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AFRICAN SAFARI NEWS

March 2009

(Page 2 of 2)

Page 1 Updates
General Safari News - General information and updates from our partners in Africa.
Wildlife News - Interesting wildlife sightings and photos.
Camp News - Camp specific news, including refurbs, rebuilds, accolades, etc.
• Monthly update from Kings Pool Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from DumaTau Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Savuti Camp in Botswana.
Kwando Safaris game reports from Botswana.
• Monthly update from Mombo Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Xigera Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Vumbura Plains Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Duba Plains Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Jacana Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Kwetsani Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Jao Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Tubu Tree Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Abu Camp in Botswana.
• Safari report from Green Desert Expedition safari in Botswana.

Page 2 Updates
• Monthly Dive Report from Rocktail Bay in South Africa.
• Safari report from Pafuri Walking Trail in South Africa.
• Monthly update from Makalolo Plains in Zimbabwe.
• Monthly update from Desert Rhino Camp in Namibia.
• Monthly update from Palmwag Lodge in Namibia.
• Monthly update from Skeleton Coast Camp in Namibia.
• Monthly update from Little Ongava in Namibia.
• Monthly update from Ongava Lodge in Namibia.
• Monthly update from Ongava Tented Camp in Namibia.
• Monthly update from Little Kulala in Namibia.
• Monthly update from Damaraland Camp in Namibia.
• Monthly update from Governors' Camp in Kenya's Masai Mara.


South Africa camps
Rocktail Bay Dive Report - March 09              Jump to Rocktail Bay Lodge

Divers often ask us how long we have been diving here at Rocktail and when they find out that we have been here for nine years they ask us if we get bored diving at the same reefs and seeing the same fish all the time. Well, the answer is no, we do not get bored because there is always something new to see and there are lots of our favourite friends to check up on.

As far as new things go, March started off with a big surprise. Clive and Duncan Macdonald (a regular diver) were diving at Pineapple Reef on the first day of the month. They were visited by the resident potato bass: Mrs Casper, Boris and a new smaller potato bass that is trying desperately to become part of the group. Mrs. Casper is the boss at this reef, swimming with her harem of small white kingfish, she watches as Boris checks all the divers, out one by one, asking for a stroke or a tickle under his chin.

Bottlenose Dolphin and boat      Eagle Ray and snorkeller      Potato Bass

After giving Boris his fair share of attention, Clive and Duncan moved on down the reef, when Clive saw two big cobia. These fish normally swim with other larger rays or sharks and so Clive kept a lookout over the edge of the reef. He then saw another cobia and something bigger behind it. He signalled to Duncan that there was a big ray, and they swam a bit closer to get a better look. They were not sure exactly what ray it was, it looked like an eagle ray but it was really big (approximately 3m wide) and had an extremely long, thin tail. After the dive there was much excitement as everyone wondered which ray it was. Looking through various books Clive discovered that it was an Ornate Eagle Ray (Aetomylaeus vespertilio). These rays have a distinct striped pattern on their body which narrows towards the tail into spots. The other striking feature of this ray is its long tail, which if the ray is measured from its head to the end of the tail can measure up to 4m in length! The other wonderful thing about this sighting is that these rays are normally found in the western Pacific, in Taiwan, Indonesia and very rarely in Australia and the Maldives and this is the first one we have seen in our area! After searching the web to see if we could find a photograph we realised just how rare this sighting was! The species is not well known, and there are only a few records from the northern parts of Australia (in fact, this may be the first record on the east coast of Australia). They only produce 4-6 live young, making them highly vulnerable. Eagle rays live in the open ocean rather than at the bottom of the sea. They are excellent swimmers and are able to jump several metres above the surface.

We have had plenty of other wonderful ray sightings this month, including huge honeycomb stingrays, black ribbontail rays, bluespotted stingrays, marbled electric rays and majestic manta rays. A dive at Pineapple Reef produced a 1.5m long tail of a honeycomb stingray. We saw it lying on the sand at the edge of the reef and all wondered what size shark had managed to bite off such a long tail! We also wondered if the shark managed to eat the ray or if the ray got away. The ray's best form of defence is to stick its hard barb, which is found at the base of its tail, straight into a predator's mouth as it attempts to attack it from behind. Well, a couple of days later we found a large honeycomb swimming around without its tail - it seems as if the ray won!

There have been some excellent shark sightings this month, including grey reef sharks, two different sightings of beautiful leopard sharks and the ever favourite whalesharks!

The bottlenose dolphins have been really friendly, giving us lots of opportunities to snorkel with them. They even visited Dave and James at the end of their dive at Gogos. Just as they were about to ascend eight dolphins swam right up to them, turned on their sides to have a good look and then swam off just as fast as they had arrived.

March ended just as spectacularly as it began. The last dive of the month was at Elusive. We descended into the doughnut and were surrounded by blue-banded snappers; we worked our way around the doughnut encountering honeycomb moray eels, devil firefish, scorpionfish and a potato bass. Then we crossed out to sea and the show began - there were small bait fish called scads racing through the water; schools of fusileers mid water across the sand and rows of tropical kingfish in formation ready for the hunt. Then, in the middle of all that commotion, a huge guitar fish swam straight for us and turned at the last moment, giving everyone a good view!

We continued along the edge of the reef and saw three blue spotted rays on the sand and as we approached 'Engen', a cleaning station, we saw a grey reef shark. But Neptune saved the best for last; sitting on the other side of the cleaning station was a massive brindle bass! Sheena, Steve and Michelle were the only divers still in the water and all were amazed as Sheena had been asking about brindle bass that morning and Michelle had told her that it is not very common to see them here and low and behold there was a huge brindle bass hanging out at a cleaning station! What an exciting end to a wonderful month.

Darryl, Clive, Michelle and Ondyne
The Rocktail Dive Team

Photos: Anthony Grote

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Pafuri Walking Trail Newsletter: 10-13 March 2009               Jump to Pafuri Wilderness Trail

The new Pafuri Walking Trail - instead of operating from only one base camp - now moves from one pre-erected site to another over the three-night trail, allowing us to cover a greater area of this fantastically diverse concession than before.

Day 1 (10 March - Gwalala Camp)
We left Pafuri Camp and walked north along a pan system past Manyingani Pan to Mazhongana and then through to Nwambi Pan where we stopped for snacks. From Nwambi we walked to an old Makuleke village site and then to Reedbuck Vlei. We stopped at Nyala Pan while watching the waders and waterbirds in the pan before continuing through the Fever Tree Forest to a lookout point along the Luvuvhu River, before looping back to Gwalala pan where Gwalala Camp was set up.

Pafuri Walking Trail      Pafuri Wilderness Trail

Over the 16km (at around 27-29°C) we had no fewer than eight buffalo encounters. The buffalo were mostly concentrated around Nwambi Pan and we encountered our first small herd just before this spectacular water body. Another herd of approximately 200 animals was drinking at the pan itself and we found another herd south of the pan and isolated bulls along the remainder of our walk. We also had a great sighting of an elephant bull splashing and bathing in Mazhongana.

Day 2 (11 March - Nhlangaluwe Camp)
We covered a total of 16-17km today. Leaving Gwalala we headed north to the historic Fernandez Store and then detoured east Crooks' Corner. From Crook's Corner we walked through Baobab forests and along the Limpopo floodplains to the 'Big Baobab' and then to Mapimbi Pan. We had our snacks overlooking the Limpopo floodplains while watching a herd of buffalo. From Mapimbi pan we walked towards Dakamila Pan, but due to buffalo activity and the density of the vegetation we walked along the ridges to Nhlangaluwe Camp and moved away from Dakamila. We had one other buffalo encounter as well as an elephant bull.

Impalas at Pafuri      Zebras at Pafuri

Day 3 (12 March - Luvuvhu Camp)
From Nhlangaluwe Camp the route took us to Pye and Thompson's store dating back to the turn of the twentieth century, and then via Deku Hill to Deku Spring. From Deku we made our way to Hutwini Gorge and up to the Njuca games carved in the rock here. We continued through the gorge to Shavela Pan where we enjoyed Lunch and then crossed the Luvuvhu floodplain to our temporary camp site set in the riverine forest back from the river.

Perhaps the most exciting encounter on 11km walk was with a herd of ten elephant in the Hutwini Gorge. The matriarch stood her ground with her calf next to her and the herd behind as we met one another while heading to the same point, but from different paths. She monitored the situation - as did we - and the herd made their way off in a hurry as we guided the guests to safety.

Day 4 (13 March)
From our campsite we headed back towards the Hutwini Mountain and then followed a buffalo path all the way back to Pafuri camp over a distance of 8-9km.

Mammals seen included: yellow spotted rock hyrax; buffalo; elephant; impala; plains zebra; kudu; nyala; warthog; bushpig; hippopotamus; chacma baboon; vervet monkey; thick tailed bushbaby (heard); tree squirrel.

Birds: A total of 105 birds were seen as we ventured across the concession. Some nice species included:
Harlequin Quail; Small Buttonquail; Bennett's Woodpecker; Acacia Pied Barbet; Broad-billed Roller; African Cuckoo; Grey-headed Parrot; Mosque Swallow; Purple-crested Turaco; Barn Owl; European Nightjar (seen during the day); Fiery-necked Nightjar (seen during the day); Crowned Eagle; Dwarf Bittern; Retz's Helmet-Shrike; Dusky Lark.

-Walter Jubber-

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Zimbabwe Camps
Makalolo Plains update - March 09               Jump to Makalolo Plains Camp

Climate and Temperature
This month we had a total of 151.6mm of rain. The summer rains have stopped abruptly though as signs of winter started creeping in. Temperatures in the evenings have dropped and minimum temperatures have been about 15° Celsius. Maximum temperature was 32° Celsius.

Vegetation and Landscape
The area is starting to change as the grass out in the open plains is turning to a yellow colour. Even though winter has announced its arrival here in Hwange, some of the marshy areas remain waterlogged. The pans in the concession are full. With all this water we will only consider starting to pump water for wildlife from mid April onwards. Most of the seasonal pans are also full. The various veldt flowers are still in beautiful array, colours and variety make for very interesting observations.

Giraffe on the Makalolo Plains

Wildlife
The small waterhole in the front of Makalolo Plains Camp has been very productive with many different species of animals coming to drink at all different times of the day. Some of the species seen include white rhino, cheetah, elephant, Cape buffalo, warthog, kudu, impala, waterbuck, and baboons. Elephants have started coming to the pool for their evening drink. At dusk a side-striped jackal announces the presence of a leopard patrolling his territory here in camp. One afternoon, as the sun was starting to set, we heard baboons barking their alarm call and running and jumping on the tops of termite mounds in order to see over the grass that was much taller than them. At that instant, waterbuck that were casually grazing around the pan all stopped and started looking in one direction. It was not long after that when we saw a very relaxed adult cheetah emerge out of the taller grass approaching the pan for a drink of water. It was absolutely amazing to view this incredible animal.

Wildlife probability sightings for the month
3%: lesser bushbaby, leopard, dwarf mongoose, slender mongoose, porcupine, red hartebeest, African wildcat; 6%: white rhino; 13%: small spotted genet, white-tailed mongoose; 23%: bat-eared fox, side-striped jackal; 39%: vervet monkey; 45%: eland 55%: banded mongoose; 58%: scrub hare; 61%: lion, sable; 68%: spotted hyaena; 81%: Cape buffalo; 90%: common duiker, tree squirrel; 94%: warthog; 97%: elephant.

Birding
The month of March has always been a fantastic time of the year for birding. With all the water in the open areas it has been very productive to see many different species of birds. The birding done right in camp and on the occasions we have been out in the field has produced some wonderful birds. Among the more common birds seen around camp have been: Black-headed oriole, Abdim's Stork, African Paradise Flycatcher, Shikra, Barn owl, Dark-capped Bulbul, Ground-scraper Thrush and Yellow-billed Kite. Our total bird count for this month was 141 different species.

Staff
Chefs:
Washington Gumpo
Nathan Sibanda
Jerry Ngwenya
Jordan Sibanda

Guides:
Dickson Dube
Raymond Ndlovu
Ihupuleng Dube

Management:
Amon Johnson

At closure of this month we would like to advise that Amon has left us for greener pastures. We wish him all the best for his future endeavours.

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Namibia camps
Desert Rhino Camp update - March 09               Jump to Desert Rhino Camp

In a mere two weeks the grass has transformed magically from yellow and dry to beautifully green and lush. Just putting your nose in the air you can breathe in the fresh smell of the green grass. The springbok are pronking, zebra are turning into healthy stallions, and the gemsbok (oryx) are looking as elegant as ever.

Temperatures and landscape
Desert Rhino Camp doesn't have a consistent microclimate and this month was no exception - the second week of March we had fog at least every morning. The mornings and evenings were cold with temperatures reaching 29 to 30 degrees Celsius during the day. In the last week the east wind started giving us hot days and nights. The temperature at night then varied from 28 to 30 degrees while during the days it remained around 34 to 35 degrees. The landscape is still one of the most beautiful in Namibia with green swathes of grass and the red rocks standing out from amongst the grass.

Black Rhino at Desert Rhino Camp      Desert Rhino vista

Wildlife
The rhino cow Hoagedi and her calf Harry had been spotted on several rhino drives - and there had been no disturbance with the sightings. Harry is growing into a fine young male.

The other rhinos that had been spotted were Tensie, a young male, Ben, one of the dominant bulls, Desire and her calf Deborah and then two unknown young rhino were seen as well.

Gotlod, one our guides, was fortune enough to spot seven cheetah in one day - that's an incredibly rare sighting! The animals in this area, especially the cats, are very skittish so it's hard to get that elusive photograph.

Rain falling at Desert Rhino Camp

The pride of five lion known as Shackelton's Pride has lost one of the young ones - sadly he seems to have been killed. But there is a new addition to the family - one of the females has given birth to cubs. We saw only one as they were hidden in the thickets, typical behaviour for a female that has just given birth.

Around camp the bird sounds are amazing - you can hear the calls of the Benguela Long-billed Lark, and the Monotonous Lark chirping the whole night and day, as well as Weavers, Ruppell's Korhaan, Rock Martins and Helmeted Guineafowl.

Staff in camp
Mangers: Daphne & Igna
Asst Man: Helen & Kapoi
Guides: Harry & Gotlod
Training Guide: Morne

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Palmwag Lodge update - March 09               Jump to Palmwag Lodge

Weather and Landscape
Rainfall during March was spread over a few days only, but most of the rivers around us continue to flow. Driving through crystal clear streams has become the norm for the past month.

Wildlife
Game sightings continued to be good during March - Leopards were seen regularly. We went looking for lions the other day, but had a wonderful cheetah sighting instead with a recent group of guests. Black rhino sightings were infrequent, but they were also seen on occasion.

Birding remains spectacular and apart from our usual complement of sought-after arid endemics we've seen some uncommon species for the Palmwag Concession too: African Hoopoe and Red-billed Teal. The Black and Abdim's Storks have moved in by the hundreds together with a single sighting of a Woolly-necked Stork.

Flowing river at Palmwag Lodge      Save The Rino at Palmwag Lodge      Herero staff at Palmwag Lodge

The latest resident at the Poolbar is a young monitor lizard!

The most exciting event for the managers and guides at Palmwag Lodge was attending the black rhino capture in the concession early this month. The Palmwag Concession is now in the fortunate position to provide some of its black rhino to surrounding community conservancies. We camped at Orunendes for a week and joined SRT (Save The Rhino Trust) and MET (Ministry of Environment and Tourism) in the capture operation. There were some exciting moments with rhino waking up too early and getting up amongst the crowd - we did not know that we could run that fast!

Catching rhino in this terrain remains a huge challenge. Dave Hamman, who has photographed rhino capture in other parts of Africa, compared those capture operations to these as "a tea party".

Community
The police station in Opuwo was donated a desktop computer after an urgent plea was made by the Regional Commander, Honourable Shifonono, late last year. The computer was delivered to Opuwo and it was handed over in the presence of most of the Kunene Station Commanders.

Finally, pictured are three of our Herero staff members - Mercia, Koos and Kauhitua - in beautiful traditional dress for a ceremony.

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Skeleton Coast Camp update - February/March 09               Jump to Skeleton Coast Camp

Weather
We have just gone through the rainy season in this area. About 15 - 20 mm of rainfall was measured in February in the camp. To experience rainfall in the camp is very unusual therefore it is one of the greatest experiences ever. The temperatures were mild, not unbearably cold or hot. Our mornings and evenings were cool, but very pleasant at most times. The Horausib River came down in full flood during February and went all the way to the ocean. The Khumib River came down on the 11th of March, but not as much as last year. It stopped flowing just after Sarusas Spring.

Wildlife and Landscapes
From early morning sunrises with the fog blanket covering the Skeleton Coast to the most beautiful sunsets on this dramatic coastline - at Skeleton Coast Camp, this is a typical day filled with isolation, creation and lots of fun! Our guides shared their true passion for this piece of land and its huge variety of landscapes and wildlife with our guests coming to the Skeleton Coast, making sure that they will never forget this experience.

Skeleton Coast vista      Gemsboks at Skeleton Coast

In the mornings Kallie usually starts his day by calling the Ruppell's Korhaan. Between the man and the bird they both sound just like frogs and believe it or not the birds do tend to communicate very well with a human being copying their call sound.

The diversity of the Skeleton Coast is such that our guests sometimes cannot believe that they are in the same place every day. For example, driving to the Purros area is completely different compared to the coastal area.

At the moment there are big herds of springbok, oryx, Hartmann's mountain zebra and Ostriches on the way to Purros. After the rain we received since December the plains are covered with grass - a paradise for the animals of course. We have seen about 100 springbok and oryx close to the Lichen Fields, obviously enjoying all the grass in the area but also feed on the Lichens in the morning, when these unusual 'plants' contain most of their moisture.

One needs to drive very carefully on the road to Purros as we have seen so many Namaqua chameleons and sandgrouses along the way. The chameleons are such interesting creatures changing their colours depending on which mood they are in.

Palmato Gecko at Skeleton Coast      Cape Fur Seals at Skeleton Coast

Jonathan was very sure that he heard the lions roaring close to Repeater Mountain, which could be correct as the lions can't hunt in the riverbed at the moment as it is too wet and therefore will start coming closer to areas where the game concentration is higher.

On the days that we take guests to Purros we usually go past the local Himba village which offers them an interesting cultural experience. On weekdays we also visit the Purros School where our guests get a chance to meet the kids of Purros - this visit is usually very rewarding for both our guests and the kids.

At the moment we only drive in certain areas of the Hoarusib River as it came down in full flood and we would prefer to avoid getting stuck in quicksand along the way! Therefore seeing elephants and lions are very rare at the moment, as they have moved out of the river till the rainy season is over. Our guess is that they will start moving back into the river around May/June. Besides looking for animals though, the area around Purros is very beautiful with the fields of grass and the mountains surrounding the valley of Purros.

The desert is not just about sand, wind and heat, but involves seeing many of the smaller living creatures trying to survive in this harsh piece of Land. Our guides normally do a walking safari on the last morning of the safari. It is also the best time of the day to look for small creatures as the sand is still very cool from the previous night's condensation on the dunes and so it is difficult for them to move. The Palmato Gecko is an interesting creature with its striking appearance; the pictured gecko's flesh pink body seems almost transparent.

One of the other remarkable sightings during the last two months has been the Lithops, commonly referred to as Bushman's Buttocks! They flower only once a year after a good shower of rain. The little plant is fully covered in yellow flowers for two months.

Driving towards the ocean is always breathtaking as the scenery is changing constantly with a contrast of colors, shapes of dunes, basalt hills and this huge amount of land seemingly with nothing in it, but yet so much that one cannot absorb the remoteness all at one time.

Guest News
"This the most remote place on earth, we hope it stays that way - truly stunning. And the staff and guides are true ambassadors for Namibia. We are on our honeymoon, and will be back for our 50th, God willing." Douglas and Conwell- Hong Kong

"What a fantastic place we found here. It was memorable experience to discover all this magnificent and various landscape. Thank you to Gert for discovering all. And also thank you to all the staff that are so nice. We hope to be back sometime." Demens - Switzerland

Managers and Guides
Our guides are doing an excellent job considering the long days they have, but yet they are the ones that make sure that each safari is rewarded with loads of fun and a huge amount of information including the fauna, flaura, geology and the marine life of this area.

Charl had Jesse and Steven to help him with camp operations this month. Desire from SWC and Carina from KDL also helped out. We want to welcome them and thank them for their great input and we hope that they are having lots of fun here at the Skeleton Coast.

Each staff member is a great asset to this camp. We are proud to be part of the Skeleton Coast family.

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Little Ongava update - March 09               Jump to Little Ongava Camp

Weather
The rains have been subsiding during March, reflecting the change from the summer season to the cooler autumn weather. Temperatures have varied between 25 to 35ºC and are somewhat cooler at night. Some days were sunny others cloudy. These variations have not only made the wildlife more active, but have also created some spectacular skies. Photographers have been able to capture truly unique landscape images including rainbows (with giraffe), wildflower blooms and awe-inspiring sunset pictures.

Amazing colors at Little Ongava      Lioness at Little Ongava

Wildlife
A recent highlight at Little Ongava is listening to the lions from Stompy's Pride roaring from the clearings surrounding camp. Their vocalisations have lulled us into a iconic African safari experience on many recent evenings. Over the past few weeks, we have had fantastic sightings of this pride; from the three playful 16-month old cubs to adult lionesses on the hunt at dusk.

For those who have read our past reports, you will be happy to know that our resident African Paradise-Flycatcher family is doing well. The industrious parents have successfully fledged all three chicks. The young ones have now begun to hunt on their own, and it has been about two weeks since we have seen the whole family together.

Paradise Flycatcher and chics      Spotted Eagle-Owl      Impala

Seen frequently at our waterhole are two Spotted Eagle-Owls and the unique black-faced impala. Not only are we excited to have one of Namibia's endemic species resident around camp, but one strikingly marked ram only has one horn.

Interestingly, watching giant green mantids hunting has become a favourite post-dinner pastime. This large praying mantis species hunts moths and other nocturnal insects alongside the small lights along our boardwalk. Other animals in camp recently have been klipspringers, a band of banded mongoose and a rock monitor.

During a game drive in adjoining Etosha National Park, our guide, Gabes, was excited to spot a melanistic plains zebra. Instead of the typical black and white pattern, this particular zebra has a large black patch covering its back and sides caused by excessive black pigment. Remarkably, she has a normally patterned young colt. They have been seen several times since Gabes first spotted them and continue to be an interesting discussion point for guests.

Guest Comments
"Wonderful staff, beautiful sightseeing, awesome experience. Thank you!" Lantik Family, Netherlands

Staff
Chef Festus is now settled into our cosy kitchen. Festus joined the Little Ongava team in January with 12 years of culinary experience behind him. The compliments just keep coming; and they should! However, a simple description of our current cuisine will hardly do Festus justice. Taste for yourself at a romantic dinner overlooking the wilds of Ongava.

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Ongava Lodge update - March 09               Jump to Ongava Lodge

Temperature and Landscape
We are now at the tail end of the rainy season. Temperatures have also been lower - the evenings and the early mornings are becoming chillier. It seems winter is creeping in slowly, as we are now experiencing clear blue skies, longer nights and shorter days, sunset is at 19:00 and sunrise is now at 06:55. Middle of the day is still been quite warm though.

The leaves on some of the deciduous trees such as the white seringa have started drying and falling, heralding the onset of autumn.

Ongava sunset      Springboks at Ongava      Lilac-breasted Roller at Ongava Lodge

Wildlife Sightings
March has been a special month for us: Ongava Lodge turned 16 years old on the 20th of March, and things are hotting up animal sightings front. Our black rhinos have been sighted more often much to the delight of our guests and staff; they have been seen at the lodge waterhole three nights in a row. And as a gift, this year we are expecting a newborn black rhino calf and four white rhino calves!

It seems the seasonal water pools around the reserve are drying up and the animals have started coming back to drink at the waterholes.

We have had a few interesting sightings just in the vicinity of Ongava Lodge. The housekeeping staff stumbled across a stripe-bellied sand snake and saw it swallow a lizard right in front of them; they thought the snake was way too small to devour the whole lizard, but the snake proved them wrong. Another interesting encounter was when guests came across a Southern Masked Weaver fighting off a chameleon in an attempt to protect its nest.

Lions at Ongava      Lions and Black Rhinos at Ongava      Stripe-bellied sand snake swallowing a lizard at Ongava

On one of the afternoon drives, Kapona, one of the guides at Ongava, noticed some oryx running. Lions were then found chasing the oryx when two black rhino moved in trying to chase off the lions. Later the lions gave up and just lay in the middle of the road looking at the rhino in disdain. Certainly not something you see every day! (Picture courtesy of guest Frank Jemison).

The lions were very active at Ongava Lodge waterhole one evening when a pride of eight made a half-hearted attempt at chasing down a herd of kudu with five young calves. The lions looked well-fed and they were probably being opportunistic rather than hungry because they chased the kudu only for about 50 metres and then they returned to drink at the waterhole. They treated the guests watching to one of the most awe-inspiring songs on earth, calling to the two males and the rest of the pride who were lying in the road next to the Ongava parking area.

The game drives into Etosha National Park have proved worthwhile and it seems the elephants are moving back to the southern parts of Etosha. A few bulls have been seen between Andersson's Gate and around Okaukuejo. The elephants in Etosha have a yearly ritual: as soon as the rainy season starts, they migrate to the north and north-western parts of the Park and only return at the end of the rainy season. Animals of all sorts are also now also seen drinking at the waterholes - scenes for which Etosha is so famous.

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Ongava Tented Camp update - March 09               Jump to Ongava Tented Camp

Weather, Landscape and Water Levels
The rainy season seems to have gone and the temperatures mild so we are all looking forward to a wonderful mid-year. Winter is slowly inching closer and is evident with the cooler mornings. By late March the nights are starting to cool, but the tents seal nicely and there are fluffy blankets and duvets so everyone sleeps like a log. Wear a sweater in the mornings, but as soon as the sun comes out it is T-shirt and shorts time! The mornings are fresh, clear and crisp and the afternoons are sunny enough for one to get a dose of Vitamin D next to the swimming pool.

There are still a few water pools scattered around the Ongava Reserve as well as in Etosha and this has meant less elephant sightings, although towards the end of March sightings of the grey giants have picked up noticeably. There are hundreds of young animals around - in fact, Ongava Tented Camp waterhole looks like a nursery school crowded with kudu and waterbuck calves with long-legged zebra foals frolicking around every corner.

Elans at Ongava Tented Camp      Dinner setting at Ongava Tented Camp

Following the good rains, the grass is quite high and the bush dense, so visibility is limited. This is currently impacting the wildlife viewing to a certain extent, but the dry season is now around the corner where this will change completely.

Wildlife
Sightings of lion, rhino, cheetah, and even leopard were reported from drives out on the reserve this month. The drives to Etosha National Park were rather challenging mega mammal-wise due to the tremendous amount rain that fell during the season. The only elephant sightings in Etosha only started occurring towards the end of the rainy season. This was the ideal opportunity to focus on the smaller things like chameleons, snakes, ground squirrels and the varied birdlife. Seeing all the young antelope face their first (sometimes comical) challenges in life was another highlight.

The waterhole at Ongava Tented Camp is a perfect spot to while away the hours - including the possible sighting of black rhino that infrequently comes to drink. Another excitement occurred when an eland herd popped in at the waterhole - normally pretty shy antelope.

Some guests have all the luck! This month a large male leopard was sitting in the meagre shade of an acacia in the middle of the road about one kilometre away from Ongava Tented Camp. As the guests approached he turned around and walked away, simply disappearing in the long grass.

Walks within Ongava were also enjoyed by guests and they were stunned about the diversity of plant and insect life. Birding has been excellent with sightings including African Paradise-Flycatcher, Marico Flycatcher, Carp's Tit, Barred Wren-Warblers, Montero's Hornbill and flashy Crimson-breasted Shrikes.

The sunsets this time of year are amazing and were therefore popular amongst guests enjoying sundowners in the Sonop area of Ongava.

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Little Kulala update - March 09               Jump to Little Kulala

Weather and Temperature
Temperature has varied between lows of 15 to highs of 35 degrees Celsius and it is starting to cool down in the mornings and evenings - the chill is in the air before warming up nicely.

We have had seasonal flooding in all the ephemeral rivers around the area and self-drive guests need to be careful when approaching any river washes. The road conditions are definitely improving though as there are road teams working on them and there has not been recent heavy rain to impede this.

Red dunes at Little Kulala      Sping wild flowers at Little Kulala      Lovely grasses at Little Kulala after the rain

During the first two weeks of March we had wonderful rains all over the area culminating in the Tsauchab River coming down in full spate and almost flowing into Sossusvlei on the 7th of March. The water did not reach Sossusvlei completely; there is some water in Ostrich Vlei, a smaller vlei along the river course, however.

The net result of all of the rain and wet weather has been a profusion of flowers, grasses, plants and life in general taking full advantage of the climatic conditions. Amongst all of the annual plants a race seems to be taking place between the seedlings and the relentless sun!

The most spectacular example has been the devil thorn flowers (Tribulus sp). These buttery-yellow flowers have sprouted up all along the riverbeds and around the camp creating a spectacle of colour and with it attendant butterflies and wonderful scents.

At the moment, for the more adventurous, you can take your swimming costume along when visiting the Sesriem Canyon as it has filled with deep pools of water. You can jump in and have a refreshing swim in the waters that will soon disappear to become a dry riverbed again.

Wildlife
There has been a huge influx and abundance of life in the desert, from butterflies and other insects of all shapes and sizes.

We have been lucky enough to find the rarely seen Palmato or web-footed gecko recently foraging on the sand around the camp at night.

Lanner Falcon at Little Kulala      Little Kulala Soccer team

There has also been a juvenile Lanner Falcon paying the camp waterhole a visit - perhaps to pick off an unsuspecting Cape Turtle Dove.

The springbok have started congregating into larger herds and we can see a lot of jostling and mating attempts taking place currently and lots of general activity amongst them.

Guest Comments
"Sleeping outside is something we will remember for the rest of our lives."
"The friendly service; the staff singing on our final night - what an amazing experience!
The sunrises, balloon ride, sand dunes - Everything."

Staff News
On Namibian Independence Day (the 21st of March) the Little Kulala Soccer team participated in the Independence Cup. This is a football (soccer) tournament organised amongst the all the lodges in the area and there were eight participating teams from the surrounding areas. The Little Kulala squad advanced into the final which had to be delayed until a later date due to fading light on the match day.

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Damaraland Camp update - March 09               Jump to Damaraland Camp

Following a month of extraordinary rains in February, March has been less wet with only six rainy days which offered 45mm of precipitation for the month. Temperatures fluctuated between a high of 35°C and a low of a rather welcome 10°C.

The rains of February and the additional moisture received in March means that our area is currently a borderless garden filled with in-season flowers, herbs and forbs, seasonal grasses and of course Nature's flying, creeping and walking creatures. What more does one need! The answer to this is very simple: our guests ... people who appreciate, treasure and share this amazing wilderness area!

Local village at Damaraland      Lovely view at Damaraland Camp

The health of the flora has been mirrored by the health in the fauna and sightings this month were of swollen springbok herds and happy elephant herds grazing amongst the green grasses of the hills away from the Huab River Valley.

We had plenty of photographers here this month to take advantage of this time of productivity. They came from all over the world - New Zealand, the USA, South Africa, England and France were just some of their home countries.

Behind the scenes, while our guests enjoyed the bounty of nature we held a fashion show amongst the staff giving an opportunity for the seamstresses and models amongst us to strut their stuff.

Local school children at Damaraland      Damaraland vista

Community
As part of Wilderness Safaris' ongoing commitment to communities, March saw Namibia's start to an extensive socio-economic study of the company's impact on the surrounding communities. The aim of the study is to gather initial data and determine the effectiveness of our community engagement models and from there see how they can be improved to benefit the communities further. All staff present at Damaraland Camp were surveyed and all participated enthusiastically.

Guests are encouraged to participate in the cultural aspects of Damaraland Camp, which include a visit to the nearest settlement and/or a trip to Bergsig, the headquarters of the Torra Conservancy, home to many of our staff, and one of the elephants' favourite spots!

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Kenya camps
Governors' Camp update - March 09               Jump to Governors' Camp

March brought warm, dry days with morning temperatures averaging 16ºC and mid day temperatures up to 32°C. We had some good rainfall this month, most of it falling in localised areas towards mid month. The low-lying grassland plains are slowly drying up whilst large areas of paradise plains and Rhino Ridge are quite green with good numbers of antelope. The Mara River levels have been fluctuating; going up (in the last week the River rose a foot due to some rain up in the Mau escarpment) and then dropping again.
 
There are good numbers of Elephant and calves spread out within the Musiara area. They wander back and forth throughout the woodlands and grasslands, stopping in the swamp to cool off and enjoy the soft grasses. In the forest the fruit of the Warburgia trees are easing off and so are the individual elephant that frequented the camps.
 
Masai Giraffe in small bachelor herds of 3 - 12 individuals and females with calves are close to the camps browsing in the woodland areas. There are a few large breeding bulls about who move from herd to herd, sourcing females in oestrus.

Maasai Giraffes      Zebras on the plain 
Photographs courtesy of Colin Welensky

Defassa waterbuck with calves are present near the Musiara Marsh and within close proximity to the woodlands, there are some large dominant males who are sparing with younger males. Olive baboons are ever present, they forage earlier in the mornings. Impala breeding herds with many young fawns and the solitary Bush Buck are also roadside residents within the camp perimeters.
 
There are still some good sightings of reedbuck in the swamp and other areas of Bila Shaka particularly the flood plains and drainage areas where the coarser grasses grow which are unpalatable to other antelopes. There are good numbers of eland in Bila Shaka and on the paradise plains, amongst these are many calves in crèches and there are some large dominant breeding bulls that flank the periphery of these breeding herds. Two bulls in the Paradise area are exceptionally large and one can hear the click that they mysteriously produce when walking, nobody has really fully understood how this 'click' is produced or from what part of the anatomy. The rain up on Paradise plain and subsequent flush of new green grass has brought large numbers of zebra with young foals onto the plains.
 
A male Black Rhino has been browsing close to the river. Clients have come back from morning game drives seeing the big five in a single morning drive!

Topi with their five month old calves are on Topi plains there are also herds of females in well used lekking areas of Paradise and the other side of the Talek River. Topi favour areas with reasonable stands of grass although they relish new green growth and with their narrow muzzles they are selective feeders and strictly grazers. Cokes Hartebeest in smaller herds and with similar aged calves to that of Topi will be seen throughout the Musiara and Paradise areas. Topi and Cokes hartebeest are seasonal breeders here and generally calve down in November/December. They have an 8 month gestation and maternal bonds usually last a year or until the next offspring is born. The females are being mated at the moment. Their territories usually have high vantage points like termite mounds and are used by both males and females. Males use these 'mounds' to display where the location of their territory lies and females will use the mounds to alert others of danger.
 
A nearby dry river bed has been home to a female aardwolf and her two young cubs. This area of the riverbed is home to various harvester termite species and this is perhaps why the Aardwolves have chosen to cub down here. Termites form a large part of an aardwolves diet, along with some invertebrates and the eggs of ground nesting birds. They like to forage in the early mornings and evenings when the harvester termites are also active.
 
Now that the plains grasses are shorter we have had lovely daily sightings of Serval Cat.
 
The Bila Shaka/marsh pride of 4 lionesses and 9 cubs of varying ages are doing well. The 2 males, 3 females and three 3 month old cubs have been spending time away from the marsh towards the dry river bed. The two pride males were seen mating with two of the females. On the 30th the four females and nine cubs killed and ate two zebra close to the swamp. They have also been feeding off Buffalo.

Lioness with a kill      Leopard in the Masai Mara 
Photographs courtesy of Colin Welensky and the Glendenning Group

The paradise pride of 7 lionesses, 5 sub adult males and 'notch' have been resident close to the river and the Ridge pride of 6 lionesses and 9 cubs of varying ages have not moved very much recently and are resident towards the Talek river.
 
The cheetah Shakira and her three nine month old female cubs are healthy and feeding well off Thomson gazelles and reedbuck.
 
Another single female cheetah has been present in our area and she has been seen feeding off Thomson Gazelles and also reedbuck.
 
The three male cheetah coalition have latterly moved back into our area and they have been feeding off young zebra. On a morning game drive guests came across the three males who had just killed a very young eland calf. The three cheetah had only just started eating the eland when they were robbed by four spotted hyena, moments later the hyena had the kill stolen from them  by two lionesses!
 
The female cheetah Serena and her male and female 15 month old cubs are also doing well out on the grasslands.
 
This month has been all about extraordinary leopard sightings, much to the delight of our guests.
 
A female with two cubs; a male and female who are approximately 18 months old are resident in the riverine woodlands and croton thickets near the River. These two cubs are becoming increasingly confident. Some guests recently came across the male on a game drive and he wandered up to the vehicle and jumped up onto the bonnet and peered inside through the windscreen. In 36 years of operating safaris in this area of the Mara we have never known a leopard to do this! 

Sub-adult leopard in the Mara      Leopard on the bonnet of the Landie
Photographs courtesy of Mr and Mrs Pinder

Then on the evening of the 24th the same young male stalked and killed a serval cat near the River!

Leopard killing a serval      Leopard with a serval it has killed
Photographs courtesy of the Glendenning Group 


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