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South Africa camps
Rocktail Bay Dive Report - May 09 Jump
to Rocktail Bay Lodge Jump
to Rocktail Beach Camp
We often think that skippers get bored sitting on the boat while all the action is happening on the dive, but in fact, they get their fair share of action too! Clive had a whale shark come right up to the boat and nudge the pontoon before slipping back into the water and swimming under the boat to the other side. Clive rushed across waiting for it to reappear, when it did he was able to lean over and give the whale shark a tickle and rub on its head before it slowly cruised off. He also spotted a minke whale at the beginning of the month - quite a rare sighting - these whales are usually very shy but it came quite close to the boat, which was a special treat.
While everyone was diving at Elusive, Darryl saw a patch of bait fish swirling on the surface, he watched as a couta made a successful dash through the middle of them. He then saw a shark jump straight out of the water, chasing its prey. None of the divers had seen any of that action and had not even seen the shark on the dive!
Another exciting moment on the boat, which divers and skippers got to share, was when the divers were gearing up before their dive and Darryl caught sight of a fin in the water, as he turned he called out that there was a dolphin. Everyone turned to see it and on closer inspection it turned out to be a tiger shark, which cruised right up to the boat, stuck its head out of the water to inspect the boat and then slipped back into the sea, disappearing as quickly as it had appeared! The boat they were on is called Cuvier, which is the Latin name for the tiger shark! Now we can say that the boat has been properly christened!
Aerial Reef has produced some wonderful sightings for a lot of first time divers. This reef is perfect for guests who complete their PADI Discover scuba diving course and get to do their very first sea dive. This month some of these guests were spoilt with sightings of a manta ray, a leopard shark and a huge brindle bass! Some divers do hundreds of dives before being lucky enough to see these beautiful creatures!
Congratulations to Karen Deller for winning the Rocktail Underwater Photographic competition! She won a three-night five-dive package for two at Rocktail Beach Camp. Karen, Kevin and Jayden enjoyed a wonderful dive at Pineapple Reef, where they saw four honeycomb stingrays, one sharpnose stingray, a green turtle, and a huge honeycomb eel swimming across the reef, not to mention all the other big and small fish life. As they were ascending they saw a remora (sucker fish), then another, then another, then a whale shark! The whale shark swam slowly past them and circled back before swimming away. The following day they got the chance to snorkel with another, bigger, whale shark.
This month, Darryl and Ondyne also saw the first humpback whales of the season! They had gone for a walk along the beach when Darryl saw a whale breaching. They ran up to the top of the closest dune to get a better look and saw that there were two adult humpback whales, moving in a northerly direction. These whales live in the Antarctic but leave during winter and migrate northwards along the coast as far up as Madagascar. The females then give birth in the warmer waters and once the babies are strong enough to handle the long journey home, they head all the way back to the Antarctic, where a feast of krill awaits them. They survive the entire journey living off the reserves of energy stored in their blubber, and do not eat until they return home.
Rocktail Beach Camp is currently being expanded. Another five accommodation units are being built, as well as a curio shop and kids' playroom being added near the swimming pool, and the main bar and dining area is being extended, including a new walk-in wine cellar. We are all excited about the addition of a 7m high viewing deck off the main area, which promises to have a wonderful view over the dune forest out to sea - just in time for whale season!
"It was our second visit here and we are absolutely thrilled with what we have seen. The abundance of life is phenomenal. Many thanks to all the professional dive staff." Piotr, from Poland, now based in the Red Sea.
Wonderful honeymoon treat - Ondyne is a model teacher - kind, friendly, patient. Much appreciated." John and Stephanie, Northern Ireland.
Darryl, Clive, Michelle & Ondyne
The Rocktail Dive Team
Kings Camp update - May 09 Jump
to Kings Camp
It was a very good month with lots to see and some amazing experiences all round. The animals seem to enjoy the cooler temperatures and move around for longer periods in the day creating ample opportunities to get great sightings of them.
Let’s not keep you waiting! We have lots of news to share…
Sightings have been extremely good and the stage light was set on both Nkateko and Kuhanya, the two juvenile Leopards now approaching adulthood. Typically cubs stay with the mothers for anything between about 19- 22 months, and both of them are nearly ready to manage their own lives.
Nkateko and her mother Rockfig were seen on numerous occasions in the past month but it is evident that less time is now spent between the two of them. Nkateko frequents the area to the East of camp and is often seen stalking Impala, Steenbuck and Grey Duiker. She is now 18 months old and will soon be set in her own ways.
Approaching 21 months, Kuhanya is more advanced and will very soon be on her own. She is almost always alone and the only time spent with her mother, M’bali, is when there is “free” food around. M’bali killed very well in this past month and was seen on a few occasions on large Impala kills.
We will keep you updated on the changes as the mothers start pushing the young ones further away.
Unfortunately we also have some sad news on the Leopard front. Maganjan, whom so many leant to love, has passed on. I will use this opportunity to pay tribute to this special animal.
For 7 years he entertained us with magnificent sightings! He left a door open for us to learn so much about Leopards and their behavior. We were privileged to have seen him killing, fighting and mating…numerous times! (He even had 4 females following him to mate in 2004!)
Mangajan was shot and killed by a field guide from a neighbouring lodge early last Monday morning, the 11th May. The field guide was out in the bush on foot when Maganjan without warning charged out at him. The guide fired a warning shot intially to try and deter the anmimal from attacking. However, the leopard kept coming at him and showed serious intent to follow through with the attack. The guide in a split second took the descision to shoot the animal in self defence. From the investigation it is believed that the leopard was shot at a distance of two meters from the guide.
As you can imagine, we are all deeply shocked and saddened by his loss. In his memory, please feel free to add your pictures of him onto the blog or you can join the facebook group "In memory of Mangajan" where there are already over 80 members.
He was a true LEGEND and his spirit will live on in all the cubs he fathered!
I must however report that there is already some activity of new males in the area and we hope that we can get a male that will share his personal life with us like Mangajan did.
Now to cheer you all up again!
The one Machaton Lioness has 3 cubs and they are about 7 weeks old. We’ve shared some amazing sightings with them and will keep you updated on their progress!
The Timbavati Boys are doing very well and have taken a few Buffalos again through the month. The other 2 Machaton Lionesses kept a low profile through the month and we hope to report on them ASAP.
It seems that the 2 Schobele Lionesses have gone north to go and have their cubs and we will report as soon as we have news on them. The rest of the pride is doing extremely well and has spent a lot of time in our central traversing.
Elephant and Buffalo
The Elephants are back in town!!
Sightings of the grey giants were plentiful and lots of fun!
There were about 4 large herds of Cape Buffalos in our traversing over the past month and we even had a few sightings of them right at the Camp’s waterhole.
After months of courtship old Mtenge-tenge finally convinced a female Rhino to run off with him on honeymoon! Some people saw the two mating but unfortunately I did not and therefore there are no photographs of it. If all goes well she might have a baby in 16 months time!
Morné and the Kings Camp ranger team.
Text and photos by: Morné Hamlyn.
Makalolo Plains update - May 09 Jump
to Makalolo Plains Camp
So true to Hwange the evening and early morning temperatures are cold at this time of year. Clear, crisp mornings and blue skies have been the norm and once the sun is up it does not take long for it to warm up and by mid-morning fleeces and jackets start coming off. The minimum for the month was 5º Celsius and the maximum was 31º Celsius.
Vegetation and Landscape
The concession has started to change and is now dressed in the seasonal colours of winter in shades of beige and brown. The grass has started to dry considerably and in most places has been trampled by herds of buffalo moving to and from waterholes. In other areas on clay soils some moisture had been retained and grass is still green in patches. Pans across the concession are looking good and are still holding a considerable amount of water. We have started pumping five of the pans in the concession as there is still a lot of natural waterholes that are still quite full. With the grass drying out the imminent threat of bush fires is starting and we experienced one fire from outside the park that nearly crossed into the concession. Luckily we were able to get this under control.
Good news is that the Mbiza Windmill that was erected last year is fully functional once again. It is part of our efforts to use less fossil fuel in order to provide water, and is far more environmentally friendly.
The sound of impala rutting in the early mornings and evenings heralds the time of the year when males fight for their position in the local herds. Wildlife has been considerably better than one would have expected at this time of the year. With sufficient water and grazing animals tend to be widely spread on the concession and are found in a wide variety of different areas. Most of this has also been right here in front of camp at the waterhole. On a daily basis we have been seeing the following species: warthog, waterbuck, baboon, elephant, giraffe, impala, hippo, black-backed jackal, kudu, springhare, tree squirrel, wildebeest and zebra.
There have also been some good sightings of some of the rarer and more elusive animals such as a beautiful sighting close to Madison Pan of a leopard basking in the sun close to the water. Rhino have also been seen regularly close to an area we know as Three Pans in the late afternoon. This specific bull had been released here in the park last year; he certainly seems to be doing very well as all reports of sightings recorded good condition and very relaxed.
Birds and Birding
This month we recorded a total of 112 species in birds. Camp has been alive with all different birds and the resident flock of Helmeted Guineafowl has been in camp every day. On a few occasions, when running in single file down to the waterhole in front of camp they had been scared into several directions by a Martial Eagle that had swept down and in one single hit and a cloud of feathers had claimed his meal for the day.
Other birds regularly seen right here in camp have been the Verreaux's Eagle-owl, Kurrichane Thrush and the usual Fork-tailed Drongo.
Management - Willem and Trish Botha
Environmentalist - Jaelle Claypole
Chefs - Jerry Ngwenya and Nathan Sibanda
Housekeeping - Casper Ngwenya and Charles Sibanda
Waitering - Ishmael Jaji and Emanuel Shoko
Maintenance - Christopher Dube
Little Makalolo update - May 09 Jump
to Little Makalolo
Winter has really surprised us this year with some rain early in the month. We recorded 16.5mm of rain. Generally May has been very generous with sunshine though. The mornings have seen many of us huddling around a campfire with a cup of coffee. By 09:30am layers of clothes are peeled off again as the day heats up nicely. However once our glorious light source dips below the horizon in a blaze of glory that would give any Parisian Fresco a run for its money, then the temperatures plummet drastically. Our lowest recorded temperature is a Minimum of 5º Celsius and a Maximum of 34º Celsius.
Vegetation, Landscape and Water
Most of the trees have leaves that are burgundy, gold and tawny brown in colour, as is the same with the tall grasses in the open areas. Most of the seasonal pans have dried, but yet we find some oases of remnant water until about August or September. There is algae of iridescent red and green in the mud of these pans which supports a variety of snails and other miniscule invertebrates. As Hwange National Park has entered the dry season, this has propelled large herds of elephants, buffalo and wildebeest into fewer areas where they are able to quench their thirst. We have started pumping the boreholes in the Makalolo Concession from the beginning of the month. Fallen leaves in the wooded savanna have created a haven for grasshoppers, praying mantids, numerous other insects and frogs which are burying themselves in the moist earth beneath the piles of leaves for the ensuing dry season. We had a light shower on the 3rd of the month, which provided us with 16mm of rain.
Each season has been very productive and offers an intriguing diversity of animals. Some wild dogs were sighted eating an impala near Makalolo Pan much to the guests delight. The resident hyaena spoor (tracks) is seen almost every morning in and around camp. We have even named him "Chimbwi" which in the local Nyanja language means "Hyaena". The vervet monkeys are also seen trying to appear inconspicuous around camp. Much to our guests fascination we have seen elephants coming to drink from the pool as early as 10:00am as well as the waterhole in front of Little Makalolo Camp throughout the day. Plains game and elephants are often seen moving from one water source to the next, sometimes getting stressed as they jostle for pre-eminence to the water.
Some highlights for this month include a leopard sighting spotted by Godfrey at Mbiza on the 28th. A second highlight was the sighting of aardwolf on the 6th, the 25th and again on the 26th of the month.
Probability sightings for the month: white rhino - 12 %; zebra - 97 %; vervet monkey - 78 %; aardwolf - 7 %; red hartebeest - 45 %; reedbuck - 45 %; elephants - 90 %; lion - 61 %; black backed jackal - 68 %; side striped jackal - 29 %;spotted hyena - 77 %.
White rhino number 25 was seen late May in the Linkwasha Vlei grazing and moving south towards Scotts Pan. Number 43 was seen on the 27th of May, roaming around Makalolo grazing. His tracks are often seen in the area making us assume that this is his temporary home range.
Birds & Birding
The most common sightings for this month are the elegant Grey Crowned Cranes. Southern Ground Hornbills can be heard calling early in the morning before sunrise. The waterhole is often swarming with colourful passerines and Cape Turtle Doves. A beautiful Martial Eagle flying around majestically was seen at the log pile for two consecutive days. A total of 111 different bird species were seen this month.
We saw all the 'Big 5'; a surprise was our private dinner. Heike and Thilo, Germany
Picnic at Ngamo Plains was awesome. Staff and hospitality was the real highlights, you are all great.
Incredible safaris with an experienced guide; 'Honeymoon' tent was exactly the same as a 5-star hotel with special touches like a candlelit bubble bath. The team is awesome and very knowledgeable! Mr and Mrs Henault, France.
Staff in Camp
Manager: Charles Ndlovu
Professional Guide: Godfrey Kunzi
Hostess: Angeline Mhlanga
Chef: Mayisa Mpala, Sendy Nkomazana
Maintenance: Charles, Never
Waiters: Jabulani, Babusi
Housekeepers: Jibani, Tawanda
Ruckomechi Camp update - May 09 Jump
to Ruckomechi Camp
It would seem the rains have ended, although an unexpected storm in early May caught us all unawares and caused havoc with our road-works progress. A total of 1123 mm of rain was recorded this wet season with the first rains falling on the 12th November 2008 and the last on the 5th May 2009.
Temperatures are starting to drop slowly with the steady approach of winter, a daily average of 25° degrees being the norm with a night time average of 16º Celsius. Beautiful blue skies herald the start of each day while many an hour is spent on the star gazing deck at night looking up into the vast starry night sky.
Vegetation, Landscape and the Zambezi River
Heavy rains have resulted in many changes in the overall ecosystem within our concession as well as having encouraged extremely dense growth of herbaceous species in all areas.
The Ruckomechi River has changed its flow pattern and has broken through the Ruckomechi banks and created a wide new sandy riverbed where there was previously a small gully. This is now the main channel down which the flood water flows and the cut off section of the wide Ruckomechi riverbed has been covered with vegetation growth and is now a grassy plain.
Inland pans have been full of water for a few months now and the remarkable Parachute Pan in the western end of the concession is now home to many large crocodiles and a huge variety of water birds and waders. Plans to build a game viewing platform overlooking this wonderful waterhole are going ahead and we hope that this will be a successful place in which to sit and watch animals coming down to drink in the dry months.
The Zambezi River is quite high and flowing very strongly but we expect it to rise more significantly in early June when one, if not two gates are opened in the Kariba Dam Wall. Lake Kariba is rising at a rate of approximately 5cm a day with water coming in from the North and this will ultimately affect the river level downstream once they open some of the gates.
Probability sightings for the month of May were as follows:
100% - Elephant, hippo, chacma baboon; 32% - Lion; 26% - Buffalo, large-spotted genet; <20% - African civet, eland, spotted hyaena, wild dog, bushbuck, leopard, cheetah.
The first African wild dog sightings of the season took place in late May with 22 dogs being spotted in the Ruckomechi riverbed one sunny morning. These are the same dogs that regularly passed through our concession last year and as always it was good to see them all together again. Later that week, 13 dogs were again spotted just past the Ruckomechi boundary and with the pack was one heavily pregnant female. Their den has not yet been located but we are very excited by the prospect of soon seeing a batch of new pups and will certainly be on the look out for them.
Our lions are proving to be quite elusive and there appears to be a bit of a shake up in the territory with some new males arriving on the scene. Two very large black-maned males have been sighted and were heard calling around Ruckomechi Camp for almost two weeks earlier in the month. Not much has been seen of our regular lions and we can only hope that our two males are up to defending their territory as well as their females. Subsequent to that sighting, a couple of very big ginger-maned males were also seen one night not far from the camp and a small group of sub-adult lions were recently spotted in the Ruckomechi Riverbed. They are quite relaxed around vehicles and seem to be a nice looking and very confident group of youngsters, (see photo).
Tendayi was fortunate to find a fresh leopard kill up in an ana tree with his guests one afternoon and after patiently waiting there in the evening all our guests were lucky enough to witness the female leopard feeding on the impala. On returning to the site in the morning they found that most of the impala had been eaten and the leopard had moved off, obviously sated from her huge meal.
On the last day of the month a female cheetah was seen on a kill near the old Ruckomechi Camp. This cheetah is possibly one seen last season in the area too and although she is quite shy she does seem to hang around for a couple of days at a time after making a kill. The unfortunate impala was dragged under a tree where it was fed on first by the cheetah and then by scores of vultures.
The elephants are now slowly starting to return to the floodplain from their wet season wanderings further inland and we look forward to having all our regulars back in camp on a daily basis. Golden evenings along the river front are magical, with herds of elephant and waterbuck all along the edge and grazing hippo dotted about on all the grassy banks.
A total of 99 species of birds were recorded in May and now that the camp is officially open for the season and the guides are out and about more often, we expect to see a lot more as each month goes by.
One early morning, a Little Banded Goshawk was spotted swooping down on an unsuspecting field mouse in a thicket along the edge of a road. The mouse was initially dropped by the goshawk but it came back for a second attempt and successfully carried away the hapless creature into the nearby treeline.
The most exciting sighting of the month was a glimpse of a Palmnut Vulture at a wild dog kill. Read more about this special sighting here
"We thoroughly enjoyed both of the rivers, the Zambezi and the Ruckomechi as well as the outstandingly well-managed and friendly camp."
"A well organised, well-run camp, which we would readily recommend to anyone looking for an awesome safari experience."
May sees the start of our season here at Ruckomechi and this happy event is welcomed by all on the team.
We start our new season by saying a fond farewell to Julian and Ashley as they transfer to our camps in Hwange National Park. We wish them all the best for their new post and hope that they settle in happily in their new home. Taking over at Ruckomechi as Assistant Managers are our very own Sibs Sibanda and new recruit Graeme Sharp. Clea Bridges joins us as Hostess for Ruckomechi and her efficiency and great sense of humour are already endearing her to all her guests and colleagues alike.
Continuing from last year we have Caro managing the camp and Alistair seeing to all our maintenance requirements. Kevin, Tendayi and Mathew make up the rest of the guiding team, while Jeremy looks forward to hosting the Mana Canoe Trails trips once they commence in June.
-Caro and the Ruckomechi Team-
Toka Leya Camp update - May 09 Jump
to Toka Leya Camp
To say that the transformation of the seasons here has been quick is probably the understatement of the year. With the arrival of winter, we have arisen to an amazing misty river, still flowing with great vigour and having a rising blanket of vapour coating the waters that run beneath it.
The water levels have continued to recede, allowing us to reclaim our fireplace area where the boats dock in the evenings, and this has given us the opportunity here to utilize this area for guest entertainment, roasting marshmallows and enjoying the sounds of the "Marimba Band", with staff and guests alike actively participating in the drumming too.
Night activities have not been confined to camp, as we have ventured out to see one of nature's most spectacular sights: A lunar rainbow, with chocolate brownies and Amarula coffee in tow. Seen only during a full moon, this rare phenomenon at Victoria Falls has really been a highlight for those guests fortunate enough to have planned (willingly or not), their visit to Toka Leya Camp during this time.
While we are experiencing fresh mornings, this has not deterred the guests to actively participate in activities such as game drives and boat cruises. Whilst general game sightings have been very good, we have been extremely blessed to have many large game sightings from the surrounds of Toka Leya Camp. A breeding herd of elephant has been regularly spotted quenching their thirst at the water that still surrounds a few of the guest rooms, and in the mangle of water and mud bath, a very young baby calf has been spotted, which cannot be older than a couple of weeks, gingerly trying to work out the finer art of trunk management.
Buffalo herds are prominent in the early evenings, sweeping through the spa area and heading onto the open areas in front of the river to graze. Many guests have been fortunate to view buffalo, elephant and hippopotamus with one full sweep of their deck viewing areas at their tents.
Hippopotamus are becoming a more frequent sight around camp, with the rocky outcrops once covered by the high waters, starting to show themselves and allowing for the hippopotamus to use these areas for basking and a retreat from the fast moving waters when crossing the mighty Zambezi.
Our Bearded Woodpeckers and Lilac-breasted Rollers are still fighting it out for domination of the dead acacia trees one meets when entering camp, and Giant Kingfishers make their presence felt with their piercing calls as they navigate through the jackalberry trees that line the rivers' edge, searching for bream that dominate their buffet from the waters below. An African Finfoot seems to be very happy in front of Room 1, and is often seen manoeuvring through the reeds and on at least three occasions this month, has been viewed by guests, eager to get a look at this rarely seen bird.
More sightings of African wild dog in Mosi-Oa-Tunya National Park have delighted guests, and side-striped jackal seems to keep making more of a regular appearance this month than they were in April. With the soon to be addition of two white rhinoceros into the National Park, we are happy to report they do make for great viewing, and are more than happy to carry on about their business without any worry or care for the vehicles and guests that come to see this sought after African mammal in this part of the world.
Small crocodile hatchlings have been seen drifting in the small waterways near the back waters on the river, getting ready to face the challenge and take on the "big fish" in the open waters very soon.
We have planted a number of trees indigenous to the area with guests this month, as well as a few ourselves to free up the greenhouse for new arrivals from the nursery. A male bushbuck has been the frustration of our environmental guide Moses, who is often seen shaking his head as his mornings are sometimes greeted with his bird plum trees being devastated by the bushbuck's insatiable hunger.
So as the nights begin earlier, and the wild glistens with cold morning dew, we look forward to some great activities and wonderful rainbows in the month to come. Victoria Falls is still an absolute awe inspiring sight, never tiring of its determination to carve into the land its mammoth power and energy, whilst we hope to leave as custodians of this land, only small footprints.
"This place is absolute loveliness! Scrumptious food - three cheers for Kenny! Thank you so much to all the wonderfully friendly staff. Great display of teamwork. Will certainly be recommending this place to others" JC United Kingdom
"Absolutely wonderful. Wilderness Safaris is a class act from beginning to end!" BH
"We couldn't have asked for a more spectacular finale to our honeymoon! Top notch service and hospitality, delicious cuisine, comfortable and thoughtful amenities?and hippo heaven! We will definitely be back, thanks for everything!" DA Los Angeles, California
"Great setting, comfortable accommodation, excellent service. We had a great time" RL Michigan, USA
Lufupa Tented Camp update - May 09 Jump
to Lufupa Tented Camp
As opening month of the season, Lufupa Tented Camp was like a busy beehive at its peak - worker bees running this way and that, finishing this, tackling that, hanging up the next. The staff all returned from their long green season leave refreshed, and eager to work. Like a happy family reunion, the team quickly caught up with each other and got on with the job at hand, which was a big one.
Much to our surprise, we did have a bit of rain early in the month. Just enough to settle the dust and get us a little nervous as to whether it was going to have a negative impact on our access road. Thankfully it stayed away the rest of the month and we were blessed with glorious days of clear sky, warm afternoons and cool mornings and evenings.
Game viewing this month has been spectacular. Lions have been seen on a regular basis, and what is more exciting is the fact that there seem to be more differing prides settling in the area. Two beautiful big males and lionesses were seen with various numbers of cubs.
We have also identified two packs of wild dogs, one of 14 strong, and the other of 24, which we've been lucky enough to see several times in the past few weeks.
Leopards have remained a little elusive although a few good sightings have been reported. Most exciting has definitely been the cheetahs, seen numerous times. They have the tendency to start the season with us, and as the plains dry up, the move north-west, so we enjoy these early season sightings all the more.
Birds have been plentiful and guests have been delighted with regular African Finfoot sightings from the river. A special appearance was made by a huge Martial Eagle a few days ago, whilst the guides were out clearing roads. The Eagle had a decapitated mongoose in its beak.
Aside from our first guests in May, we had a busy and exciting month, having had various training programmes take place in camp, as well as our annual Children in the Wilderness (CITW) programme. CITW was a huge success, and Emma, Ingrid, Rob and their team did an outstanding job.
The face of Lufupa Tented Camp changed significantly last year with the rebuild. This year, the camp looks even better thanks to a rejuvenating green season. The campsite has been cleared and demarcated. Pathways have been made and outlined to ensure further safety, and the campsite stations revamped. The swimming pools, something we struggle to get right last year, are also glistening in the sunlight now and look very inviting. Various other camp improvement projects have been initiated this month which we anticipate finishing in June.
"Excellent staff, exciting safaris seeing lions and many other animals. Wonderful food and clean camping facilities. We'll definitely come back"
"Excellent, clean facilities, superb staff - just the right balance between letting us enjoy on our own camping experience and being available for us. We will surely be back. Again, we cannot say enough good things about our stay"
"Thank you for a magical stay. Excellent hospitality and service plus we had a wonderful guide"
Desert Rhino Camp update - May 09 Jump
to Desert Rhino Camp
As we are moving into the winter season, the drying grass cover seems to glow in the morning and afternoon sun and the Etendeka Mountains almost appear if they are on fire as they are illumated by the sun's rays.
The beginning of May was cold (for us!) as the temperatures ranged from 26º Celsius during the day to 15º Celsius at night. As we progress into May the easterly wind is with us again making the days as hot as 34º Celsius and the nights 27º Celsius. A cool westerly breeze in the evenings does make it rather pleasant in the evenings though.
Wildlife and Landscape
On drives this month we were fortunate to see cheetah this month. Shackleton's Group (lions) were also seen; we are excited that they have made an appearance in the area again. Hartmann's mountain zebras, giraffe, oryx, springbok, steenbok and giraffes were all seen regularly on drives this month.
With regards black rhino updates, the female Varity and bull Khaias were seen together - we are hoping that in the next 15 months we'll have a new addition to our rhino population! It is rather tricky tracking black rhino at the moment, some days being better than others.
Guests staying for two nights have only one full day to track the rhino whereas those guests staying for three nights have two full days to search and track rhino with a much higher chance of success. A longer stay is thus always recommended.
We thought we would feature one of our black rhinos this month - the 26-year-old Ben. He is one of the dominant bulls and his home range is a massive 170km²!
Ben is easily identifiable on his ear notches and is not as aggressive as the other rhinos - one is almost always guaranteed a good sighting. Even if the wind direction changes or he hears something - he first tries to warn you before he comes charging! Luckily, not as short tempered like the others.
He also makes patrolling his home range a priority. Once a female comes into his area he'll pick up on the scent whether she is in oestrus and ready for mating. For two weeks he'll accompany her; he makes sure she gets the best food and water taking her around showing off his area. The home range is shared with other males as long as they act submissively. The females move through the male territories. Sightings of Ben are always fun, all in one of the best landscape settings in the world.
Staff in Camp
Daphne and Igna - Managers
Helen and Kapoi - Assistant Managers
Harry and Gotlod - Guides
Aloysius known as Ali - Trainee Guide
Doro Nawas Camp update - May 09 Jump
to Doro Nawas Camp
The maximum temperature for May was 36º Celsius and the minimum around 18º Celsius during the night. Winter seems to be around the corner for us.
Wildlife and Landscape
The month of May have been very successful for elephant viewing. The guides have succeeded in finding them on almost every nature drive this month. Guests have been rather emotional every time they see the Oscar or Rosy elephant groups. The elephants usually go down into the Huab River to drink at the Pepe Spring. It is simply amazing to sit and watch these giants while they are enjoying their time at the Spring. The small ones play around while the older ones often enjoy a mud bath. The mud bath helps to cool down their body and also protects them from irritating insects. Usually after these 'spas' the elephants can walk long distances without having to drink more water; they can go without water three to four days at a time. They usually move back to the mountainous areas feeding mostly on tasty Commiphora plants - a small tree rich in nutrients and moisture.
We had the most beautiful full moon this month. In the early morning hours the moon set on the western side over the mountains. What a pretty sight it has been. We also had three 'river lunches' in the Aba-Huab River this month which was enjoyed by the guests.
On most evenings the staff of Doro Nawas Camp entertains the guests with song and dance - quite a highlight of your stay here with us.
We had a very informative elephant drive and an outstanding guide. The Camp management is very friendly and pleasant . We will recommend Doro Nawas to our friends! Beathelon/Brun, FRANCE
The standard of the camp service is excellent - we had problems with our vehicle and even received a helping hand with that! THANK YOU. Wonderful food and well presented. The service in Namibia is good, very good in fact! We got a warm welcome, the management is friendly and always there when you needed them. Hirt, GERMANY
The daily activities are well organised, good variety of options and the elephant tracking was an excellent activity. The staff are excellent singers and dancers. Pitt
The staff and management is well organised. Thank you very much for this wonderful stay - we will come back! Runkel, GERMANY
I was very moved by the staff singing happy birthday to me at breakfast. I will not forget this birthday - they made it very special. Bradburn, UK
Thank you to the following guests for allowing us to use their photos this month: Mr Hoff from Germany, Julio from South Africa and Mr Richter from German
Skeleton Coast Camp update - May 09 Jump
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Winter has well and truly arrived in Skeleton Coast and staff and guests alike have been wrapping up in scarves and jackets. The early mornings and evenings were cold, but along with the drop in temperature came the coastal fog, which gives an eerie and yet enchanting feel to this wonderful area.
Wildlife and Landscape
Recently we reported that our brown hyaena had found a mate. It seems as though this was only a fleeting relationship as we haven't spotted them together since then, even though the lone hyaena was seen almost every evening - coming up as close as five metres. As hyaenas live in clans and can cover approximately 40km per night it is possible that they mated and the male has moved on in his territory. With a gestation period of about 97 days we will be keeping a close eye on the remaining female to see whether this short encounter leads to young pups in the next month or so.
Our first lion sighting of 2009 also occurred this month, with guides Charl, Gert and their eight guests being the lucky ones to spot them late one afternoon whilst driving back from Purros. There were three sub-adults and as they are a bit older now there is a likelihood that they were hunting for themselves.
Tracks of the large male lion were spotted leading up the Kumathum River where he'll find more food and be more successful in his hunting efforts.
The lions are in luck this year as we have seen incredibly large herds of up to 300 oryx and springbok on the plains leading to Purros! There were also several sightings of zebra, ostrich, elephant and last but not least we saw a very annoyed namaqua chameleon too!
We were thrilled to see a Pale Chanting Goshawk in camp. They are beautiful hunters with a distinctive red beak and pale grey head and breast and this is quite a rare sighting for us.
On the 3rd May 2009 we welcomed 30 school children from the Purros Community for a day of fun. We showed them around camp and then proceeded to take them for a trip to the beach. Along the way they were shown some of the spectacular features of this area. At the coast they were given hotdogs and had the opportunity to go for a swim under the watchful eyes of their chaperones and our guides. For several of them it had been the first time that they had even seen the ocean. Another highlight for the children was the dune riding which they thoroughly enjoyed.
On the 10th May 2009 we welcomed Andy Biggs and his group of 10 photographers to Research Camp. Marieta, Daleen and Wakka treated them with a surprise lunch at the coast and in true Namibian style it was potjiekos, where food is prepared in a traditional 3-legged cast iron pot. A very hearty meal which went down a treat!
It is with heavy hearts that we had to bid farewell to camp managers Daleen and Charl. They have been a wonderful part of what makes Skeleton Coast so special. We wish them all the best with their future endeavours.
We also had to say goodbye to waiter Benny, but he didn't go too far! He has been given the opportunity to gain more experience at Palmwag Lodge. We're sure he'll do an excellent job.
On a happier note, we would like to congratulate Grace, who has now been officially assigned as a waitress taking Benny's place.
And we have saved the best for last. We would like to congratulate guide Kallie and his wife Virginia with the arrival of an addition to their family. Little Charl was born on the 18th April and his 'extended' family at Skeleton Coast Camp look forward to welcoming him home!
Serra Cafema Camp update - May 09 Jump
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The word "fresh" comes to mind when describing the mornings and days here at Serra Cafema recently. Having said this though, earlier this month the days were still reaching highs of 40º Celsius, with the cooler nights and mornings taking us all by surprise later on during the month of May - 13º Celsius being the lowest temperature measured thus far this year.
Coastal fog rolling through the Kunene River Valley greeted us in the mornings on a few occasions, giving the muffled silence an almost eerie feel to it. This only lasted an hour or so at dawn until the sun's rays burnt it away.
This month has seen winter approaching, but not quite warranting hot water bottles in bed just yet though!
This month has been really interesting in terms of wildlife sightings with herds of over 100 hundred springbok recorded more than once.
With the river levels stabilising, the crocodiles have also been frequenting the area in front of Serra Cafema Camp. They are often seen patrolling up and down, one particularly large male of approximately 3.5 metres lazing in the midday sun in front of Room 7, by the rapids below the main area.
One quadbiking trip in particular stands out this month. After traversing the dune belt between the Hartmann Valley and the Angolan border, we arrived at the waterfalls to find plenty of crocodile tracks, one large crocodile, an orb web spider and even a beautiful horned adder. The word 'unforgettable' was repeated around the fire that night when asked about their experiences that day.
This month we have noticed a definite increase of a variety of butterflies around. These ranged from the relatively common African monarch, to the the yellow pansy, an African migrant and few of the fast-flying Charaxes genus. Interestingly we also photographed a pupa, which we believe belongs to a butterfly from the latter genus. A closer look at the pupa case revealed that the shape of the wings, veins of the wings, thorax and even a slight darker coloration where the head lay. These observations, a signifying sign that the butterfly was no further than a few hours to maximum a day away from emergence. What struck me as just magical was the shade of green with the stunning gold and silver lines and dots - butterflies are so perfectly beautiful, even during their pupa stage!
This month we have enjoyed hosting an array of guests ranging from professional photographers, families with young children and honeymoon couples. This has made for a wonderful and fun combination of early mornings, family outings, games and romance.
'WOW! A little bit of heaven. Everything was total perfection. What more can one want?! Thank you for all you've done and I hope to come back one day!'
'Congratulations Serra Cafema! You've created a haven, great hospitality and superb service. We loved the mixture of activities, professionalism, enthusiasm, excellent cuisine and creature comforts in the midst of this majestic landscape.'
'Over a hundred springbok females with young lambs and some males "pronking" at the sight of the Land Rover - spectacular!'
Ongava Lodge update - May 09 Jump
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Weather and Landscape
The temperatures are continuing to drop; winter is creeping in slowly although the afternoons are still very pleasant. The early morning temperatures are sometimes as low as 4 °Celsius and the afternoons could be as high as 30°.The northern parts of Namibia were Ongava Game Reserve is located are fairly warmer than the southern parts of the country, even in winter months. All the deciduous trees are shedding their leaves, the grasses are drying out, and within a few weeks this area will be transformed into its typical dry-season dress. It's amazing how quick this transformation takes place, just a few months ago, the area was covered in greenery and scattered pools of water.
The lion population is thriving on Ongava Game Reserve - three females from different prides has been seen with cubs. Two of the females have three cubs each, and the third female has four cubs. All these cubs are only a few weeks old. The older cubs from Stompies Pride have been seen around Ongava Lodge for over three weeks now. They have been seen trying to hunt at the lodge's waterhole, with no success. They are still young and don't have any hunting experience, as a result they tend to chase away the possible prey, rather than catch it!
Late in the month four big females of the group managed to bring down a mother and baby giraffe very close to the lodge. The whole pride gathered for a feast that lasted three days. Some of the lion's bellies were too heavy for them to even move. They would eat and then come to the lodge waterhole to drink. During this whole period the guests enjoyed the frequent visits of the lions at the waterhole and their roars at night and early mornings. We suspect the baby giraffe was a new born, and the mother was trying to protect the young one when she was attacked.
One evening, the whole lion pride came in from the parking area along the pathway, passed through the main area and went to the pool area. At the pool, they chewed up the pool cover and dragged it down the stairs towards the guest rooms. The last visit was an adrenalin loaded incident. When the guides came back from the afternoon drive, they found lions at the parking area heading up the pathway stairs to the main area. They immediately called and informed the manager on duty as there were guests having sundowner drinks on the lapa area. When the manager and staff peeped to see what was happening, the lions were already by the office which is about 20 metres from the main area. The manager advised the guests to be quiet, remain calm and move into a safe area, although some of them wanted to see where the lions were. One of the managers fired a bear banger into the air and the lions eventually left the lodge area. The guests were relieved, and all flocked to the bar and ordered some drinks to calm their nerves.
It has been a while since we saw any leopards on the reserve; however a cheetah with three cubs were seen close to the airstrip. The family was spotted lying in the road, as soon as they saw the vehicle; they stood up and started walking along the road. The vehicle followed them slowly; they then moved off the road and sat on the edge of the road, looking very relaxed. The cubs appeared to be only 2-3 weeks old.
The rhino sightings on the reserve keeps are getting better and better, as the cover decreases and visibility improves. The white rhinos have started moving to the far western side of the reserve (Sonop) which means that now we have to travel a bit further to see the them. This is their annual routine, they move back to the Sonop area due to lack of nutritious grasses in the areas close by.
To our suprise one day, we were paid a visit by Obelix, the biggest black rhino on the reserve. He came to drink at the lodge's waterhole during the day. The black rhinos generally only come to drink from the lodge's waterhole at night, but this time Obelix came at midday. He approached the waterhole with calm, had a drink and the guests had at least 20 minutes to enjoy the sighting.
The best place to view wildlife at the moment is from the lapa. You can sit there the whole morning and afternoon, drink in hand, and you will see lots of animals. Different types of game frequent the waterhole with peak times lasting from around 09:00 till 13:00 and then in the afternoon around 15:00 to 16:00.
The morning drives into Etosha National Park are still as popular and elephant sightings are getting more frequent. Due to the cooler winter conditions at the moment, the elephants only come to the waterhole when it's warm, in the late mornings and afternoons.
Little Ongava update - May 09 Jump
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May resulted in various unusual weather patterns. Everybody was stunned by the rain clouds and few drops of rain at the beginning of May. We had some beautiful evenings and as usual lovely sunny days. Winter is on our doorstep with nights getting a little bit cooler. It's time to use the fireplace in the rooms and stave of the wintry cold with a glass of South African red wine!
Wildlife and Landscape
May on Ongava Game Reserve has been very exciting with two different kills by different lion prides. The one kill was a kudu male that was killed by two females with very young cubs.
The second kill has taken place just a few metres from Little Ongava where 15 lions managed to kill a female giraffe. Guests were very intrigued by the enormous size of the lions that were lazing around the kill with bloated stomachs. The lion population is also on the increase with many cubs in the different prides.
Rhino, black and white, cheetahs and even the occasional leopard have been seen on Ongava this month.
The Lilac-breasted Roller, one of Africa's most beautiful birds has also been listed as the favourite bird of a lot of our guests. This colourful bird is a common sighting in Ongava and Etosha National Park. Throw in a host of other endemics and specials and this area quickly lives up to its name as one of the top birding spots in the country!
At Little Ongava we were treated like Royalty, thanks to all that made our 8th wedding anniversary so special. Caroline and Theo
The friendliness and hospitality of the staff and management at Little Ongava made us feel like family. Paul and Annabela.
The chefs had all round compliments with well-travelled guests saying that Little Ongava's cuisine has been the best in Africa!
Little Kulala update - May 09 Jump
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The average daytime temperature during May was between 25 and 30º Celsius with nighttime temperatures between 5º Celsius at the coldest and 15º Celsius on the warmer evenings.
There has been very little wind except for three days of 'berg' winds (easterly winds) - these cause a sharp rise in the temperature as the air picks up heat as it descends down the escarpment over the desert.
For all visitors and guests planning on visiting the southern parts of Namibia the sky has been clear we have had no rain but definitely put in some cold weather clothing since the mornings and evenings can be rather fresh.
All of the annual vegetation has changed from green to yellow and the desert has taken on the much more familiar colours of yellow grass plains and the red sand dunes in the background.
There has been a huge amount of excitement in May with the release of two cheetahs, a male and a female, on the Kulala Wilderness Reserve on the 22 of May 2009. They were captured on commercial farmland where they were preying on livestock and were becoming 'problematic' in the areas where they roamed and were likely to be shot.
The release took a while to effect since the male cheetah at first did not seem to keen on leaving the cage in which they were transported and only left the cage several hours after the doors were opened. They are both doing fine and have started exploring the area and staking out their new home ranges.
At the moment we are trying to limit contact with them as little as possible to allow them to settle down. They are both fitted with radio collars for telemetry and we will keep them under close observation to monitor how they adapt to the area.
Cheetah do very well in Namibia and there has always been some sightings on the Kulala Wilderness Reserve from cheetah naturally roaming the area. With this introduction we are trying to increase numbers and also genetic diversity of this rare and magnificent cat here in the Namib.
Sebastian Meyer, one of or guides, has assisted at a very successful Children in the Wilderness programme at Lianshulu Lodge in the Caprivi. He has never been to the north-east of Namibia himself and also found the experience captivating and inspirational.
There are two new additions to the management team with Osborne Kazongominja a new employee to Wilderness Safaris and Annemarie Friedl who transferred from Damaraland Camp to Little Kulala in the middle of May.
Governors' Camp update - May 09 Jump
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May brought warm days and rainy evenings typical of this time of year. Early morning temperatures averaged around 18°C but by midday we were basking in 31°C sunshine, in the late afternoons the storm clouds would gather and most evenings brought heavy rain showers. The combination of rain and sunshine has brought on lots of growth in The Musiara Marsh and adjacent grassland areas this in turn supporting lots of resident plains game. The Rain in surrounding areas has also caused The Mara River to rise.
Photos courtesy of Ville Helenius
There are still good numbers of elephant and calves spread out within the Musiara and Bila Shaka grassland areas, with good grass available these elephant are not frequenting the woodlands as often. These families of elephant often make their way to the Musiara Marsh to feed and bathe. There are some large males in Musth and a few matings have been seen. During the months of February and March the Warburgia trees in the forest were dropping their fruit. Elephant love these small apple shaped fruit and the fruiting trees drew many elephant into the woodlands and subsequently into the camps to feast. There are a few elephant individuals that we all recognise well from their frequent visits to favourite fruiting trees in camp. There was one large bull in particular who would spend hours moving from fruiting tree to tree in the forest. He would curl his trunk up the tree, then slowly ease his weight against the trunk of the tree and then push against the tree trunk to encourage the fruit to fall. This bull would visit all three camps and many staff members encountered him as he wandered throughout the camps. On the 21st of May he was feeding out in the grasslands and came across another large bull elephant, both males were in Musth and at around lunchtime the two had an almighty fight. Our bull unfortunately sustained fatal internal injuries inflicted by the other bull elephant’s tusks (we think the tusk must have pierced his lung / heart area) and he met his end and died near the Bila Shaka riverbed. Vultures were soon on the scene feeding on the carcass.
Giraffe are ever present within the Musiara area, specifically near the Marsh and between the camps; large numbers of them are being seen with many calves in crèches. Both sexes have horns, although the horns of a female are quite a bit smaller. The prominent horns are formed from ossified cartilage or cartilaginous growths, and are called ossicones. The appearance of horns is a reliable method of identifying the sex of giraffes, with the females displaying tufts of hair on the top of the horns, where as males' horns tend to be bald on top — an effect of necking in combat. Males sometimes develop calcium deposits which form bumps on their skull as they age, which can give the appearance of up to three additional horns. An interesting note on the Giraffes circulatory system; in the upper neck, a complex pressure-regulation system called the rete mirabile prevents excess blood flow to the brain when the giraffe lowers its head to drink or browse at grass level.
Within the riverine woodland verges there are good numbers of Defassa Waterbuck, breeding herds of Impala with young calves and Olive baboons. Out on the plains warthog are mating with boars sparring for oestrus females.
Reedbucks (who favour flood plains and drainage areas) are resident in the swamp. Towards the end of the dry season the grasses were dying back making the reedbuck visible and easy prey for cheetah and lion, but the arrival of rain and the growth of the coarse swamp grasses has hidden them away once again from preying eyes!
There are good numbers of eland with young calves on the high plains, there are also some large dominant breeding bulls that flank the periphery of these breeding herds. Topi, with their six month old calves, are resident on the high plains with herds of females congregating in well used lekking areas.
Photos courtesy of Ville Helenius & Nadya Tkachenko
Blue Monkeys (C. mitis) have been seen in the forest around Governors’ Camp. One rather confident Blue Monkey has been known to swim across the Mara River from the conservancy side to the reserve. He would sit and wait at the waters edge for up to an hour. Once he was sure the resident Nile Crocodiles had moved away he would jump in to the fat currents and swim strongly to the far bank. Many primates particularly new world primates are quite capable of swimming though it is not common for them to swim great distances.
The large breeding herd of Cape Buffalo estimated at 300 animals are on the northern grassland plains where the grasses are long, in plentiful supply and well suited for a buffalo diet.
The influx of water in the Marsh is attracting new residents and on the 4th of May a 10ft crocodile made its way along a hippo trail from the riverine forest towards the Marsh.
Within the Camps and out in the grasslands we see lots of Dwarf and Banded Mongooses who are insectivorous carnivores. Out in the Marsh another more specialised mongoose is resident, the Marsh Mongoose. The Marsh Mongoose is a solitary creature who specialises in aquatic prey. They are most active at night and in the early evening although some activity has been observed during the day. An excellent swimmer, the Marsh Mongoose nonetheless prefers to keep its head above water, frequently resting on patches of grass and floating vegetation. Regular in its habits, this mongoose follows smooth and well-defined paths near the shorelines.
Recently there are good numbers of spotted Hyena and their cubs on the high plains. Much of their prey is scavenged from other predators rather than killed by them. Spotted Hyena (Crocuta crocuta) form social groups called clans. Clans may be composed of 3 to 80 members. Larger clans generally occur in prime territory with large prey concentrations, such as the Masai Mara, whereas smaller clans occur in drier or desert type areas of northern Kenya and sub Saharan Africa. All females are dominant to all males, and females remain in their natal clan for their entire lives. The spotted hyena is one of the top predators in Africa. However, there are several species which may kill them. In one study 13 of 24 hyaena carcasses found were killed by lions. Hyenas and lions particularly in the Mara/Serengeti ecosystem compete directly for food and often scavenge each other's kills. This competition often leads to antagonistic encounters that may result in death. This was evident this month when on the 8th the six males on paradise plains killed a spotted hyena. On the 25th at Bila Shaka 50 hyena were seen scavenging on the remains of the Elephant carcass. We suspect that these hyenas were from two different antagonistic clans, they aggressively harassed one another and this resulted in one hyena dying.
Photos courtesy of Nadya Tkachenko
On the feline front the Bila Shaka / Marsh pride have been moving about within their territory. Two females and three 5 month old cubs were close to the riverine woodland and towards the end of the month three members of the pride took up residence close to Governors’ Camp and roared loudly on a nightly basis!
The Paradise pride of 7 lionesses, 5 sub adult males and ‘Notch’ have remained close to the river on the high plains and have had an eventful month. One male has been mating with one of the females. The pride males had an aggressive encounter with a Hyena which they killed on the 8th and the pride has been feeding off eland, buffalo and an adult hippo.
Photos courtesy of Tom Birch
The Ridge pride of 6 lionesses and 9 cubs of varying ages have not moved very much recently hunting mostly down towards the Talek River. There have also been some new arrivals a lioness up on the plains has 2 young cubs that we estimate are three weeks old.
The cheetah of our area of the Mara are also doing well. Shakira and her three ten month-old female cubs are thriving. They occupy a prime territory which has provided them with abundant food and kept them healthy and well fed on Thomson gazelles and reedbuck.
Photos courtesy of Ville Helenius & Nadya Tkachenko
A single female has been hunting close to our airstrip and has also been feeding off Thomson Gazelles and reedbuck.
The three male brother coalitions have latterly moved closer to the Marsh. They have been feeding off young Topi and warthog, on the 26th they killed a female warthog and had the prey all to themselves as they were not harassed by other predators.
The female (Serena) and her male and female 16 month-old cubs are resident on the high plains.
The female Leopard resident in the rocky croton thickets near the Mara River had a surprise this month; she killed a Thomson Gazelle which she dragged up a tree and then ate some of it. She then decided to move the kill, she came down the tree moved into a croton thicket where she was ambushed and robbed of her kill by a spotted Hyena, who quickly ran off with his easy meal!
Photos courtesy of Rob Judson
The Young male Kijana of the Musiara Marsh has retreated back into the forest for much of the month; in the last week of this month he was lounging in a fig tree on the edge of the swamp with a reed buck kill.
Photos courtesy of Ville Helenius
Back in camp wildflowers cloak the riverbank bushes and frogs in the Marsh croak contentedly late into the night.
We hope to share the magic of our corner of the Mara with you sometime soon.
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