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High water levels in the Zambezi, Linyanti and Savute
The high summer rainfall over the primary catchment area for many of central southern Africa's largest rivers in southern Angola has had some exciting ramifications. Water levels in these rivers are the highest at this time of the year for more than 50 years in some cases.
As a result long dormant floodplains, channels and depressions are being inundated and reaching levels not experienced for many years. The most celebrated of these has been the Savute Channel, which over the last 10 months or so has penetrated more than 30km down the former ribbon of grassland from its source at the Zibadianja Lagoon (photo above left). This is a story we have updated many times on this website, but we hope to confirm at some point this year as the floodwaters from the Kwando River arrive in the dry season that it has finally reached the Savute Marsh in the Chobe National Park.
Not all the water from the Kwando and Linyanti Rivers is flowing directly into the Savute Channel and as can be seen from the photo above right, the floodplains around the Zibadianja Lagoon are enjoying a fantastic summer season with ground water and vegetation being recharged. As a result the views from Zarafa Camp are spectacular and there are often elephant bulls coming down to drink on the floodplain in front of camp.
Currently the Zambezi River is also enjoying exceptionally high levels and our new camp at Toka Leya in the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park 8km upstream from the currently dramatic Victoria Falls has taken on a new character. The river has pushed beyond its normal banks and some of the rooms and the main area are now beautifully situated above gently running water. Just as well we built it on raised timber decks!
Legadima kills rival female leopard?
Location: Mombo, Okavango Delta, Botswana
Date: 10 March 2009
Observers: Tapera Sithole & Jeremy Goss
On 5 March 2009, Mombo guides went out in the morning and found a lion pride playing around with the carcass of a young leopard. Given that the well known Legadema, star of the multi-award-winning National Geographic film 'Eye of the Leopard' by Dereck and Beverly Joubert, was perched in a nearby tree watching the action unfold in a seemingly anxious state the conclusion drawn by all present - including our repeat guests - was that Legadema had lost one of her precious cubs.
For some years now, together with fantastic numbers of prey species, Mombo has been the scene of an incredibly high density of lions. This high lion density has impacted adversely on the occurrence of wild dog and cheetah in the area, with just a tiny population of these species clinging on. Leopards have fared better, but over the course of the last thirteen months of their lives, Legadema's cubs have had a number of close encounters with the larger cats. Mostly these close shaves have happened at the site of kills with the two cubs being able to escape to the tops of trees. As a result it seemed logical that one of the subadults had been caught and killed by the lions and our spirits were pretty low last week.
We are however really excited to report that we made a mistake: One of our bigger mistakes of recent times!
The dead leopard is not one of Legadema's cubs. We in fact found Legadema and both cubs, very much alive and well, on an impala carcass yesterday. This obviously gave us cause to revisit the facts and it turns out that the dead leopard had in fact been photographed recently by one of the guides (the whisker spot patterns were positively matched) and we now believe that we completely misinterpreted the situation and that Legadema may have killed, or at least mortally wounded, the other leopard in a territorial fight and the lions appeared on the scene afterwards. This is pretty rare behaviour but has been recorded before with young nomadic male or female leopards overstaying their welcome in the territories of established adult animals.
To say that we are relieved (and embarrassed at our initial misidentification) would be an understatement. Of course we are still upset at the loss of a leopard in the area but relieved that it wasn't one that we had watched grow from birth.
New white rhino calf discovered at Mombo
Location: Mombo Concession, Okavango Delta, Botswana
Date: 12 March 2009
Observer: Map Ives
The photos below are of a white rhino calf in the Mombo area that had not been seen before its discovery a couple of days ago. The mother is an adult cow known as Mmaborogo whose previous calf is now around two years old. The calf was discovered recently by the rhino monitoring team of Poster and George who, as a result of generous donations a number of Mombo guests and also the Wilderness Wildlife Trust, have been able to purchase an additional patrol vehicle. This vehicle has allowed them to expand their monitoring area and to more regularly locate individual white rhino who wander further afield.
Poster and George located this new calf on foot and think that it may be a male, but cannot be sure. It appears about four to six months old.
The continued successful breeding of the white rhino population in Botswana is hugely gratifying, especially in the face of a recent upsurge in poaching pressure in neighbouring Zimbabwe and South Africa, and underscores the value of this nucleus to the African population of the species.
Triple-Crossing Cheetah in the Savute
Location: Linyanti, Botswana
Date: March 2009
Observers: Noko Monageng and Dave Luck
The urban legend is that cats don't like water. Believers in this feline disdain for all things aquatic have perhaps never watched lion hunt at Duba Plains, or indeed seen cheetah plotting to take over a rival male's territory in the Linyanti.
Cheetah are specialists of the open savannah, where they have the space to unleash their deadly acceleration against their prey. Cheetah are also cats. So logically they won't like water, right?
The 24 dry Savute Channel years that have just ended created some wonderful cheetah habitat in the Linyanti, and this region became one of the best in Botswana to see these speed merchants. The return of the waters though has inundated great swathes of grassland, which has - theoretically at least - restricted the cheetahs' movements.
The refilling of the Savute Channel has coincided with the decline of a long-standing cheetah coalition, the three Savuti Boys. Old age and mishaps have whittled this trio down to a lone survivor. With so much prime cheetah habitat barely occupied, it did not take long to be noticed. Towards the end of last year we started seeing two young male cheetah to the east of Savuti, and as their presence in the area remained unchallenged, their confidence grew, and it seemed that the territory was theirs for the taking.
An uneasy truce prevailed however, and we have yet to see a conclusive confrontation between the grizzled old boy and the two would-be usurpers. So they continue in a curious coexistence. The old male has the advantage of incumbency; they have strength in numbers and youth on their side. Neither has yet proved decisive though.
The only spanner in the works of their plans for dominance is the Savute Channel which just keeps on flowing. And sometimes the grass is greener on the other side - which means that that is where the prey is, and so you have to cross over. Not without a great deal of trepidation considering the threat from submerged crocodiles, they ventured out into the Channel and were soon up to their bellies in water. They waded from the northern to the southern bank, and then, as if they were developing a taste for the sport, crossed back again, before finally going over a third time, to finally end up on the southern bank. All this is extremely unusual behaviour for cheetah, and very rarely seen.
This is also an example of the remarkable adaptations by resident wildlife to the arrival of the Channel. The Savute area has been transformed in the last year, and these cheetah are following the ancient code: adapt and survive, or die.
It also goes to show that sometimes the books are wrong, that some cats do like water (or at least, can bear it). One shouldn't be so trusting; things are not always what they seem, especially when you are dealing with not just double-crossing, but triple-crossing, cheetah!
Meanwhile the waters of the Savute Channel continue to rise, the impala birthing season has come and gone, and these two young males (who have been named the Mantshwe Boys after the area where we first began seeing them) have become Savute residents.
Predator and antelope abundance in Deception Valley
Location: Kalahari Plains, Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana
Date: 25 March 2009
Observers: Chris Roche
On a recent short stay at Kalahari Plains just north of Deception Valley in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve I was delighted and amazed by the best brown hyaena and springbok viewing of my life. It is an area that, especially during the summer months, is renowned for the concentrations of plains game such as gemsbok (oryx), springbok and wildebeest and for the black-maned Kalahari lions and specialised cheetah that follow them. Even knowing this though you are still struck by the abundance and the idyllic fashion in which the scene plays out in front of you.
On just four game drives - two morning and two afternoon (there are no night drives here) - we managed four lion sightings (of two different prides), three cheetah sightings (of two different females and cubs), hundreds of gemsbok and springbok, great wildebeest and red hartebeest and of course the above-mentioned brown hyaena.
We had just come down into Deception Valley on our first morning game drive and were scanning the valley floor intensively in search of lion or cheetah active in the cool dawn atmosphere. Herds of springbok and gemsbok were dotted across the scene and stayed in our peripheral vision as we focused on suspicious looking bushes and logs. So intent were we on our search that it was only when we were 40 metres away that we noticed a dark, shaggy figure shuffling down the road in front of us in plain view. We were so surprised we didn't at first know what we were looking at.
After our initial spluttered identifications we spent a further 30 minutes with the animal as it moved largely unconcerned down the road and then wandered off across the plain presumably in search of a resting site for the day or possibly returning to a den. As we watched it disappear a herd of no fewer than 280 springbok enveloped the vehicle, their low nasal grunts and contact calls floating across the cool morning air as they grazed around us with apparently no concern for the vehicle at all.
It was such a spectacle that we repeated it again in the golden afternoon light, leaving first a cheetah sighting and then a lion sighting to spend another 45 minutes with the same large springbok herd, this time intermingled with a herd of 44 wildebeest and perhaps 100 gemsbok.
Elephant Bed at Doro Nawas
Location: Doro Nawas Camp
Date: March 2009
Observers: Sue Snyman
Leaving Doro Nawas Camp at 07h00 on our morning game drive we headed down the dry Aba-Huab riverbed which proved to be a birder's paradise. Amongst many other bird species we had great sightings of some Namibian specials such as Chestnut Weaver, Rüppell's Parrot, Carp's Tit, Bare-cheeked Babbler, Rüppell's Korhaan, Temminck's Courser and also the migrant Lesser Grey Shrike.
Only a few weeks before the river had come down in a flash flood with evidence of the debris left on the riverbanks. The good rains this year have bought the area to life, with a green hue everywhere and wild flowers brightening everything even more with their beautiful blues, yellows, and oranges. As a result, the scenery is currently breathtaking and we drove for about four hours across the Doro !Nawas area in the course of a game drive in search of desert-adapted elephant.
Driving long distances is all part of the Namibian experience and this morning was no different. Along the way our guide, Lister, was excellent with his descriptions of the trees and plants and all their uses. In particular, during his description of the Euphorbia damarana, which is abundant in the area, he told us how the elephants often use the plant as a 'mattress' to sleep on during the hottest part of the day. In so doing they cause the plant to exude some of its white milky latex which in the process is thought to help cool the elephants down. He also mentioned that the poison in the latex could possibly act as a protection against parasites.
Just beyond the small village of Bergsig - where a number of our staff live - we had our first, very exciting, sighting of the desert-adapted elephants. On finding the herd we stopped to relax and peacefully watch them in their natural environment.
Not long after our arrival, one of the young bulls decided to offer a perfect example of what Lister had been explaining to us earlier and summarily lay down on top of a Euphorbia bush and went to sleep ... it's always a treat as a guide when the animals behave in exactly the way you have described!
'Pink' Elephant at Chitabe
Location: Chitabe Camp
Date: March 2009
Observers: Mike Holding
As part of their commitment to wildlife conservation and as a means of bringing conservation issues to the world's attention, Chitabe hosts Afriscreen Films which are based in a remote part of Chitabe's concession along the Gomoti Channel.
While filming footage for the BBC series ' Nature's Great Events', Mike Holding and Tania Jenkins of Afriscreen were amazed when they spotted an unusually coloured calf in a herd of about 80 elephants moving along the lush banks of the inundated Gomoti Channel. They had a very quick sighting of only a few minutes of the animal as it crossed the Gomoti into the Moremi Game Reserve but were extremely excited at the rarity of the find and Mike managed to get the accompanying images.
It is likely that the calf is a partial albino, a condition extremely rare in African elephants although more common in the related Asian elephant. Very few records of similar animals are known from southern Africa with only a handful of sightings in South Africa's Kruger National Park and a recent one near Wilderness Safaris' Makalolo Plain's Camp in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe.
All these records are of calves and the condition has not been reported in adult animals in the wild in southern Africa. According to Dr. Mike Chase of Elephants Without Borders, who has been working on elephants in Botswana for the past decade, this is probably the first record in Botswana.
It is thought that albinism is a handicap to wild elephants in that the calves are vulnerable to the harsh African sun and may suffer impacts on their vision and skin.
Continued wild dog presence at Toka Leya
Location: Toka Leya Camp, Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park, Zambia
Date: 1 April 2009
Observers: Toka Leya staff
As we reported in our February newsletter for Toka Leya Camp, a small pack of wild dogs continue to use the Mosi-oa-Tunya area and to be seen fairly regularly by our guests. This is not something we would have expected in this relatively small park close to the town of Livingstone but we have been ecstatic that it is the case. The dogs continued to be seen throughout March and now seem set to stay.
There are currently five animals in the pack which are thought to have crossed the Zambezi River earlier this year when water levels were far lower. There are a series of rapids near camp that allow this kind of movement at low water levels. Given the high levels of the Zambezi River currently the dogs cannot cross back to the Zambezi National Park in Zimbabwe and we hope that they will remain in the park and bless us with a den and puppies during the dry winter months when this species habitually breeds.
The small size of Mosi-oa-Tunya means that prey populations are not enormous and our concerns are that the dogs will periodically leave the park and come into conflict with surrounding small stock farmers with predation on goats or even cattle calves. As such we have plans to co-operate with the Zambian Wildlife Authority and the African Wildlife Foundation to place a GPS collar on the pack and keep close tabs on their movements to see where we can mitigate conflict with the surrounding rural communities.
Environmental Sustainability at Mvuu
Location: Mvuu Wilderness Lodge, Liwonde National Park, Malawi
Date: March 2009
Observers: Chris Roche
In line with Wilderness Safaris policy, Mvuu Wilderness Lodge and Mvuu Camp have for some time now been employing various mechanisms of renewable power in the form of solar energy. Most important in this regard are the solar water heaters used for all guest and staff accommodation. This enables the heating of water through electric geysers to be a thing of the past and of course a dramatic reduction in terms of the amount of power required from the generator and thus the amount of fuel (diesel) burnt per day.
Other mechanisms which have been in use for a while now include thin film photovoltaic solar panels which power lighting in the guest tents, as well as lighting for the camp walkways between tents and the main area.
An innovation has recently taken place behind the scenes though. Here we have traditionally used a coal-fired stove and gas powered cookers for staff catering. As can be imagined this uses a high volume of non-renewable resources and we have recently experimented with the use of a 'rocket stove'.
The rocket stove is essentially a steel / ceramic cooker that concentrates heat and can result in reductions in wood fuel usage of 50-90%. Wood is fed into a small burning compartment and the heat is then directed upwards to the cooking area / pot. The steel is encased with clay / ceramic and prevents heat loss and concentrates this upwards. According to Derek Kunz, operations manager for Malawi, "... it works like a bomb ... staff using it are happy and the amount of wood consumed is really minimal or almost nothing ..."
The rocket stove is already used on Mumbo Island on Lake Malawi with great success and following the success at Mvuu our challenge is to export the idea into the communities surrounding protected areas so as to reduce the amount of fuel - in the form of wood and thus deforestation - used for day-to-day chores.
Kings Pool Camp update - March 09 Jump
to Kings Pool Camp
Weather and Water Levels
Summer in northern Botswana is of course the rainy season. These are exciting times in the Linyanti area and this year the rainfall has been good. It is hard to detect patterns in the rainfall that we receive, as last summer's rains were very good too. This year, in complete contrast, we have had almost daily downpours but are slowing down now because we are almost to the end of the rainy season and we are looking forward for winter.
There have been heavy rains in other parts of southern Africa too, and our rivers here in the Linyanti have been overflowing with water from the Caprivi Strip and the Angolan hills. So much water, that the Linyanti River has burst its banks, and is good for us because this gives us the opportunity of spoiling our guests on Queen Sylvia (our double-decker boat) offering relaxed viewing of wildlife including loads of water birds and sometimes sightings of elephants crossing the Linyanti to/from Namibia.
The wildlife at Kings Pool continues to delight. Yes, it is true that the vast hibernal elephant herds do disperse this time of the year, but this year we still have a lot of elephant around the Kings Pool area.
Kings Pool Camp remains the exclusive preserve of warthogs and impala by day and curiously impassive hippos by night with their quintessential African grunts. Perhaps the impalas would be wise not to stray too far, as we have again been seeing a pack of wild dogs (LTC Pack) around the area. The floods present special challenges to Linyanti's predators but also opportunities; with their teamwork approach to every aspect of life, wild dogs are ideally placed to exploit even the half-chances that fall their way. We are hoping above all that our wild dog pack will manage to raise their pups because this month we have been seeing only six of those pups which means they have lost two.
Everyone seems to be nesting, and we regularly see squirrels scaling dead trees with their mouths stuffed with leaves and twigs, or hear glossy starlings raucously scolding Gymnogene (African Harrier-Hawk), eagle, snakes or anyone else who comes too close to their nest.
Our resident male lions (Border Boys) are still doing fine; we had good sightings of those boys this month together with the LTC pride. One day the guides found them trying to mate with one of the females from the LTC pride. This is exciting because this pride lost their cubs last year, they were killed by two nomadic males on the eastern side of Kings Pool Camp. We also had some nice sightings of our resident male leopard a couple of times this month - he is very strong and ready to fight any nomadic male trying to take over his territory.
We also enjoyed sightings of some our nocturnal mammal species like porcupine, African wild cat, small and large spotted genet.
We had some good sightings of several endangered bird species this month like Southern Ground Hornbill, Lappet-faced Vulture, Martial Eagle and Slaty Egret.
Photos and text by Alex Mazunga
DumaTau Camp update - March 09 Jump
to DumaTau Camp
The sightings of general game around our game drive areas have been good. Herds of elephants have been seen alongside the Savute Channel, around DumaTau, along the Linyanti Swamp and almost everywhere else. The other fascinating thing was when our maintenance man, Isaiah, was on his way back to camp - only to bump into an elephant giving birth.
We also had regular sightings of warthog, herds of impala, kudu and giraffe. We also encountered a few zebras and this is giving us hope that maybe the migration is changing direction towards Linyanti, if not now, then very soon.
A special sighting this month was a herd of roan antelope at the airstrip.
The famous Selinda Pride is in good shape and still specialising in taking down giraffe. This pride of three lionesses and seven juveniles was found feeding on a giraffe carcass without the indomitable Silver Eye and Romeo at Bundu Island. We had been seeing a lot of the Savuti Female who is taking very good care of her two male cubs.
The Selinda Boys - Silver Eye and Romeo - have been busy this month doing a lot of patrolling. This might have been caused by the unexpected visit from some of the nomadic males from the other side of the Linyanti Marsh. Silver Eye has been showing some aggressive behaviour, often slightly charging at the vehicles. We are now increasing the viewing distance whenever we see him but his brother is quite relaxed. This behaviour has been seen before and might be either because he hasn't seen vehicles for some time or he is growing old and his visual judgement has been impaired in one eye.
The famous DumaTau male (pictured below) was seen earlier this month. We had less leopard sightings this month, probably because of the lush vegetation. The DumaTau male has been covering quite a distance, as one evening he was seen around Rock Pan and the next early morning he was around Osprey Area.
The Mmantshwe Boys have been seen regularly - maybe they will be the successors of the legendary Blood Brothers. We still haven't seen any evidence of whether the last member of the Blood Brothers is alive or dead but the last time we saw him he wasn't in good shape and struggling to make his own kills - appearing to feed on termites as a result.
We have enjoyed many sightings of wild dogs - so much so that we even thought of changing the camp's name to "Duma wild dog"! We had a pack of four wild dogs and another pack of seven meeting right in camp. The two packs then had a little fight, the result being that the losers lost their impala kill. Initially the pack of four made a kill right by the junction to Room 2 and the pack of seven making their kill by the Sunken Hide.
We haven't seen the Linyanti Pack this month; but a couple of unknown packs were seen: one of four (two males and two females), a pack of seven and a pack of nine (six pups, two males and a female).
'Lions and leopard, the food is amazing, congratulations.'
'Wonderful staff singing wedding songs to us, dinner in the bush.'
'The profound and sincere warmth of the entire staff making me feel like royalty. We were extremely well treated by Raphael and everyone else - they were great.'
Savuti Camp update - March 09 Jump
to Savuti Camp
Weather and Camp Life
As March draws to a close, the rainy season is clinging on by its slippery fingernails. Normally by now we would have seen the last of the life-giving rains, but still we are seeing build-ups of clouds each afternoon. This of course leads to spectacular sunsets, the sky barred and streaked with orange and pink. It can also of course lead to rain of varying amounts.
It is also no longer true to say that the Savuti Channel bed is flooded. Rather, we should think of it as a river which is flowing again, a more permanent feature of the landscape. The presence of sedges and water lilies tells us that from a botanical point of view this is a longer-term change. Change however is rarely accomplished in a single moment; more often, it is an ongoing process. And so it is with the Savuti Channel. Drop a leaf or a small twig onto the surface of the water, and you can see how quickly it is pushing on towards the Savute Marsh which we expect it to reach later this year.
The level of water as measured on our camp flood gauge has been fluctuating with the local rains, but we are expecting it to rise over the next few months as the annual Linyanti flood surge begins to flow in. Measurements of water flowing from Namibia's Caprivi Strip into Botswana are, as last year, higher than average. True, rates of inflow are slightly less than they were last year - but not by much, and last year all that water was flowing into a dry Channel bed, whereas this year it will be coming on top of what is now effectively a mature river.
A flight over Savuti at this time of year shows that the pans or waterholes in the mopane woodland are starting to dry up and disappear. As this trend continues, we will ultimately arrive at a point whereby the only source of water left to animals in this area will be the Channel. With the competition evaporating, the Savuti Channel will become a true wildlife magnet. This phenomenon is already beginning to take place. A second important development we have noted is that with the Channel waters now swathed in the cloak of (semi-)permanence, the unusual behaviour we have been seeing from many animal species has become more routine. If, that is, anything about the phenomenal Savuti area can ever be described as routine!
A small troop of vervet monkeys has established itself in Savuti Camp, and you have to admire their grasp of the property market in these recessionary times. House prices may be falling everywhere, but the old adage holds true: location, location, location. So what could be better than a stand of massive old fruiting trees alongside the Channel, with the added bonus of the occasional muffin or banana pilfered from the breakfast buffet? Well, you can choose your friends, but not always your neighbours, and to judge by how often recently we have heard the rapid staccato alarm calls of the monkeys, it seems that they are sharing the Camp with their ultimate nemesis: a leopard. The summer vegetation is still so dense however that we have yet to have a sighting of this elusive leopard in the Camp itself, but several of our guests had an unforgettable sighting when they saw a leopard materialise at the base of the bank below the Camp, and swim across to the southern side of the Channel.
We have disproved the notion that cats dislike water many times now. Wet feet and a wet belly are better by far than an empty belly. If all the food is on the other side...
Of course the Savute Channel itself is a great source of food, and one of our young male leopards has been quick to exploit this as he has become an expert catfish hunter.
Often these fish hunt frogs and smaller fish at night, working as a team to try and minimise the chances of any of their prey escaping. They drive their quarry into the banks, and are so intent on the hunt that they don't realise until it's too late that the tables have turned and now they are the prey. By the light of the pale sickle of the new moon, an identical shape slices through the water: the leopard's claw. The hooked fish is soon dispatched and becomes an easy, protein-rich meal for the enterprising big cat.
As the rains stutter and hiss to a halt, many of the Linyanti's most iconic species begin to be seen again in greater numbers. The herds of zebra which have spent the last few months in the seasonally lush grasslands of the Marsh are now beginning the annual trek along the Channel to the Linyanti swamps along the Namibian border. And most noticeably of all, the elephants are back. Although in truth they did not really go away this year - the lure of the Channel was sufficient to keep many of them from wandering off into the mopane woodlands. By night the Camp echoes to the sound of breaking branches and rumbling stomachs as the elephants work on various landscaping projects.
To watch elephants in the Channel is a special pleasure, not just for the sheer beauty and awe of such a scene, but because it also allows us to share in the pleasure that the elephants seem to find in this miraculous vein of water.
Although they are not denning at this time of year, we have been gifted many great sightings of wild dogs over the last few weeks. Change seems to be afoot, and we suspect that several of our larger packs have begun to fragment. This could be a reaction to a seasonal scarcity of game, and certainly we have seen at least one example of kill theft. Only moments after a small pack had brought down an impala, a larger group of dogs appeared, and soon chased the original owners away from their dinner. We have also witnessed dogs going after atypical prey, such as warthogs. These are dangerous quarry for dogs, and this kind of hunting is only rarely seen.
Whereas in the early days of the Channel's renaissance, the dogs were reluctant to cross water, they now seem much more at ease doing so - although they would be wise not to become too casual or complacent, as we are starting to see large crocs further and further along the Channel, and an encounter with one of those toothsome terrors would bring a whole new meaning to "doggy chew".
Perhaps the most serious competition to the dogs in the superstar stakes is the Savuti female and her cubs. This lone lioness is proving to be a born mother, and has now successfully raised her two male cubs to the age of five months. She is very relaxed with vehicles, and her cubs are learning from her. This lack of fear combined with a mischievous curiosity and a level of cuteness that should probably be illegal, has made for some very memorable sightings. The cubs are beyond endearing, with their eyes, feet and heads still out of proportion to their still-spotted bodies. Their feet in particular seem almost more of a hindrance than a help, especially when they have to wade through thick sand. Those same paws however will in a few years' time be pulling down zebras or delivering savage blows to the head of a rival.
Survival of course is never a given in the African bush, and every meal is someone else's demise. Perhaps the saddest moment of this month was when we came across the aftermath of a particularly grisly massacre. We have always had dwarf mongooses around the Camp, and their darting, squeaking presence is always welcome as they alert us to any snakes in the grass. More recently we have also had more thuggish nocturnal hunters around: honey badgers.
Their trajectories must have crossed one night, as we found several mongoose bodies scattered around their den site, with one at least half eaten. The tracks and claw marks showed that a honey badger had dug his way in, and succumbing to blood lust, embarked on something of a feeding frenzy. CSI Savuti managed to piece together the story, and it appears that several of the adult mongooses had died vainly defending their young. Several others were still cowering nearby, seemingly traumatised by the events of the previous night.
Birds and Birding
The camp starlings and the equally familiar Red-billed Hornbills currently nesting in hollows in the big old mopane trees are just two of the 141 bird species we recorded during one 24-hour period. Guides in every Wilderness Camp in Botswana took part in the competition, and although we didn't win, we had a great deal of fun getting our guests involved in this, and in the process seeing one in seven of the bird species known to exist in southern Africa.
This result also illustrates again how this area has changed with the rebirth of the Savuti Channel, as many of the species recorded were water birds, which we might well not have seen this time last year. We were just in time to catch a few of our summer visitors before they packed their bags and headed north to wait out the Botswana winter in Central and East Africa, and in some cases even as far away as Europe. Sadly this means that we have been deprived for a few months of some of our most striking species: the brilliant Southern Carmine Bee-eaters, and the equally brilliant aquamarine Woodland Kingfishers. Bon voyage, until we meet again next summer.
The beauty of the African wilderness is unsurpassed on Earth, but the struggle for survival never lets up, even in such idyllic surroundings. It is the beauty however which will remain with you long after you leave Savuti, and which will bring you back again and again. Experiencing the Savuti Channel should carry a health warning: it can be seriously habit-forming!
As usual we will give the last word to the guests who enjoyed Savuti Camp with us during March 2009, and who hopefully will all succumb to the temptation to return soon:
Kane was an excellent guide!
We liked cheetahs, lions, elephant. Everything, is really nice. Service and staff is great!
Fantastic game viewing: wild dog, lions, cheetah, and leopard. Good service & cheery staff.
Highlight: Wild dogs catching & killing an impala? Goodman - fantastic guide (in five trips to Africa so far, he was the best). The entire staff was terrific and our stay could not have been better - thank you.
Absolutely loved it! Just keep doing what you're doing!
The room is beautifully designed, as is the whole Camp, the staff surprised each day, especially the last night with a romantic dinner on our deck.
Seeing the lioness swim the Channel with her cubs!
Thank you very much to Goodman, Kane, and Jacks - they were excellent guides!
-Diana, Koketso S Mookodi, Noko, Khutse, and Emmax-
Images by Kane Motswana
Camps Update - March 09
Lagoon camp Jump
The beautiful Lagoon area continues to provide excellent wild dog sightings including this month a pack of twelve dogs hunting, often successfully, female kudu and impala. The three cheetah brothers fail to roam far from their traditional hunting grounds and have been sighted regularly either hunting or feeding, predominantly on impala. Other notable sightings include roan antelope, dwarf mongoose, banded mongoose, sitatunga and a python sunning itself on a termite mound.
Kwara & Little Kwara camps Jump
& Little Kwara camps
A truly once in a lifetime sighting occurred in the Kwara concession this month leaving guests and guides alike speechless. A female cheetah and her five cubs were spotted feeding on a recently killed impala. Several minutes later as the guests sat quietly observing the cheetah, a young kudu appeared no more than fifty metres away pursued by a pack of six wild dog. The kudu was quickly pulled down by the alpha male who called to the rest of the pack to feed. Very shortly after while the dogs were feeding, a much larger pack of fifteen dogs, no doubt attracted by the calls of the alpha male, arrived at speed and instantly attacked one of the smaller pack members. In less than two minutes and literally within metres of the vehicles the fifteen dogs literally pulled the individual to pieces! At no point in this real time wildlife documentary did the guests have to move, the entire drama unfolded before their eyes! And meanwhile on the edge of this chaotic scene, a calm mother cheetah quietly leads her young away to a safe hiding place!
There was a happy ending to this uniquely brutal sighting though. The following day our guides observed a male lion in the area actively searching for the cheetah cubs as they are prone to do. It appears that, as the lion neared the area where the cheetah were hidden, he was distracted as he came across the carcass of the wild dog and subsequently moved away from the area. Interestingly the carcass of the dog was not touched by any scavenging mammals or vultures.
Lebala camp Jump
Another fascinating month in our so called ‘green season!’ Our guides report regular sightings of both lion and leopard. All predators are in excellent condition at the moment with the abundance of prey species. Cheetah have been sighted often, including two males feeding on ostrich, while a further three males were found by guests as they prepared to board their plane home, resting under a small bush at the end of the airstrip! Twelve wild dog were also sighted several times as they range through the area moving south from Lagoon on their search for hunting opportunities. Breeding herds of elephants and lone bulls are seen daily and the area is covered by their tracks as they continue to move between fresh water and their favoured feeding areas.
Nxai Pan continues to be offer a diverse and contrasting wildlife experience. Lions are sighted regularly and as guides interact more over the coming months we hope to be able to better identify the status and relationships of the many small groups and individuals that have been seen so far. Zebra is the most commonly seen species at this time of year and while lion are their main predator, two clearly confident male cheetah were observed hunting these powerful animals. A pack of eleven wild dog have also been seen within two kilometres of the camp and tracks also found regularly along game drive routes. The well known Nxai bull elephants have been moving back into the main pan and are regular visitors to the natural water hole in front of camp, the perfect siesta time entertainment!
Tau Pan’s first guests have all left with those special memories that only come from this truly unique destination. Apart from regular sightings of lion, cheetah, jackals, gemsbok, springbok, ostrich and honey badgers around Tau Pan itself, day trips to the famous Sunday, Pipers and Deception Pans have led to several sightings of cheetah, leopard, numerous lion (including hunting gemsbok and warthog) and of course the many and varied bird and reptile species found in the Kalahari. The early morning routine was recently upset by not only, fresh tracks of the resident female leopard but also the presence of the rarely seen brown hyena drinking at the water hole in front of camp.
Mombo Camp update
- March 09 Jump
to Mombo Camp
Although we expected a lot of rainfall to mark the end of summer and the beginning of winter we only received 47mm in 10 different days. The temperatures have been favourable with the mornings averaging around 14°Celsius and the day time highs reaching 34° Celsius. The prevailing wind was the north easterly which was not bad at all. All-in-all, weather was just perfect for game viewing and photography. The floodplains are already covered in floodwater which came in earlier than the usual, so you tend to have vast areas with lush green grass blades over the water surface.
Legadima, the well known leopard in the Mombo Camp area, seems to have succeeded in raising her two female cubs which are now about a year and four months. The guides gave these two beautiful names and the names are closely related to their mother's name. One is called Pula (which means rain) and the other one is called Phego (which means wind). This month we saw mainly Pula, with Legadima herself seen only five times around Cheetah Pan, Tree Line, Lechwe Haven, Old Mombo, Far Eastern Pan and Tortoise Kill area. Pula herself made similar movements. In fact it was only on one occasion that we saw all three animals together. As a result there is a debate amongst the guides as to when Legadima is going to encourage the independence of her cubs and whether she will lead them to the fringe of her territory before doing this. Pula seems to have made herself at home within her mother's territory, but to date has not been recorded having killed any prey herself above the size of a squirrel and we'll wait to see what happens this winter season.
The current lion dynamics at Mombo involve a number of splinter prides which have separated from our old stalwarts. The smaller groups are namely Mathata Break Away (two females with five cubs of 5-8 months) and the Maporota Break Away (four females with three 3-month old cubs). Prides like the Boro Pride are still intact and have six cubs which are about six months old. The main Mathata Pride still exist and also have cubs which are still in a den which is located in the short cut to Simbira area, hence we do not know how many they are in total. These females are being found with the male lions of the Western Pride.
The separation of the adult females into several prides has given advantage to male lions which were not affiliated to any of the prides in the area. Even males which we never thought would get a chance to associate with adult females such as the old scruffy Jao Boys are being seen with the Maporota females mating, feeding and hunting together.
The number of cubs currently has swelled the local lion population. It is unlikely that all will survive, but even so the extremely high lion density continues to impact on other less imposing predators such as cheetah and wild dog. As an example, only one wild dog appears to remain from the remnant wild dog pack of the area. It has been seen calling and sniffing as if it is tracking its family members and friends. This dog has made it on its own so far, and hunts and kills on its own although it loses a lot of its kills to hyenas and to lions. The female cheetah and cub that we enjoyed viewing recently also appears to have moved further south and was not seen this month.
As the flood waters move in, most animals are going to be pushed and concentrate in the areas which remain dry. As the flood is expected to be higher than usual we are anticipating high densities of game this winter. Currently sightings of the usual abundant species such as red lechwe, impala, zebra, wildebeest, giraffe and tsessebe have been good. There have also been a few sightings of big buffalo herds around the Maporota Floodplain, Drift Molapo and the short cut to Bird Island. Herd sizes ranged from 200 to 600. By contrast rhino sightings this month were limited and we saw only one, well known individual white rhino.
A lot more happened but I will save it for the next report
Xigera Camp update
- March 09 Jump
to Xigera Camp
Weather and Water Levels
February had several big thunderstorms as expected with many hot days in between but March has seen less rain and more blue skies.
On the 25th of February we noticed a sharp rise in waterlevels around Xigera Camp. We kept an eye on the marker at the bridge and recorder the waterlevel rising an average of 12cm a day. After a week the floodplains started filling up and now by the end of March the floodlevels are already higher than they were at their peak last year.
We are expecting a big flood this year which will suit us at Xigera. More water means we can access more areas with our boats and mekoros, which are our speciality.
The goverment has issued warnings to villagers living on the edge of the Okavango River in the Panhandle region of the high water expected. Nxamaseri Village is already flooded.
With the arrival of the floodwater all animals take advantage of an abundance of food. The catfish come with the flood and enter shallow floodplains to eat any insects, frogs or even rodents disturbed by the new water. The African Fish-Eagles are very active during this time catching the catfish which are more vulnerable in the shallower waters. The guides even spotted a Pel's Fishing-Owl perched in a tree eating a medium sized catfish. An interesting sighting was one of a Cattle Egret eating a small bat in a floodplain. How the egret caught the bat we don't know but Brooks, the guide, clearly saw the egret killing it and eating it. Cattle Egrets are small waterbirds that normally eat insects, frogs and even nestling birds but which are obviously opportunistic and will eat whatever they can catch.
One particular mokoro activity produced a great sighting for the guests that morning. The guides spotted a big male leopard as it lay on a horizontal limb of a large sycamore fig tree on a small island. It had a recent lechwe antelope kill with it. All the mokoro polers crouched down as they glided to withing about 50 metres of the leopard and the guests even got some photographs. Strangely this big male is normally very skittish when approached by vehicle but seemd unperturbed by the humans on small 'canoes'.
We are happy to see the spotted-necked otters have returned to actively hunt in the channel in front of camp. They have been absent for a few months while the water levels were low, probably sticking to the main Boro Channel.
The high waterlevels means we are able to resume the full-day boat trips which is a must do. Recent sightings on the boat trip include sitatunga, a large herd of buffalo, giraffe, lion and good hippo sightings. The boats access remote areas which personify pristine Delta.
-The Xigera Team-
Vumbura Plains Camp update
- March 09 Jump
to Vumbura Plains Camp
A week of wind and rain heralded the beginning of March. The floodplains and roads were visibly full and the rain water level seemed to increase on a daily basis. The weather certainly did not dampen spirits though and vehicles were often seen leaving full of poncho-clad guests eager not to let the rain spoil their fun. In fact, the rain seemed to enhance game viewing in the area with plenty of vegetation available and lots of water sources.
Large herds of zebra, elephant, giraffe and kudu were seen regularly, with buffalo moving through the area on a number of occasions. The concession is also lucky enough to provide a great habitat for the rare sable antelope and they seem to have taken to the area around Vumbura Plains so sightings have been frequent and very close to home!
Our local pride of lion, the Kubu Pride, has three additions to their family: 6 month-old cubs. Their area of operation has been around Motswiri Road, Little Vumbura Boat Station and Vumbura Paradise towards Ostrich Road. The three new cubs are doing well and it is thought that the absence of one of the other adult females may suggest that even more youngsters are on the way. If they're as playful and curious as the current cubs, it will be a delight. Guests have seen the pride feeding on a variety of kills this month, including warthog, reedbuck and wildebeest.
A new pride of lion in the area has provided us with even more lion action. At the start of the month four females were seen with the two males, although recent sightings have only included two females. These lions seem to be in a great condition and are tolerating the vehicles well, with the exception of one female who remains very skittish. This pride has now overlapped onto and seems to be taking over the territory that formerly belonged to the Kubu Pride, with the latter now moving more to the west.
Wild dog sightings were common this month and included two different packs. The Mapula Pack, made up of five adults and seven sub-adults, seemed to be making use of the whole concession and were seen all over; they were even seen in conflict with the Golden Pack and it seemed that they had the upper hand as the Golden Pack were being chased away. The Golden Pack was formerly made up of 22 individuals, but now seems to have drastically reduced to only five adults. The guides speculate that the pack may have become too big and competition for prey was just too large for them to remain with so many members in one pack.
With so much water around this month, birding on the concession has been fantastic. The floodplain in front of camp has been a hive of activity with Wattled Crane, Fish-Eagles, Darters and Saddle-billed Stork seen on a daily basis. Our resident African Scops-Owl should not be forgotten either - he perches in the jackalberry tree above the stardeck and calls each evening providing a lovely soundtrack to dinner. South Camp is also home to a family of Crested Barbets that have now raised two broods in one of the ornamental palms that stands in the dining room. The latest fledglings flew the nest at the beginning of March and are now seen around camp growing in confidence.
Conversely, the migratory bird species are declining in number as they move northwards to warmer climes. Species such as the Southern Carmine Bee-Eater, Woodland Kingfisher and Yellow-billed Kite have been seen less regularly. The disappearance of these birds signals the approach of winter and a definite chill can also be felt in the air in the early morning.
It is with anticipation that we wait for the winter to arrive and the floodwater from Angola to make its way into the Delta. One of the highest floods on record is predicted which will certainly make things interesting for life in camp and for the wildlife outside it.
Duba Plains Camp update
- March 09 Jump
to Duba Plains Camp
We had good rainfall at the beginning of March that lasted about the first ten days of the month. This has have kept the temperature below average for this time of year, though the last few days have been sweltering with daytime temperatures in excess of 34º Celsius in the shade. Cumulus clouds, sporadic for most of the month, are becoming larger and building rapidly into cumulonimbus clouds.
The floodwater has started coming in at a high rate at the moment, which is the normal time for the flood arrival. Due to the heavy rains we had in March and February and the fact that there was already a lot of water in the channels and also on the floodplains, the arrival of the floodwaters has had a significant effect on most of the crossings.
General game over the last couple of months has been outstanding. Elephant herds continue to move into the area as they search for greener aquatic vegetation in the swamp areas that border the southern and western fringes of our concession. Out on the Duba Plains, elephant herds in excess of 30 browse the Tsaro Palm islands and kick up tufts of couch grass to eat.
At this time of year, Duba Plains is the ideal place to see elephants as an abundance of water leads to lower stress levels and greater ease in the vicinity of game drive vehicles. During the heat of the day, breeding herds bathe in the muddy pool in front of camp providing plenty of entertainment for insomniac guests. Giraffe have also journeyed across to Duba Plains from the east and have been seen browsing near the airstrip and the camp island. They seem to be resident in the area now; these last five bulls have been around for quite some time now. Large herds of kudu are to be found browsing on the islands close to camp. These wonderful antelope, particularly the males which are normally skittish, have provided great close-up viewing, even on camp walkways.
During March, the Tsaro Pride has been seen in the area most of the time, and we are proud to report that we are all excited to see the lionesses of the Tsaro Pride getting back together. For the last few months there has been serious conflicts and disputes between then, which seems to be settling now. Since regrouping they have been actively cooperating in hunting buffalo and for most of the month was found in close proximity to the large herd. We are sad, but hardly surprised given the recent history of this pride, to report that all the cubs we reported last month have been killed. The silver-eyed lioness that has been injured over the last few months does not seem to be recovering very well. This may well be a permanent injury and we assume that her back leg was injured either in conflict with buffalo or other lions.
The Skimmer Pride has been elusive in March. We heard them often calling from their core territory, but had few sightings of them. The dominant male, The Skimmer Male, still seems to be in control of both prides. Very often he has been seen moving across the two territories. Junior, the sub-adult male originally from the Tsaro Pride has not been seen at all in March. We suspect he may have moved off to escape conflict with the dominant Skimmer Male.
The buffalo are in great condition after the summer rains and ample grazing on the most palatable grass seen in the area, the couch grass.
Managers: Moalosi, Dardley and Tebby
Guides: James 007, Lets and Reuben
Jacana Camp update
- March 09 Jump
to Jacana Camp
Weather and Water Levels
The flooding of the Delta has begun and by no means has it stopped yet. We have once again had a month of splendour at this little paradise of ours, with splendid sightings and wonderful weather.
The annual flooding of the Delta ihas been one of the highlights of the past month. The water has risen more than a foot over the past weeks and is steadily increasing still.
The rains in Angola are the source of this natural spectacle and the water takes about six months to reach the flats of Botswana. Here it will disperse over an enormous area and bring with it the promise of new life. It gives the 45-plus species of fish and other aquatic and semi-aquatic animals a much wider range over which to go about their daily routines.
Lions and leopards have been frequently seen with some interesting action going on between the resident male lion and a newcomer that have been fighting at our airstrip chasing each other around and pulling out each others fur. Beauty, our resident female leopard, appears to have successfully raised her cub and he has turned into a fine young male leopard.
For our keen birders this has been a month to write home about, with incredible sightings. Birds of prey seen include sightings of a Black-breasted Snake-eagle eating a snake in flight and a Martial Eagle having a Marsh Owl for lunch. There is also a pair of Meyer's Parrots nesting on the island and they are working hard to raise their young.
Apart from all these exciting things it's also the time of the year when the marula trees ripen and the elephants are on the island daily. Toby, the resident hippo, is also visiting more and more as the water gets higher and makes our island more accessible for him.
One of the highlights of the flood is the increase in fishing opportunities! Tiger fish, bream and barbel (catfish) arrive in the Delta in big numbers and feed happily in areas where previously they could not go. This is also historically one of the events that the local fishermen wait for to catch their fill and take it home to their families and the markets.
-"We will leave with many happy memories." Vanessa and Niel
- "The most wonderful bush experience ever." Yvonne and Kai
-"What a magical place and incredible experience." The Porters
-"Quintessential Africa!" Ed and Emma
From the management and the staff we wish our guests happy travels and the ones to come we hope to see you soon! Our warmest regards and greetings from the bush!
-The Jacana Team-
update - March 09 Jump
to Kwetsani Camp
Weather and Water Levels
What a fascinating month March has been! The floodwaters came rushing into the Delta a month ahead of schedule and are now passing the front of our swimming pool. Where we normally have boats taking to the water in April, this year we have been on the channels since early March and are enjoying wonderful boat cruises and crossings to Hunda Island. With flooding in Angola still taking place, we are expecting record floods in the Delta this year as the rivers supplying the Okavango are at their highest since 1963 and seem to be rising further.
The general weather has been absolutely spectacular for most of the month, the exception being a week of rain and drizzle that was accompanied by rather low temperatures at the beginning of the month. Just when we thought winter was making an early arrival the wonderful March weather returned and has remained with us for the remainder of the month.
The lions are definitely back in 'town' and seem to be enjoying the rapidly rising waters. Over the past few months we have been following some interesting dynamics and are still fascinated by pride behaviour, as we have had yet another male visiting the lionesses of our floodplains.
We are absolutely amazed that even with two mature males courting our pride female, her 2½ year old son, Cheeky Boy, has still not been driven from his mother and sister. Whilst he does move off when the older males are about he has had a number of stand offs this month where he is not shy to put up a challenge. He does, however, realise when it is time to make some space but, contrary to expected lion behaviour, he always returns to join up with his small family. At this age he should have been driven off to start a new life of his own, this is nature's way of mixing up the gene pool and preventing inbreeding.
We are certainly in for some interesting times as the female is now pregnant, it will therefore be very interesting to see what relationships are built or destroyed when the new cubs are born. How will both males react? Only time will tell, as this is a very unusual pride structure and relationship we have.
Perhaps the most wonderful interaction this year happened while Peter and Nicole were visiting us from Cologne. At about 13h30 one afternoon we heard the vervet monkeys alarming around the Island and then shortly thereafter heard a few roars literally 150 metres from camp. We immediately got into a vehicle to investigate and saw a male and female lion disappear into the bushes towards Tent 1.
We do encourage a siesta in the middle of the day, but to experience a couple of lions next to the walkway is an amazing experience so when this happens you are likely to get a gentle awakening, as we did with Peter and Nicole when the lions came strolling into camp. We managed to rouse Nicole, but Peter's head remained firmly on his pillow. Nicole was well rewarded for her rude awakening; her heart was thumping as she snapped off pictures of the lioness right next to the walkway below her.
After a wonderful experience Nicole again headed for the room to resume her 'sleeping safari'. It wasn't ten minutes later that the lioness was lying under a tree at the entrance to the camp. After some debate we decided that Nicole and Peter would appreciate another disturbance. Of course this time both Peter and Nicole were out of their tent like a shot. What a surprise it was when she was greeted by the lioness only metres from the walkway!
What followed thereafter was an amazing example of communication in nature. As the lioness walked next to the walkway she roared continually maintaining vocal contact with the male who had disappeared into the thickets of the island. With no response from the male the lioness started to move away from camp. We immediately climbed into a Land Rover and followed her watching her spray the bushes and rub herself against them before walking into some thickets close to the end of the island.
Our mission then was to find the male so we returned to camp where the male had come out of the bushes to show himself. We then spent over an hour following and tracking down both the male and female lions as they gradually moved across Kwetsani Island, finally meeting on a small adjacent island. It was amazing to watch the male instantaneously respond to a short low, throaty rumble from the female who had disappeared into the thickets of the adjacent island. Using scenting and roars the courting pair had managed to link up after giving guests a wonderful experience which finally culminated in the large male crossing the deep channel of water to meet with his mate.
We want you to enjoy the amazing phenomenon of the annual floods that spreads billions of litres of water over our floodplains to feed this wildlife paradise. The deep floodplains of Kwetsani are one of the unique habitats that the Delta has to offer as they attract thousands of lechwe and the most wonderful collection of birds that enjoy a feeding frenzy of frogs, fingerlings and many other creatures that have been carried down by the annual floodwaters.
We have as usual had some wonderful sightings of Beauty, our resident leopard, and her magnificent young male cub that is now the same size as his mother. Thanks to Robin Wood for the wonderful picture of Motsumi (which means 'hunter').
We hope that we will be able to share the wonder of the annual floods with you this season using our motorised boats, mekoro and of course in Land Rovers that will literally swim, bonnet-depth, to show you around our watery wilderness.
-Mike, Anne and the rest of the Kwetsani Team-
update - March 09 Jump
to Jao Camp
Weather and Water Levels
The month has been a warm one, with temperatures averaging around 30°Celsius. Between the 1st and the 12th, we were fortunate to receive large amounts of rain (one storm pelted down 35mm!). These storms brought on pleasantly cool breezes and a bit of relief from the heat.
Since mid-month we have had beautiful sunny days that have encouraged many guests to indulge in afternoon siestas next to the pool, all while enjoying a frosty drink and the spectacular view. Gazing over the floodplain from camp one is able to often see snow-white Little Egrets, colourful Saddle-billed Storks, honking Spur-winged Geese, meandering elephants, bashful buffalo, languid giraffes and graceful red lechwe.
All of the rain in Botswana (and the countries north of us) has transformed the Okavango landscape into a glorious 'water world' premature to the arrival of the regular floodwaters. This is extremely exciting, and we look forward in anticipation to the arrival of the flood from Angola that will probably push up the water levels here to record highs!
With the rising water levels, the 'animal landscape' is also changing. Even though hippos abound all year round, the water has increased their activity on the island. Large congregations of these colossal creatures can be spotted in front of the main area at night. From there, they disperse, bumping tent poles and keeping guests entertained with their sloshing, chomping and grunting on their way.
Elephants are starting to return to our area. It is fabulous to have these wise beings all around us again, as we are forever impressed by their presence, and never tire of observing their fascinating behaviour.
As far as large predators go, the Kwetsani Lion Pride has been patrolling the area all month. It seems that the two females in the pride are attracting a lot of interest at the moment. Just a few mornings ago, the roaring of a new male lion woke us all from our deep sleeps, as he patrolled the edge of the island, stopping every so often to mark his territory as a warning to any other males that may be on the prowl for female attention.
Our little leopard, Motsumi, has also kept us entertained. Earlier this month, Motsumi's mom, Beauty, shared a kill with him while eager guests watched, but she is now peculiarly absent from his side. She has been spotted in the company of her very shy mate, Beast, near our hide deck. Their clandestine behaviour indicates that they are probably mating, which explains the lack of her presence on Jao Island. Motsumi has been one of many cubs for her, but the only cub to reach one year of age. Beauty is nearing ten years of age now, and may only have a few years left, so we welcome any other potential offspring that will keep her legacy alive.
Night drives have yielded good sightings of smaller predators like civet and serval (not to mention the beautifully clear and starry night skies).
We are once again the proud 'parents' of about 20 baby banded mongoose. The resident group surprised us with several tiny balls of fluff in December and they have now done it again. This time, they kept the babies secret for a longer period of time, and some are already quite big. The numbers will hopefully work in their favour, as many of these little ones fall prey to accidental abandonment, snakes, birds of prey, baboons or small predators. Of the last litter, only two of approximately seven babies have reached adulthood. The odds seem to be more in favour of the survival of a few more pups this time around.
Jao took part in the annual Birding Big Day on the 11th of this month. The birding team started the day bright and early by listening for calls and trying to sight as many birds as we possibly could, both on the island as well as out in the greater Jao area. The day looked promising after sightings of Osprey, Black Cuckoo-shrike, Striped Cuckoo, Red-necked Falcon and Collared Pratincole. White Storks were seen flying overhead in their thousands - a very special sighting in itself. Unfortunately, we missed out on a few of the more common species in and around the island, who, true to Murphy's Law, were nowhere to be found when we wanted them! The last bird counted was the Swamp Nightjar, recorded at 21:30, making our total a grand 164! The count was a huge success, and just served to confirm the wealth of bird species in the Jao area.
Forget February being the month of love. March was filled with visits from honeymoon and anniversary couples, who were able to experience all of the romance of Africa at Jao Camp. Special events called for special Jao celebrations - champagne breakfasts, star gazing, night safaris, beautifully decorated rooms, lavish massages and dreamy dinners all commemorated these "once in a lifetime" vacations.
Fishing has also been a very popular activity due to the abundance of water, and the challenge of reeling in a big one encouraged many moments of family fun.
Usually our time is spent trying to give guests the best possible experience of Botswana by introducing them to the local culture. The Chen party did things a bit differently and gave us a taste of their culture by preparing a traditional Chinese dinner for us. Dish after fragrant dish was produced from the kitchen and we savoured every precious bite that we managed to deliver to our lips with the unfamiliar chopsticks. We never thought that we would be eating Chinese with chopsticks in the middle of the bush!
- "Wonderful accommodation, warm and happy staff, food was excellent. Beautiful and special decorations in our room for our anniversary and [we] appreciate all of the extra effort to make our anniversary special. Great management staff." Mike & Peggy
- "Tranquillity and even better service than we had two years ago. Staff are more competent and efficient than ever. Cruise, our guide, has very good knowledge." Nico & Sandra
- "Game drives, fishing, dinner, walking safari, baby leopard and Jao. Everything was perfect." Julie & Paige
- "Massage, private dinner, napping in Sala. Exercise room and birding with Graeme." Bob & Siri
- "Beautiful area, excellently managed. Entire team made the stay too short. Highlights were many apart from the team, lion, leopard, elephants, etc. Kabo was the best guide on our travels. Found the game we wanted, knowledgeable, good fun." Rodney & Lynette
Tubu Tree Camp
update - March 09 Jump
to Tubu Tree Camp
As the summer rains subside and the heat gives way to the cooler autumn months, the animals are changing their movement patterns. The sunsets remain as magnificent as ever. There is a wonderful contrast between the land, palm trees and the skies at dusk.
The floodplains are experiencing a wondrous change with all the floodwaters we are receiving. The first herd of red lechwe moved in a little earlier than they did the year before which got us all excited and preparing for the annual flood that covers our land, hailing from Angola in the north.
The hyaena cackling at the moon gave us chills as he feasted on a meal just stolen from the resident leopards. In huge gulps he assuaged his thirst after having such a huge meal. Thirst quenched, he woadered off to look for a comfortable place to sleep off his full, bulging belly.
There are a lot of young animals at this time of year. Watching them play and learn the ways of their parents and being as clumsy as ever is a delight. We watched a leopard cub discovering a leopard tortoise hidden in its shell for the first time. This sighting was a real wonder and a great amusement to the guests who watched on and who could only imagine the leopard tortoise laughing inside his shell, as the young cub tried in vain to get at him.
The uncommon find of a Verreaux's Eagle-Owl pair perched up high in the branches of a knobthorn tree in broad daylight caused great excitement. The chaos that went on around these magnificent birds as they were being mobbed by other birds was way too disturbing and they started to grunt (their characteristic call) in disdain at the smaller, chattering birds. As they called they would flash their pick eyelids and fluff their feathers to look bigger and possibly more intimidating.
The early evening dinners make one appreciate the wonders of the African night sky even more. Our favourite bush dinner spot was well used this month. Guests were left in awe as they sat in the wide open plains having a meal in nature, watching the animals come past to have a drink at the small pan.
Looking forward to hosting you at Tubu Tree Camp.
-Pono and Tumi-
update - March 09 Jump
to Abu Camp
The whole emphasis of Abu Camp on the "elephant experience". I don't mean clambering onto the back of a huge pachyderm for a ride, but to be completely immersed into the world that these amazing animals live in. Mike Lorentz, our host, proved that just spending quality time with elephants (sometimes entire days!) was what I think a complete, all-encompassing experience should be. It was quite different from the way we conduct our usual "safari" activities and the pachyderms had a huge role to play in that. However the mindset at Abu Camp is so unique in that they truly want you as a guest to be completely 'touched' by this experience.
My most memorable experience was after an early breakfast (06h30) we did a short mokoro ride and met up with the elephants. We then walked for approximately 10km (three hours) alongside the herd. If one wanted to one could ride on top of an elephant or one could walk next to one. I chose the latter simply because I wanted to observe how they walked, ate, pooped and interacted with each other and with the people. The darling of the herd is one-year-old Lorato which means 'love' in Setswana and she often came up to us and wanted to play. However having a 400kg calf, wanting to play tag needed our undivided attention!
We then walked to a shady spot and tea was spread out for us. We had delicious, huge homemade chocolate-chip cookies and tea and were then treated to an open-air lecture by the head mahout Collet. He is extremely knowledgeable and concentrated on the physiological adaptations of an elephant and used Cathy - a gorgeous 49-year-old cow - as a model. We individually could feel her skin, touch her hard footpads and get up close to her. This kind of interaction really lets one into the rare situation of crossing boundaries and this is the perfectly safe way to do just that.
After tea we said goodbye to the elephants and mahouts (so they could rest up) and drove in the vehicle to a pre-arranged picnic lunch spot overlooking the water. We arrived and were immediately greeted by roaring lions - at midday! We clambered onto mekoro and a boat and there coming towards the picnic spot was a male lion being chased by another! We got back onto the vehicle and followed them for a while before returning to lunch. Ponchos were laid out under the shade of a sycamore fig and on each was a book about the start of the Abu trademark. Some of us fished, slept and relaxed before we headed back towards the elephants again.
We then climbed into mekoro (some who wanted to ride the elephants could) and together we slowly poled next to them as they made their way back to the bomas. It was magical having an elephant two metres from you, towering up next to you as your poler glided the craft over the water.
The second day's activities included an activity in the morning, brunch and then, after 'high tea', we went out for the afternoon activity. This was great because if one wanted to rest the opportunity to do so was there. The day before was full and one could catch up with one's journal and rest. We combined mokoro, riding and walking which worked well with folk alternating at will. This gave us the unique chance to experience different perspectives of the elephants.
The afternoon walk took us to a place where the elephants hopefully would mud bath. They chose instead to pose with guests and drink and this provided some unique photographic opportunities.
The Green Desert Expedition - March 09 Jump
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Having over-nighted in Maun at the beginning of our 'expedition', we set off by road for the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) and the world renowned Deception Valley. Not even 30 minutes outside Maun we already felt like we were heading into the wilderness as a flock of White-backed Vultures rose from the ground adjacent to the road where they had been feeding on some or other carcass.
Shortly after that we stopped on the Boteti River - water literally gushing down its course and a myriad water birds revelling in the main stream, the shallows and the backwaters. In just ten minutes we saw Little Egret, Cattle Egret, Great White Egret, Grey Heron and mantling Black Egret to mention a few. An African Fish-Eagle further upstream called for good measure.
Heading further south we began to see changes in vegetation as we moved into the Hainaveld area and then down into the Central Kalahari proper. Hundreds of butterflies - brown-veined white, African migrants, broad-bordered grass yellows and zebra whites - were seen flying across the road and 'mudpuddling' in moist depressions.
None of us on this trip knew much about the Central Kalahari and as we approached our destination our excitement began to build. The 30km from Matswere Gate to Deception Valley inside the Central Kalahari Game Reserve were punctuated with occasional sightings of oryx (gemsbok), but once we entered Deception Valley we were blown away by the numbers of springbok, gemsbok and blue wildebeest. Heading down towards our base camp at Letiahau we followed the valley floor and saw tens of Kori Bustard, groups of Ostrich and of course Secretarybirds striding through the grass.
It was almost dusk by the time we reached Letiahau, having already seen our first lions for the trip, but the best was yet to come. Rounding a corner and heading over the last few hundred metres to camp a pack of nine wild dogs rushed into the road and we had a thrilling sighting of these highly endangered and impressively energetic animals.
Things continued in much the same vein over the remainder of our time in the CKGR and aside from plenty of lion sightings (we felt as if we were on the set of "The Lion King" having such wonderful sightings every day) as well as the ever-present springbok, oryx, black-backed jackal and southern ground squirrel we saw red hartebeest, steenbok and some exciting smaller carnivores like caracal, bat-eared fox, honey badger and meerkat.
The Adventurer-style camping was a first for most of us: the bucket showers were a treat, the stretcher beds so cosy and comfortable and the food, delicious. Our guide, Francis Kudumo, was extremely knowledgeable and taught us so much about the flora and fauna, and gave us a better understanding of the area. We left camp reluctantly on the last morning, but excited for the next destination on our Green Desert Expedition: Xigera Mokoro Trails.
Pictures by Anja Kuiken & Susan Saunders
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