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Progress of the Savute Channel, end-July 2009
Location: Savuti Camp, Linyanti Concession, northern Botswana
Date: 27 July 2009
Observers: Mark Muller and Brian Bridges
Photographs: Mark Muller and Brian Bridges
With the inflow of water from the Kwando River into the Linyanti and Savute systems we have been expectantly watching the progress of the Savute Channel towards the cutline between our concession and the neighbouring Chobe National Park where Savute Marsh is situated.
With the arrival of the new floodwater and the fact that Channel is relatively narrow in this area, it had been expected that the water would advance rapidly towards the cutline and the Marsh. This has not been the case however and on a very cold gyrocopter flight early this week we found that the headwaters are moving relatively slowly and are still approximately 1km from the Chobe cutline, with the cutline itself totally dry (above left).
We flew a reconnaissance flight over the inflow of the Kwando River into the area and then down the Linyanti System and found that while the northernmost area has received a huge inundation, this has not pushed through to the Zibadianja Lagoon, the start of the Savute Channel (middle image above). Instead, it appears as if this water has flowed through the Linyanti Swamp to an area around Kings Pool Camp. From here we would expect a 'backflow' towards the Zibadiaja Lagoon and then into the Channel itself. Just how much water this would involve of course remains to be seen.
Nonetheless the Savute Channel is currently spectacular and the new waters have meant new life. We did not have sufficient fuel or time to check all raptor nest sites, but we did note several new African Fish-Eagle nest sites, one of which was an old unidentified site that we had, which was a long way down the Savute Channel (which had up to now been dry) - this indicates that this particular species is making good use of the extended opportunities that the newly flooded Savute Channel offers.
Dropping the Fences in Kulala Nature Reserve - Namibia
The border fence between Kulala Nature Reserve and NamibRand Nature Reserve will soon no longer exist, a huge benefit for the desert wildlife and the ecology of the area.
Wilderness Safaris Namibia and the NamibRand Nature Reserve signed an agreement this month to open their common boundary fences to allow more freedom of movement for animals such as gemsbok and springbok across a larger conservation landscape. For animal populations to prosper in arid ecosystems such as the Namib, large open areas are necessary for seasonal movements in response to rainfall.
The fence will be removed in strategic areas along its length, resulting in the ecological merging of the 37 000 hectare (91 429-acre) Kulala Nature Reserve with the NamibRand Nature Reserve that, at 172 000 hectares (425 515-acres), is now one of the largest private conservation areas in southern Africa.
Lions, Buffalo and Bees
Location: Duba Plains, Okavango Delta, Botswana
Date: 03 July 2009
Observer & Photographer: Helena Faasen
On the 26th of June we witnessed some of the Tsaro lion pride killing a buffalo right on the verge of the Duba airfield. So, when we joined the game drive the next morning we were not expecting the lions to hunt again any time soon. As we reached the remains of the buffalo we found a single side-striped jackal and a gathering horde of vultures. There was no sign of the lions.
Our guide Reuben then followed the tracks of the buffalo, and we found them grazing rather anxiously. We then heard lions calling to one another nearby, but still could not see them. We just sat and waited, watching the buffalo herd meanwhile.
Reuben was sharing some interesting facts with us on the ecology of the area and the current feud between the two dominant lion prides when suddenly a lioness charged straight into the buffalo herd. This sent the buffalo herd charging into the water and we watched about 200 of them cross. The crossing became more and more frantic as more lions appeared to join the attack. The next moment, the Skimmer male charged in, latching onto a buffalo calf. The mother was frantic and she turned and charged at the lions.
Meanwhile we watched; our vehicle was positioned alongside a fallen tree, next to where the lions had pulled the calf into some shrubs.
We were amazed when all of a sudden the lions abandoned the buffalo, just as we noticed African honey bees swarming in the air above us. Retreating to a safe distance we continued to watch a three-way saga developing. We then realised why the lions had left the buffalo calf, as they had disturbed a beehive, and the angry bees were attacking anything within range! One of the lionesses got stung badly on her face and on her tongue and she ran off frantically trying to get rid of the painful invaders by rolling in the sand.
The lions tried to return to the calf, only to be chased off by the bees. The calf then struggled up, also covered in bees, and rushed into the water trying to follow the retreating buffalo herd. Again, a lioness charged out and grabbed the calf, only to be driven away again by the bees. At this point the Skimmer male ran in, and despite the bees' stinging attack, managed to get a grip on the buffalo calf and carried it away under some shrubs a little distance away, safe from the bees and the buffalo herd.
We watched for a while as the rest of the lions tried to rid themselves of the stings by rolling in the sand, digging and even leaping into the air.
Africa never ceases to amaze!
Blue Pigeons on North Island
Location: North Island, Seychelles
Date: 01 July 2009
Observer & Photographer: Linda Vanherck and Gerard van der Walt
We were very excited with a recent sighting of no less than 12 Seychelles Blue Pigeons in the trees bordering the vegetable garden. These blue pigeons are endemic to our islands - meaning that they are entirely restricted to the Seychelles and found nowhere else in the world. With its striking colours of red, white and marine blue, it is no wonder that the bird is referred to as "Pizon Olande" (Dutch Pigeon) in the local Creole language, due to its resemblance to the Dutch flag's colour stripes.
Like all other creatures on the island, the pigeons are flexible in their feeding habits, moving from one food source to a next as they become available. After not having been seen on the plateau for a while, presumably because they retreated in the forest when breeding once again, the birds were spotted once again feeding on the fruits of the small Trema orientalis trees (pigeon wood tree, ironically enough). Once they bear fruits, these trees are also very popular with our Seychelles White-eyes, another endemic bird species, successfully (re-)introduced in July 2007.
Other fruits eagerly sought by the pigeons as well as the fruit bats are the local figs growing on Ficus reflexa and Ficus luttea, respectively endemic (meaning that the tree species grows solely in the Seychelles) and indigenous (meaning it occurs naturally on the islands, but has a distribution not solely restricted to the Seychelles).
From other islands such as Aiide, it is known that some pigeons remain in the trees for days, gorging themselves on the fruits until they fall down, "drunk", leaving wardens in frantic attempts to get the birds back on their feet, something in which they do not always succeed!
Quite a few of the birds were juveniles, lacking the vibrant red head colour, and with greyish instead of the white chests of the adults. Juvenile blue pigeons have been recorded on North Island in the past, but it is always exciting to see our population increasing, most probably due to the successful rat eradication in 2005, and continued favourable habitat on the island with the removal of non-native plant species.
New DumaTau Male Lion Coalition
Location: DumaTau Camp, Linyanti, Botswana
Date: 02 July 2009
Observer & Photographer: Grant Atkinson
For the last two years the lions known to guides and guests as the Selinda Pride have been providing us with some excellent viewing. This pride, which is all of ten animals strong, not counting the two pride males, have been moving between Savuti Camp, DumaTau and Zarafa Camp. The adult females in the pride are efficient killers of a variety of prey animals, and we have seen them catching zebra, buffalo, wildebeest, giraffe and kudu.
For me the five younger male lions in the pride have always been of great interest. Some of my best sightings have been of them running, chasing and play fighting with one another.
On my last visit to the area, whilst leading a privately guided safari out of DumaTau Camp, we witnessed some interesting happenings. The pride was resting on the southern bank of the Savute Channel, but four were missing. They had recently killed a buffalo on the northern bank and we weren't sure where the rest of the pride was.
Following up on the calls of roaring lions we found two of the missing sub-adult males on the north bank. One was roaring loudly, the other was uncertain of whether to follow. To the south-west we could hear answering lion roars, and we assumed this was the six lions of the pride we had seen the previous afternoon.
After some time it became clear that the roaring from far off was coming closer, and guide Mox called us to say he had another young male from the pride heading toward our two on the opposite bank. The lion came out on the south bank, and after spending an hour deciding where and how best to cross the channel, he swam and walked through. His companion, who was the more uncertain one of the two on the north bank, had walked out to meet him, and they joyfully reunited.
Then, rather nervously, they proceeded to follow the third young male that had been roaring loudly earlier.
We realised we were watching the instinctive tendencies that had emerged in the young male lions which caused them to break away from their natal prides. This was the first time these males had been away from their mothers and the rest of their siblings. They even appeared quite anxious when passing by our stationary vehicles. Yet these same lions had showed complete disregard for game drive vehicles just days previously, when they were accompanied by their mothers and aunts.
All three of the young males then lay down to rest. That evening we saw the rest of the pride crossing to the north bank, and the three young males were there to meet them. It seemed that the young males had successfully completed their first tentative excursion on their own.
These forays, made by the young males, usually become a little longer each time, as their confidence grows. Not only must they learn each and every part of their range intimately well, they also need to learn how to hunt and scavenge for themselves, as when the time comes for them to break away for good, they will have to fend for themselves for the time it takes them to find their own territory, and their own pride of females.
Subsequently the DumaTau guides found only five lions of the pride - all five of the sub-adult males. The adult females and their daughters had moved on, and this time all five of the young males had elected not to follow them immediately.
When young male lions do leave their natal pride, they often do it in a group, and the more young males there are of similar age, the bigger this lifelong coalition may be. Perhaps, in the days ahead, we may be so lucky as to see the formation of a five-male coalition, which will provide yet more spectacular viewing.
Brown Hyaena surprised by Cape Fur Seal
Location: Skeleton Coast Camp, Namibia
Date: 5 July 2009
Observer: Dana Allen
Photographer: Dana Allen
The brown hyaena - sometimes known by its Afrikaans name of 'strandwolf', or beach wolf - is a specialised scavenger and carnivore of the most arid areas of south western Africa. This shaggy and mysterious creature does not occur anywhere else on earth and its haunts are the semi-desert climes of the Karoo, the Kalahari and even the hyper-arid Namib Desert. This specialised habitat and its nocturnal wanderings make this elusive creature highly sought after by travellers to southern Africa with Namibia an excellent place to try and track it down.
On a recent trip to the Skeleton Coast we were extremely lucky to have no fewer than five sightings of this animal! The most exciting sighting occurred after an extremely early morning departure from Skeleton Coast Camp to get to the Cape Frio seal colony about 80km to the north-west. These seal colonies are a vital source of protein for the brown hyaenas that dwell in this most inhospitable part of the desert and draw hyaenas from many kilometres around (some great work has been done around Luderitz on this subject in a project partly funded by the Wilderness Trust. See further details here. We hoped that by getting to the colony early we'd catch the last of the nocturnal foragers in the early morning light and manage to get a couple of photographs.
Sure enough as we approached the colony at sunrise we were ecstatic to spot a very shaggy individual sloping his way towards the outskirts of the colony in that way so characteristic of the species. We soon noticed that it was headed straight towards a dead seal pup lying isolated from the colony. Mortality rates of the pups in the crowded colonies are high and this ensures a good source of food for the hyaenas.
As the hyaena lowered his jaws to the seal pup, he suddenly reared backwards as the supposedly lifeless seal bared its own formidable set of teeth and sent the would-be predator packing! This gave us a fantastic photo opportunity and an insight into the interaction between these two species that live 'cheek by jowl' on the Skeleton Coast.
The colony of course hosted plenty of black-backed jackals, another specialised desert carnivore, and unusually a sub-adult Lappet-faced Vulture. This last sighting was unexpected and especially interesting given that we are unable to find any reference to seal-scavenging records in this species.
Black rhino confronts lions
Location: Ongava Lodge, Ongava Game Reserve, Etosha
Date: 4 July 2009
Observer: Festus Mbinga
Photographer: Ana Licuanan
Black rhino, at around 1000kg in an adult, are half the size of their much larger white cousins. As a result they are prone to a very different predatory pressure and in particular regions such as Etosha in northern Namibia and in Hluhluwe-Umfolozi in South Africa they have been recorded at various ages as falling prey to lion and even spotted hyaena.
In most cases it is the calves that are preyed on, despite the best efforts of the very protective, mobile and aggressive mothers. The scars of unsuccessful attacks are worn long into adulthood in some animals and a missing ear or tip of the tail is a good indication of this having happened. Even young adults are known to have succumbed to lion on occasion.
At any rate, predation in the adult age group is very rare and the exception rather than the rule. Young adult and mature black rhino are generally not preyed upon by lion and interactions between the two species are more frequently mischievous investigations by the lions, most often younger animals such as dispersing sub-adult groups, or even the youngsters within a pride.
This was the case during our observation at Ongava recently when a pride of lions we were following came upon a young adult black rhino and probed and tested the animal before moving off, first allowing our group to get some great photos and a memorable sighting.
Hyenas rob lions of elephant calf kill
Location: Kalamu Lagoon Camp, South Luangwa National Park, Zambia
Date: 9 July 2009
Observers: Petros Guwa
Photographs: Petros Guwa
Game viewing at Kalamu Lagoon Camp this season has already produced some fantastic sightings, including some that would qualify as unusual as well as exciting. The latest involved a pride of lions, a young elephant calf and a large clan of spotted hyaenas.
Early one morning as we started the morning drive, the frenzied cackles and whoops of spotted hyaenas attracted our attention and we moved into the area to find a large group of these impressive predators and scavengers overwhelming the carcass of a young elephant calf. Lion tracks in the area (despite our being unable to locate the large felines) suggested that they had in fact been the actual predators of the pachyderm, but had been dispossessed of the carcass by the hyaena clan.
The squabbles and excitement of the hyaena clan reached a crescendo and was deafening, certainly creating an adrenalin-charged atmosphere that stayed with us long after we had left. By mid morning when we returned to the site it was clear that they had feasted all night. Only one young hyaena remained at the carcass, the absence of the clan allowing the vultures (White-backed, Hooded and White-headed) to move down and exercise their own areas of feeding specialisation.
Lions bring down giraffe in camp
Location: Kalamu Lagoon Camp, South Luangwa National Park
Date: 18 July 2009
Observers: Petros and Gugu Guwa
Photographs: Petros Guwa
At Kalamu Lagoon Camp we are justifiably proud of our Thornicroft's giraffe population. This unique subspecies of giraffe is totally restricted to the Luangwa Valley and numbers somewhere between 700-880 individuals with a large concentration historically found in our greater concession areas. As a result it is a subspecies of considerable conservation attention and is something that we really enjoy showing guests staying at Kalamu Lagoon Camp.
We have been fortunate in that most guests this season have had great sightings of this animal, thanks in no small part to a particular female and her foal who have become regulars around camp and at Luamfwa Lagoon and have been seen by many of our guests.
We have become pretty attached to the foal and so were very disturbed this morning when we were woken by the frenzied screams and alarm calls of the camp's resident troop of yellow baboons. It was immediately obvious that a predator was in camp and when we rose and went to check on the commotion we found two lionesses feeding on the foal.
Of course we had mixed feelings, but understand that life works very differently here. It also provided our guests with some insight into the daily drama of nature along the banks of the Luangwa River.
Elephant collaring operation at Pafuri
Location: Pafuri Camp, Makuleke Concession, Kruger National Park
Date: 18 July 2009
Observers: Chris Roche
Satellite technology has opened a whole new world with regard to understanding the finer details of animal movements. This has really revolutionised studies of both cryptic and wide-ranging species and a three-year project has now begun at Pafuri in the north of Kruger where 7 animals (4 bulls and 3 cows) were recently fitted with satellite collars enabling us to track their seasonal migrations into neighbouring countries in the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park.
One of these seven animals has already revealed some of his annual movements (see more here) and we will fit another 5 collars later this year to provide an even ratio of 6 cows and 6 bulls. These 12 animals we hope will then help us understand the importance of the water resources of the Makuleke area to these and other animals during the dry season and also illuminate where they move to in the wet season: is it into Zimbabwe and its Gonarezhou National Park, neighbouring Limpopo National Park in Mozambique, South Africa's Kruger National Park or community lands in all three of these countries?
Understanding these movements will allow us to answer critical questions such as:
1) how to design an ecological sustainable contiguous transfrontier conservation area that links all three countries,
2) how to manage human-elephant conflict in the community areas adjacent to the parks, and
3) how best to manage a growing elephant population and its inevitable influence on vegetation composition and structure.
There have been many and varied contributors to this project and it would not have been possible without the goodwill of the Makuleke Community, the generous and professional assistance of the Kruger National Park and SANParks at both a national and local level, the commitment of ConservAfrica, the scientific expertise of Save the Elephants Transboundary Project and also the various funders of considerable costs such as satellite collars, helicopter time, immobilisation drugs and veterinary time.
Winter birding at Pafuri
Location: Pafuri Camp, Makuleke Concession, Kruger National Park
Date: 27 July 2009
Observers: Chris Roche & Simon Stobbs
Photographs: Sue Snyman
Pafuri is justifiably regarded as something of a birding mecca. There are a number of species that reach the southernmost extent of their range here and the overlap of landscape and vegetation types in the area is such that the diversity and number of species is astounding. Summer is of course the peak time to visit for birds ... all the migrants are present and breeding is in full swing with colourful, vocal birds everywhere trying to stake their claim to territorial patches and prime breeding females. Winter brings its own delights however and is the best time of year to see specific species and some behavioural idiosyncrasies.
Pel's Fishing-Owl is best seen in the winter dry season for example and a fledgling near camp has been providing great viewing for those prepared to walk a short distance through the riverine forest. Our attempt on a recent visit saw us encountering two young adult lions that had just crossed the river ahead of a loudly roaring adult male early one morning. We didn't find the owl!
This is also the time of year when various riverine plant species burst into flower: Flame Creeper, Woolly Caper Bush and Anisotes are all sporting fragrant and showing sprays at the moment. This is ideal for the sunbirds and Marico (above left), White-bellied and Collared Sunbirds are currently abundant with Scarlet-chested more elusive. Their frenzied activity maybe even inspired a Crowned Lapwing (above center) to believe it is summer already: we found it incubating eggs on the road verge near camp allowing a very close approach.
Perhaps our highlight however was a sighting of a Yellow-bellied Greenbul gleaning both nyala and impala in the riverine areas. This behaviour is more reminiscent of oxpeckers of course, but is something that in recent years has been noted with increasing regularity in a number of areas where this species occurs and it has been recorded gleaning nyala, impala, klipspringer, grey duiker and red duiker. As has been noted as typical, the greenbul (there were two birds present) perched in low bushes adjacent to the foraging impala and nyala and hawked disturbed insects, but also used the mammals as mobile perches and as a forage site with the birds gleaning the shoulders and ears in particular in search of ectoparasites (image above right).
Successful Wild Dog Breeding in the Linyanti
Location: Savuti Camp, Linyanti, Botswana
Date: 27 July 2009
Observer: Grant Atkinson
Photographs: Grant Atkinson
African wild dogs that frequent the Linyanti Concession have once again denned successfully. This time there is a total of thirteen pups that are currently doing quite well at the den site. High rainfall this past summer season has meant that impala numbers are high, and right now the wild dogs appear to be doing well on their daily hunting quests.
Guests at Savuti Camp and the nearby DumaTau Camp have currently been enjoying good sightings of wild dogs. This is due to the fact that as for the few months that it takes the dogs to raise the pups, they remain far more sedentary in the immediate area of the den site. At other times of the year the dogs usually roam over far larger areas, and sightings become more sporadic.
Other good news is that a second pack has successfully denned to the north east of this pack's den site, but still within the Linyanti Concession. We are all hoping that the dogs manage to successfully raise as many pups as possible, and do their best to steer clear of lions and other predators. With just a little luck, it could mean we are in for even more reliable wild dog sightings in the coming years!
Wild dog numbers are believed to be as little as 4500 animals for the whole of Africa so the continuation of vast wilderness areas like the Linyanti Concesssion is critical for successful conservation of this species. African wild dogs are very distant relatives of wolves and domestic dogs, and one has to go back for 2.5 million years in time before an ancestral lineage is found.
Bird counts along the Savute Channel and Linyanti River
Location: DumaTau Camp, Linyanti Concession, Botswana
Date: 17 & 18 July 2009
Observer: Glynis Humphrey & Barobi Garenamotse
Together with BirdLife Botswana we have for some time now conducted regular waterbird counts along the Linyanti River, but recently the opportunity to do the same along the Savute Channel has presented itself: a huge privilege considering that a bird count has not been conducted along this section of the channel for a quarter of a century. Our July count was specifically timed to observe the number of resident and overwintering species present in the water ways of the Linyanti concession, part of one of Botswana's Important Bird Areas and also the extended Okavango Ramsar site.
Along the Linyanti River we counted a total of 579 birds of 48 different species. A new bird for the concession was one more typically associated with baobabs than wetlands, but we were thrilled to see a small flock of unmistakable Böhm's Spinetails dipping over the river together with Lesser Striped Swallows. We also noted good numbers of Open-billed Stork, White-faced Duck, African Jacana, African Pygmy Goose, Spur-winged Goose and a heronry of nesting African Darters. We look forward to future counts - which we expect to prove interesting with the increased wetness in the area and an anticipated wet cycle.
In contrast along the newly flooded Savute Channel we counted 476 birds of 34 different species. The relatively recent flowing of the Channel has meant that what used to be a fossil riverbed of grass meandering through a mopane woodland belt is now alive with hippo and substantially sized crocodiles lining the edges of the banks and inside the channel! Much of the length of the currently inundated 60km of Channel is relatively recently flooded and new water-associated habitats are markedly more developed in the western reaches close to the Zibadianja Lagoon. Here sedges and reeds line the banks of the channel, with an occasional water lily gracing the channel with its presence and it was here that we encountered a greater diversity of bird life.
The highlight of our Savute Channel count entailed encountering an estimated 180 White-backed Vultures bathing and basking in the sun along the Channel together with a Marabou Stork and 5 Hooded Vultures. White-backed Vultures are a gregarious species nesting in loose colonies and foraging in extended networks and sightings of flocks of 10-20 birds at water are not uncommon. The huge numbers encountered here however are exceptional and indicate the presence of some large carcass relatively nearby on which the birds had gorged themselves before deciding to move en masse to water. Such concentrations give a good opportunity to assess the general size of the population of the extended area.
Further bird highlights along the Channel included Wattled Cranes, a flock of soaring Pink-backed Pelicans and a fleeting glimpse of White-winged Terns. Mammal highlights included a buffalo herd and the first reedbuck seen along the Channel in quite a few years.
The Selinda Camp curio shop has been moved to the upper gallery, creating a larger space for guests to come and browse, download images onto a CD or just catch up on some reading in the library corner.
A channel from the Selinda Spillway through to the Zibadianja Lagoon has also just been opened up adding an extra dimension to Selinda Camp's existing boating experience. The recently refurbished boat, stationed at the new jetty in front of camp, is being used extensively for airstrip transfers, fishing or sunset cruises along the spillway. In addition to boat activities, Selinda also now offers canoeing activities along the spillway for guests to enjoy as part of their game viewing experience. Solar geysers have also been installed in all guest rooms.
The new Kalahari Plains Camp airstrip is now operational. Now all guests arriving and leaving the camp have a shorter transfer time as well as a very pleasant game drive. The whole 2.5 hour transfer is now inside the Central Kalahari Game Reserve including the very productive Deception Valley. This means that guests are practically guaranteed sightings of gemsbok, springbok and wildebeest and even the occasional red hartebeest, lion, giraffe and even cheetah during the drive. In late 2009, when the camp moves to the new site, the transfer time will be only 30 minutes.
Abu Camp's Mthondo Released into the Wild
On 15 July 2009 Mthondo, a 36-year-old male elephant, was released into the wild from the captive herd at Abu Camp. This release is a vital part of the original vision of the Abu Concession and Elephant Back Safaris (EBS) - to return elephants that have spent much of their lives in captivity back into the African wild. As a result, over the last four years, five elephants from the Abu Camp riding herd have been released into the Okavango Delta wilderness area with the cooperation of the Botswana Department of Wildlife and National Parks.
Mthondo, the latest to be released, is a magnificently proportioned bull with a broad head and splayed tusks. Born in Zimbabwe in 1975, he was transferred to Pilanesberg National Park in South Africa where he missed the parental guidance and control that adolescent elephants require. He joined the Abu herd in 1993 and under Abu's firm guidance developed into a quiet and dependable adult.
Abu Camp is unique in that it allows guests to interact with the resident elephant herd, meeting each individual and learning about their complex behaviour, while Seba Camp is the base of the elephant research project that investigates the release programme and monitors the interaction and integration of the released animals with the area's wild herds.
The research team is lead by Dr. Kate Evans of the Mammal Research Unit of the School of Biological Science at the University of Bristol in the UK. The research is focused on adolescent male elephants and the transition from herd to bull life with an emphasis on research into the viability of releasing elephants into the wild from a captive environment.
All the released elephants have been fitted with collars and are being tracked by satellite enabling the researchers to pinpoint their exact locations three times a day. The tracking is backed up by on-the-ground monitoring and observation of their behaviour. Mthondo now joins these animals in being monitored; on release he was recorded as heading north and clearly enjoying his newfound freedom.
• Abu Camp allows guests the extraordinary privilege of being part of an African elephant herd, including riding and walking with them through the bush - possibly the ultimate elephant educational safari.
• Seba Camp is named after one of the historically released elephants, a number of which have formed their own herd. The interaction between these and the wild herds in the area provides rich fodder for research teams. Guests can observe the researchers at work, often in close proximity to the elephant herds.
Pafuri Camp is now providing bush dinners every third night. Guest presentations are now also offered after brunch, where guides chat about various topics, such as mammal monitoring projects, the RAMSAR sites in the Pafuri region, Children in the Wilderness, historical aspects, community involvement, wildlife and the environmental diversity of the Pafuri region.
The expansion of Rocktail Beach Camp is complete. The veranda of the main area now leads up a pathway to an elevated viewing deck with glorious Indian Ocean views. A new curio shop has been built behind the pool area and the main area also boasts a wine cellar. A kids' playroom is located next to the curio shop and four new family rooms and magical honeymoon suite have also been built. A self-guided walking trail has been created, which winds its way up to the top of a dune just south of the camp, offering guests great opportunities to explore the coastal forest.
North Island Dive Report - July 09 Jump
to North Island
While rougher sea conditions are expected during the south east monsoon season, this month has been particularly unpredictable with swells in excess of 4 metres and winds up to 23 knots. We have also experienced unprecedented lashings of rain throughout the month which are also uncharacteristic of this time of the season. Towards the end of the month, conditions have began to steadily improve until we were eventually able to get back into the water around the 20th July. Fortunately the water temperature has not dropped too low during this time and we have experienced a stable 25/26º Celsius throughout the month.
With the weather conditions that we have experienced this month, the sand has continued to shift from in front of the restaurant at a steady pace. The beach in front of Villa 11 is now quite substantial while Honeymoon Beach is also fast disappearing to West Beach. With another spring tide approaching in early August we are watching very closely as to exactly how much sand we have left in front of the dive centre and library each day.
The most exciting development this month has without doubt been the arrival of the long awaited 'sprats' on Sprat City. We had been eagerly awaiting their arrival during the entire winter season of 2008 without any luck, which had been a particularly concerning issue and one which we had hoped would not re-occur this year. It is unknown as to why the sprats had skipped a year or if they had perhaps decided to change location for that particular year but none the less we are elated that they have returned this season, albeit a bit late.
The four predominant species of 'sprats' that have been recorded during this period are the slender sweepers (Parapriacanthus ransonneti), hardyhead silversides (Atherinomorus lacunosus), a small species of barracuda and the naked fusiliers. Interestingly, we have dusky sweepers throughout the year which hide in small caves and overhangs on this reef but the slender sweepers only arrive with the rest of the sprats during mid-winter.
The slender sweepers and the hardyhead silversides are the most prominent schools of fish and the preferred prey for the larger predators such as the bluefin kingfish, yellowtail jacks, golden pilot jacks and the dogtooth tuna that all patrol the reefs in pursuit of these crunchy bite-size morsels. The manner in which these predators devour the sprats is quite a spectacle with most of the kingfish hunting in groups and literally pinning the sprats against the reef as they quickly gulp them down.
The presence of the sprats on this reef is not an event to be under estimated and is the equivalent in sheer spectacle value as the sardine run is to South Africa. This incredible phenomenon is quite remarkable and is the highlight of anyone's diving experience, primarily due to the unprecedented activity that is present on the reef when the sprats are in attendance. One can easily remain mesmerized for hours while watching the goings on on one small piece of the reef. It is an awe-inspiring spectacle.
Our resident juvenile spotted eagle rays have also been a popular feature in the calmish waters in front of the restaurant. They are often found in small congregations of up to six individuals which also occasionally leap clear of the water in what is thought to be outbursts of excitement. This harmless behaviour sometimes scares the guests into believing that there are dangerous sea creatures lurking in the shallows determined to get at them, although they are generally well received. As is traditional this time of year, the rays use the protected water in this area to shelter during the south east monsoon season. When the juveniles are slightly larger they will move out onto the deeper reefs.
A further exciting occurrence was that of four large round ribbon-tail rays which were congregating around North Winds mooring during one of our routine mooring checks.
Kings Pool Camp update - July 09 Jump
to Kings Pool Camp
July has, once again, been a wonderful month at Kings Pool Camp. We are currently in the depths of winter and the dry season. The winter cold was quite apparent towards the end of the month.
As is typical of the dry season in the Linyanti, wildlife sightings have been spectacular this month with incredible predator and herbivore encounters.
The LTC Pack (wild dogs)
We had some amazing sightings of these animals, the second most endangered carnivore in Africa. The LTC Pack has had some new pups to the eastern part of the concession. Guide Moses found them one day, and upon following them, was lead straight to the den and Moses and his guests saw about 9 new pups, good news indeed!
The Border Boys (dominant male lions in the area)
These lions are all still in great shape and as strong as ever and are once again fathers of the new cubs for both the LTC pride and the Chobe female. The LTC Pride is also still doing very well and we had some nice sightings of them and their cubs that were born last month are still surviving. The two cubs from one of the Chobe females are also still doing well.
Our resident female leopard has been an absolute 'superstar' this month with regular sightings around the Kings Pool area. She was seen by our guides many times. Guides Diye and Khan found her and one of her cubs on a baboon kill when another adult female came from nowhere and started a fight for the baboon kill! What a sighting! Her two cubs are almost sub-adults now (Male and Female) are are still doing very well.
The BDF female has also been encountered a couple of times this month. The guides found a two to three month old cub around her territory so we think it is possibly her offspring.
The dominant male leopard, Thonningi, is still around our area and fighting fit as ever. We had some nice sightings of him this month; one day our guides found him feeding on sub-adult male kudu kill which was incredible due to the large size of the kudu, easily double the weight of the leopard.
We also enjoyed several cheetah sightings this month - the guides found a coalition of three males which we haven`t seen in this area before; they were a little bit shy. We also had some nice sightings of the two males resident along the Savute Channel.
Currently we are enjoying large numbers of elephants in the Linyanti, either crossing the Linyanti River to/from Namibia or on the boat cruises and game drives. Other general game sightings have been plentiful owing the much drier conditions concentrating wildlife along the Linyanti and the Channel.
The managers for the month of July were Alex Mazunga, One Mazunga, Olivia Oreilly, Eddie Msipha and Frank Maule. The guides were Moses Tiko, OD Modikwe, Moss Tubego, Khan Gouwe and Diye Kennetseng.
-Alex Mazunga on behalf of the Kings Pool Team-
Images by Alex Mazunga
DumaTau Camp update - July 09 Jump
to DumaTau Camp
All in all we have enjoyed this month and we have managed to do a lot of outdoor activities, sleep-outs, bush brunches and dinners without any challenges from the weather. It has been very cold this month with the morning of the 2nd being the lowest ever recorded this month at 3 degrees Celsius. The highest temperature recorded was 27 degrees Celsius. The water has risen dramatically - which we can tell from the way some of our road networks are underwater! With further increases we expect Dish Pan to be naturally refilled again at some point.
Game viewing for this month was fascinating with a lot of variety of both high profile sightings and general game.
Common game has been great with excellent hyaena sightings, including that of a clan that scavenged an impala kill; we suspect the kill stolen from a cheetah the tracks of which were seen by our guides earlier that morning. Life got interesting as we had good sightings of African wild cat, buffalo, elephant herds everywhere, impala, kudu, wildebeest - and a lot of happenings around the Channel as always. The bird life has also proven very active and interesting: Meyer's Parrots are still around, Kori Bustards, Cranes and other high profile bird sightings were enjoyed by all.
The famous Selinda Pride is still around, even though we haven't seen them as much as we did last month. Silver Eye, the anchorman of this pride, was spotted by Theba one afternoon walking up and down the road alone, while the other seven members of the pride were seen a few days later calling. These were the juveniles, comprising two young females and five males, who seem to be well, promising to be the successors of their parents on keeping the area away from other competitors.
Silver Eye's brother was spotted around the Chobe 1 calcrete area and was resting, then he started calling. The brothers haven't spent time together for some time - basically they were busy patrolling their borders, as they have been challenging the Border Boys from the Kings Pool area. For most of the occasions when this pride was found, there was a lioness missing from the pride. This was also noticed on the 23rd when all seven juveniles and the two lionesses were seen feeding on a giraffe along the transit route. By then the two males were not with the pride.
Overall the Selinda Pride has been all over the area, stretching from Chobe 1 to the other side of Savuti Bush Camp, heading generally in an eastern direction and been criss-crossing the channel from south to north. This month they have been successful with kills of zebra and giraffe. On the 27th they were spotted by Ronald around Bundu Island busy hunting and a day after they succeeded and made a zebra kill - still without the other lioness. A day later, they were seen but this time with only five juveniles and two lionesses - when suddenly the other lioness showed up, crossing the channel from the southern side. The guides reckon this female has cubs as her teats show that she has been suckling her young ones. This is thrilling news and we hope to confirm this for you soon.
The Savuti Female is still in good shape and taking good care of the two cubs. They were seen resting just along the road from Chobe airstrip to DumaTau Camp. The two boys are also growing quite well and we are glad that she is still around and looking well.
This month fate decided that we see the likes of the DumaTau male leopard, the young Zib male, Moporota female, Mmamolapo and an unknown female which was spotted around camp moving up to Big Jackalberry area. The DumaTau Male is looking healthy, and was spotted around Forest Pan by Moses on the 11th while he made an impala kill and managed to get the carcass up the tree.
The other highlight of the month was when the young Zib male was found hunting porcupines! He actually managed to get into a burrow where he waited for the porcupine to arrive - and he managed to get one of them! He did pay for his audacity with a quill stuck in his body though! This was witnessed by our guide Lazi; Name has also witnessed the same behaviour from this young male and he seems to be enjoying his porcupine kills. Despite the quill injuries, he is looking good and very relaxed and has also managed to stretch his territory past DumaTau: he was seen around DumaTau staff village and has been seen hunting and crossing the Savute Channel, while a day before he was on an impala kill at Letsomo! Clearly this leopard is on the move.
This month on the 4th Raphael spotted three cheetah around Botshilo and Mokwepa Road; these unknown cheetah were very shy as they ran into the bushes as soon as he sighted them. This nomadic coalition seems to be the same ones that Name also saw at the junction of Transit and Airstrip road four days later. The Mantswe boys also featured at some point this month and are in good shape, indicating that they are here to stay. Mr. T spotted them around Letsomo area, and they swam across the Savute Channel. Finally we also found one solitary male feeding on an impala.
Wild dog sightings
These endangered social dogs were the highlight of the month when they paid a visit to DumaTau Camp, killed an impala right in front of the kitchen and dragged the carcass right to the boma where they started filling up their bellies! This was the Duma Tau Pack of six, and on the 17th of July we officially discovered that they were denning and had 13 pups. The den was alongside Botsilo Road on the western side of Triple Pan. So far this sounds like a good year for the dogs in the Linyanti Concession as the other pack, the LTC pack, are also having pups east of Kings Pool Camp. We are all hoping that these litters will have a high success rate.
The DumaTau Pack has been very busy hunting and making sure that they take turns in guarding the den while others go out hunting. In many cases two dogs were observed to be on guard with the other four hunting and taking the food to the den. They have been going as far as Letsomo area, DumaTau Camp, Forest and Kubu Lagoon areas. Then they moved the pups to a new den; this might have been as a result of a sudden visit to the den by the Selinda Lion Pride. The last time we saw the DumaTau Pack in July was on the evening of the 29th when they were busy hunting at Kubu Lagoon; they went all the way up to Devastation Road and killed a female impala in front of a vehicle filled with very excited guests.
The managers in camp were Koketso Mookodi, Kefilwe Joel, Keleabetswe Mambo and Karen Jensen
The guiding team included Ronald Masule, Bahedile Theba, Nametsegang Dihoro, and Moses as the trainee guide.
Masole Pikinini and Kesaletse Lukase as the camp heads of department have been doing well in their respective roles - well done guys.
This is all for us,
HAPPY DAYS FROM THE DUMATAU DREAM TEAM
Savuti Camp update - July 09 Jump
to Savuti Camp
"Good morning!" This is how the day begins at 5.30am on a cool, dark Savuti winter's morning, as camp staff move from tent to tent delivering thermos flasks of freshly-boiled water so that the guests can enjoy tea or coffee in bed? Night sounds the previous evening could have included the eerie wailing of jackals or the wistful whooping of a hyaena, or even the gathering roar of a lion.
July at Savuti has been a classic Botswana winter month. After June's freakish rains, normal service has been resumed - cloudless, blue skies; crisp, clear mornings and lovely warm days. As the dry season tightens its grip, the last gasps of life are being squeezed out of the waterholes in the mopane woodland, and the Savute Channel truly comes into its own as the only reliable source of water for miles around. And it has been rising to the occasion - quite literally. The water level in front of Savuti Camp has been climbing by around half an inch (1.25cm) a week, a perceptible increase but not the sudden spike we were expecting when the Kwando River waters first entered the Channel.
Normally our flood peak in the Linyanti occurs in July, but perhaps it will be late this year? After all, from a hydrological point of view at least, we are not living in normal times. Quite the contrary in fact - for the Savuti Channel and the surrounding bush, these are remarkable times. The end of July marks one year since the waters of the Channel arrived in front of the camp and there can be no doubt now that it is here to stay - the reeds and sedges standing proudly along the fringes of the Channel bear witness to that fact. The Savute Channel has also now crossed the Chobe Cutline (see image below left) and is well on its way to possibly reach the Savute Marsh later this year, which will be an occasion of immense proportions.
By this time in a normal Savuti year, the elephants would be starting to show signs of severe stress, as water and food became scarcer, but not this year. In fact the elephants have moved beyond merely living and surviving in the Linyanti to rejoicing in the water, celebrating its return and glorying in its continued presence. The elephant sightings of late have been incredible.
This was the very best kind of elephant sighting - at play in a pristine setting, and demonstrating just how best to make the most of the Savuti Channel, whether as a larder, a bathtub, or a swimming pool?
Not all elephant experiences are as happy, however, and some of our guests on one occasion were witnesses to a serious attempt on an elephant by a pride of lions, the terrified screams of the young elephant ringing out like an echo of traumas past as he crashed through the dry forest.
Each day that the water stays, it attracts new creatures, new species. The pools formed by offshoots of the main Channel swarm with the little black commas and full stops of tadpoles, wriggling en masse like a scene from a typographer's nightmare. A haunting honking sound announces the arrival of two Wattled Cranes, an endangered species still clinging on in northern Botswana. The ugliness of these birds' call belies their statuesque beauty. As they land, Blacksmith Lapwings scatter out of their way, again making their irritation known at yet another interruption to their life in the lee of the now redundant logpile hide. (pictured bottom left). The hide sits in splendid isolation now on a small peninsula, but as the waters continue to rise gradually, it seems very possible that the link to the southern bank could soon be cut. The Channel has already linked up with the waterhole there from one side, and may soon do so on the far side also.
All the activity around the Channel can be so intriguing that it is sometimes easy to forget that life continues apace in the bush also, and the game drives are the perfect way to get out there and experience it. There have been many wonderful moments in the bush this month and it is often the unexpected events that make the biggest impression.
As the sun rises it can reveal a herd of buffalo slowly creaking to their feet amongst the mopane trees, steam rising from bovine flanks and that peculiar buffalo herd smell wafting through the cold air. Or a zebra stallion and his harem of mares, suddenly standing stock still at some imagined threat until with a sudden snort, they turn and canter away. Rare roan antelope have been more in evidence this month, especially along the road to our airstrip. These are majestic creatures, tall, horse-like antelope but with their gravitas somewhat undermined by their clownish black and white face paint.
Further afield, we also had one sighting of a small herd of eland - a massive antelope more usually associated with drier areas. The fact that on the same game drive it is possible to see arid-area specialists such as eland and steenbok, and then antelope more associated with wetter areas, such as the semi-aquatic red lechwe, speaks volumes about the ecological diversity of the Savuti area. It truly is an area where, while nothing is ever guaranteed, almost anything is possible.
Perhaps the biggest news from Savuti this month is also the saddest. The Duma Tau Pack of six wild dogs had given birth (between two females, we suspect) to no less than 13 puppies, and our initial visits to the den site (once we had established that all was well there, and we had given the puppies a month of peace to avoid causing any stress) resulted in some delightful sightings of play, feeding and social behaviour.
Towards the end of the month however, disaster struck. The dead trees near the den were covered in patient vultures, and the entire area was covered in lion tracks. It seems that the "king of the jungle" had discovered the dogs in their manger? There was no sign of the one dog left behind on baby-sitting duty, nor or any of the puppies. The guides did however hear growling sounds from within the den? So we are hopeful that some of the puppies at least escaped.
Wild dogs change den sites frequently, for all sorts of reasons, be it as mundane as fleas, or as grave as a raid by unfriendly feline neighbours. Lions of course will kill wild dog puppies if they discover the den site but at present we have no way of knowing quite what happened, as we have not been able to locate a second den site or detect any further traces of the puppies.
The bush can be as cruel as it can be kind, and can be as ugly as it is beautiful. But that's Nature, and everything that happens here is simply Nature in action - yes, there is the occasional tragedy of this kind but there are many more moments of beauty and wonder, and that's why this will always be a truly wonderful place to come for a safari?
'Our guide was excellent - truly passionate about sharing Africa with his guests?'
'We don't think it could be bettered. It's been our first safari and has exceeded our expectations!'
'Keep doing what you're doing'
'Sefo [our guide] was awesome. Animal sightings were wonderful. Lion cubs were very special. Camp atmosphere was warm and welcoming.'
'View from the loo in main camp'
'Highlight: cheetah kill, wild dogs, leopard kill, wild dogs again?'
'Everything was perfect!'
'First rate accommodations, excellent food, great customer service. Managers such as Noko, Tumoh and Terri as well as entire staff made our experience memorable?'
'Elephants wading into the water?'
'Absolutely wonderful tents, staff, food, and wildlife led to an overall fantastic experience'
'Everything was perfect - unforgettable - honeymoon supreme!'
'Cheetah sighting! The service is amazing, the food superb. Really nice attentions.'
Camp Staff this month
Tumoh Morena, Diana Eades, Nick "Noko" Galpine, Kane Motswana, Goodman Ndlovu and Lets Kamogelo.
Zarafa Camp update - July 09 Jump
to Zarafa Camp
Weather and Landscape
The cold nights of June have continued into July, sometimes dropping to only three degrees overnight. Morning game drives are still quite chilly, while the days have been very pleasant, often rising into the early thirties and are very sunny.
It is getting noticeably drier around camp, with the feverberries losing their leaves and the grass wilting and turning a pale straw colour. The knobbly combretums have, true to their early form around here, burst into bloom, while concurrently losing their leaves! The jackalberries are still laden with ripe fruit, which is attracting starlings, go-away birds, parrots, hornbills and vervet monkeys. The starlings can be heard throughout the day, feasting on the berries.
A slender mongoose has captured our hearts. We first saw it sniffing around the office and kitchen, disturbing the resident family of Red-billed Francolin. It has ventured onto the main deck over brunch but is thankfully content feeding on the local beetles and jackalberry fruit.
Elephants continue to enthrall us with their daily ritual of crossing the lagoon in front of camp, usually over brunch time. On one occasion we counted around one hundred elephants. About half had congregated in front of Tent 1 and were dust bathing while the other half (babies in tow) were crossing the lagoon. The first group then proceeded to walk right past the front of the deck in a single file procession. Elephants of all sizes passed through our frames as we frantically tried to capture the moments: babies with wobbling trunks, the big strides of the bulls and gleaming white tusks freshly washed in the water. Out of camp, the highlight of the month was the sighting of an aardvark. Our guests had little time to try and get a picture, while it scurried about and disappeared.
Lions are ever present, but elusive at times. We've seen the local pride males (Silver eye and his brother) occasionally, often moving from across the Savute towards the airstrip and back. Near the old Zibadianja Camp, one of the brothers (without the silver eye) has been seen with a female and two young cubs (about 6 months old). We're not sure where the three of them come from and why this male has been around with them. Further afield, the nomadic males (an older male and a younger male) have been seen up north towards Andre's Pan and the Spillway.
Leopards abound on the Selinda - on one afternoon guests saw a large male near the spillway and a younger one (the son of our resident leopard, Amber) nearer to camp. Then just down our driveway, Amber made an appearance, stalking and chasing after springhares!
The wild dogs are one member short: the alpha female is missing and is presumed to have denned somewhere. The rest of the pack have been seen moving around in the woodlands west of the floodplains, from down south at Wild Dog Pan all the way up to Andre's Pan near the Spillway. We're seeing them occasionally, often resting with full bellies, and are hoping to find them on the move and heading to the den.
The two younger cheetah brothers have also been seen hunting around the open areas near the old Zibadianja Camp. They have been absent for a while now, so it's good to have them back in the area.
Stuart Bell & Tessa Campbell
Camps Update - July 09
Lagoon camp Jump
Nine Wild Dog puppies have been introduced to the world at Lagoon den site. The first brave pups began to appear earlier in the month and we expect them to remain at the den site for well into September until they are strong enough to travel with the pack.
Adults have been returning from hunting only to regurgitate previously swallowed meat for the youngsters to eat. Guests and guides were in a state of panic when Lion tracks were found in the vicinity of the den site. Luckily the cats decided to head away east towards the river and more palatable foods such as the large herds of hundreds of Buffalo in the area.
Elsewhere in the area Lions and Cheetah have been sighted regularly. Three Cheetah brothers have been ruling the roost in the upper Kwando area north of the camp and look in excellent condition.
As if a Wild Dog den was not a big enough treat, visitors to Lagoon are witnessing the extraordinary spectacle of a Hyena den as well!! Three sets of ten cubs are living at a disused termite mound close to Zebra pan guarded by several adult Hyenas and led by the enormous matriarch.
Kwara & Little Kwara camps Jump
& Little Kwara camps
A female Cheetah is in the Kwara area with four cubs. There were originally five in the litter but Kwara guides believe that one was killed by Lions or Hyenas in June. However, the other four are growing big and strong and will soon be ready to learn how to hunt with their mother.
The seven male ‘Lions of Kwara’ were seen feeding on a Hippo only 500 metres from Little Kwara camp. Hippos are usually too large and fierce an animal for Lions to actively pursue but in this case the male coalition is afraid of nothing. Elsewhere, two new male Lion have been seen in the area and a pride of nine females with cubs are on the borders of the Mopane to the north.
Many of our guests here have been fortunate enough to see Wild Dogs and Leopards as well on the same safari. A male Leopard was seen stalking a young Lechwe through the short grass but was unable to catch its prey.
General game is also abundant with Elephants, Giraffes, Zebras and Wildebeest all seen on a regular basis. The elusive Pangolin was also spotted close to Kwara Lagoon to everyone’s surprise.
Lebala camp Jump
July was a spectacular month for Leopards at Lebala. Three separate individuals have been viewed by some of our top guides. A big male tomcat had a successful Impala kill not far from Lebala camp and a female Leopard was chased off a kill by a hungry Hyena by in the Mopane.
Hyenas have also been scavenging from local Cheetah this month. Two male brother Cheetahs killed a sub-adult Kudu only to see their hard work undone by a number of opportunistic Hyenas.
Lots of Elephant herds are being seen on the floodplains now that the pans have dried up in the Mopane and vast herds of Buffalo have been photographed migrating through the woodlands.
Some lucky guests on a morning stroll were treating the extraordinary site of a pride of Lions pulling down a Giraffe not far from Nxai camp. Guests were guided within safe distance of the kill and managed to get some good shots of the giant cats feasting on their prey.
Our two male Cheetahs have been a frequent site recently – often seen stalking the Impala in the woodland or the Springbok on the pans. Nxai Pan is one of only three places in the world where you get the chance to see the similar Springbok and Impala in the same place at the same time.
The beautiful winter evenings have brought wonderful starry nights and fresh mornings with plenty of desert game to be seen. Jackals, Giraffes, Gemsbok, Hartebeest and bull Elephants are a regular site around the camp.
An exceptional Caracal sighting was seen by some Kwando Safaris staff on their way to the camp last week. Usually one of the shyest cats this was a truly unique viewing at close range. The diagnostic large, pointy black ears were clearly visible alongside piercing green emerald eyes.
Game is pumping at Tau Camp this July. Lions, Leopards, Cheetah and Wild Dogs have all been seen around the pan and the camp!
Two male Lions were seen at regular intervals lounging on the pan soaking up the midday winter sun. Wild Dogs are denning in the area and were seen chasing Kudu close by the camp. A remarkably brave Leopard was tracked for almost a kilometre along the cut line before melting away into the bush on the side of the road.
An iconic African moment took place on Tau Pan when a Springbok successfully managed to outrun a Cheetah. The spectacular chase only lasted for a minute but the explosive speed of the Cheetah and bravery and agility of the Springbok was much admired by both staff and guide.
Mombo Camp update
- July 09 Jump
to Mombo Camp
Vumbura Plains Camp update
- July 09 Jump
to Vumbura Plains Camp
Winter truly arrived this month bringing winds and cooler temperatures with it. On average temperatures varied between 7ºC at night and 24ºC during the day, but the cold conditions certainly didn't cause the animals to go into hiding with wild dogs making a spectacular (and very noisy) return to the area on 6th July.
In the middle of the night they chased a herd of impala through South Camp. The sound of the impala alarm calling in distress was only drowned out by the squeals of excitement from the dogs. They finally made their kill and the evidence was clear to see the following morning...an impala head, complete with spinal cord still attached, dropped outside Room 4. As the guests left their rooms for early morning breakfast, a clan of hyaena arrived finish off the impala remains. Most of the guests slept through the commotion, but the dogs hung around with full bellies and were the first sighting of the morning. The Golden Pack continued to be seen throughout the month, but not quite so close to home!
The first leopard sighting of the month was a youngster in a tree. There was no sign of his mother, an unknown female in the area, but the cub seems very relaxed in the presence of vehicles. Both he and his mother were seen again as the month continued.
The lions proved to be elusive for the first half of July, but when they were found, sightings proved to be up-close and personal. Guests held their breath as two females brushed past the side of their vehicle! The encounters only improved as the month went on and for some days the lions remained very close to camp. In particular, the 18th proved to be a feline day of note with two different prides of lion being seen, followed by a kill! Not to mention the two cheetah (mother and cub) that were also found that day. That morning, the guests watched in disbelief as the two Eastern male lions walked straight past a buffalo with a broken leg - within 10m! In the evening, everyone went back to see what had become of the injured buffalo. As the sun went down, the lions took their chance and, without much of a struggle, the buffalo was suffocated to death. The two males sat with the kill for nearly two days gorging themselves. Once the lions had moved on, an array of different animals visited the carcass. First was a female leopard and cub. She's an unknown female in the area and seemed quite skittish, unlike her young male cub, which seems to love attention. He continued to eat and enjoy the buffalo for as long as there were vehicles there. The following day, the lions returned to the kill and the cheeky little leopard actually tried to chase them off their own kill!
Prior to the lion kill, the patience of the guests and the tracking of our guides paid off as they were rewarded with the site of a female cheetah and cub on an impala kill. This is the first sighting of a female cheetah in the area for at least a year and a half, hence the excitement. The cub is estimated to be around two years old, but both mother and cub are still very shy. Surely the most excited individual will be Vuku, our local male, who's been in the area on his own for some time now.
One of the most unusual events this month was the discovery of a dead elephant. The guides speculated that it had got stuck in a particularly sticky muddy patch and sadly starved to death. With the flood waters receding so fast now, this seems to be a new threat to the wildlife. It was the presence of vultures that alerted the drives to the carcass, but soon the lions and hyaenas descended to take advantage of a free meal. The most entertaining thing was watching the lion cubs struggling to obtain better feeding positions - the carcass was in the water and they most certainly did not want to get wet! Only two days later the guides found a Kudu that had suffered the same fate in the mud. The elephant carcass proved to be a hotspot for animal interaction and even a week after it was found, it was still providing great game viewing. Guests watched in astonishment as two clans of hyaena, 14 in total, fed on what was left of the elephant. That is until the two Eastern male lions appeared and took great offence to the hyaena being there. An aggressive confrontation ended in one of the hyaena's being killed by the lions. Interestingly, lions will rarely eat other predators, they merely kill them because they signify competition for the same resources. The hyaena carcass remained intact for some time, not even the vultures touched it. Finally, it was actually other hyaena that scavenged the meat.
It is certainly an interesting and unpredictable time here in the Delta. We can only hope that August brings game viewing equal to what we have experienced this month.
Managers: Zara Shaikh, Frank Matomela and Kgabiso Lehare at South Camp.
Warren Baty, Cheri Marshall and Phenyot Tlalenyane at North Camp
Guides: Obonye Kamela (OB), Lethebe Sethwara (Lettie) & Banyatsang Shakwa (Ban) at South Camp. Onamile Lekgopho (Ona), Sebonta Thekiso (Zee) & Keraetswe Bosigo (Madala K) at North Camp.
Images courtesy of Candy Shedden, Kathy Eginoire and Nancy Maximuck.
Jacana Camp update
- July 09 Jump
to Jacana Camp
It has been a wonderful month at Jacana Camp. The mornings were crisp, with an average temperature of about 11°C, and much more pleasant in the afternoon at average 22°C. Some mornings were much colder with some wind, dipping down to 5°C - so the early morning breakfasts around the fire were wonderful! We even had a few raindrops one night. The water level has dropped about 30cm in the last month.
The resident female leopard graced guests with her presence on quite a few occasions. She is a pleasure to observe, since she is quite oblivious to the presence of our 4X4 safari vehicles. Some guests were even lucky enough to find her feeding on a recent kill.
There have been a lot of elephant on the island the last couple of weeks. Guests fall asleep to the rustling of grass and shaking of palm trees at night. We've been entertained on quite a few occasions with elephant walking through the boma area while guests are having brunch upstairs.
Some of our guests were lucky enough to see six hippos and we had them on the island almost every night.
This has also been a very good month for birding. Frequent sightings of Pel's Fishing-owl have been enjoyed. There has also been a lot of Martial Eagle activity on Jao Island and Western Banded Snake-eagle were also seen on a regular basis. Large flocks of Open-billed Storks and many sightings of the beautiful Malachite Kingfisher while on the water activities.
This month has been a first for a lot of guests - concerning landing big fish that is. Otto finally got this 'big tiger'. Catching tiger-fish provides a real adrenalin rush, and is regarded by many as the best fighting, freshwater fish on the planet. All our fishing is of course sustainable catch and release.
'So special and thank you for a wonderful three days.' Brandt family.
'We so enjoyed our time at Jacana Camp, great wildlife, great food and great service our family were so well cared for.' Lisa
'Had a delightful time and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Superb guide, good food, great staff.' Klaus
'Lovely experience - the Delta is beautiful and we will be back. No Jack but the leopard and the tiger-fish were more than enough.' Debora
'Great time, loved going on the boat. Such a memorable experience, I'm going to miss this camp.' Magie
update - July 09 Jump
to Kwetsani Camp
Weather and Water Levels
July has certainly produced the coldest days so far this year, our lowest morning temperatures were 5.7°C, certainly a lot colder than last year when the lowest recorded temperature was 11°C.
The cold winter mornings are, however, a small price to pay for the sheer beauty of the Okavango winter. The floodwaters shimmer in the magnificent winter sunrise casting shades of pink and red across the sky and flood plains. Warmly wrapped and covered in a comfortable poncho we head out into the waterways after a bowl of traditional steaming Mabele. Our hearts certainly do go out to the baboons that sit almost stone-like in the early morning rays, trying to warm their bodies after a night high up in the real fan palms away from the leopards.
The flood waters that arrived so early this year have subsided dramatically. The entire road in front of camp that was flooded and covered many inches deep in floodwaters is now already dry. Fortunately we will still have over a month of boating ahead that will allow the wonderful transfers from the airstrip and the visits to Hunda Island to continue, however, each day the water levels drop a little more.
There have been many highlights this month. Although our lion pride has largely been located over on Hunda Island, and have therefore not been keeping us out of our sleep at night with thunderous roaring, they have none the less provided guests with hours of pleasure and wonderful game viewing over on Hunda island.
Apart from good sightings of our regular pride females, Morenashadi and Mohumagadi, we had a month of fabulous interactions with Broken Tail, who has not been seen around for a while. She has been seen mating on Hunda Island with Kgosi, who sired cubs with Morenashadi, less than three months ago. Those cubs unfortunately did not survive the first critical months, no doubt falling prey to competing predators. As a result we had a week of interesting interactions and lion courtship interspersed with a zebra kill and many other moments.
One of the more interesting and perhaps amusing sightings was watching Kgosi, a really handsome lion, proving his alpine skills by climbing high into a tree. It is always amusing to see a large male lion ascend a tree, the descent in particular can prove very amusing. Thanks to our wonderful French guests Michelle and Silvie for sharing their picture (above center) with us.
We have again been treated to an interesting mix of guests from all corners of the globe that have shared many interesting perspectives with us. To make things slightly different this month, we were also lucky enough to host a photographic group (note that this was the Eyes on Africa Digital Photo Safari) recently consisting of a wonderful mix of photographers from Australia, America, Thailand, Canada and Peru who brought with them an amazing array of Canons, Nikons, notebooks and lenses. Amongst the hundreds of pictures, we felt the most appropriate was a picture of this female sitatunga (above right) in a very remote part of the concession. Thanks also to the photographic group's guide, Grant Atkinson, for the wonderful picture of the lion (below left) that seemed to realize there were photographers in camp as he passed right in front of Kwetsani Camp on the first morning the group were in camp.
We also had a visit by some very enthusiastic birders from the UK this month. They managed to check off an impressive 155 bird species during their 3-day visit to Kwetsani.
Finally, towards the end of the month, we had a wonderful night time experience with an unknown leopard that walked past the front of camp roaring at about 19h30 in the evening as guests were gathering for pre-dinner drinks. We all scrambled onto Land Rovers and headed out to try and find the leopard that was certainly walking with determination. After a fairly brief search on the floodplains we found him. He seemed fairly unperturbed by our presence and well fed. After a short while he headed into the bush and lay down in the grass. He lifted his head occasionally to lick himself but seemed completely relaxed and disinterested in us. Needless to say, we snapped off a number of pictures before departing to enjoy a belated traditional dinner.
This happened to be the second leopard of the day for Dale, Karen and their twins Jordan and Jason who had spent a wonderful day picnicking on Hunda Island, determined to find some predators. Having seen some wonderful general game they finally decided it was not their day for predators and thus started to head towards the boat station for their homeward ride through the channels. They had hardly travelled 100 metres when they came across a young male atop a termite mound. This was certainly the cherry on the top of what had been a wonderful day. The evening sighting was therefore an added bonus for them.
-Mike, Anne and the Kwetsani Team-
update - July 09 Jump
to Jao Camp
Weather and Water Levels
The largest flood in the Delta for over three decades has now begun its slow retreat, not only from our island but from the Delta in general. This incredible phenomenon has left us gasping in frustration at times but mostly in awe. Our "water wonderland" has been truly spectacular this year, and although the receding waters leave us feeling a little sad, so the doors open for a multitude of opportunities that were hidden from the view.
Large trees, reedbeds, walkway poles and even the sandy paths show signs that the water has taken its toll, and as previously large areas of water dry into muddy little pools, an abundance of fish fry provide a myriad of birds with a easy meal.
A walk along the Jao Camp walkways almost negates the need to go on a game drive, as more and more of nature's wonders disclose themselves right there.
A mother squirrel sunning herself on a fallen tree is suddenly "pounced" upon by three tiny furry balls. She greets each one of them in turn with sniffs and licks and then proceeds to groom them by holding them on their backs as she nibbles their chests and necks. Furiously protesting has little effect on mom, but soon their reward is granted in the form of some warm milk in the sun.
A little further down the walkway the tranquil morning air is split by the bark of a large male baboon. Suddenly the trees explode in a profusion of noise and activity as our resident teenage baboons chase each other through the treetops, each trying to outdo its sibling in aerial acrobatics. The adults leisurely stretch and yawn and then ultimately surrender to the call of their offspring to go foraging. The adults congregate in a sunny spot on the ground, mumbling and chattering to each other as they rummage through the remains of an elephant's previous meal.
Then, in the distance, travelling at a leisurely pace along the ground, twenty or more little striped bodies make their way around the island. Our resident banded mongoose group is a firm favourite with staff and guests alike, and it's not hard to see why. The youngest of the band run alongside their minders, begging with high peeps and whistles for a morsel, their agility and awareness increasing with every passing day.
As the day moves on, our ever-present and much beloved impala peacefully graze on new green shoots that have sprung up in areas previously hidden by the water. This is a great relief to them, and we see the miracle of "survival of the fittest" in action. Tiny "heart-shaped" tracks in the drying mud are evidence that every square inch of our island is being utilised by these graceful creatures, watchful for the next inch of earth that will spring forth with new life.
As the setting sun paints the sky using a palette of yellow, orange, red and violet, a goliath pachyderm ambles across the channel, trunk held aloft inhaling the smells that identify Jao Island. He exits the water, the lower half of his body blackened by the water and gracefully wraps his trunk around the uppermost branches, pulling each leaf off, and delicately feeding them into his eagerly awaiting mouth. Deep rumbles fill the evening air as he gently waves his ears; his eyes temporarily closed in the enjoyment of his leafy meal. Tomorrow morning will find him gently snoring as he rests against a termite mound, oblivious to the activities of animals around him.
Such is our wonderful Delta paradise, and we enthusiastically await the dawning of a new day that will bring with it new and unexpected wonders that we are privileged to witness.
This has been a month for families and honeymooners! We had families visiting from Chile, Mexico City, the USA, UK and Europe. Our staff and guides have been busy with catch and release fishing excursions, Delta flower jewellery making and even making "San" bows and arrows for young hunters. On the more romantic side, quite a few couples chose Jao as their destination of choice.
One of the pleasures of being in Botswana, and Jao Camp in particular, is having the privilege of witnessing the sense of awe and excitement when guests visit Africa and the Delta for the first time. Their enthusiasm when seeing our water paradise up close and personal is contagious. Lest we become blasé about our surroundings, these gentle nudges remind us to appreciate every changing aspect of our Island every day.
'Beautiful Place. Excellent Service. Wonderful Experience!' - Cathy and Frank
'What an enchanting place Jao is! We had an experience of a lifetime.' - Joyce and Kent
'Thank you Jao Camp and thank you Victor, our Guide. This was an amazing experience I will never forget!' - Lauren
'Everything was beautiful. I'll be back next year for my Honeymoon.' - Rodrigo
'Breathtaking scenery! Fantastic staff, great food and accommodation and the best guide ever!' - Angus Family
'A true gem in Africa! A lovely time was had; next time we will stay longer!' Roy, Janet and Riley
'Hate to leave such a wonderful place and such wonderful people - thank You!' - Margaret
Tubu Tree Camp
update - July 09 Jump
to Tubu Tree Camp
Picture this. Standing on the elevated camp deck overlooking the Tubu Tree floodplains, a tree squirrel sits on the hand rail and a Lilac-breasted Roller lands on a nearby tree as two bushbuck forage contently below. Then as you gaze over the floodplain vista, large numbers of red lechwe, impala, zebra, kudu and baboons are all visible together with an African Fish-eagle perched on an island. Visiting Tubu Tree is currently a sensory delight.
It has been cool in the mornings but with the 'bushbabies' (hot water bottles supplied on the game drive vehicles) you wouldn't even know and by midday the temperatures are very comfortable with some guests even trying out the pool!
As the palm fruits begin to ripen, more and more elephants are coming into Tubu Tree Camp to visit. They came singly and in groups; we have seen breeding herds with little ones that tried and tried to shake the palm trees, but at two weeks old, still have lots to learn. Bachelor herds have also provided some entertainment for us as they were caught playing with each other, throwing sand, flapping those ears and even a trumpet here and there. They even tried their luck with an older bull called Broken Tusk which didn't go down well as Broken Tusk doesn't like to share. Broken Tusk has made himself right at home here as he has been caught snoring in the mornings and even causing 'road blocks' in and out of camp.
Two lions were viewed mating out in the Hunda airstrip area, and were subsequently observed feasting on a zebra for four days. Two other lionesses were also seen right from camp as they stalked red lechwe out in the floodplains. The lechwe were too far for a successful ambush and so they began to play and groom each other as only cats do. They also tried hunting behind camp, finally getting their fill with a warthog.
One of the local Tubu leopards, Moselesele, has been seen with three cubs! They are now roughly 10 months old and Moselesele has kept them mostly hidden for now. Further excitement here at Tubu Tree is that another female leopard, the Boat Station Female, has two cubs as well. These two are now observed on their own - one was witnessed eating a bird and then going to sit in the sun on a termite mound before eventually climbing a tree to relax and groom.
The spotted hyaenas have been pretty quiet except for a few days where they decided to show up in numbers - all ten of them! Watching them interact was something else with the older ones teaching the young the ropes.
General game sightings have been equally productive including the pictured spiral-horned kudu. Birding around Tubu Tree always produces impressive day totals for passionate birders from the flightless Ostrich to flocks of Open-billed Storks overhead.
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