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Sefofane Zambia: new "scheduled" air service
Sefofane Zambia has implemented a new flying schedule from 01 May 2009, operating on set days of the week. This allows Sefofane to offer seat rates at lower prices and will operate for the most part using Cessna Caravans.
The schedule operates 3 days a week on the following route: Livingstone - Kafue National Park - Lusaka - Kafue National Park - Livingstone. A separate aircraft stationed at Mfuwe Airport will shuttle guests between here and Luamfwa airstrip (Kalamu Lagoon Camp).
This will result in the vast majority of guests flying in air-conditioned Caravans (faster and more spacious allowing for more comfort) and of course a minimised carbon footprint. Private charter options still exist for travel to all destinations in any direction.
Single Surviving Cheetah Cub at Mombo
Location: Okavango Delta, Mombo Concession
Date: February 2009
Observer: Jeremy Goss
In October 2008 we discovered that the female cheetah that occasionally uses the Mombo area had given birth to at least three cubs. The cubs at that stage were no older than a month and we were extremely excited that this individual had chosen the lower lion density areas of the concession to raise her offspring.
By November however only one cub remained and we presumed the other two had been lost to marauding lion or spotted hyaena. Understandably the cheetah female then moved away from the area and in the early part of 2009 we were not even sure if the single cub had continued to survive.
Happily we can now report that the single cub is alive and well and over the last two weeks we have been overjoyed to have the two animals back in the concession area. They have been keeping to an area quite far to the south of camp and are reported to be in good condition and thriving as the adjacent photographs show.
Duba's Pink Cattle Egret
Location: Okavango Delta, Botswana
Date: February 2009
Observers: Brian Rode
Duba Plains is well known for its large buffalo herd - a massive bovine phalanx of around 1200 animals - and of course the lion prides that prey on it. Less well known is the array of seldom seen carnivore species that can be encountered here with relative ease and regularity: aardwolf, side-striped jackal and bat-eared fox thrill seasoned safari goers. Similarly some unusual birds such as the Rosy-throated Longclaw are a rare treat for birders. Nonetheless I was surprised last week when at Duba Plains to encounter an even more unusual bird.
While following the large herd of buffalo around and enjoying the enormous flocks of Red- and Yellow-billed Oxpeckers, Wattled Starlings and egrets that typically associate with the herd we noticed a pink cattle egret: as pink as a flamingo! The photos at left do not do it justice since they were taken at long range and in low light.
Our first sighting of the bird was of it flying in a flock of normal-coloured white cattle egrets and it really did appear pink in flight. We managed to relocate the bird later in the morning feeding around the edge of the buffalo herd and took two low-quality photographs of it.
Flamingoes obtain the pink colour in their plumage through their diet and where this is lacking they can fade to a white colour. We suspect that in this case the egret has fed extensively on some naturally occurring carotenoids and like flamingos has taken on a pinkish hue to its plumage.
Aberrant plumages of Cattle Egrets has been recorded in North America and Africa varying from a grey plumage (due to excessive amounts of the pigment melanin) and an orange-buff plumage (caused by food intake) very similar to this Duba bird.
More Mud Terrapins introduced onto North Island
Location: North Island, Seychelles
Date: 26 February 2009
Observers: Linda van Herck
Following the introduction of 15 Seychelles Black Mud Turtle Pelusios subniger parietalis (a Critically Endangered subspecies of freshwater terrapin endemic to the Seychelles) in July 2008, we have now supplemented the population with the release of a further five of these animals on 26 February 2009.
With only five breeding populations known across the entire Seychelles it is hoped that North Island will prove to be the sixth and this addition to the population is timely and important. The five tiny chelonians have been released into the smallest of the marsh habitats on the island, with four immediately taking to the water and the fifth - pictured left - taking its time to acquaint itself with its new home.
We would like to extend our gratitude to our conservation partners, the Island Conservation Society (ICS) and the Nature Protection Trust of the Seychelles (NPTS) for helping make this happen and ultimately making a difference to an endangered subspecies.
Malawi Guide Training: 10-23 February 2009
Within Wilderness Safaris Malawi we are extremely proud of the standard of our guides and the interpretative experience that they offer and believe we set high standards for the industry in Malawi as a whole. All the guides are experts on their own 'patch' and know their areas and the species within them very well. As a way of continuing everyone's development, investing in our team and getting everyone to 'think out the box' we recently ran a two-week course for our top guides that took in many of the biodiversity hotspots of the country.
We started off at Mvuu in Liwonde National Park with a comprehensive overview of Wilderness Safaris as a conservation organisation with a tourism business. Here we also ran a two day practical First Aid Course - hosted by the Red Cross - at the Mvuu Education Centre. The course involved a lot of practical exercises and the focus was on the initial life saving treatment and the kinds of things the guides are most likely to encounter at the camps or on activities.
At Mvuu Camp we also concentrated on some core themes like Environmental Awareness, Photography, History and Geology amongst others. From then on we started travelling, covering some key tourism and biodiversity areas of the country.
First we travelled to Cape Maclear on Lake Malawi - en route visiting Mangochi, Club Makakola and Monkey Bay. We stayed here for two nights - being hosted at Gaia House - drinking in the atmosphere and understanding the attraction of Lake Malawi National Park and the endemic cichlid fish found here. From here we headed to birding mecca Dzalanyama for one night (just long enough for a bit of birding in this pristine miombo woodland), this time via Mua Mission, Salima, Heuglin's Guesthouse and Wilderness' head office in Lilongwe.
After this we went to Dedza Pottery and Lodge. We did a bit of walking around Dedza, which was great for wild flower identification and the area has some splendid views.
One night was almost too short for such a beautiful place but the next day we headed to Zomba Forest Lodge after a lunch stop at Zomba Market and some of the historical buildings. Here we stayed for two nights, enough for some serious training and some exploration of Zomba Mountain. From Sombani Lookout we were able to see virtually the whole of south-eastern Malawi: Lake Malombe, Chilwa, Mulanje - absolutely amazing! Zomba was also the perfect place to handle the practical components of our geology and photography lessons. The guides learned a huge amount.
From Zomba we went to Likhubula where we had a great walk to the Likhubula Falls. This part of the trip gave us some of the best birding: Pale Batis, Grey Sunbird, Tree Pipit, Verreauxs' Eagle, Scaly-throated Honeyguide, Green-backed Honeybird, and many others.
After a quick lunch we proceeded to Lujeri Tea Estate in south Mulanje. Here we had more time for some wonderful walks and it was also nice to introduce the guides to the tea industry, one the biggest in Malawi. For our last night we went back to Mvuu via Thyolo and Blantyre: some interesting history and scenery.
What a spectacular trip. It was a life changing experience for everyone and another great step forward for the best guides in Malawi.
North Island has confirmed its closure dates of 15 May through 01 July so that there's even more time to enjoy this beautiful spot in the Indian Ocean. During this time we will be uplifting and improving the island to ensure that our concept of signature barefoot luxury is enhanced. It has been decided not to build any more villas on North Island during this closure period and instead focus on the existing facilities, keeping the island the private sanctuary for which it has become known. The closure will allow us to improve on the already superlative standards of our existing villas and we look forward to opening in July refreshed and reenergised.
Safari & Adventure Co. is thrilled to announce the addition of The Bushcamp Company's Mfuwe Lodge to its Zambian circuit from 01 March 2009. This unique lodge is situated in the 9,050km2 South Luangwa National Park. Its 18 luxury en-suite thatched chalets each have a private decking area overlooking a lagoon that attracts abundant wildlife. South Luangwa is home to some 60 large mammal species including excellent leopard densities. Mfuwe Lodge is one of the few places in the South Luangwa National Park that stays open during the summer, during which time the landscape in the valley transforms into a lush green environment that attracts wild dogs as well as a plethora of migrant birds.
This partnership between The Bushcamp Company and Wilderness Safaris / Safari & Adventure Co. in the South Luangwa National Park is aimed at combining the conservation efforts of the two organisations. A major focus of both is the increased anti-poaching measures that are being taken within the Park to protect its wildlife.
Safari & Adventure Co. is excited to announce the addition of the Pafuri Walking Trail to the existing Pafuri Camp offering. This 3-night 4-day trail will allow guests an opportunity to explore what is perhaps the best area for walking in the entire Kruger National Park, an area blessed not only with exceptional biodiversity but also spectacular scenery, seasonally high densities of many large mammal species, a feeling of wilderness, and a sense of history. Each night, the overnight camp will be situated in a different location and guests will hike from one camp to the next, allowing them the opportunity to experience the true remoteness of this diverse concession.
Exciting enhancements for Botswana Adventurer Explorations: camping convenience on a new level
As of January 2009 all our Adventurer-style tents have become en-suite with a canvas-wrap open-air bathroom at the rear of the tent. The bathroom comprises a serviced hot water bucket shower, a short-drop toilet, shade cloth floor, a table and chair and amenity canvas packs.
Kafue's Rivers and Plains change
There have been some changes to the itinerary for the 2009 season. Camps utilised are now Lufupa Tented Camp, Musanza Tented Camp, and Busanga Bush Camp in the heart of the Busanga Plains. The trip then spends a last night at Lufupa again. Lufupa offers river activities as well as game drives (night & day) and spectacular birding and a healthy leopard population. Musanza is uniquely situated to take advantage of the overlap between woodland floodplain and produced some of the best game viewing last season while Busanga Bush Camp brings a new dimension of game viewing to the trip: its unrivalled 'misty morning' sunrises and 'tree-climbing' lions are just some of the highlights here. Even though we have significantly improved the quality of the itinerary in terms of accommodation and experience the rates are not increasing - so that it is even better value than before!
Parched Kalahari becomes Discoverer
The Parched Kalahari, the perfect add-on to any Botswana experience, has just become a Discoverer-style Exploration. We no longer visit Nxai Pan and guests can now enjoy Deception Valley Lodge and an authentic Kalahari Bushman experience, before a road transfer to Kalahari Plains Camps in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve where there is an opportunity to experience some of the best cheetah and lion viewing in southern Africa. Once again, the upgrade of this itinerary is not reflected in the rate which remains the same - making this trip excellent value for money.
Kings Pool Camp update - February 09 Jump
to Kings Pool Camp
Weather has been very kind to us in February - rainfall only gracing us in the form of afternoon thunderstorms, which were every three to four days apart. For the rest of the time it was generally hot and sunny to partly cloudy.
The pans in the mopane woodland are already receding which means the dry season getting nearer. Soon the only water available will be along the river, concentrating game along this area. There are good times ahead.
Game viewing has been good around the Linyanti River and the Savute Channel. Big herds of elephant have frequently been sighted along the Linyanti River between DumaTau and Kings Pool Camps, often numbering 50 or more. Large elephant bulls still wade across the oxbow lake in front of camp and frolic in the papyrus beds.
Hippo provide us with an orchestra of grunting thoughout the night, setting the typical Kings Pool atmosphere. When on safari along the river, you are treated to countless pods of these peculiar amphibious beasts with their gaping jaws and barrel-shaped bodies.
The dominant male lions in the area have been sighted a few times - on one occasion right in camp. They were sleeping in the bushes next to the kitchen and stayed there for the duration of the day. Later they provided us with fantastic views of them walking along the road marking their territory and roaring, vocally advertising who this territory belongs to.
We have been fortunate enough to have seen three leopards at one time quite regularly this month. It is a mother with her sub-adult cubs. Their territory stretches far into the mopane woodland during this time of the year, but from time to time they venture into the riverine areas. The cubs are almost at the age where they are old enough to fend for themselves. We expect in the next few months that the mother will separate from them, once again becoming a solitary hunter of the Linyanti.
Wild dogs have been seen three times this month. The large pack was seen hunting impala right in the rotunda of Kings Pool. These energetic predators are often difficult to follow, especially through thick mopane woodland. It is always a treat to see these rare and endangered hunters of Africa.
General game included impala, kudu, steenbok, zebra, tsessebe, sable, roan, Chobe bushbuck (a localised sub-species), giraffe, waterbuck, baboon and vervet monkeys.
Birdlife is still at its peak. Keen birders are treated with a variety of species ranging from birds of prey, countless water birds and woodland species.
- Beautiful camp and wonderful, welcoming staff. OD was a great guide; Nick and Gabi were most gracious. Boat ride so enjoyable.
- Monday night dinner with the singing and dancing was a perfect way to start our vacation. So moving! The animal viewing is spectacular and of course the staff could not have been more professional and kind.
Elephant; hippo; learning a lot from Moses; seeing a python wrapped around a baby impala and releasing it; birds - especially Carmine Bee-eaters; the boat ride; the sky and of course our room.
-Nick, Kerry, Gabbie, One and Alex-
Photo Credits: Nick Leuenberger
Savuti Camp update - February 09 Jump
to Savuti Camp
The Savute Channel
It is seven months now since the spearhead of the resurgent Savute Channel first rounded the bend of the river where we live, and in that time the Channel has not only pushed on much further towards its former terminus in the Savute Marsh but also begun to establish itself as a longer-term feature of this part of northern Botswana.
As the water continues to advance it is colouring in the creases in the landscape formed by the last flourish of the Great Rift Valley; the Rift which is slowly rendering this ancient continent asunder. It is still very visibly flowing onwards, and is now around halfway to the Savute Marsh, meaning that it is continuing to advance at about 2km (1¼ miles per month). This perpetual motion can best be seen where the water is shallow, and where the current makes eddies around the stems of the lilies.
At first the Channel thrilled us with the shock of the new, but now that we - and, more importantly, the flora and fauna of the Savute, have begun to adjust to its presence - we can take stock of events at a more measured pace, and marvel at our leisure at the geological and hydrological history being written just below us.
We are drawing to the end of our summer rainy season now, and once the downpours abate, we will face perhaps six months without precipitation. Inevitably evapo-transpiration will take its toll on water levels but with a depth of 80cm (almost three feet) of water immediately below our star deck, and at least double this in the middle of the Channel, there should still be plenty of water here in June and July when our annual flood surge sweeps in (a surge made up primarily of rain that fell over Angola's highlands during this past summer).
The rate at which water in the Kwando River is currently entering Botswana is around 30 percent greater than in an average year, although it is slightly less than the figure for the same time last year. It must be remembered however that whereas last year the water was flowing into an dry and dusty, empty riverbed, this year it will be coming in on top of the existing Channel - a scenario that has not taken place since the early 1980s - and suddenly we could be looking at a flood and a forward push that will carry the Channel beyond the cutline and ultimately into the Savute Marsh once more.
During its most recent incarnation as a ribbon of savannah grassland, the Savute Channel was an unusually rich wildlife area, providing a sanctuary for plains game in a region otherwise dominated by mopane woodland. It provided a route for migrating zebra as they moved between the Savute Marsh (dry, but revitalised each year by summer rains) and the Linyanti Swamps on the Namibian border.
The richness of this temporary habitat was due to the sediments that were deposited when the Channel flowed. Now, with the waters here again, what was a fantastic "dry" wildlife area, has become an even more fantastic, still more beautiful "wet" wildlife area. The landscape has absorbed the fact of the water's return, and the water itself, and with the transformation of the Savute still a work-in-progress, each day sees new adaptations by the wildlife of the Linyanti region to the presence of the Channel.
These adaptations resulted in more fantastic wildlife viewing opportunities during February. As the water lays claim to being a resident of the Linyanti rather than just a summer visitor, we are starting to see signs of permanence. The white flowers of the water lilies are a welcome addition, and in amongst them, African Pygmy-geese sail around in pairs - yet another bird species which was previously only rarely, if ever, seen in the Savute Channel. The skeletal leadwoods, drowned by the ancestors of the current channel, provide watchtowers for African Fish-eagles by day, and roosting places for Little Egrets by night.
The Channel waters of course have turned everything we knew about this area on its head, including our understanding of northern Botswana's elephants. Summer is usually a relatively quiet time for elephant sightings but recently we have been enjoying some wonderful encounters with these magnificent creatures. This year they have been more relaxed than we remember from drier years, and with no water stress, that is not so surprising. The Channel is perhaps the biggest event in "Elephantville" in generations, and they are revelling in it. Whereas before we could watch in awe as drinking elephants towered over our vantage point in the logpile hide, now we can delight in watching them swim, roll around in the water, snorkel and take mud baths and showers. During the day, lone bulls often emerge from the abundant feverberry foliage and lumber deliberately down to the water, slowly slaking their thirst while they enjoy the warmth of the summer sun on their corrugated skin.
We also had a bull arrive who must not have been through this area for several months. After fording the Channel, he clambered up on the peninsula where the logpile hide is now stranded, wearing black stockings from his wade. He slowly moved to the depression where the waterhole had been, and snuffled wistfully at the ground, before eating some of the soil (perhaps for the salt and minerals). He really did seem to have lost an old friend, and to be quite sad about it rather than being excited about the flashy new kid on the block, the Channel.
A drive along the northern bank of the Channel on a summer evening can reward you with meetings with several different herds, the members of each one bunched together on the bank, until the matriarch takes the plunge, often pausing halfway across to take a drink, and then the rest of her extended family tumble down into the water and push bow waves ahead of themselves as they stride off into the setting sun.
With the game more dispersed, our resident predators often have to try a little harder. The annual glut of impala fawns is over now, the survivors now almost the size of the adults, and wary with it. So the lions in particular have to take greater risks, and try and tackle larger prey. On at least one occasion this month, they have brought down a big bull giraffe. This is a risky endeavour requiring strength, cunning, and teamwork.
Giraffes are of course still within the usual scope of hunting for lions, but there is now another species moving into the Savute area, one that is reputed to be the most dangerous mammal in Africa, and which would be capable of mangling a lion: hippos. Lions are expert risk assessors, but when they are driven by hunger or sense a weakness, or simply when their blood is up, they can push their luck a little too far.
Still full of giraffe meat, the young lions of the Selinda Pride began one evening to show a more than passing interest in a passing hippo which had left the water before sunset to get an early start on the night's grazing. One young male lion began the attack, which started out more as a feint, and with a faint chance of success! However he inspired the other lions to join in the attempt, and they were soon surrounding the irritated hippo and seriously harassing it. At one stage, there was even a lion on his back, but he shook it off and pressed on for the safety of a waterhole in scenes reminiscent of the famous "surfing lions" of the olden days in the Linyanti. This scrap, while fascinating, was inconclusive - although the hippo seemed to have been at a disadvantage. The next lion-hippo encounter we witnessed had a far less ambiguous ending.
The Savuti female has done a great job in raising her two little cubs (who are both males it seems, and so may one day be the ruling coalition along the Savute Channel) to the age of four months, as there are constant threats to the cubs' safety. When we see this lion family on game drives (the lioness is not yet risking introducing them to other lions) the cubs are immensely curious about the vehicles, and often want to approach them. Their ever-watchful mother lets them get just so close, and then growls a low warning note in her throat and they come scampering back to her.
They have delighted us recently by appearing on the southern bank, exactly opposite Savuti Camp, several times, proving that at Savuti you don't need to leave your couch to see game - or even perhaps your bed! As we watched the cubs play in the long grass, the mother (who was a few metres away) suddenly tensed as there was a disturbance in the water at the far end of the peninsula, and a hippo hauled his bulk onto the shore and started walking very deliberately towards the lioness.
The cubs immediately hid themselves in the long grass, but it seems that the hippo did not see them. The lioness' eyes flicked backwards and forwards from the cub's hiding place to the looming hippo, matching the movements of her black tail tip. As he passed the logpile hide he began threat-displaying, "yawning" with his mouth held as wide-open as possible to intimidate the lioness with his jutting ivory canines. The Savuti Female did not simply up and leave, but eventually (having assured herself that her cubs were safe) she slowly stalked off, tail held high in disdain.
Episodes such as these serve to illustrate how radically this area has changed, creating new opportunities for food, but also new risks. We have not seen hippos in the Savute Channel for over two decades, but as soon as they returned, they became another piece in the ever-changing jigsaw puzzle of the Linyanti and Savute ecosystem.
Driving along our game roads in search of the lions, hippos, and all the other wildlife that makes the Savute Channel such a special safari destination, we are often escorted by Southern Carmine Bee-eaters, which swoop around the vehicle and even seemingly underneath it, always darting ahead, and leading us into new adventures and wilderness experiences.
Only a few hundred people have so far seen the Savute Channel flowing for the first time in the 21st century, so we invite you to come and see for yourself, and join a very exclusive club indeed! Until next time, we will leave you with the impressions of some of the people who visited this wonderful little corner of Africa during February 2009:
"I have seen wonderful places all over the world but this was one of the best. Thank you."
"The highlights: elephant herds through the water, lunch in the bush, sundowners in the field, traditional African dinner experience."
"Very good food and very helpful and service-minded staff."
"Highlight: situation - service - and especially our guide Kane who is exceptional."
"We had a wonderful time and hate to leave!"
"The sparkling star of your staff is Koki who is a gem! "
"The friendliness of the staff is most important to us and we really enjoyed our stay thanks to your kindness..."
"Highlight: lion and hippo attack, elephant nearly attack!"
"Linyanti Swamp birding, lion cubs, too many highlights to list..."
"To the wonderful staff we extend our heartfelt thanks!"
"Great sightings and the skill and friendliness of our guide Sefo!"
With very best wishes from your February Savuti team: Koketso, Noko, Terri, Diana, Khutse, Emmax, and Lorato.
Camps Update - February 09
The rain continues to fall as we move into February. Record levels of flood water are recorded coming through Mohembo into Botswana. Villages and camps in Shakawe on the Okavango River have been flushed out by the flood forcing many villagers to move back to higher ground. Kwando and Kwara concessions are bracing themselves for the incoming floods of the Okavango and Kwando Rivers due to the phenomenal rains in Angola this season.
Lagoon camp Jump
• Local predators have been preying on unconventional game this February! An aardvark was killed by lions towards the middle of the month giving us a rare glimpse (all be it a deceased glimpse) of this elusive night roamer.
• At the aptly named Cheetahs Plains some fortunate guests were treated to the bitter sweet show of three cheetah brothers killing a baby ostrich!
• Lions, leopards and wild dogs have all been spotted on a regular basis and all animals appear healthy and well fed.
• Once again, large breeding herds of elephants have been spotted frequently along the Kwando waterfront to the guests delight. Plains game, in particular zebra and kudu have been abundant in February as well as some good sightings of the secretive sitatunga.
• During a spotlighted night drive the rare serval cat has been seen on several occasions causing delight for guests and guide alike.
Kwara & Little Kwara camps Jump
& Little Kwara camps
• Kwara has been witness to a successful cheetah mother with five cubs this month. The mother and cubs were seen crossing a local bush track in addition to sightings of the three cheetah brothers heading towards the beautiful flood plains around Tsum Tsum.
• The buffalo herds that were being found in such abundance last month have moved on for the time being but ions continue to populate the area.
• Birding has been excellent of late with a fine array of water birds and waders in the area. Keen ornithologists have been treated to Kori bustards, Secretary birds and Saddle Billed Storks.
Lebala camp Jump
• Lebala has been an animal carnival this February with almost every flagship African species photographed in the area. Leopards stalking lechwe, wild dog on the hunt and two male cheetah preying on a red lechwe were among the highlights.
• There was a power struggle in the lion community with the two dominant males challenged by three nomadic intruders. After a vicious contest the warring factions went their separate ways and it will be interesting to see if the intruders return next month.
• Large breeding herds of elephants lead the best of the rest with other attractions including giraffe, zebra, the rapid tsessebe, jackals and pythons.
• At night we have seen an interesting array of nocturnal species such as the African wild cat in hunting mode along with Africa’s largest rodent, the porcupine and hyena on patrol.
• Impressive cloud formations have typified the coming of daily rains this month with the desert landscape transformed to its most beautiful.
• Migrations of zebra have aggregated with springbok, wildebeest and gemsbok in the areas close to camp attracted by the rich new grasses brought to life by the rains.
• Evidence of a visiting herd of buffalo was found around the airstrip recently in an area not normally associated with this species.
• Not surprisingly with such an abundance of game around there have been plenty of lions to report around camp. Two iconic black maned lions of the Kalahari welcomed guests with persistent roaring by a local Baobab tree and a female with four cubs was seen in the same area.
• A local kayaker was almost upended by a young male hippo close to the Old Bridge at Matlapaneng. The same hippo has been residing in the deeper pools around Maun and enjoying its green pastures this month.
• Another resident had an unexpected visitor in his lounge when a specimen of the much feared Black Mamba species was disturbed into entering the house and taking up residence behind the TV. After much broom swiping and furniture removal the beautiful snake was persuaded to go back outside where it climbed up a palm tree.
Vumbura Plains Camp update
- February 09 Jump
to Vumbura Plains Camp
Weather and Water Levels
The rain has continued to fall throughout February and water levels are still rising. The storms we've experienced have been violent, sudden and short-lived, but have left the concession looking more beautiful than ever: lush and green.
February has been an active month for predators in the Kwedi Concession in which Vumbura Plains is situated. Sightings of wild dog were frequent at the beginning of the month, with a pack of 14 animals (six adults and eight pups) seen. The dogs did not disappoint our guests and two kills were witnessed, including one of a kudu calf.
As far as lions are concerned it seems that two new males have moved into the concession from the east and their territory is overlapping with our resident pride, the Kubu Pride. The area of overlap includes Kwetsani Camp, so we're hearing and seeing lots of lion activity at the moment. One of the Kubu lionesses is nursing 4-month old cubs and as time goes by they seem to be growing in confidence and becoming more and more curious of the spectacle of a tourist-filled vehicle.
After the sad death of one of our resident male leopard in October, it is great to see a new male in the Boundary Road/Channel Crossing region. He is a quiet, relaxed male who is comfortable with vehicles and seems like he will be offering us some lovely sightings in the future. The local female, Selonyana, has been operating in the area of camp and was seen at the South Camp Bridge by OB. She was trying her luck with impala at night, but proved unsuccessful. There were fears that her cub, born in November last year, had been killed by hyaena, but the guides are confident that it is still alive, even though not seen this month.
General game, as always seems to be this case in this scenically attractive and productive area has been good with large herds of elephant, zebra, sable and giraffe seen, often in mixed herds. Impala, tsessebe, red lechwe, wildebeest, warthog and reedbuck as well as a number of other species have of course been seen regularly.
The birdlife too has been awesome with common sightings of summer migrants such as the Wahlberg's Eagle and large flocks of Southern Carmine Bee-Eaters. These birds provide great viewing as they fly next to the game viewers snapping-up insects driven out of the tall grass.
Perhaps the most unexpected and exciting sighting of the month happened to a group of 12 guests who were birdwatching at one of the very full seasonal pans in the concession. Here they were lucky enough to witness a kill. A large crocodile burst from the dam, grabbing an unsuspecting Comb Duck and smashing it against the water to break it up into a manageable size before gulping it down. Gruesome, but fascinating!
Duba Plains Camp update
- February 09 Jump
to Duba Plains Camp
Rainfall at Duba Plains in the months of January and February was much higher than the previous months; we recorded an amount of 220mm. This was about what we should expect at this time of year. The water table is particularly high as a result of previous year's flood, which is reflected in the amount of water in the channels and some pans especially where the area is meant to be at its driest. It's worth remembering that only 20 years ago, Duba Plains Camp was surrounded by permanent swamp. The floodwater is now only about two months away and we expect local flood levels similar to last year.
Probably the highlight for many of the staff at Duba Plains is the reappearance of ten giraffe that are enjoying the good browsing in the area. Giraffe are nomadic, so it used to be really difficult to predict how long they'll stay. Now it seems they are resident since they have been around now for a period of four consecutive months. Our giraffe are very relaxed and can easily be approached to a reasonable distance with vehicles.
Waterbuck also used to be on our sporadic sightings list, but we now have a herd of five females and one male that are always seen along Channel Road. We also recently saw one waterbuck calf hanging around with a group of red lechwe males; she seems to have lost her mother probably to the lions.
Elephants are still present in significant numbers much to the delight of guests. It's unlikely that they will now move north to the mopane woodlands which they normally do at this time of year. One of the advantages of Duba Plains is the prevalence of wild jasmine creepers that flourishes at ground level across the floodplains. Elephants love this food source and on the floodplains large herds of up to 40-50 make a majestic sight - almost unrivalled in the Okavango Delta.
The buffalo herd has spent most of January in Tsaro Pride territory, hardly moving, probably because the herd has been calving. As a result, the Tsaro Pride waited either for a few newly born calves that failed to get to their feet quickly enough, or those abandoned by their mothers. It's strange to see a mother abandon its calf but this often happens with an adult's first calf or if the calf is born as the herd is moving and the adult is reluctant to become exposed at the back of the herd. This is how buffalo cows have been killed in most cases when staying behind with calves.
It takes a newly born calf between 15-20 minutes to walk - not much time if the herd moves quickly. The buffalo movement has been localised, mainly in the area we call our prime game drive area, areas which are easy to access all the time. They have moved across to Paradise Island twice or so, but with pressure from the Skimmer Pride in that area, the herd is reluctant to stay there.
One very interesting observation over the last five years regarding the buffalo herd is that its sheer size, which is currently slightly over 800, favours a higher breeding rate compared to a normal size herd of around 250. As the Tsaro Pride, and occasionally the Skimmer Pride predate on this herd, it makes sense for the buffalo to stick together in a large herd where proportionate losses are fewer and the buffalo can defend themselves against lion attacks with greater ease. One remarkable fact is how aggressively the herd now responds to lion attack. Some 80 percent of the kills that have taken place in the last year have seen the buffalo attempting to chase the lion away rather than simply abandoning the victim and moving on. Our guides, James, Rueben, Carlton and Lets have been great in sitting back and allowing this interaction to take place unimpeded, which is what actually make the most eventful interactions that gives our guests an unforgettable experiences.
The Tsaro Pride is doing well and we estimate it is left with at least four cubs. It's difficult to tell how many females have given birth as undoubtedly some have lost their litter. With young cubs the pride has split into small groups and lone females have followed the herd predating on abandoned calves and picking up after-birth. When the pride does join up, the focus is still on calves and over-protective mothers. Cubs have mostly been seen after a kill has been made when the mother moves the cubs out of hiding to feed.
The Skimmer Male is still the only one dominant over the two resident prides, Skimmer and Tsaro, and as usual, just as the Duba Boys did, he has spent most of his time with the Tsaro Pride, probably because there is more food there than in the Skimmer territory. The young Skimmer Male has also been seen in the area with Junior. This male has mated with some females from Tsaro, so some will be having cubs very soon. It has always been an interesting interaction when the dominant Skimmer Male and him meet.
The Skimmer Pride continues to flourish although they still spend a lot of time in the west of their territory, which our game drive vehicles cannot access.
Birds & Birding
Birding still remains superb and Denham's Bustards are currently seen in large numbers especially in the open grassland areas which seems to be their perfect habitat. Wattled Cranes, Pink-backed Pelicans, Yellow-billed Stork and many more water birds are abundant in the open floodplains and waterways. We are also happy to see that Red-necked Falcons are also back in our area - they are normally seen in an area with tall palm trees, Mokolwane Island, and along the Molapo Road as well.
Staff in Camp
The managers for January were Dardley, Tebby and Bonang. We also have our intern manager, Abby, who has been with the company for a long time but based in the accounts department in Maun. He eventually decided that he actually belongs in the bush and joined us there. One of the team members, Moalosi, was away on monthly leave.
Jacana Camp update
- February 09 Jump
to Jacana Camp
This month was the perfect time to feel at peace with the changing environment. The rains have washed the dust away from all the trees and bushes. The wilderness has transformed into lush scenery of bright colours and the animals are looking content as their young ones are growing stronger. The summer rain clouds are a wondrous, colourful backdrop to the wide open spaces of this part of the Okavango Delta. The early morning breakfast has to be a favourite time of the day. We patiently wait to see the crimson sun at the break of dawn behind the large mass of water, reeds and tree-covered islands in front of Jacana Camp.
On the last week of the month there were a few surprises that nature has in store for us - every year it is a wonder to experience this annual activity. The floodwaters of the Delta came in faster than usual and the results were visible in less than a week. Our grass-covered floodplain surrounding Jacana Island, where lions once hunted red lechwe, is now covered by the fresh waters of the annual flood. The excitement is high as boating season has begun, creating all sorts of opportunities to explore the Delta in more detail as we use the deeper channels which we may not reach by vehicle.
These floods caught some of the animals on the wrong side and they all have to cross the water as best as they can. Birds like Southern Ground Hornbills were seen wading across the water and non-aquatic antelope like kudu leapt with great strength across the channels to the grassy floodplains, where they probably feel safer.
It has been a few weeks without seeing the resident Jacana bull elephants but lately we were fortunate enough to get a few visits from Jack and a younger bull that seems to be his sidekick - Mosimane. This was a good telltale sign that the elephants would soon be back in our area as the fan palms have already started fruiting. Soon the palm nuts will ripen and elephants of all sizes will be around the island rattling the palms for the tasty fruit.
The Jao floodplain roads are also forming a different character, as when the flood comes in they become shallow water channels. The floodplain grazers enjoy this new feature as the larger animals such as buffalo, zebra, wildebeest and giraffe are saved the long walk and they drink from these channels. The vehicles drive on the water channels and this gives guests a great view of the animals as they splash through the waters. This is not the only thing that is exciting as there are some deeper crossings where the vehicles dip down but continue to move swiftly and safely across the deep waters.
Beauty and Motsumi (her cub) are having a ball as the waters continue to rise. They hide behind trees and shrubs in anticipation of a perfect ambush. Motsumi has started wandering the land on his own and learning to survive without his mother. He is showing plenty of independence and great hunting skills. Beauty has taught Motsumi well.
All in all we are looking forward to more water coming through changing the landscape, the wildlife and the bird life.
update - February 09 Jump
to Kwetsani Camp
Weather and Water Levels
Rains throughout the greater southern Africa region, and particularly in our catchment area in Angola, have been extremely high this year. It is these rains that flow into the Cubango River in Angola and then on into the Kavango River in Namibia before entering the Okavango River in Botswana where it terminates in the alluvial fan of the Okavango Delta. The inflow of billions of cubic metres of water typically reaches Kwetsani Camp in April and peaks in June.
Even with modern technology and graphs measuring the inflow of water into the Delta an annual mystery still prevails: the fascinating geology of the Delta is continually, and very silently, modifying the topography here. We only learn about these secret changes that nature has made when the annual flood flows in to place the billions of cubic metres of water over an area of up to 12000 square kilometres. It is then that we see how shallow or deep the waters settle and what challenges they will present.
This year was a good example of the unpredictable nature of the annual flood; the pattern is very different from "normal" years, so much so that we were caught completely off guard when the floodwaters arrived on our northern floodplains in February.
The result of the early floodwaters is that current congregation of large herds of lechwe and the most amazing collection of birds one could ever wish to see. It is amazing to see the large number of Pink- backed Pelicans fishing on the previously dry sandy floodplains. They are accompanied by large flocks of Woolly-necked, Open-billed, Marabou and Saddle-billed Storks, White-faced Whistling Ducks, Blacksmith and Long-toed Lapwings, Slaty, Little and Great White Egrets, Spur-winged Geese, Hamerkops, Hadeda and Sacred Ibis, African Jacanas, Pied Kingfishers and so the list goes on. It is an absolute feeding frenzy of fish, frogs and all sorts of other prey, which the birds are harvesting in large numbers from the rapidly rising waters.
The early floodwaters are most welcome, as they have allowed us to launch our boats. This has allowed us to make significant progress with the clearing and reopening of the channel to Hunda Island and our airstrip. This in turn will allow us easy access to this wonderful mixed acacia woodland area on the Island and will offer even more diversity to the activities we offer. As the waters rise they will surround Hunda Island, this will concentrate large herds onto the 15000 hectare area that we will be able to enjoy after a wonderful 15-20 minute boat ride where we will take time to examine the wonderful painted reed frogs and other aquatic life of the Delta.
For months now we have been following some interesting developments within our primary lion pride. Nature has continued its course with the young male gradually being moved out by a new pride male that has mated with the Kwetsani Pride female. Despite his hunting ability it seems the stresses of separation from mother and half sister have been taking their toll as he has roared almost every night around the Island and in the floodplains and has on occasions looked rather thin.
Nature is full of surprises! Late one evening, while returning from the northern floodplains to monitor the advancing floodwaters, just as we thought the painful separation of the small pride was final, we found the two females together with the outcast young male, Cheeky Boy. The older female, who appears to be heavily pregnant, was waist deep in water; Cheeky Boy and the young female were at the edge of the channel, and despite their size in a very playful mood. What a wonderful feeling to see a family reunited. As much as we emphasise to people not to apply human emotions to the animal kingdom we found ourselves doing so. Such is nature, it doesn't follow strict rules, and it doesn't read the guidebooks. In the days you spend with us in the Delta you will certainly learn a lot about that!
Not only have we made some very nice enhancements to Kwetsani Camp we have also completely rebuilt our airstrip, which will certainly ensure not only happy but also smooth landings.
At the beginning of the year we traditionally close our doors for a short while to get everything looking good for the busy season ahead. Our closure this year was the first two weeks of February during which the entire staff worked hard to get everything sanded, varnished and squeaky-clean. Kwetsani Camp is now looking well polished and waiting to welcome you with shiny new walkways and many other improvements that we have made this year.
We look forward to your visit to Kwetsani where we will share our little Eden with you.
-Mike, Anne and the rest of the Kwetsani Team-
update - February 09 Jump
to Jao Camp
To be witness to the sensational workings of Nature's agenda is a humbling privilege; we can only sit back and marvel at the wonders and intrigue. One can abandon clocks, calendars and compass' and let Nature's treasures rule the year with its regularities.
Weather and Water Levels
Considering 2009 is no leap year, the water burst on stage right on cue. In a blink of an eye, Jao Camp has transformed into a classic nautical world.
Enter flood: Like a well timed theatrical the Delta flood saturated the arena; enter water birds; enter boats; enter Nature's splendours. It is no wonder we all continue to keep our tickets for this annual encore.
The water is definitely going to be dominating the land this year in the Jao Concession. The rapid rise of the levels, which isn't atypical of this area, has yet again made jaws drop.
The water from above played a significant role this month also and won't go forgotten. With rain clouds shadowing the luminous setting; the eerie mood at dusk is enhanced by dramatic lightning bolts reaching down from sky to ground in a sensational performance of electrical wonder on the horizon.
The regulars, a family of Spur-winged Geese have moved onto the Jao Island to introduce their new batch of youngsters to life. We are honoured that Jao Island is their chosen retreat for this annual upbringing. The family of eleven settle themselves comfortably amongst the buckled mopane trees that are scattered over a verdant grass carpet.
Like ghosts in the night, without a whisper said, elephants drift over the island leaving only tree skeletons as remnants of their incessant hunger behind. Mighty and defenceless trees stripped of their bark, reveal vulnerable 'carcasses' beneath. A very nutritious, cambium layer held within the walls of the bark sustains the life of a tree, like a protective skin, a most valuable element of survival and a most valuable nourishment for an elephant. The sporadic visitations of these intriguing creatures, however, have allowed the thriving Delta to flourish and replenish before heavy footsteps wander in again for a luscious feast on the abundance provided.
Beauty and her mischievous cub, Motsumi, have habitually prowled the area and frequented the Island. The patterned pair of leopards has been getting up close and personal with some of the Jao's other wildlife: distressing vervet monkeys, harassing impala and stomping the sands with curious paw trails.
Conventionally, leopards are quite elusive creatures and are rather the observers than being the observed. Despite this typical behaviour of these well sought after creatures, our mother-and-son duo relish in the attention and definitely steal the show at times.
A wonderful thing about the Delta is that it provides so much; unfortunately these intricate particulars are typically overlooked. Attention to detail is one of Nature's strengths. Carefully placed creatures on every stem, every leaf and every blade of grass are even more elusive than a leopard, but as emblematic as a leopard, they are always there, always watching, just often unseen. The adjoining pictures reveal just some of the fascinating creatures of the insect world - predators on another scale.
Our floodplains are satiating their thirst as the floodwaters rise. The transformation is attracting feathered hunters: Woolly-necked Storks, Saddle-billed Storks, Maribou Storks, Red-billed Teals, Cattle Egrets and White Egrets are all flocking and displaying.
Jao Camp had no guests this month, and it's not for a lack of want, it's so we can prepare our camp for the upcoming season of visitors from all over the world. Like the floods, maintenance is an annual event that the entire Jao Team participated in. The entire camp from the main area, the kilometre-long walkways and every single room received some tender care and attention.
-The Jao Team-
Tubu Tree Camp
update - February 09 Jump
to Tubu Tree Camp
Weather and Water Levels
The annual floodwater has reached the Tubu area and is quickly filling up our channels. The area where we do our mokoro trips, has been flooded within two days and the water is already deep enough to start the water activities. It can only be a matter of one or two weeks for the water to reach Tubu Tree Camp and turn the open dry grassland in front of camp into a beautiful shallow lagoon. We have already spotted the first red lechwe and we are so looking forward to seeing them arrive in greater numbers. They will fill the floodplain in front of camp with life and beauty.
We have enjoyed wonderful weather most of the month. A few thunderstorms passed our area but have not really brought much rainfall and the grass is looking a bit dry by now. The temperatures are falling at night and in the early mornings the dew on the grass is glittering and shining in the first rays of the morning sun. The floodplains are covered with a thin layer of mist and nothing is more exciting than watching a black shadow slowly taking shape and revealing the mighty body of a Cape buffalo.
We had very good leopard sightings this month. Our guides have managed to find the female, Moselesele, on a regular basis, accompanied by her cub. Also our Boat Station Female - called 206 - was seen many times together with her two cubs. On one occasion the two females were found growling at each other; the Boat Station Female was probably trying to extend her territory, as she is normally not found south of camp.
Our guests also watched a male leopard hunting. He tried to stalk some impala, but before he managed to take one down, some hyaena showed up and spoiled everything. Quite exciting for the guests to see the two animals interacting but understandably the hyaena cannot be the leopard's best friend.
But we like hyeana nonetheless. They are always close to camp providing entertainment as they move around at night. We hardly manage to fall asleep if we do not hear them whooping in the late evenings. Just some days ago, Katrin was up early in the morning to finish some paperwork and when she came around the corner there was a hyaena "sitting" at the bar. The hyaena ran off immediately down to the swimming pool and jumped off the deck. We have three 'hyaena gates' to close off the camp, but in the early mornings the waiter on duty will open the main gate to prepare breakfast for the guests. The hyaena must have just waited for that moment, as we found one of the yoghurt bowls and the milk jar empty. It seems that our hyaena have developed excellent table manners as nothing had been spilled. Quite amazing.
Thank you so much. We were treated like royalty. Hope to see you again soon! L&M
Impossible to describe such perfection! P&M
Thank you so much for sharing your delta paradise with us. It was fantastic!! P&S
-Peter, Katrin and the entire Tubu Team-
Kalahari Plains Camp
update - February 09
At this time of year at Kalahari Plains Camp it's all about billowing green grasses and dark stormy skies: wildlife enjoys the seasonal abundance of nourishment, puddles of rain water provide moisture for a kaleidoscope of butterflies, and herds of springbok and gemsbok swell to large numbers, the tall grasses tickling their underbellies.
The atmosphere at camp is tranquil; the surrounding bush, encouraged by the summer rains has bounced back and there is literally no sign of the recent building process in camp. It looks like the structures have been here, nestled in nature, for years. Swarms of Red-billed Queleas reverberate around camp, Shaft-tailed and Paradise Whydahs are easy to spot from the elevated decks and in the evenings Barn Owls screech eerily from nearby trees. The view from camp looks down through the woodland towards Deception Valley. With so much lush vegetation around at this time of year it is hard to understand why the area is called a desert!
General weather conditions this month have been quite varied. At times temperatures reached a high of 35°C, but at other times dropped to about 20°C in cloudy or overcast conditions. Our game drives, conducted in long-wheelbase Land Rovers with eight individual seats, are covered and thus weather resistant providing both shade and shelter. The extra height of the vehicle also makes for good predator spotting. In fair weather one can open the roof for a 360-degree view.
Our key game drive area this month has undoubtedly been the core of Deception Valley. This is only a 10-minute drive from camp along a road that winds through the low woodland and then suddenly drops onto the Deception Valley floor with wide open views of the grassy valley on either side. Drives heading south take in the length of Deception Valley, past Deception Pan winding past the tree islands around the Letiahau waterhole. If travelling northbound, one can take in Sunday and Leopard Pans. Very close to the initial access to the valley floor is the old campsite of Mark and Delia Owens who revealed many of the secrets of the Kalahari in their book "Cry of the Kalahari," a captivating and informative read to while away the hours spent in camp during the heat of the midday.
Deception Pan, just slightly down the Valley, has produced some good cheetah viewing lately. A mother with her sub-adult cubs were seen investigating a vulture party - or perhaps it was the other way around? It is said that cheetah never return to their kills, whereas lion and leopard often return to theirs. Other cheetah seen this month by the camp guides included a mother with three youngsters.
Lion have been seen regularly and the unpredictable weather conditions often result in unexpected daytime activity. While driving along Deception Valley a small pride of two females and one black-maned male were seen chasing off a younger male. The young male took some convincing before he understood that he was no longer welcome in the pride - there were quite a few "cat fights" before he got the message. Eventually the pride settled down to cool down their tempers, sipping water from a fresh rainwater puddle.
Two younger adult males have been seen around the Sundays Pan system. They're easily identifiable as one has a blonde mane and the other has a substantially darker mane. Leopard remained elusive, probably due to the lush conditions; some large spoor of a male leopard is occasionally seen on the outskirts of the camp... just a friendly reminder of his presence.
Raptors seen this month include flocks of Western Red-footed Kestrel (the distinctive markings of the male and female are interesting to note), the distinctive Greater Kestrel (offering some fantastic photo opportunities), not to mention the ever-present Pale Chanting Goshawk (that mouthfull is quickly shortened to "PCG"). Yellow-billed Kites own the road junction, perching on any and every signpost in the valley and vulture parties included large congregations of White-backed Vultures with several Lappet-faced Vultures in the mix, these congregations signalling recent kill sites. We were lucky to also see a White-headed Vulture.
Black-backed jackals were our constant companions, and for those with sharp eyesight there are the smaller mammals such as meerkats (suricate), honey badger and bat-eared fox which can be seen going about their business. Perhaps the cutest of these are the ground squirrels, who scurry around feeding throughout the day using their bushy tails as umbrellas or shields when the sun gets too hot.
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