushimba Bridge south of Shumba Camp. Our guides found them at the beginning of the month at Hippo Pools where they had killed a lechwe. Idos and our guests also followed them one afternoon and watched some of the pride members stalk and hunt a baby lechwe on Mukambi Island. The Busanga Boys once again mated with some of the pride's lionesses and to the delight of our guests, the first lioness to start climbing trees opted to do just that after a soiree with one of the males!
The Busanga Pride has been seen often hanging in the trees - mainly at One Fig and some of the figs near the Lushimba Crossing. Unfortunately, the sub-adult male from the Busanga Pride became too weak in this unforgiving environment and did not survive in the end. But alas, so are the harsh rules of the wild and as one life weakens away another stronger contestant in this game of survival will surely take its place.
The Papyrus Pride was also seen a number of times this month toward the north-west of our area. Idos found them one morning while one of the pride members was happily chewing on a terrapin. Towards the south of Shumba Camp our guests also saw the Treeline female and her two sub-adult cubs and they were also spotted up a quinine tree later in the month.
It's been a great month for leopard in the Plains and we had no less than three sightings during October - quite high for the Plains, considering that leopard prefer roaming the wooded areas to the open plains. Twice we saw a female leopard, once at the bottom end of the Plains and once close to camp. We also saw her fresh tracks one night near the helicopter pad just outside camp. Idos and the staff were on a game drive one afternoon on a new road that we've made recently when they spotted a large male leopard scanning the nearby area from his vantage point up a tree.
Guests also saw cheetah a couple of times this month. They spotted a male cheetah near the Shumba Bridge resting in the shade and it was quite clear from his fat belly that he'd just enjoyed a meal. Idos and one of our guests were on a walk one morning on the other side of Kapinga Island when three cheetah came strolling past them - without even realising that they were there! Idos thinks that it could possibly be the sub-adult cubs from the female that we saw last month that have now left the security of their mother's protection in search of a territory of their own.
Apart from all the predator action during October we also had great sightings of porcupine, water mongoose, the resident buffalo herd, two sitatunga, bull elephants and herd of Lichtenstein's hartebeest near One Fig. The plains also still played host to large herds of zebra and wildebeest and the roan antelope are still regularly seen in the area.
Idos even found a large sable bull one morning near the Lushimba Bridge - surely one of the most handsome and regal antelope species in the Kafue.
Some of the more interesting birds we've seen this month included African Quail-finch Green-winged Pytilia, Pygmy Kingfisher in the camp, a Pallid Harrier and even a glimpse of a Narina Trogon on the Island! Of course the beautiful and stately Grey Crowned and Wattled Cranes are seen on a daily basis but interestingly enough we have not had any sightings of pelicans yet this season.
The end of the 2008 season
We have now started packing up Kapinga Camp in anticipation of the great rains that will arrive in western Zambia in the next few weeks. Our camp staff will be leaving during the course of the next few weeks to return to their villages and tend to their fields and the planting of their crops. We will then be leaving the Plains at the end of November and there is no doubt that it will be an interesting, mud-caked journey back to Lusaka!
But we will return once again next year in April for the start of the 2009 season to watch the northern Kafue transform from a waterlily-clad, slow-drying swamp to the vastness of the grassy Busanga Plains.
Thank you to all our wonderful guests that visited us this year at Kapinga Camp and shared in the enchantment of a safari on the Busanga Plains.
-Sjani and Kapinga staff-
Busanga Bush Camp update - October 08 Jump
to Busanga Bush Camp
The greatly anticipated rains have finally arrived here at Busanga Bush Camp. There really is nothing quite as humbling as standing in the middle of 750 square kilometres of untouched wilderness of the Busanga Plains watching the incomparable force of nature arrive on your doorstep in the form of bolts of lightning and crashing thunder. In an age where many people are surrounded by massive urbanization and too busy to even look up, it's a very unique experience for our guests to observe the sheer power of nature.
The long wait is over and we've been well and truly 'battening down the hatches' towards the end of the month whilst watching the first storm clouds of the season approach across the plains. The onset of the rains has been appreciated by all, giving some relief from the heat we were experiencing throughout the month.
The wildlife has been cooking up a storm this month as well, with arguably some of the best sightings of the season.
The Busanga Pride is looking in great shape and back to the way we had come to know them. Their territory was invaded early in the month by the Papyrus Pride but after some late night commotion, which involved the Busanga Pride running through the camp and roaring, the 'problem' seemed to disappear and the Busanga lions reclaimed their land. With the 14th October came our first sighting of the infamous, tree-climbing lions of Busanga. And where better a location for them to make their debut other than the fig tree right next to Tent 4! The following day, whilst having brunch, the Busanga Pride mating pair strolled past our campfire. After nothing more than a brief look at us, they headed up onto our viewing deck where they proceeded to mate at regular intervals for the rest of the afternoon! Again, quite an experience for all of our guests at the time!
There have been a couple of cheetah sightings this month, including one individual believed to be one of the cheetah brothers because of his age and how relaxed he was. We have also sighted a very large, old male cheetah in the vicinity of Shumba Camp. Another definite highlight of the month has to be our second wild dog sighting of the season. The same pack of five that we saw earlier in the season were sighted again at Fishing Weir, an area near Musanza, one of our explorations camps in the woodland near the edge of the plains.
Successful night drives have also provided a talking point for us this month with sightings including a young leopard on the edge of Kapinga Island. Although she was a little nervous, she passed right by the vehicle, giving all present a very nice view of her. We also had a great sighting of a pair of porcupines near Kapinga Island again, expected to most likely be a female and offspring.
Sadly, we haven't been seeing the breeding herd of elephants this month and we think they have possibly moved on to a different area. However, we have been seeing two bull elephants around the area and sometimes near the camp. One of them is the floppy-eared bull that we have seen for a number of years. As well as being sighted walking out across the plains they have also taken a liking to the fig trees around our camp as well and have been seen on a few occasions very close to the guest rooms.
Birds & Other
The activity hasn't all been out of the camp though, and in particular the birding around camp this month has been fantastic. A highlight for me, among many, was seeing an Emerald Cuckoo in camp! As well as the birds, we have had a few reptilian visitors including a few harmless but beautiful snakes and a large monitor lizard passing through one afternoon.
Well, the season is sadly coming to an end now and while we are busy packing up all the memories from the last six months, we can take a few minutes to reflect, look around us and appreciate that we are extremely fortunate to live and work in such a beautiful wilderness.
Until next season,
-Sara and the Busanga Team-
Lufupa Tented Camp update - October 08
October has been a scorching month with maximum temperatures reaching 44º Celsius. The minimum temperature recorded was 18º Celsius. We have had two small thundershowers towards the end of the month that dropped about 8mm of rain.
The harsh dry conditions experienced in this region during September have prevailed. The rivers in the area act like a magnet, drawing in animals from far and wide. The plethora of species seeking moisture and shade from the river's banks have once again provided excellent game viewing opportunities.
Lion and leopard have been sighted almost daily, hunting the large herds of antelope that gather along the waterways. It's been a testing couple of months for all the creatures in the area but, eventually, there is some reprieve for the predators. The first impala lambs were born into this furnace in early October and have continued dropping throughout the month. The births are set to coincide with the first rains which are due any day now and should provide nutritious grazing for the lactating ewes. This sudden flood of lambs has been good news for all the carnivores here and a few guests have been lucky enough to witness the spectacle of both lion and leopard successfully hunting down the vulnerable youngsters.
The smaller cats have been quite active too and earlier in the month an African wild cat was seen stalking and catching a Swainson's Spurfowl. The water level of the Lufupa River has dropped substantially allowing brave animals to warily wade across the crocodile-infested channel. A coalition of two huge male lions did just this, intent on exploring the forbidden territory across the river. These magnificent new males did not stay long though and were driven back by the roars of Lufupa's resident pride of lions.
October has also produced sightings of water mongoose, large grey mongoose and honey badgers which are not commonly seen in the area. The splendid roan antelope and diminutive blue duiker have also been viewed surprisingly often this month.
October has been the most rewarding month of the year for anyone interested in the avian world as many new species have recently joined the already extensive Kafue birdlist. The trees and shrubs along the waterways have acquired a brilliant new range of colours as Broad-billed Rollers have just returned from their intra-African migration. Their rich colours are mesmerising and an absolute feast for the eye. These have been complimented by the dazzling yellows and blues of European Bee-eaters. Both the European Bee-eater and European Roller have recently made their return from the Middle East, Asia and Europe.
A few more of the cuckoos have been heard filling the smouldering Lufupa air with their distinctive song; both the Diderick and Jacobin Cuckoos are back and making no secret of it. With the return of the Pygmy and Grey-headed Kingfishers, the Lufupa area now boasts nine different kingfisher species. The Lesser Moorhen has also been seen scuttling along the banks of the Lufupa River - this is a rarely seen bird that has also just completed its journey from the tropics.
Most species come here to breed and as a result have acquired their full breeding plumage. The skies above the Kafue are filled with interesting shapes and colours as the males try desperately to attract a mate. There have been a few sightings of White-backed Ducks and Lesser Jacana this month much to the excitement of both guests and guides. As I completed this newsletter we found a juvenile African Wood-owl lying on one of the paths to the guest tents in broad daylight. I surmise that it is trying to learn to fly and hasn't quite perfected it yet. As a result, the bird remained completely motionless for hours.
It goes without saying that viewing the area from the comfort of the boats has been the ultimate activity this month. Guests on boat cruises have been lucky enough to view breeding herds of elephants playing and bathing in the cool water of the Kafue River, lions tucked up in the shade of the thick riverine vegetation and leopard hunting along the banks. Buffalo have been drawn down to the refreshing mud of the Lufupa River and guests have been able to get close to these powerful bovines from the safety of the boats.
The birding along the rivers has been phenomenal and the boats have once again provided the best opportunity to get close to and photograph the area's bird and reptile life. As the water level has dropped, the fishing in both the Kafue and Lufupa Rivers has improved. Many a happy fisherman has returned to the camp, smiling from ear to ear, ready to show off his or her catch to the other guests. Morning, afternoon and night drives have all been extremely popular this month and each offer a completely unique perspective of the area's fauna and flora.
Morning and afternoon drives have produced great sightings of Lichtenstein's hartebeest, roan and oribi while night drives reveal an array of nocturnal creatures including porcupine, civet, blue duiker and of course, the big cats in action. Early morning walks have been popular with guests wishing to learn more about nature's little things including tracks, dung, flowers, trees and smells.
River Club update - October 08 Jump
to The River Club
The first rains have arrived in Livingstone and The River Club is looking even more beautiful with all its Flamboyant trees in full bloom everywhere in the garden.
This month, guests have spotted a striped weasel on the running trail and others saw a few Brown-hooded Kingfishers and Giant Kingfishers while enjoying a drink during the Sunset Cruise on the Zambezi River.
Very excitingly, a lone sable antelope was spotted near the river which apparently is very rare to see in this area.
At Simonga Village, donations keep coming in - and going out for good causes. US$51,907 has been released from the Wilderness Safaris Wildlife Trust, of which US$12,870 went for the water and school project, US$1,137 went for the Library, US$2,900 went for student sponsorships and US$35,000 for bus transportation. The latter is very exciting as we have been trying to find a way to get schoolchildren from Simonga to Livingstone.
In Zambia, schooling is government-assisted until Grade 7, at which point it must be paid for by the students/families. Most families do not have enough money for this and so schooling for many children ends here. Those who have the money must send them to a school in Livingstone as the Simonga School only reaches Grade 7. Up until now, The River Club has donated its shuttle to ferry students to and from Livingstone every day, but this can only hold 16 children at a time.
We are now able to purchase a good second hand 24-seater bus which means that more students can continue their schooling in Livingstone. Education is one of the single most vital aspects to uplifting communities throughout Africa, with concomitant benefits reaching their families in knowledge of nutrition, HIV/AIDS etc.
We would like to thank the Wilderness Trustees for enabling us to continue the necessary work in Simonga.
Ruckomechi Camp update - October 08 Jump
to Ruckomechi Camp
Temperatures have been well over 40º Celsius for most of the afternoons with high humidity in the evenings. Some days have had us waiting with bated breath as the clouds build up over the Zambian escarpment but the rains don't ever seem to cross over the river. Easterly winds are still hitting us on the occasional afternoon, causing dust storms to swirl on the island in front of our camp and in the dry sandy river beds.
With the vegetation being very dry, there have been some bush fires on the mountains surrounding us. The resultant haze brings us stunning sunsets and beautiful orange skies in the early morning.
Vegetation, Landscape and the Zambezi River
The river has been fluctuating on a daily basis leaving visible muddy banks exposed on one day and swamped out on the next. Rather big schools of bream (tilapia) can be seen hiding in the tall green grass along the river banks whilst standing on our star-gazing deck when the river is high. When the river drops considerably, the island in front of our camp is home to a large herd of waterbuck.
The large-leaf croton has started bearing its fluffy pear-shaped fruit which are a delicacy to squirrels as they gnaw through the fruit to get to the kernel. The Natal mahoganies are also bearing fruit and will soon be dispersing their red seeds on the ground in time for the first rains.The albida trees are holding on to their last few protein-filled pods leaving a lot of disappointed elephants in search of food.
We have also recently finished installing a new water irrigation system in front of our first five rooms. Within the first couple days of the system working, we have noticed small tufts of grass growing and hopefully this will invite impala and warthog to come closer into our camp.
As the landscapes are getting dryer and food is becoming scarce, the majority of our sightings are along the Zambezi River. Elephants are swimming daily from one island to another in search of food and a lot of buffalo are seen at the water's edge in the late afternoons. We recently had a huge herd of buffalo that have moved onto our concession reaching approximately 500 head or so. We think that they have moved across the Nyakasanga River from the hunting area as they are not used to vehicles and are very skittish.
Julian was fortunate enough to come across our resident pride of six lions on a buffalo kill earlier in the month. Both guests and staff kept a watchful eye on the kill for two days as the lions guarded their meal from scavenging hyaena, White-backed Vultures and Marabou Storks. The guides showed much excitement as our resident lions have not killed large animals in past few months. Later in the evenings hyaena were seen on the kill and our guests were overwhelmed by the behaviour and noises of these animals.
A pack of 22 wild dogs are back on our concession and the 11 pups have grown so much since we last saw them! The dogs were seen chasing an impala into the Chirara River and needless to say, a reasonably-sized crocodile managed to get an easy meal. The dogs have stayed in our concession for the past week and are often seen in the few shady spots behind our camp.
We have also been watching a baby elephant over the past three weeks. Still with the umbilical cord showing, this little guy was very small. We think that he was born prematurely as he could hardly reach to feed from his mother. The last sighting of him pulled all our heart strings as he looked very dehydrated and kept stumbling and falling over.
The probability sightings for this month were as follows: baboon, elephant, impala, vervet monkey, warthog, zebra and waterbuck 100%. eland 94%, Cape buffalo 87%, kudu 86%, large spotted genet 58%, Mutable sun squirrel 65%, scrub hare 61%, spotted hyaena 56%, bushbuck 52% , African civet and white-tailed mongoose 26%, leopard 25%, dwarf mongoose 23%, banded mongoose 20%, lion , painted hunting dog 19%, slender mongoose and porcupine 17%, large grey mongoose13%, cheetah and dwarf mongoose 10%, slender mongoose 6%, nyala, honey badger and grey duiker 3%.
This month we recorded a total of 176 different species.
The colony of Southern Carmine Bee-eaters has kept all entertained this past month. On the odd occasion, we have found a few chicks that have fallen out of their nests and we have rescued them and put them back. A water monitor was seen inside one of the holes trying to find eggs and eating a few of the young.
We have had our first sighting of Broad-billed Roller for the season; the roller was seen chasing and harassing a small raptor in flight. An Osprey has also been seen on two occasions swooping over the river and catching small fish before flying into trees to enjoy a healthy meal.
"Oh my? To come so close to lots of elephant, to observe their habits and have them explained to us was exciting - the encounter with the lions at night on the ride was breathtaking!" Liz
"Thank you for making our dreams come true." Ian and Lesley
"Excellent friendly staff, great game drives, and great facilities - we enjoyed our stay." Kevin and Iona
Staff at Ruckomechi
The heat of October has hit us rather hard this month but our ever-smiling staff have kept up their good spirits. The guides have had rather a good month when it comes to sightings. All staff have been eager to give a helping hand as there has been a lot of maintenance being done in and around the camp. With Caro being away for most of the month, Julian did really well in holding the fort together.
Our work experience programme has been successful as Jessica Bray has now left us after her month of training to continue with hotel management in a Victoria Falls Hotel. Lauren Wilson has also had a successful month and is helping out with the first Children in the Wilderness camp being held in Hwange National Park.
-The Ruckomechi Team-
[Photo Credits: Kevin Van Breda]
Makalolo Plains update - October 08 Jump
to Makalolo Plains Camp
This October temperatures were not as unbearable as in previous years; we have had a fairly cool month. Temperatures reached a maximum of 40C and a minimum of 12C. The rains have not started yet, although the clouds have been gathering and promising us a downpour, but no rain as yet.
Vegetation, Landscape and Water
The trees have bloomed and the landscape is greener. The bush seems alive and ready for spring. The concession is all so beautiful and picture perfect at the moment. Water is still being pumped 24/7 at the major waterholes; this will not stop until the rains have come and filled up the pans.
Wildlife sightings at Makalolo Plains have been astronomical this month, with us seeing rhino and lion nearly every day, but not forgetting the herds of elephant, buffalo, giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, and other smaller species, that make up Hwange's diversity.
The cheetah are still hanging around, and were seen again this month. Wild dogs have been observed hunting on two occasions for their preferred prey, impala. Hyaena activity in the Makalolo Plains has been low, probably due to the male lions in the area, not allowing them much room to move in the lions' territory.
The two lion brothers that have dominated the Makalolo Plains have been pushed out by another coalition of two brothers and two females. These new males seem a lot more aggressive and younger. We haven't witnessed any battles between theses males yet - we wait in anticipation.
Elephants, elephants, elephants! These giants are a big reason why Hwange is so special. If a herd is not seen on a game drive, the game drive is not fulfilled, as these animals are the mainstay of most guests' expectation in Hwange. We have also had our usual share of elephants at our swimming pool, claiming it as their waterhole; it's been a nightmare trying to keep it clean for guests to swim in, but we realise that water is in short supply this time of year.
Probability sightings for the month of October were:
Rarely seen (<20%): Gemsbok, common reedbuck, aardwolf, dwarf mongoose, striped polecat and African wild dog.
Uncommon residents (20-50%): African wildcat, cheetah and eland.
Commonly occurring mammals (>50%): Side-striped jackal, buffalo, vervet monkey, spotted hyaena, square-lipped (white) rhino, baboon, grey duiker, elephant, hippo, giraffe, impala, black-backed jackal, kudu, lion, banded mongoose, roan, sable, springhare, tree squirrel, steenbok, warthog, waterbuck, wildebeest and Burchell's zebra.
Birds and Birding
The summer visitors have arrived and the resident Kurricane Thrush has got chicks. African Paradise-flycatchers are starting to build their nests and a cute Chinspot Batis nest has also been seen in the camp. There is activity all round the concession as the cycle of life takes place. Two male Kori Bustards were seen fighting, an interesting sight for the lucky guests. In total we recorded 138 species this month.
- "Staff is wonderful, helpful, friendly, accommodating. Knowledgeable, great guide, who is able to tell us so much about the wildlife, plants and trees, But I will never forget the herd of elephants drinking from the pool. After 6 weeks in Africa, I thought I had seen it all, but this was the best ever." L& B - USA
- "The beauty of the place, the charm of the staff, the unbelievable game, its perfect as it is." JT - USA
- "Staggering amount of animals, wonderful and well-informed staff, such a pretty place, a very happy camp." MM - USA
Mana Canoe & Walking Trail Safari report - October 08 Jump
to Mana Canoe & Walking Trail Safari
October has lived up to its reputation as it is known to us as "suicide month" due to the intense temperatures. The sun is a blaze from the time it rises to the time it sets in the evening and our highest recorded temperature for October has been 43º Celsius. Canoeists are grateful for the breeze that wafts upstream ensuring that temperatures on the river are bearable. Lunch on a sandbar is a must and on a few occasions everyone layered on the suncream and remained there while the gentle flowing water lapped against them keeping all rather refreshed. In the middle of October we experienced some much needed rain. A light sprinkle gave a boost of energy and was welcomed by all. This is common occurrence for this time of the year as we now get prepared for the rains to start towards the end of November.
VEGETATION, LANSCAPE AND THE ZAMBEZI RIVER
The Albida trees have lost most their pods leaving a few situated high in the trees that can only be reached by troops of baboons who drop them to the ground for others to salvage. As October progressed so did the flowers of many trees and plants. Some to mention this month are the Jasmine Tree (Holarrhena pubescens) which have clusters of small white flowers and a perfume that cannot be resisted. Various Combretums are also in full flower and last but not least the sickle bush (Dicrostatachys cinerea) has pink and yellow flowers that are very similar to the shape of a Chinese lantern.
The water levels have been fluctuating almost on a daily basis and we had a few days where the water level was as high as the beginning of the season. This is rather unusual for this time of the year and it has been suggested that Kariba Dam upstream is letting out more water through the turbines in preparation for the rainy season.
The most exciting and intriguing experience this month had to be that of an interaction between a leopard and baboons. Whilst on a walk the guides approached a troop of baboons who were merrily grooming themselves and playing in a mahogany tree. They proceeded to approach the tree to get better pictures of the entertaining troop when to their surprise, a leopard jumped out of the same tree that the troop were in. There was no indication from the troop that there was anything wrong, especially not a leopard in the tree. Only once the leopard jumped out did the baboons get upset and proceeded to chase the leopard, which disappeared within seconds. This just proves the stealthy natures of these elusive super-predators.
Often we tend not to take to much notice of impala due to their abundant occurrance along the banks of the Zambezi. But one definitely caught the eye of everyone. This impala has a growth a bit smaller than a soccer ball growing on one of its horns; this looks rather uncomfortable as the impala can't keep his head straight.
A rather rare sighting (most are grateful about its rarity) was that of a black mamba. We were on our way back to Ruckomechi Camp and the snake was just about to cross the road when it quickly changed its mind as the vehicle approached. After we had passed some turned around to see it open its mouth bearing its distinct black gape. This rather close encounter left a few of us temporarily speechless as we carried on the journey.
Unfortunately another dead hippo was seen on the borders of our concession. It is hard to determine the cause of death but the most likely explanation is that it could have had a territorial fight or died of old age. The carcass was surrounded by crocodiles of all sizes demonstrating the skills they have perfected for feeding.
The lions have kept a rather low profile in the last month as we have not seen them but we are reminded that they are still there by their calls that carry through the night. Not far from Chessa Campsite the walkers came across a freshly killed eland that had been a feast for the lions.
There have been some rather phenomenal encounters with buffalo and elephant along the river as the canoes glide past and guests are able to get great close-up pictures of them on the banks.
Continuing with an update of nesting birds: The White-crowned Lapwings have been seen pairing up and a nest was found with three eggs. We look forward to see some vocal little chicks in the near future. The Red-chested and Jacobin Cuckoos have been calling into the night which confirms that they have arrived from the north to enjoy the rainy season that is soon to arrive. There have been a few sightings of a Black Egret displaying his unique fishing technique - called wing mantling. He folds his wings in the shape of an umbrella over his head; reasons for this could be to create the shape of a water lily for fish to hide under or to cut out the glare on the water. Purple Heron have also been seen recently. A little humour was enjoyed by a group with guide Gregg Hughes as a Giant Kingfisher gave him a lesson in the skills of fishing: The Kingfisher dived a few metres in front of him and came up with a little tilapia (bream) in his beak.
"All is a highlight - canoe safari, walking safari, food, camp, staff, guides, hostess. Everything is perfect."
"Lunch in the river, the adrenalin and meeting a leopard."
"Being on the river with very experienced guides and being welcomed to a nice, comfortable camp at the end of the day."
STAFF ON CANOE TRAILS
October has been quieter than previous months but nonetheless Bryan and Matthew have provided adventurous experiences to those that have joined us down the tranquil yet thrilling Zambezi River.
-The Mana Canoe Trails Team-
Desert Rhino Camp update - October 08 Jump
to Desert Rhino Camp
As per usual we concentrated our activities on tracking and finding the rare desert-adapted black rhino and with the help of the Save the Rhino Trust trackers we had a successful month. We had numerous sightings and practically all of our guests had phenomenal encounters of these desert behemoths in their rocky plain habitat.
Other species seen on a regular basis included gemsbok (oryx), Hartmann's mountain zebra, springbok, bat-eared fox, black-backed jackal and others such as greater kudu, steenbok and even giraffe. Ostrich are ubiquitous of course, but we were thrilled with some less common sightings of a pair of two male lions which we heard near camp on several nights and encountered on several game drives.
We also enjoyed a sighting of two cheetah close to camp and on one occasion guests saw a herd of 19 desert-adapted elephant on their way into camp.
Thanks to Clive Dreyer for the photographs.
-The DRC team-
Mumbo Island update - October 08
Weather and Lake Conditions
The weather has been generally hot and dry, but almost daily the thunderclouds build up and it rains - somewhere else! This is the standard November weather pattern for the lakeshore, and serves to heighten the anticipation of the first rains. We wait with bated breath?
This is an excellent time to be on an island surrounded by water. Lake Malawi is flat and glassy; its water temperature is around 30º Celsius and visibility is over 10 metres. Perfect conditions for snorkelling and scuba diving.
Fauna and Flora
Although it has not rained many of the trees are already sprouting new green leaves. This is especially true of the trees at the water's edge whose roots have tapped into the water table. Particularly beautiful is the giant fig tree just along the Cape Maclear beach from Kayak Africa base camp - this ancient tree is even mentioned in Livingstone's journals!
It's not just the weather that is hot and steamy
Not sure if it is the heat or some other atmospheric phenomenon, but over the last couple of weeks Mumbo Island has been a romantic hotspot! At one point, of the five couples on Mumbo, three were on honeymoon, and the other two men had delighted their respective partners by proposing on the island! This is definitely the most opportune place for romance, and as for the right time, that's all year round.
Governors' Camp update - October 08 Jump
to Governors' Camp
October continued a trend of cool mornings (averaging 17 degrees celsius) and warm days (or around 28 degrees celsius) seen throughout the year. The migrating herds of wildebeest and zebra who have been with us over the last 4 months have grazed the plains grasses right down, and with the departure of the herds as if on cue the short rains arrived towards the second half of the month and brought on an instant flush of new green growth to the short savannah grasses. The rains also sparked the blossoming of the Mara wildflowers, like the delicate white tissue paper flower (Cycnium Tubolosum) on the short grass plains, the sweet-scented wild Gardenia flowers and the firey red Crossanandra Nilotica and Klieinia Abyssinca which bring spashes of colour to the grasslands.
The end of the month was marked by some large river crossings of wildebeest and zebra leaving the Mara on their long trek down south. The daily crossings in the last ten days of October brought a high number of fatalities as the herds chose some of the most difficult stretches or river bank to exit the river. It has been a wonderful migration season. We wish them well on their way and we look forward to next year when the herds arrive back into the Masai Mara.
The arrival of rain heralded the birthing season for the resident herds of topi. Lots of calves were born in October and many females are heavily pregnant so we expect more births to come as the rains bring fresh pasture to the plains. A nice sized breeding herd of Defassa Waterbuck continues to be resident along the fringes of the Marsh along with a satellite herd of males which is never far away. Families of giraffe browse the riverine woodlands of the Mara River and large breeding herds of impala together with their tiny faws feed on the fringes of the woodlands. As the grasses on the plains have become shorter, the resident families of elephant having been moving into the Riverine woodland in search of food. The rain has also prolonged the fruiting of the magnificent Warburgia Ugandensis tree (Africa Greenheart or pepper barked tree as it is commonly known) and this keeps the elephants in the forest as they love the plum-sized peppery flavoured fruit.
To the east of the Marsh the grass is longer and coarser. The wildebeest herds are not able to eat this and as a result these grasses have remained long. The large breeding herd of buffalo has now moved into this area as they are better equipped to digest this variety of grass. This coarser grass has also been attracting Bohors Reedbuck especially where the coarser grass meets the Marsh. We have been priviledged to see females and their young and solitary males. When disturbed, reedbuck will lie low and not move to escape detection, however the shorter grasses have meant that they stand out a little more now and may be vulnerable to predators like cheetah. The shorter grass and dry scrub on the edges of the woodland also mean that the normally shy bushbuck has been seen more often in October.
The short grass plains over the ridges are home to Thomson Gazelle who live in loose associated herds. With the arrival of the rains the males have been busy marking out their territories which they do by scent-marking the grass with a secretion from their pre-orbital glands. The rain washes away this marking, making re-establishing their territory a daily chore for the resident males. They have also been seen asserting their dominance by running into each other and thrashing heads. There was a close encounter for a young Thomson Gazelle fawn on the 11th of October when a Martial Eagle (a large savannah eagle) swooped down and grasped a tiny two day old fawn. The fawn bleeted loudly and the mother charged the eagle, who promtly dropped the fawn. She then chased the eagle who took refuge in the branches of a nearby Boscia tree. We are happy to report that the little fawn got up after the ordeal, wagged its tail and limped off after its courageous mother, before lying down to rest. The next day both were seen in good spirits!
There have also been lots of spotted hyena out on the plains. There are a few dens on the ridges, with cubs varying in age from a few weeks to months. Spotted hyena do not bring food caches back to the den site' and as a result the females with cubs will suckle for longer than other placental carnivores. The females are dominant from birth, with only one or two surviving to adulthood. Of all the hyenids the spotted hyena is the most succesful predator having tremendous stamina in running down their prey. This makes them strong competition to the large cats.
The Bila shaka / Marsh Pride of lion, consisting of 3 males, seven breeding females and nine cubs has spent most of the month around the Marsh and they have been feeding well on wildebeest, zebra and early on in the month an unlucky hippo.
The Ridge / Paradise lion pride have spent most of the month apart. We believe that some of its members have crossed the Mara River over to the Mara Triangle area. The remaining three males and six females spent most of the month near to the wildebeest river crossing sites, laying succesful ambushes to the unexpecting herds.
The coaliltion of five young males and the elder lion named "Notch" (their uncle) who were once part of the Bila Shaka / Marsh Pride, (they were ousted by the three present dominant males of the Bila Shaka / Marsh Pride and "Notch's" brother was killed in the incident), have been feeding well on wildebeest and zebra up on the ridges. Perhaps one day they will come down and challenge the males of the Bila Shaka / Marsh Pride for leadership of the pride.
Shakira the female cheetah now has three healthy cubs remaining. Tradegy struck last month when she lost two of her cubs to hyena. Hyena continue to cause her problems and on the 20th of October she was chased up a tree by another agressive hyena. Despite the harrasement she has been feeding well and the three remaining cubs are thriving.
The three nomadic male cheetah have been seen hunting up on the ridges and down in the plains. They face constant competition from lion and hyena and travel large distances to avoid these larger predators. On the 19th of October they killed two young wildebeest but on each occassion they were chased off the kill by lion and hyena. Two other nomadic cheetah continue to hunt on the rocky short grass plains and on the 28th a group of four cheetah were seen relaxed together on a vantage point over the plains. Another resident female is showing signs of heavy pregnancy and we expect her to den down soon in preparation for the birth.
The leopards of our area have also had a good month. Kijana (the young male) continues to be seen on the fringes of the Marsh between Governors' Camp and Little Governors' Camp. Always a tenacious hunter, he was seen on the 31st of October with a banded mongoose in his jaws!. Another female has been seen on the edges of Kijana's territory (a possible future mate?) and another three towards the crossing points taking advantage of the moving herds. And Bella's cubs have been seen frequenting the banks of the Talek river.
We hope to share the magic of our corner of the Mara with you sometime soon.
New Rock Art Museum Opens on Mfangano Island
A new museum has opened on Mfanagano island to promote and protect the unique Abasuba Culture of the people of Mfangano Island. Founded with the support of TARA the Trust for African Rock Art and the National Museums of Kenya the museum is a gateway to the Abasuba Culture, the historic rock art and the rich natural heritage found on Mfangano Island. Trips to see the ancient Rock Art of Mfangano Island and the Abasuba Community Museum can be arranged from Mfangano Island Lodge.
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