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South Africa camps
Rocktail Bay Lodge
update - January 09 Jump
to Rocktail Bay Lodge
A new year has dawned on Rocktail Beach Camp, bringing with it a spirit of anticipation for a year of growth and expansion. For us, a beach party seemed the logical choice to usher in 2009! Palm trees, tropical cocktails, grass skirts and Hawaiian leis helped make the celebration festive. The lounge proved a worthy dance floor, giving way to some shameless old-school dance moves.
Rocktail Beach Camp was full for the whole of December and well into January. A full house meant lots of fun -many an afternoon was spent lounging by the pool or snorkelling at Lala Nek. Kiddies busied themselves with cookie-decorating, pizza-making, painting and fishing. All ages joined in the competitions - from 30 Seconds and Scrabble to pool volleyball.
Baby hatchlings finally emerged from their latent nests this month. They were first spotted on the night of the 16th, making the arduous journey seaward. It's a difficult existence for these endangered species. After hatching and burrowing nearly a metre out of the sand, they must then cross ghost crab-infested beach to reach their final destination: the great unknown ocean, where their destiny is as uncertain as the shifting currents. So far this season, in our section of the Coastal Forest Reserve, we've recorded 40 Leatherback and 176 Loggerhead nests.
January presented us with some ideal turtle viewing - a serendipitous sighting of a loggerhead turtle at dusk, an unusual occurrence, as they typically make their beach ascent in the dark. Perhaps the most picturesque sighting of the month was a loggerhead bellying up the beach will a full moon rising behind her.
This is an expectant month with pregnant female ragged tooth sharks frequenting the coastline, and baby vervet monkeys gallivanting throughout the camp. Our broad leafed fig tree is bearing fruit, and along with the tasty marulas, attracts many vervet monkeys. Needless to say, our lounge and pool have been a stage for some incredible monkey business. What's cuter than a baby monkey clinging to their mother's underbelly?
We look forward to another successful year of fun in the sun and the sand!
Rocktail Bay Turtle Report - January 09 Jump
to Rocktail Bay Lodge
Heavy showers, very hot temperatures and strong winds did not have any effect on a cycle that's been taking place for thousands of years. These determined females are slowly starting to wind down their nesting but our first hatchlings appeared in yet another exciting month in turtle season.
The female loggerheads slowed down to a trickle after mid-month and it's clear that these ladies will soon be venturing back into the great unknown to recuperate and return again in two to four years time. We recorded 39 loggerhead nests this month and 28 false crawls - 80% of these nests were recorded before the 15th on the month.
We had 19 physical sightings of females on the beach. It was quite strange to see that on nights when we saw females we usually saw more than one interspersed by marked periods of no activity. On the 1st, 2nd, 8th and 9th, we saw three female loggerheads every night. On the night of the 15th we recorded 10 loggerhead tracks (and a leatherback track) but only saw one female. That was also the last significant spike we had in turtle activity.
A very old and large female was seen on seven consecutive nights and 14 times during the month. She failed to lay successfully on all these occasions. The female's right rear flipper looks like it's been bitten off (possibly by a shark) and, as this is quite a crucial part of digging a nest, it seems that this female is unable to dig a suitable nest.
Unlike the loggerheads the leatherbacks remained consistent in coming up to nest. We recorded nine leatherback nests this month and strangely three false crawls; all nine of these nesting females were also seen. On the night of the 4th our guests were watching a female leatherback nesting. While she was covering her eggs another female appeared close by and started nesting. A magical moment...
On the 16th our first hatchlings appeared. What made the evening even more special was that both loggerhead and leatherback hatchlings were seen. These little guys then have to run the gauntlet to the ocean patrolled by hungry ghost crabs which predate on up to 10% of the hatchlings before they reach the sea. After this, they face another challenge with the bigger game fish patrolling close in shore, as they know that hatchlings are prevalent at this time of year. No wonder only one in a thousand makes it to maturity.
We have been lucky enough to see seven groups of loggerhead hatchlings and four groups of leatherback hatchlings with the night of the 31st being the most productive: four sets of hatchlings - two loggerhead and two leatherback - were seen.
The year so far
In total we have recorded 212 loggerhead nests and 49 leatherback nests this season. 135 loggerhead females chose to come up the beach but did not lay and the same happened on five occasions with leatherbacks. In terms of actual sightings we saw 86 loggerheads and 29 leatherbacks this season and thus far the seven groups of hatchlings that was mentioned earlier.
We look forward to February and the hope of seeing quite a few more hatchlings!
Rocktail Bay Dive Report - January 09 Jump
to Rocktail Bay Lodge
Happy New Year everyone! January started with a blast - turtles were still regularly being encountered on dives and lots of activity from the Loggerhead and Leatherback turtles that were still making their journey up the beach to lay their eggs. This month has seen the arrival of the new little hatchlings taking to the sea for the first time. These sightings will continue right through until the end March-beginning of April. The Loggerhead with the three distinctive barnacles on her shell, which we wrote about in December's newsletter, is still using Aerial Reef as her sleeping area, and divers have been given a wonderful treat to see this Loggerhead turtle up close and personal. She has been tagged but unfortunately we have not been able to get close enough to read the tag number.
There has been much excitement with the return of the Ragged Tooth sharks - we even had a few sightings on Elusive and Pineapple Reefs. The 'Raggies' have established, as their main gathering point, an area at Island Rock and divers have been spoilt with the amount of these sharks which have been there - on one day we counted 18! What a treat for both the snorkellers and divers who were on the boat that day! One Raggie in particular, who was spotted with the first lot of arrivals, has been easy to identify due to the pink lure which she has swallowed and is now sticking out of her gills. We have noticed that the bigger Raggies appear to be a darker colour, with the lighter, more silvery-bronze coloured Raggies being smaller in stature. We're looking forward to many more fantastic experiences with these docile sharks, before they move back down south, to the Eastern Cape waters, where they will give birth.
At the beginning of January we were treated at Pineapple Reef to the sight of one of our resident potato bass, Mrs. Casper, on the sand rolling around and coming in for hugs and tickles from the divers.
Mid-January saw the annual plankton bloom return to our shores - this orange-coloured plankton is seen each year, when the water reaches a certain temperature. Although it creates an oily blanket on the surface, easily seen from the shore, it soon disappears when the currents push it back out to sea.
It's not all about the diving at Rocktail and a Little Tern stole the day when it was spotted happily playing "catch" with the tractor. Darryl was driving to the launch site and Lekion, who had the prime viewing spot on the front of the tractor, was laughing as the tern would land just in front of the tractor, hop and then fly off a little way in front, waiting for the tractor to catch up. Next thing an African Fish-Eagle, who must have thought the little bird was sick, tried to swoop down and catch it. But the tern was too quick and outmaneuvered it several times escaping the fish eagle's talons!
One thing which is very noticeable on our reefs at the moment is the amount of juvenile fish. On some dives, it's almost as if there's a mist in the water, with thousands of these little fish swimming along the reef, using the caves and potholes to protect themselves against predators. On Elusive there were so many juveniles that we couldn't see under one of the ledges without having to "brush" some of these little fellas aside before being able to peer inside! They're not all so lucky to escape becoming a swim-through fast food meal though, and Darryl watched as a Surgeonfish on Aerial reef swam into the middle of one such cluster and happily gulped down as many as it could!
Yours in diving,
Darryl, Clive, Michelle, Ondyne
The Rocktail Dive Team
Pafuri Camp update - January 09 Jump
to Pafuri Camp
Down came the rain and all the pans and puddles began to overflow, the grass grew to jungle size and the rivers rose. January 2009 brought in the dark clouds and we experienced 215.62mm of rain during the course of the month, which was great news for Pafuri.
The Pafuri region showed off its beautiful yellows, pinks and blues, from the flowering of the yellow mouse whiskers to the peanut-butter fragrant wild sesame.
The Limpopo, Mutale and Luvuvhu rivers showed their strength and were flowing with grace, with a battle-scarred hippo regularly grazing in front of Pafuri Camp.
Birds opened up their feathers and revealed themselves to the birding guests in camp with some interesting sightings. Two male Meve's Starlings battled out over territory and a female who watched from the outskirts as her two suitors went at it with claw and beak, unrelenting. Quite a viscous sight as these iridescent birds tried to peck at one another while grappling each other's claws!
A Yellow-billed Kite was seen practising its fishing skills, hoping it could pass itself on as a drab-looking African Fish-Eagle with a forked tail. This is uncommon: Yellow-billed Kites are often seen fishing from shallow pools, just something one doesn't expect from a kite.
With the rains comes a veritable explosion of African bullfrogs and flying termites or "alates", which results in a mass feast by all feathered and furred kind. Little red veld rats and bushveld gerbils rush around feeding on the high protein termites and then arrives a sea of white, with large flocks of both White Storks and Abdim's Storks coming down to feed on the buffet of insects and frogs. Lesser Spotted Eagles weren't shy to fill their crops either.
Some bird specials for the month included a special sighting of Rock Pigeon - funnily enough this is not often seen in this area - as well as the following: Whiskered Tern, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Red billed Teal, Racket-tailed Roller, African Pygmy-Goose, Sterling's Wren-Warbler, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Thick-billed Cuckoo, Grey-headed Parrot, African Barred Owlet, Pel's Fishing Owl, Pennant-winged Nightjar, Allen's Gallinule, Three-banded Courser, African Cuckoo Hawk, Long-crested Eagle, Dickinson's Kestrel, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Eurasian Golden Oriole, Retz's Helmet-shrike, Black-throated Wattle-eye, River Warbler, Olive-tree Warbler and Arnott's Chat.
Not a bad bird list at all for January 2009, but we don't forget about the big and hairy, with regular sightings of the white rhino, including one of the females with her calf on several occasions. The white rhino within the Makuleke Contractual Park have really started getting more relaxed and allowing for better sightings of them, which indicates we are moving forward, besides the increase in the population of two new calves last year.
Usually the elephant herds disappear on a great trek usually moving further south or into Zimbabwe, but this year three herds and several bulls can still be found enjoying the greenery in the Sandveld complex, which is breaking news for the Makuleke Contractual Park. This could be attributed to the good rains and lush greenery that is prevalent and the sudden rising of the rivers.
Lion and leopard were sighted in the Pafuri region with a sub-adult male and female lion often making their presence known. We had some nice sightings of the two lions, including one where both of them crossed the Luvuvhu Bridge not even concerned with the vehicle positioned on it with guide and guests starring big-eyed at the two of them as they crossed.
Camp update - January 09 Jump
to Toka Leya
The skies have really blessed us with plenty of rains coming from the north-west in the Mwanilunga Region, and this has become very noticeable from the high water we are now experiencing close to camp. The grass and the little shrubs have grown very nicely, creating privacy for our tents.
The river continues to rise on a daily basis by about 50mm every time it rains upstream. The current just in front of the camp rushes along at about 4-6km/hr down towards the Victoria Falls.
The weather is unpredictable and continues to surprise us; even when it's bright and sunny it changes without warning and skies soon fill with clouds and the heavens send through another mini-storm.
Along with many options on the activity menu - from visits to the Falls to boating down the river - one of the most popular activities is a visit to the back-of-house! Here our guests are inspired and encouraged to plant a tree after the tour. No guest passes up the opportunity and they are quick to pick up a garden tool and begin to add their bit to the cause. The greenhouse area has become an important aspect of not only how Toka Leya operates, but the care and warmth that the staff puts into this area of operation. These 'back-of-house tours' are taken by guides as well as any other member of staff who would like to. The interest is so overwhelming and encouraging.
So far two couples have planted trees next to their tents, and hopefully on their next visit the trees will be fully grown and feeding the resident bushbuck.
River Club update - January 09 Jump
to The River Club
January has been warm to hot - the highest the temperature got to was 30 degrees Celsius while the lowest was 18 degrees Celsius. We had quite a nice amount of rain - 174mm - and it was pretty humid averaging nearly 75%.
Around The River Club
The River Club had a quietish month. However, the guests that stayed with us had a wonderful time.
The Zambezi is starting to fill up quickly, and the islands in front of the Club are disappearing rapidly as the water rises. We have been seeing elephants which come over from Zimbabwe on the other side of the river to forage on the islands for the past five months and this month we reckon we have seen the last of them for a while as the islands disappear.
Rhino: The five new rhinos imported from South Africa six months ago have been released this month and a few lucky guests managed to see one of them crossing the main road to The River Club! There are now in total six rhinos at Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park which is near Livingstone and we all hope that they will thrive and eventually breed.
One family had a great fishing experience. While Marietjie enjoyed an Agatha Christie book by the pool, Christian, Nielen and Keith went fishing on the Zambezi River and caught a huge tiger fish. It was after a big struggle with the fish that Keith managed to take the 'tiger' out of water, releasing it after the photo shoots. They enjoyed the experience so much that they went back fishing the next day and caught another tiger fish, but this one was a bit smaller. Well done, Keith!
A little bit of rain doesn't stop activities here at The River Club. Two of our wonderful young guests went for a crazy quad bike adventure. They had a fantastic time riding in the mud!
Simonga Village Project Update
The villagers are happy and feel safer at the village with the two policemen now living at the police staff accommodation (built by The River Club). The police patrol the village 24 hours a day.
A big thanks to all our wonderful donors to this project, and especially to Russell and Irene Jacobs who asked all their wedding guests to donate funds to Simonga Village's police station in lieu of their wedding gifts. This project has cost a total of K58, 639,335 ($11,730): a project that is very worthwhile for the safety of all villagers.
The pre-school construction is moving along quickly. The walls are up and the contractor has started the roof. The project should be competed by the end of March 2009.
Some good news about the Medical Clinic at Simonga. A report from the contractor arrived recently stating that 95% of the work has been accomplished and the remaining 5% will be completed very shortly.
Guest comments in the visitor book:
"We had an awesome time, elephant safari great and the helicopter ride over the Falls breathtaking. We would like to return in the future. Very relaxing. Thank you to all the staff for making it a wonderful stay." Dennis and Karen
Makalolo Plains update - January 09 Jump
to Makalolo Plains Camp
For this month, the Sefofane pilots, having spent a bit of time in the concession in January, decided to compile the report under the watchful eye of Amon Johnson. Enjoy!
The total rainfall for January was 139.4mm. It has been largely been due to a mixture of convectional and frontal (ITCZ) type rainfall, characteristic for this time of the year. A fair number of cumulonimbus clouds have been observed in the area, mainly in the afternoons (a pilot's nightmare!) resulting in some rather fantastic sunsets.
The maximum temperature for the month of January has been 35.5ºC and minimum16.5°C, and with the mean monthly temperature being 24 degrees Celsius.
Vegetation, Landscape and Water
The Hwange landscape is truly breathtaking this time of the year. From the air, the lush, green mopane trees can be seen stretching throughout the Park from Sinamatella in the north right down to the southern boundary. The teak trees which can be observed more predominantly in the south are currently in flower creating a beautiful picture full of colour, an artist's dream.
With the amount of water present at the moment, the Hwange bush is alive with harmonies of bubbling kassinas - the little frogs' song is music to the ears.
As usual, Makalolo Plains is THE camp to stay at in terms of wildlife. (No bribery and corruption here we promise!)
A lone cheetah was spotted relaxing one Sunday morning in the shade of a blue-bush not far from Samavundhla Pan. Despite the fact that it disappeared soon after seeing our approach in the "green machine", it really made a fantastic start to the day of borehole lifting around the Makalolo Concession.
A couple of leopard tortoises have also made an appearance this month. One unlucky fellow met his fate between Little Samavundhla and Ngweshla where the Junior Spice pride of lions seemed to appreciate this poor creature as a starter! Have we got specialised feeders developing at Makalolo?
Our resident rhino bull was seen wondering around between Makalolo and Little Makalolo fairly regularly this month.
Probability sightings for the month of January were:
Hippo - 100%
Elephant - 42 %
Tortoise - 6 %
Leopard - 3%
Cheetah - 3 %
Wild dog - 3 %
Bat-eared fox - 3%
Sefofane Pilots - 9 %
Birds and Birding
With one of our fellow wingmen having just left Sefofane (Graham Marriot), the Lappet-face Vulture population is destined to soar! Coincidently all of the vulture species found in Hwange have been spotted this month!
The first Yellow-Billed Stork of the season made an appearance this month. It was seen wading in pools around Little Samavundhla, making the most of the insect and frog life before the rest of the competition arrives.
A Spotted Eagle Owl made for a good sighting this month. It was seen perched at the top of a dead leadwood tree waiting patiently to snatch up an unsuspecting mouse.
The Makalolo Plains kitchen area has been graced with the presence of a pair of Paradise Flycatchers. This couple has carefully constructed a little nest between some branches. We expect to see some hatchlings within the next two weeks!
"Thanks to everybody in camp for putting up with the pilots this month. We really love spending time out here and learning from all the guides. Keep up the good work!" - Sefofane Pilots
Staff at Makalolo
Guides - Dickson Dube, Hupu Dube, Raymond Ndlovu, Lawrence Yohane, Godfrey Kunze
In-house environmentalist - Jaelle Claypole
Management - Amon Johnson
Desert Rhino Camp update - January 09 Jump
to Desert Rhino Camp
Looking back to 2008 we had a great year filled with excitement, laughter, lots of hard work and sweat with the Desert Rhino Camp rebuild completed in a mere six weeks. The end product is stunning and we are all proud to be working here. On the rhino side of things there was also a new addition the rhino family - a calf named Harry.
The weather has been quite bizarre this month. Some mornings we would have fog coming in from the Atlantic Ocean - but during the days the temperature would rise again up to 33 degrees and fall again at night. The cloud cover looks promising, just have to wait and see how much rain we would get this year.
Rhino News and other Wildlife
We were very lucky this month and found black rhino almost every day. Huaketi and her calf Harry were also frequently spotted. Harry was sick for a while and we had Save the Rhino Trust (SRT) and Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) staff searching for him everywhere - it was very good to eventually find him healthy and growing every day.
Ben, one of our dominant bulls, was also spotted with a female rhino Varity - they were quite calm and didn't even notice that they were been watched. Gotlod, one of guides, was lucky enough to spot a cheetah and a leopard in one day. That's a very rare sighting. With the lions we were not that lucky this month - we could still hear them at night or in the early hours of morning but no sightings unfortunately.
Mrs B-P was one of the first guests when Desert Rhino Camp opened in 2003 and she could still remember the very first night that the tents got blown away! The only word she could get out about the new refurbished camp on her recent return visit was "magnificent".
Daphne and Igna - managers
Helen and Kapoi - Assistant managers
Harry and Gotlod - Guides
Morne - trainee guide
We'll leave you with food for thought: "Be nice to people on your way up because you meet them on your way down". Jimmy Durante
Serra Cafema Camp update - January 09 Jump
to Serra Cafema Camp
Weather and Landscape
January has seen temperatures and humidity levels rising. We have been experiencing highs of up to 40º Celsius and the prevailing coastal wind has not been as prominent this time of year. Lightning has been seen and thunder heard, but to date not a drop of rain has fallen in our area. The Hartmann's Valley and the surrounding areas are looking stunningly stark and contrasting at the moment - a true desert.
Having highlighted the absence of rain though, it must be said that the wildlife that has been seen over the last few weeks is looking in good health. Hartmann's mountain zebra, oryx, springbok and ostrich are all still seen in the valleys and plains closer to the Kunene River and not looking like they are about to move. They must know something we don't!
A rare sighting: a porcupine was spotted near Serra Cafema Camp in the dunes. This is special, because these little creatures are not often spotted during the day, needless to say in the dunes. Porcupines are nocturnal and eat roots and bark from trees. We suspect that this particular one may have had an encounter with the baboons that have been seen in the same area and may have been startled.
Other special sightings have included a Giant Kingfisher - this also being unusual for this area as its distribution shows that Zambia, Mozambique, South Africa and parts of the Caprivi Strip are where it is most common. Hopefully we will be able to report that this expert fisherman would still consider this part of the Kunene its home, next month.
A pair of intra-African migrant African Paradise-flycatchers has returned to build their interesting little nest bound by cobwebs, above our main area. It really adds to lunch out on the deck when you can look up and view this pair in the branch above you, the male with his beautiful long chestnut tail feathers moving in the breeze. These birds are monogamous and will return to the same site or tree year after year, despite the miles they cover, in order to breed.
Recently we have had some serious excitement with snakes around camp. A large specimen of African rock python was found between the kitchen and the office late one evening and in order for it to be kept out of harm's way we thought it a good idea to relocate it a little further away from camp. The 2m reptile had other ideas though - guide Bronkie now proudly sports several teeth marks on his left hand!
The water level of the Kunene River has just continued to drop - so much so that the rapids in front of Serra Cafema Camp are clearly visible again. What we did not tell you last month was that unfortunately our water wheel, an experiment in alternative energy, had come loose from its mooring due to the high water levels previously. Due to the current lower water levels we can now look at trying to retrieve it.
Recently a new house winelist was introduced into all the Namibian camps - a wider selection is now available. The wines chosen for Serra Cafema are first-rate South African wines and with the nice selection now on offer, it is important for us to know a little more about them. What better way to explore than to set up a proper wine tasting for guides and service staff? Sunrise with breakfast out in the desert has also been one of those special Cafema things that have happened on a few occasions this month.
A comment from one of our guests as a conclusion this month reads:
"This has been the most memorable few days imaginable - tranquil, happy, stress free; all in the most beautiful and dramatic setting in southern Africa, and all of the above and more totally enhanced by the kind, caring and dedicated staff. Each totally epitomising service with genuine feeling- you all embody the very best of Wilderness in every way- caring, passionate about what you do, professional, sensitive and great fun too!"
Doro Nawas Camp update - January 09 Jump
to Doro Nawas Camp
The daytime temperatures here in Damaraland have been very mild for January, albeit a bit humid. This has been an enormous boon for our already dramatic sunsets, one of Doro Nawas' biggest attractions. From atop our hill we have been enjoying sundowners for two hours or more because of the light lingering on the clouds hanging over the surrounding mountains. Dazzling oranges, pinks and purples illuminate the western horizon while to the north-east we have watched after-dinner lighting shows from our rooftop perch at the main area.
The baby elephants of the Rosie and Oscar groups continue to delight guests on our drives along the ephemeral river systems of the Huab and Aba-Huab. At only two-and-a-half months old they are still very playful and curious. The groups have been spending more time out of the riverbed lately (which is usually dry), seemingly in anticipation of waters arriving from distant rains. While at some times of the year the elephants are quite easy to find, our trackers have had their hands full keeping up with their recent movements. Of course, guests have certainly enjoyed this authentic tracking experience on their way to see our desert-adapted pachderms.
We have also been keeping track of a Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill pair that is nesting in a large ana tree in the riverbed. We first noticed them while conducting a special "river lunch" for our Explorations guests. Since then, we have repeatedly seen the male catching food for delivery to his mate. She is holed up in a tree cavity tending to the pair's eggs while going through her annual moult cycle. His dedication to her was proven last Wednesday when he passed along a fat, juicy dragonfly!
- "Warm welcome, very personal, not overdone; perfect."
- "Doro Nawas Camp is everything it says it is: dramatic scenery, wonderful accommodation, superb staff and service."
- "The elephant search with Lister was excellent - he is superb. An unforgettable experience."
All of us here at Doro Nawas Camp give our best wishes to camp manager Joe Gerstmayer - Joe is leaving us at the end of January and we all wish him the best of luck.
We are delighted to have an American couple join us for several months. Laura Steinbach and Colby Brokvist guide wildlife trips in North America and are here working with Wilderness Safaris / Safari & Adventure Co. as travel partners.
Little Ongava update - January 09 Jump
to Little Ongava Camp
The summer season has arrived on Ongava Game Reserve and the rains have now started. With the onset of the rains, all the birds are busy building their nests and antelope young are born in profusion.
Weather and Temperatures
The month started rather hot and humid: the skies were crystal clear and temperatures rose easily to 40º Celsius. On the 15th of January this changed - dark skies on the horizon and a nice cool breeze announced the rains. The rest of January has been a lot cooler with temperatures between 18 and 30 degrees during the day. In the afternoon the clouds start packing together and rain refreshed Ongava Game Reserve.
During the first two weeks of January, many different animals came down to the waterhole in front of Little Ongava Lodge to drink. Some of the guests even mentioned that it was not necessary to go on a game drive, with all this wildlife so close to the lodge! Each day giraffe, gemsbok, black-faced impala, springbok, kudu, waterbuck, blue wildebeest and zebra could be seen. At night hyaena, black rhino, white rhino and lion came down to drink. Even with the rains at the end of January, the waterholes are still visited regularly, although not as in abundance as in the drier months.
On one of the game drives through Etosha National Park guests experienced something unusual. A herd of springbok was grazing close to a few jackals. Suddenly the jackals started chasing one of the newborn lambs of the springbok herd. The chase went on for a couple of minutes and mother springbok tried her best to scare the jackals away from her baby. The jackals were very persistent however and finally they managed to take down the baby springbok. Still the mother did not give up and she kept on harassing the jackals. The rest of the herd started to notice that something was wrong and came to the rescue of the baby, although the help was too late.
Love is in the air for the birds around Little Ongava! The rain brings an abundance of insects, seeds and fruits. Time to build the nest and impress your partner!
The management of Little Ongava changed in January with Adelaide moving to Botswana to expand her horizons by working for Wilderness Safaris in a different region.
Little Ongava's iconic chef, Shorty, has exchanged his chef hat for a laundry basket. Shorty has been in the kitchen for more than 30 years and since he is turning 60 soon, he wanted a change of scenery. Festus will be the new chef and he is doing a great job, lending a magical touch to the dishes!
The camp boardwalk and outside decking of the suites have all received a facelift and the camp is looking stunning.
- "Thank you for a very special three days. Our drives with Gabriel were wonderful. Tobias, Shorty and Shedrick are excellent." - Taylor, USA.
- "We had two unforgettable days here. Thank you for your hospitality. Our special thanks to Ingrid and Rob. - Zeitler, Germany.
- "It was a wonderful stay here in this camp with lots of lions and hyaenas. Thanks a lot to all. We will come back again!" - Schwarz, Germany.
Ongava Lodge update - January 09 Jump
to Ongava Lodge
Weather and Landscape
Since the return of the rains, the afternoon temperatures have dropped thanks to the overcast conditions that we have been experiencing almost every afternoon. The average afternoon temperatures are now 29°C, much better than the usual 34°C. The mornings and evenings are much cooler, with the temperatures averaging 14°C. This makes it very pleasant for guests to have dinner on the deck overlooking the floodlit waterhole.
The highest rainfall we received so far was 25mm and the lowest 4mm, with an average of 12mm a day during the past week - this is very high for this region. This period is always an exciting time, as the roads become very muddy, slippery and difficult to drive on, but not for our experienced team of guides.
The New Year has been a blessing in terms of animal and bird sightings. During one afternoon, we were graced with a visit by a male adult cheetah at Ongava Lodge waterhole to the delight of the guests and the enthusiastic staff.
The sightings of cheetah on Ongava Game Reserve have increased tremendously. These cats appear to be calmer than before and have been seen trying to hunt as well as on kills. The last game count, conducted in September last year, shows that the cheetah population on the reserve has increased - the number is estimated to be over 15 animals.
Ongava means 'rhino' in one of the local languages (Otjiherero) spoken in this area, and we at Ongava are proud to say that we have the highest concentration of both white and black rhino, lion and black-faced impala on privately owned land in Namibia! The reserve has a very healthy population of rhino and over 50 lion.
Guests thus have a very good chance of seeing rhino or lions on their game drive activities. If that fails we have qualified guides who are more than willing to take guests on a rhino tracking walk, where they are almost guaranteed to find white rhino. It's not unusual to see up to 11 rhino on a single game drive with calves as young as one month old and the notorious pride of lions (Stompie's Pride),which has 18 pride members with the youngest cubs being nine months old.
Another pleasant option is to enjoy a sundowner drink overlooking the camp waterhole as you wait for dinner and our frequent night visitors: black rhino.
We had a very unusual sighting in Etosha National Park just a few days ago - that of an albino black-backed jackal! Read more on this here.
Every game drive on Ongava and Etosha is always unpredictable, different and full of surprises but always enjoyable. One day, one of our guides (Henock) witnessed a single lioness take down a giraffe on his morning game drive. As he was driving he noticed a giraffe under the tree busy ruminating. Suddenly a lioness appeared and jumped onto the giraffe's head, clamped its mouth with her powerful jaws and within a few minutes it was all over. More lions came to feast and by the third day there was nothing left but jackals and vultures milling over the bones.
The return of the rains after a four-week break has been welcomed by all. The excitement and relief can be seen in the wildlife, local residents and farmers. The rains have brought a sense of hope and new life and this can be seen both in Ongava Game Reserve and on the wide open plains of Etosha National Park. New fresh shoots of nutritious grass, succulent leaves and sweet smelling flowers are sprouting and adding to the beautiful scenery of this beautiful landscape. The Reserve and Park are littered with pronking baby springbok and playful black-faced impala, blue wildebeest, red hartebeest and many other antelope species.
The rains bring another phenomenon - emperor mopane moths. Although these fascinating moths are sometimes a nuisance around the dinner table as they dive into your glass of Shiraz, they are certainly beautiful. These alcohol-loving moths lay their eggs on the leaves of the abundant mopane trees. The eggs then hatch and develop into a caterpillar commonly known as the mopane worm. This mopane worm is a sought-after delicacy and a source of protein for the local people of northern Namibia.
Birds and Birding
The rain season turns this region into a paradise for birdwatchers. Our local avian residents are boosted by a host of colourful migratory species. Many of them come here mainly to breed; for others it's just to escape the cold winters of the Northern Hemisphere.
We are seeing flocks of Abdim's Stork floating in thermals, searching for food in an almost military procession or just gathered around the waterholes. The scavenging Yellow-billed Kites can be seen all over too.
The summer visitors that we have spotted so far include the colourful Chestnut Weaver, European Bee-eater, Violet-backed Starling and African Paradise Flycatcher. The Violet-backed Starling is unusual among starlings in being sexually dimorphic breeding migrants to southern Africa. The males sport brilliant violet upperparts that glisten in the sunlight. After breeding these birds migrate northwards into central Africa were they spend the winter months. At Ongava Lodge you will also see lots of dangling nests of the bright yellow-coloured breeding Southern Masked Weavers.
- Wonderful, incredible. Thank you for these two magical days. Great views and great staff. Anna and Barbara, France
- Everything is so beautiful, best Christmas I have ever had, thank you for the two special days in paradise. Petra and Zoë, Switzerland
- Fantastic staff, exquisite food. Well blended with the environment. Filipe and Luis, Portugal.
- What a great place, a real gem, our honeymoon will be long remembered. Jean and Pierre, Switzerland
Festus is a new trainee guide; we welcome him to the Ongava team and wish him all the best.
Andersson's Camp update - January 09 Jump
to Andersson's Camp
Weather and Landscape
With over 200mm of rain fall in two months, we are rapidly reaching our annual rainfall quota, and the vegetation has come alive. We have gone from dry, sandy scrubland to lush, green bush veld almost overnight.
The days start off cool with temperatures in the teens and by midday reaching temperatures of up to 38º Celsius with fairly high humidity and scattered clouds. From the covered veranda thundershowers can be seen dominating the surroundings interspersed with lightning displays across the horizon.
Our resident lions have been hunting all around Andersson's Camp and we were lucky to see the young male lion chase down a springbok in front of the waterhole and drag it 10 feet in front of one of the tented rooms. We snuck up into the room and were able to take photos from the balcony; the lions were so busy feeding they didn't pay any attention to the cameras flashing away.
The guided trips into Etosha National Park are a great success. Game is plentiful, with sightings of elephant, lion, zebra, springbok, hartebeest, wildebeest, giraffe and rhino.
With rain puddles everywhere the animals are scattered all over the Park making sightings harder to find, however drives here are still productive.
Guests from Andersson's Camp have recently seen three lions hunt down and kill a baby wildebeest, while the rest of the herd stared on helplessly.
Insect life too has begun to flourish, from the strangest looking grasshoppers to fearsome-looking praying mantids. For some, this has been incredibly fascinating and many a photo has been taken. Mopane caterpillar (larval stage of the mopane moth) season is upon us and a mopane tree near our dining area is currently home to these formidable looking insects as they defoliate the tree with their voracious eating habits.
Little Kulala update - January 09 Jump
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Everybody who has travelled in Africa will tell you about the wonderful sounds and noises associated with different areas and places that you visit. Here at Little Kulala, the end of the day is announced in a very different way. Just after dusk one hears a very typical desert sound - in fact, one's instinct is to look upward for the birds calling. The very loud rapid series of clicks is from a common barking gecko (Ptenopus garrulous). The specific name garrulous says it all!
Males call from just inside their burrows using the burrow entrance as a megaphone to increase the range and volume of their call. The call serves a twofold purpose to attract mates and as a territorial call to keep other males away from their territories. They have extensive burrows in the loose sand with escape routes and are quite difficult to find. The pictured gecko was spotted whilst out and about looking for prey.
We have noticed that around the small waterhole we have out in front of Little Kulala a Spotted Eagle-owl has been coming and using the floodlight to catch geckos and rodents on its nightly hunts. There is a breeding pair in the area and although difficult to catch on camera you can see their tracks in the morning when you venture out on the sand. These tracks often mark its final assault on its favourite food item: the striped field mouse. The accompanying pictures show some of these tracks.
Walking in the Namib Desert in the still morning air is the best way to experience this unique landscape.
When exploring the pristine sand surface we often find small circular depressions with small tracks venturing outward from this area. These are the tracks and the trap door of a White Lady Spider. It digs a burrow in the loose desert sand up to 35cm below the surface. It lines its burrow with silk and then makes this very typical silk trap door on the surface. They are nocturnal hunters that actively go after their prey consisting of other spiders, insects and even small geckos.
-The Little Kulala Team-
Sossusvlei Wilderness Camp update - January 09 Jump
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We experienced unusual weather in the last three weeks - the nights were mild with prevailing south-westerly winds while the mornings are quite cold. During the day it has been pretty hot though. As the Namib can have all four seasons in one day there's no consistency in daily temperatures.
Morning temperatures were between 20 - 25º Celsius while the midday temperatures are 30 - 35º Celsius. Although some days are milder than others, there has still been no sign of any rain clouds.
Wildlife and Landscape
The Namib is hot and dry at the moment. It's quite interesting observing the game movements throughout the year and how they vary. Recent sightings include Secretarybird and Helmeted Guineafowl - both unusual sightings around here for us.
Breeding season for the springbok is starting and rams seem to be reestablishing their territories on a daily basis.
Small groups of ewes and lambs are also spotted regularly. A shy jackal pair moved into a hole in the sandbank of the Aub River. We will keep our eyes open for small paw prints!
We Namibians have a thing about sunsets, and the view for Kulala Wilderness Camp - or anywhere else on the Kulala Reserve for that matter - at dusk is amazing.
-''Best view, incredible location, warm and friendly welcoming staff. We liked the plunge pool very much. We'll be back."
Damaraland Camp update - January 09 Jump
to Damaraland Camp
Moderate temperatures were recorded during the month with the lowest recorded at 14 and the highest recorded at 36º Celsius; somewhat windy during the latter part of the month.
Wildlife and Landscape
Damaraland Camp's famous elephants namely Rosy's, Oscar's and the Tuskless group were all seen regularly and some days all of these groups were observed during the morning drive.
Apart from our usual desert animals, we had the following unusual sightings for the month of January:
On the 18 January, we had a very rare sighting of a leopard near Krone. It was spotted by guide Elaine Hatton and Schmidt guests right next to the road in the afternoon, only two hours after their arrival in camp! Needless to say, they were very impressed. Leopard is an uncommon sighting for us.
On 19 January, two spotted hyaena were spotted by guide Raymond near the Huab River and there has also been reports of hyaena tracks as close as the airstrip which is 7km from Damaraland Camp.
On 27 January a black rhino was spotted by guide Everest in the Springbok River.
We're pleased to welcome new management couple, Duane and Karen Rudman. They arrived are taking over from Paul and Gerda van Niekerk.
Mvuu Wilderness Lodge update - January 09 Jump
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Mvuu Wilderness Lodge was closed for much of January as we added to our recent solar energy efforts in camp and completed an exciting extension to our main lounge area. Nonetheless we do have some news to share with past and future guests.
As you might have guessed, some of this news is about the newly built extension. This new lounge area has been built at the same level as the existing dining room and perches above the lagoon with expansive views into this little backwater in front of camp, as well as out on to Shire River itself. As well as an expanded dining area, this new addition will serve as a library and also as a relaxed lounge and seating area. Right now the resident Collared Palm-Thrushes and Brown-throated Weavers are the most frequently seen birds in this area, but the lagoon in front has played host to hippo, elephant, various water birds and of course the ubiquitous crocodiles.
Several large crocodiles appear to have moved into the lagoon and during the hours of darkness can be heard wreaking havoc in the concentrated fish population. Some of our guests found themselves being woken by the splashes in the early hours.
We expect the new raised lounge area to really come into its own as the days heat up and we head into the dry season. It is during these times that the lagoon really does attract a myriad of game, each seeking a safe place to drink.
Meanwhile the past month has seen a fair bit of rain in the afternoons: typical central African downpours with pitch-black clouds and the brightness of a rainbow to follow. Game viewing has continued as ever however. Large herds of elephant - up to 70 strong - have continued to utilise the productive floodplains to the south of camp and the odd bull has come visiting right in camp. Impala, warthog and waterbuck are particularly numerous and a constant presence behind camp, while bushbuck and kudu are more retiring in the fringing woodland. From camp every night we hear spotted hyaena and thick-tailed bushbaby and game drives into the beautiful mopane woodland have also been productive with regular sightings of up to five different herds of sable on a game drive and even some individuals of the small zebra population. Interesting smaller creatures like large-spotted genet and white-tailed mongoose, not to mention four-toed elephant shrew have also spiced things up a bit.
Great birds seen this month included rare migrants such as the European Honey Buzzard and Western Marsh Harrier. Osprey density along the Shire River currently is very high and exciting local resident like Black-throated Wattle-Eye and Livingstone's Flycatcher continue to thrill our birding guests.
As always the cultural element of an Mvuu Lodge stay has kept many of our guests entertained - exposing them to the characteristic warm hospitality of Malawian people. Typically all of our guests staying three nights or longer experience a visit to nearby Nanthomba School, Njobvu Cultural Lodge or the market gardens in the nearby communities. Even the fishing village at Lake Malombe just beyond the western border of the park has proven to be a rewarding experience.
Governors' Camp update - January 09 Jump
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January started as a dry and dusty month with cool mornings (averaging at 16ºC) and warm days (averaging 31º C). Towards the end of the month some consistent late afternoon and evening rain showers arrived, clearing the air, settling the dust and bringing on a new green flush of growth to the plains.
The new growth in the grasslands has sustained many zebra, wildebeest and small breeding herds of eland who were grazing throughout the Musiara and Paradise Plains areas. In the woodlands around the river, family units of elephant were seen (averaging 12 in number) with some very young calves. There are also a few Musth males wandering about from herd to herd. The Warburgia trees are continuing to fruit, keeping the elephant families well fed.
In Little Governors' Camp there are some very fruitful Warburgia trees and two elephant in particular have been visiting camp everyday, three times a day to feast on the fallen fruits, much to the delight of guests and camp staff alike. We have had some other wonderful sightings in camp this month; some guests at Il Moran were very priviledged one quiet afternoon when they watched a mother hippo give birth to a tiny baby on the banks of the Mara River opposite their tent.
Giraffe with young in crèches are well spread out in the woodlands surrounding the camps. Groups of males in varying ages have been sparring, pushing against one another and swinging their necks at each other to swipe their opponent with the protrusions on their heads. Giraffes have seven vertebrae in their long necks and can deliver a solid thump to a rival male.
Other residents of the woodland verges are impala, bushbuck and Olive Baboons and the marsh grasslands are home to Bohors Reedbucks. Large numbers of topi and Cokes Hartebeest and their three month old calves graze throughout the plains.
The short grass plains are home to Thomson Gazelles in loose associated breeding herds, with bachelor males living on the periphery of the herds. The males constantly need to work to hold their territory and they do this by marking grass stems with a secretion from their pre-orbital glands. Once a territory is marked the males will often try to herd females into the centre of it. Gestation for the female Thomson Gazelle is 5½-6 months and they will typically come into oestrus within two weeks of calving. This means that females are able to have two offspring in just over a year. Females that are isolated from a herd are often not far from their fawns hidden in the grass. Grants gazelles in smaller herds are also found on the short grass plains. It is not uncommon to see the two species intermixed although the Grants is not such a selective feeder or as water dependant as the Thomson, so will tolerate a harsher environment and will browse more readily.
Serval Cats have been seen in the long grasses of the plains and we have had some wonderful sightings of a Caracal cat in the rocky habitats. Bat Eared Foxes have been out on the ridges looking for harvester termites and dung beetles to feed on. On the 21st a large African Rock Python was seen near the old airstrip at Bila Shaka.
There have been many changes within the Bila Shaka / Marsh Pride (of four females and nine cubs) this month. We are delighted to report that one of the females has two new cubs which we estimate are one month old. One of the three dominant males has disappeared and the two brothers remain in control of the pride. One of the males is mating with one of the younger females so there may be more cubs yet to come. They have been feeding well off eland and zebra. On the morning of the 27th they killed three zebra. One of the females had been sick and sadly she died on the 19th, there are no reports of the fate of her six month old cubs.
The Paradise/Ridge pride of 4 males, sometimes 5, and seven females are being seen daily. On the 30th many members of this pride moved over to the conservancy side and just latterly 2 females have returned to the plains. They have been feeding off zebra and eland.
The resident cheetah have been active again this month. Shakira is thriving, as are her three healthy cubs who are six months old. She is frequently hunting Thomson gazelles and their fawns and reedbuck.
The three nomadic males have been hunting up on the ridges and plains. The female cheetah Alama who sadly lost two of her cubs last month tragically lost another one. She has one cub left who is nearly three months old.
Another female called Serena has two cubs, a male and female, that are estimated at 15 months old and they are out on the plains. On the 6th she killed an Impala which was then quickly taken by a hyena and then the kill was taken off the hyena by one of the Paradise pride male lions!
Finally a female cheetah near the Talek river was seen on the 14th with seven cubs and they are estimated at 10 days old. Seven cubs is an incredible feat for a cheetah and we hope that this new little family group fares well.
The resident leopards of our area on the Mara are also thriving. Kijana, the young male, has been hunting on the fringes of the marsh and riverine woodland. A young female has been patrolling the croton thickets adjacent to the river and a female with two cubs is resident on the banks of the Talek River. Another female has been hunting around the luggas.
We hope to share the magic of our corner of the Mara with you sometime soon.
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