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Savute Channel Snakes Towards the Marsh
Location: Savuti Camp, Linyanti Concession, Botswana
Date: 17 April 2009
Observers: Glynis Humphrey and Anthony Bennett
The snaking, sinuous Savute Channel continues to enthral us as it sweeps forward to the legendary and long dry Savute Marsh in the neighbouring Chobe National Park.
In August 2008 when we were raving about the fact that the Channel had reached and even passed Savuti Camp, the water had travelled approximately 24km from its source at the Zibadianja Lagoon on the Linyanti Fault Line. By April 2009 however the water had travelled a further 26km and is now no less than 50km from the Lagoon.
Anthony and I had the opportunity to drive to end of the water on 17 April and plotted a GPS track which allowed us to measure the distance with some accuracy. The time elapsed since August and the distance covered by the water in that time means that over the 8 month period the water moved on average 100m a day, equating to approximately 3.25km every month. The current depth of the Channel in front of Savuti Camp is 0.81m.
This is quite phenomenal and it certainly doesn't look like abating just yet. Quite the contrary. With the lion's share of the flood waters of the Kwando River still to arrive in the area and the massive Zambezi River flood causing water to back up the Chobe into the Linyanti, we are beginning to expect the Channel to reach all the way to the Savute Marsh this year.
This will entail the water to move at roughly double the speed it has done over the past 8 months but will be an exciting event and one we'll keep you up to date with.
The Channel has also started creating ideal habitat for some unusual birds like this pictured African Crake - an uncommon and sought after summer migrant to southern Africa.
Tribute to Copper Malela
It is with regret and sadness that we announce the passing of Copper Malela, on 11 May 2009. Our hearts and most sincere condolences go out to all Copper's friends, colleagues and family. Copper was a shining star, always remembered for his friendly approach, warm smile, and happy laughter. He worked at Mombo Camp for many years and was a key member in the early team of guides who helped to establish Mombo as one of the top wildlife destinations. Later he moved to Kings Pool, where as the Head Guide he set the standard for guest care, service and guiding.
At the end of 2007 he moved to the Vumbura Concession and spent the past few years at Vumbura Plains Camp, doing what he did best: making guests happy! He recently fell ill, yet his death comes as an incredible shock to all of us who knew him, as he was truly a beloved member of the Wilderness family.
Copper gave us no less than 15 years of his joyful presence and excellent guiding and we mourn the loss of a very loyal employee, colleague, mentor and friend.
Single Black-backed Jackal kills adult Impala ewe
Location: Mombo, Moremi Game Reserve, Botswana
Date: 4 April 2009
Observers: Tsile Tsile, the Foght Family and Kai Collins
Tsile and his guests, the Foght family, had just left Little Mombo on an afternoon game drive when they saw a black-backed jackal in the midst of a herd of grazing impala. The jackal homed in on a young adult impala ewe and began an aggressive pursuit. They ran in a long circle twice around a pan with the impala staying way ahead of the intrepid jackal. The impala then changed direction and leapt over a bush in which she temporarily entangled her rear leg: she came away somewhat hobbled and seemingly tired from the chase.
At this point the jackal caught up to the impala and they faced off, with the jackal darting in circles around her and nipping at the impala's back legs. The impala parried, butting with her head and kicking with her back legs. After a few more circles and nips to the back legs the jackal leapt up and grasped the impala by the throat. It hung on for a few seconds before the impala eventually dropped down from exhaustion and the jackal then proceeded to throttle the impala. The jackal then left the dead impala in the grass and moved off into the shade of a nearby tree to recover from what must have been a very tiring hunt and kill.
About an hour later the jackal had eaten some of the softer parts of the carcass and was resting to one side. At this point a spotted hyaena arrived and usurped the rest of the carcass. By the next morning when we returned there was of course nothing left of the kill.
While renowned scavengers, jackals, like all predators, are of course opportunistic and are also active hunters of mammal, bird, reptile and insect prey. Nonetheless the choice of prey in this instance in unusually large. The energy required to successfully subdue the impala must have been considerable and in the high predator density area of Mombo (and the resultant likelihood of losing the carcass to a larger carnivore) this energy expenditure would not seem to represent a good investment.
Jackals are well known predators of smaller antelope such as steenbok and also impala lambs, but have been known to take larger prey such as adult impala. Such instances usually involve the co-operation of up to six (and even 12) jackals and are often of obviously vulnerable animals: a ewe in a complicated birth process, an old or diseased animal, a ram wounded in a clash with a rival and so on. In this case there did not appear to be anything wrong with the impala and this combined with the single assailant, the very high local predator density and the great photographs taken by guest Jim Foght are what make this an extremely unusual sighting.
Giant python overwhelms Impala
Date: March 2009
Location: Mombo, Moremi Game Reserve, Botswana
Observer: Tapera Sithole and the Mombo guiding team
To find an African rock python itself is special enough but to see one killing a young impala and swallowing the animal whole within three hours is definitely something else!
Mombo Camp guides and guests were busy watching two sub-adult lions to the north of camp when they heard baboons barking their characteristic alarm calls and sounding very anxious about something. The guides at first thought that these primates were alarm calling because the lions were in the area. What was strange however was that the baboons were not in the trees, as they would be in the case of a predator like a lion or leopard, but rather jumping around in an animated and distressed fashion on the ground.
One of the guides, Cilas, decided to investigate, finding the python constricting the last breath of air out of the hapless antelope. The large reptile was in turn being harassed by the baboons which also looked and sounded very unsure of what the python would do to them.
In its attempt to escape the harassment of the baboons and retreat with its prey into the cover of some bushes it appears as if the impala became wedged between logs. This caused the python to abandon its kill for about 30 minutes as it sought refuge beneath nearby bushes. It was certainly not going to abandon its meal however and the baboons ended up losing interest allowing the python to return. The python then exercised enormous power to free the jammed impala and carried on pulling its prey into a shady and hidden area. At this point it then wound its long body around the impala to crush it, dislocated its jaws and started swallowing the impala's head.
Guests and guides debated whether the snake was going to be able to swallow this animal and the answer was yes. In the end they witnessed the whole feeding session.
Hippo Fatality at Mvuu
Location: Mvuu Wilderness Camp, Liwonde National Park, Malawi
Date: 20 April 2009
Observer: Christopher Mvula
The Shire River inside Liwonde National Park carries an extremely high density of hippopotamus. Pods of these animals inhabit every suitable stretch of the Shire River and estimates of their population resulting from various aerial surveys as well as regular river trips are around 1000 animals. Any boat trip or boat transfer on the Shire River cannot fail to have fantastic viewing of the species in the river and grazing animals are regularly seen on the banks and even further inland on overcast days and after dark. They really are a characteristic feature of the park and of course the namesake of Mvuu Wilderness Lodge and nearby Mvuu Camp.
The high density of animals does of course result in intra-specific conflict with fights between bulls often resulting in obvious and severe gashes to the skin. On occasion these clashes may end in fatalities and this was our first thought when a dead hippo was located by our guides on game drive to the north of camp.
Very close to the western side of the airstrip we came across a hippo carcass that had not yet been opened by scavenging predators such as spotted hyaena. We reported it to the park authority and after a post mortem it was decided that this young hippo cow was in fact killed by an elephant. The wound to the neck - a single large puncture - was more consistent with a tusk than with the formidable incisor teeth of hippo and there were none of the usual gashes to the flanks that accompany hippo conflict.
As the summer season passes and the inland pans dry out, more and more elephants have been concentrating along the river and in fact most game drives are currently encountering this species for which Liwonde is famous.
Thrilling addition to the Abu elephant herd
Location: Abu Camp, Okavango Delta, Botswana
Date: 12 April 2009
Observers: Graham Bowles
Photos: Stacy Bowles, Joseph Molekwa and Justin Nel
It is 12:30 in the afternoon when the radio call comes in. There is a baby elephant just outside Seba Camp towards the airstrip which is being attacked by two hyaenas. In normal circumstances a baby elephant is so well protected by the adults of the herd, any predator would never get close. In the case of this elephant for some reason, there was no protective herd or even any elephant in sight, only the safari vehicle witnessing a potentially tragic event.
For a two-month-old, she puts up a valiant fight against these formidable predators, ears spread out and trumpeting loudly she is sending them flying. But as much as she tries to put some distance between herself and the hyaena, they soon catch up, nipping and biting her rear end and legs, pulling her down. Then everything changes: upon seeing the car and possibly even attracted by the low rumble of the engine, the elephant seeks refuge in its shade leaving the hyaena to circle at a distance.
As we normally leave nature to take its course, the vehicle moves away but the baby elephant followed. The hyaenas follow too and she tries chasing them away again. In the confusion and the thick bush she loses the car close to the outskirts of Seba Camp. But the next thing we hear in camp is a radio call: an elephant has found its way into the generator room of Seba Camp ?.
Now we have to intervene. The cuts to her legs and rear are deep, the baby is obviously traumatised. She is shaking but can walk which leads us to believe that she can't have been separated from her own herd for more than a couple of days and is not too weak. By keeping the gathering crowd calm and quiet the baby begins to relax and explore her surroundings. We bring in water to begin cooling her but being too young to know how to use her trunk, she is unable to drink. When a mahout arrives in another safari vehicle she runs over to it; seemingly to have associated the car with safety and security, she begins to follow it.
Using the vehicle as the surrogate mother we lead her to the far side of camp where the floodwaters have created a shallow pan. As soon as she is there she is face first into the water and drinking deep, gurgling mouthfuls. Ten minutes later, once she has had her fill, she is looking a lot calmer but still unsure about this new 'herd' that she has joined. More mahouts arrive to assess her age and wounds, administering antiseptic spray where they can. A report is given to Maun office and the vet, Rob Jackson is called in.
The baby is young, somewhere between 6-12 weeks old. If she doesn't get some milk soon, together with the trauma she has suffered, she is unlikely to survive. The Abu herd is close by and have two lactating mothers in their midst. We decide to try and introduce her to the herd in the hope that one of them may be able to feed her.
Using the safari vehicle 'matriarch', we lead her down to the Abu herd. It's a tense time now as the baby's survival rests on her acceptance into the Abu herd. The first mother, Kitumetse, is brought out. 'Kiti' herself could relate to this as she was found in very similar circumstances, alone, injured from a crocodile attack she had been separated from her herd. With permission from the DWNP (Department of Wildlife and National Parks) we adopted her and she has been doing very well, giving birth to her first calf, Lorato, last year.
However, the prospect of taking on another calf so soon after her first seems to be too much for her and she backs away, trumpeting loudly. The baby elephant is now frantic to join this herd, the herd at least being recognisable. We corral the baby to protect it from running into the middle of the Abu herd. An unwelcome introduction could turn tragic.
The second lactating female, Sherini, is brought out. Sherini is a more experienced mother with her latest addition to the herd, Abu, being nearly three years old. On seeing the baby she exhibits huge excitement, ears out, trumpeting and rumbling loudly with temporal secretions flowing profusely. She seems to be more tolerant of the baby that is now harassing her for milk but she still seems somewhat reluctant.
After a few minutes of coaxing them together one of the mahouts suggests bringing Cathy, the herd's matriarch, across. Cathy, who had been looking on excitedly, is brought over. There is another tense moment as the exchange of trumpets and rumbles between Sherini and Cathy becomes intense, the baby between them constantly begging for milk. Then, as if she has received the go-ahead from the herd leader, Sherini lets the baby feed. She feeds for a full 20 minutes before we lead them back into the shade of the trees for the remainder of the hot Easter Sunday afternoon. And thus she is named: Paseka (pronounced pah-SEH-ka) which means 'Easter' in Setswana.
It's the following morning. Rob, the veterinarian, and Randall Moore arrived the previous evening when the herd had returned to the boma. Paseka had followed Sherini all the way home through the deep river channel under the careful watch of the mahouts and guides. On inspecting the wounds, Rob cleaned them and with a shot of antibiotics and painkillers, allowing them to heal naturally.
Mother and adopted baby spent the night in the nursing pen to keep Paseka from running into any more trouble, but now she is looking a lot happier. The swelling around her rear has gone down and the wounds are looking a lot better. Sherini is doing an excellent job as mother even though Abu was still a little unsure about being ousted from being centre of attention by this unexpected arrival.
Mvuu Lodge & Camp - Nanthomba School Update May 2009
H.E.L.P. Malawi, the American NGO working in partnership with Wilderness Safaris on the Nanthomba School Project, has a second major project on the go - this time to do with health. It is now involved in the construction of the Nandumbo Health Clinic as well as a fishpond at Nanthomba Primary School.
The Nandumbo Health Clinic is situated on the road between Ulongwe and Liwonde National Park about 5km west of Nanthomba. The site has a high-density population of more than 1 000 people and is the busiest local trading site with approximately 60 000 people using this as their rural centre, all of whom are without access to primary health care. The site was selected for these reasons but lack of funding had hampered the completion of the facility.
H.E.L.P. Malawi believes education and health are counterparts of one another and as a result has partnered with the Malawian Ministry of Health to take the project through to completion, finishing the construction of the clinic, as well as a maternity wing and outpatient department. The primary care facility or outpatient department is complete and construction of the Maternity Wing is progressing well. It is now at its roofing stage and this phase will be completed in one week's time (as from 28th April 2009).
Meanwhile a fishpond has been incorporated into the 'permaculture' strategy at Nanthomba Primary School. Construction of the pond has recently been completed and grass is being grown on the edges to prevent any erosion. No fish have yet been stocked while the team test the quality of the water, but it is anticipated that the project will provide a much-needed regular source of protein to the children and also relieve pressure on the natural resources of nearby Lake Malombe and the Shire River which experience very high fish off-take, often illegally.
Chitabe Camp has had a facelift of note to its tented rooms, main area and library. Each of the eight tents have different artwork and themes which are expressed in the woods, colour and decor used. The bathrooms can be completely separated from the bedrooms with two sliding doors which are hidden behind the headboard and pull out fully to close the entrances on both sides. There is also a "night light" underneath the vanities which allows guests to have an ambient light in the bathroom should they need to get out of bed during the night. All eight units have outdoor showers.
The renowned Abu Concession has been under new ownership and management since October last year, although Wilderness Safaris continue to hold the marketing and reservations contracts for these camps. Under the guidance of the new MD, Michael Lorentz, well-known specialist guide and experienced Abu campaigner, this has brought renewed energy to Abu, Seba and Villa Okavango camps. Michael previously ran the Abu Concession for nine years from the late 1990s and his passion for the area and the elephant experience are invaluable to the journey created here. Abu and Seba have recently undergone a soft refurbishment (Seba gained another three tents bringing its total to eight) and new investment is being channelled into the back of house areas and the conservation elements of the concession. A slightly changed focus on the elephant activities emphasises walking and tracking with the herd, rather than riding, and a more interactive and active experience for our guests.
Zarafa Camp is one of Conde Nast Traveller's 'hottest' new places on its Hot List 2009. Conde Nast has this to say: "Real low-impact luxury is tricky to achieve but the owners of the new four-suite Zarafa ... have pulled it off. ... Run entirely on solar power, Zarafa has emerged as the greenest, most luxurious tented camp in Botswana ... The friendly, mostly local staff, combine a passion for the reserve with flawless service."
North Island Dive Report - April 09 Jump
to North Island
Once again the seasons change with the shifting south-east monsoon winds having already started to blow. During this initial changeover time the sea conditions are normally quite favourable as the changing wind direction often results in many days of perfectly calm seas as the wind decides from which direction to blow! The change in the winds also means that the beach in front of the restaurant is normally the calmest beach on the island and makes it the perfect place for swimming and snorkelling.
April has been our busiest month yet with regard to guests and specifically diving activities; fortunately the weather and sea conditions behaved themselves accordingly. The sea has been mostly calm and the visibility seldom less than 20 metres with most days in excess of 35 metres. Toward the end of the month the ocean conditions were nothing short of fantastic: the sea has been almost mirror-like on numerous days and the swell has reduced to not much more than a gentle swish onto the sand. This also gave us a great opportunity to explore some of our further reefs around the south of Silhouette and beyond. This has been almost as exciting for the instructors as it has for the guests as we have explored many reefs that have only been dived a couple of times before, if at all.
With the onset of the south-east monsoon season we soon hope to see the arrival of the sprats on Sprat City. Unfortunately last year we saw no sign of this spawning phenomenon and while we patiently waited with bated breath for their arrival we were deeply disappointed when spring came and went and still there was no sign of them. We have however already spotted small schools of the Slender Sweeper (also known as Glassfish) on the reef which indicates the arrival of the sprat season but at this stage nothing more has been recorded. The sweepers are one of the four sprat species that visit this area during the winter and while this species are always on time (even last year) we now wait for the arrival of the rest of the sprats which singlehandedly create the most incredible feeding phenomenon that has been recorded on the reefs around these islands.
Sprat City and Coral Gardens have again been the favourite dive sites throughout the month and although the visibility on these sites was somewhat reduced toward the end of the month, they have continued to produce fantastic sightings for all level of divers.
One exciting discovery this month was that of the Indian Ocean Walkman which are extremely camouflaged and difficult to spot. A pair were spotted off Boulders just around from the main beach. These unusual scorpionfish have a strange set of 'legs' that they actually use for walking around on the sand. They also have a brilliant red colour to their pectoral fins which make them excellent photographic subjects.
The highlight of the month was however undoubtedly the sighting of whale sharks off the south-east of Silhouette Island on the 16th of April. The whale sharks were spotted close to the cliffs on the way to a dive. There were three individuals, a female and juvenile as well as another adult which was slightly further off and couldn't be sexed. Our guests were fortunate enough to be able to snorkel with the whale sharks and even managed to capture several photos of these gentle giants as they swam lazily along the surface. Whale sharks, while still technically sharks, feed like whales and thus do not pose any danger at all, they are probably one of the most docile marine creatures and tend to spend most of their time 'filter feeding' on the surface of the water. They reach a maximum of 12 metres, which is generally quite intimidating to the uninformed snorkeller, but swimming with these creatures is one of the single most amazing wildlife encounters you can have.
Another popular activity this month has been our night snorkelling expeditions which we normally organise off Petit Anse when the sea is calm. On one such trip we snorkelled from main beach all the way round to Petit Anse which was quite an experience where apart from several sleeping Parrotfish and a large ray, the disturbance of the phosphorescence in the water was incredible. With the torches turned off, even a slight movement causes these tiny organisms to light up in an amazingly bright blue glow. The phosphorescence was even visible before we entered the water while walking on the sand making it appear as though we were walking on thousands of tiny stars.
This month we have also spotted numerous juvenile rockmover wrasse which in their juvenile stage perfectly resemble a piece of drifting seaweed. The adult wrasse actually resemble something that looks like a fish. Several juveniles have been located on Sprat City as well as Twin Anchors on Silhouette Island. Seldom seen is the unique way in which the adult wrasse actually move rocks which is why we were very excited to see an adult on Coral Gardens aptly living up to its name and trying to dislodge a rather large coral rock with his teeth.
Coral Gardens has also been a favourite this month with regard to turtle sightings and on one particular dive we were fortunate enough to be able to encounter two green turtles which were extremely inquisitive and repeatedly swam up to the divers to get a closer look. Another amazing underwater experience.
Kings Pool Camp update - April 09 Jump
to Kings Pool Camp
Gone are the days of thunderstorm and puddles as the dry season kicks into gear here in the Linyanti. We have had no rain for the month and only expect it back in November. Already the lush summer grass is drying into various shades of brown and the Mopani pans are slowly shrinking back into the Linyanti sands.
The weather is changing. It is getting a lot cooler in the evenings and the mornings. We have dusted off the hot water bottles for morning drives, much to the delight of our guests - these just take the bite out of the morning air.
Migratory birds have started to leave the area, leaving only the permanent residents behind. Great sightings of Wattled Crane, Ground Hornbill and large raptors like Bateleur and Martial Eagles have been common along the Linyanti. The Little Bee-eaters are always a favourite allowing for some great photography.
Predator sightings have been good this month with sightings of African wild dog, leopard, lion, cheetah and hyaena. On one occasion a pack of wild dogs killed an impala in front of the main area deck, feeding on it throughout dinner and thus providing us with multiple hours of enjoyment from the deck. The next morning a short scuffle between two male lions and wild dogs took place at Tent 5! The lions managed to chase the dogs out of the area and proceeded to spend the entire day sleeping in camp. Lots of excitement!
Leopards have been sighted on a few occasions and we are seeing the female leopards with her two adult cubs most frequently. They are sometimes still seen together but are starting to become more independent these days.
Two male cheetah have been seen along the Savute Channel and guests heading out on a full day trip into this area have a good chance to see these rare sprinters. We pack a delicious brunch and guests get to enjoy this at one of our hides in the concession when on the full day trip - a real treat for die-hard safari enthusiasts.
Elephant have been plentiful this month and we are enjoying sightings of vast herds crossing the Linyanti River between Namibia and Botswana. Large bulls are frequently encountered in the camp. The lumbering beasts keep our carpenter on his toes as they seem to enjoy damaging the walkways to the rooms!
Buffalo have started to move into the concession again. It is always a pleasure to encounter a large herd of these bushmasters on game drive. Numbers in a herd can reach up to 300 in this area and the lions are never far off waiting to pick off the stragglers.
We hope to see some of you in our camps soon.
The Kings Pool Team
Nick and Kerry, and Eddie the Chef.
Photographic credits: Nick Leuenberger
DumaTau Camp update - April 09 Jump
to DumaTau Camp
April began with new challenges of weather change - the end of the rainy season and the change from warm weather to the preparations of the coming winter, cold and dry. The water levels are still high; by the beginning of the month there was a slight increase in these but these have now backed off slightly and become stable. However we are expecting more floods to arrive as the season progresses. Wildlife sightings have been good, with many animals migrating back to the area, such as the buffalo herds which have been seen along the Savute Channel.
The average minimum temperature was 9 degrees Celsius with the maximum temperature 33 degrees. We managed to record only 23ml of rainfall which constituted the last showers of the season, it seems.
On the management side we had Joel, Trevor and Jeltje coming in for a month and Miriam and Vasco rejoining the DumaTau dream team on the 12th after a well deserved break. On the Guiding team we had Ollie, Lazi, Name, Mocks and Raphael. Masole was on the front-of-house supervision.
Sightings of kudu, impala, lechwe, giraffe and other general game have been constant. Some species have been moving in from further afield, such as herds of buffalo which were seen for the first time ever since they migrated to the eastern side of the area. Elephants are also showing up in relatively good numbers reminding us that indeed we are in the Linyanti.
On the 16th we were blessed with two high-profile sightings at the airstrip - one of two sable and the other of four roan antelope. Another amazing sighting was that of a hunting serval, seen by our guide Name, around Croc Island. We have also had quite impressive sightings of hyaena and black-back jackal.
The lion sightings this month were dominated by the Selinda Pride. The Savute Female and her two cubs were seen hanging along the Savute/Chobe airstrip road earlier this month. Most of the time she was seen just resting with her cubs, but around mid-month she crossed over to the backflow and she was spotted just walking around and looking hungry; in fact, the last time we saw her feeding was on the 27th of last month when she managed to pull down a warthog.
At one point, the Savute Female together with her cubs and Silver Eye's brother all came together at a buffalo kill - which in turn had in fact been killed by the Selinda Pride! We all expected violent retaliation by the Selinda females, but to our surprise Silver Eye's brother lead the young cubs towards the kill and the Selinda Pride retreated. The two young cubs then managed to feed before the large male took them back to their mother for cover! What an unusual sighting of lion behaviour!
The Selinda Pride has been more dominant within the Linyanti Concession even up to the Kings Pool area. The Border Boys did try once to come into the Selinda Pride's territory, crossing the Chobe 1 road, but haven't managed since as afterwards the Selinda Boys became very serious about patrolling their borders.
The vegetation is dying down slightly so we are hoping to see more leopards as the season progresses. This month we succeeded in locating the Osprey Female, which was seen around DumaTau Camp and then disappeared into the thickets.
The Calcrete Female was seen together with her two cubs along Rangers road. The Zib Male who is looking good and grown-up was also seen walking along the Savute Channel, while Mmamolapo was spotted on the morning of the 21st and in the afternoon drive of the same day. She was also seen with an impala kill, thanks to the instincts she learnt from her mentor, the Rock Pan Female - who was also seen hunting along Forest Road.
Then, just when we were starting to wonder about the whereabouts of the popular DumaTau Male, he was spotted along the side transit route with a very skittish female which we assume was the Osprey Female, because of her usual shyness. In contrast, the DumaTau Male was very relaxed and even lay down in front of the vehicles - a real treat for the guests.
The two Mmantshwe Boys have been seen regularly and are generally looking healthy. Ollie saw them around the Dish Pan area which seems to be their territory, as well as Dish Pan Clearing and stretching sometimes towards Boscia. They are very relaxed and seem to be enjoying their celebrity status in front of the vehicles. The Boys have been visited by two unknown female cheetah, as spotted by Mocks on the 23rd of April around Dish Pan and Back Flow. Sadly there is still no sign of the last member of the Blood Brothers; the last time he was seen was on the 27th 0f December 2008 resting by sunken hide next to DumaTau.
The Linyanti Pack and the "Pack of Four" have been enjoying the spotlight this month. The dogs have been feeding well on impala - this month we witnessed four wild dog kills of impala. The Linyanti Pack currently has 11 individuals - although 12 were seen at one point - while the Pack of Four has kept their number stable. The Linyanti Pack has been moving from Savuti Camp to DumaTau while the Pack of Four has been around Bundu Island, Mopane Bridge, Rock Pan, Letsomo through Forest Road up to Kubu Lagoon.
Seeing hippo out of the water, frogs, chameleons, river trip, giraffes, elephants, especially crossing the water with very young ones for me. Lazi was great, flexible and kind, helpful, very knowledgeable about everything and above all has been as excited about the wildlife as we were? Sue & Graham
Everything from management to staff to environment and wildlife - food and all was quite perfect. Rob & Duncan
Our Guide Ollie, sundowners on Savute Channel, 14 elephants crossing, hyaenas on the riverbank, the lions, and DumaTau staff is wonderful - always smiling. Just keep what you are doing. Turk Family
The friendly and professional staff that make you feel so loved and appreciated in a world where people are so self-centred. This is a place of absolute tranquillity. Jacob & Queena
The DumaTau Team
Savuti Camp update - April 09 Jump
to Savuti Camp
First it was the return of the waters, and now we are seeing the return of the herds - another signal that summer is over, and we are into our winter after the briefest of autumns. We also had our final rains of summer - or at least that is what we thought at the time (an early April shower did nothing to revive the rapidly-yellowing mane of grass that cloaks the shoulders of the Channel). The sunshine, pouring down out of a blue, blue sky, slowly but surely dried up all the pans in the mopane and apple-leaf woodlands, sucking the life out of the earth until the only sure source of water left is the Channel.
This ribbon of silver has become a lifeline in every sense. As it continues to flow imperturbably onwards to the Savute Marsh, the Channel is drawing life towards itself, the herds unable to find water and greenery anywhere else. The Midas touch of Apollo is turning all the vegetation to gold - beautiful, but unpalatable.
The elephants came first, in the middle of the month, lumbering leviathans following dusty lines on ancient maps, drawn onwards to the silent noise of flowing water. Suddenly, the Camp was full of elephants, running down the steep banks to the water, drinking it, delighting in it.
Later in April, the zebra made their first appearance in months. The night echoed to the distress calls of lost 'tiger-horses' jumping at shadows, calling the name of their extinct cousin in their own fear of death: "quagga, quagga?" By day, small harem herds assembled along the water, giving us many wonderful opportunities to enjoy viewing these starkly-patterned creatures, backlit in the glow of an autumnal sunset or hazily seen through a cloud of dust kicked up by the slashing hooves of contesting stallions.
As the rains falter, the zebra make their annual trek towards the permanent waters of the Linyanti swamps in the north, up against the faultline and the border with Namibia. This though will be the first time in many zebra generations that they have made this journey along and through the waters of a living, flowing Channel. It will be very interesting to see how this affects their itinerary, whether they press on to the sanctuaries they know best, or whether they are at the very least delayed and distracted by the greenery along the way.
In the same way that we have been enthralled by the return of the herds - so too have the predators.
The life of an African predator is composed of periods of feast and famine, as the technicolour dream coat of vegetation ebbs and flows over the ancient bones of northern Botswana. The December glut of impala lambs, almost embarrassingly easy to catch, is now a distant, delicious memory, but the large males competing for females now present an opportunity for food for the predators. The returning zebra also bring with them young foals born in the Marsh during the rains, and other animals too are drawn to the Channel. In their wake come lion and hyaena, cheetah and wild dog.
We've noticed on many occasions that predators have worked out how to use the structures and layout of the Camp to their best advantage, and recently we have seen some dramatic examples of this. Over just two days two kills took place within the Camp, each one demonstrating how putting just one foot wrong can make the difference between life and death.
The lone Savuti lioness has been doing a remarkable job of raising her two male cubs, now five months old. She is a skilled and cunning huntress, but even she needs a little luck, and we watched with concern as hers seemed to desert her. Both she and her cubs were soon alarmingly thin after several unsuccessful hunts, and it was clear from her choices of potential prey that she was becoming desperate.
Eventually, in what for the cubs' survival was probably a last roll of the dice, she took on an adult male wildebeest on the fringes of the Camp. An animal of this size would normally require several lions to bring it down and subdue it, but there were no other lions to help. He managed to stagger some 300m before her weight on his back brought him to his knees, and she was able to move around to get a chokehold on his muzzle. It was a slow, lung-bursting death, but in his passing, this old buck saved the cubs from an even worse end, a lingering surrender to starvation.
Once she had recovered from the physical exertion of the kill, the lioness fetched the two cubs from where she had concealed them. This was perhaps their first time to be confronted with a real kill, and they were fascinated. They had all the right moves, claws dug into the flank of the wildebeest to steady the carcass as they tried to tear into the softer parts with their teeth, but somehow they still lacked the power to penetrate the hide.
The lioness was taking quite a risk here: the kill was too heavy to drag into the shade, away from the prying eyes of vultures aloft on the thermals, and in the heat the wildebeest would soon start to decompose, and the scent of a potential free meal would bring the hyaenas running. Of course this is eventually what happened; as darkness fell that evening, the purple velvet sky was rent by whooping calls and then by maniacal giggling as the spotted hyaenas moved in. But by now the lioness and her cubs had melted safely away into the night.
The next day, we watched part enthralled and part appalled as wild dogs pursued and then lost track of a sub-adult kudu. She eventually plunged into the Channel and swam across to the Camp. So for the time being she had evaded the wild dogs, but separated from her family group, her odds of survival were not good. It was not long before the wild dogs tracked her down again, and the end when it came was swift, a flurry of splotched coats and snapping white teeth under a feverberry bush, and then a fevered consuming of the animal.
While at times the African bush can seem to be an unforgiving place, we are also often witness to moments of touching tenderness, almost charity. The risk here is that we start anthropomorphising, and forgetting that much of the animal behaviour we see is at base driven by the urge to survive, either as an individual creature, or in the future as the progenitor of a genetic dynasty. This probably explains the occasion when some of our guests watched Silver Eye's brother (one of our dominant male lions) keep a whole pride at bay while permitting the two cubs (but not their mother) to feed. His investment, his interest, was in them - the lioness was simply a means to an end, whether meat or mating. It is the cubs which represent his future.
Harder however to explain a pitiful sighting of a group of female kudu two days after the kill by the wild dogs, sniffing along exactly the route taken by the doomed juvenile. They then stopped on the southern bank for some time, staring across the water to the precise spot where she was brought down and devoured. As humans we console ourselves that our capacity to grieve somehow compensates for our proficiency in killing, yet here was a small knot of antelope exhibiting something very close to a sense of loss or at the least, acknowledgement.
With all this terrestrial action, it is sometimes too easy to overlook the most remarkable action of all: the ongoing push by the reborn and revitalised Savute Channel, towards the Savute Marsh. Geological and hydrological history in the making, as we watch. A flight along the course of the Channel in mid-month provided an opportunity for us to see just how far the Channel waters have pushed. On average, the waters have continued to advance some 100m per day, and now there is a very real chance that they will reach the Savute Marsh before the end of 2009! In the time that you have taken to read this newsletter, the waters of the Channel have advanced a further two feet or 70cm? And on they flow.
To the east of the Linyanti Concession lies the renowned Chobe National Park and the boundary between NG15 (as our Concession is officially known) and Chobe is marked by a cutline. The waters which passed Savuti Camp in August last year are now within a few kilometres of the Chobe cutline - far and away the furthest distance they have attained from their starting point at Zibalianja Lagoon since 1982.
The heavy rains experienced in Angola in the last few years, and particularly this last summer, mean that there are huge volumes of water poised to swoop down on northern Botswana. Parts of Namibia's Caprivi Strip and Zambia's Zambezi Valley have experienced severe flooding, and while we should be safe as we are perched above the Channel, it will be fascinating to see just how much water does flow into the Channel when our annual flood surge arrives in June and July. Water levels have actually been dropping of late, due to evaporation, but we can expect them to rise sharply within a few weeks.
Meanwhile the water here swirls slowly around the supports of our fire deck. Drop a leaf down onto the surface and you can gauge the speed of the water flowing past.
As the zebra herds begin their long transect to the Linyanti Swamps, they will encounter the waters advancing to meet them. The urge to complete their own journey is hardwired into them however and it seems likely that even this miracle will not deter them - although it may well inspire them as they canter onwards.
We hope too that this commingling of history and beauty will inspire you to visit the Savute Channel and immerse yourselves - carefully though, there are crocs in there now! - in the remarkable, unfolding story of Africa's newest river.
That's all from your Savuti team - until we have the chance to welcome you to this remarkable part of Africa, to witness and participate in these historic events - Diana, Tumoh, Noko, KT and Shady.
Photos courtesy of Gregg Hughes
Camps Update - April 09
Lagoon camp Jump
Lagoons famous Wild Dogs have been active over the last few months with several exciting sightings for guests staying at the camp. The pack was seen hunting Impala close by the cut line and one of the females is pregnant. Denning should commence in May and we are determined to find it and await the new pubs.
Huge herds of Buffalo are migrating back into the floodplain areas as the Mopane pans dry up. Following them, as always, are Lions. A pride of Lions that disappeared five months ago has settled back in the area and we have had plenty of sightings of them.
An interesting sighting was a male Leopard who was also seen feeding on a Buffalo. Buffalo is not usually prey for a Leopard who prefers smaller antelope such as Impala or young Wildebeest.
Kwara & Little Kwara camps Jump
& Little Kwara camps
Guests and guides alike were treated to a sighting of the seven male Lions of Kwara this month. The incredible coalition were seen feeding on a Giraffe kill they had made earlier that week. It is rare to see all seven Lions together as one or more often split off from the main group. If you want to know more about this record breaking group there is an article about them in the March edition of Africa Geographic.
A female cheetah in Kwara is having a very successful spell as mother to five cubs. There is a high mortality rate in young cheetahs but these siblings were sighted throughout April and are growing stronger by the day.
Elsewhere, a huge African Rock Python was seen on an island close to Kwara – larger specimens are very rare indeed and this one could quite easily ambush a small antelope such as a Steenbok or Impala.
A pack of fifteen Wild Dogs was seen close to an abandoned Bat-Eared Fox den and herds of Buffalo have moved back into the area with the coming of the floods.
Lebala camp Jump
Some extraordinary game viewing has been seen in Kwando’s Lebala camp this month. Lions, Cheetahs and Leopard have all been consistently seen. However, our Wild Dogs sightings have been extra special this month. Females are now pregnant ahead of next months projected denning season starting but that hasn’t stopped the dogs hunting at their usual extraordinary speed. Guests have been treated to a successful Impala kill west of the camp in which the skilled hunters ambushed the young antelope in some open woodland.
A group of Lebala guests were delayed going to their tents one evening. However, it wasn’t housekeeping that was to blame but a breeding herd of Elephants that were feeding throughout the camp. All ended peacefully though as the Elephants bypassed the swimming pool and decided to drink from the river instead!
Lions have been in abundance this month at Nxai Pan. A male and female were seen mating close to our waterhole and guests have been treated to a series of territorial displays by resident males. Roaring in the mornings and evenings along with urine spraying and testing on bushes are fine examples of territorial behaviour.
The waterhole has also been visited by Elephant Bulls recently providing a photographic spectacle for guests in camp. Some individuals are in musth, meaning they have extra levels of testosterone and become aggressive towards rivals and members of other species. Giraffes and even Doves have been chased away by these aggressive individuals.
Elsewhere, we have had good sightings of the charismatic Honey Badger and the elusive Bat-Eared Foxes and two male Cheetahs were sighted close to the historic Baines Baobabs.
One of our guides had an interesting wake up call this month when he stumbled across a Leopard by the kitchen one morning. To the relief of all, the Leopard was equally as surprised and ran off!
Tau provides a perfect landscape for Cheetah and they have been in abundance this month close by the camp. The open plains provide the cats with excellent views for scanning for prey which in this area is more often that not the nimble Springbok.
We have had excellent sightings of iconic desert animals such as the Gemsbok, Brown Hyena and Red Hartebeest making Tau a truly unique safari experience.
Mombo Camp update
- April 09 Jump
to Mombo Camp
Weather conditions and vegetation
Another good game viewing month at Mombo! The weather was just perfect: maximum temperatures were in the low 30s (°C) and the minimum was about 15°C. We had unusual rains (35mm) for two days at the end of the month although this didn't interfere with any game drive or other activities.
Notwithstanding the rains, the dry season vegetation changes are starting to prevail. Trees are shedding their leaves and the grass on the sandy islands has lost its vigour and taken on a shade of light yellows and browns. All the floodplains are still sporting their usual "golf course" look for this time of year and these areas are actually even bigger than usual given the extent of the flood - which is higher this year than over the past few seasons. The floodwaters have actually pushed into areas that we did not initially anticipate being inundated this early in the season. These areas include the Old Mombo floodplain, the southern extents of Suzie's Duckpond, the north-eastern side of the 3 Mogobe and the road to Thompsons' Picnic Spot. This occurrence has brought a lot of excitement in the Delta and all those who visit this year will have an opportunity to experience the same flood levels as the ones in the late 50s and the early 60s which most of us might not experience again.
Game viewing: Carnivores
April produced some fantastic game viewing. As the floodwaters concentrate the areas of remaining dry land so the movements of the prey and the predators have followed suit.
In the predators this has been most apparent in the lions. The Mathata Pride, consisting of five lionesses and four cubs of around four months in age (this age is a rough estimate since they spent a long time concealed in palm thickets), moved between Suzie's Duck Pond (where they were found feasting on a zebra), the short cut to Simbira Baobab and up to Sandy Valley.
The four lioness of the Western Pride (including the one with a mane) appeared to dominate the best prey areas such as Drift Molapo where we witnessed them killing a warthog boar and the frenzied feeding that followed over the next 20 minutes. Around the same period they managed to bring down a buffalo in the marsh right at the Old Mombo site with the roaring, bellowing and growling carrying all the way across to the existing camp through the cool night air. It was difficult for them to feed efficiently since the carcass lay in the water and it took them a few days before they relinquished the remains to the gathering hyaenas and moved off in a south-easterly direction.
The Moporota Lionesses (two females and their three cubs) seem to have really accepted the Jao Boys and have been seen sharing kills and moving through the Moporota floodplains, the dry Hippo Pools, Derrick's Crossing and sometimes the Rhino Boma areas.
The well-known leopard family in the Mombo area appears to have moved into a new phase. Legadima's two cubs, Pula and Maru, have proved themselves to be self-sufficient and we have witnessed them on carcasses and even hunting and killing prey species like impala which is an upgrade from being squirrel hunters.
Surprisingly, these leopard are still being found together. We had expected Legadima to enforce their independence by this stage but perhaps they will be around for a few more months yet before they start their own lives. This is really an amazing set of leopards and perhaps our highlight for the month was witnessing Pula bring down an impala and hoist the carcass while she already had a kill on which she was feeding. All this happened at Thompson's Crossing, close to our picnic spot. In the same week she was spotted tackling a fully grown impala ram after taking advantage of his distraction with another male. Another sign of her growth and imminent independence.
The only wild dog in the area is still alive and kicking and managing to survive in this high predator density area. However, she needs to work twice as hard to be able to survive, as her meals are vulnerable to the hyaenas and sometimes lions.
Game viewing: Herbivores
Buffalo have been seen grazing in the area in large numbers of up to 400 animals. Two primary herds exist together with scattered groups of older bulls, the most well known of which are those which frequent the camp and are seen daily. The biggest herd was seen regularly in the area of Old Mombo which typically moves between Maporota floodplains and Hippo Hide. The other substantial herd in the area is most often seen on the Simbira floodplains and moves in all the neighbouring areas covering Bird Island and the Simbira Shortcuts.
Elephants have been scattered across the entire concession with mostly bulls being seen, and we had a few sightings of white rhino and even one sighting of a black rhino cow. The backdrop to all this of course was the abundant plains game of the area. Journeys of up to 30 giraffe were seen in a sighting, large herds of zebra are distributed throughout, lechwe and wildebeest abound, as of course do the impala, and we enjoyed great kudu sightings this month too.
This is but the summary of how the month went by at Mombo!
Photographs by Alex Mazunga
Xigera Camp update
- April 09 Jump
to Xigera Camp
Xigera, as we all know, is a true Okavango Delta camp where the water experience is one of the best. April has seen a continued rise in floodwater levels which has provided us with excitement as well as challenges this month.
Our biggest challenge has been trying to keep the water off the airstrip. We had to build walls around the western end of the airstrip to prevent the water from flooding that side - we managed to keep it dry and we are confident we have seen off the bulk of the flood!
With the amazing amount of water in this year's flood we have been able to access unchartered territory by boat and mokoro - often with incredible results. On one of these boat trips the guides found the carcass of an old bull giraffe lying in the shallow water. It had apparently died of old age. The interesting thing was the arrival of several large crocodiles to feast off this carcass. They seemed unperturbed by the boat as they went about rolling and ripping meat off the carcass. Returning the next day, the boats found a large crocodile floating dead nearby. We think he may have been killed by a rival crocodile at the carcass.
On one of the drives recently, the guides found the hyaena den active once more after an absence of a few months. The guide noticed some recent tracks around the den - and wisely decided to check for activity. After a short while of quietly watching the den, they soon noticed a small hyaena pup emerge - totally black in colour and still very young. We keep a strict code of conduct at these dens and do not approach too closely in order not to disturb the mother and pup. By doing this the animals become relaxed and thus habituated to the presence of the vehicle, allowing us to view them more easily in the long term.
We have also noticed more elephant coming into the area of late. There have been several big bulls feeding right in Xigera Camp for all to see. On Marula Island (named after the many marula trees there) the trees have been ripe with fruit, attracting large herds into the area. The sight of these wondeful animals feeding and playing from the boats has been a highlight for all to witness.
Birding is always rewarding at Xigera Camp. Sightings for the month include African Scops-Owl, Plain-backed Pipit, White-browed Coucal, Pel's Fishing-Owl, Rufous-bellied Heron, Lesser Jacana, Fan-tailed Widowbird and snowball-like Black-backed Puffbacks.
Looking forward to hosting you here soon,
-The Xigera Team-
Images by Dana Allen
Chitabe Camp update
- April 09 Jump
to Chitabe Camp
Dear Chitabe guests (past, present and future) and regular readers of this newsletter, please allow me to apologise for the long radio silence!
Whilst Chitabe Lediba stayed open over the past three months, the rooms in Main Camp have been completely rebuilt in an ambitious project which has kept us pretty busy. We all got our hands dirty either painting wooden decks, hanging pictures, redesigning the kitchen or deciding where to put the new cushions ...
The rooms are fantastic. Dave Hamman has taken eight of his best photographs and the interior of each room has been designed around these centrepieces by Helene so that each room is unique. Please admire the resident elephant in Tent 1 (opposite) and see the banners on the Chitabe home page which show the new camp in all its splendour!
Other exciting news is that we are all very proud of Janet, our Seniour Housekeeper, whose Maun-born daughter Amantle Monthso-Nkape was the only African female athlete to get through to the final of her 800m at the Beijing Olympics, and for the third year running was voted 'Botswana Sportswoman of the Year' as well as 'Sportsperson of the Year 2009'. Amantle is also the current 400m African record holder.
We haven't experienced the big flood that is affecting the camps to the north of us but they all say it's coming ... In the meantime safaris have been excellent with regular cheetah, lion and leopard sightings (Dawson added our 21st leopard to the local leopard database), large herds of zebra, elephant, giraffe, the nocturnal ramblings of both hippo and Cape buffalo in camp plus the excitement of wild dogs looking for a den ...
Well, the marulas are ripe and I'm off to make chutney. Many thanks to Dawson, Aukie and Aubrey Peacock for the photos.
Come visit our new place soon,
Vumbura Plains Camp update
- April 09 Jump
to Vumbura Plains Camp
Weather and Water Levels
Now firmly set in the winter months, we are experiencing wonderful days with clear blue skies. Early morning and evening are fairly cool however.
"The biggest flood in the Okavango Delta since 1963." This is the opinion of many which began filtering through to us last month - big news for a camp surrounded by many floodplains and waterways of the most amazing and dynamic wetland system in Africa. We waited in anticipation and prepared ourselves for the influx of water into the Kwedi Concession and a few days later were rewarded with excited guides telling us of roads disappearing underwater and floodplains filling up in areas where no water had been seen in recent history. The 'big flood' was here and it was absolutely amazing.
On the 17th of April the water started rising in the lagoon in front of camp, first by 1cm, then 2 and finally peaking at 4cm a day. It rose 32cm in 10 days - considering how flat the area is and the size of the area, this is a massive amount of water. Water then spilled into the floodplain behind camp, filling a pan and creating the newest lagoon at Vumbura Plains.
Out in the bush, we had to move our mokoro station twice, poling the mekoro several kilometres each time to find dry land to beach them. This provided us with a spectacular mokoro trail, utilising roads and areas that are prime game drive routes in our non-flood months. Aggregations of red lechwe are seen leaping through the shallow water, herds of elephants wade past with calves barely keeping their heads above water, and raptors soar overhead, looking for an easy meal from the many stranded small animals. This has all provided our guests with a varied and exciting mokoro experience.
Our game drives have begun exploring unchartered territory, with the introduction of some new roads to the north-west of the concession. The game appears to have migrated up to this area - the only species left behind in flooded areas are those adapted to living in and close to water. This includes an incredible abundance of red lechwe, elephant and of course the many different fish and water birds inhabiting the Delta.
Predator-wise, we have been proudly watching our lion cubs as they develop and learn from their mothers. The one nursing female has been badly hurt, with a large open wound on her rear quarters and we shall monitor her progress carefully. The pride has provided many great sightings this month.
Other cats spotted during the month included a leopard cub with its mother. We are all hoping it is the territory's female, Selonyana, with her cub but she has yet to be properly identified by her facial spot markings. The cub has not been seen since this one sighting, however, and there are fears that it has been killed.
A new hyaena den has been found providing interesting afternoons watching the activity of the clan, especially the young pups living there.
Our wild dog pack has been seen regularly throughout the month. The alpha male and female were seen mating, sparking off speculation as to whether they will den in our area this year. They usually move out of this concession during our winter months to den, but we are all hoping that the change in flood levels may cause them to stay.
It has been a great month here in our little piece of paradise and we are all looking forward to next month and any new water and adventures that nature has in store for us!
Jacana Camp update
- April 09 Jump
to Jacana Camp
Weather and water levels
This month marked the peak of the flood in the Delta, and this year it is a big one; the biggest flood in more than ten years knocked on our door. And we could do nothing else but welcome it with open arms. The water has stopped rising for the time being and is nothing short of spectacular. The floodplains are covered in large birds and aquatic antelope such as lechwe and every now and then the elusive sitatunga.
The roads are submerged which gives the feeling of openness that surely can't be achieved anywhere else in the world. This is truly something one has to see with one's own eyes
The peak of the flood has brought on some of nature's true battles for survival: the amazing lions of the Delta are just one example of this and how they have adapted to hunt in the water. On one particular game drive we were privileged enough to witness just how they do it, the skill and agility of such a large animal is incredible. A big male and female are residents in the area and were by no means deterred by our presence when they set out to have their morning meal. The action was mind blowing.
The two resident leopards, Beauty and Motsumi, her male cub, are regulars in the after-drive talks and amaze us all with their ability to capture imaginations.
Motsumi ("the hunter") has grown into a fine young leopard and is starting to help his mother take down larger prey. The highlight this month was when the two of them took down a young wildebeest and actually managed to get it up a tree where it would be safe from hyaena and lion which would try to take it from them. The strength of these animals is incredible.
With more water, more fish arrive on the scene and this means only one thing for those who don't like grass or meat - and there is plenty to go around. The sightings of large birds of prey and owls have been world-class, with African Fish-eagles and even more spectacular Pel's Fishing-owls being regular sightings this month. A pair of Pel's Fishing-owls regularly visits the area around camp and they make their presence known with melodious calls during the night, singing all to sleep and welcoming in the morning with a friendly embrace.
The large animals are by no means overlooked and give regular appearances with elephant and hippo showing themselves on the island daily, doing their part to thin out the vegetation around the island.
- "We leave here with many happy memories, you can await our return." The Nesbit Family
- "I never thought it could be this beautiful in Africa." Jan - "Truly unbelievably the most unforgettable experience." Rob
A watery but not wet greeting from all at Jacana. We look forward to having you and showing you what African nature has to offer. And to all who have been - we have not forgotten your promise to return - we are waiting!
Kind greetings from the bush,
The Team at Jacana
update - April 09 Jump
to Kwetsani Camp
The floods have continued to surround us this month and have reached levels never before seen in the history of Kwetsani. It is truly magnificent to see the Okavango Delta like this! Coupled with the wonderful autumn weather the month of April has been an absolute treat for guests visiting us.
The flood season brings with it a whole host of opportunities to experience in this unique inland delta. We are taking the opportunity to hop onto boats and mekoro as often as possible and for more activities. We offer a combined experience with a boat trip to a remote area which we then explore by vehicle. It is also wonderful to see our guests returning to the swimming pool, in front of the camp, on a mokoro, after a spectacular trail through the channels and then across the floodplains. It is hard to believe that the area that we now pole across by mokoro was a completely dry floodplain less than two months ago.
The waters also give us the opportunity to get out and do some fishing. Steve and Donna with their son's Daniel and Jamie discovered what a wonderful experience this is. They had a great afternoon trying to outwit their quarry; perhaps the most memorable part of the afternoon was the look on July's face as he tried to deal with a massive Barbel that they caught! I think that the smile on Balang the boatman's face said it all! Jamie and Daniel certainly had a bigger smile on their faces while showing off their day's catch! Whatever the size of the fish, and in fact whether a fish is hooked or not, you are bound to enjoy the time spent out on the pristine Delta waters.
As usual we have had wonderful experiences with 'our' lions and leopards this month. Beauty's cub, Motsumi, is now as big as his mother; thanks again to Daniel for the wonderful picture, which shows the two of them together.
The lions seem to have settled more this month with the new male having slotted into the pride now. The young male was seen on Hunda Island towards the end of the month so it certainly seems as if he is finally separating himself from his mother and stepsister. Only time will tell what he does, as he was at one stage seen again crossing the deep waters towards the Jao floodplains where his mother, sister and the new male are holding their territory. We are hoping that he will attract a young female or two and stake out his own territory on the very productive Hunda Island.
Thanks to Joel Citron for sending us this wonderful picture of our young female; it really depicts the adaptations that our lions have made to the floodwaters of the Delta.
As the waters around Hunda Island rise and the area of dry land becomes smaller, the concentration of animals on our island has exploded. The nights are filled with the sounds of nature's orchestra: the low-frequency rumbles of the elephant, the high-pitched call of the fruit bats, the rasping of the leopard and the crystal sounds from the frogs produce music for our ears.
Our French guest, Niocolas, a veteran of the music industry, was truly inspired by the beauty of the evening sounds. He would sit out on his veranda in the evenings soaking up the musical energy and atmosphere of our wonderland. On his first night he was not only lucky enough to be serenaded by nature's musicians, he had the good fortune of watching a leopard make its way silently past the front of his tent.
We have also had the great privilege of hosting two scientists here this month; Teresa and Ernest spent six days carrying out a bat survey in the area. Apart from the invaluable scientific work they are doing it was a wonderful opportunity to have these highly experienced scientists sharing their knowledge with our guests. It was truly wonderful to watch them dispel the untrue myths about bats as they gave guests the opportunity to handle the different bats, from the smallest insectivore to the largest fruit bat. Teresa and Ernest certainly brought the rhythmic 'tinking' and puppy-like yelps of the fruit bats to life.
Finally, we are also making good progress with our renovations. Our "Tree-top Deck" in the canopy of the mangosteen trees has been enlarged and is going to provide the perfect location for brunches and summer dinners. It will also offer wonderful views of the plains below and is the perfect place to sneak away for your private dinner.
We hope that all our northern hemisphere neighbours are now enjoying the warmth of summer as we head towards our winter. Whilst many people all over the world dread the thought of winter, this is not the case in the Okavango Delta, as this is the time of year that we experience the peak of the annual flood, the life-giving waters of our precious Delta that change the lives of those lucky enough to visit us and experience this phenomenon with us.
Once again warm regards from Mike, Anne and our wonderful Kwetsani team.
update - April 09 Jump
to Jao Camp
Weather & Water Levels
The biggest annual Delta flood since the early 1960s arrived this April. Rumour has it that not one of us will ever see the Delta this sensationally full in our lifetimes again. Within the duration of a week early in the month, the floods took charge of the vast Delta area rising 8cm per day at Jao Camp. Our guests were awestruck when roads they had travelled on the previous day were flooded on the next. Nature always astonishes its rapt audience.
Our airstrip presented quite a challenge as the water crept in on it, reducing the landing space. As the lifeline to the camp, the Jao team took on the task of rescuing the valuable stretch. A number of pumps were set up and are controlled 24 hours a day so that our precious visitors still had the opportunity of visiting us and experiencing such a staggering feat of nature.
By month end the water had settled comfortably around the area. The Jao floodplain is living up to its name, the waterways accommodating boat tours and the raised walkways of the camp serving its purpose as we walk above the newly formed streams. The landscape here at the moment is a photographer's delight, a birder's paradise and everyone else's dreamland.
Each morning presented with a slight chill which was chased away swiftly by the rising sun. The seasons still challenge one another; the warmth still outmatching the cold, for how long we will wait and see. Africa's beauty is still present, no matter what the weather holds.
The water that now enhances the landscape presents one of the most difficult changes for land mammals as the ability to swim and wade are essential and their territory changes completely.
The rising waters have brought with them an influx of crocodiles of all sizes. The red lechwe, a water-loving antelope, are all over the floodplains but they are challenged by these prehistoric reptiles lurking in the deeper waters. One unfortunate young lechwe was caught in a hungry crocodile's razor grip. A battle that lasted a gruelling five minutes was witnessed, the crocodile ultimately quieting his prey.
Our resident impala have been falling over each other on Jao Island with the limited grassland they have to graze. Not conventionally an aquatic antelope, they are at the risk of foot rot if too much time is spent in the dampness of their favourite feeding terrain.
Despite the activity at the Jao airstrip by the team treading water the wildlife still congregates there. Lion hunting alongside the strip, spotted hyaena scavenging the area and leopard flashing past; just to make sure the team is paying attention.
The felines have delighted our guests by being ever-present in the Jao territory. Not only have game drives presented these stealthy cats but a sighting of our resident female leopard, Beauty, thrilled mokoro riders - they passed her in a nearby tree as she rested lazily on a sturdy branch.
Perhaps it has been the less intense heat what has provoked an abundance of daytime lion hunts and leopard hunts alike. The sly felines have all been sighted watching and patiently stalking the herds of antelope or individuals grazing in tall grasses. Quite an entertainment!
Beauty's mischievous offspring, the male leopard Motsumi, provided an intriguing sight as he tried his luck at a porcupine. The young male tested the 'quills' of the defensive rodent and eventually became bored when the pursuit became too difficult.
The photogenic pair have been sharing meals and socialising frequently together. Motsumi was also seen during a night drive as he managed to catch a water mongoose. The catch seemed to be more for practice rather than a meal as he amused himself with it for a while and then moved on. It is evident that the young male seems to be refining his skills for his future on his own, without mother's backup.
Motsumi's father, Beast, as timid as he is, has been sighted in the early hours of the morning cautiously crossing the Jao Bridge. No doubt in search for his feline friend, Beauty. He seems to be slowly getting used to an audience as he obliged some guests during one of his feeding sessions, perched in a tree with his impala carcass.
Some of the Delta's most secretive creatures have come out of hiding this month, allowing photographers to click excitedly at the lucky finds. The famous Pel's Fishing-owl and the sitatunga have shown themselves, creating great excitement.
An unusual sighting of an Osprey attacking Egyptian Geese captivated awestruck onlookers for a time. The Osprey was relentless as it swooped upon the geese aggressively, finally leaving them in peace.
Hippo, the water giants, have been game enough to roam around under the sunny skies without the cloak of water around them. Always a visitor to the Jao Island during the night, we were amazed to have one confidently strutting along carelessly at midday.
Mongoose Manor Update
Like most of the resident wildlife, a bulk of the mongoose' territory has washed away. Lucky us, we've had them under our toes as the camp has become a 'crossing' for them; ideal when they're trying to keep their paws dry. It gave us a chance to get up close and personal with the furry little creatures.
The new 'batch' of young mongoose has been resilient, outlasting the previous litter born in December. These tiny additions have managed to dodge the predators that picked their siblings off so easily only months before. There is another 'batch' on the way with a heavily loaded female waddling around, almost bursting at the seams. We are looking forward to meeting these new additions to the troop.
Children and adults alike have enjoyed the floods with mokoro lessons or simply splashing in the water, just for the sake of it. Traditional dancing lessons were popular, getting international influences from our guests, everyone on their feet simply to enjoy the music - it is hard to keep still with the traditional beat of drums and beautiful voices. Our team loves it, and we hope you will too.
"The friendliness of the whole staff. The skills of our guides Chief and Captain Isaac. The fantastic kitchen. And ... and ... and ... it was just exciting and much more than we ever expected." Jacky and Irca
"...your greatest asset must be the staff (management, guides, waiters, chefs ... everybody "a look forward to see" personality)." Jean, Andrie, Konrad and Danika
"The staff! Everyone was wonderful! The brunch after the mokoro ride was great. Overall, our best Africa experience." Rich and Kelly
"Beautiful room, spectacular view, and the most photo-friendly leopard you could imagine. Superb staff, relaxed atmosphere. A paradise of tranquillity." Benedict and Amanda
"The architecture and design is exquisite. Greater than any expectations. The entire Jao team were extraordinary. Thank you for taking such exceptional care of us. We can't wait to tell all of our friends to come and we hope to be back soon!" Tripp and Nicole
Tubu Tree Camp
update - April 09 Jump
to Tubu Tree Camp
WEATHER AND WATER LEVELS
Even our dry corner of the Delta is experiencing the wonders of this year's unusual flood. The plains in front of camp are covered in water, almost to the edge of our boma circle. This remarkable water level has attracted animals that are not normally spotted in front of the camp. A group of Marabou Storks comb the water's edge for meaty morsels and spread their expansive wings for airing in the sun, as various other water birds (Saddle-billed Stork, Plovers, Egrets, Herons and Storks) manoeuvre cautiously around them. Red lechwe canter and leap through the water. Hippo add their call (and the sound of their continuous munching) to the already abundant night sounds. Every now and then a herd of elephant lumbers noisily and languidly through the rapidly growing reeds with their 'snorkels' held high above their heads.
Most of our roads have become lily-lined waterways, and much fun and adventure has been had with game drive vehicles getting stuck in the mud!
The weather is still comfortable and warm, although a cool wind has crept through the camp on some nights these past few weeks, and the mornings are becoming increasingly chilly. All signs are that winter is steadily approaching - we look forward to huddling around a nice big fire with a steaming mug of hot chocolate.
The base of the fruiting marula tree that provides the shade for our striking outdoor bar was the site of feasting for many baboons and elephants recently. We were able to enjoy the presence of these always entertaining guests while we also feasted (at the dining table). Adding to the animal activity and game viewing in camp were our ever-present graceful bushbuck and busy warthogs, constantly on the move beneath the camp and between the tents.
Out on the island, excellent sightings of leopard occurred almost every day. A group of guests were able to spend an hour with a female leopard and her two cubs that were found lying on our hide deck. Other guests came across the same three leopards on a different occasion, and this time saw baboons chasing the leopards off their impala kill. And on another occasion the Stachursky party saw the leopards being chased by a pack of hyaena. One of the leopards escaped up a tree, and had the bloodthirsty hyaenas waiting and circling at the bottom. At this stage, a troop of baboons saw the action and attempted to chase the leopard out of the tree. The leopard was luckily able to hold its ground against this double onslaught. Other lucky guests viewed a young male leopard on a fresh impala kill - a special sighting in that this appears to have been his first independent kill.
On night drives, some typically elusive creatures were spotted: serval, civet, lesser spotted genet, an aardwolf (with cubs!) and honey badgers. The glinting eyes of lesser bushbabies and hungry crocodiles were also caught in the beam of the spotlights when guests returned to camp from their afternoon game drives.
One night, a large male lion came roaring into camp after being spotted further out earlier on in the day. We could see his luminous eyes near Tent 6 from the bar deck, and he kept us all on edge with his deafening calls throughout the night. Despite this brief display of supremacy, the night was owned by the hyaenas for the majority of the month. A pack of six has been frequenting the island, and their animated calling entertains us throughout the hours of darkness on a regular basis.
We had two very unusual finds this month. One was a 26cm long stick insect. This truly impressive specimen looks exactly like a big stick, and has two leaf-like 'wings' on its back that make a rattling noise. The second was a small night adder that devoured a massive toad. We thought that the snake would never accomplish it, but after about 45 minutes of writhing and struggling with the huge meal, he managed to swallow it all. Nature never ceases to amaze!
"Professional staff, in particular guides and trackers. Unbelievable landscape. Abundance of birds and animals. Absolutely fantastic and scenic sunsets." - Victor & Alexander (Russia)
"We are happy to be here; the camp is fantastic, food view, people, calm, rest, friendship, discussions and above all our guide was marvellous, and we see so many animals! It is unforgettable and it is difficult to leave such a place." - Mitrani Family (France)
"Friendliness of all staff - beautiful facilities, great game drives, up close and personal elephants, many thoughtful touches, loved it!" - Paul & Nancy (USA)
"First time in Botswana. First time in safari - excellent camp, service, beautiful area, excellent guide." - Natalia (Switzerland)
"The night sky. The leopards eating their kill as the hyaena lurks nearby. Afternoon tea - so delicious, as was all the food and the brunches. Brunch in the bush. Most of all the staff. Every one of you went out of your way to make our visit memorable and comfortable." - Rob & Geri (USA)
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