(Page 1 of
Wilderness Safaris Secures Tourism Concession for Nyika National Park
17 Jun 2009
Wilderness Safaris is excited to announce that it has been awarded the tourism concession for Nyika National Park in northern Malawi by the Malawi Department of National Parks and Wildlife. This includes the well known Chelinda Lodge.
This spectacularly scenic 300 000 hectare park is the only big game Afro-montane area in southern and south central Africa and as well as being an exciting addition to the Wilderness Safaris ecotourism circuits in Malawi and neighbouring Zambia, is a fantastic boon to the biodiversity footprint of the company.
To date Wilderness Safaris has been represented in seven of southern Africa's eleven biomes (a major regional biotic community characterized by specific climate, vegetation and fauna). The Nyika tender means that the company is now present in eight of these biomes and is able to add the financial sustainability of its unique ecotourism model to the protection of a rare and threatened ecosystem.
The Nyika Plateau (in particular the high altitude grassland, dambos and evergreen forests) is of undoubted biological importance. It contains one of Africa's richest orchid communities totalling some 214 species of terrestrial and epiphytic orchids: four species and two subspecies occur nowhere else on earth. A further 13 plant species and 7 subspecies are also endemic to the park. No fewer than four bird subspecies are endemic while the area harbours several species of conservation concern such as Denham's Bustard and Blue Swallow. The Plateau also holds a unique assemblage of large mammal fauna, such as leopard, spotted hyaena, roan, eland and even elephant, and nearly 100 species have been recorded here. No other sizeable populations of large mammals are found elsewhere in this biome, making Nyika NP unique in both its ecosystem as well as its ecotourism opportunities. There is even an endemic mammal subspecies (chequered elephant shrew) confined to the plateau.
It is clear that the biodiversity and conservation value of the Nyika National Park is high and that it has national, continental and global significance as a conservation area. The uniqueness of the area, in both its physical appearance and also in its biodiversity and atmosphere, also makes it an exciting ecotourism proposition and Wilderness Safaris is extremely excited about the sustainability it can bring to the conservation of the area. We look forward to releasing further details of our ecotourism product in the area in the near future.
Continued Update on Botswana Water Levels - 2009 Flood
The annual flood in the Okavango Delta has passed its peak (i.e. the maximum amount of water is now in the Delta) and water levels are starting to recede already in many places in the north.
This year's high flood has been excellent news. Of course nature works in cycles, which are critical for balance so that species that thrive under different ecological conditions also go through population cycles. The 2009 wet cycle we're going through in Botswana favors fish breeding, as well as aquatic-adapted species like sitatunga, red lechwe and birds like Wattled Crane and Slaty Egret. This flood also replenishes groundwater and ensures a continued balance between grassland/floodplain and woodland. In dry cycles, woodland encroaches onto floodplain, while in wet cycles the reverse happens, so that the ecological diversity and integrity of the Delta ecosystem is ensured.
The flood has also seen us adapt our behavior and new road networks and water activities have been the order of the day in our camps. Guests have done likewise and are enjoying the amazing experience of seeing one of the world's most amazing places: a wetland - which is considered amongst the richest ecosystems on the planet - in full flood! Not something one sees every day!
Okavango Bat Survey
Location: Chitabe, Vumbura Plains and Kwetsani, Okavango Delta, Botswana
Date: 17 June 2009
Observer: Dr Teresa Kearney and Ernest Seamark
Photographer: Dr Teresa Kearney and Ernest Seamark
As part of an ongoing partnership between Wilderness Safaris and the Transvaal Museum in South Africa, Dr Teresa Kearney and Ernest Seamark recently (9-24 April) visited three Wilderness Safaris concessions in the Okavango Delta in order to survey the bat species present at these sites.
The different regions surveyed were in slightly different habitat types to assess whether there was any variation in the bat species composition across the Okavango. At Chitabe, an area characterized by more arid South Eastern Delta, we set up our capture site along the Gomoti River, while further north at Vumbura Plains, an area of permanent swamp, floodplains, mixed woodland and a mopane belt, we used Kaparota Island. Our third site was Kwetsani, an island within permanent swamp in the central Western Delta.
With the kind assistance of Kai Collins (Environmental Manager for Wilderness Safaris Botswana) and field staff associated with the different camps a total of 243 bats were caught using mist nets and a harp trap. Field identification indicated the bats caught represented at least 15 different species of the families Pteropodidae (Old World Fruit Bats), Nycteridae (Slit-faced Bats), Molossidae (Free-tailed Bats), and Vespertilionidae (Vesper Bats), with species of Vespertilionidae being the most numerous (at least 11 different species).
Noteworthy captures included individuals of Botswana Long-eared Bat (Laephotis botswanae), Variegated Butterfly Bat (Glauconycteris variegatus), and Rendall's Serotine Bat (Neoromicia rendalli). All of these are either rarely caught species and/or species with very limited distributions. Each, however, has distinctive external traits such as reticulated, black, patterns on the wing membrane; long ears and pale, almost translucent wing membranes. Voucher specimens and tissues were taken to allow subsequent morphological and molecular identification, and echolocation calls were recorded from individuals that were released.
The highest number of species (at least 12) were caught in the Chitabe area and the most common species caught varied between locations. For example at Chitabe the most common species was an unidentified house bat (Scotophilus sp.) of which 35 individuals were caught. In the Vumbura Plains area it was Schlieffen's Bat (Nycticeinops schlieffenii) (25 individuals). While at Kwetsani it was the Rusty Bat (Pipistrellus rusticus) (47 individuals).
The underground nest of Böhm's Bee-eater
Location: Mvuu Camp, Liwonde National Park
Date: June 2009
Observers: Sue Snyman
Arriving at Mvuu Camp on the Shire River in Liwonde National Park is always breathtaking. It is one of the noisier camps in Malawi. The greeting of the hippos as well as their night time calls are particularly characteristic, as of course is the cry of the African Fish-Eagle. While the dawn chorus is a delight, your nocturnal slumbers are kept company by the eerie whoop of the spotted hyaena and the shrill scream of the thick-tailed bushbaby.
Birding at Mvuu is a must for all keen birders. Specials include Livingstone's Flycatcher, African Skimmer, Black-throated Wattle-eye, White-backed Night Heron, Dickinson's Kestrel, Collared Palm-thrush and Spur-winged Plover. Whether you are on a game drive, guided game walk, boat safari or just strolling around the camp there is always something to catch your attention and the over 400 recorded bird species will certainly keep you busy.
Perhaps the most eye-catching species however, is the Böhm's Bee-eater. There are a number of pairs resident in camp, their delicate tails and rich colours delighting guests.
During my recent stay at Mvuu Camp and while sitting in the children's play area I was thrilled to watch two Böhm's Bee-eaters confidingly perched on a dead log near where I was sitting. As I watched first one and then the other landed on the ground in a sandy patch, looking as though they were going to dust bathe. A few seconds later one disappeared head first into the ground and I realised that this was in fact the entrance to their underground nest. I didn't check, but apparently the depth of these holes can be anything from 70-100cm.
I continued to watch them come and go for another 15 minutes ... the same procedure every time ... a dust bath, flicking sand into the air and then disappearing suddenly into the ground - a fascinating peek into the domestic life of these beautiful birds.
Swimming lion cubs of the Busanga Pride
Location: Shumba Camp, Kafue National Park, Zambia
Date: 22 June 2009
Observers: Leckson and Ingrid
Each year here on the Busanga Plains, at the beginning of the season and as the plains start to dry out from the summer rains, we wait with baited breath to see who the star members of the year's wildlife cast will be, which animals have returned, and what changes have taken place. The lions of the Busanga Pride are amongst the best known large mammals of the Plains and given that their territory centres on our three camps in the area, they are inevitably the first individuals that we reconnect with.
It has been no different this year and on our season's first game drive out of Shumba Camp this past Sunday (21 June) we found one of the lionesses of the pride only two minutes from camp. It was an auspicious start that was followed with a sighting of the rest of the pride, with one of the males (unsuccessfully) hunting puku in close proximity to the vehicle.
More successful that afternoon was the first lioness who managed to kill a lechwe just north of camp and within a stone's throw of the staff accommodation. She dragged her carcass a short distance to where her cubs were hidden. These three new additions to the Busanga Pride had not been seen before and were a little shy and bewildered by the vehicle. We of course gave them their space and moved onto the myriad puku, lechwe and hippo that are practically permanently resident just north of camp.
The next morning we returned to see the cubs again. As we arrived we found them already heading north across the grassland towards the Hippo Pools. Realising that they were most likely to cross the Lufupa Channel we returned to camp and boarded the boat making our way up the channel towards them.
The mother first tried to carry the cubs across in her mouth but they were too heavy and ultimately they all had to swim across the channel in front of the boat. It was one of those sightings that takes your breath away and leaves you silent and reflective on your return to camp!
Regular wild dog pack at Kalamu Lagoon Camp
Location: Kalamu Lagoon Camp, South Luangwa National Park, Zambia
Date: 24 June 2009
Observers: Caroline Culbert and Petros Guwa
The South Luangwa season at the all-new Kalamu Lagoon Camp has kicked off with a bang. Aside from the more usual sightings of lion, elephant, buffalo, the ever-present hippo and of course the local speciality, Thornicroft's giraffe, we have had some thrilling sightings of a wild dog pack consisting of at least six animals.
This does not appear to be the same wild dog pack that we saw on a reasonably regular basis last year, but they seem to be settled in the area and have been seen five times since we opened our season two weeks ago. Most sightings have taken place around the lagoon in front of camp or the nearby airstrip where we have seen the pack on the prowl for prey species like impala and puku.
Even more exciting is that the alpha female seems to have given birth, her swollen teats indicating that she is suckling puppies at a nearby den. This can be clearly seen on the last image.
These photos were taken this morning (24 June) when Sandy spotted all six animals on the airstrip and called us in from further north where we were following up on tracks of a young male lion. One dog turned south when we arrived but the remaining five animals obliged us.
The red stains on their chests, legs and muzzles indicated that they had hunted successfully that morning and we watched them for some time before they too trotted into the surrounding woodland in the direction of their suspected den, no doubt to regurgitate meat for the new members of the pack.
Cheetah kill at Chitabe
Location: Chitabe Camp, Okavango Delta, Botswana
Date: 27 June 2009
Observer & Photographer: Grant Atkinson
The Chitabe Concession of the Okavango Delta is generally known as an area that produces excellent leopard sightings, and travelling here with a group in the last few days of June, that was exactly what we were hoping to see. Chatting to the Chitabe Camp guides we were pleasantly surprised to hear that a cheetah had been seen right from the brunch table at Chitabe Lediba, just a few hours before our arrival. We were all pretty excited about this news, as we had been trying hard to find cheetah at our previous camp, but had to be satisfied with only seeing cheetah tracks.
On our first afternoon game drive we searched the area, enjoying a good lion sighting, and loads of other game, but no sign of the cheetah. Our next full day and two game drives later, still no sign of the cheetah, though we saw other male lions and a leopard.
On our last morning, one of the guides called us in for a cheetah sighting, found right on an open plain. It was an adult female, and she started moving as we arrived. She looked lean and hungry, so we decided to follow her, from a distance, for a while.
It turned out to be a good move - as we sat watching her move along the edge of a wooded island, we noticed her stop, and very carefully begin stalking a group of unsuspecting impala.
We waited and waited, and then suddenly mayhem broke loose with impala scattering in all directions and the cheetah locked onto one of them, merely 40 metres from where the chase begun. We drove closer, and watched for long minutes as she tried to subdue the impala, eventually succeeding in suffocating it. She was clearly anxious, glancing around all the time for signs of danger, and what made her more nervous was the alarm calls made by francolins, squirrels and starlings. The cheetah started feeding rapidly, stopping now and again to glance around. When a group of vervet monkeys started to alarm call, it had to bring attention from other animals, and a spotted hyaena strode towards us.
The cheetah crouched low, and froze. The hyaena failed to see her. Twenty minutes later it passed by again, obviously aware that something was up, but again the cheetah avoided detection. By now the monkeys and the birds had stopped calling, and the cheetah had managed a pretty good feed. Her belly was full, and that was lucky for her, as when the hyena appeared for a third time, it made no mistake and saw her. Immediately it rushed at the cheetah, which snarled but gave no other defense other than leaping clear of the hyaena as it ran in.
The hyaena grabbed the impala carcass, and walked away into an open clearing, the better for it to feed and look out for approaching competitors or enemies. The cheetah just lay down near our vehicle and watched. When the hyaena was almost done feeding on the carcass, it again approached the cheetah and rushed at it, with the result that the cheetah moved off a little distance and lay down to rest.
Cheetah lose much of their prey to other carnivores, but in this instance the female had managed to eat more than enough of the impala to last her for a few days at least.
They hyaena meanwhile decided to take the remaining food with it and move right away from the area. It skulked off, in true hyaena fashion, head held high with some impala legs dangling from its jaws.
Whilst we were enjoying this sighting we were informed by another safari vehicle that yet another cheetah had been sighted, not more than two kilometres away!
Selinda Canoe Trail - June 2009
Grapevine has it the Selinda Spillway is at its highest level in almost 30 years. What perhaps comes to mind to those reading this is a small trickle of Okavango water journeying through an open savannah plain in the direction of the Kwando and Linyanti Rivers. Well that is partly true except that the water body is more than just a trickle, widening to hundreds of yards in places. For the first time in the history of the Spillway, we have canoed almost the entire length from Motswiri Camp in the east to Selinda Camp in the west.
The canoe trail has been a highly rewarding experience for those who have imagined the idea and decided to partake in an adventure of epic proportions. Buffalo, roan and sable antelope, elephant, kudu, tsessebe and spotted hyaena are amongst animals that have been seen on the trails and with new males trying to claim the territory around the Tshwene area, lions have been very vocal at night.
Waterbirds have also followed the spillway with a sighting of a pair of the uncommon Lesser Jacana whose distribution barely touches the Selinda Spillway. Marabou and Saddle-billed Storks, Hamerkop, Pied Kingfishers and African Fish-Eagle have also been following the head of the water.
The two rivers (Okavango and Kwando) are five kilometres apart as the crane flies and with the Kwando river now rising and the Okavango waters still pushing there is a very good chance these two waters will meet marking a point in the history of these systems both originating from the highlands of Angola. The Okavango side has pushed 2.6km (crane flight) in 14 days. The headwaters from the Okavango are characterised by numerous species of birds and small predators feeding on all the insects, rodents, beetles, reptiles and crickets that are being flooded out.
Fish species like barbel (catfish) and bream (tilapia) have also been in frenzy with the new territory and a great feast awaiting them as they follow the headwater. The water table in the area around the Spillway is so high that burrows that are as far as 20 metres from the water's edge are being flooded out at the same time creating a different lifestyle and unusual green flash for the surrounding vegetation. This gives one an idea of exactly how much water has gone into the sponge of the Spillway in the process of filling it.
We had our youngest canoeists to paddle the Selinda Canoe Trail in the last month: Aged eight and 11 the young adventurers paddled with enthusiasm and their joy could not be hidden when it came to marking the end of the water.
We look forward to another few months of this extraordinary adventure and the surprises and rewards that have characterised it.
Seba Camp opened its second family suite recently, hence this child-friendly camp now has lots of scope for family accommodation. Each of the family suites can sleep 4 adults or 2 adults and up to 4 children of 12 years and younger. The original suite comprises 2 en-suite bedrooms downstairs with an upstairs lounge which has a pull-out sleeper couch. The second suite also has 2 en-suite bedrooms downstairs and then a third bedroom upstairs. Each unit is surrounded with teak decking, and has a plunge pool and a sandpit for the kids. Couples may also make use of either of these family units; however a suite surcharge is then applicable.
Abu Camp closes for refurbishment from 01 January to 14 May 2010 inclusive. During this time, guests wanting to enjoy the Abu experience can still do so from Villa Okavango. Villa Okavango sleeps a maximum of 4 guests from the same party at one time. From 01 January to 14 May 2010 Villa Okavango will operate as per the Abu experience with 3-night departures commencing on Tuesdays and Saturdays.
North Island re-opens
After a six-week closure, we are pleased to announce the reopening of North Island. The intensive improvement of the island is complete and our concept of signature barefoot luxury has been enhanced to new levels. By focusing all our attention on the existing facilities we have ensured that the island remains the private sanctuary for which it has become so well known.
Our open, natural and raw approach to architecture - a Robinson Crusoe style - dictates a significant level of upkeep and so we have touched up on various areas in our existing 11 villas, main piazza, spa, gym, boutique, activities centre, library and west beach bar. This includes thatch replacement, wood maintenance, painting of pools, touching up bathroom facilities and an element of soft refurbishing. Further augmenting our North Island wellness experience, we have added cutting-edge gym equipment to a completely revamped gym facility and Thai massage decks in each of our spa villas. Finally, to coincide with our opening, the helicopter pad now has added safety features that will allow for night landings.
All guests, not just honeymooners, get pampered and spoilt beyond belief at North Island. Some of the unique dining experiences include private beach dinners under the stars, picnic lunches and In-Villa dinners. Private sunset cruises, water activities and lessons, interaction with turtles (in season), diving and fishing all add to the excitement of visiting North Island.
By visiting Zimbabwe guests can make a difference to the parks, the animals and the local communities all of whom depend on the tourism industry to continue. Our camps here - whether in Mana Pools or Hwange - continue to enjoy amazing sightings in beautiful surroundings.
Mana Canoe Trail is open for the season. Canoeists have seen a host of game species including elephant and hippo along the shoreline while enjoying wonderful balmy days slowly drifting down the Zambezi River.
Dry season game viewing in Hwange's Makalolo Concession (Little Makalolo Camp) has been incredible. The waterholes are frequented by a constant procession of elephant, buffalo and antelope along with lion, leopard and white rhino. Visits to Ngamo School help immensely to uplift the lives and education of the children of Ngamo Village and its surrounds. Depicted above is the wildlife on Ngamo Plains in Hwange. North Island.
South Luangwa's Kalamu Lagoon Camp (pictured below) is proving to be a fantastic contrasting eco-experience when combined with Kafue's Busanga Plains and Victoria Falls.
From January to April 2010 Mfuwe Lodge will undergo extensive refurbishment. All areas will receive significant attention with the rooms lightened and remodeled. A major focus of this refurbishment is the environmental sustainability of the back-of-house operations such as sewerage, water and energy. With this investment in mind, Mfuwe Lodge have opted to retain their own brand, and Wilderness Safaris' relationship with them will continue as that of a strategic third party partner. This camp can easily be combined with Kalamu Lagoon by means of a road and boat transfer across the Luangwa River.
North Island Dive Report - June 09 Jump
to North Island
Kings Pool Camp update - June 09 Jump
to Kings Pool Camp
Winter has been very kind to us so far - the chill has not reached us yet this year. Midday temperatures have averaged 27º Celsius and lows averaged around 10º Celsius. Clear blue skies dominated this month, other than the bizarre weather anomaly that occurred in the beginning of June - we received over 110mm of rainfall over an entire day. Unheard of in June! This made game viewing quite difficult and rather cold, but there is nothing a good cup of hot chocolate cannot fix. Fortunately this rain system did not linger too long, and it vanished as quickly as it appeared.
General game sightings have been very good. Sable and roan antelope have come out of the mopane woodland for us to see, while large numbers of giraffe have been feeding on the new flowers of knobbly combretums, a treat for them. Kudu are also prevalent with huge males showing off their corkscrew horns. Zebra are plentiful on the floodplains at the moment - most having returned from their annual migration to/from the Makgadikgadi Pans. Not forgetting regulars like warthog, impala, vervet monkey, baboon, common waterbuck and red lechwe - all regularly seen on safari.
Both the Chobe Pride and LTC Pride have given birth to lion cubs this month. Chobe Pride has two little ones and the LTC pride has three fit and healthy cubs. The latter have been hidden very close to Kings Pool Camp, and we have managed to get some sneak peeks!
Lions in the Linyanti and Savuti areas are not afraid of swimming and we frequently see them crossing floodplains and channels. One of the adjoining photos is of a young male of the LTC pride crossing some water, and thoroughly enjoying it.
The Borders Boys are seen regularly patrolling their territory ensuring the safety of their offspring. They often walk their entire territory from the Chobe National Park up to Livingstone's Hide to the west of Kings Pool in a day or two. There is pressure from both sides as males in neighbouring territories have been seen scouting out the Border Boys' domain.
Elephants are around in full force and we are seeing hundreds on every drive. The bulls often come into Kings Pool Camp and feed on the feverberry trees around the rooms. The breeding herds move between the mopane woodlands and the Linyanti floodplains and their rumbling infra-sound communications can be heard throughout the area. During this time of the year it is rare not to hear the rumblings of elephants around camp.
Leopard sightings have been good this month. We have seen five different leopards along the Linyanti River, some of which have been quite shy, others very relaxed. We encountered a female leopard one day with an impala kill. She did not take her kill up the tree and was lucky no hyaenas discovered it. This provided us with three days of great viewing.
Wild dog sightings have been infrequent this month, but we managed to see them on a few occasions. We suspect that they are denning somewhere in the mopane woodland, but despite noble tracking efforts, we have not found the site as yet. These highly energetic predators are always on the move making it difficult to keep up with the pack, especially when the pack is out hunting.
Even though it is not our peak birding season, we are still seeing a host of different species, ranging from waterfowl and Dickinson's Kestrel (pictured) to Little Bee-eaters and Bradfield's Hornbill (bottom left). Some of the endangered species regularly seen in the Linyanti include Southern Ground Hornbill, Wattled Crane, Slaty Egret and White-headed Vulture.
Manager for this month were Kerry and Nick, Alex and One with guides OD, Moses and Diye.
DumaTau Camp update - June 09 Jump
to DumaTau Camp
After three days of surprise rain that we had in the second week of June, the temperatures changed. It warmed up for about four days, but a cold front from the south in mid-month caused temperatures to drop significantly for a week. The minimum temperature for the month was 9º Celsius and the maximum was 24º Celsius. The total amount of rain we received was 92mm - highly unusual for June!
The Selinda Boys (Silver Eye and brother) have been very busy defending, and attempting to extend their territory over neighbouring males. They spent a little time out of the concession in doing so, and on their return they made sure everybody knew that they were back. They roared for a long time from Zib Hide after crossing into our concession, passed through DumaTau Camp and headed on to Kings Pool.
A couple of days after their return, the Kings Pool guides heard some aggressive growling - the sounds of lions fighting. It was a fight for territory between the Border Boys protecting their area and Silver Eye and brother. One of the Border Boys was subsequently seen with injuries on his back and hind legs.
On the morning of the 10th, the Selinda Boys were found again - the one brother limping on his right foot. They looked very unsettled and alert. These males have a large territory to watch over which includes control over the Savuti Breakaway Lioness and her two male cubs, and the Selinda Pride. They need to keep a careful eye on the latter, as the five sub-adult males are no longer with the females. They have been acting a bit strange when approached by a vehicle and look anxious. This behaviour is expected however; as the dominant males start keeping them away from the females, and the females become less approachable themselves, the younger males find their status quo in the pride shifting, leaving them feeling vulnerable and uneasy.
The Savuti female was last seen crossing the channel by First Corner and heading into the Selinda concession. She was caught in a tight corner as the Selinda Pride was closing in on her and the cubs.
There have been some excellent sightings of leopard between DumaTau Camp and Zib Hide. We have good news about the Zib female as she is lactating, but we are still trying to find her cubs. She has been seen hunting regularly this past month.
One morning Mocks spotted an unknown female cheetah on an impala kill. As he came close to the sighting, the Zib female came charging from the grass and chased the cheetah off its kill. A few minutes later her sub-adult cub came and took over the kill from her. Suddenly, a hyaena appeared! The young male climbed a tree with the kill extremely quickly, and safely fed on the carcass out of the hyaena's reach.
One morning, while our guides were tracking lion, they encountered a leopard on the other side of the Savute Channel. This young male leopard was unfortunately not looking too good. His ribs and backbone were showing. He stayed in one spot for two days looking very helpless, and we never could work out exactly what was wrong with him.
Wild dog sightings
Wild dogs are making DumaTau Camp their own! We have been fortunate to see them hunt around camp regularly, which is extremely exciting. It is also that time of the year where they are denning, and we have discovered the site. It looks like the two females both have puppies. We are very nervous about this and hope that they will manage to raise the two sets of puppies as one. Unfortunately, for the past two weeks, the Selinda Pride have been very active around the denning area so we remain hopeful that they do not discover the den. At this time, the den is not open for viewing as the puppies are still too young and we need to keep traffic around the area to an absolute minimum.
Vasco and Moa were lucky enough to see the dogs chasing impala. The dogs chased one into the water, where it tried to swim quickly to get to the southern bank for safety. But to no avail as it was quickly pulled down by a big crocodile! All six dogs stood close to the water's edge watching as their meal disappeared. Their hunt was not over though. As the sun was setting, they moved along the Channel at pace. The persistent dogs continued to chase another impala, which also chose the water as a safe option and unfortunately ended up amongst a big pod of hippos. An incredible tug of war ensued between a hippo and two crocodiles, pulling the hapless impala apart in the fading light!
The Mantshwe Boys have been scarce but guide Lazi did spot them resting at the beginning of the month. After a few days they were seen by the Savuti Camp guides crossing to the southern bank of the Savute Channel, and shortly thereafter the guides followed their tracks where they were found feeding on a kudu calf. Mocks also spotted an unknown female feeding on the impala as mentioned under leopard sightings.
As always for this time of year, large herds of elephant have been seen in different areas along the Savute Channel. General game sightings have been good and at the beginning of the month Ollie spotted roan antelope close to the Chobe Airstrip.
Birdlife in the Linyanti never disappoints. Visiting birders have left camp highly satisfied with all the avian sightings. Pictured is a stunning male Coqui Francolin - heard more often than seen.
'To all members of the DumaTau team, our sincere thanks for a truly memorable visit. Your gracious hospitality is a wonderful reflection of good leadership and our time with you has been a delightful experience. To our guide Mocks you made our trip?.' - Susan and Tom
'The friendliness of the staff, gorgeous camp, delicious food and awesome guides. DumaTau is highly recommended, we will always remember the DumaTau Team.' - Steve and Heather
'Mocks is a fine guide and a fine ambassador for the company.' - Sue and Ian
'The staff worked as a family and welcomed our group into their home, the sightings were excellent. We have been to a dozen camps and our stay in DumaTau was the best! We will be back.' Bill & Gary
Managers in camp were Vasco, Miriam, Karen, Kele and trainee manager, Maatla. The guiding team was Ollie, Ron, Theba, Mocks and Lazi. Barobi (trainee guide) has being helping out in camp and out with the guides.
Images courtesy of Vasco
Savuti Camp update - June 09 Jump
to Savuti Camp
Two seemingly contradictory trends have shaped and guided events at Savuti Camp this month. We are deep into winter now, with the shortest day of the year just past as I write this. Winter in northern Botswana is typically cool and dry, with brilliant blue skies and at least 12 hours of sunshine per day. This prolonged exposure to the sun's heat soon begins to dry up all the small waterholes and pans left over from the rains and this leaves the flowing Savute Channel as the only reliable source of water for miles around.
At the same time, we are about to experience our peak flood levels in the Linyanti System. This normally occurs during July each year (a little while after the annual flood reaches the central Okavango). Each day we are seeing the Channel flow faster, as evidenced by the speed with which floating leaves and twigs pass Savuti Camp. Now that ground has shifted along the Gumare faultline to the north of us, the Kwando River is able to carry the Angolan rainfall it has gathered, into Zibadianja Lagoon - and from there it flows into the Savute Channel.
At the border with Namibia there is a measuring station on the Kwando River at Kongola. During June this year, the water levels at this location reached their highest mark since records began. The last time that the Kwando was so full was in 1969 - exactly 40 years ago.
We're anticipating that much of this water will sweep down into the Savute Channel, giving it the final push it needs to reach its historic terminus in the Savute Marsh well before the end of the year. Currently the Channel is some 0.9m (3 feet) deep beneath our star deck, and we estimate that it could rise by up to another 0.6m (2 feet).
Last year also saw massive inflows into the Savute Channel, but back then they were entering a dry, empty riverbed. This year they will be coming on top of an existing miracle watercourse, and in addition the Channel received a considerable boost from the rain earlier this month and is beginning to cover the ascending numbers on our flood gauge one by one.
Earlier this month two of our guides, Kane and Sefo, set out on an expedition to see exactly how far the Channel had advanced. They drove off into the rising sun and returned to the Camp in darkness, having driven almost to the Chobe cutline (where Wilderness Safaris' Linyanti Concession abuts the Chobe National Park) before they overtook the racing stream that forms the spearhead of the Channel's advance. The Channel bed becomes much narrower and deeper to the east, and this meant that the water was flowing much faster even than it is past Savuti Camp. At the point where it was measured by our guides, the Channel had covered approximately two-thirds of the distance between its source and the Marsh.
In front of Savuti Camp, rising water levels and rainfall have combined to refill the famous Savuti waterhole, and soon the defunct logpile hide will sit in majestic isolation on its own island. Away from the Savute Channel the small pools of water scattered throughout the mopane woodland, a legacy of the summer rains, are about to expire completely.
The mopane trees themselves are turning shades of orange and yellow, giving the impression of a forest aflame. As grasses wither and leaves twist to the ground, the colours are slowly leaking out of the landscape and it assumes its winter appearance.
Many of the signs of winter are present, but the weather has been distinctly odd. Usually we can guarantee no rainfall at all for winter, but our confidence in those predictions was severely tested in early June, when we had three days of heavy rain and dense cloud cover, very atypical for this time of year. Game drives were splashing through mud puddles and lions were seen lapping at small pools of rainwater in the roads. Those three surreal days, seemingly cut and pasted from a Botswana November, have now faded to become a puzzling memory, with normal service resumed: duck-egg blue skies all day and starry nights of illuminated black velvet.
The lowest temperatures we have recorded here this winter were an invigorating 3°C (36°F). Mopane logs snap and crackle on the campfire and thick blankets are wrapped that little more tightly. But bowls of steaming oatmeal are soon abandoned when the roar of a lion shatters the dawn air, or a kudu pelts headlong into view on the far bank of the Channel and without missing a beat, crashes into the chilly waters to swim to safety, just inches ahead of the snapping jaws and frost-white canines of a wild dog hard on her heels.
This area is so beautiful now that it is easy to get swept away in the glories of the landscape to the point that the animals and birds themselves have to compete hard to get your attention.
The biggest news this month is that at least one of our packs of wild dogs has, as suspected, begun to den. This is massively exciting news, as it marks the second consecutive year that these endangered predators have denned in our game drive area. At the beginning of the month, it was clear to our guides that two females in a small breakaway pack were pregnant (which is strange, as usually only the alpha pair mate). Shortly afterwards, the pack were seen again, minus one female, and the second one that had also been pregnant, was now lean and flat-bellied again.
Kane was able to carefully track the dogs back to their den and confirm its location to the east of Savuti, approximately halfway to our sister camp, DumaTau. Wild dogs are very prone to abandoning den sites and young puppies if disturbed, and so we are giving them lots of time and space for now. Also, increased activity around the den could lead curious predators such as lion or hyaena to the puppies. If all goes well, in a few weeks we may be able to commence limited visits to the den so that guests can enjoy the antics of the next generation of these 'painted wolves'.
Mating is indeed a right to be earned among many species, and establishing hierarchies of dominance can result in fascinating behaviour and great game drive sightings. There is an almost balletic, choreographed quality to the sparring of male giraffe, and a real sense of fair play with the males standing side-on to each other and taking it in turns to swing their heavy, horned heads into each other. The length of their necks of course gives their blows considerable momentum but most disputes are resolved without serious injury.
Of course not every bush story has such a happy ending. Every dog has his day, they say, and sometimes as a direct consequence, every kudu has her last day. The wild dogs of the Linyanti seem to have a particular fondness for kudu flesh, and as the kudu has a particular fondness for staying alive, collisions between the two can result in some phenomenal chases. The kudus have learnt that the dogs are still very reluctant to enter the water, and this then is the risky last resort open to these large antelope when pursued.
On one remarkable occasion this month, the dogs ran a kudu to ground on the banks of the Channel and she unhesitatingly swam across to save her life. The effort all but killed her however, and she stood for a long time in the shallows on the far side, white-striped flanks heaving and tongue lolling, watching the frustrated dogs trot up and down the opposite shore.
This month we also spotted a kudu that may have a hard time evading the dogs: a kudu so pale in coloration it appeared almost white at a distance - in fact, a near albino. True albinism requires white skin and red eyes, and is very rare in animals - particularly prey species. It is rarely a good idea to stand out from your surroundings and from the rest of the herd, and it was remarkable to see that this kudu had survived to adulthood.
One animal that seems to thrive with a white coat - albeit a striped one - is the zebra, and herds of these 'tiger-horses' have been much in evidence this month, massing on the banks of the Channel where there is still green grass to be had.
Perhaps our most unusual sighting of the month was on a night drive, when a pair of servals were seen in the beam of the spotlight. The serval is a beautiful but rarely seen cat, all long legs, short tail, and spotted coat - a nocturnal stalk-and-pounce specialist which preys on frogs and rodents. To see two together is extremely rare.
At the opposite end of the size scale, many of our guests had had the opportunity to enjoy watching breeding herds of elephants wade through the Channel.
'First rate accommodation, excellent food and service. Managers Noko, Tumoh and Terri as well as entire staff made our experience memorable.'
'Our guide Raphael was excellent - truly passionate about sharing Africa with his guests.'
'Sefo, our guide, was awesome. Animal sightings were wonderful. Lion cubs were very special. Camp atmosphere was warm and welcoming.'
'Highlight: cheetah kill, wild dogs, leopard kill, wild dogs again?'
'Absolutely wonderful tents, staff, food, and wildlife led to an overall fantastic experience.'
Nick "Noko" Galpine, Tumoh Morena, Terri Krause, Kane Motswana, Oganeditse Sefo, Raphael Kebiditswe, Maatla Lelekandi and Ras Mundu.
Images by Gregg Hughes
Zarafa Camp update - June 09 Jump
to Zarafa Camp
A few vignettes show just how relaxed the wildlife was around Zarafa Camp this last month...
Game viewing from your bath tub
After high tea one afternoon, one of the guests decided to opt for a little quiet time in the bathtub and some reading rather than going on a game drive. At dinner when asked if she had a relaxing afternoon her reply was: "Well, I was lying in the tub when a herd of elephants strolled past my room. They came right up to the pool to drink while others were splashing about in the Zibadianja Lagoon. Later I watched as they crossed the lagoon. I finished my bath and lay down to read when I heard a very strange noise. This noise seemed to come from something I've never seen before, and on referring to my game drive animal identification book I found that what I have just seen was a pack of seven African wild dogs!" Certainly proves that sometimes the wildlife comes to you.
Wildlife in and around Zarafa Camp
One particular morning everyone in camp woke to the calls of hyaena, lion and leopard. Guests left on safari but returned to camp for a forgotten camera bag. Good thing too as on their return, they caught a glimpse of a young male lion. He was very interested and came closer, and from behind him emerged another three lions all circling the staff area!
These lions then decided it was a good idea to do a 'site inspection' of Zarafa Camp and they strolled in between all the guest tents, later even coming past and right up to the main deck.
Then we heard a wild roar from the other side of camp and along came Silver Eye, one of the dominant males. There was turmoil and the younger lions bolted in fear of the older male. Then four more lions appeared from the thickets. Now there were nine lions in camp! The lions eventually got bored with staff and guests admiring them with their cameras and rather opted to play with our swimming pool pipes and pool cleaning net.
Later in the day the guides found one of our more relaxed female leopards called Amber. And if that wasn't enough, we had a whole herd of elephants wading through the lagoon after coming very close to the main deck and hippo where brunch was being served.
Selinda Camp update - June 09 Jump
to Selinda Camp
The big talking point for June was the large amount of rainfall experienced. Almost 100mm were recorded on Selinda which is absolutely unheard of at this time of year. Is this a natural cycle or can it be attributed to climate change? This sudden, large amount of rain filled up Twin Pans which the steady rains of the wet season failed to do, that just goes to show how heavy the rainfall was in just two days.
June is definitely upon us as winter temperatures have steadily crept in, the mopane woodlands are slowly starting to take on their golden hue and early mornings are met with a definite chill and mist over the waters accompanied by the distinctive call of Meyer's Parrots. Fortunately the days are still comfortably warm.
The advantage of the cool, clear evenings is the spectacular view of the southern skies, with the Magellanic Clouds, Scorpio, Libra and the Southern Cross prime conversation topics at this time of year.
We have noticed that the two dominant male lions have returned to the area and seem to be spending more time in the Selinda area. These particular lions were seen engaging in territorial battles with other lions from the Kwando region. Another highlight during the month of June was an inter-clan dispute between two large groups of spotted hyaenas. It is a fascinating spectacle to witness these animals facing off and having an aggressive battle.
One of the projects that our team at Selinda has been onto this month is opening up a channel that will enable us to travel by boat through to Zibadianja Lagoon. It has proved to be a time consuming job but the results will be worth the effort with the future possibility of boat cruises into this remarkable area.
Camps Update - June 09
Lagoon camp Jump
Guide and guests in the search for the Wild Dog den site at Lagoon had a successful month. The site was identified close to the airstrip and the heavily pregnant female is deep inside the hide before the impending birth. Other members of the pack stand sentry outside the entrance providing wonderful game viewing for expectant guests.
Furthermore, we have been fortunate to have lots of cat sightings from large prides of Lions to Leopards in trees.
Some guests keen to try their hand at fishing have had a successful first attempt off the jetty at Lagoon camp, a huge 6kg Catfish was caught along with two delicious Southern Mouth Brooder Breams!
Kwara & Little Kwara camps Jump
& Little Kwara camps
Afternoon siesta was interrupted one day this month by the deafening sounds of Lions roaring close to Kwara camp. As guests clambered onto the game drive vehicles the sounds came ever closer until four Lionesses appeared being chased by five others. The first four are well known in Kwara as ‘One Eyes Pride’. The second group are newcomers and were evidently successful in chasing establishing themselves in the area.
Guests and camp staff alike watched in amazement as the lionesses swam across the lagoon in front of camp to safety.
In addition, Leopards and Cheetahs have been a common sighting this month.
Lebala camp Jump
The extraordinary site of a Pangolin greeted some surprised guests in June at Lebala. The armoured anteater was spotted not even a kilometre of the camp itself. These animals practice myrmecophagy meaning that they feed exclusively on a specific species (in this case ants and termites).
Cat lovers have been treated to an exhibition in hunting by the three big species. Cheetahs have been sighted in a failed attempt to kill a Kudu, Leopard have been caught with a hunted Impala in a tree and four female Lions made a successful kill on a Zebra in the woodlands.
Elsewhere, an interesting moment for environmentalists elapsed in June. The Selinda Spillway, which sources from the main Okavango River at Seronga, finally joined the Linyanti River close to Lebala. What this means is that after a gap of some years the aquatic systems of the Okavango and the greater Zambezi River can again merge and the gene pools of species such as the Crocodile and the Tiger Fish can again combine.
The Bushman walks have proved especially productive this month with the stark winter landscape and cooler weather providing perfect conditions to take a morning stroll and learn about the culture of these extraordinary people.
Nxai is attracting all manor of beasts to its refreshing waterhole. Giraffes, Elephants, Gemsbok, Impala, Springbok and Wildebeest have been seen this month along with a wonderful sighting of a Cheetah. Guests enjoying the midday sun on the deck first noticed the speedy cats cautiously approaching through the acacia trees. Gradually they grew in confidence until they were able to lap up the cool water and drink their fill. A wonderful sighting for the new camp!
The local Tau pack of Wild Dogs got more than they bargained for this June when they made the mistake of igniting the anger of the legendary Honey Badger. These ferocious little omnivores may not look like much but tales of their bravery are stuff of bush mythology.
Seven of the dogs were spotted attacking the badger by some aghast guests along with their guide. To their amazement the little badger more than held its own and sent the seven dogs packing with a toxic secretion from its anal glands!
Elsewhere, Lions and Leopards have been seen on the Pan and close to the Tau waterhole. Cheetahs have been seen hunting Springbok on the Pan and a large herd of Eland antelope was seen on the road to Deception Valley.
Mombo Camp update
- June 09 Jump
to Mombo Camp
Weather and Water Levels
We had 40mm of rain in the first week of June which caused seasonal pans to fill up, a few misty mornings, and localised animal migrations with most game species moving and feeding inland as opposed to being on the floodplains as they should be this time of year. This rainfall was highly unusual for June.
Temperatures for the month dropped a bit after the rain and we ended up recording 8º Celsius minimum while the maximum was 30º Celsius. The annual flood is still high and has resulted in most wildlife species congregating in the dryer parts of the island, making them easier to find. We currently traverse an ample 156 square kilometres!
Cat sightings are still predominant highlights on the Mombo islands and we summed up the month with 25 recorded lion sightings alone. These included the often-seen Western Pride, which consists of the Mathata Boys who seem to have decided to stay with the two western females and their four cubs. To the west and the north-west of Mombo Camp, we have the Jako Boys and the four Maporota females which have six cubs - four of them are about seven weeks old now. These playful cubs have been the highlight for most of our guests who happened to see them during their stay. This pride was found on a buffalo carcass a few times. Their movement stretches all the way up to Lethlaka Pan but they have been avoiding the Western Pride's territory. The Jako Boys were also seen feeding on an elephant carcass for several days.
The Mathata Pride still comprises five females. In some areas the territories of these cats overlap and they have sort of learnt to tolerate each other and even share males. The Boro Boys only showed themselves once in the eastern side of Simbira. All in all, the prides are starting to grow in numbers as most of them have cubs.
The astute leopards of Mombo have been seen on impala kills and in and around Mombo Camp Island - especial Pula, the daughter of the famous Legadima. The leopard sightings have improved since Pula and Maru gained independence from their mother. These two leopards sometimes kill more than they can consume - perhaps practicing their killing skills. The father of these cubs, Motawana, seems to cover a bigger territory since he sometimes disappears for a long time. This particular leopard is currently being seen more often again, even mating with Legadima.
The rhino are seen closer and closer to camp. Serondela, Warona and Tshepo are always found together and their movements seem to be influenced by the floodwater. There are constant territorial disputes amongst all the bulls, quite a sight.
Buffalo are currently found on the more remote islands, which are difficult to access by vehicle although we did record three sightings of 100-strong buffalo herds this month.
The half-eaten carcasses left by the single wild dog in the area have been enjoyed by hyaena and jackal. This wild dog is a successful solitary hunter but seems to always be followed by hyaena and jackal in hopes of sharing or taking the spoils from him.
Chiefs Island is crammed with general game - zebra, impala, wildebeest, warthogs and lots of giraffe. We have also noticed an increase in the elephants on the island. A few herds have been recorded and the impact of their feeding behaviour is increasingly visible on the vegetation.
Mombo - Taps, Lizzy, Kago, Martha and Martin. Little Mombo - Tsile, Nat.
Guides: Cilas, Malinga, Emang, Cisco; Lebo and Tsile at Little Mombo.
Xigera Camp update
- June 09 Jump
to Xigera Camp
Weather and Water Levels
Winter has arrived at Xigera with the mornings starting at a cool 9º Celsius and averaging 20 by midday. The highest temperature reached 28º Celsius in early June. We had a few days of hard rain in the beginning of the month, totalling 28mm, which is very unusual for June and really caught us by surprise. After the rain the temperatures seemed to drop and we are all pulling our chairs closer to the camp fire in the evenings.
The water level measured on the bridge has dropped ever so slightly from 199cm to 194cm - so there is still a lot of water out here.
The boat trips have been a success in spotting mammals attracted to the water's edge. While out on one of these trips guide Teko stopped to look at some birds when he heard francolins alarm calling and they were soon joined by hornbills and starlings all making a lot of fuss over something. At first he couldn't see anything but eventually noticed a leopard lying flat on the side of a termite mound peering at them. An incredible experience, to view a leopard so close to the boat!
Further along the floodplains guide Ndebo found two lionesses near the edge of the water. The two females were stalking red lechwe antelope and had to cross the water several times before they could get close enough. Unfortunately the lions were not successful on this occasion.
The mokoro journeys are one of Xigera's most sublime experiences. Normally these trips are peaceful encounters with the Delta wildlife and guests have been having a fantastic time viewing a plethora of water wildlife this season. The amount of water has also provided great opportunities to see game from the mokoros as well, and guests one morning had a close up and personal encounter with an elephant that crossed the channel right in front of them.
Out on game drives, the sightings have also been good. Teko witnessed a single spotted hyaena chasing a reedbuck one morning. The hyaena was after a mother with a youngster, which it persistently chased for quite some time. Eventually, the reedbuck ewe cunningly left the young one hidden in some tall grass and took the hyaena further and further away from her lamb.
Malachite Kingfishers are the gems of the Delta that we regularly see from mokoro trips, along with Black Crakes, African Fish-Eagles, Pied Kingfishers and many more. The birdlife seen from the boats has been fantastic including five Wattle Cranes often seen at first Hippo Pools. White-backed Duck, African Purple Swamphen, African Marsh Harrier, Lesser Jacana, Saddle-billed Storks and Greater Honeyguides are often seen. And of course, don't forget, we are fortunate enough to see the Pel's Fishing-Owl on a regular basis too.
'My stay at Xigera has been amazing - the atmosphere in camp and the environments that I visited were an experience that I will cherish.'
Anton Wessels, Tlamelo Phuthologo, Tendani van der Est, Trevor Mcdougall and Jeltje Daamen.
Guides: Ndebo Tongwane, Teko Ketlogetswe, Lemme Dintswa
Chitabe Camp update
- June 09 Jump
to Chitabe Lediba Camp
June, with the unseasonal 'late' rain, has proven to be very cold by our standards, with highs at around 25º Celsius and lows of 4º Celsius. Hot water bottles are very much the order of the day - both in bed and on the early part of the morning drive.
We enjoyed excellent predator sightings twice daily this month. Apart from the three young male lions that came across the Gomoti Channel from Moremi last year, we also have two new very handsome males who are also 'semi-resident'. Every morning just before guest wake-up at 05.30, they have been heard practicing their territorial roaring, and pawprints left in the sand confirm that they walk through camp at about this time. The lone female lioness, a mother of two who also adopted her niece, is still doing well and her offspring are also growing up nicely. The second lone Chitabe lioness failed to raise a cub successfully once again and she seems a little shy this year.
The collared cheetah, mother of two, that we first saw last year, hasn't been seen for months since being recorded crossing out of our concession; we don't know if the cubs were with her at the time. We've been seeing a different cheetah family, a mother with two sub-adult cubs who have been very active hunting and running round. She did worry everyone at one point when one of the cubs got separated from the other two by lions, only to be reunited two days later much to our relief. Another collared cheetah has been seen around Chitabe Lediba this past week, suggesting that she might have cubs hidden nearby. This cheetah has only just entered the Chitabe Concession; we know she was collared last November in Santawane.
General game has been excellent as always: large herds of zebra, giraffe and buffalo with civet, genet and even caracal sightings after dark.
Birders will be pleased to know that there is plenty of birding to be enjoyed right from camp. Coppery-tailed Coucal and Bearded Woodpecker have been nesting by the swimming pool, Lilac-breasted Rollers call from the trees outside the rooms and African Scops-owl, Pearl-spotted owlets and Giant Eagle-owls call from the trees at night - especially round the Kgotla (outside dining) area.
Managers Dawson, Shaa, Tiny and Alice look forward to looking after you at Chitabe and Kenny G and Jossie at Chitabe Lediba.
Guides are Newman, Phinley, Ebs, Thuso and BB.
-Images courtesy of Simon and Katie Ernst-
Chitabe Lediba Camp update
- June 09 Jump
to Chitabe Lediba Camp
Weather and Landscape
We had some bizarre rain and cold weather from the Cape that reached the Okavango Delta this month even grounding our light aircraft and stranded guests for forty-eight hours. To say it was a relief to see the sun again afterwards is something of an understatement. For the remainder of June we enjoyed warm days although the mornings and evenings were rather cold, so typical of the dry winter season.
In camp baboon antics are often the norm - in the mornings we see them stretching limbs as if to announce the new day. The little ones start to bounce up and down on the tent roofs and the adults set about determining who's fighting who for supremacy.
Out on game drives, Chitabe Lediba was back to its usual self. First thing, a cheetah with her two cubs was found breakfasting on a warthog. As if that wasn't enough, leopard tracks led to a female who had her eye on a troop of baboons up ahead in some mopane scrub. She quickly pounced and guests saw her with a sub-adult baboon, her teeth set in in the base of the primate's skull. The troop was quick to react and amid much loud shrieking they gave chase and the leopard dropped its catch.
After coffee and biscuits, camp guide Brooks spotted a large number of vultures circling in the distance and went off to investigate. What he found was three big male lions feasting on two dead elephants. The vultures numbered several hundred and the lions were busy chasing them off their meat whilst side-striped jackals waited patiently for any scraps. Meanwhile the lioness had to use certain other charms to persuade the males that she was also worthy of a little food. The guides surmised, looking at the position of the bodies on the ground that the adult mother elephant could have died and fallen on her calf, trapping it with her weight and from there both died of starvation. A grim scene indeed but one which says a lot about life, death and survival out here in the African bush. Chitabe is certainly happening this dry season!
Photo by Marilyn Knutson
Vumbura Plains Camp update
- June 09 Jump
to Vumbura Plains Camp
It has been a month of extremes as far as the weather is concerned, with temperatures fluctuating between extremely cold and unseasonably mild. Mid month, we were lashed by a couple of big storms and heavy rain - something very unusual, if not unheard of, at this time of year. We received about 50 mm in two days which, considering our average yearly rainfall is 500 mm, is about a tenth of this amount. This made our animals run for cover and stand with their backs turned to the cold rain, but made for great drives the morning that it cleared. There is nothing quite like driving through the African bush after a rainstorm, with the clouds clearing and the dust settled while the fresh smells, sounds and sights assault the senses. The rain also topped up the many floodplains and waterways of the Delta.
The sighting of the month was definitely the two Kwedi white rhino. The tracks were seen by Ona early one morning on his way to the airstrip. The quick reaction by Andy and the other available guides, as well as their amazing tracking skills, produced the first sighting of these rhino in over six months. Moronga then quickly gathered his guests and headed out to the area, and O.B walked them into viewing distance of these prehistoric-looking beasts.
The wild dog sightings this month have been fantastic, with both packs showing themselves regularly. They are forever the crowd pleaser with their amazing social behaviour as well as their voracious appetites and fearless hunting skills. Two dogs were somehow left behind and split from the pack, with a third one joining them a few days later. This new small pack has been in and around Vumbura Plains for the last couple of weeks.
Selonyana, our resident female leopard, has been regularly seen throughout June; at times on impala kills, and of course, often spread out on a branch up a tree surveying her territory. She is absolutely magnificent. Sadly, however, her cub is now confirmed dead, so the legacy of the Marula male, our once proud male leopard, who was killed earlier this year, is now gone.
The lion cubs, however, are doing well and full of fun. They have been watched playing with each other and even with their father, who is not often responsive to his cubs' playfulness.
Our usual elephant sightings, plus the rarer sable sightings, as well as all the myriads of bird and mammal life present in the area have kept all our guests enthralled through the month.
Activities by Boat
With the high level of flood water, we managed to navigate a brand new channel from the end of camp through to the main channel East of Pipi Island. In times of flooding this will give us access to a new area to boat, an area remarkably beautiful and untouched. The guides and our proud boat captains, Sparks and Pro, have had an amazing time exploring the area. One of the islands we have landed on has very recent tracks of the rare sitatunga, an antelope restricted to the papyrus and reed beds, in the heart of the Delta.
"This place is amazing, I'll never forget Botswana, and it has been so much fun. Thanks for everything" Lizzy, Colorado, U.S.A
"An amazing way to celebrate Dad's birthday. Awesome place!" Anil and Tina. Mumbai, India.
"Thanks to all at Vumbura! This is a beautiful and unforgettable place. Our trip was absolutely INCREDIBLE" Paul and Brenda. Hamburg, Germany.
Managers this month at Vumbura Plains North were Tanya Karovsky, Gordon Karovsky, Phenyo Tlalenyane and the guides were Moronga Kandondi, Sebonta Thekiso Onamile Lekgopho.
Managers at Vumbura Plains South Zara Shaikh and Frank Matomela and guides were Obonye Kamela, Setsile Chikusi and Lethebe Sethwara.
Images courtesy of Gordon Karovsky
Jacana Camp update
- June 09 Jump
to Jacana Camp
The days have been temperate but not cold; the midday sky is the colour of lapis lazuli, dotted by small cirrus clouds showing that winter is on its way. The evening skies are so clear that one can see all the way to the moon. The dark night is dotted by stars like the skin of the leopard, and the cool mornings carry the mist like a blanket keeping the waters of the delta warm for all that are living here.
Our resident female leopard has come back into her breeding cycle, after her cub has grown up and left the area. Looking to be the father of the new cubs there are two male leopards in the area competing for the honour.
Being surrounded by water does not deter hungry bull elephants - the ripening of the palm nuts make them come from all over to feast on this delicacy. In the last weeks we have seen the passing and technique of many large pachyderms - really something to see. The 'thunder' of palm trees shaking through the night, adds to the wonder of this little paradise of ours.
The lazy winter afternoons make for some wonderful birding, and the light lends itself to the photographic eye. Amongst others there are some Little Bee-eaters that have found a home here on the island and provide for some good midday entertainment with their aerial acrobatics.
These are just some of the autumn visitors that we have here on the island - each visit has its own highlights just waiting to be discovered. With the waters starting to recede, the fishing has picked up and some of our guests have come away with some good catches like this pictured tiger fish - a fearsome predatory fish.
"Great location and staff - a true memory!" - Hughes Family.
"Great wildlife, fishing and camp staff, a truly terrific time!" - Steve, Charlie and Izzy.
"Loved Jack, awesome time, Thank you!" - Bryn and Kerry
"Awesome three days. Thanks for a great stay - will return" - Craig and Shannon
"Wonderful service, accommodation and smiles" - Ricka and Martin.
update - June 09 Jump
to Kwetsani Camp
Weather and Water Levels
After a mild start to the month of June, winter has definitely arrived. Jackets and jerseys are out and hot water bottles are in the beds each evening. Our lowest morning temperature recorded was 9.6° Celsius with a maximum of around 22° Celsius. Although the mornings are cold, coffee is enjoyed watching the most spectacular sunrises; the crisp and clear mornings are certainly worth getting up for.
The incredible flood levels this year have receded significantly but are still higher than levels at this time last year, this is despite the fact that floodwaters reached us almost six weeks earlier. We can still look forward to many more months of boating, fishing and other water adventures. Of course the flooded channels are also our watery highway to Hunda Island, which has as usual offered wonderful wildlife experiences, with dazzles of zebra, journeys of giraffe, leaps of leopard, clans of hyaena, parades of elephant and herds of blue wildebeest. This has, as usual, provided many hours of enjoyment for guests. In between the wonderful game viewing we take the opportunity to rest for a while in the shade of the beautiful sycamore figs overlooking grassy plains. We roll out the ponchos and picnic baskets to eat amongst the carefree herds that graze nearby, seemingly oblivious to our presence.
For months now we have followed the social changes in our lion pride. We have watched a male reach maturity and the traumatic point in his life where he is cast from the pride. This is nature's way of maintaining the genetic balance. We have also watched as the new male courted the female. After the ritual mating the signs of her pregnancy were noticed and finally one day it was clear there were cubs hidden somewhere around the island.
We had a couple of months of tremendous lion activity. The camp literally shook in the early mornings with the roaring of the pride. Then suddenly towards the middle of the month it was quiet. The male was reasonably close and calling his pride but we heard no response. Some days later the lions were found on a wildebeest kill all the way over on Hunda Island. The females had crossed deep water to get to the island. On hearing this we resigned ourselves to the fact that the cubs were no more.
Then, after four days of hunting on the island they appeared on the floodplains in front of Kwetsani Camp again, causing great excitement. Our binoculars were focused and waiting for the lioness to appear above the grass line - when she did her very blackened and swollen teats indicated she was lactating.
We went out in the vehicle to get a sighting of the lionesses in the long grass as they crossed the waters of the floodplain. We found them stalking a herd of red lechwe and watched as they made their final assault. They came within two metres of the lechwe but did not manage to make the kill. It certainly got our hearts pumping! Following the failed hunt the lactating lioness made an immediate dash for a dense palm island. It seemed clear to us that her cubs must be hidden on the small island. We waited and listened for a while, we heard no sounds, but the lioness remained within the thicket.
We considered the length of time the lionesses had been away and decided that a break of four days was not unusual for a lioness to be away from her cubs. We then watched as the lionesses headed back across the floodplain in search of another hunting opportunity, we were feeling full of hope and joy that our growing pride was safe and sound.
Our joy was shortlived as the days passed by without another visit. We have now given up hope that the cubs survived. They have no doubt succumbed to the competing hyaenas that will take any opportunity to eliminate competition from other predators, particularly their offspring.
Despite the floodwaters, the abundance of food diminishes as winter progresses. The baboons and monkeys try to take any opportunity to steal a nibble of brunch or tea. It is an ongoing battle of wits to keep the agile monkeys away from our sumptuous spreads where they seem to work in teams to outwit us and make a dash for a scrap. It is at this time of the year that we explain to our guests how important it is not to feed wild animals; they are certainly tempted when they watch the expectant family of vervet monkeys peering into the dining room from their vantage points, not far away.
The baboons resort to a meal of the incredibly tough fruit of the real fan palms. One can only watch in amazement as the baboons' powerful jaws rip apart the hard outer coating from around the pulp of the fruit which, when mature, forms a very hard beautiful ivory core. In its early stages of development the pulp is quite soft and is said to resemble gingerbread, and is highly sought after by baboons. Soon enough the herds of elephants will also descend upon our island to shake the massive bunches of fruit from the real fan palms which epitomise the Okavango Delta.
During the month, we were also very touched by a poem written and presented to us by Australian guest George Gifford who visited with his wife and friends. Appropriately George shared the poem with all the staff on his last night, which happened to be our traditional evening. After a remarkable choral and cultural performance by our staff, there was much ululating and clapping of hands by the staff as they listened enthusiastically to this wonderful poem written by George. Many thanks George, we will certainly cherish it and look forward to return visits.
A Poem for Kwetsani
We won't be here tomorrow night
So a ditty I've prepared
To thank you all so very much
For the short time that we shared.
The welcome at the campsite
With coffee tea and buns
Punting down the channels
In the evening, setting sun
Elephants off our balconies
The Lechwe's splashing flight
As they leap across the channels
In the gentle evening light.
Mogale showed us Zebras
As he studied spoor and turds
Mike was spotting warthogs
And OP found the birds.
A mating pair of Ibis
Storks in mating hue
Giraffes amongst Acacias
Then Wildebeest on view.
Both Shorty and Dichaba
Our polers from last night
They took us down the water ways
And kept us balanced right.
Leetile and Olivia
Both cooked behind the scenes
Baking cakes and roasting dishes
And other tasty things.
Action and Onti
Have kept our table full
Whilst Onti's ululations
Would challenge any bull.
Gao and Maggie also
Are there behind the scenes
Laundering and washing up
Then keeping our rooms clean.
Mike and Anne, you keep Kwetsani running
We have never felt alone
You were always there to greet us
And make us feel at home.
Kwetsani showed her beauty
You have shown us what to see
We thank you all so very much.
-Mike, Anne and the Kwetsani Team-
update - June 09 Jump
to Jao Camp
Weather and Water Levels
Six months into the year and we are left in awe at how ever-changing the Okavango Delta ecosystem can be. This season we had one of the biggest floods in over 40 years and even some rain, which is not unheard of, but certainly not typical for a Botswana winter. This unusual weather was accompanied by spectacular natural light shows, grumbles of thunder and swirls of chilly winds. Nonetheless, it didn't dampen the enthusiasm for safari; all of this was mellowed with steaming coffee and hot chocolate which cold hands grasped for eagerly before morning activities. As a norm however, sensational sunny days compensated for the cold nip in the mornings and the evenings.
Beauty, our resident female leopard, has parted ways with her male cub Motsumi, now aged 15 months, and has showed signs of wanting to mate with some of the higher ranking male leopards of the area. She is regularly heard around Jao in the evenings calling to attract other males. As for Motsumi, he has certainly demonstrated his ability to hunt prior to leaving us this month. Some of Jao's other residents have been victim to his improving skills, including a Spur-winged Goose, impala and last month even a civet.
The water channel in front of the Jao Camp was littered with wildlife this past month. With passing fish chasing insects, spotted-necked otters trying to catch the fish and the slow, ominous passing of large Nile crocodiles, we hardly had to leave camp to enjoy wildlife.
In the swampy terrain behind camp the rarely-seen sitatunga antelope and Pel's Fishing-owl are still regulars and although shy, have provided some great viewing opportunities. Beneath the Jao Bridge three juvenile African Jacanas have been exploring lily pads under the watchful eye of their father. With jacanas, it is the fathers who raise the youngsters, which is unusual in the bird world.
The Kwetsani Pride of lions, a trio consisting of one very handsome male and two cunning females full of prowess, added a bit of spice to the safari drives here. They are quite the comical trio, with the females often trying to saunter away surreptitiously from the male in search of their own meal. Although the females are looking lean, they are still strong and manage to scavenge a scrap from their well earned meals now and again.
It is still unknown if the eldest female's cubs have survived. After seeing her lactating weeks prior it was suspected she had been hiding a litter. But since we have not seen them since, we are sceptical about their survival, as many young cubs fail to reach maturity due to drowning or starvation.
Elephants are making their slow progression into the area again in anticipation of the palm nuts ripening. A handful of bull elephants have moved, not so discreetly, through the camp, leaving a trail of suffering branches and leaves behind them. A breeding herd also circumnavigated Jao Island, with them three very young and well-protected calves. These calves were still experimenting with the use of their trunks and providing many 'ooohs' and 'ahhhhs' from their delighted audiences.
'Mongoose Manor' News
The floodwaters on the island have slightly receded, opening up a little more foraging ground for the resident banded mongoose troop. Also, with the unusual rains in the beginning of the month some of the active termite mounds had softened allowing busy paws to seek the protein-rich termites within.
As confidence grows within the new troop of five, parents and babysitters became more unnerved with their little ones accompanying them on their daily tours over the Island. The youngsters, no bigger than the palm of your hand, quickly learn the skills of foraging. However, when roaming too far from the troop, the adults have to retrieve them by the neck to scurry them back to safety, only for them to scamper off again.
Phew, with most of the adults out of breath, the mother of the five youngsters also didn't get a break with the relentless five following her for a feed, sometimes even feeding from her as she was foraging for food herself. She was often found resting quietly upon high tree branches where her tiny babies could not reach her.
Guest News and Comments
It is always a nice compliment when we have repeat guests to Jao Camp. We were delighted to have a handful of couples who had visited in previous years, only to return again with friends.
- '4th visit- hope not the last - fantastic as always! Looking forward to a return trip soon.' (Karen; California)
- 'What can one say except?LEGENDARY.' (Dan; Toronto)
- 'Thanks for providing such an exceptional family experience.' (Lind family; California)
- 'Wonderful camp; Professional and hospitable people. We enjoyed our stay here.' (Anna & Andrey; Russia)
- 'A wonderful escape to the peace and tranquility of nature. Lovely staff, food, facilities, spa. Birds and animals awesome.' (Russell and Mary; South Africa)
- 'It was awesome! So much fun! Something I've never experienced before but would love to again.' (Traubery; Texas)
'Do we have to leave?' (Tara & Steve; Florida)
Tubu Tree Camp
update - June 09 Jump
to Tubu Tree Camp
Weather and Water Levels
The winter is at its peak and the early mornings are dressed with a heavy blanket of fog. As the sun rises and the day becomes brighter, the blanket of fog slowly starts to disappear. The hyaenas run through camp and head for hiding in great anticipation for the night when they will return.
The spectacular annual flood that we have had this year has started to drop and much to our surprise we even received a couple of days of winter rain. These rains certainly didn't spoil the game viewing, as they sometimes flush out more secretive creatures. One such a sighting was a puff adder which was seen swimming. It was very agile as it took about half a minute to cross the small section of flowing water.
Great wildlife sightings this month - we have had opportunities to see plenty of game without leaving the comfort of Tubu Tree Camp, including a leopard sighting during high tea strolling in front of the main area, gazing briefly at us before walking slowly on.
Spotted hyaena, our nocturnal bandits, have been very active throughout the night, their whooping calls often heard. A leopard had killed an impala and dragged the carcass into the bushes in an attempt to hide its kill from hyaena. This was to no avail, as the hyaenas could smell the fresh kill for miles. They performed near camp throughout the night.
One morning an elephant walked through Tubu Tree looking quite exhausted. We followed it, keeping our distance so not to get noticed. The elephant eventually found a comfortable spot near camp and fell into a deep slumber.
As the sun sets, we enjoy beautiful evenings sitting next to the fire. The temperature slowly drops and the fire grows, with flames that appear to dance to the sounds of the African bush. Sitting out near Kalahari Pans we enjoyed watching the hyaena and other different night crawlers come to the waterhole to drink.
As we sat and started to feast on our dinner, a bellow of a hyaena caught our attention. We got back to chatting and the thunder of a clan of hyaenas made us all jump up. They ran past us as if we were not there. First two, then three ran past, then a whole group. The thrill of sitting in the open and having these awesome creatures run through us was amazing. We went to try and investigate but they had gone through a thick patch of bush that we could not penetrate.
Kalahari Plains Camp
update - June 09 Jump
to Kalahari Plains Camp
We are now almost halfway through our winter season. The temperatures are in a way normal for the winter in the Kalahari, and we have had a few weeks of very cold days. We experienced some strong cold wind, which sent temperatures to just below 12º Celsius. We are getting some days of very cold mornings and evenings with daily temperatures ranging between two and 12 degrees and fairly pleasant midday temperatures.
We also, strangely, experienced three days of continuous rainfall in the first quarter of this month. The total rainfall averaged 11.3 mm and this has, in a small way, regenerated life back into this thirstland this winter.
Most animals that have spread out into the woodland have been sighted in large herds since the rain at the beginning of the month. Fascinating to watch have been herds of oryx, springbok, wildebeest and red hartebeest. The highlight of the month was our first ever recorded sighting of over 25 eland near Letiahau.
Predator sightings have been fairly good this month too. Lions, especially the Lekhubu and Letiahau Prides, have been sighted in the valley regularly, with a few cheetah sightings.
For regular readers, you will now be familiar with the accounts of a male leopard that likes to visit us to drink at the bird bath in Kalahari Plains Camp. He continues with his sojourns and, very exciting to note, we have also seen tracks of a smaller leopard. We shall be looking out for this leopard, perhaps a female that is ready to mate?
We have also sighted meerkats, black-backed jackals, honey badgers, Cape fox and caracal.
Birds and Birding
Birdlife at Kalahari Plains Camp is excellent - from Red-headed Finches and Great Sparrows to massive Lappet-faced Vultures. Crimson-breasted Shrikes cannot be missed in the dry bush, and different species of waxbills, scimitarbills, bulbuls and others come to drink at the camp bird bath on a daily basis. Out on drives, Bateleurs, Tawny, Martial and Black-chested Snake-eagles and Pale Chanting Goshawks, Hooded and White-headed Vultures all dot the sky with their imposing silhouettes.
The wild dog research is still on. We have not had any wild dog sightings this month but we persevere!
Manager: Matshelo Nkwe
Guides: Moses Ntema and Tshepo Phala
to Page 2