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AFRICAN SAFARI NEWS

December 2009

(Page 2 of 2)

Page 1 Updates
General Safari News - General information and updates from our partners in Africa.
Wildlife News - Interesting wildlife sightings and photos.
Camp News - Camp specific news, including refurbs, rebuilds, accolades, etc.
• Monthly update from North Island in Seychelles.
• Monthly update from Kings Pool Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from DumaTau Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Savuti Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Zarafa Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Selinda Camp in Botswana.
Kwando Safaris game reports from Botswana.
• Monthly update from Mombo Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Xigera Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Chitabe Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Vumbura Plains Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Little Vumbura Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Duba Plains Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Jacana Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Kwetsani Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Jao Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Tubu Tree Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Kalahari Plains Camp in Botswana.

Page 2 Updates
• Monthly update from Pafuri Camp in South Africa.
• Monthly update from Pafuri Walking Trail in South Africa.
• Monthly update from Kings Camp in South Africa.
• Monthly Dive report from Rocktail Bay in South Africa.
• Monthly Turtle report from Rocktail Bay in South Africa.
• Monthly update from Makalolo Plains in Zimbabwe.
• Monthly update from Little Makalolo in Zimbabwe.
• Monthly update from Davison's Camp in Zimbabwe.
• Monthly update from Ruckomechi Camp in Zimbabwe.
• Monthly update from Mana Canoe Trail in Zimbabwe.
• Monthly update from Toka Leya Camp in Zambia.
• Monthly update from Lufupa Tented Camp in Zambia.
• Monthly update from Kalamu Lagoon Camp in Zambia.
• Monthly update from Shumba Camp in Zambia.
• Monthly update from Kapinga Camp in Zambia.
• Monthly update from Busanga Bush Camp in Zambia.
• Monthly update from Desert Rhino Camp in Namibia.
• Monthly update from Palmwag Camp in Namibia.
• Monthly update from Doro Nawas Camp in Namibia.
• Monthly update from Damaraland Camp in Namibia.
• Monthly update from Skeleton Coast Camp in Namibia.
• Monthly update from Serra Cafema Camp in Namibia.
• Monthly update from Ongava Tented Camp in Namibia.
• Monthly update from Little Ongava in Namibia.
• Monthly update from Ongava Lodge in Namibia.
• Monthly update from Andersson's Camp in Namibia.
• Monthly update from Little Kulala Camp in Namibia.
• Monthly update from Governors' Camp in Kenya's Masai Mara.
• Monthly update from Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge in Rwanda.


South Africa camps
Pafuri Camp update - December 09               Jump to Pafuri Camp

December 31 - New Year's Eve... Before our eyes the earth shadow is sampling a slice of the bright full moon in a partial lunar eclipse. Our own appetites have been subdued by the three course dinner fit for a king. All around us the cacophony of night noises fills the air, amidst the exited chatter about the day's events. Almost midnight! While I hand out champagne to everyone present I find a moment, in the circle of interlocked elbows, to reflect on the year gone by. Surrounded by smiling faces and laughter, I realise that we are a world away from civilisation, standing on the banks of the Luvuvhu river in Africa - I couldn't be happier and wouldn't want to be anywhere else. Here's the countdown now! Godfrey Baloyi's thundering voice leads us into traditional song and dance, with flames burning high; our feet stomp down onto the wooden boardwalk echoing like drum beats into the wild African night...

Weather and Landscape
This region has had the least amount of precipitation for this time of year since opening in 2005. A mere 38mm is all we received for this month and the grasses are the first to feel the strain. The usual two metre high grassland areas have been replaced by knee-high fields. The purple pod terminalia adds vibrance to the landscape with its brilliantly brightly coloured seed pods. The baobab trees are also starting to bear fruit, much to the delight of our chacma baboon population, who relish the added protein and vitamin boost. They have a tendency to dislodge or discard fruit for other animals to enjoy.

Nyala at Pafuri camp    Elephants at Pafuri camp

Wildlife
Due to the lower grass levels this year we've been blessed with great game sightings. Elephant bulls and breeding herds have offered ample opportunities for our guests to see the social interactions of these majestic giants, especially the special relationships between mother and calf.

Cape buffalo herds numbering more than two hundred are moving through the area. Sitting quietly at night with lights turned off, while these bulk grazers rip and tear at the green grass creates a unique auditory experience. My personal December highlights must surely be the cats! Despite thick undergrowth the graceful spotted prince of stealth, the leopard, graced us with some great sightings.

In one encounter we were following a sub-adult male and female lion as they were lurking in the shadows, looking for their next meal. Suddenly the male sprung into action and took off at full pace toward a tree twenty metres to our left. Following the male's intent stare, we saw a male leopard confidently perched five metres above the two lion. Considering the threat to the leopard, he seemed perfectly composed and confident about his safety and superiority, much to the chagrin of the snarling lions.

Birding
A typical Pafuri morning for me is to be woken at 4:27am by the sounds of two resident Tropical Boubous competing against a White-browed Robin-Chat, with an arsenal of calls, joined quickly by a competitive Woodland Kingfisher - the dawn chorus acting as my alarm clock.

As I hear the African Fish-Eagle's iconic call it reminds me about the birder's goldmine stretching between the Luvuvhu on my doorstep northwards toward the Limpopo. Some of the special bird species sighted in December 2009:

Crowned Eagle; Verreaux's Eagle; Black-chested Snake-Eagle; Peregrine Falcon; Pels Fishing-Owl; Greater Flamingo (seen at Crooks Corner); Great Spotted Cuckoo; Southern Carmine Bee-eater; Blue-cheeked Bee-eater; Three-banded Courser; Thrush Nightingale; Black-throated Wattle-eye; Grey-headed Parrot; Lemon-breasted Canary; Bohm's Spinetail; Mottled Spinetail; Thick-billed Cuckoo.

-Stephan Breedt-

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Pafuri Walking Trail update - December 09               Jump to Pafuri Walking Trail

No report this month.

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Kings Camp update - December 09               Jump to Kings Camp

One of the most breath-taking sightings for any guide is to witness a white lion in the wild.

This exceptionally rare sighting can only happen in one place in the world and that is in Timbavati Private Nature Reserve in South Africa. I was privileged to see white lion cubs in the Timbavati about 4 years ago. However, both white cubs died due to a reason unknown to us. At the time of death I suspect that the cubs were only 8 weeks old. They are so defenseless at that age no wonder that it is not uncommon that only 30% of cubs will survive the first 12 months. My second sighting happened on the 2nd of Dec 2009. I would have never thought that I would be so lucky to see white lions again in my life. Yesterday myself and numerous guides from our neighboring lodges were blessed to see two white lions cubs on Kings Camp's property.

White lion cubs at Kings Camp

This sighting was called-in very early in the morning. I was very close and was the second vehicle to approach the sighting. The sighting was just incredible. The pride consists of 3 adult females and 4 cubs of approximately 8-9 months old. Two of the cubs are white and the other two, as my tracker Albert would put it, are just "plain". Meaning they are the normal tawny colour. The pride was feeding on giraffe they took down a few hours after the rain and should last them few more days. Hopefully the pride will stick around for next few days offering us more sightings. It might just become a more frequent sighting from now on at Kings Camp.

White lion cubs at Kings Camp

History of the White Lions.
Timbavati Game Reserve lies to the north of the Sabi Sand Game Reserve on the western edge of Kruger National Park In South Africa.Established in 1956 by like-minded game farmers, the Reserve covers 680 square kilometers. There are no fences separating the Timbavati from the Kruger National Park, so lion, elephant, cheetah buffalo and other species roam freely between the two.
Timbavati is famous for their White Lion sightings first spotted in the mid-1970s they became the subject of much interest and debate.

White lion cub at Kings Camp, Timbavati

The story of the “White Lions of the Timbavati has been told by several people, most notable of whom was Chris McBride, who published two books about the phenomenon: The famous white lions of the Timbavati were first sighted by Cyril McBride’s daughter Lanice van den Heever in October of 1975. McBride relied heavily on the expertise and knowledge of two local trackers, Jack Mathebula and Mandaban Hlongo, in his efforts to track the white cubs. These men had grown up in the bush and had intimate knowledge of the behavior of lions. Though no White lions have been spotted in the Timbavati for many years. The last adult white lionesses was killed in a territorial take over in 1991. Since then no white lions were seen again until 2005 when pictures of two white cubs were published in a local newspaper. The cubs were seen in the on a property in Klaserie Game Reserve west of Timbavati game Reserve.

White lion cub at Kings Camp

Since then there have been a total of 8 confirmed different litters that have been seen in the Timbavati and Klaserie game Reserve since 2005 until today. Most of the white did not make it past the first year.

During the winter month of 2009 another confirmed sighting of white cubs were called in and photograph in Klaserie. Then the cubs appeared to be 4-5 months old. Then on the 2nd of December 2009 one of the local guides during a morning drive found a pride of lions feeding from a fresh giraffe carcass on Kings Camp property. I wasted no time and arrived 5 minutes later at the sighting. Much to my amassment I could not believe what I saw that morning. Finally white lions.

All we hope now is that the white cubs will survive past there first year. Then only I would believe that the probability of making to sub-adult status is increased tremendously.

That is all for this month dear friends. We hope and trust you had a wonderful New Year. We would also like to wish you all the best for 2010.

Patrick O’Brien. Head Guide

Email: mail@Mandevo-wildlifephotography
Web: www.mandevo-wildlifephotography.com

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Rocktail Bay Dive Report - December 09               Jump to Rocktail Beach Camp

Weather
Compliments of the season to you all! December got into full swing, everybody was in great spirits and the weather behaved itself with beautiful sunny days being the norm.

Marine Life
We have had some amazing snorkelling trips this month - with sightings of loggerhead, green and hawksbill turtles along with a very special sighting of a leatherback turtle just off Island Rock. We have also seen up to 10 raggies (ragged tooth sharks) around Island Rock. The warm summer months have brought out the rays - round ribbontail, sharpnose, eagle, devil and blue spotted rays have regularly been seen on both our ocean experience and diving trips.

Juvenile Box fish at Rocktail Bay    Pineapple fish at Rocktail Bay

We were delighted to find some small residents had returned to Aerial Reef - the pineapple fish! (top left image). These little guys are tiny - around the size of your baby fingernail - and have been taking cover in the small cave on Aerial. We saw five the first time, but unfortunately they must make a tasty meal because there were only two spotted by the end of December. We've also seen a couple of teeny tiny juvenile box fish - which almost look like small yellow snowflakes floating in the water (second left image).

A rare sighting of a Zambezi or bull shark, seen off Pineapple Reef, was cause for great excitement amongst the divers too this month.

The new addition to our family of potato bass on Pineapple Reef has been named Cheeky. We've been watching a smaller potato bass taking a keen interest in the divers over the last few months, but he had not yet built up the courage to actually come right up to them. This all changed towards the end of December? Tony van Marken was on the sand and Boris was enjoying the attention from the divers, when in came the new little guy. He gave Tony the fright of his life when he came in close and opened his mouth inches away from Tony's face! After that, Michelle decided to nickname him Cheeky.

The only thing we haven't seen this month is the whale shark. Hopefully January will bring us some magical moments with these gentle giants.

Yours in diving,
Darryl, Clive, Michelle & Ondyne
The Rocktail Dive Team

Special thanks to Mark Parker for the images.

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Rocktail Bay Turtle Report - December 09               Jump to Rocktail Beach Camp

There is a saying now at Rocktail Beach Camp that goes "if you want to see the turtles you'd better be fast", and this rings especially true for the festive month. The turtles have been coming out the ocean in droves, several a day in some instances, but our turtle drives have been booking up faster still, with some guests having to book a whole four days in advance to get a glimpse of our rare and beautiful ladies doing their millennia old "thang". For those lucky enough to have been out on one of those balmy nights you only get in this unique part of South Africa the memories were priceless.

Leatherback turtle nesting at Rocktail Bay   Leatherback turtle nesting at Rocktail Bay    Leatherback turtle nesting at Rocktail Bay

We have had it all this past month: three leatherbacks on one drive, ten loggerheads on another, ladies coming out in broad daylight, and stars so plentiful even veteran star-gazers battled to believe the night was real. All this aside though our turtle message has truly been hitting home - with guests from all over our planet eager to listen, learn, experience and, hopefully, spread the word about conservation of these magnificent animals.

As for the turtles, we were overrun with new first-timers coming ashore and putting Gugu and Mbongeni (our guides) to the test. They were tagging like crazed men every night and actually ran out of tags twice, in their enthusiasm to record and welcome each and every turtle to the Rocktail Family, which, as you can imagine, has grown very fast indeed.

Our adopted ladies now have new family and friends the world over, and we look forward to the "hatching" season that will be upon us soon. We will be sending you all photos of this magical event - so stay tuned. And we hope to see you all again soon.

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Zimbabwe Camps
Makalolo Plains update - December 09               Jump to Makalolo Plains Camp

Weather
The weather has been rather strange - big storm clouds have been building up almost every afternoon, but the majority of the time they blow away as fast as they arrive. The Makalolo Plains Concession is looking green, but we are still desperate for surface water. Mornings have been hot and still, but as the days progress to mid-afternoon the clouds roll closer and after a while the thunder and lightning come out to play, and strong winds gust over the plains.

The Makalolo Concession is looking stunning, and the newly-green vegetation has given the wildlife a new lease on life. Water is a scarce commodity in Hwange as mentioned and we rely on the rainy season to fill up our pans.

Staff at Makalolo Plains Camp    Staff at Makalolo Plains Camp    Staff at Makalolo Plains Camp

Wildlife
Makalolo is a wildlife paradise. With the limited rain we have had we are still experiencing the breathtaking experience of elephant coming to drink from our pool. All the impala are having their young now and it is awesome to see the picture of the big happy family. Animals that are frequently in front of camp are baboon, buffalo, elephant, eland, giraffe, warthog, waterbuck, lion, zebra and blue wildebeest. The wild dog have also made an appearance and our guests were delighted to take some brilliant pictures of these very rare animals.

Big herds of Cape buffalo have been covering the plains and indulging in the sweet green grass at their disposal. A big male leopard was sighted as we were bringing guests into camp from the airstrip. This leopard was very relaxed and seemed to really enjoy the attention as the cameras clicked away.

Birding
The birdlife has been amazing once again. Red-headed Weavers have been busy feeding their chicks and upgrading their nests. Yellow-billed Kites engaged in a feeding frenzy of the frogs at the front pan after every small shower of rain. Secretarybirds have been strutting through the grasslands in search of meals.

Spur-winged Geese and Comb Ducks (Knob-billed) have been around. The Egyptian Geese have their young now too and we watch as proud little families float around our natural waterholes here at Makalolo.

An Ostrich pair has been spotted at Mbiza with very young chicks, which means they bred late in the season.

Brunch at Makalolo Plains Camp    Brunch at Makalolo Plains Camp    Dinner at Makalolo Plains Camp

Guest Comments
"It was an amazing experience. Everybody was very friendly and tried to make it as comfortable as possible. I did not expect the camp and the environment and the animals to be this beautiful, it made me feel emotional and amazing!" - Korie

"The wealth of knowledge, expertise and professionalism is outstanding. I also enjoyed the friendliness of the guides and management. Thank you. Being out in nature like this really inspired and reminded me of what the Garden of Eden may have been like." - Nicolas and Lauren

"Belinda - our children will miss you! The guides were fabulous. I have overcome my fear of ellies!" - Bridget

Camp Staff
Stores: Mr. Sibanda, Leonard, Cosam
Guides: Theunis, Khule, Lawrence, Temba
Host/Hostess: Belinda
Trainee: Jane
Environmentalist: Jaelle
Management: Theunis and Belinda Botha

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Little Makalolo update - December 09               Jump to Little Makalolo

Weather and Landscape
Large cumulonimbus clouds of the deepest grey-blue build up in the late afternoons and bring us occasional heavy rain and even a hail storm. More often than not, however, the clouds threaten rain and then blow over, which means that we haven't had much rain in December and temperatures have been high. The dust that was settled by the early rains is starting to lift again and most of the surface water around Little Makalolo has disappeared.

The bush is still lush and green however and the grass is growing faster than ever. The low rains have the camps thinking about starting to pump water again into the manmade waterholes and we keep our fingers crossed for some later rain. The leaves on the ground are at a minimum as the trees have no old leaves left, and we start to see bush flowers blooming in an array of colours, brightening up the ground. The rain received this month was not measured as some hyaena used the water meter as a teething toy! A new one has been ordered.

Wildlife
The wildlife never ceases to amaze guests and staff alike and we have had a good month of game viewing. We are often seeing more wildlife in camp than out: herds of buffalo wander through; elephant are drawn by the fresh water of our plunge pool; inquisitive hyaena are curious about the goings on in camp and so join us daily; shy leopard walk along the paths and stalk the resident Red-billed Spurfowl (Francolins); and the lion use our porches as resting places.

Special Sightings
- Cheetah were seen six times this month.
- Three leopard sightings - including one leopard in camp.
- A mother rhino and her baby were seen at Airstrip 2 on the 28th.
- One sub-adult male lion and three females (Spice Junior) were hunting at Makalolo Plains.
- Six Grey Crowned Cranes were seen together in front of Little Makalolo on the 31st.

Christmas in Camp
We took Christmas very seriously this year - putting up decorations in the main area and creating our very own 'Santa Claus/Elephant-Dung Man'. We treated guests to a lie-in on Christmas morning and then a full cooked breakfast before sending them out to experience the Ngamo Village with Tendai and Sam as their guides. Whilst the guests were getting a real feeling of the town, we set up a Surprise Christmas Bush Lunch - but the surprise was on us as the clouds rolled in and the rain began to fall! All was not lost though and we served lunch in the village with much sharing and laughter. Dinner was a smart affair - and everyone dressed up to sit under the African night sky glistening with stars. It was a perfect ending to a great day - despite the hiccups here and there, we did as Africans do and 'made a plan'. A guest commented after dinner that he had never experienced such a well-organised event - and all the staff exchanged knowing smiles.

Guest Comments
"You guys have made my stay fabulous and brilliant. I will never forget this place. We had nice game viewing with our guide Sam, I really want to thank him for his professionalism. Tammy you showed us something I never expected, you showed us unconditional love and care." - Tawanda and Emmerson

"Tendai is a fantastic guide (we have known him for many years) and always makes our stay a complete success. We will be back! Please retain this rustic atmosphere - don't upgrade to air con, tv etc - this is the bush!" - Richard

"Knowledgeable and dedicated staff. Extraordinary environment, close encounters with wildlife, superb location. Difficult to ask for more and we will surely come back with friends." Pierre-Paul

"Our entire stay was amazing. Lewis, our guide, was extraordinary, finding all manner of animals for us and even finding lions in the middle of a hunt. Truly exhilarating! Angie, Tammy and all the staff were equally amazing. Service was exemplary, topped off by setting up a surprise candlelight dinner overlooking a waterhole. We very much enjoyed sharing our meal with the elephant and hippo. We will definitely recommend this camp to friends and family when we return home."

"We have found Zimbabwe to be a majestic, friendly country, we love it."

Camp Staff
Manager: Charles Ndlovu
Guides: Godfrey, Lewis, Lawrence, Sam, Tendai, Khule
Hostesses: Angie, Tammy
Kitchen: Sendy, Mayisa, Alex, Shepherd, Eshwert
Maintenance: Never, Babusi, Charles
Waiters: Jabulani, Makeyi, Alickson, Seliot
Housekeeping: Jibani, Pagiwa, Tawanda
Tailor: Stanley

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Davison's Camp update - December 09

Weather and Landscape
The weather pattern for December has been one of false hope. Dark clouds build up, promising big storms, but eventually just disperse. No rain. The few days that saw rain were characterised by strong winds and lightning. On the 18th we had a huge storm that caught everyone by surprise. It was so strong that we were literally made prisoners by it - everyone had to stay put where they were for two hours. The roofs of our tents were ripped off by gusts of wind, and our main area was practically drenched inside, as if it had no roof. Flashes of lightning and the crack of thunder made everyone in camp so scared that they were convinced doomsday had arrived. But for most of the month, calm weather and warm afternoons were the order of the day. This peculiar December weather has left us wondering if good rains are still to come...?

It's amazing what a little bit of rain can do to the vegetation around camp though - it's like a magic wand has been waved over the land. Many trees are already flowering and the animals are enjoying the fresh new green grass. All you can see, for miles around, is green. On the other hand, our waterholes are clearly suffering from the lack of rain. Most of them have very low levels of water, and some of them are drying out. This is unusual for this time of year. Our pumps are therefore working overtime.

Elephants at Davison's Camp    Warthogs at Davison's Camp

Wildlife
A burst of new life is being witnessed everyday, with most animals dropping their young now. Ngamo Vlei is filled with young wildebeest and zebra running around, full of energy, and following their mothers. Tiny baby giraffe were seen on one game drive, and our guests were very pleased to see the miniature version of the tallest of animals.

Breeding herds of elephant are seen with their young, which is unusual for this time of the year. This is probably due to the absence of rain. The bulls are in musth at the moment, and so are very unpredictable. They are so beautiful to watch, but you never know what could happen next...

Buffalo have been a common sight at the waterhole in front of Davison's, arriving in big herds to drink. They sometimes even decide to spend the night in camp, coming very close to our tents and main area.

Our lion had a feast this month, when they spent three days feeding on an elephant. The guides suspect it was the same elephant that had been lurking around camp on its own for almost four months, which was not in good health. We never managed to determine the cause of his malaise - it could have been age, illness or injury.

Rhino have been very elusive this month, and all we've seen are their tracks - proving that they are in the area, but are surprisingly (considering their bulk) good at hiding.

Birding
Due to the erratic rains we have had, the normal routine of our summer visitors has been disturbed. White Storks have been seen re-grouping and flying to different areas, following the rains. At some point hundreds and hundreds of these birds were seen at Little Samavundla. Lesser Spotted Eagles have also been seen in large numbers, feeding on flying termites in different areas of our concessions. Pygmy Geese, Cape Teals and Fulvous Ducks are some of the water birds that one can look forward to seeing in our area. We've seen a total of 200 species this month.

Camp Staff
Guides: Tendai Mdluli, Douglas Muyambo and Dennis Nyakane
Hostesses: Nelly Chinyere and Rania Mutumhe

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Ruckomechi Camp update - December 09               Jump to Ruckomechi Camp

Weather and Landscape
We hope that the rains will fall shortly as December has been dry this year compared with 2008 and 2007. The heat has been somewhat uncomfortable with high humidity readings and the absence of a breeze. There has been some cloud build-up in the afternoons; but they then somehow vanish from the horizon with no rain falling at all.

The new undergrowth which was enticed from the earth with the onset of the first rains back in November has now started to wilt and die as the midday heat takes its toll. The croton thickets, however, remain green and provide refuge for young bushbuck and warthog while also concealing the nocturnal predators as they lie up in the cool shade beneath. Many of the inland pans are drying up to some extent, although they remain full of lilies and frogs, that seem to know that reliable rains are uncertain as they have yet to produce tadpoles.

The Zambezi has been flowing clear this month; the muddy inflow from its tributaries upstream appears to have subsided for the moment, and the channel in front of Ruckomechi has received a good clean-out as a result.

Elephant at Ruckomechi    Wild Dogs at Ruckomechi    Lions at Ruckomechi

The unusual absence of any significant rain has meant we can still drive around most of the concession (which we can't usually do at this time of year), and this has given us the rare opportunity to witness the stories of new life, growth and the general excitement on the floodplains - stories and happenings that are usually hidden away behind thick vegetation, impassable roads and swollen rivers. We have taken advantage of this with several outings (by foot and vehicle) into the concession which have resulted in some wonderful wildlife sightings and a greater appreciation for the diverse beauty of the valley.

Wildlife
The animals have adapted well to the relatively dry spell and we are seeing a lot of game along the river. Large breeding herds of elephant are back en masse and sometimes wander through the camp in the early evenings. The large herd of Zambian bulls visits daily and, although cautious and less comfortable with the camp surroundings and its occupants, they seem to know that they are free from persecution in this Eden.

The ability to walk in the concession has resulted in several sightings of wild dog and lion. The wild dog have been seen hunting on the edge of the camp on several occasions - the abundance of young impala being too tempting to hungry predators. Hyaena have also been more active in camp and on most mornings the spoor from these nighttime visitors can be seen. The lion have been vocal in the early mornings and, judging by the nocturnal cacophony from the baboons, it is possible that leopard have also been active around Ruckomechi.

A large herd of buffalo has been seen regularly this month, and our 'dagga boys' are more common near the pans inland. Kudu sightings have increased, adding to the common sightings of warthog, impala, zebra and waterbuck.

Waterbuck at Ruckomechi    African Fish-eagle at Ruckomechi    Tawny Eagles at Rockomechi

Fishing
With the Zambezi flowing clear this month the tiger fishing has been excellent, with several large fish being landed along the bank in front of camp. The biggest tiger for the month weighed in at 15lbs (6.8kg), although stories of bigger and more respectably-sized fish float around the dinner table. The bream fishing has not received much attention this month but it is expected to still be relatively good too.

Birding
Birding this month has resulted in 127 species of birds being spotted. Interesting sightings have included a Peregrine Falcon flying over camp on several mornings and several sightings of Long-toed Lapwing (Plover) in the large lagoon below camp. The African Skimmers are still around, although the high water level has meant they have sought shallow sandbanks elsewhere and are not seen as often. The migrant species have been around although we haven't heard or seen them as much as expected.

Camp Staff
With the camp closed until the 2010 season, we have had a small team of staff present in the camp, Caro, Jeremy and Graeme have been keeping things in order in camp while the majority of Ruckomechi's staff have been away for Christmas. Focus has been on year-end reports and preparation for the coming season as well as ongoing maintenance around the camp and concession, which despite the off season continues to need attention.

Graeme and the Ruckomechi Team

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Mana Canoe Trail update - December 09               Jump to Mana Canoe Trail

No report this month - Trail re-opens again in May 2010.

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Zambia camps
Toka Leya Camp update - December 09
               Jump to Toka Leya Camp

Weather and Victoria Falls
Like manna from heaven, the rains fell here on the upper Zambezi in December. Close to a total of 100mm has fallen this month, and the transformation of the land has been dramatic.

With the sun only setting after 19h00, the days are longer, which has allowed guests to have extra daylight hours in which to enjoy their river cruises. The early risers can begin seeking out the elusive white rhino from as early as 05h00, being back at the camp before the heat of the day sets in and starts baking the earth. The heat makes for humid and muggy days, with respite coming from cool breezes in the afternoon. A wealth of shooting stars streaking across the night sky is a stunning backdrop for the abundance of fireflies doing their rounds at night, emitting intermittent luminescent glows during courtship: the lightning language of love in an otherwise darkened environment...

Cattle Egrets at Toka Leya camp    Rain clouds at Toka Leya    Camp fire at Toka Leya

The rain has been great for the spectacle that is Victoria Falls. Many guests, in previous months, opted for a view of the main falls from the Zimbabwean side, but this is no longer necessary because of the amount of water cascading down the Eastern Cataract and Rainbow Falls sections.

Livingstone Island is still providing an awe-inspiring backdrop to the Falls. The only concern for guests plunging into the natural pool adjacent to the island are the baitfish nibbling on their toes. Helicopter flights have been popular and white water rafting is a great day out.

Over Christmas we had the honour of sharing generous donations sent from past guests with the children from Simonga Village - and we would like to thank all the guests who have given so generously to this project.

Another 80 trees took root around the camp in December, strategically placed to offer privacy between the tents for the coming season. The species planted include white stem thorns, Natal and pod mahogany and bird plums.

Wildlife
With the arrival of the rains, the wildlife has floated out across the national park, like the smell of freshly baked bread. The dry pans are now waterlogged, making water accessible throughout the conservancy, which means that the guides have to work extra hard to find the large herbivores like elephant, buffalo and white rhino. Congregations of impala still keep watch around Tent 12 at night, and a few resident hippo strike up an early morning symphony for the camp with the first light.

Almost all monkeys seen close to camp are clutching young ones close to their chests - the rains signalling the season of plenty. A frequent and interesting sighting was a juvenile crocodile patrolling the back waters of the river in front of Tent 4, with an underwater larder full of bream at its disposal.

An early morning walk from our management accommodation yielded a rather relaxed and inquisitive giraffe, unperturbed by our approach, feeding on some scrub in close proximity to the wetland. A total of eight giraffe were seen in the surrounding area. You would think that the giraffe is one of the easiest animals to spot, with its elongated appearance, but its markings create an incredibly effective camouflage amidst the trees.

Rafting on the Zambezi river at Toka Leya camp

Birding
There has never been a month at Toka Leya where we have been disappointed by the birdlife, and December was no exception. The Broad-billed Rollers seem to have won the battle of the dead trees at the entrance to the camp, making sightings of the Lilac-breasted Rollers that once ruled these perches very rare. Cattle Egrets have frequented many of the rocky outcrops still exposed in the main channel in front of the camp, and the ever-present African Finfoot is, well, ever-present - darting back and forth near the beach where the boats are moored.

Other noticeable sightings include a pair of Livingstone Turacos, African Cuckoo Hawk, Little Sparrowhawk, Crested Francolin, African Wood-Owl and Long-billed Pipit.

Guest Comments
"Congratulations on developing an excellent staff and superb chefs. Everything was perfect and I have nothing but the highest praise for your operation. I'd love to return!" - A W, USA

"What an awesome experience it was. Wonderful staff, five star service and a beautiful country. Thanks for making this an unforgettable experience" - D and L V, South Africa

"This has been one adrenalin-filled Christmas. Thanks a lot!" - J and L H, Norway

"Thanks to all for making our stay a fantastic and memorable experience. Hope to be back one day." - A D, South Africa

Camp Staff
Marc Harris; Justice Chasi; Sjani Cuyler; Mulenga Pwapwa; Jacqui Munakombwe; Kawanga Ndonji; Amon Ngoma; Evidence Musabi; Frank Tobolo; Mwami Mufwaya; Phineas Mufwaya; Sandy Sakala and Sam Simunji

While we come to the end of the year that was, we wish all avid readers of the news and enthusiasts of the bush a prosperous 2010. We look forward to sharing the magic that has been etched on the land with future travellers during the Football World Cup year - Mama Africa's at last!

Till next time, from the Upper Zambezi - "Tuyabonana".

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Lufupa Tented Camp update - December 09               Jump to Lufupa Tented Camp

No report this month.

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Kalamu Lagoon Camp update - December 09               Jump to Kalamu Lagoon Camp

No report this month.

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Shumba Camp update - December 09               Jump to Shumba Camp

No report this month - camp closed for the season.

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Kapinga Camp update - December 09               Jump to Kapinga Camp

No report this month - camp closed for the season.

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Busanga Bush Camp update - December 09               Jump to Busanga Bush Camp

No report this month - camp closed for the season.

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Namibia camps
Desert Rhino Camp update - December 09               Jump to Desert Rhino Camp

No report this month.


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Palmwag Camp update - December 09               Jump to Palmwag Camp

No report this month.


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Doro Nawas Camp update - December 09               Jump to Doro Nawas Camp

Weather and Landscape
The maximum temperatures at Doro Nawas in December were between 36-38° C (97-100°F) and the minimum between 16-18° C (61-64°F). The evenings have been nice and cool, and the days warm and windy. We only had one day where there were thunderclouds and a few drops of rain. We truly hope that the rain comes soon!

The mopane and silverdora trees have grown new leaves, which give the area a beautiful green texture.

Elephants at Doro Nawas    Black-backed Jackal at Doro Nawas    Greater Kudu at Doro Nawas

Wildlife
Cheetah sightings were, once again, extraordinary throughout the month. They were spotted once on the other side of De Riet, walking across the plain, which meant that guests could take some beautiful photos.

Doro Nawas' one and only giraffe was spotted in the Aba-Huab River, close to Twyfelfontein. He is all alone n the area, and probably searching for a lady love.

One of our elephant herds - the Tuskless Group, which has about 26 members - was spotted in the Huab River, close to De Riet. The reason why this herd is called the Tuskless Group is because there are five elephants that do not have any tusks. This herd don't have as many babies as the Rosy and Oscar herds - they have only two - one of about a year old, and one of about three years old. You can see immediately that they are not from this area, because the minute they see a vehicle approaching they start moving away into the bush. They are not yet used to people and vehicles, but we hope that they hang around for a while. Our area is now home to three elephant herds (consisting of about 50 elephant in total), which guarantees great elephant viewing.

Madagascar (Olive) Bee-eater at Doro Nawas    White-backed Mousebird    Waterhole at Doro Nawas

Birding
We have seen quite a few Ostrich this month with newborn babies. This means we keep our distance, as the adults can be quite dangerous if you do get too close.

We have also been spotting some lovely summer visitors - like Fork-tailed Drongos.

Guest news
- Fantastic view and the warmth of the staff.
- Warm and friendly welcoming, meals were very enjoyable, our stay was fantastic. W.
- Our best experience so far in Namibia. The friendliness of staff, managing my gluten free diet and the view from the camp. Christine & David

Managers and guides
We say farewell to Steven Jones (Assistant Manager) who helped us out for a few months. We want to wish him all the best for next year with his studies and hope that he will be as successful as he was with us!

Then we want to say welcome to Henry (New Assistant Manager) from Gobabis, may your time spent with us be wonderful and fulfiling. This is a great team and we belief that you will learn a lot from us as we will learn from you. Welcome! We also want to congratulate Ignatius Khamuseb (Guide) on his wedding, as he got married on the 19 December 2009.

Managers and Guides in Camp in December
Coenie van Niekerk (Camp Manager)
Danize van Niekerk (Camp Manager)


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Damaraland Camp update - December 09               Jump to Damaraland Camp

No report this month.

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Skeleton Coast Camp update - December 09               Jump to Skeleton Coast Camp

Weather and Landscape
The Skeleton Coast is a harsh and unforgiving environment where only the strong survive. Although sometimes challenging, living in this inhospitable land pushes you to look inside yourself to find the courage to go on... and through this process you fall hopelessly in love with the area over and over again. 2009 has taught us so much about the land we inhabit, and about each other. We look forward to the year ahead, and to being ambassadors for this magical desert and being able to share its stark beauty with our guests.

Lion at Skeleton Coast    Rocky Point - Skeleton Coast    Ghost crab at Skeleton Coast

The days in the desert are warm, with some fog pushing in from the coast in the evening, providing some welcome relief, and guests are still delighted by hot water bottles when they retire for the night. Mid-December we were surprised by a burst of rain over camp, with approximately 5mm of beautiful water, accompanied by thunder and even some lightning overhead. This wonderful experience lifted the spirits of staff in camp, and even the guests, who had travelled from Europe to escape the rainy winter back at home, were delighted by the weather, realising just how special the occasion was...

Wildlife
Last month we reported on the exciting happenings in the area with Dr. Flip Stander and the enormous amount of work involved in darting, collaring and relocating desert-adapted lion in the Purros Conservancy. Flip spent three days trying to collar a male lion, and at 3am on the third day he finally succeeded. His dedication to these majestic animals is extraordinary and he is an inspiration to us all.

Barchan dunes at Skeleton Coast    Skeleton Coast road

A few days after the excitement of the lion activities, we were notified of the death of an often-seen elephant's death in the Huaroseb River. The cause of his death is unknown and Ministry of Environment and Tourism is investigating the situation. We are incredibly saddened by this as the survival of these hardened and resourceful creatures is threatened by so much more than their harsh surroundings.

Guest Highlights
"The vastness is intimidating as is the emptiness and silence - the lion sighting was extraordinary and I suggest renaming Kallie - "Eagle-Eye Kallie". His knowledge was inspiring as was his respect for his homeland."

"Knowledgeable guide and varied days. Friendly attentive staff. Fantastic food. Exclusivity and lack of contact with other groups. Meeting kids in Himba village. Hot water bottles and spotless rooms."

"Kallie is one of the best guides we've ever had. Finding desert lions. Dinner around the fire."

Camp Staff
Managers Willie and Monica were on leave, spending time with their loved ones over Christmas and New Year. Relief Managers Dries and Trix looked after the day-to-day running of Skeleton Coast Camp in December. Kallie shared his passion and knowledge of the area with guests visiting over the festive period.

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Serra Cafema Camp update - December 09               Jump to Serra Cafema Camp

No report this month.

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Ongava Tented Camp update - December 09               Jump to Ongava Tented Camp

Weather and Landscape
The rainy season has slowly begun and the Ongava Game Reserve has transformed from its usual tawny brown into an oasis of green, providing a newfound supply of food for all. The arrival of the rains usually brings with it an expectation of seeing fewer animals. The vague sense of disappointment is negated by the splurge of life the rains bring, and all the colours, with the trees and flowers starting to bloom and the birds starting to show off their breeding plumage.

Oryx and calf at Ongava    Lion cub at Ongava Tented Camp    Zebra at Ongava

Wildlife
For a few days early in the month the lion made Ongava Tented Camp their temporary place of residence. The first two weeks of December saw the waterhole frequented by lion more often than not. On one evening we were fortunate enough to have six white rhino and nine lion close to the waterhole and all at the same time! Don't expect to see this again soon however, as this was quite a unique sighting.

We were lucky to see rhino on quite a few nights at the waterhole. If guests did not get to see the rhino before going to bed, they could always have a look at the camera trap images the next morning to see what had happened while they were asleep.

We are expecting it to be much quieter over the next two months as the reserve becomes greener and water becomes more readily available in the bush. All is not lost though - the reduction in the larger game simply allows us to concentrate on the smaller animals, like the chameleons and squirrels and, of course, not forgetting the excellent birding we have at this time of year.

White Rhinos at Ongava Tented Camp waterhole    Southern Masked-weaver and nest

Birding
The Southern Masked-Weavers have made their traditional return to camp. These birds keep themselves busy all day building their nests over our swimming pool in their constant quest to impress the females.

Camp Staff
Paul and Gerda are still happily managing the camp. They are assisted by Gregory, Inge, Alfonzo, Regan, Rio, Festus, Bariar and Leon.

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Little Ongava update - December 09               Jump to Little Ongava Camp

No report this month.

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Ongava Lodge update - December 09               Jump to Ongava Lodge

No report this month.

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Andersson's Camp update - December 09               Jump to Andersson's Camp

No report this month.

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Little Kulala Camp update - December 09               Jump to Little Kulala Camp

No report this month.

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Kenya camps
Governors' Camp update - December 09               Jump to Governors' Camp

We have received some wonderful rain in the Mara this month, a total of 158mm. Christmas eve brought us 43mm, raining most of the day and making game drives very interesting. November and December are the “short rains” in Kenya, arriving soon after the migration has returned to the Serengeti, quenching the parched, short grass plains. The grassland is now a rich emerald green carpet, perfect for all the grazing animals, but a little more difficult for the predators as their tawny colours stand out. Tissue paper flowers (Cycinium  tubulosum) and Crossandra sp litter the plains with a profusion of white, apricot and reds. A few of the lilies are flowering as well the Pyjama Lilly (Crinum macowanii), Fireball Lilly (Scadoxus multiflorus) and Kenya’s national flower the Flame Lilly (Gloriosa superba).

Zebras in the Masai Mara    Herds of wildebeests in the Masai Mara
Photos Courtesy of Michael Poliza and Dave Rogers

The plains game are fat and happy and all with young. Impalas snorting, pronging and chasing each other, Gazelles sprinting for no reason other than that life is good. Large herds of Topis have moved into the Paradise plains area and onto the freshly renovated termite mounds where they have a view and are able to display. The large breeding herds of buffalo have been moving on mass, but covering less ground now that the grass is at their optimal level. The old bulls still maintain their peaceful retired existence on the edge of the forest line.
 
Giraffe have spent most of the month browsing around the camps and moving through the forest at leisure in fairly large herds.
 
Elephant have been fairly sparse with a few smaller families and the odd bull moving through the plains. Most are in search of new growth on the trees in the surrounding areas, but are likely to return as the sedge and grass in the marsh area is shooting up and will be lush and nutritious.
 
The Hyena are scavenging more now that the Wildebeest have gone and are returning to old kills in search of a meal. Their numbers are high and have to provide for last season’s cubs still.
Aardwolf and Bat-eared fox have been sighted eating on dung beetles which have come out in vast numbers with the rain and clearing up what the migration left behind.

The Musiara marsh has filled up nicely, urging the catfish out of hibernation from below the surface and all varieties of frogs to emerge, mate and spawn.

The water birds, Herons in particular (Great-white, Rufous-bellied, Black-headed and Grey) have taken advantage of this glut of food and patiently wait amongst the reeds. Open-billed storks too pick up the crustaceans. The smaller, younger crocodiles have also moved over to the marsh where they will be out of harms way and away from the higher faster flowing Mara River.

Lioness and cub at Governors' Camp    Male lion at Governors' camp
Photos courtesy of Daryl Black

The Marsh pride of lions have become seasoned beef-eaters, as the Maasai have been grazing their cattle in the area with in and near their territory due to the drought in surrounding areas. This the Maasai accept as collateral damage in return for grass. In the new-year the Maasai moved on as their grazing lands have improved and with that the Marsh pride have had to work a little harder to feed their new family. They now have 8 new cubs about 2 ½ months old, tragically one of the lionesses lost one. The older cubs are now just over 2 years old and very accepting of the next generation. The males with growing manes keeping a little more distance. They are now 23 in number.

The Paradise pride flourish too. With the 6 older cubs, we now have an additional 5 two month old cubs. They are all doing very well with the exception of the older cubs with a bout of mange.
Notch the patriarch has not been seen much this month, with the younger males spending more time with the females and cubs.
 
We have the introduction of 2 new lions and 2 lionesses and 2 cubs in the area between the Paradise and Marsh prides. We do not know too much about this small pride yet, but spend their time between Rhino ridge and a stretch of the Mara river.
 
The 3 Cheetah boys are still in the area and very active, hunting and killing every 2 to 3 days. We have an unfamiliar female who at the beginning of the month had brought with her two 6 week old cubs. One has unfortunately died, but the other is still strong and healthy. Shakira is over on the Trans-Mara side of the Mara river and still with her 3 cubs, whilst the river is high she will remain there.
 
We have had some great sightings of Leopard just along the forest line, a male and a female. Across the way from Ilmoran Camp in a copse of trees we had a lovely female who had stashed her kill up in the leafy cover of a tall tree and stayed up there for 4 days whilst she finished off a young Waterbuck. Olive and her 2 cubs are still along ‘maji chafu’ near the Talek River, she is still being seen regularly as she is so relaxed. A very large male and a female leopard have been seen along the Mara River opposite Serena.
 
Serval cats are sighted more regularly as the grass is short and green, unlike April – August when they have a lot more cover to hide in.
 
An amazing month of game viewing and a great way to end the year.


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Rwanda camps
Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge update - December 09

None this month.


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