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Selinda Spillway Update - Aug 2009
Sighting: A River Runs Through It - the flowing of the Selinda Spillway
Location: Selinda Camp, Selinda Concession, northern Botswana
Date: 18 August 2009
Observer: Dereck & Beverly Joubert
Photographs: Beverly Joubert
Yesterday afternoon at around 14h30, the crystal clear waters of the Okavango met up with the river flowing down the Selinda Spillway from the Kwando and Linyanti Rivers. This is the first time in 30 years that this has happened. It is, in our small part of the world, a momentous occasion.
Beverly and I saw it connect once before when we first came to Botswana, and that was only briefly, but it is a river of legends that very few in the world have ever seen in its full colours. English explorer Sir Frederick Selous came through and noted that it was dry. Scottish explorer David Livingstone missed it altogether, although on one of his trips it was probably flowing. In 1910, a surveyor, Captain Cooke, walked the whole area pushing a bicycle for accurate measurements and noted this as a flowing river.
It certainly hasn't been that way for the past three decades, probably as a result of hydrological cycles and tectonic plate movement, but for the past few years we have noted during the annual winter flood that the waters from the Okavango have pushed further and further east, while at the same time the waters from the Kwando-Linyanti system have pushed progressively further west. Every year we have hoped that they might meet, and our anticipation has finally been rewarded.
While it flows, the Spillway will allow an exchange of species and organisms between the two systems and also the recharging of ground water all the way along its course. I am sure the spillway will dissolve again later in the season and probably reconnect this time next year, but today is an important day.
Socio-economic Community Surveys conducted in Kunene Region, Namibia
Location: Palmwag and Skeleton Coast concession areas, Namibia
Dates: 11-25 August 2009
Observer: Sue Snyman
Photographs: Sue Snyman and Emsie Verwey
As part of Wilderness Safaris' ongoing commitment to building sustainable conservation economies, extensive socio-economic research is being conducted in all the areas in which we operate in Southern Africa. This year the focus is on Namibia, Botswana and Malawi, while 2010 will see surveys conducted in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Zambia.
The aim of these surveys is to ascertain the socio-economic situation of our staff and neighbouring communities, including demographic data, social welfare/living standards and income and expenditure patterns. Attitudes to tourism and conservation as well as other locally-relevant information was also collected.
In August 2009, with the help of Emsie Verwey, Chris Bakkes and Lena Florry, extensive socio-economic community surveys in seven different conservancies in the Kunene Region of Namibia were conducted: 165 surveys were conducted in the Palmwag Concession area (Sesfontein, Anabeb and Torra Conservancies) while 135 were conducted in the Skeleton Coast Concession area (Okondjombo, Purros, Sanitatas and Orupembe Conservancies).
With an average population density of 1.9 people per square kilometre, we covered a large amount of ground in search of households to survey, particularly in the remote areas adjacent to the Skeleton Coast Concession, where the Himba people are partially nomadic.
There is very little permanent employment in the region and the majority of households are very reliant on livestock farming as a source of income and food. The jobs created by Wilderness Safaris Namibia thus are critical to social welfare in this area and the importance of tourism cannot be over-stated, as a number of households receive income from the sale of curios to tourists - this was often the only source of income in the household. Living standards and social welfare varied in the different conservancies and between the various ethnic groups of Damara, Riemvasmaker, Himba and Herero.
Through these community surveys we hope to gain a better understanding of the communities surrounding our conservation areas. From there, we will be able to engage with them in a more sustainable way and ensure that they receive tangible benefits from their natural resources and have a vested interest in its conservation.
Elephant Fan Palm Fetish
Location: Chitabe Camp, Okavango Delta, Botswana
Date: 02 Aug 2009
Observer: Grant Atkinson
Photographs: Jose Antonio Rosas, Oliver Sharp and Grant Atkinson (taken on one of the Eyes on Africa Digital Photo Safaris)
Elephants have a particular fondness for palm nuts and go to considerable lengths to get at them.
Each year, mostly between June and August, the real fan palms which are so typical of the scenery in many parts of the Okavango Delta are laden with ripe palm nuts. These nuts provide a much sought after food source for elephants, and as mature palms are very tall, in some instances reaching 20 metres, the elephants have to go to considerable effort to get at them.
They do this by placing either an elephant trunk or a forehead against the single main stem of the palm tree, and then, gradually but forcefully, they start to rock the tree trunk, causing it to shake violently. If the elephant is strong enough to do this well, he is rewarded by a cascade of palm nuts falling from the tree.
Many of these nuts actually bounce off the back of the elephant, or off his head, but this does the thick-skinned animals no harm and they seem not to notice the missiles at all. Once they are done with shaking the tree, they then set about finding all the fallen palm nuts, and tossing them from the tip of their trunk right into their mouths. This method of gathering palm nuts is practiced mostly by the bigger and heavier bull elephants. The fruit of the real fan palm can be described as a hard, ivory-coloured endosperm that is also referred to as 'vegetable ivory' due to the visual likeness of the fruit to real ivory. It also doesn't hurt the analogy that the fruit is so hard!. As a result of the hard texture of these fruits local people regularly carve sellable crafts from it, another traditional use being a potent, intoxicating 'palm wine' that is brewed from the sap harvested from these plants.
Smaller elephants lack the strength or weight to knock the palm nuts loose, so they are forced to adopt different strategies. Some may search around in the grass at the base of the palm tree, looking for fallen nuts that other elephants may have missed. Another method employed by younger elephants is to follow a big bull who is busy knocking down palm nuts and to try to feed alongside him.
The bigger bulls show different levels of tolerance toward their followers, and some will peacefully allow them to feed alongside, whilst others warn the other elephants to stay away. Elephants are important dispersal agents for fan palm trees, as their digestive process removes only the fleshy outer part of the palm nuts covering, leaving the seed inside intact and ready to germinate.
Tragic lion and elephant calf interaction
Location: Kalamu Lagoon Camp, South Luangwa National Park, Zambia
Date: 05 August 2009
Observer: Petros Guwa
Photographs: Petros Guwa
Yesterday afternoon Luxon and his guests were lucky enough to arrive just a few minutes after an elephant cow had given birth to her calf. Their initial joy was tempered by sadness as they discovered that the calf could not stand up. A pride of five lions lay nearby with the remainder of the elephant herd lead by the matriarch trying to chase them off. Meanwhile the mother tried repeatedly to lift her calf, but by 19h00 had still not managed to raise it even though it was clearly still alive. It was at this point that Luxon returned to Kalamu Lagoon Camp.
This morning when we returned the baby was dead but the elephant herd was still there and stood protectively around the calf. It was very clear that these elephants had not moved from the prone form of the calf since the evening before (even though it must have been dead for some time) and surely must have been hungry and thirsty. The lion pride meanwhile had grown in number to seven animals. The elephants made regular forays to chase the large felines off, but they returned relentlessly.
We sat and watched this scene for about three hours and at about 11h00, the heat of the day no doubt driving them towards water, the elephants eventually moved away from the baby. At this point the lions took the gap and approached the calf - only for the elephant herd to come charging back.
In such a situation the lions would normally have given way and avoided conflict, but emboldened by the carcass at their feet they stood their ground and the elephant eventually gave up, finally accepting that the calf was dead. They moved away trumpeting loudly.
Elephants and the Savute Channel - past and present
Location: Savuti Camp, Linyanti, Botswana
Date: 07 August 2009
Observer: Grant Atkinson
Photographs: Grant Atkinson (taken on one of the Eyes on Africa Digital Photo Safaris)
The sequence of adjoining images were all taken right from the deck of Savuti Camp which looks out over the currently flowing Savute Channel - one of the biggest events in Botswana in recent times. What has been even more interesting is how the elephant population has reacted to this rekindled water source.
I was deeply struck by the changes that have come about in both the environment and the elephant behaviour in the Linyanti Concession. In the years when the Channel was dry, from 1983 up until 2008, the onset of the dry season in June brought about a daily influx of elephants to the four artificially pumped waterholes that were situated along the dry river bed. Observation hides were in place at two of the waterholes, to enable up-close visuals with the thirsty elephants.
With the return of water to the Channel last year, this has all changed. The narrow ribbon of grassland with a dusty river bed where the channel once flowed has now been replaced by soothing, clear water once again. The Channel is now flowing, bank to bank, and currently stretches for 60km, having just past the Chobe Cutline moving ever closer to the Savute Marsh. Hippos, waterbirds, catfish and water lilies have all recolonised the new water, with the Channel now even sharing wildlife affinities with the Okavango Delta.
Just as big a change has taken place with the elephants' behaviour.
In years gone by, each waterhole would have been surrounded by thirsty, hot and agitated elephants. As there was often not enough water for all, the elephants would have to push, shove, and jostle their way to the head of the line, just to get a chance at a drink. All the water in the waterhole at Savuti Camp used to be consumed by around 11h00 each morning, and then the elephants would just place their trunk over the pipe transporting water to the hole, and drink directly from there.
Smaller elephants, or herds of females with young, would often have to stand for hours waiting for a turn, and if it came at all, it would often be brief, before a bigger bull would force them out of the way. All night, the air would be filled with the sounds of the thirsty elephants as they rumbled and trumpeted at their forced meeting place around the waterhole...
Today, the scene is very different. The Channel winds right past the front of Savuti Camp, and there is even water under the deck of the main area. The old log pile 'hide' is now almost in the river itself, and is hardly noticeable amongst the bright green grass.
There are still lots of elephants though, and they still come to drink in front of the camp. What is so different now though is that their visit to the water is a happier, more relaxed event. From the camp's main deck in the last week of July we watched a herd of 25 elephants slowly making their way to the water's edge, some feeding on emergent vegetation as they moved along. They entered the water, and for half an hour we enjoyed the spectacle of elephants drinking, play-fighting, swimming, standing and walking. They visibly 'rejoiced' in the changed conditions.
The experience was the same on all our game drives out of the camp. Instead of stressed herds competing for a few thousand litres of water, these elephants now have a lush, deep waterway from which to drink.
Certainly, none of us knows how long the Savute Channel will keep flowing, but while it does, it is a wonderful place to be: for the wildlife that lives here, and for those of us who are lucky enough to be able to spend time at Savuti Camp.
Mombo lion cub antics
Location: Mombo Camp, Okavango Delta, Botswana
Date: 05 August 2009
Observer: Grant Atkinson
Photographs: Grant Atkinson
On a recent special interest photographic safari (one of the Eyes on Africa Digital Photo Safaris) we spent three nights at Mombo Camp. While here we enjoyed spending extended time with the Moporota (Sausage Tree) Pride of lions on three consecutive mornings.
Sightings on the first two days took place relatively late in the morning and while we enjoyed watching the interaction amongst the adult females, and the cubs (all eight of them), the rising temperatures sent them into snooze mode and they settled into the shade.
On our last morning at Mombo though, we got lucky when we found the pride very early, and then managed to follow them as the four adult females set off across the western floodplains accompanied by all eight cubs. The whole pride were well fed from a zebra they had consumed the previous day, and were all full of energy.
The cubs raced around behind one another, playing and fighting almost continuously. Several would attack an adult lioness at once, or two would gang up on a single cub. They climbed termite mounds and low trees, and used the vantage points to pounce on their siblings.
One cub noticed a small flock of red-billed buffalo-weavers feeding in the short grass up ahead, and the cub began to stalk the birds. With just a few metres to go, the cub accelerated hard, and pounced. The buffalo weavers were much too fast for the inexperienced cat however and they took to the air in good time. The lion cub gave a final leap into the air, but the birds were already flying away and were out of reach.
We enjoyed almost an hour of wonderful viewing as the pride relocated for the morning, and finally left them resting in some shade under a bluebush shrub.
Linyanti Lion monitoring
Sighting: Lion Darting and Removal of Collars
Location: Kings Pool, Linyanti Concession, northern Botswana
Date: 6 August 2009
Observers: Glynis Humphrey & Dr Dane Hawk
Photographs: Nick Leuenberger
The LTC Pride arrived in the Kings Pool area in September 2008 and since then have maintained a territory that overlaps the international boundary between Botswana and Namibia. This pride, consisting of two lionesses, a subadult male and three cubs, moves back and forth between the two countries and is well known to the guides in camp.
What immediately struck the guides when the pride was first sighted a year ago was that the young male had been radio collared - a clear indication that he was part of a scientific study in another part of his range. The lioness was also collared. Enquiries were made and it was discovered that these lions were collared in Namibia, east of Mamili National Park as part of a study on Human-Wildlife Conflict in this populated region. The researchers were duly informed of the location of the study animals but over the course of 2009 which such high water levels in the Linyanti preventing the pride from moving back into the study area in Namibia guides at Kings Pool noted that the collar was looking uncomfortably tight around the neck of the growing male and immediately informed the environmental department of the situation. The researchers in Namibia were informed and entitlement to remove the collars was granted.
Dr Dane Hawk, a vet from the United States who has devoted his veterinary practise to darting study animals for researchers in Botswana was notified of the situation. Dr Hawk has spent the last 10 years establishing a supportive working relationship with the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) veterinarians based in Maun and immediately contacted Dr Joseph Okori, Head Veterinarian of DWNP, whom granted Dane permission to examine the lions and remove the collar if necessary.
Dr Hawk, accompanied by Glynis Humphrey (Environmental Department) of Wilderness Safaris flew into the concession on the afternoon of the 6th August courtesy of Sefofane, a private air charter company in Maun. The pride had meanwhile been tracked to a small tree island across the way from the lodge, where one of the females was keeping her three cubs. Equipped with blankets, spot lights and determined spirits, the team headed out to wait near the Island for the lions to emerge for the evening's hunt.
At last the sound of splashing was heard and the subadult male appeared. He walked into an open area, where it was deemed safe to dart him and prevent any movement towards water and thus compromise his safety. The dart was duly delivered and he slowly felt the effects and drifted to sleep. The collar was successfully removed and the team watched as he gradually gained consciousness and got to his feet. The team monitored his recovery and watched him circle the area, perhaps attempting to pick up the scent of the females in the vicinity, which at this stage were nowhere to be seen. All of a sudden he fixed his stare into the grass ahead from where the collared female emerged. After a successful immobilization of the female and removal of her collar, the two were monitored to ensure their alertness to their surrounds before we headed back to camp.
The success of this darting operation is a great example of cooperation for conservation due to the collaboration of the Department of Wildlife and National parks, Dr Joseph Okari (DWNP), Dr Dane Hawk, and the private sector in the form Sefofane and Wilderness Safaris.
Amphibian surveys in the Okavango Delta
Sighting: Amphibian surveys in the Okavango Delta
Location: Xigera Camp, Moremi Game Reserve, northern Botswana
Date: August 2009
Observers: Marleen Le Roux, Prof. Louis Du Preez, Dr. Ché Weldon & Kai Collins
Photographs: Marleen Le Roux
While working at Xigera Camp I began my MSc. research into the influence of hydrology and degree of isolation on amphibian biodiversity in the Okavango Delta. Surveys have thus far been conducted in the Xigera Concession in the heart of the Okavango Delta and in the Vumbura Concession on the north-eastern fringe of the Okavango Delta (the Mombo Concession will also be included). Since very little work has been done on the frogs of the Okavango our results and findings have been very interesting.
At Xigera, a total of nine habitat sites representing all possible amphibian habitats for that locality have been chosen for future fieldwork. Six sampling sessions were carried out during the field expedition at Xigera and specimens were taken back to our mobile lab at the camp where specimens were identified, photographed, swabbed for chytrid fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis) and then either prepared as a voucher specimen, or released at the location where they were collected. In addition we focused on frog calls, frog call recording, setting up a pitfall trap, the techniques of netting for tadpoles, and also analysing specimens that had been preserved prior to the start of the field trip.
Sampling in the Xigera and Vumbura Concessions has so far resulted in a total of 14 amphibian species identified. Please note that all identifications and results thus far are preliminary and require final assessment and DNA confirmation. Species identified thus far however are: Amietophrynus garmani - Eastern Olive Toad; Amietophrynus gutturalis - Guttural Toad; Amietophrynus maculates - Flat-backed Toad; Hemisus guineensis - Guinea Shovel-nosed Frog (pictured top left); Hyperolius nasutus - Long Reed Frog; Hyperolius paralellus - Painted Reed Frog (pictured top right); Ptychadena guibei - Guibe's Grass Frog (pictured bottom right); Ptychadena mascariensis - Mascarene Grass Frog; Ptychadena subpunctata - Speckled-bellied Grass Frog; Xenopus muelleri - Tropical Platanna; Phrynobatrachus mababiensis - Dwarf Puddle Frog; Kassina senegalensis - Bubbling Kassina; Chiromantis xerampelina - Foam Nest Frog; Tomopterna spp. - Sand Frogs.
Important findings worth mentioning include Guibe's and Speckled-bellied Grass Frogs (P. guibei and P. subpunctata respectively) and the Guinea Shovel-nosed Frog (H. guineensis) for which there is very limited information on distribution, life histories and tadpoles (see left for photo of H. guineensis). In addition, there may be a possible extension of the distribution of the Eastern Olive Toad (Amietophrynus garmani) to include the Okavango Delta and we were also able to make the first known recording of the call for Guibe's Grass Frog (this species pictured bottom left).
Large prey of Verreaux's Eagle Owl and Martial Eagle
Sighting: Unusual prey of Verreaux's Eagle Owl and Martial Eagle
Location: Little Makalolo, Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe
Date: August 2009
Observers: Themba Sibanda & Julian Brookstein
Photographs: Themba Sibanda & Julian Brookstein
On two different game drives recently we were fortunate to see large birds of prey - in one case a nocturnal Verreaux's or Giant Eagle Owl (TS) and in one case a diurnal Martial Eagle (JB) - taking very large prey.
In the case of the Verreaux's Eagle Owl we were parked at a waterhole towards the end of the day and watching the typical processions of flocks of Helmeted Guineafowl making their way down to the water to drink. As is usual the birds were moving in single file and clucking to each other their soft contact calls. As we watched the eagle owl swooped down unseen from a nearby perch and instantly killed one of the guineafowls. Chaos erupted with the flock taking noisy flight to cover, while the owl calmly started to feed on its kill. Noticing our presence and presumably feeling vulnerable on the ground, the owl took off, carrying its large prey to a termite mound (see photo at left). Here he fed a little but was harassed by a flock of insistent smaller birds - fork-tailed drongos and dark-capped bulbuls included - and left his prey, flying to a taller tree nearby for cover. We presume he returned after dark to take advantage of his windfall.
In the instance of the Martial Eagle, the actual kill was not witnessed but views were obtained at 15h00 in the afternoon of the large raptor mantling its steenbok prey on the ground. Surprised by our arrival the eagle abandoned the carcass and flew into a nearby tree giving us a chance to examine the kill. The steenbok had only recently been killed (body and blood still warm) and the talon marks in the shoulder and flank were clear (see photo at left). The ability of these eagles to take small antelope prey such as impala lambs and adult steenbok is impressive and says much for the considerable power of the talons.
Kalamu wild dog hunt
Sighting: Kalamu wild dog hunt
Location: Kalamu Lagoon Camp, South Luangwa National Park, Zambia
Date: 22 August 2009
Observers: Petros Guwa
Photographs: Frederico & Mary Bertuluoso
We really have been blessed with some great sightings at Kalamu this season. One of the highlights for us has been the presence of a pack of wild dogs who regularly provide the kind of frenetic excitement on game drive that only this species can.
Sandy and two guests were headed towards the Chinengwe area one morning when they came across the pack of 7 wild dogs lying in the road downstream of Kalamu Bush Camp. The dogs simply stayed lying in the cool dusty sand of the road, totally unconcerned with the vehicle and Sandy and his guests enjoyed watching the interaction amongst this group of rare carnivores. After a while the dogs got mobile and moved through the undergrowth towards the Luangwa River. At this point Sandy decided to proceed towards Chinengwe in search of other species. As the vehicle crested the rise of the Chankalamu River bank and emerged onto the dambo in front of Kalamu Bush Camp, they noticed the dogs again. This time in full flight after a young impala.
The impala managed to escape by leaping over the stretch of water remaining in the depression of the dambo and the dogs then trotted off into the Bush Camp. Shortly after entering the camp area they flushed a bushbuck that immediately ran out into the open towards the watching vehicle.
Exposed and vulnerable the bushbuck was caught near the pool deck and was finished by the hungry dogs in no time at all. Having sated their appetites the dogs then engaged in a typically robust and energetic session and play and socialising.
Nesting Three-banded Coursers at Pafuri
Sighting: Nesting Three-banded Coursers at Pafuri
Location: Pafuri Camp, Makuleke Concession, Kruger National Park
Date: 28 August 2009
Observer: Jonson Mlambo
Photographs: Alweet Hlungwane
Prior to the opening of Pafuri Camp in the Makuleke Concession in the far north of Kruger National Park, there had been only one indication of three-banded courser breeding in the area. This species is generally found only further north of here in Zimbabwe and beyond to northern Africa and it reaches the southernmost limit of its distribution in the Pafuri area. While patchily distributed in Zimbabwe, Botswana and extreme north eastern Namibia, in South Africa, and this part of Kruger, it is regarded by authorities as 'rare and erratic' with the only published record of breeding a single sighting of two adult birds with a chick on 15 November 1983 by Warwick Tarboton and David Allan.
In contrast, since we began operating in the area in July 2005 we have found the species to be resident and reasonably easily found throughout the year at Pafuri with a distinct preference for the footslopes and floodplain adjacent to the Luvuvhu River. In this hot, low lying area the ground cover is sparse for the majority of the year with scattered acacias providing the cover needed by the species. Our first breeding record came with a sighting by Simon Stobbs of an incubating bird on 12 April 2007. The precocial fledglings of this nest were never seen although there was no sign of nest predation. We assume that they hatched successfully since they are known to leave the nest within 24 hours of hatching. Sightings of different chicks followed in June 2007.
Our third breeding record came with the discovery of a second nest with two eggs on 5 August 2009. These eggs hatched on 25 August giving an incubation period of at least 20 days (known periods are 25-27 days). Since then both chicks have been seen several times with the adults.
What is interesting about these records is that they broadly coincide with records obtained in Botswana and Zimbabwe where laying dates have been found to fall from April to November with a peak in the period August to October. Together with year round sightings they also put beyond dispute the contention that the southern populations of this species are migratory.
Hyaena Rescued from Snare at Tubu Tree
Sighting: Hyaena Rescue
Location: Tubu Tree Camp, Jao Concession, Botswana
Date: 30 August 2009
Observer: Martin, David and Cathy Kays
Photos: Cathy Kays
Grant Atkinson recently noticed suspicious-looking wounds on the neck of a large spotted hyaena female on Hunda Island near Tubu Tree Camp. Although the sighting was brief Grant felt that the wounds might be due to a wire snare. Tubu Tree guide Kambango was indeed able to confirm this a few days later when the hyaena approached the vehicle closely.
This is something that does occasionally happen in hyaenas which are very wide-ranging and can cover distances of 30km in a single night, sometimes taking them into communal lands bordering wildlife areas. This is in fact the first time we have come across any snare in the Jao Concession and we hope it will be an isolated incidence. This particular hyaena is the matriarch of the local hyaena clan, and has two adolescent cubs from 2008, so naturally we were very concerned for her wellbeing.
Arrangements were made for vet Rob Jackson to fly into camp with Martin Kays, the Jao Concession environmental manager, on Sunday 30 August. They immediately started driving around the area looking for tracks or other fresh signs of the hyaena, which had not been seen much in the previous week. David and I also flew in later that day to assist them with the task and as we drove out of camp in the evening to start searching for the hyaena the enormity of the task suddenly hit me as I realised we could drive around for days and not see them.
As it was, we were in luck and a short distance from camp we came across a large male leopard lying under a sycamore fig tree at the 'lunch spot'. Buoyed, we continued north and soon found the two adolescent cubs of the matriarch hyaena; they moved off towards the airstrip and we left them and then drove on to the western floodplain road. We then saw two hyaenas running past a herd of zebra in the darkness. After looking carefully we realised that it was a male in front and the injured large matriarch running behind. The hyaena were definitely very interested in something and when we switched off the vehicle to listen we heard a troop of baboons alarm-calling at the 'lunch spot', obviously due to the male leopard, and this is what had aroused the hyaenas' attention.
Martin and Rob meanwhile got into position in the area and managed to successfully dart the hyaena. We parked a vehicle on either side of her prone form to prevent any unwanted attention from the three other hyaenas present (or the leopard) and started to work.
The snare was 8-gauge wire and very deep but the wound beautifully clean with no sign of infection (we are sure the cubs had been licking it clean for her). David cut off the snare and then Rob administered a long-acting penicillin injection before treating the wound. After Rob gave the antidote we returned to the vehicles and moved back five metres to keep an eye on her until she was fully recovered. As soon as we moved back, the two adolescent pups and male came running up to her and there was a great deal of sniffing, licking and investigation of the wound. They stayed with her until she lifted up her head and then slowly began to get up.
We then followed the four hyaena until the matriarch was walking normally again and could run, before returning to camp for a well earned dinner. Amazingly, the whole project was done by 20h15 and everything had gone like clockwork! We are all sure that she will be able to make a good recovery and very pleased that she is no longer suffering.
Black-backed Jackal in Springbok hunt on Great Namibian Journey
Sighting: Black-backed Jackal pack in successful Springbok hunt
Location: Gemsbokvlakte, Etosha National Park
Date: August 2009
Observers: Ricky Averia
Photographs: Ricky Averia
One of the highlights on The Great Namibian Journey from a game viewing perspective is our stay at Ongava. Here we are able to enjoy game drives on this private reserve as well as excursions into the key areas within Etosha National Park. Gemsbokvlakte is one of these key areas and the waterhole there usually produces something of interest.
We were thrilled on a recent trip to enjoy a really exciting and fascinating black-backed jackal hunt. We had been sitting there for a short while when we witnessed a group of jackals take down a young springbok. The springbok struggled valiantly and managed to recover and escape the first attack.
At this stage only five jackals were involved, but the commotion attracted quite a few more and having taken refuge in the water of the waterhole, the young antelope was set upon by a number of other jackals (including at least one animal part of a research project in the area) and eventually succumbed to its attackers.
Jackals are known to occasionally prey on small antelope like springbok, but observations are rare. Even rarer are photographs documenting such events.
Sable research begins at Vumbura Plains
Sighting: Sable research begins at Vumbura Plains
Location: Vumbura Plains, Kwedi Concession, Botswana
Date: 15 August 2009
Observer: Glynis Humphrey, Brian Rode, Onkabetse Mothupi & Michael Hensman
The sable antelope, Hippotragus niger, has shown some dramatic declines in parts of its range in southern Africa. Despite fairly intensive study in the Kruger National Park and other areas, the reasons for these declines are imperfectly understood.
It is for this reason that an investigation into the home range and habitat use of the species has been initiated in the Vumbura area in the Okavango Delta. Here a relative stronghold of sable exists, allowing an investigation into what factors allow the species to thrive here. Michael Hensman, an MSc student from the University of Witwatersrand and HOORC (being jointly supervised by Prof Norman Owen-Smith and Dr Casper Bonyongo), has just begun his research project using the relatively new technology of Geographical Positioning Systems (GPS) collars to produce fine scale movement data from three different herds.
We have so far managed to fit two collars onto two sable cows and are indebted to the assistance of veterinarian Dr Dane Hawk and gyrocopter pilot Mark Muller without whom the exercise would not have been possible. Dr Casper Bonyongo also lent valuable field experience during the operation.
The first cow darted was part of a herd of 22 animals that use the area in the north-west of the Vumbura Concession around the airstrip. This herd is well known and is comfortable with vehicles, allowing a close enough approach for darting from a vehicle. After some initial challenges this cow was successfully darted, immobilised and collared by Dr. Hawk. All relevant measurements and samples were taken from the cow before she was 'reversed' and allowed to rejoin the rest of the herd. Further observations on that day, the following morning and subsequently, suggest she has recovered completely and has continued to hold her position as the dominant female within the herd.
The second cow darted was located from the air by Mark Muller who guided us into an area to the north-east of Vumbura Plains Camp. We eventually located the 15-strong herd in an area of open grassland within mopane woodland. We were again able to successfully dart a selected cow from the vehicle and following all checks and processing of the animal, Dr Hawk successfully revived her, allowing her to rejoin the herd without incident. She was again located the following day and found to be behaving normally.
The third herd intended for inclusion in the study had in the meantime moved into a temporarily inundated area we were unable to access. We will attempt a second operation later in September and are excited to see the results from this study and what role these might play in the conservation of this iconic species.
No updates this month.
North Island Dive Report - August 09 Jump
to North Island
The weather this month has been entertainingly unpredictable. The ocean conditions themselves have run through almost a complete spectrum and have ranged from relatively calm days with very little water movement at all, to rough seas. The only constant this month has been the water temperature which has remained at a warm 27°C.
The increase in the swell this month has been especially welcomed by some due to the great surfing and body-boarding conditions that were experienced. This month has been a favourite with regard to body boarding instruction specifically with the large swells allowing us to take advantage of several excellent breaks on East Beach, West Beach and even directly in front of Villa 11. Several surfing lessons with the guests were also attempted which were also hugely enjoyable.
The visibility has, as is customary this time of year, also been quite unpredictable and has ranged from a dismal 5 or so metres on Sprat City (toward the end of the month when the swells were picking up) to as much as 20 metres or so on some days. Coral Gardens provided us with the best visibility throughout the month. The increased swells meant that we only managed to dive three sites this month: Sprat City, Coral Gardens and Twin Anchors on Silhouette. During the beginning of the month we were lucky enough to have almost a week of great conditions which allowed us to venture further afield and comfortably explore Twin Anchors: a particular favourite this month. This month the diving has been hugely popular and we have had numerous excited. In general, the diving has been particularly good and has provided us with some fantastic sightings. We even managed to discover a new dive spot near Twin Anchors on Silhouette that has been creatively named 'Tree Cave' due to the markers that are used by the skippers in locating this particular spot. A twisted tree marks the spot and underwater can be found large caves and swim-through channels for the divers. The fish on this new reef are also prolific with an abundance of large schools of Luna Fusiliers swirling mid water as well as a huge diversity of other species on the reef including Humphead Parrotfish, Napoleon Wrasse and the ever elusive Ribbon Eels.
Unfortunately this month has seen the fast disappearance of the long awaited 'sprats' at Sprat City with most having been devoured relatively early on in the month. Fortunately during the time that the sprats were present, we were able to make repeated dives allowing us to maximize our recordings and data collections of the activities on this reef during this time. As previously mentioned, we had no sightings of sprats for the 2008 season and were elated to see them return this year albeit for such a short time. There is still much we can learn and document from this amazing feeding phenomena which continues to enthrall divers that are fortunate enough to witness this incredible occurrence.
Another highlight this month included a large pod of Bottlenose Dolphins which were spotted during the end of the month from one of our fishing trips. We also had a further sighting of a small family of 3 individuals which were spotted cruising casually past Sprat City while guests were on a training dive - what better way to start your diving experiences than being surrounded by swarms of sprats whilst watching dolphins swim by!
A further exciting record this month was the sighting of a Humpback whale which was spotted off West Beach. These particular whales do not frequent these waters often but we have managed to spot them each year without fail. During July to October, they are occasionally spotted migrating in a south westerly direction past the northern Seychelles Islands. Interestingly enough, in 1979, it was the Republic of Seychelles that presented the International Whaling Commission (IWC) with a proposal to declare the greater Indian Ocean as a whale sanctuary which was later accepted by the IWC. This created a large whale sanctuary that comprised the waters of the Northern Hemisphere from the coast of Africa to 100°E and the waters of the Southern Hemisphere in the sector from 20°E to 130°E.
This month we have also managed to update our Menu Policies document with regard to what fish may and may not be consumed on the island for guests as well as for staff. We have taken the position of rather being slightly more conservative than not and have included several species of fish that upon a quick glance, would otherwise not have been given a second thought. This includes our most recent addition of Kingklip which is currently listed as orange on the SASSI (Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative) list. Orange meaning that the species is currently either overfished or is becoming rare. Although the SASSI list relates specifically to South African fish species there are some fish populations that spread throughout the Indian Ocean thus giving this list validation.
As mentioned last month, our newly implemented revised Marine Sightings Checklist is in place and has been consistently completed throughout the month. This new format has proven to be far more user friendly (simpler to complete) and as long as each dive or snorkel is documented it will allow us to record far more valuable data with regard to the frequency of sightings compared to the number of dives conducted. This is extremely important to give the data any validity.
Kings Pool Camp update - August 09 Jump
to Kings Pool Camp
August started off quite cold, but winter is definitely behind us. During the second half of the month evening temperatures have been quite pleasant. Midday temperatures recorded were 32ºCelsius which is fairly hot but not uncommon for this time of the year. We are heading towards the hottest time of the year, namely September and October. We have enjoyed clear skies with virtually no cloud cover or precipitation at all.
General game viewing has been particularly good this month, especially in and around camp. We frequently have kudu, impala, giraffe and warthogs ambling through the camp much to the delight of our guests. A family of warthogs has even made their 'den' under some of the rooms at Kings Pool. Red lechwe are seen daily on the Linyanti floodplains together with hippo. Other game species encountered include zebra, baboon, sable, roan, waterbuck and occasionally the shy steenbok. The LTC lion pride is doing very well. They are all in good condition but unfortunately one of the three cubs has died. This is quite common with predators and it is estimated that only one out of four cubs survive to adulthood. The other two cubs are healthy and very playful, not to mention cute. On a sad note, the Chobe females have lost both of their cubs to predators this month.
Our dominant male lions have not been seen the entire month, but we hear them roaring from Namibia. The dominant males from the Savuti area have been giving our males a little pressure, so possibly they are in hiding. The Savuti males have come up to the Kings Pool areas on numerous occasions this month roaring and marking their territory. It will be interesting to see what will happen between these males should they meet up. Elephants remain the most abundant large mammal in the area. We are starting to see more and more elephants each day. As the surrounding areas dry out, herds are forced along the Linyanti river system to have access to fresh water. We are starting to see these huge beasts cross the Linyanti River on a regular basis, both from land and from our boat "The Queen Sylvia". Large bulls also frequent the camp, casually feeding in between the rooms and the main area.
It is always special to spot a leopard. Solidarity, stealth and cunning make this animal difficult to track. But our guides are in tune with leopard movements and we frequently encounter these predators. During the dry season sightings increase as available water in the mopane woodland diminishes. We have been seeing a female Leopard with her cubs on a few occasions as well as a large male we often encounter along the river. There is nothing like watching a leopard basking in the afternoon sun draped across a large branch of a jackalberry tree.
We have not had many sightings of wild dogs this month as they have been at their den site deep in the mopane woodland. We have seen them on a few occasions on their hunting expeditions though.
The Linyanti region remains one of the best birding regions in Botswana. The diversity is staggering, ranging from raptors (like the pictured African Hawk Eagle), waterbirds, bee-eaters, iridescent starlings, storks and many more. If birding is your thing, this is paradise!
Nick Leuenberger, Kerry Croll, Alex and One Mazunga, Eddie Msipha. Guides: Moses Teko, Moss Tubego, Kahn Gouwe and Diye Kennetseng.
DumaTau Camp update - August 09 Jump
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Weather and Water Levels
Wonderful weather was experienced this month - just the right temperatures with generally sunny days with little cloud cover. The maximum recorded temperature was 25 degrees Celsius and minimum was 12 degrees Celsius.
More water seems to be flowing into the Savute Channel adding to the likelihood that it will reach the Savute Marsh. Due to the higher water levels we undertook an exciting boat trip on the Channel. We boated from Mopane Bridge all the way past Bundu Island and almost half a kilometre from Rock Pan. We enjoyed wonderful wildlife sightings from the boat.
The five young males from the Selinda Pride are doing very well. They have been moving together for over two months now. The guides have seen them hunting near Letsomo with the two big males (Selinda Boys). The Selinda Boys have been actively covering the large territory that they dominate at the moment. We have not seen the five females for a month now since they crossed to the Southern Bank.
We had an unusual leopard sighting close to camp this month, when the DumaTau male was found in a tree with a recent warthog kill. Later, the DumaTau male was joined by the sub-adult Zib male, one of his suspected offspring. The two would take turns to ascend the tree to feed while the other would just relax on the ground under some scrub. Sharing a kill like this is very unusual behaviour for leopards, particularly between males but was probably allowed as the DumaTau male is the suspected sire of the Zib male. The two males stayed in the same space feeding on the kill for three days. On the evening of the fourth day just before dinner, Miriam spotted the DumaTau male walking underneath the deck heading towards the office. All in camp were amazed to see the male leopard walk right through camp!
The young Zib male has turned out to be a chip off the old block. He is about a year and three months old now and has become an efficient hunter. While having a bush dinner by Kubu Lagoon he was seen in the tall grass, later even moving closer. Around the 20th, Mocks spotted this young male corned up a tree by the DumaTau pack (six wild dogs) close to Mokwepa Pan, one of a few confrontations with the dogs this month.
The Zib female has two cubs, but no one has seen her with them. On certain mornings we find her and the cubs' tracks in camp as evidence that they are around. The one morning she passed through camp we tracked her and the cubs to the island in front of camp, but had no luck. Later, she was seen hunting impala not far from camp but still without the cubs.
The dogs (DumaTau pack) have been a sure highlight this month. We have been seeing them move with the pups which all look well. We woke up every third day to wild dogs chasing and killing impala right in camp. The one morning the housekeeping ladies were screaming and running around as the dogs chased and killed an impala right by the laundry. These dogs have needed to hunt every day, for the six of them and their 12 pups. Ollie picked them up crossing the Channel to the southern bank - but the pack only emerged with 10 pups when they were seen later on the southern bank. The water is quite deep now and it left a lot of guests questioning how the puppies crossed the flowing water. The guides suspect that perhaps the two pups drowned.
The Mmantshwe Boys were difficult to locate this month as they have switched from hunting along the Savute Channel to the woodlands. They are now seen around Chobe airstrip area most of the time in the scrubby mopane. They have been seen feeding on a warthog. With more water in the Channel, competition for food may have increased due to reduced hunting areas.
Zebra is currently a common sighting around DumaTau Camp. Bobby was extremely fortunate to see two pangolins with 24 hours; his guests were left without words at this extremely lucky sighting. On the morning of the 23rd Ollie saw two honey badgers go into a burrow and five seconds later an aardvark emerged as the badgers were attacking it. The whole interaction happened too fast for the guests to even take photos. A male bushbuck has also been seen around camp.
Southern Carmine Bee-eaters are also back for summer along the Channel, and should start nesting soon.
'The drives were wonderful; our guide Moses was knowledgeable about wildlife as well as the geography of this area. Dinners and lunches were located in different and interesting places. Never boring dining! We honestly can't think of one thing that would have made this experience any better than it was. A wonderful relaxed family atmosphere, special thanks to Joel, Karen, Sammy, and all those names I can't remember they showed that they love DumaTau and their jobs. Many more thanks to the DumaTau family, Vasco and Miriam were wonderful hosts.' Karyn & Jim
'If anyone were to ask about a trip to Africa, we would send them here first! We would be hard-pressed to pick the highlight, but the sunset setup at the hippo pool was very memorable, as well as the encounter with elephants. Just maintain the level of high quality and dedicated staff here and your success is guaranteed.' Kris & Caitlin
The managers in camp were Vasco Attornie, Miriam Tichapondwa, Joel Kefilwe and Karen Jensen. The guiding team was Lazi Monyatsi, Mocks Boatametse, Name Dihoro and we had two trainee guides Moses and Bobby Rakuru.
Savuti Camp update - August 09 Jump
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Well if there was a spring this year, we must have blinked and missed it. Summer has come roaring in and cold mornings hunched around the camp fire are now no more than a chilly memory. We are all of a sudden in summer's adolescence as the sun begins to flex its muscles and shrink the grass to golden threads and the waterholes to tessellated mud tiles.
Fortunately while we may have missed a transitional season, we have missed none of the phenomenal wildlife action that has been taking place around us alongside, in, and above the Savute Channel.
Weather and environment
The Channel has continued to flow impassively by, but perhaps the surest sign of spring is the return of migrant birds, many of which have made epic journeys to return here to their summer feeding and nesting places. In mid-month we saw the first Carmine Bee-eaters; redarrows slicing through the air as they pursue insects rising from the waters. Soon the Yellow-billed Kites and Woodland Kingfishers will arrive also, to be surprised by how much longer, deeper, and wider the Channel is now than when they flew away at the start of winter.
These new waters have been at the heart of everything, the silver ribbon this month crossing the "cutline" into the Chobe National Park. The smart money is now on it starting to refill the ancient yet transient Savute Marsh by the end of this year.
While the Channel has a seemingly endless supply of Angolan rainwater to keep it flowing, the pans and waterholes in the mopane woodlands, filled with local rainfall, are fighting a desperate rearguard action against the relentless sunbeams. They are losing ground daily, but their slow demise is bring ever more elephants down to the banks of the Channel; the midday heat signals a daily show as different breeding herds each choose a likely-looking spot and amble (or in some cases, slip and slide) down the banks and eagerly begin to suck up the water and spray it down their own throats (a neat party trick if ever there was one!).
Even with so much water in the Channel, these pachyderms sometimes exhibit elephantine envy, and refuse to share with other thirsty animals which have also trekked along dusty trails to reach this inconstant oasis. Small knots of zebra stand patiently in the shade of ancient trees, tails flicking away flies and showing incredible patience as they wait for the elephants to slake their thirst.
Some elephants are even less tolerant of fellow drinkers. On one occasion we had the comedic spectacle of a female elephant chasing an ostrich through the water. The ostrich discovered to his immense chagrin that while he might be a speedy runner on land, in the water his long legs were getting him nowhere and those fancy black and white plumes were becoming waterlogged and slowing him down still further.
While killing can be (literally) a cut-throat business, the spoils of claw can sometimes lead to bizarre acts of solidarity and sharing. Perhaps the most remarkable example of this any of us have ever seen occurred this month, when two warthogs were killed by two leopards, presumably almost simultaneously. While leopards are notoriously anti-social, mothers are seen with cubs and males with females when they feel the need to breed - but incredibly this was two males together: The notched and nicked old DumaTau Male and his son, the Zibalianja Male. Now this was odd: two adult male leopards together.
Theories abound: somehow the old cat recognised his paternal bond with what would normally be regarded as an interloper (and this is a leopard who we know has killed his offspring before), or, could there be some sort of genetic or hormonal imbalance at play here, such that he did not recognise that this was another male, but perhaps mistook his son for a female? This sounds unlikely, admittedly, but even Nature occasionally gets coffee-cup rings on her blueprints, can't quite see what it was meant to be, and throws up anomalies like the legendary maned lioness Martina at Mombo.
Of course the prey species don't always simply curl up and die on demand, and we often see instances of spirited defences by antelope and buffalo succeeding in defeating a hunting foray, especially when the predators in question are inexperienced or outgunned through being too optimistic... Witness the two cheetah males making an undignified retreat in advance of a herd of indignant wildebeest, or the relatively young Selinda Pride being driven off by a phalanx of buffalo.
The magnetic pull of the Savute Channel is felt by every creature in the Linyanti, whether it be the iron-grey elephants filing down to drink, to the more exotic visitors who seem to have turned up in the wrong place... The sable is one of the more striking antelope we have in Botswana, with the males being a deep chocolate brown colour with backwards-sweeping scimitar-like horns. One afternoon, we seemed to be the only Savute residents who thought anything of the sudden appearance of a sable in our area. It spent a fruitless half-hour displaying to a herd of zebra, which were not impressed at all, and then to a herd of wildebeest which were similarly nonplussed. Still, his bipedal audience enjoyed the show!
When it comes to impressive displays, however, and indeed to stealing the show, the wild dogs of the Linyanti are past masters. Having weathered a lion raid on their den, the DumaTau pack have now been seen running wild with this year's puppies in tow. At least ten of the original 13 puppies have survived to leave the den and run with the pack, which is a fantastic achievement for this pack (which numbered only six adults earlier this year). The puppies are different sizes, showing that they came from two different females which is quite uncommon behaviour in a species where typically only the alpha pair mates.
Few sights are more exhilarating in the African bush than wild dogs running at full tilt at prey. And nothing can be more terrifying for their prey, than to see these painted wolves hurtling pell-mell towards them. The most dramatic wild dog event of the month took place in the middle of Camp by the light of a waxing moon, just minutes after midnight. A horrible growling sound rent the night air - the death rattle of an impala. The dogs had hit it so hard that it was thrown into a somersault and by the time it hit the ground again the dogs had opened it up and started feeding.
An excited outburst of twittering from the dogs brought in a small tidal wave of yearling dogs which swarmed over the kill and within minutes there was nothing left but a dark stain in the sand and the smell of half-digested grass - and a stunned silence from those of us lucky enough to watch this grisly but incredible event. As the dust settled, however, the frog chorus started up again from the Channel, and we reluctantly returned to bed, almost resenting the fact that we had to sleep at all, for fear of missing anything else. After all, we missed spring!
But of course there was the anticipation of the next action-packed day at Savuti, and looking forward to the pleasures of slipping out of bed in the pre-dawn gloom to watch the light strengthen from our front-row seats for the greatest show on Earth ... And not having to miss a thing! But don't just take our word for it - here are the reflections of some of the guests who visited our bend in the river in Africa this last month:
- "Highlight: elephant interactions, cheetah sighting, elephant vs. ostrich, lechwe running and jumping through water..."
- "The vegan food was amazing, as well as the regular food - the staff were exceptional. What more could you want?"
- "Special thanks to Sefo for AMAZING drives!"
- "The private outings with Goodman were incredible, his expertise and friendliness were top-notch, just like the whole staff! Great animals, accommodation, food, and open bar made for a very warm stay, THANK YOU!"
- "You're almost perfect!"
- "Highlight: the memorable Savute Channel anniversary..."
- "Wild dogs in the morning and wild dogs in the afternoon..."
With best wishes from your August Savuti team: Diana Eades, Nick Noko Galpine, Terri Krause, Keitumetse Keodumetse and Makena Pata, and guides Oganeditse Sefo, Kane Motswana, Lets Kamogelo and Goodman Ndlovu.
Zarafa Camp update - August 09 Jump
to Zarafa Camp
Camps Update - August 09
Lagoon camp Jump
The Lagoon Wild Dog den is providing guests and guide alike some wonderful moments with the nine puppies growing up fast and experimenting in play fighting and early attempts to hunt insects around the den. The adults are still working hard to feed the youngsters and themselves. They are out almost daily to find sufficient food. Towards the end of the month the dogs decided to move the den site closer towards the camp not far from Zebra Pan. The exchange was made quickly and picked up equally as quickly by the excellent Kwando trackers. Another month or so and the youngsters should be ready to start learning to hunt for themselves with the main pack.
Large herds of Buffalos and Elephants are migrating in and out of the area around Lagoon Camp and Kwando Airstrip to find fresh water and relief from the great thirst weather of August.
A young male Lion was spotted with porcupine quills imbedded in his neck from an overbold attack on the giant rodent. He certainly learnt the hard way that the Porcupine defence is not to be taken lightly.
Elsewhere, a fascinating sighting of a African Hawk Eagle killing a Swainsons Francolin was observed. With the giant eagles superb eye sight and soaring power the only defence the Francolin has in cover and on this occasion this was not sought out quickly enough.
Kwara & Little Kwara camps Jump
& Little Kwara camps
World-class game viewing all round this month at Kwara. Every day seems to provide more and more predator sightings. On one such morning two Lions were seen abandoning a Baboon carcass only for an opportunistic Leopard to stealthily creep into view and take the kill up a tree. It is possible that the Lions stole the Baboon from the Leopard in the first place as it is rare for a Lion to catch the primates.
Fifteen Wild Dogs have been moving in and out of the area looking for game – it is likely that they have a den site deep into the Mopane forest well out the way of Lions and Hyenas. The successful Cheetah mother is still going strong with her fast growing four cubs and she has been seen trying to teach them the art of the hunt. At the moment they are still somewhat clumsy and it may be several more months before they are able to successfully hunt for themselves.
Elsewhere, excellent sighting of small mammals such as Honey Badgers and Servals and a whole variety of aquatic birds who are relishing the flood water such as Slaty Egret, Wattled Crane and Saddle-Billed Stalks.
Lebala camp Jump
The three brother Cheetahs that repeat guests will know so well have been spotted several times again this month. On one occasion they were tracked hunting Impala during the day not far from the old airstrip. On another a successful kill was made on the small Steenbok antelope.
Leopards and Lions have also been common visitors to the Lebala area. The two dominant males are often sighted patrolling their territory or lazing under thick-canopied trees.
Huge breeding herds of Elephants are now dominating the Lebala floodplains now that all of the Mopane pans have finally dried up in the forests. The Elephants have migrated to the permanent waters and can often be seen swimming and drinking in the water channels.
Night drives have also produced some interesting sightings – hunting Wild Cats and Servals are often seen stalking close to the floodplains providing wonderful photographic opportunities for guests!
Another beautiful month in the Pans has produced some memorable wildlife experiences at Nxai Pan Camp. A solitary tom cat Leopard has been seen wandering in and around the camp at regular intervals. The water hole in front of the swimming pool has been relieving the thirst of such varied animals as bachelor herds of Elephants, large journeys of Giraffes and clans of Hyenas.
On Nxai and Khama Khama Pan the two Cheetah brothers have been seen hunting Springbok while in the woodland it is the Impala that are the food of choice for the rapid predators. Four Lionesses were followed by a party of Nxai guests stalking a Gemsbok but luckily for the desert antelope a close by Impala spotted the giant cats and sounded the alarm call.
The Tau resident Leopard has been located on several occasions this month and its call is a regular sound as guests drift off to sleep at night. Tau is the Setswana word for Lion and Tau Pan has certainly had its share of the large Cats this month. Some lucky guests were treated to mating Lions for some days close to the camp and even luckier guests got a view of two Lions on foot during a Bushman cultural walk. The Lions just as interested in the people as they were in them but eventually after sniffing the air they strolled off down the hill.
Elsewhere, Cheetahs and Brown Hyenas have been seen on the pan interspersed with large amounts of desert plains game such as Gemsbok, Springbok and Red Hartebeest.
Keen ornithologists have been treated to a great variety of birds in the Tau area in this dry season. Pale Chanting Goshawks, Secretary Birds and Kori Bustards are amongst the favourites regularly seen.
Mombo Camp update
- July/August 09 Jump
to Mombo Camp
Weather, Landscape and Flood Levels
Weather was typical of a northern Botswana winter and the months were packed with amazing game sightings. The minimum temperature was 8º Celsius and the maximum was 28º in July; 12º minimum and 32º maximum in August. The clear blue skies were just perfect for photographers.
Being late winter, vegetation cover is reduced, and one only sees lush, green vegetation in and around the floodplains. The seasonal pans are now perfect sand-bathing spots for the zebra with the fine sand covering their coats. The animals perhaps do this to provide some relief from annoying ectoparasites.
The flood water level also dropped drastically towards the end of July opening up further areas we couldn't previously drive in. Animals congregated in big numbers in the open floodplain areas creating a mixed congregation of species, mainly zebra, red lechwe, impala, warthog, giraffe and elephant.
Mombo enjoyed 29 different leopard sightings in July and 25 in August which most of our guests witnessed. In the records of Mombo this year guests enjoyed a sighting of four different leopards in one area. This was Motawana (the father to Pula and Maru), Legadima, Pula and Maru all together in the old Mombo area.
As Legadima is pregnant again the current family arrangement will change. For the first time guides witnessed an aggressive interaction between Legadima and her cub Pula over an impala carcass. They snarled, growled and even attacked each other. Pula and Maru will have to start fending for themselves and establish their own territories.
We all have confidence that the young ones are going to make it as they seem to have mastered their hunting techniques and have learned well from their elegant mother. All three have also been seen often around camp. A leopard called the Blue-eyed Male was also seen this month.
The Mombo lions have been very successful in raising their cubs each time. The Mathata Pride has been seen mostly with five 3-year-old cubs. The most exciting sightings recorded of them was when they were feeding on a zebra and all the cubs were fighting for a share and would disappear into the zebra's rib cage. Lion cubs always create excellent photographing opportunities because the cubs are restless, playing and play fighting with each other. The Maporota Pride is also busy raising eight cubs of a similar age.
Every guest that visited Mombo in the months of July and August saw lions and it is possible that the Mombo area has the highest concentration of lions in Botswana. A few times the Western Pride and Mathata Pride came searching for the resident bachelor herd of buffalo of which they have killed more than six in camp the past three years.
Elephant, Rhino and Buffalo
The elephant population has certainly increased with numerous herds being recorded in the Mombo area. On each and every drive in the past two months, there was a guaranteed breeding herd sighting. The damage to the vegetation is also increasing day by day as we see more herds in the area. There are still a few solitary males in the area and even around the camp.
It has been easier to find the rhinos because they have moved a lot closer to our usual game drive roads. The vegetation remains thick though and it can be tricky to track them. We enjoyed four white rhino sightings in July and about six in August. There have been no signs of black rhino for the past two months. A 200-strong buffalo herd was recorded in the north-east part of the concession.
There is a large giraffe population currently on Chief's Island - sometimes up to 30 giraffe are seen in one journey ambling over the open plains. There are also currently amazing wildlife congregations on the open floodplains of blue wildebeest, impala and red lechwe fully justifying the phrase "place of plenty".
Xigera Camp update
- August 09 Jump
to Xigera Camp
August still had a few cold days in the beginning of the month but by mid-month we were recording midday temperatures of 28ºCelsius. The waterlevel measured on the bridge has dropped.
Our guides Ndebo Tongwane and Ace Gabanakitso were cruising with their guests on the boat channel near Chiefs Island when the noticed a single large grey animal in the distance. At first they throught it to be an elephant but something just didn't seem right. When Ndebo looked through his binoculars he realised that he was looking at a white rhino. This caused great excitement for both guests and guides. This is the first recorded sighting of a white rhino for Xigera Camp. It turned out to be a bull, and he had scars on his face and neck from probable fighting.
The game drives have produced good sightings of elephants. KD Malatsi and his guest wantched a big elephant bull walk from palm tree to palm tree shaking them and picking the palm nuts that fall down. It is a common sight this time of year. The tall palm trees are heavily laden with palm nuts and the bulls know that by giving them a few good shakes the fruits will fall down and they can pick them up using their trunks. The elephants thus act as a very effective dispersal agent for these palms.
Other interesting sightings include a pair of foraging honey badgers, bushbuck in the thickets behind camp and several small herds of giraffe in the woodland areas.
While we had stopped on an island for a picnic lunch we heard the bizarre drumming flight noise of an African Snipe. It makes a 'rumbling' noise through its stiffened tail feathers as it stoops down across the floodplains. The African Snipe starts breeding as the water level in the Delta drops in late winter and local legend is that people believe the snipe is taking the water with it as it stoops down flying very fast.
Teko Ketlogetswe also saw the first Pink-backed Pelican of this season. We are looking forward to seeing more pelicans as summer approaches. Whiskered Tern, Long-toed Lapwing, Little Egret, Rufuos-bellied Heron, African Jacana, Squacco Heron and Little Bee-eater amongst others are regularly seen out on the channels.
'The entire experience was tremendous. We cannot limit our stay to a single highlight. Ndebo is a fantastic guide, he made our stay at Xigera very special. Thank you!' Franciso, Ana and Donna
Anton Wessels, Virgil Geach, Gideon Mvere, Matshelo Nkwe and Mia Ives.
Chitabe Camp update
- August 09 Jump
to Chitabe Camp
Weather and Landscape
As each day is hotter than the last, it seems that winter is behind us. There is much to celebrate as summer approaches. Abundant floodwater equals wildlife of all kinds in big numbers.
The bush is filled with wonderful fragrances at the moment with various plants in flower including the sausage trees and the aromatic scents of wild jasmine along the floodplain areas together with the rich smells of wild basil and sage.
The famous Chitabe wild dog pack has emerged from denning with fourteen pups! We noticed a few months back that two females appeared to be pregnant (i.e. not just the alpha female), but weren't sure whether the pack would allow the subordinate mother to go to full-term, so it's very exciting that the pack is going to live with both litters and we'll follow their progress with interest. Sightings have been great with a good view of the youngsters crossing water for the first time.
Throughout July and August we were able to show guests hyaena pups and also lion cubs which have all made for good game viewing and some very cute photographs.
Leopard and cheetah have also been seen regularly.
Birders will be interested to hear that there are plenty of owls in camp, lots of Bateleurs in and around camp and we even observed a Red-crested Korhaan wandering around just beyond the swimming pool.
Congratulations to Camp manager Nick Green, who has published his first book: Boathouse to Botswana - an exciting safari diary full of funny guest stories and restaurant memories from 18 years in the hospitality trade. We'd definitely recommend that guests, both past and new, read it to find out what goes on behind the scenes in Wilderness Safaris camps.
Sleeping out at the hide was a great adventure for two honeymoon couples and repeat Chitabe guests Oliver and Anja - when they saw courting leopards on a night drive with Guide Newman.
Managers this month at Chitabe Main Camp: Dawson, Nick, Clifford and Tiny and at Chitabe Lediba: Kenny G and Jossie. Guides; Newman, Phinley, Ebs and Luke. We look forward to hosting you.
-Photographs courtesy of Benjamin Plum (leopard) and Nick-
Xakanaxa Camp update
- August 09 Jump
to Xakanaxa Camp
There are a lot of breeding herds of elephant in the area and one female has a wart on her face, we are not yet sure what it is from, but warts and growths are sometimes spotted on animals in the wild. A large herd of about 400 buffalo were seen at Fourth Bridge for three days, this is a lovely sighting for our guests, as lion often follow buffalo, in the hope of finding a weak one to hunt. A young male leopard was spotted with a fresh kill of impala, he was a bit shy of the vehicle, but it was a great photo opportunity. On the first of this month we saw a youngwhite impala and it has been around for the past few months. It is seldom, but albino impala have been sighted in various areas. If the animals have pink eyes they are albinos, if they have a normal eye colour it is often just that they have a lighter pigmentation, when compared to the rest of their herd. Hippos were seen mating at Jesse’s Pools where there are so many! In the morning of the third a male leopard was running for his life chased by a troop of baboon, this can happen when they want to save one of their own or if they feel threatened by the predator, with their large teeth, they can be a great danger to lone predators. A Short Tailed Eagle was spotted in a tree eating a mouse. For the past few days we have been seeing the resident leopard in the camp between tent 12 and 13, which was exciting for our guests! At the second Lagoon from the camp we saw an African Fish- Eagle eating a catfish, the Okavango would not be the same without this magical bird’s eerie call echoing over its crystal clear waters. The after noon of the fifth at Jesse’s Pools, two male hippos were fighting; this was probably for mating rights. Migrant birds are also slowly coming back, the other day we saw Marabou Stork in the lagoon. This huge scavenger’s un-feathered head and neck and the massive bill render it unmistakable and vulture like, not the prettiest stork.
The game has been very good in the area. There were three wild dog kills; they killed three Impala in three days and lions also made two kills one female buffalo and a zebra. The pride of wild dog was sighted on three occasions and for the first time appeared with their cubs who are only a few months old. One of the female lions has a big cut on her face and it might be the result of a kick from a zebra or a buffalo’s horn. This does happen sometimes, as zebra have a very hard kick and can in this way defend themselves, when a lion attacks the animal from the back. Some lion are hurt badly while hunting larger prey, from broken skin to broken jaws, which can mean death to the predators. A young male leopard was spotted stalking and caught a monkey. In Acacia Plains a Tawny Eagle was spotted in a nest with its chick. It is easily confused with the Steppe Eagle, which is similar in size and shape, the gape length is diagnostic. At Dead Tree Bridge we also spotted a Slaty Egret, which is very similar to the Little Egret in shape and behaviour. In colour it resembles the Black Heron but differs in having greenish yellow legs and feet and a rufous (chestnut) throat, and in lacking the wing-canopy feeding action. Breeding birds have a black eye. A pair of Wattled Crane, were also spotted in the area. This enormous crane with its long, white, feathered wattles is unmistakable. Even at a great distance, it can easily be identified by its dark face and crown, and by the white head and neck contrasting with the black underparts. Usually they are found in pairs or small groups, but non-breeding birds sometimes gather in flocks of 50 or more. This bird is rare and patchily distributed and an endangered species.
Birds are returning to the heronry at Xakanaxa Lagoon to roost and breed. They make their nests out of large twigs broken off the Swamp Fig (Ficus verruculosa) thickets.
Last week’s sightings recorded in the late afternoon as the birds returned to roost on the swamp fig thickets were:
Great White Egrets
Black Heron (Egret)
(Common) Squacco Heron
African Sacred Ibis
On the way to the heronry flocks of 12-15 African Green-Pigeons were viewed, Little Bee-eaters, Pied Kingfisher and a Malachite Kingfisher. In camp as the early morning sun rises, it attracts insects out from under the thick layer of leavesthat have offered them protection during the night.The rustling of the dry leaves is heard as dozens of Wattled Starlings, Southern Pied Babblers, Cape Glossy Starlings, Greater Blue-Eared Starlings and Weavers descend to feast, while the calls of Southern Carmine Bee-eaters herald their arrival.
The Saddle-Billed Stork that used to fish at the small pond in the camp has moved on.Black Crakes continue to scuttle over the camps decks, entertaining guests and staff alike. The Pels Fishing Owl and its chick were viewed once again and the female had a large fish in her claw.
The young male hippo, who has occasionally in the eveningswalked up the steps,decided to take a short cut to his wallow near the camp entrance. He appeared in the afternoon and startled one of the front office ladies, who was busy in the lounge. He walked up the lounge steps, along the deck past the tea area, down the steps leading to the reception office and then turned and headed off for the bush past the curio shop, to reach the wallow and thankfully did not decide to walk through the office as well.The reason may have been that Amadeus, the oldest resident hippo in the area, had been sleeping in camp in the morning. The younger male may have thought this was a better route to keep out of the other’s territory. We will consult an expert in hippo behavior, to find out the reason for this unusual behavior, probably territorial, as when he first took this route he was chased out of the water by another male.
The project attempting to eradicateSalvinia Molesta (Kariba weed)in the Okavango is going well and it is noticeable how many of the plants are dying from the dark brown colour they have turned. Where ever new plants are reported our trainee guide Baams,who is working closely under the supervision of the Department of Water Affairs and the Bio Okavango project drops more weevils, which he breeds at Xakanaxa Camp. A couple from Denmark who assist with the project visited the lodge and were taken on a site inspection. Guests can enjoy an educational mokoro trip with Baams, who will gladly explain the deadly effect it has had on the area and what he is doing to rid the Okavango of this weed.
August saw two returning guests who decided Xakanaxa Camp was where they would like to celebrate their birthdays. Another group from Spain decided to return and stay for 6 nights and during this period become quite fluent in Setswana, much to the delight of the staff. They went on a full day outing up to the Khwai area and also did an all day boating activity, stopping on an island for a sumptuous picnic lunch followed by a siesta under the shade of trees. They returned to camp in the late afternoon and stopping on the lagoon for a sundowner and towatch a magnificent sunset. Game viewing wise they were extremely lucky and had very good sightings.
Spring has arrived and blossoms are starting to appear, the most striking being the crimson flowers of the Kigelia africana (Sausage tree).The flowers have large pollen stamens that attract a variety of birds. The flowers hang from stalks that are anything from 2 to 7 meters long. Sun birds are also seen flitting amongst the flowers. The flood waters have started to recede in the Xakanaxa area, bringing large amounts of game back to the area.
The weather starts warming; day and night 10- 30º Celsius. Animal herds are getting larger, limited space near the water leads to tension between large breeding herds of elephant. The bush is bare and dusk pervades throughout the region, the floods have passed through the Delta and reach as far south as Maun, where there are celebrations to welcome the cooling water. Birds such as Herons and Storks start to concentrate at Heronries and begin nest- building. Yellow-billed Kites start to make their acrobatic appearance in the skies.
Vumbura Plains Camp update
- August 09 Jump
to Vumbura Plains Camp
Weather and Water Levels
The floods have subsided, slowly receding from the floodplains and low-lying areas around Vumbura, soaked up by the thirsty Kalahari sands and finally evaporating into the dry, cloudless sky. The flood cycle has been completed, and what an amazing cycle it has been, absolutely astonishing how quickly the water that once reduced our area to a series of small islands, has now disappeared. This has left the floodplains flushed with green, amongst the dry, dusty bush that occurs here during our winter months. The temperature has slowly climbed and except for a series of cold fronts, and the odd chilly wind, we are starting to experience the exceptionally fine spring conditions of northern Botswana.
The opening up of previously flooded areas has allowed us access once again to some of the most beautiful and dynamic areas of the Delta. The many floodplains have sprouted some good grazing, bringing about the return of large herds of Cape buffalo. There is nothing quite like watching these magnificent beasts in these numbers, an animal that has been likened to a "debt collector looking at you like you owe it some money".
Another animal seen regularly through the month is the rare sable antelope, the clear black and white markings such a contrast against the dry browns and greys of the African winter landscape. The most majestic of all antelope with its sweeping, curved horns is a regular sight in our concession, very lucky for us and our visitors.
The predators have been active this month, also moving back into areas that they frequent during the times of less water. Our pack of wild dogs started off the month with a flourish, sometimes passing right by camp in hot pursuit of an agile impala, once killing one right next to the staff village gate, giving our off duty staff members prime seats to view one of nature's most efficient hunters in action.
The Kubu Pride has also returned to our area, ousting the Eastern Pride and seemingly banishing them back from whence they came. They entertained some guests with a spectacular warthog kill right in front of them, quite a distressing sight but even more distressing sound; there is nothing more heartbreaking than a warthog squealing in its final moments. The two males have been keenly following these females waiting for a chance to mate. One was rewarded towards the end of the month with a female on heat and many opportunities for some loving.
Our mokoro route has been productive with big game, something not usually the norm on a mokoro (usually being all about birds, frogs and the absolute peace and tranquillity). Our guests had the prime viewing of a large herd of buffalo with an elephant bull in the background seated in the comfort of their traditional dug-out canoe. Of course there are always the birds and frogs; flocks of Open-billed Storks were the norm, and of course the variety of other species such as Slaty Egret, African Marsh Harrier, Squacco Heron and other aquatic birds. Talking about birds, we had our first sighting of the beautiful Southern Carmine Bee-eater, these visitors being the first sign of the approaching summer.
An interesting project has started in the Kwedi Concession (where Vumbura Plains is located) this month: a joint effort between the Centre of African Ecology, School of Animal, Plant and Environmental Science, the University of the Witwatersrand and Wilderness Safaris. This project is dealing with the rare sable antelope. There has in recent years been a sharp decline in these animals in areas such as the Kruger National Park, and it is hoped that the study done on the herds in Botswana, which seem to be doing well, can give us insight into the future of this magnificent beast and what can be done in effectively conserving them.
We are all looking forward to an exciting summer here at Vumbura Plains, which appears to be right on our doorstep, with all the excitement and beauty that this country has to offer.
Managers - Gordon, Tanya, Warren.
Guides - Zee, Moronga, Emang
Managers - Zara, Frank, Cheri
Guides - Ban, Lettie, S.T
Little Vumbura Camp update
- August 09 Jump
to Little Vumbura Camp
It was a busy month for the camp and only occasionally did we have one or two rooms free for a night. We have had a good proportion of young travellers arriving with their folks and all seemed fascinated by what the Okavango Delta had to offer. Although nearly always full, Little Vumbura is still an intimate camp and there were many small groups that enjoyed the exclusivity that is the nature of this beautiful part of the Okavango.
With the waters drying up rapidly, the roads have been exposed and we no longer need to boat to the airstrip for pick-ups. The annual changes were extreme this year and the experience should prepare us for an even higher flood expected next year. Our mokoro station is back at the jetty and the old boat station is back in full use.
As is expected at this time of year, elephants were in abundance both in and out of camp. There were also regular sightings of elephants in the Delta waters while on mokoro and boat activities. Occasionally the elusive spotted-necked otters were also seen (or 'spotted' as would be more appropriate).
The game drives always provide sightings of a large variety of large and small mammals. Although the cheetah are conspicuously absent - since their favoured haunts have been inundated by the great flood volumes - we are hoping that with the floodplains drying up they will reappear. The guides have been finding prides of lion and even some relaxed leopard during the day and in the evenings. Sable are regularly seen in herds and they are still the most relaxed of that species that I have ever encountered.
Duba Plains Camp update
- August 09 Jump
to Duba Plains Camp
Duba Plains has enjoyed an excellent winter flood season. Our low-lying island and its fauna and flora are used to the annual inundation from the winter floodwaters of the Okavango and we temporary human residents adapt to this as well. We seek out the higher ground and also have the good fortune of being able to construct bridges in key areas to enable access to prime game viewing areas. This has ensured that we have been able to continue to offer great viewing at Duba in recent months.
The lion and buffalo of course dominated the scene as they usually do and we have focused our activities on the potential for observing the incredible interaction between these two species. Duba is not only about these large powerful mammals however. Other interesting wildlife seen on a regular basis included civet, bat-eared fox and aardwolf. Aardwolf are seldom seen, mostly nocturnal predators and Duba Plains has in recent years developed a well-deserved reputation as a good area to see these termite-specialist predators.
This time of year is also a good one for birding. As the floodwaters recede, isolated waterholes heave with fish and attract huge flocks of fish-eating birds such as storks, herons, egrets and pelicans. Due to the high flood levels this year we expect the so-called 'fish traps' to really come into their own in September and even October, but the resident bird life hasn't disappointed either. Bateleur, Hooded Vulture, Tawny Eagle, White-faced Duck, Slaty Egret, Great White Egret and the stunning Rosy-throated Longclaw, another Duba special, were all seen on a regular basis, the aerial scavengers (Bateleur, Tawny Eagles and Hooded Vulture) regularly indulging in the leftovers of diurnal lion kills.
As far as the lion viewing is concerned, we continue to see two spectacular lion prides, the well-known Tsaro Pride, stalwarts of Duba Plains viewing for many years, and the more elusive Skimmer Pride. They are currently lorded over by a single magnificent seven-year-old male lion known as the Skimmer Male who some time ago displaced the rather long-in-the-tooth Duba Boys and who has since then also seen off other challengers.
The Skimmer Pride who occasionally launch an incursion into the territory of the Tsaro Pride, hold their own territory on an island separated from our main game area by a deep water channel. At present the 12-strong pride consists of three adult lionesses, three three-year-old lionesses, four two-year-old males and two ten-month-old male cubs.
The Tsaro Pride continue to hold sway on Duba Island itself, the core range of the very large buffalo herd that calls the area home. The pride consists of nine adult lionesses: Silver Eye, three females of around 13 years, a very old 17-year-old female and four females of around nine years in age. Two of the lionesses currently have three very young cubs each. They are now around three months old, certainly sired by the Skimmer Male, and doing well. One of the other females has two cubs. Silver Eye - a notorious suspected killer of past litters - is currently in very poor condition and we await her fate.
An interesting indication of the strength of territorial imperative over weight of numbers occurred recently when the two lactating females from the Tsaro Pride chased the entire Skimmer Pride off a buffalo carcass in the territory of the Tsaro Pride. The larger group had followed the lions into the Tsaro Pride territory overnight and managed to bring down a buffalo which they had fed on. Being discovered trespassing the following morning they allowed themselves to be chased off by just two lionesses and hightailed it back to their own territory.
-Images by Russel Friedman-
Jacana Camp update
- August 09 Jump
to Jacana Camp
Finally an explosion of new life! Spring is here, and the multitudes are arriving. The cool mornings are giving way to the sunny spring tide of warm days and bright colours. The light breeze during the day is soothing to the air like a soft kiss on the skin. The days are becoming longer and the birdsongs more numerous. In the evening Scorpio is chasing Orion and the moon is smiling in between - soon summer will be here. The water is moving along the age-old route grafted by millennia of floods and we are left with its rich deposits sprouting grasses and shrubs anew.
The ebb of the Okavango waters is by no means any less of a spectacle than the flooding of the plains. Wild cries of baboons early in the morning being harassed by leopard, the morning calls of the White-browed Robin-chat and the lions calling late in the afternoon - to name but only a few of the beings that make this wild place of ours what it is.
None of the stories has more intrigue than our local female leopard and her day-to-day survival on the plains, hunting impala and red lechwe with a surgeon's precision, or lying in the afternoon breeze on the branches of a large marula. She is a true jewel with her cream-coloured eye and that hidden killer instinct.
Something distinct for this time of the year is the return of a king and his pride, as the plains expand behind the water, the ground opens for the lions of the Delta and their social living behaviour comes out for all to see.
Large pods of hippo gather in the lagoons and can be heard for hundreds of metres grunting and blowing clouds of mist into the air, vocalising to demarcate the boundaries of their territories. Elephants have become persistent in their daily living around the island and we are frequently visited by lone bulls spending their slow days munching away at the undergrowth, providing us with great dinner company.
The sunsets are framed by Open-billed Storks making their way back to their breeding grounds, almost blacking out the sky with their numbers. And nothing can be more mesmerising than watching the African Skimmers working for their lunch. The plains are covered with birds returning to their ancient breeding grounds, some of the species include Wattled Crane, Pel's Fishing Owl, Slaty Egret, Pygmy Geese and many more.
Thank you to all our guests from the past month, we hope you enjoyed your stay as much as we enjoyed having you here. And to those who still have to come: we are looking forward to welcome you to our little paradise Jacana Camp.
"How rare to shower with elephant, dine with vervets and fall asleep with the call of baboons - Marvellous." -
B & GA
"A magical world full of surprises, magnificent landscapes and wildlife, unforgettable." B & D
"The most magical family experience ever. The staff, animals and beauty of this place surpassed all expectations, enjoying paradise - many thanks!" - T family
Camp Staff for August
Managers: Pieter Ras & Danielle van den Berg
Guides: Joseph Basenyeng & Mike Tebogo
Regards from the Okavango Delta,
update - August 09 Jump
to Kwetsani Camp
Weather and Water Levels
August was a month of four seasons. We drifted from a cold July into wonderful warm spring weather during the first half of August. Just as we were forgetting about winter a cold snap blew in overnight to shock us back into winter once again. Luckily the front passed by quickly bringing another hint of summer as we reach the end of the month with lows of 16 degrees Celsius and highs of 32 degrees Celsius.
There has been a dramatic change to the water levels this month. The result is a wonderland of magnificent bird species wading in the shallow waters and pools that have formed, fishing out all sorts of Delta delicacies. The plains are literally littered with countless flocks of Open-bill Storks, different species of egrets, swooping African Fish-Eagles, Saddle-billed Storks, numerous species of waders and then the all-favourite African Skimmers swishing by gracefully skimming tiny insects off the top of the glistening floodplains.
As usual, at this time of year, the island has been busy with elephants that have been attracted by the fruit of the real fan palms and other nutritious plants that grow on the island. Amongst the elephant regulars, that have spent almost the entire month on the island, is an enormous bull that has the most placid nature we have ever witnessed in an elephant. There have been numerous occasions where we have had to try and coax him away from the walkway for guests to pass by; however, he continues to feed and does not budge an inch until he is ready to do so.
Despite the departure of the Kwetsani lion pride to Hunda Island, following the loss of their cubs last month, we have had the most amazing predator sightings throughout August. So many people have had wonderful experiences and sightings but perhaps the luckiest this month was Sue who brought her granddaughter Sophie on a special visit to the Okavango Delta and spent four days at Kwetsani.
They left having seen leopards or lions on every single drive, and we decided that they had set a predator record for a 4-day stay at Kwetsani. For Sophie this was not only her first visit to Africa, it was her first camp, so the experiences she had were undoubtedly life changing ones. To sit a couple of metres from a roaring lion at night is certainly not something that one will easily forget; it truly is a life-changing moment!
Another lucky couple was Alex and Oksana from the Ukraine who also had magnificent predator sightings throughout their three-day stay at Kwetsani. This was the only camp they visited in the Okavango Delta and it turned out to be an exceptional choice for them. The combination of the most beautiful floodplains littered with lechwe, and in their case predators as well as the magnificent woodland on Hunda Island, certainly gave them a great mix of Delta habitats. They left here after three days having seen predators on every drive. The culmination was the final day on Hunda Island where they watched the Boat Station Leopard and Motselesele Female having a stand off - quite unusual to witness this kind of interaction between two female leopards.
The floodplains too produced the most amazing photos of lion, leopard and needless to say birds. The pictures of Lilac-breasted Roller, Little Bee-eater, Malachite Kingfisher and numerous others were astonishing. We look forward to Alex and Oksana's visit in August next year; their experiences certainly had an enormous effect on them with a return visit already planned.
During the month we have seen a coalition of three male lions stroll onto Hunda Island to challenge the status quo. Needless to say the lone male that has been mating with the Kwetsani Pride made a hasty retreat to the floodplains and soon teamed up with Broken Nose and her daughter. The male spent a number of days mating with Broken Nose so we will once again watch with interest to see if we have yet another litter of cubs in three months' time. We have also been watching with great interest as Broken Nose's daughter, who is now two years old, has been urine spraying and attracting the interest of the male. It would certainly be wonderful to have two females producing litters at the same time!
Meanwhile Beauty, the resident leopard up in the Jao floodplains, has been seen mating with Beast, the enormous male leopard that is generally resident around Kwetsani. It certainly seems as if we could be in for an interesting December if all of our broody predators conceive.
Camp managers: Mike and Anne
Guides: Jonah, Mogale, assisted by Mike T, David and Shadrack.
update - August 09 Jump
to Jao Camp
Weather and Water Levels
As we yearn for the departure of winter, nature answers the call by delivering some mellow spring days that hint of the hot summer months ahead.
August is traditionally known as the "windy month" and we have not been disappointed. Just as it is imperative that we have spring rains to encourage new vegetation to begins it's cycle, so is it necessary that the yearly winds blow sufficiently to remove old leaves and debris from trees, and more importantly to scatter new seeds and pollen in readiness for Spring.
Mornings and evenings are the perfect times of day with radiant sunrises and serene sunsets to spoil us. Watching an exquisite sunrise while sipping a steaming cup of coffee or gazing at a magnificent sunset whilst relaxing on the delta in a tranquil mokoro must count amongst life's most special moments.
Flood water levels continue to fall and what was once a tiny island, has now become almost like a monolith rising from beneath the oceans. Also, as the water recedes, trees that remained green due to the plentiful water, have now entered an "autumn" phase that will last a short while until their spring foliage begins its new life cycle.
Much to the relief of most wild animals, winter has departed from our island and has taken with it very chilly evenings and frosty mornings. This agrees most heartily with our resident impala who eagerly anticipate the coming of spring with slightly swollen tummies, not from large quantities of grass, but from the tiny new lives that grow within their bellies waiting to begin their life's journey on Jao Island within the coming months.
One mother that has already received her little bundle of joy is a female hippo that has developed a partiality for a termite mound near to Rooms 8 and 9. Most late evenings they can be found feeding, wallowing and sleeping beneath the rooms. Mom is very protective and if she feels that her offspring is threatened in any way; she nudges and manoeuvres the baby out of human sight, leaving us with a sense of awe for this nurturing mother that is one of Africa's most dangerous animals.
We have also been treated to wonderful sightings of breeding herds of elephants. Earth's largest land mammals regularly roam around the island like secretive dinosaurs nimbly stepping over walkways in search of the tastiest morsels of food. Recent visitors encompassing a family of four, includes a brand new addition. This tiny little elephant who is not quite sure what to do with the "appendage" on the front of his face epitomizes the collective name for elephants - a Parade - by rapidly walking and then stumbling, climbing over tree stumps and waving his trunk around in the air. He has tufts of hair on his head and a continual "smile" on his face. We are all fascinated by the protection his mother and siblings give to him if approached by any of the resident males. They crowd around the baby, shielding him from the male's inquisitiveness and then gently urge him forward with their trunks to encourage him to move out of the way. We anticipate the fact that they may become regular visitors to Jao, and we get to witness his growth in the years to come.
As the seasons begin their change, so the migrant birds start arriving from lands afar. African Palm Swifts dart in and out of the uppermost leaves of the palm trees, cunningly disguising the fact that they are building tiny little cups that will hold their offspring when they hatch. They will "glue" their newly laid eggs to the leaf just above the cup and because they are unable to perch, they will hang over the eggs to incubate them. Little Bee-Eaters, Malachite Kingfishers and a whole host of spectacular birds await to be discovered at Jao.
Usually Jao is privileged to host some pretty amazing guests from all over the world, and this month has been no different. We shared in a wonderful 3-day family reunion this month. Mothers, fathers, sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins graced us all with their witty humour, good natures and interesting conversations. All members are avid photographers and captured some fantastic photographic memories one of which being a hyaena cub that accidentally fell into a water channel. A little colder and a much bedraggled cub provided some photos that had everyone smiling! We also met some wonderful couples and families from France, Canada, USA, Sicily, UK and our Southern Hemisphere "cousins" New Zealand and Australia. Our sincere thanks go to all our guests who remind us why we chose this profession, and how deeply thankful we are that we get to experience people at their best!
'Wonderful people, wonderful facilities and gorgeous serene location. A Great xxperience.' - Kash & Theresa
'Wonderful time; especially seeing leopard and the boat trip. Excellent Guide Cedric, Good food, interesting companions, lovely ambience - so close to wildlife - Super!' - Elsie
'Fabulous place; two stunning nights!' - Bob and Jenny
'Breathtaking! So relaxing and peaceful. We will come back someday!' - Duffy Family
'FAB - U - LOUS! Many Thanks!' - Sylvia, Jessie, Michael and Bruce.
'What a wonderful experience for a first trip to Africa - THANKS!' - Susanne and Harald
This month we hosted a very special couple who returned to Jao Camp for their third visit, but this time, to renew their wedding vows! The entire Jao staff, in one way or another, were involved in making this unique event extra special. We prepared an exclusive site at the Jao Hide, and incorporated traditional dancing, singing, clothing and vows. One of the Jao guides "officiated" and whilst the happy couple stood under the special awning, another staff member delivered a specially written poem for the two of them. After the ceremony, dinner and festivities began and everyone participated in wishing them well. The "honeymoon" couple then retired to their bedroom in the bush and spent a romantic night under the stars. We wish them many more happy years together!
Managers: Des and Kim Nel, Chris Barnard and Tara Salmons, Noeline Geyser, Joanne Davies (Therapist). Guides: Maipaa, David, Cedric, Cruise (1st - 10th) and TJ
Tubu Tree Camp
update - August 09 Jump
to Tubu Tree Camp
The evenings and early mornings have still been rather cool but the days mostly turned into far warmer mid-afternoons, even warm enough to bring out the short pants. It looks as if winter has come to an end.
Tubu Tree Camp was in a frenzy this month as lion activity was in full force. The dominant, solitary male lion and the pride of females were often seen on Hunda Island. Then we had some unexpected visitors - a new grouping of lion initially betrayed by their roaring.
It was three young males who stirred up all animal and guest life here at Tubu Tree. They were seen on several occasions including an up close look at Tubu Tree Camp one late afternoon as they passed right by the boma area while being watched from the bar. What a sight. Now the question is whether these lions will stay or move on.
Leopards were seen all over Hunda Island with some phenomenal sightings. One particular memorable encounter had a leopard up in a tree above the safari vehicle as everyone was looking at another leopard on the ground in front of them. A territorial battle was in process and the one leopard was more than likely treed as a result.
This dispute ensued for days later as the two were watched fighting over an impala kill. Guests were also treated to leopard sightings without even leaving the camp!
Broken Tusk (our resident elephant) has stayed close to camp being in and out every few days. He loves his picture being taken (so it seems) as he provided some perfect poses.
The resident birdlife in the Okavango Delta needs to be seen to be believed. Nothing beats simply sitting and listening to their varied songs. Amongst the dawn chorus are the booming calls of Southern Ground Hornbills. Four of these birds even flew past camp one morning as we were enjoying breakfast.
Sightings of the beautiful Malachite Kingfisher, Little Bee-eater and Lilac-breasted Roller added some remarkable colour to our island. As the water recedes it has created fish traps (little ponds) where numerous waterbirds are enjoying an easy catch.
- 'Intimate camp. Fire at night very special, as was dinner around fire. Staff is wonderful, helpful and hospitable. Justin and Jacky are terrific, they interact amazingly well with the guests; anticipate guests' wants and needs.' Bill and Susan
- 'Everyone was as helpful as possible. Food was delicious. Elephants were at our room. We had a birthday cake and party (very unexpected) around campfire. Jacky and Justin are incredible!' Rita and Bobby
- 'Friendliness and professionalism of the staff. Everyone was knowledgeable and helpful. This combined with a spectacular setting was amazing; loved the musical entertainment, the lions and the whole experience! Our guide was very knowledgeable, articulate, funny and charming.' Jonathan, Alice and Alexander
- 'Superb setting, fabulous room, superior hospitality and professional staff in every respect. Our stay here not only fulfilled each of our expectations, but significantly exceeded and excelled in every way.' Francois and Gerdi
Managers in camp: Justin and Jacky
Guides in camp: Johnny and Kambango
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