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Sefofane Namibia: new "scheduled" air service
Sefofane Namibia has implemented a scheduled service connecting all the Wilderness Safaris camps in Namibia from April 2009 onwards resulting in many benefits. The vast majority of our guests therefore will fly in air-conditioned Caravans, which are faster and more spacious, allowing for more comfort on the long distances flown in Namibia.
C210 aircraft will be stationed at Sossusvlei, Palmwag and Serra Cafema to do connecting transfers as well as scenic flights. Apart from this new service providing consolidated flying and thus a much minimised carbon footprint, the times are now set and guests will know their departure and arrival times at the various camps well in advance. Such specific times simplify itinerary planning as these set departure and arrival times also mean that flight connections, onward touring and airport transfer arrangements are that much easier to plan and coordinate.
The Spectacular Summer Season
Location: Kings Pool, Linyanti Concession, Botswana
Date: 1-4 January 2009
Observers: Caroline Culbert
Will the waters of the Savute Channel reach the Savute Marsh in 2009? Will the waters in the Selinda Spillway connect? These are some of the major talking points for the year ahead in far northern Botswana. A quick trip to the Linyanti area over the new year put things into perspective for us; we had only ever seen the Channel dry and dusty.
The trip starts out on New Year's Day with a flight from Maun to the Linyanti with aerial views of the channel waters flowing well past Savuti Camp, over the horizon to the east. Our mission is to start our journey on the Linyanti River, following the river frontage roads as much as possible, travel down from Kings Pool, past DumaTau to the Zibadianja Lagoon, then turn south-east following the Savute Channel to the very end of the waters.
A 05h00 wake up, check list and camera at the ready sees us depart into the lush, green bush, slightly damp after the evening's rain. The roads are overgrown in places and in others are flooded by the Linyanti River so we backtrack often in our quest. The birders however don't complain as we see some lovely waterbirds: Black Herons mantling, crakes, jacana, Open-billed Storks. Woodland birds too are all around, Grey-hooded Kingfisher and Arnot's Chat soon becoming common sightings. The bee-eaters also show off their plumage: Blue-cheeked and Swallow-tailed along with the White-fronted and Little Bee-eaters, not to mention the migratory Carmine Bee-eaters. If one looks carefully up into the dense tree canopies, one can even spot Verreaux's Eagle Owls and in the thickets pairs of Pearl-spotted Owlets. We are even graced with a sighting of a spotted hyaena meandering through the bush enjoying the early morning sunlight. There are also many breeding herds of elephant feeding in the bush and the odd hippo taking up residence in the rainwater pans.
It's mid-morning by the time we pop out at the DumaTau Lagoon, only to see a large herd of elephants drinking from the shallow waters. Red lechwe are doing their territorial thing; the resident male seeing off three younger challengers. We press on and soon we are on the edge of the Zibadianja Lagoon, water lilies and white puffy cloud reflections make for some sweet scenic images. The White-faced Ducks watch us warily, but allow a slow approach. Knob-billed Ducks are around every turn and Squacco Herons are there one minute, gone the next - an amazing demonstration of their camouflaged plumage. Large flocks of Open-bill and Woolly-necked Storks wheel overhead.
Despite the beautiful scene we press on, and soon the tyres on the right hand side of the vehicle are splashing continuously through the waters of the Savute Channel. The road weaves up and down banks and around termite mounds continuously trying to avoid the rising water. Within minutes we witness one of the Savute Channel's most enchanting sights: Carmine Bee-eaters - yes - but the Savute goes one better - Carmines using Kori Bustards as perches, darting off to catch a grasshopper, before returning to the mobile perch. These Carmines are something else: as soon as they see us coming, they swarm around the vehicle performing death-defying swoops in front of the tyres to catch insects flushed by our movement. What a sight to see these vibrant birds flitting all around. Often it seems that we could simply reach out and touch these crimson jewels - just a daydream in reality!
Stopping in at Savuti Camp to say hi and to collect a very kindly provided cool-box with a fresh supply of ice and G&T materials, we enquire as to how much further the end of the water is. "About 10-15km" is the answer, and we continue down towards the area around Mantshwe Pan.
The afternoon provides great raptor sightings, as well as cheetah and a secretive leopard. Antelope seen are roan, tseesebe, a group of magnificent kudu bulls, impala, steenbok and waterbuck. The elephant however really steal the show. We are constantly waylaid by herds making their way to or from the Channel. On one occasion the youngsters are attempting back-flips in the cool waters - I kid you not! We sit for hours watching their behaviour, thinking of times recently past when water was not so plentiful for them.
Finally we achieve our goal and trace the Channel waters down to its leading trickle. In the time it takes to enjoy a sundowner, the water had already pushed about three or four metres through the densely growing grasses. We celebrate our day with a curious roan antelope standing close by, wondering just what we are doing in his neighbourhood.
North Island's turtle visitors
Location: North Island, Seychelles
Date: January 2009
Observers: Linda van Herck
Every year at around this time North Island goes through the peak of the Hawksbill Turtle nesting season. This giant marine turtle obligingly emerges during the day (most of the other large turtles are strictly nocturnal emergers) and so makes for fantastic and life changing viewing experiences on all of the island's beaches.
This week a large female decided to come out of the ocean right in front of the villas, pass a sun lounger or two and then continue to a spot she felt was suitable to lay her eggs. Having completed her task she then peacefully made her way back into the ocean and perhaps won't return again this season at all.
The hawkbill 'season' usually ends at around the end of January and currently there are many emergences as the turtles seem to be making up for lost time at the slow beginning of the season. With a survival rate to a reproductive age of between 1 in 1000 and 1 in 10 000, each nest is vitally important for the well being of the species (which is classified as Critically Endangered) and we feel extremely privileged every time we are honoured with a visit from one of these gentle giants.
First cheetah at Tubu Tree in 3 years!
Location: Tubu Tree Camp, Okavango Delta, Botswana
Date: September - November 2008
Observers: Cedric Samotanzi & Peter Luthi
We spotted cheetah in our area for the first time this year in early September. Not only was it the first sighting this year, but the first in no less than three years! Since then we have had fantastic cheetah viewing by our standards of no fewer than seven individual cheetah.
Our first cheetah discovery was of two healthy looking brothers up north around Harry's Baobab. They stayed in the area for about one month but were probably driven away by the lions. We also at this stage found a female around the boat station. She looked pregnant but we did not have the chance to verify this as she disappeared shortly after and was not seen again for two months.
We were really excited in November 2008 when we found her again much further south. She was accompanied by four cubs. What a great sighting! Since that initial discovery one of the cubs has unfortunately disappeared, but three remain and seem to be very strong and confident. We think there are two female cubs and a young male. This young male is very, very confident indeed. On one occasion the three cubs were seen chasing an adult hyaena in perfect battle formation with an anxious cheetah mother growling in the background, quite understandably fearing for her cub's lives.
This cheetah family have mostly been frequenting an open grassland area with high concentrations of impala known as Tubu Corner. The taller grass provides excellent cover for the mother to stalk the ever-watchful impala to a proximity that will allow her to outrun them over a short distance. Our guests have seen her hunting on several occasions - and she has to try hard - feeding three hungry mouths is not an easy job. They have also witnessed how the mother caught a young impala and brought it back to her cubs. The cubs are still inexperienced and need to learn how to bring down prey by watching their mother and by gaining first hand experience on small prey. Cheetah paradise!
This currently productive area will be flooded by the seasonal floods that will reach the area in May and this will most likely force the cheetah to move to dryer grounds where conflict with lion and spotted hyaena is inevitable. Fortunately enough Hunda Island provides dry land even during high floods and of course we hope they will stay around Tubu Tree camp for a long time. Keep your fingers crossed!
Albino Black-backed Jackal
Location: Ongava Lodge, Etosha National Park, Namibia
Date: Janaury 2009
Observers: Kim Nixon, Brian Stacey
Out on a morning game drive into Etosha National Park in the Okondeka region, an eerie snow-white phantom appeared out the bush - an albino black-backed jackal (Canis mesomelas).
Leucism is the more regular phenomena recorded whereby the pigmentation cells in an animal or bird fail to develop properly. This can result in unusual white patches appearing on the animal. Albinism is totally different and is the complete absence of pigmentation due to inability to produce melanin. The animal, like this pictured jackal, is snow white and the soft parts are pinkish. The eye colour is also pink as a result of blood vessels showing through in the absence of darker colours. Albinism is normally caused by a genetic mutation that can be inherited if both parents have the albino gene.
This often causes observers to think they have possibly discovered a new species, when in fact leucism is the cause of the unusual markings they have seen.
This jackal appeared to be fit and fat and thriving, although it is generally accepted that animals with this condition do not survive long as they are obviously more conspicuous. This also poses the question as to whether albinism has possibly benefitted this animal - as the jackal moved onto the white calcrete Etosha Pan, it was perfectly camouflaged.
Pictures courtesy of Brian Stacey
Mombo-Duba Plains: Green Season Magic
Location: Okavango Delta
Date: January 2009
Observers: Gregg Hughes, Matt Copham
An exceptional wildlife safari recently took in the Okavango Delta camps of Mombo and Duba Plains. The wildlife sightings and interactions we saw left us simply in awe and unsure what to expect next.
Duba Plains Camp is a small, intimate camp on a vast concession that plays host to endless lion and buffalo battles that is very unique to the area. We saw phenomenal lion interaction with the introduction of a new male to the Tsaro females. With the demise of the formidable Duba Boys last year, a new male has entered the fold and in the process of mating with the rather disjointed nine Tsaro females. On the last morning of our stay we saw seven of them trailing the buffalo herd when the new male showed up. He had some warm greetings from two of the females who appeared to be lactating hidden cubs. The others were a bit icy and then from nowhere the male lion bolted into the middle of a group of these females who appeared to be defending one of the last remaining cubs of the Duba Males (interestingly the two-year-old subadult female). It was incredible to see a full grown male lion spring all fours off the ground to intimidate this young female and then chase her full tilt across the floodplain roaring incessantly trailed by some of the other females. We did not see any interaction with the wily old buffalo here but this certainly was an awesome lion-on-lion interaction.
From Duba Plains, the one-hour scenic helicopter transfer to Mombo Camp was one of the best I have ever been on and our pilot Annie is a very accomplished game-sensitive pilot. Her manoeuvring around elephants was awesome with minimal disturbance to the herd.
Mombo Camp was pure wildlife madness and out of control with the famous female leopard Legadema bringing down an adult female impala on the first afternoon drive right behind our safari vehicle. It appeared as if there were wild dogs in the area as the impala ran into our leopard sighting with their distinctive rocking/fleeing motion. Legadema caught the impala mid-air and brought it down on its head, instantly killing it without a sound. She quickly opened up the flank, drank down some blood and took a few mouthfuls of flesh before abandoning the carcass at dusk. This was rather strange behaviour but she was just outside her core territory and still has the liability of raising one-year-old twins. The next day, mid-afternoon, Legadema was seen catching and paralysing a baby warthog and then leaving it to her year-old cub to finish the kill and learn some well-needed skills. The young leopard was however chased down and tackled by the irate mother warthog before she could escape up a flimsy Acacia tree.
The squealing warthogs also brought in two lionesses that narrowly missed catching the mother warthog but this distraction enabled the young leopard to retrieve the kill and take it high into a tree. Legadema herself had taken flight from the lions in the meantime and scaled up a baobab tree, to look anxiously on as the lionesses tried one at a time to climb the small acacia. Luckily they soon got bored and wondered off to kill two other warthogs not too far away. After all this drama the young leopard finally got to enjoy her well-earned spoils.
We thought the action was all over for this trip, until the final morning when four young male lions had brought down a buffalo that night and we arrived at first light to see 40 spotted hyaenas take over the kill. The four lions returned not long after and started a tug of war with the buffalo carcass. After much gnashing of teeth and chasing of hyaena they finally surrendered to the lions, which finished off the remains of the buffalo. Awesome way to end an amazing safari!
Images by Matt Copham
Endangered turtle species conservation on North Island
Location: North Island, Seychelles
Date: 27 January 2009
Observers: Linda van Herck
Under the tutelage of Dr Jeanne Mortimer, the North Island Environmental Department has over the last three hawksbill turtle nesting seasons become expert in timely translocations of turtle nests laid too low on the beaches. Such nests risk getting washed away at high tide or spring tide and the hatchlings being drowned.
Recently it was once again Karl at the West Beach Sunset Bar (one of the more important turtle nest sites on the island) who called us out on 18 January, after having spotted hawksbill turtle eggs that were being washed away by progressing beach erosion. This was a nest we did not know the existence of, as marked nests are carefully monitored on a daily basis. A large number of eggs was subsequently brought to the environmental office in a sand box, and hatchlings later started emerging on 23 January, giving us the most endearing sight once again of what we have been able to achieve and how we manage to contribute to increasing the survival chances of the hawksbill turtle, still listed by the IUCN as Critically Endangered.
Most spectacular with this nest, however, was the following: six eggs were found damaged, with embryos still alive, and these were brought to the office too. All except one died. To our disbelief this little guy emerged from the egg on 23 January and soon built up the necessary strength to start walking in the bucket and pushing itself up against the walls, clearly conveying the message that "when you have to go, you HAVE to go"! We were very happy to successfully release this hatchling into its ocean home. Having it and its compatriots in the office has offered a unique ecotourism opportunity for guests to see eggs hatching (a visit to the enviro office has become part of the plateau walks!), and subsequently get involved in hatchling releases. By means of all these activities, welcomed with overwhelming enthusiasm by all of our guests (old and young) we sure managed to get people enthusiastic about turtle conservation, and North Island's efforts in particular.
And whilst still caring for this nest that was laid too low, other turtle mothers keep throwing up new challenges. One returning turtle for example insisted on laying her nest halfway up the beach, in front of the restaurant. Clearly she did not think this one through. The location of the nest (now clearly marked to ensure careful management) has meant that we have had to be extra careful with barge offloads on the main beach and also that when time for hatching nears that we will have to provide additional screening between the nest and the lights of the dive centre to avoid any disorientation of the hatchlings.
Savage spotted hyaena harassment
Location: Linyanti area, Botswana
Date: 27 January 2009
Observers: Ray and Tegan Rothlisberger
We found the Savuti area absolutely awesome on a recent visit; The Savute Channel is simply amazing. I never thought I would see the day when water had again penetrated as far as it has! We had great sightings all round with really good cheetah viewing. The highlight however occurred whilst on our last morning drive.
We heard a huge commotion from some spotted hyaenas in thick bush. We followed the sounds and came across three hyaenas fighting with "something". They were in some dense undergrowth and it took us a bit of time to realise they were in fact fighting with a fourth hyaena. One of the "attackers" left the scene when we arrived but the other two continued to attack the one. After a while (some 30 minutes in all), the two attackers left their victim and wandered off. The hyaena was seriously injured and struggled to walk. His one ear had been almost ripped off and he was battling to get up.
We then left the sighting as all the animals moved off. We drove into the open and stopped for a tea break. After about 15 minutes, we heard them start fighting again for a short period. We left our tea spot and following some vultures and the sounds came across a wildebeest carcass with eight hyaenas feeding. We also noticed the hyaena which had been attacked lying off to the one side, barely moving. The feeding hyaenas paid little attention to the injured one apart from the two large "attackers" who went over periodically to sniff and occasionally bite the injured hyaena. Finally, one of them went over and started feeding on its back leg whilst it was still alive.
It was a rather bizarre sighting: Gruesome, brutal and savage but fascinating. The only conclusion we could come to was that the group of eight hyaenas were one clan and had chased a lion off its kill (there was a lioness in the area) and a lone hyaena from a different clan had heard them and come to investigate. They then proceeded to attack it resulting in such serious injuries as to cause its death. In this matriarchal society the females are larger and heavier than the males and dominate them to such an extent that they often form an 'interloper' class and perhaps this was the case with the savaged hyaena.
Kalahari Lion kills Cheetah
Location: Kalahari Plains, Deception Valley, Central Kalahari Game Reserve
Date: January 2009
Observers: Russel Gammon, Kai Collins & Victor Horatius
A coalition of two male cheetah until recently dominated the productive grasslands of the Deception Valley area. One these males tragically met his end last week however. As is so often the case with this species, it was at the 'hands' of a larger predator.
Cheetah as a rule are specialised animals (anatomically; physiologically; behaviourally) that do their utmost to avoid conflict with larger predators such as lion, spotted hyaena, wild dog and leopard. They do so primarily through inhabiting very large home ranges, through their choice of prey and also in hunting at times when other species are not very active. They are diurnal and thus avoid direct interaction with most of the other species (except wild dog).
The two situations where conflict with larger predators is most common occur when cubs are involved (they lose a very high proportion of off-spring to other predators) and on kills made by cheetah. In some studies cheetah have been observed to lose more than 20% of their kills to other predators in a process known as kleptoparasitism. Even warthog, baboon, black-backed jackal and vulture can pressure cheetah on kills.
While staying at Kalahari Plains Camp recently on a Botswana safari we left camp after lunch for an afternoon excursion into Deception Valley. We had seen lion and cheetah among other species in the morning, but on this occasion were shocked to find a dead cheetah lying in the open. The dead cheetah was one of the two-cat coalition mentioned above, and his brother sat nearby in the shade, clearly distressed. The dead cheetah had been seen earlier in week seriously injured with what was suspected to be a broken leg.
After closer inspection we discovered four puncture marks on the lower spine of the cheetah and tracks and signs of a struggle that indicated a lion had been the culprit. We combed the area and found first a sub-adult male lion in very poor condition who was finishing a bat-eared fox that he had probably ambushed and then tried unsuccessfully to dig another out of its burrow (this is not unusual prey for larger carnivores in the arid Kalahari Desert). We didn't think this could be the perpetrator since his condition was so poor (he was battling to walk himself) and so we turned around and headed back up the Valley and found an adult male lion about one or two kilometres from the dead cheetah and decided he was the most likely culprit.
Kalamu Bush Camp (previously Kalamu Tented Camp) will take a break for the 2009 season and the newly completed Kalamu Lagoon Camp (previously called Kwena Lagoon Camp) will operate instead this year.
Kalamu Lagoon Camp has 8 guest tents (reed walling, canvas roofing, solar water heaters and photovoltaic panels), including one family unit, which are all located on the banks of the Luamfwa Lagoon and are well shaded by tamarind, jackal-berry and mopane trees. The public area features a large swimming pool and cool seating area with timber deck jutting out over the Lagoon. The exclusive-use airstrip is only five minutes away. The Lagoon forms the hub for wildlife activity in the broader area and is a prime site for game viewing. See our website for further details on this lovely new camp.
Lunga River Lodge will be closed for the 2009 season.
Wilderness Safaris Premier camps: Shumba and Kapinga Camps will operate from 01 June to 30 November inclusive.
Wilderness Safaris Classic camp: Busanga Bush Camp will operate from 01 June to 30 November inclusive.
Safari & Adventure Co. camps: Lufupa Tented Camp and Lufupa River Camp will operate from 01 May to 03 January inclusive.
Explorations camp: Musanza Tented Camp operates from 01 June to 30 November inclusive.
Kalamu Bush Camp (previously Kalamu Tented Camp) will be closed for the 2009 season.
Wilderness Safaris new Classic camp: Kalamu Lagoon Camp (previously Kwena Lagoon Camp), will operate from 30 May to 15 November inclusive.
Wilderness Safaris Classic camps: The River Club and Toka Leya Camp continue to operate year round.
Work in progress at Mvuu Wilderness Lodge includes the addition of a thatch and wooden lounge area to the existing dining.
DumaTau Camp update - January 09 Jump
to DumaTau Camp
Minimum temperature 11º Celsius and maximum 28º Celsius; 87mm rainfall recorded for the month.
We had the Breakaway Pride with two juvenile male cubs hunting between DumaTau Camp and Mopane Bridge. These two lionesses have been working hard looking after the cubs and keeping them safe from the Selinda Pride. At the beginning of the month these two lionesses caught a big male kudu on Mopane Road. Romeo (one of the Selinda Boys) then took over the carcass when the other female left to collect the cubs.
We are very sad to have lost a good hunter and a loyal mother from the Savuti Pride, which was found dead.
It was really hard to tell what might have caused the death of this lioness. She had an open wound on her thigh and on the ground she had left marks with her paws that seemed to indicate that she was struggling. We looked around to see if the was an evidence of an attack by other lions, but we saw nothing. At least her daughter and the two male cubs are safe, as we saw them with the Selinda Boys at Botshelo Pan resting under mopane scrub.
With the bush looking very green and lush it has been difficult finding leopard, although we did enjoy several sightings this month. At the beginning of the month Ron spotted Mmamolapo hunting warthogs north east of Dish Pan. She displayed some very good hunting skills that she learnt from her mother, Rock Pan Female. The Zib Female and her sub-adult male cub were also seen hunting impala. The young male is very relaxed with safari vehicles around him.
The two Mmantshwe Boys have been featuring a lot in January. They are now more relaxed when approached by vehicles. Since the Savute Channel is flowing again, these two cheetah have had to learn how to swim and cross the Channel for survival. They have been spotted on more than two occasions crossing the Channel to the southern bank. They were also seen by Mocks hunting warthog. Then we have also seen three more males which are very shy, often running for cover into the mopane scrub when a vehicle approaches.
This month we did not see a lot of the LTC Pack in our area. They were last seen heading to Kings Pool Camp. We have been seeing the pack of five dogs around camp however. Camp staff were fortunate to witness a wild dog kill between the staff village and camp! Every morning we get to see a big number of impala crowding into the camp for safety - a fascinating sight but one that does not stop the dogs from chasing them through camp though!
Common game has been excellent as always. Large numbers of elephant were also spotted feeding in the green mopane woodlands. Juvenile Southern Carmine Bee-eaters have also been observed hitching rides on new 'hosts' other than Kori Bustards - warthog!
- Enjoyed the food and atmosphere in DumaTau Camp. Don't change anything - Andy & Karen
- Incredible viewing of lions and leopard; general game viewing was incredible. The friendly and competent staff, the food, our guide Lazi was phenomenal - Michael & Andrea
- Camp staff were wonderful, they were the highlight of our trip: very warm, friendly, great hosts - congratulations, keep it as is! - Sabrina
- The game drives with Mr T. His knowledge was great, the entire camp staff was very welcoming and had an accommodating spirit - Marion
The managers in January were Vasco, Miriam, Kago and Joel. The guiding team was Ron, Theba, Mocks, Lazi and Name.
Kings Pool Camp update - January 09 Jump
to Kings Pool Camp
The rains have slowed down in January with storms only gracing the Linyanti soils once a week or so. There was still some good cloud cover though, giving us some relief from the hot summer sun.
Elephant sightings were plentiful in January which is unusual for this time of the year. This is probably due to the increased water in the area and the flowing Savute Channel. Many breeding herds were sighted along the Linyanti River followed at a distance by massive bulls. Small herds of bachelors often come into Kings Pool Camp to feed on the lush vegetation around camp.
Two young male cheetah have been seen along the Savute Channel. These males are new to the area and are a little skittish but still providing us with good sightings. The old male cheetah we usually see in the area has not been seen for a while now. He was not in great shape when he was last sighted and we fear the worst.
The LTC lion pride has been sighted on a number of occasions this month, but they seem to be operating the far eastern corner of the concession. The dominant male lions (Border Boys) are in Namibia at the moment. We hear them roaring and advertising their territory almost every night, but they have not crossed back into Botswana this month.
General game has been very good with fantastic sightings such as kudu, waterbuck, giraffe and impala. Hippo are as prolific as ever and are always seen in and out of the water along the river.
Birding is at its peak at the moment with all the summer migrants still present. Great raptor sightings have occurred this month and delightful Southern Carmine Bee-eaters flying within touch of the vehicles.
-The Kings Pool Team- (Nick and Kerry, Olivia, Gabbi, Eddie and Frank)
Photo Credits: Nick Leuenberger
Mombo Camp update - January 09 Jump
to Mombo Camp
Weather and Temperature
Although our rainfall for the first half of the rainy season was below normal, there has been enough to 'paint' the bush emerald green. Everywhere you look there is life, from large to small. January was a hot and humid month, with a maximum temperature of 36.1ºC and a minimum of 18.8ºC. Mean temperature for the month was 24.8ºC.
Although often regarded as a quieter time of the year for game viewing, the green season at Mombo would prove any sceptic wrong. Most of the antelope species have young at this time of the year, and watching these miniature creatures can provide hours of entertainment. The general game at Mombo will never disappoint and on game drives you are rarely out of sight of an animal of some sort.
The floodwaters at this time are still a way off and so the small amounts of water on the floodplains are part rain water and part floodwater still from 2008. Game numbers on the floodplains are still good at the moment. What happens at this time of year is that the rain has filled up the pans in the interior of the island, providing a semi-permanent water source. This, in combination with the abundance of sweet, rain-fed grasses, attracts large numbers of general game into the acacia woodlands of Chief's Island.
On the lion front, things are starting to get interesting. Keeping up with pride dynamics is becoming something of a challenge. Past visitors to Mombo will most likely have observed very large lion prides numbering upward of 25 individuals. For a long time there has been anticipation that these prides would eventually become unsustainable and it appears that this may be in the process of happening.
One of the reasons for this is that the offspring in recent years has been predominately male cubs. These young males have now finally come to an age where their presence is no longer tolerated by the dominant males of the area. For this reason groups have broken away from the prides, in effect fragmenting the two large prides into a number of smaller groups across the Mombo area. These smaller prides are still coming together on occasion but the Moporota and Mathatha Prides now each number less than 10 individuals for the majority of the time.
The Western Pride will likely be remembered by previous guests for the unusual occurrence of females with manes. This pride was only sighted once at Mombo in January, possibly as a result of more frequent encounters with the smaller prides mentioned above.
This is a moment that we have been waiting for because over the past years the very high lion density has left little space for other smaller predators to thrive in the area. We are now hoping that with the fragmenting lion population we may see an increase in wild dog and cheetah numbers in the area. However, all this remains as speculation and no doubt the future will prove that no one can predict nature.
On the subject of wild dog and cheetah: we had a couple of sightings of the lone female wild dog that lives in the area. She has been alone for about two months now and we continue to be surprised that such a pack oriented animal manages to survive by herself out here. There were also a number of sightings of the lone male cheetah that lives in the east of the area. The fact that he is by himself is less unusual and he appears to be thriving. He is the remaining brother from the coalition of two, of which one was killed whilst taking down an impala last year.
The very good news for leopard lovers out there is that our resident leopard Legadima and her two cubs continue to survive and grow in this beautiful area. This month her two cubs celebrate their 1st birthday. They are slowly approaching the time when mother will separate from her cubs and leave them to deal with the world by themselves. We are expecting this to happen in the next few months.
Although she is still doing a lot of the hunting herself, Legadima is not neglecting the job of teaching her young to do same. We had a day of incredible interaction early in the month. Legadema caught a young warthog and disabled it, leaving it for her cub to kill. However, the mother warthog had other plans, nearly catching the young leopard and doing some damage to her. The cub just made it up a tree in time. Having heard the commotion, two lionesses arrived on the scene, nearly catching the mother warthog. Sensibly, the mother hog beat a hasty retreat. With the smell of warthog in their nostrils, the two lionesses then attempted to climb the tree that the leopard cub was in. Luckily for the leopard, it was a small tree which outdid the poor climbing techniques of the lions. End result, a shaken but better educated leopard cub and two hungry lionesses.
Xigera Camp update - January 09 Jump
to Xigera Camp
We had a total of 129mm of rain for January, mostly in the form of afternoon thundershowers. The area is really looking very green and lush at the moment. Temperatures averaged between a low of 22°C and a high of 29°C.
Guests enjoyed our bush brunches out on Zeppa Island. Returning from a morning activity guests meet under a big stand of mangosteen trees to enjoy their brunch in the cool shade. Afterwards guests can mokoro downstream back to camp which is only 15 minutes away. The mokoro activities have produced good sightings of the elusive sitatunga antelope and Pel's Fishing-owls.
Some other interesting bird species were seen this month such as the Pink-throated Longclaw, Pied Avocet, Lesser Flamingos passing through, Plum-Coloured Starlings and Spotted Flycatchers. Four Ground Hornbills were seen feeding in the grasslands west of camp hunting almost anything they can get their impressive bills onto, including rodents and snakes.
We also had a honeymoon couple in camp this month. A pair of lions was mating very close to camp and seen several times. We recognise the male as one of the dominant ones from the southern pride. The female is new and looks young but she is quite relaxed with the vehicle. They crossed the bridge into camp several times during their stay leaving their huge tracks in the sandpit for all to see.
A pride of lion was seen from the boat north of Xigera Lagoon. It was a pride of five lionesses which started hunting lechwe on the flats but did not succeed. This is the first time we have seen these lions in this area and do not yet know where they came from.
There has been a very slight rise in the water levels due to good rains we've had. We are looking forward to the flood arriving this year.
We would like to give a special thanks to Marleen and Kgabiso, our fantastic camp manager, who are moving onto other Wilderness Safaris camps next month. They have done a great job and we wish them all the best at their new camps.
Looking forward to seeing you out here.
The Xigera Team
Camps Update - January 09
The rainfall has slightly subsided this month as we move into the New Year. Kwando concessions are predicting great floods of the Okavango and Kwando Rivers due to phenomenal rains in Angola this season.
Lagoon camp Jump
• An incredible sighting for the guests on one morning drive as the tracker initially found a large drag mark across the road. The game drive became a lesson in tracking as the guide and tracker eventually spotted a male and female leopard in the same tree feeding on a fresh impala kill!
• The three cheetah brothers were resident for a few weeks at “Mabala a Mothlotse” (the flood plain of the Bat Eared Fox) and were seen hunting a fully grown ostrich on several occasions.
• The Lagoon wild dog pack are still seen regularly in the area as they have been occupying the mopane forest to the west of Lagoon camp. The young dogs are becoming more aware of the importance of hunting and are now contributing more actively in the pack’s hunts. For the second month, pangolin have been spotted on drives. A late evening drive found a young pangolin digging and foraging for ants in the middle of the road.
• Plains game sightings continue to be excellent and include large groups of giraffe, zebra, lechwe and impala with regular sightings of impressive kudu bulls, and the rare roan antelope.
Kwara & Little Kwara camps Jump
& Little Kwara camps
• Buffalo herds of varying sizes have been sighted daily in the Kwara concession as they move into the swampy flats south of the camps. Lions and their young cubs have been following the larger herds, and guests have been lucky enough to see these lions as they are swimming across the floodplains and rivers.
• The coalition of seven male lions chased a smaller pride this month in the Tsum Tsum area, killing three young cubs and eating them. Guests and guides alike were all horrified by this event as the males attempted to prevent any of their competitors passing on their genes.
• Two Giant eagle owls have taken up residence close to camp and have started building a nest in a Jackal Berry (African ebony) tree. The two owls are now a regular sighting on late evening drives. Guests were recently amazed to see the pair of owls feeding on a carcass of a small mammal, probably a rodent of some kind.
• The coalition of three cheetah are still a regular sighting by the guests up on the Tsum Tsum floodplains.
Lebala camp Jump
• Lebala’s new airstrip has attracted a pair of ostrich and are now a welcome sight as the guest fly into the concession, though the guides periodically have to chase the pair off the runway to ensure a safe landing!
• Guests have had spectacular views over the floodplains from camp, of elephant heading to and from the Lebala marshes. Lone bull elephant regularly stroll through the camp, and broke a section of new decking attempting to reach some tasty marula fruit lying on the ground.
• Two young lioness are a regular sight this past week around the concession but have not had great success hunting the few times they have been witnessed. The guides believe they belong to the pride of five that have been chased away by the lone male lion seen in the area last month.
• The Lebala pack of wild dogs are doing extremely well in the area and are seen at least once every ten days or so.
• Plains game abounds as always at Lebala, with large herds of zebra and wildebeest as well as the usual impala and tsessebe.
Nxai Pan and Tau Pan
• Nxai pan has been a hive of activity this past month as the trackers and guides went down for some training and familiarization of the area. Large herds of springbok and impala have congregated on the main pan, alongside large numbers of gemsbok.
• An enormous male lion was seen when they went to explore Khama Khama pan and an inquisitive lioness walked into camp one morning to investigate all the activity!
• Hundreds of zebra have begun to arrive in the area on their annual migration– a sight to behold.
• Elsewhere kudu, gemsbok, steenbok, various species of mongoose and wary jackals are all common sighting also on the daily drives acitivities.
Jacana Camp update
- January 09 Jump
to Jacana Camp
A prosperous new year to all our readers; we hope that you have a successful 2009. We had a wonderful time seeing in the New Year by driving out to the Jao Hide, where we had drinks set up under the stars. We toasted the New Year with some champagne and wonderful dishes prepared by the imaginative kitchen staff.
Weather and Water Levels
January is one of the wettest months in the Okavango Delta. We received 150mm this month with regular daily rainfall. The thunderstorms have provided some spectacular shows, with the lightning from distant storms lighting up the night skies. The rain has definitely influenced the current water levels, with the water rising about 30cm in some places.
The season of green here by us brings so many interesting flowers like the pictured flame lily - poisonous but beautiful.
Due to Jacana Camp being closed for two weeks for scheduled maintenance, we haven't been out and about as much. However, recent sights have proved that we don't have to go far for an amazing sighting. We have been spotting a lioness and her sub-adult female cub close to camp. While spring cleaning our main camp area, Godfrey, one of our waiters, spotted the lioness from our dining room. She was stalking red lechwe right in front of camp! Before we could all get to the deck, she had already managed to catch a young lechwe. She carried it to the island in front of the camp where she was joined by the other younger lioness where they continued to feed. This was the third time in the space of two months that she has caught a red lechwe right in front of the camp. This is a special treat as we normally have water surrounding our camp for most of the year which is too deep for the cats and other predators to venture close to the camp. The two lionesses were seen consistently for over a week.
There was also a new male lion in the area, and he was heard roaring through the night on a number occasions. On one night, he was heard very close to camp, and we are certain that he was looking for the lioness, as we suspect she might be in oestrus again.
The Wattled Cranes still love feeding on the floodplain around camp and they have been seen frequently. Sometimes we see flocks of over 20 gathering on the floodplain.
We have also had frequent sightings of a pair of Pel's Fishing-Owls, which we suspect have a nest on the island opposite the camp. Their haunting, ghostly calls are heard almost nightly.
The call of the Western Banded Snake-Eagle has been heard on our island a number of times too. It is a rather humorous sounding call for such a majestic bird. This is also one of our 'rare' birds that don't seem so rare around here!
The greatest asset to a camp, and especially here at Jacana, is the staff. We have sadly had to say goodbye to Obbey, our housekeeper who wants to retire and Sox, our mokoro poler who wants to focus on studying for his guide's license. We wish them all the best. Unfortunately, Clint and I will be saying our farewells to everyone here too. We have completed our 2-year contract and are heading back to South Africa to pursue other careers. We will greatly miss this little piece of paradise that has become our home and will be hard to say good bye to our staff, who feel more like family. We have been honoured to have met some amazing guests along the way and we want to say goodbye to our regular guests and readers. We assure you our little camp will be handed over to very capable managers that will keep carrying on the spirit that makes Jacana so special and unique.
-Clint, Dom and the rest of the Jacana Team-
update - January 09 Jump
to Kwetsani Camp
January was a month of unpredictable weather and delightfully cool days due to the rain. We had a fair share of sunny days and we had some days where the afternoon thunderstorms would come in from the north-east and shower the floodplains with rain. We also experienced some windy days that eventually calmed down to a cool breeze.
The floodplains are green and lush with all the rain that has been coming down in the last couple of weeks. The tall grasses set a beautiful backdrop for the hundreds of red lechwe that laze about the floodplains, some rearing their young and some in bachelor herds. The red lechwe are sharing their beautiful setting with the zebra, wildebeest and tsessebe and the occasional buffalo and reedbuck. These animals spend most of the day out on the plains where they use their senses to listen and look out for predators.
Lately the elephants have moved on to other areas and we have not had many sightings of them but recently we had two large bulls trying to shake off the first of the palm nuts from the very bushy tops of the palm trees. The troops of baboons have been foraging for food in and around camp and they are always a pleasure to watch as they play with their young and resolve their family issues.
With the cool weather and the clouds blanketing the concession we have recently had the opportunity to see the hippos out of the water and grazing during the day. They are absolutely amazing animals and a very rare sight to see out and about during the day. This is not the only time we have seen them out of the water in the past weeks as we have spotted them in numbers wondering around the camp in the night. They come out and graze on the sweet tall grass that remains under the shady trees of the camp. The hippos are not our only night-time guests and we have spotted on a number of occasions some lonely buffalo grazing around the camp in the night.
On the first day of the month, we had the pleasure of the Kwetsani Pride right in camp. In the early hours of the morning we heard the loud but sturdy roars of the famous trio right beneath our tents. They had spent the night prowling around the floodplains in search of a kill before they retreated to the cool shade under Tent 2 and waited for dawn.
The housekeepers were on their way to do their daily duties carrying large bundles of bedding on their heads, and they passed just above the lions. Two of the lions - the young male and his mother - got a fright and bolted across the road in front of camp, across the floodplains and into hiding. They seemed totally puzzled as to what creatures these were. This gave us a great view of the lions. After some moments the young female walked across on the road in front of camp. She was a very spectacular view to see during breakfast!
The bird life has always been the best in this concession and at this time of the year we have had the pleasure of seeing the Wattled Cranes in numbers on the floodplains in front of camp. The family of Southern Ground Hornbills has been regularly visiting camp scouting for food - all sorts of insect and reptiles. The Meyer's Parrots have been enjoying the sausages from the sausage tree in front of the main deck. The sycamore fig trees have been fruiting and we have the Green Pigeons munching on them around the main area. Peters' Epauletted Fruit Bats are also flying around the area in the early evening and are also there to enjoy the fruiting trees.
update - January 09 Jump
to Jao Camp
January has been LEOPARD month with excellent sightings of both the 'furred' and 'shelled' kind! Plenty of leopard tortoises of all sizes have been passing through, providing us with the opportunity for some fascinating interactions. Amazingly, their most frequently visited spot is the site of two old elephant skulls, where it is routine for them to gnaw off chunks of bone. This strange dining habit is actually essential to the well-being of the tortoise as the bone is filled with calcium and phosphorus, which their bodies need to grow strong, beautifully patterned shells.
In addition to these fortified fellows, resident leopard mom and cub, Beauty and Motsumi, have taken up nightly residence on the island due to the abundance of young impala, which provide very satisfying meals for them as they are easy to hunt and catch. Since Jao is a relatively small island, it is no wonder that the duo were seen going about their usual leopard business, despite their characteristic attempts to remain hidden in the dense foliage beside the walkways. Our ever determined Beauty was seen stalking and hunting on numerous occasions. Peeking out from behind the branches of mopane trees, her prostrated form was mistaken for a fallen log a few times - until her bright eyes glinted in the torch light, thereby giving away her true identity.
Motsumi, true to his nonchalant personality, was caught relaxing on several of our guest room decks while his mother was out doing all of the hard work. Our guest, Paul, definitely had the most prized interaction with him, as he took a liking to the deck of Paul's room during his stay. On his first morning at Jao, Paul startled the cub from a nap on the Sala bed, as he was climbing out of his own bed. The next evening, returning from dinner, the cub had made himself comfortable next to his front door. Like a naughty child, Motsumi fled as soon as he was spotted, escaping from the deck into the dark cover of night.
Intimate encounters with wild animals (like this one) prompt philosophical thought about the earth's creatures and their relation to us. It is as if our interactions with them allow us a glimpse of their secret world, a world which we will never be able to enter or experience from their point of view. It is probably this realisation that prompted Henry Beston to say: "For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we will never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings, they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendor and travail of the earth." How exciting that a safari can give us a little insight into the life and behaviours of these "other nations"!
Intimacy with wildlife is not all that a safari has to offer. It also allows us the opportunity to delight in nature in its purest form. Guests Alain and Christine, and Rudolf and Marion, all experienced a contented type of enjoyment of the bush that goes beyond the pleasure of the sightings of big game. One of Botswana's most mystical trees, the colossal baobab, provided a marvellously unusual setting for an evening in the wilderness with the Jao team. There are many superstitions involving the baobab - one in particular tells of how spirits gather beneath the tree at night. Contemplating all of the things that these living fossils must have seen over the thousands of years that they have stood in the same spot does draw one into a spiritual place, and makes it easy to imagine that old souls observe the dinner lights from shadows.
With unsullied floodplain under our feet, a cool, gentle wind in our hair, dinner music provided by the delicate calls of the lovely reed frogs, stars silhouetted by dancing baobab leaves and a view of a spectacular thunderstorm surrounding us, each bite of dinner could not have tasted more splendid!
The roar of the lion has added to the magnificence of the bush sounds lately. Each night, as the sun sinks below the horizon, the young male (from the Kwetsani Pride) has begun to prowl the concession in a display of his new-found independence. This is his first separation from his mother and sister, but despite his bold-sounding roar, it seems that he must still gain a bit of confidence before he is able to completely detach himself from them.
Two old Jao acquaintances, lioness Broken Nose and her sub-adult daughter, have re-entered the area after a lengthy absence. They are keeping close to the protection offered by the dense palm islands north-east of us, so as not to clash with the Kwetsani pride. A new pride may be imminent, pending the union of these females and the young Kwetsani male.
Our Jao 'book' has many other characters that do not always steal the show, but certainly make significant appearances. Secretive creatures like the hyaena pups and mum, side-striped jackal, serval and genet have been identified by glimpses of pricked ears sticking out of the tall grasses and quick tails nipping into shadowed shrubs.
And let us not forget our feathered friends who also put in special appearances that delight the discerning safari-goer. A Wahlberg's Eagle was spotted on a rabbit kill at the airstrip, and both African and Corn Crakes have been spotted flitting amongst the tall grass. These birds are very rarely seen in this area, and so make an exciting addition to the hundreds of 'regular' bird species that add to the splendour of the Jao skies, plains and waterways each day.
Mongoose Manor Update
Following the exciting births of a litter of banded mongoose last month, we are proud to announce that four healthy pups have survived the threats of raptors, snakes and big cats. The contented parents have allowed us to view their young on several occasions now - provided that we keep a safe distance, and make no sudden movements! The little ones have opened their eyes, grown fur, and are already stumbling around, mimicking the rest of the troop in their dynamic chatter and vigorous digging. Let us hope that the impeccable teamwork of these creatures will keep these four budding personalities from any potential harm which would prevent them from reaching maturity.
- "Excellent service, amazing location and rooms, superb food, very professional guides, familiar and relaxing atmosphere - we had an amazing time!" - Stefano and Carolina
- "Leopards! Wildlife close to the camp: elephant, mongoose, impala." - Peter and Susanne
- "The family atmosphere and can do attitude - it felt like home... We have been to eight safari camps - Jao gets No.1 for service." - Ros and David
- "A wonderful camp; Great facilities; Staff goes 'the extra-mile'; Good game sightings." - Michael
- "Game drives - Leopard; Mokoro trips; lovely accommodation; great food." - Celeste
- "Undoubtedly, visits from Motsumi to the deck of my room and the mokoro trip. It is hard to imagine how the whole experience could be improved upon." - Paul
- "Paul's sighting of Motsumi on his balcony; the mokoro trip was very special. Camp superb, staff friendly and very efficient, food excellent." - Dennis and Mary
Tubu Tree Camp
update - January 09 Jump
to Tubu Tree Camp
I wrote about the cheetah in my last newsletter where I mentioned two brothers who were sticking around north of camp some months ago. And guess who turned up in front of Tubu Tree Camp, chasing around a herd of sixty wildebeest? Cheetah!
Their timing was impeccable as they performed their show on the first day that we reopened camp after some maintenance. As guests were enjoying afternoon tea the wildebeest started running around haphazardly, but they often do that for no reason.
But wait, there is something out there! Guests, guides and managers alike started taking wild guesses, starting with "Hey, this is a leopard?" to "No, must be a female lion!" until the manager put in the last word with help of his binoculars: "Look, it's a cheetah!"
Quite ambitious to chase the wildebeest around, but his action was also going the other way - sixty wildebeest chasing the cheetah in a solid battle formation with their youngsters safely in the middle. The cheetah was probably just playing, performing a little show for our guests, as after a while he shot off through the high grass and disappeared towards the tree line.
Off we go on the game drive with cookies still in our hands! Shadreck managed to locate the cheetah behind the next little island after only a few minutes. 'Shadreck, confirm is it a male or female?' The first guess was female as the cheetah was giving contact calls, but behind the termite mound is the brother which greets his companion playfully. The brothers are back!
Same day one hour later, a female cheetah and the three cubs are spotted close to the hide. We had not seen them for a while and are glad to confirm that all three cubs are healthy and strong.
We are also seeing more and more Cape buffalo in our area. We have seen groups of a hundred and more, usually staying closer to the deep water and in thicker vegetation. They have now become quite relaxed and stay in the open areas where it is easier to observe them. They also regularly walk past camp. Cape buffalo are impressive animals indeed: broad and muscular shoulders, a strong and thick neck, a usually grim face between floppy ears hanging under two powerful horns as if not properly attached.
But there are always smaller creatures around like the pictured tree squirrel that got 'lost' in our kitchen and which had to be rescued from drowning in the chocolate cake.
-Peter, Katrin and the entire Tubu Team-
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