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None this month.
Wild Dogs return en masse to Mombo
Location: Mombo Camp, Moremi Game Reserve, Botswana
Date: 7 November 2009
Observer: Mombo Guiding Team
Photographer: Peter Myburgh
On Saturday morning (7 November) the guests at Mombo did not have to go far for an outstanding safari experience. Having enjoyed watching Maru (Legadima's subadult female offspring) finishing her vervet monkey kill just past Tent 9, the guides decided to start off in search of other animals in the area.
As they set off, Cisco heard some alarm calls coming from the floodplain along the Molapo Drift and the Old Mombo area and quickly went down to investigate. He saw one wild dog and from a distance thought it was the one which has been settled in the area on its own for the last year - a lonely female that is well known to Mombo guests.
Rustling sounds close by alerted him to the presence of something else ... He could not believe his eyes: a whole pack of African wild dogs were busy ripping apart an impala. He counted 12 dogs and amongst them four pups. Every guide was thrilled with the discovery and even more so when the dogs moved away and went on to tackle another impala in the same area!
The lone female wild dog does not appear to be with them at this stage, but we are hoping that she will join the pack if they do settle in the area - even though the very well developed male and female hierarchies in wild dog packs make integration a challenge.
Our hopes of the new pack settling in the area are tempered however by the fact that this species does as a rule move over incredibly large areas. As a result their presence here may be fleeting. In addition, the high density of lion in the Mombo area will undoubtedly make it difficult for them. given the aggression displayed towards wild dogs by the much larger and powerful lion. Conflict is common when carcasses are involved, with lion quick to scavenge wild dog kills and wild dogs themselves frequently casualties at such interactions.
Wildlife abundance of Deception Valley
Location: Kalahari Plains Camp, Central Kalahari, Botswana
Dates: 12 November 2009
Observer: Clive Dreyer
Photographer: Clive Dreyer
On a recent trip to the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, we were fortunate to enjoy and experience some incredible sightings of rare and beautiful species, and capture some great images of them too.
Deception Valley reveals its true beauty as summer unfolds. After the first rains this month, a flush of green has spread over this unforgettable landscape and stick-legged springbok lambs are starting to appear.
Lions were definitely the top photographic subject of this trip through the Deception Valley. The crisp early morning light over open plains provides perfect conditions and landscapes for some amazing photography opportunities. A large male lion posed for the group, showing off his impressive black mane. Shortly thereafter we spotted a lion and lioness in the distance and 5km further on, we came across another two lionesses! Towards the end of the day, the road ahead revealed a mating pair of lion walking from Deception Valley towards Leopard Pan. He was very much hot on her tail...
The following day provided interesting reptile sightings too, starting with a Cape cobra. The bright yellow colour of this venomous snake looked startling against the brown earth. Birds of prey were also prevalent with excellent sightings of goshawk, snake-eagles, harriers and kestrels.
As our trip through Deception Valley drew to a close, the Kalahari revealed her crepuscular creatures and a Cape fox with a pup, followed by three foraging honey badgers and countless bat-eared foxes, were seen. As if this was not enough, as our thrilled group were making their way back to Kalahari Plains Camp, two brown hyaena appeared in the road ahead of us. Sightings of these shy creatures are seen fairly often in the Central Kalahari, and we could not believe our good fortune.
One of the highlights of our trip was watching a cheetah hunting springbok while enjoying a cup of coffee on the Land Rover! The cheetah carefully stalked the springbok for a while, calculating every step to ensure a successful hunt. Unfortunately (for the cheetah) one of the more wary of the herd spotted the cheetah and one alarm call sent them all running, leaving the cat to dejectedly flop down in the shade by the edge of a pan.
The best was saved for last however! On our last morning, as we left for the airstrip, we found an aardwolf adult with a very young pup! It appeared that she was moving her youngster to a new den site but it was difficult to tell as she attempted to keep it well hidden in the long grass. As she and the pup were clearly very nervous, we did not want to disturb them for too long and moved off quite quickly. Arriving at the airstrip, two magnificent kudu bulls appeared almost as if to say "goodbye and visit our Valley again very soon!" After the last couple of days, I certainly would not need much coaxing to return!
Chocolate-coloured zebra foal at Vumbura
Location: Vumbura Plains, Kwedi Concession, Okavango Delta
Date: 5 November 2009
Observer: Banyatsang Shakwa
Photos: Banyatsang Shakwa
Zebra stripes are very variable - in fact every animal has an individual coat pattern that can literally be used as a fingerprint to identify individuals from year to year. Sometimes however this variation goes beyond individual or regional variation and throws out an anomaly. We've been thrilled to have our third so-called 'anomaly' at Vumbura Plains.
On the 5th of November I was on game drive just west of Nare Pan when I came across the very unusual zebra foal that you can see in the photographs at left. My guests and I were thrilled to find this very young chocolate-coloured foal. It remained close to its mother in a herd of about seven or eight animals as any other normal zebra foal would do and was totally accepted by the herd who didn't seem to notice the difference in colouration and its rat-like tail. We thought that it was probably about three weeks old and on returning to the lodge I discovered that Sam from Little Vumbura had actually seen it the day before just south of Nare Pan.
This colour variation is known as melanism, but the amazing thing is that this is the third such foal seen in the Kwedi Concession since late 2005. All have been born to the same mare who evidently carries a recessive gene, but to date none of the foals have survived to adulthood. This is most likely due to the fact that they stand out within the herd and are thus easily selected by predators. It will be really interesting to see how long this foal survives and also to keep track of the mare as she ages.
Beauty has new cubs!
Location: Jao Camp, Jao Concession, Botswana
Date: 12, 13 November 2009
Observer: Jao Guides (Cedric, KB, Cruise and Maipaa)
Photographers: Jao Management
Jao's famous leopard supermodel, Beauty, has given birth to another litter of cubs. Yesterday while on an early morning activity, she was observed crossing the Jao Bridge on her way off the island. After being trailed by one of the Jao Guides for approximately 20 minutes she lay down in some thick brush. A short while later she stood up, turned in circles, and lay down again. A few minutes later, soft mewing sounds could be heard and we then knew for sure that she had just given birth to at least one cub.
Once it was established that she was in the process of giving birth, all vehicles backed off immediately to give her the space and freedom to do what is necessary for the best chance of survival for her cubs.
The gestation period of leopards is between 90 - 100 days, and she is spot on for her due date. Around the third week of August, she was viewed copulating with a resident male that we have named Pink Nose. He is a very shy male that is seldom seen, but he has a particularly pink nose that is very recognisable.
Beauty, as a single parent will have to be extremely protective and cautious over the next couple of months. Other predators such as spotted hyaena will find the cubs if she is not vigilant, but she is an experienced mother and has successfully raised a number of litters over the past years - the most famous and recent cub being Motsumi - a beautiful male (above far right with Beauty) that left Jao Island and its surrounds to make his own way in life in August. It was shortly after this that Beauty started "advertising" for a male by calling and scent-marking her area.
Over the next couple of days and weeks, we will all be keeping our distance while monitoring for further news. These are crucial and very dangerous times for young leopards and their mothers, and no interference or harassment of this young family can or will be tolerated. Watch this space for news and updates as they come to hand!
Tubu Tree's Threesome - Update
Location: Tubu Tree Camp, Jao Concession, Botswana
Date: November 2009
Observers: Justin Stevens & Jackie Collett
Photos: Herve and Sylvie Deret
Summer is here in full force, and the question of whether or not the Tubu Threesome - a coalition of three male lion - would stay and call Hunda Island home is slowly being answered.
All seems very good so far, as the threesome has been spotted together on numerous occasions over the past couple of months.
One night, 36 hours after the last sighting, Hunda was in a frenzy as the roar of lion echoed across the island. The morning came and the roaring continued - to the extent that the guests, anxious to see what all the roaring was about, decided to skip breakfast. Soon after they left camp they came across two of the males with the third nowhere to be seen. The roaring was coming from them - obviously calling for the third, but getting no answer.
Eventually the lions gave up calling and lay down to sleep off the midday heat. Later that day the guides came across some vultures in trees and drove their guests in for a closer look at what turned out to be a half-eaten buffalo carcass. Suddenly, through the long grass, they noticed the third lion lying in the shade and watching his kill. He had separated from the others and brought down a buffalo all on his own - and now he was enjoying his solitary meal.
The other two kept calling for a couple of days. They were constantly on the move and caught on camera jumping over channels of water. Then there was silence. The roaring stopped and all three lion disappeared without a trace, leaving Tubu Tree Camp with unanswered questions: Would they team up together again? Would the one become more dominant and chase the others away? Had the separation forced them out of the area?
Again we were forced to wait and see what would unfold. We finally got some answers when some guests came upon the Tubu Threesome together walking on Ivory Road, looking very strong and healthy. The excitement didn't stop there - as the guests were watching the three, they saw something charging through the tall grass. A very brave leopard had decided to challenge the lion! One of the lions stood his ground and a chase ensued, with the leopard finally disappearing and the Threesome coming close to Tubu for a relaxed evening sleep.
Lone male wild dog at Xigera
Location: Xigera Camp, Moremi Game Reserve, Okavango Delta
Date: 25 November 2009
Observer: Xigera guides
Photos: Juliet Lemon
African wild dog are highly sociable animals with a complex hierarchical structure. Single animals or small packs (2 to 4 dogs) are known, but these tend not to thrive and may be representative of packs in demise or young dispersing single-sex groups with their members later joining other groups.
A single female at Mombo, who has existed on her own in an environment rich with many larger predators for the past year, has confounded this idea of wild dog sociality. We now have her opposite at Xigera Camp.
Barobi, one of Xigera's guides, recently found a single adult wild dog male close to the camp very shortly after it had pulled down and killed a heavily pregnant impala ewe. As is typical for predators at this time of year, he extracted the foetus and ate part of it. Thereafter, he started calling the typical eerie wild dog 'contact call,' leading the observers (guides Barobe, Godfrey, Thendani and Juliet) to believe that he was part of a larger pack. No other wild dogs have been seen or are known to occur in the area however, and we wonder about his origins and where he will move to.
With any luck he'll cross the very wet swampy areas between here and Mombo and discover the lonely female there...
Summer rains arrive at Pafuri
After a long and increasingly hot dry season, the rains finally arrived at Pafuri about 10 days ago. All of the hundreds of head of game - elephant, buffalo, zebra, kudu, impala, nyala, waterbuck and others - that had been crowding the banks of the Luvuvhu River now have other options to slake their thirst and are glorying in a new period of abundance.
For one old buffalo bull, well known to camp staff, it was just too late. He dragged himself from his habitual wallow on the river's edge and expired on the bank opposite camp, even the crocodiles seemingly respecting his dignity and not feeding on the carcass. These ancient aquatic reptiles killed a nyala instead and fed on this in front of camp.
For those who survived the dry season, the rewards have been tangible. The impala ewes have all given birth and are suckling tiny lambs, the birds have been re-energised by the rains and of course species like the cuckoos and coucals are calling madly, trying to attract mates and take advantage of the food availability at this time of the year. Others, like the Little Bee-eater pictured opposite, simply waited out the showers, looking bedraggled and miserable.
The rain has of course stimulated plenty of amorous attention and male rivalry as well, both of which are clearly depicted in the photos at left where a male and female Spotted Bush Snake were seen 'lovingly' intertwined, and also in two male Red-billed Buffalo-Weavers who took out their frustrations on each other while trying to impress a mate or three.
Story and images courtesy of Russel Friedman.
Unusual Creatures excel at Pafuri
Location: Pafuri Camp, Makuleke Concession, Kruger National Park
Date: 30 November 2009
Observer: Russel Friedman
Photos: Russel Friedman
One of the joys of Pafuri Camp in the Makuleke Concession in far northern Kruger is its unparalleled biodiversity. It simply has no equal in the greater Kruger National Park. Of course everyone wants to see the 'big and hairy' and this is why the 'Big Five' concept (out-dated as it is) is so firmly entrenched in South African ecotourism. When you have guests who have been there, done that and got the safari t-shirt however, as we did on a recent trip to Pafuri, it can really open up a whole world of interest.
We saw lion, buffalo and elephant of course and a wealth of other large mammals, but it was the recent arrival of the summer rains that really brought some of the more interesting denizens out into the open. Some sunned themselves, others simply tried to dry off, a few were investigating feeding opportunities and others were perhaps stimulated out of torpor by the arrival of the summer precipitation.
Shortly after leaving camp en route to Lanner Gorge we saw a yellow-spotted rock dassie sunning himself on a rocky outcrop adjacent to the Luvuvhu River. This species is the less common of the two rock dassies in South Africa and does occur too much further south of Pafuri.
Our next surprise was an unusually confiding Giant Plated Lizard that peered out at us from some rocks as we climbed towards Lanner Gorge. At the gorge viewpoint itself we had great fun photographing a diminutive rock elephant shrew whose snout bristled and quivered at the scents on the clean air.
Our experience was not over yet though and before reaching camp that evening, we stopped at a favourite fishing spot on the Luvuvhu River for Pel's Fishing Owl. We were fortunate enough to find a single bird and to spend some time photographing it before heading back for dinner!
Kwetsani's Chacma Baboons are Opportunistic Carnivores
Date: 10 November 2009
Observers: George and Nancy Pack, Jaques Tenier, Omphile Kululuka (OP)
Author: Anne Marchington
Photographs: George Pack and Mike Marchington
The chacma baboon (Papio ursinus), the largest and most common of all baboons, is the only species found in Botswana. Chacma baboons live in troops averaging between 20 and 50 members. On Kwetsani Island there are presently two large troops, numbering around 80 animals in total.
Kwetsani also hosts large herds of red lechwe, which are the most common antelope found in this region. Herds of 100 - 200 lechwe can be seen grazing on the floodplains in front of Kwetsani Camp and quite often these two species can be found intermingling quite happily as they forage.
During a morning game drive on Kwetsani's northern floodplains, guests George, Nancy and Jaques, guided by OP, were observing a troop of baboons weaving in and out of a large herd of lechwe, whilst foraging for insects. What appeared to be an idyllic early morning setting suddenly became considerably less idyllic. A young sub-adult lechwe, lying on the periphery of the herd, was suddenly set upon by a large male baboon. The animal was so startled that there was no opportunity for an escape. Guests watched in horror as the large baboon proceeded to rip chunks of meat from the antelope whilst it was still alive. The most amazing thing of all was that, although the animal was whinnying in distress, the rest of the herd appeared to be oblivious to its plight and simply moved off slightly and carried on grazing as if nothing was happening.
Although it is not uncommon for baboons to prey on small mammals, it is unusual to see a baboon attack a sub-adult antelope which, quite possibly, weighed as much as the baboon itself. OP has suggested that perhaps the animal had been injured and this is what attracted the baboon's attention in the first place. Baboons have an incredibly advanced sense of smell, as well as very large canine teeth because they are carnivorous. The canine teeth, which can be as long as 5cm (2 inches), are used to defend themselves and can quite easily inflict a deep wound in a predator. If the lechwe had been injured and bleeding, it is quite possible that the baboon would have been attracted by the smell of blood, sidled over to observe the animal and, being an opportunist, made a grab at the lechwe which gave little resistance due to its injury. One morning we observed a young teenage baboon making an opportunistic grab at the leg of a young bushbuck while they were both foraging close to each other.
The chacma baboon is described by Jonathan Kingdon (The Kingdon Field Guide to African Mammals) as "an opportunistic omnivore with a preference for bulbs, roots, shoots, seeds or fruits. Invertebrates, small vertebrates, seashore life, fungi and lichen are eaten as and when available. Crops (maize, tomatoes, citrus and root crops) are raided in settled areas. Lambs and smalls stock are taken in some ranching areas".
It is very interesting to note that over the past two years, staff and guests at Kwetsani have witnessed baboons killing and eating newborn bushbuck on three occasions. On another occasion a guest reported seeing the troop of baboons "hunting" - as she described it, a sub-adult bushbuck. This incident occurred at the height of the flood this year and it was suggested that the baboons might have been experiencing difficulty finding food on the island. This is a possibility, but it is also interesting to note that the baboons living in this area are well-adapted to this wet environment and are quite accustomed to crossing large bodies of water in order to get to other islands if the food source in their territory is becoming scarce.
The chacma baboons on Kwetsani Island have also been observed killing and eating baby vervet monkeys and Smith's bush squirrels.
It is uncertain what studies have been conducted in the floodplains, but Richard Estes reports that in South Africa baboons can become major predators of young sheep and goats. This behaviour is normally practiced by large male baboons and they normally don't share their prey. It would be difficult to establish, as a percentage, how frequently these baboons prey on other mammals but it would appear as if the Kwetsani baboons have developed a definite taste for fresh venison.
Flocking Behaviour of Red-billed Quelea
Location: Ongava Tented Camp, Etosha National Park, Namibia
Date: 30 November 2009
Observer and Photographers: Martin Benadie and Russel Friedman
From Ongava Game Reserve daily nature drives into Etosha always deliver something interesting. A stop at Aus waterhole in late November 2009 produced an avian spectacle that I had not seen in years. The surrounding mopane scrubland was alive with the chattering calls of the sub-Saharan Red-billed Quelea (Quelea quelea) and small flocks of these birds were whizzing past us continuously.
The waterhole itself was fairly quiet - the only activity, apart from the constant quelea fly-bys, was a pair of Red-billed Teal on the water and some black-faced impala drinking nervously. Then, just off to the west of the waterhole, a large 'swooshing' noise drew our attention. The queleas were actively congregating into a far larger single flock and began flying around in a coordinated aerial display that was amazing to observe. The group manoeuvred as a single unit, changing direction instantaneously. More birds continued to join, the flock now comprising thousands of birds, a living entity with a mind of its own, changing shape and size with each turn. The birds then descended en masse to the edge of the waterhole, the flock so dense at times that the surroundings were hardly visible. The teal and impala could not even be seen any longer! Meanwhile, birds joined and left the flock fairly quickly after a brief drink at the water's edge. A few minutes later, the flock started to break up again and things returned to normal.
One possible reason for the flocking behaviour we saw could be reduction of the individual birds' risk of predation, literally swamping would-be predators (a pivotal theory hypothesised by John Lazarus in 1979). As the flock size increases they seem to spend less time being vigilant for predators and more time feeding.
The random movements of the bunched up flock could also make it hard for predatory birds to hone in on a single individual. This may certainly have been the case here, as a Lanner Falcon was actively hunting in the area. What left me a little puzzled though was what triggers these birds to flock in such a manner? Certain researchers have even conjectured that electromagnetic communication could be involved in preventing mid-air collisions between the flocking birds.
"Allelomimetic behaviour" perhaps best describes how a flock of birds fly in unison. Also seen in schools of fish, it is a phenomenon that where one bird goes, so does the flock. It is also referred to as 'wave manoeuvre', just like humans do 'the wave' at a cricket match. Due to the extremely rapid reaction times of the birds in the flock, it looks instantaneous. There is no overall leader; instead the flock's movements are determined by the moment-by-moment decisions of individual birds. Different birds are in front of the flock every time it changes direction.
This cohesive flocking behaviour is also seen when queleas forage - they then also come together in huge swarms and work cooperatively in search of food sources. For farmers, who perhaps do not view these avian aggregations with the same awe as we birders do, this is like something out of Alfred Hitchcock's thriller The Birds! As specialised seed-eaters they can wreak havoc on farmlands, decimating crops in no time. After a successful search, they descend on a food source in a similar way to that which we witnessed at Aus waterhole.
As the world's most abundant bird species, with a breeding population of over 1 billion birds in Africa, these quelea formations are amongst the most fascinating flocking phenomena in nature. There is no doubt that these aerial manoeuvres require remarkable skill and coordination.
Kalahari Plains Camp is still on track to open (in its new location) early December, and from an environmental point of view is looking outstanding. There is a substantial solar array in the back-of-house area (below left) that will power most of the camp, as well as guttering that functions for rainwater collection - and of course a solar water heater at each tent. By pushing the boundaries of how technology can help our carbon footprint, Kalahari Plains aims to be our most eco-friendly camp yet!
The HMS Zib - a boat being built for Zarafa Camp - will be operational probably from the end of January 2010. It will be used for cruises on the Zibadianja Lagoon (below middle) and along the Selinda Spillway, with brunches on board and possibly dinners in the evenings, especially on evenings with a full moon.
A "Children's Tree house" is being built for kids to hang out in at Chitabe Camp. In the style of a "Robinson Crusoe tree house" the area will have a library full of African storybooks, as well as flora and fauna books, all geared for kids, along with comfy cushions on which to laze and read. Activities will include painting ceramics and fabric paints (all with animal themes), doing puzzles and learn about the area using seed pods, a 'spoor' sandpit and clay for molding animals plus a CD player for listening to animal and bird calls. Here children can keep themselves entertained for the hours between game drives, leaving parents to have an afternoon siesta knowing that the kids are in a safe place.
Abu Camp is closed from January to mid-May for refurbishment of the main area, elephant boma and back of house. Additions include a library which will house all research material on elephants, a large pool and star beds for sleep-outs in the boma. The focus will be more on the holistic elephant experience, where guests form a bond not only with the elephants themselves but also with their fellow guests at the camp.
Jao Camp (above right) will be closed from 09 January to 11 March for major refurbishments, including rethatching the roofs of the main area and all the guest rooms. There is nothing quite like a beautiful newly thatched roof... The Jao Spa is being taken to the next level with the addition of a double treatment room and provision of some water therapies. Jao is very much about relaxation and surrounded as it is by the beautiful Delta environment we would like to give our guests the opportunity to rejuvenate in a safari spa, which will be green and eco-friendly, with the focus on traditional African treatments.
At The River Club, the summer house/snooker room, the colonnade (covered walkway connecting the summer house to the main area) and the tennis pavilion are all complete. The tennis court is nearing completion; racquets and balls are supplied at the Club.
The River Club was also the recipient of a Best of Zambia Award last week, garnering the Heritage and Culture Award. This category aims to recognize tourism operations that cultivate a greater understanding of Zambian history, heritage and/or culture. The 2009 Zambia Tourism Awards promote and reward excellence in tourism operations, recognized as the tourism industry's most prestigious function, attracting wide media coverage and enthusiastic industry-wide support. The 2009 Zambia Tourism Awards were initiated by the public sector through the Ministry of Tourism, Environment and Natural Resources and the Tourism Council of Zambia. Below left are proud recipients: Eugene and Christelle Marais of The River Club and Charles and Linda van Rensburg, Wilderness Safaris Zambia.
An exciting addition to Wilderness Safaris' offering in South Luangwa will be the Kalamu Walking Trail which will operate on demand for six guests at a time: it is a two-night trail that starts and ends at Kalamu Lagoon Camp, with one night spent on our new Star-bed Platforms and the second at the new Chinengwe Riverbed Camp. Perfect for adventure lovers, guests will be able to see a larger part of the concession on the other side of the river whilst at night they'll be able to see the stars rise and set in the comfort of their platform homes - as well as a very different yet beautiful view of the Luangwa River.
Hot air ballooning is literally taking off in Kafue National Park! It will begin in 2010, and operate between 01 August and 31 October and will be offered as a complimentary activity at Shumba, Kapinga and Busanga Bush Camp on any 3-night booking. The one-hour balloon flight can accommodate 6 guests per flight and culminates in a champagne breakfast.
Kulala Desert Lodge underwent a recent refurb which included a rebuild of the main area - opening it up and doubling its size. Huge floor-to-ceiling windows were then fitted to make the most of the stunning dune views and an expansive (and shaded) new deck added in front. This new area is regularly used for star-gazing dinners and sunset drinks. The rooms were refurbished with new furniture and softs to match the 'lightened and brightened' atmosphere of the new main area.
Selinda Canoe Trail completed its first season to much fanfare and rave reviews. Guests who experienced this once in a lifetime opportunity have spread the word quickly. The Selinda Canoe Trails has been listed in National Geographic Adventure's November issue as one of the "25 Best New Trips for 2010". The departure dates for next year have been confirmed so please join us for this truly authentic experience.
North Island Dive Report - November 09 Jump
to North Island
While the visibility has been reduced in the bay in front of the restaurant, the visibility in general has been fantastic - up to 35 metres on some days. The sea temperature is a constant 28°C (82.4°F) - almost time to leave the wetsuit on the hanger. The diving this month has been fantastic. From the 18th onwards the seas have been almost perfectly calm.
Sharks have been the order of the month and numerous sightings have been made on most of our shallow reefs, and especially on Cathedral on Silhouette Island - here, on a single dive, we were fortunate to see eight nurse sharks cruising slowly around the gullies and ledges. These sharks, despite being more than three metres long, are entirely harmless and almost completely ignore the divers. We have also been seeing large numbers of white-tip reef sharks - mostly on Sprat City where they are now almost a guaranteed sighting.
We have continued to record fantastic sightings of spotted eagle rays this month - in particular on Twin Anchors at Silhouette where we regularly spot several pairs of large adults. The small juveniles are still present in the shallows in front of the restaurant and are repeatedly mistaken for small sharks due to the fact that they allow the tip of their 'wings' to protrude out of the water from time to time.
A resident pair of enormous round ribbon-tail rays has been spotted off the main beach throughout the month. While these rays are quite common it is quite rare to see such large individuals, especially so close to shore.
Hawksbill turtle season is well underway and we have had wonderful turtle sightings throughout the month, particularly on Sprat City and Coral Gardens. We had several instances of turtles coming right up to the divers to check them out properly, just to check that they were not turtles and would therefore not make good mates, before swimming off!
Another favourite sighting this month has been the huge schools of yellowtail jacks and golden pilot-jacks which have been spotted patrolling the reef on most dives. These fish have a tendency to encircle the divers whilst swimming in columns around them. It is thought that the divers' bubbles perhaps resemble small sprats, but we don't really know why the fish do this. It is an incredible experience.
We have had amazing and regular sightings of dolphin this month. On one particular encounter, near Tandy Banks off the north-west of the island, the snorkellers were lucky enough to join these lovely mammals in the water, and had great sightings of the dolphins diving down and resurfacing directly in front of them. Most dolphin encounters begin and end with the snorkellers all kitted-up and in the water with nothing to see, so it was great to have the opportunity to see these creatures perform their aquatic manoeuvres in the water - and from the water.
We had an interesting encounter of a different marine mammal kind: the salty, ragged-looking 'yachty'. A couple of them arrived on main beach, thinking they had stumbled across their very own secluded island hideaway. They were adamant that the island was deserted because they could not see any guests... It was with a small measure of pity for their dashed Robinson Crusoe fantasies that we explained to them that the island was operational and they could not stay. They looked as though they had just completed a non-stop circumnavigation of the globe, but they assured us they had simply popped across from Praslin.
Our fishing expeditions this month have been hugely successful, with some trips catching in excess of 40 fish - the majority of these being bonito, most of which were released back into the water. Bonito are perfect for sushi for the guests but we have a very strict policy as to the minimum weight and size restrictions for these fish. This month we have modified our maximum catch limits and minimum sizes based on recent catch data.
The beach movement, although still very slow, has made steady progress this last month. The lip has been re-formed in front of the restaurant and we should now start to see a substantial increase in the speed of deposition on this beach. Unfortunately with the change in wind direction comes the sargassum seaweed, which washes up in front of the restaurant on a daily basis, creating great fun for the landscaping team. They collect the weed and bury it on the beach, where it awaits permanent removal by the next south-east monsoon season when the sand once more makes its annual pilgrimage to Villa 11.
We are very excited about the coral reef recordings we have made on Twin Anchors on Silhouette. This is a rather unique dive site in that it is positioned directly below a steep glacis where the formation of the reef has been caused by large granite boulders which have slipped off the rock face. The coral formations here are quite different to most sites that we have been monitoring, and a change in the state of the reef is easily identified. For example, there are several species of staghorn coral (Acropora sp.) which have been found here that have not been seen on most other reefs around the area. The staghorn coral here is very healthy, whereas on some other reefs close by there has been zero recovery since the bleaching episode of 1998. Various examples of new coral recruitment of this particular species have now been identified, indicating a successful spawning several years previously.
Kings Pool Camp update - November 09 Jump
to Kings Pool Camp
DumaTau Camp update - November 09 Jump
to DumaTau Camp
The month of November began with very clear skies and scattered clouds, and then came the rains. Thanks to which the vegetation around DumaTau has completely changed - with green as far as the eye can see.
The game viewing has been good this month. Our elephant seem to have moved out of the area and we're seeing very few herds. We have seen some bulls on their lonesome though.
The DumaTau Pack (wild dog) has been out of the area for a long time now, and we think they are in the neighbouring Selinda Concession. We share another wild dog pack with the rest of the Linyanti Concession and we've seen them hunting twice this month. They are very active and look to be in great condition, which is wonderful to see.
The dominant DumaTau lion male was seen at the beginning of this month - he's been scarce for a while, hanging out in the east of the concession. The adult females and their cubs are doing well, which is great for the population of lion in the area.
The breakaway Savuti female is also doing well. She spends a lot of time around the Chobe airstrip area with her two juvenile male companions. One of the sub-adult females from the DumaTau Pride is pregnant, so we're expecting more cubs soon. One of our guides, Name, and his lucky guests saw the DumaTau Pride pulling down a young bull elephant. The sub-adult Zib male seems to have extended his territory from Zibadianja Lagoon to Back Flow Dish Pan area.
We haven't seen many leopard this month, because the DumaTau Pride is present so extensively throughout the area. Leopard just can't afford to get into conflict with lion because, being loners, if they get hurt they can no longer hunt for themselves.
The Mantshwe Boys (cheetah) are still crossing the Savute Channel and hanging around Dish Pan and Chobe One. We haven't seen any other cheetah in the area this month.
Birding in the Linyanti is, as always, fantastic. We've been seeing a lot of the endangered Wattled Crane and Southern Ground-Hornbill.
- "Absolutely delicious food - let the kitchen know! The wildlife was great - particularly the mating leopard. The absolutely beautiful drives in nature were just how I thought Africa would be."
- "Exploring the area and learning about the variety of ecosystems was incredible. Ollie is a real asset and shares his knowledge in a great way. The staff at DumaTau were outstanding, in particular: Lizzie, Kelly, Jacky and Lawyer."
- "Thanks for every moment we have spent here! It's going to be unforgettable."
- "It's been awesome! The people, the environment, the game drives and the accommodation - everything was fantastic. It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience! Thank you, thank you!"
Kele, Karen, Tlamelo and Lizzy.
Ollie, Name, Theba, Ron and training guides Moses and Bobby.
Savuti Camp update - November 09 Jump
to Savuti Camp
Weather and Landscape
After a tense, dry October, November has brought a degree of relief - and of course, more of the drama and action that characterises life along the Savute Channel. The rainy season has not yet delivered the deluge for which the parched earth was crying out, but the rain we have had has triggered a remarkable transformation.
Vegetation of all kinds has exploded into leaf, and the wildlife of the Linyanti have taken their cue from this sudden greening of their habitat. Each morning feels like the very first morning, as though we were present at the dawn of creation and taking our first hesitant steps towards that tree ... The world positively hums with excitement and potential. The ribbon of green that marks the path of the Savute Channel has now merged seamlessly into the new green veil that is the mopane woodland. It is at times hard to credit that just a few weeks ago the colour scheme of the trees was that of thirsty shades of grey and gold.
During most years the rainy season proper opens with a really impressive storm, and 2009 was no exception. Clouds blotted out even the brightest stars as night fell, and there was not a chink of light to be seen. Everything was perfectly black and eerily still. Then an erratic little breeze started up, and with a cathartic sigh the first few heavy drops started to thud into the sand. Within minutes it was raining wild dogs and big cats, and we found ourselves having to push through a solid curtain of water. We had 30mm (over an inch) of rain in less than an hour and after that there could be no doubt: summer had arrived: the hot, wet, Linyanti summer.
New arrivals had been expected for some time, but were no less welcome for that. The first baby impala came very early this year - in late October - and now that the rains have started, many more have been born. Minutes after taking their first wobbly, uncertain steps in the world we see them gambolling around and delighting in being alive. Sadly, this can be a fleeting sensation for some of them as the birth of so many helpless young antelope all at once represents a bonanza for the predators. Impala have had countless millennia to develop strategies to survive in the African bush, and the synchronised birth of so many young is an exercise in statistics: the predators are "swamped" and cannot possibly kill all the baby impala, and in this way a great many survive.
Young warthog, on the other hand, rely on speed to keep out of trouble. They are impossibly cute - at least when they are young! And full of energy as they streak around in the suddenly-tall grass, tripping over in the carpet of yellow and white star-shaped flowers, their snouts aquiver with sensory overload.
In the great scheme of things, births are balanced by deaths, and this month we had the sad spectacle of a lone female elephant (who it seemed had been sick for some time) finally succumbing. She lay down on a small island in the Channel, never to rise again - her giant feet and waving trunk stilled forever. Normally a dead elephant represents a mountain of meat to scavengers and as such ownership is often hotly contested by lion and hyaena, with the funereal vultures hanging around in the trees until it is their time to come in and squabble over the scraps.
This time however, none came. A few vultures took a cursory glance but moved on, and the carcass began to swell like a ripe seed pod in the sun, full of deliquescent delights for whichever scavenger could puncture the thick pachyderm skin. But none did. The smell of decay hung in a miasma over the reeds, and then one day we found only the shell of an elephant remaining, desiccated skin stretched over bleached ribs. The hyaena who had briefly investigated had been right to fear wading through the shallow water, for crocodiles had slithered from the swamp and eaten the insides of the fallen matriarch.
Our cats have been feeling particularly amorous this month, with sightings of both lion and leopard mating. The DumaTau male leopard is perhaps getting old now, as his mate had to work very hard at enticing him, twitching her spotted tail seductively under his whiskers until he eventually deigned to engage in typically-violent leopard copulation, receiving several cuffs to the face from the female in the process.
Intriguingly, the two young cheetah who displaced the surviving Savuti Boy have been acting very strangely over the last few days. Despite the nearby presence of the DumaTau Pride, they have been hanging around a large open area to the west of camp and calling repeatedly. Cheetah are a curious breed: officially they are cats, but they have many dog-like features, and they frequently sound like birds. We thought at first their chirping calls were to attract a mate - perhaps the very skittish female we still sometimes see, but now we suspect that they have been issuing challenges to a new male who is trying to intrude on their turf.
We saw, most impressive of all, some leviathan love-making on the banks of the Channel, a lumbering and precarious procedure looking like a failed attempt at elephant hopscotch. The female was clearly unimpressed and kept trying to wander away, with the bull elephant trying to look dignified while tottering along after her on only his back legs. We were able to witness this rarely-seen event from a unique vantage point - floating on the Channel. Yes, you read that correctly! After months of planning and preparation we finally launched our fleet of Canadian-style canoes on the Channel this month, creating a wonderful new opportunity for our guests to experience the African bush at lily pad level.
It's an unbelievably tranquil and serene feeling, to glide along Africa's newest river... No engine noise and no bumps in the road, just the perfect stillness and calm that the bush can bring to your senses and your soul. Not to mention great chances to see hippo, elephant crossing the Channel (or mating!) and the myriad birds that have set up home here since the waters returned.
In combination with the new road network which we have also just finished, the canoes open up whole new areas and further enhance an already incredible game-viewing experience - so what are you waiting for?
The rains are, of course, not the only sign of summer. We recently heard, for the first time in months, the distinctive chirruping call of the Woodland Kingfishers, newly arrived back in town and not caring who knows it. They announce their presence by perching on branches and calling while displaying electric blue wings that flash and sparkle in the sunlight. Sadly, not everyone was impressed with their bright and noisy arrival, and they have had to evade the hostile attentions of the resident Rollers. We have seen some spectacular chases above the camp as the Rollers remind the Kingfishers that they are not alone in having such vividly blue wings...
The start of summer means nesting season, and we have enjoyed watching the Masked Weavers construct their cleverly designed nests, each diligent male hoping to attract a female who will approve of his weaving skills, and not tear the nest apart by way of showing her displeasure.
A different nesting strategy is adopted by the Hornbills, and we currently have two different species nesting right in Savuti Camp. The female is walled up with mud inside a hollow in a tree while the male brings food to her and the chicks. The one Bradfield's Hornbill has developed a real aptitude for catching frogs, and the chicks he is caring for will probably get to eat little else until they are ready to fly themselves.
One of our summer visitors this year seemed more lost than anything else... The large storms that happen at this time of year occasionally blow in unusual birds, but this sighting was a real first: a Greater Flamingo spotted by one of our guides. It was trying to feed in the shallows of the Linyanti River and the local Hamerkops were consumed with curiosity by this strange creature which must have blown off course from the Makgadikgadi Pans or possibly even Namibia.
- "Great guides, great Camp, great location - thanks!"
- "We go home knowing much more than when we came!"
- "Excellent service & care from all the staff - thank you!"
- "The highlight was the special touches - I will always remember my bush birthday... "
- "We thank Lets our guide for his friendly and dedicated guiding during our stay... "
- "Wild dogs and impala in Camp!"
Diana Eades, Terri Krause, Tumoh Morena, Nick "Noko" Galpine, Dardley Tafuruka, and Khutse Ramotsebe.
Zarafa Camp update - November 09 Jump
to Zarafa Camp
Scattered thundershowers and electrical storms are becoming more prominent, and we have had about 12mm of rain in the month.
It has been a fantastic month for wildlife sightings at Zarafa. It was almost unnecessary for guests to leave camp in order to get their game fixes.
The resident Zarafa elephant bull has been visiting the camp around brunch and dinner time everyday, almost like clockwork. Like a trained model he came to pose for our guests' eager cameras - definitely thriving on the attention. He has also become part of the welcoming committee - in the mornings when guests return from their drive he is near the entrance, ready to 'meet and greet'. In the process however he has become quite an obstruction for our housekeeping staff!
The occasional breeding herds of elephant have been strutting about in front of camp, proudly showing off their new offspring. We had wonderful displays as juvenile bulls fought in the Zibadianja Lagoon, the bigger bulls taking impressive mud baths, the little ones trying to get the hang of their newly-acquired trunks and the sub-adults playing. The elephant cows, in the meantime, just try to stay under the radar while keeping a close eye on their babies.
The leopard sightings have been phenomenal, with over 12 sightings this month. One particular group of guests saw leopard on five consecutive drives. The Zarafa guides have been seeing a specific leopard that has become quite relaxed when the vehicles are around her. They have given her the name Amber and suspect that she might be pregnant? So watch this space.
On return from sundowner stops in the bush, the nightlife has been amazing - with bat-eared fox, African wild cat, genet and serval making their appearance.
The migratory birds have started returning to the southern, warmer climes, and thus we are very happy to be hearing and seeing Cuckoos, Bee-eaters and Rollers.
Selinda Camp update - November 09 Jump
to Selinda Camp
October was hot and dry, with a maximum temperatutre (in open sun) of 44°C (111°F), and we're hoping for the rains to come soon.
The great thing about the heat is that it makes for excellent game viewing in the Selinda Concession! Big numbers of elephant, buffalo, kudu and other general game gathered along the spillway every day, making it a wonderful welcoming sight for guests arriving from the airstrip on transfer to Selinda Camp. It makes them think that Selinda is magic, and that our animals perform on cue.
The only disadvantage to the heat is that it has dried up all the water which connected the Spillway, which had flooded two months ago, to the main channel from the western side.
The African wild dog in our concession are doing well, but they lost three puppies to predators. It's always sad to lose young even though it's all part of the natural cycle. When the dogs had their pups about two months ago there were ten of them, a few weeks later we counted nine, and then they moved north of the Selinda Concession for a week and when we saw them again there were only eight pups. We were told by another camp that hyaena killed one while the wild dog were trying to defend a kill. As of today there are only seven pups, and we hope they grow quickly so they can defend themselves and run as fast as the rest of the pack.
One of the activities on offer at Selinda is fishing - something that's always popular with our guests. There are lots of tilapia bream and other species in season at the moment. We adhere to a strict "catch and release", except on the rare occasion when we serve freshwater fish for dinner - a real treat for everyone.
Camps Update - November 09
Lagoon camp Jump
• The famous Wild Dogs of Lagoon have been running riot amidst all the newborn antelopes in Lagoon in recent weeks. The Impala calves in particular have been singled out for predation. They are particularly weak in the early days and the Dogs are masters of finding the most vulnerable individuals.
• There was a unique sighting of Hyenas pulling down a young Giraffe that had strayed away from its mother recently. A total of seven Hyenas surrounded the youngster and brought it down in front of a safari car. Hyenas are often incorrectly thought of as exclusively scavenging creatures but they supplied ample evidence to the contrary here.
• Elsewhere there have been plenty of Lion and Cheetah sightings as well. Small bands of nomadic Males have been spotted in the upper Kwando and three females are often sighted around Half Way Pan area.
• General game is excellent once again and very enjoyable game driving at this time of the year with all the new greenery, young antelope and migratory birds in the area.
Kwara & Little Kwara camps Jump
& Little Kwara camps
• Floodwaters in the Okavango have receded and are waiting to be topped up by the incoming rains. The result has been to localise the wildlife around the permanent waters of the Maunichura River and floodplains adjacent to Kwara.
• There was a wonderful sighting of a Leopard accompanied by a three month old cub pulling an Impala into a Sausage Tree. Consequently, there were some excellent opportunities for photos over the next few days of feeding. Other Leopards have also been spotted close to the camp on return from night driving in the area.
• The female Cheetah and four cubs that have become such a favourite in Kwara are active in the western areas towards the Tsum Tsum flood plains. The cubs are now at juvenile size and learning fast from their skilled mother in the arts of hunting and discretion. They can normally be seen stalking Impalas or young antelope or, in the heat of the day, lying in rest under a Kalahari Star Apple.
• ‘The Seven Boys’ of Kwara are once again making their presence felt in the concession and often split into threes and fours to cover more of their vast territory. No other Lions stand a chance with these males dominating confrontations. We see them hunting Buffalos on the northern fringes of the area close to the Mopane forest and yet they will venture southwards to look for other game such as Lechwe. On one occasion, the leftovers of a Giraffe were found as a result of ‘The Seven Boys’.
• We have also had some great sightings of less well known species such as Martial’s Eagle, Long Crested Eagle, African Civet, a four metre long African Rock Python, Giant Eagle Owls and of course Crocs and Hippos in the lagoon.
Lebala camp Jump
• Lebala has been teeming with wildlife all month providing predator interactions rarely seen on such a consistent basis.
• The sight of Hyenas challenging Wild Dogs on a kill is a frequent occurrence. The clans of Hyenas consistently follow the packs of Wild Dogs in hope of scavenging some of the dog’s hard work.
• On another occasion a party of guests and guides came across a stranded Leopard in a tree set upon by three Lionesses who were intent on stealing the freshly predated Impala hanging from an overhead branch. The Lionesses were not particularly enthusiastic on ascending the vertical tree trunk and so eventually lost interest and wandered off. After several minutes the Leopard gingerly climbed down and sped off in the other direction!
• Once again we have been spoilt by consistent sightings of the three brother Cheetahs at Lebala and have seen them make two successful kills on an Impala and newly born wildebeest.
• A large number of Elephants and Buffalos can still be seen in the floodplains although increasing numbers are heading west to the fresh vegetation of the Mopane forests.
• Plains game is also abundant in all areas explaining the large number of predators in the area. Zebra, Giraffe, Wildebeest, Tsesebe, Impala, Red Lechwe, Waterbuck to name but a few!
• An interesting sighting took place earlier this month when a game drive game across a 3 metre long Egyptian (Snouted) Cobra that was eating a giant Bull Frog.
• The rain has seen the first Elephant herd back at Nxai Pan in addition to the bachelors that reside in the area. They were seen passing towards the Nxai Camp water hole. During the dry season they leave the area in search of permanent waters for their young.
• Additionally, the first returning Zebras of the migration are appearing in the south towards Baines Baobabs and are expected back on the Pan itself within a few weeks.
• We are pleased to see that there is a new young Cheetah and mother in the area. They are very mobile and have been seen at different points throughout the area. This indicates that they are very skittish as a reaction to Lion activity in the area and so are reluctant to settle in one place.
• A new female Leopard has been sited west of the camp towards the airstrip. She is a small specimen and also very skittish, normally scurrying off into the bush within seconds of being photographed.
• Elsewhere, the rare sighting of an African Rock Python was well received by Guide and guest. These giant constrictors are normally associated with the floodplains of the Okavango but lie in semi-hibernation for months after a large meal.
• The first big rains have arrived at Tau bringing with them large densities of plains game to graze the fresh grasses that have sprung into life in the area. Water is more readily available and predators are appearing in greater numbers.
• Guests at Tau Camp were treated to an array of cat species during the last month.
• The two resident male Lions were active in the area as well as four Lionesses with a three months old cub at San Pan. Lions will not usually predate porcupines but while tracking this month we discovered signs that they are doing so in the Central Kalahari. Fresh leftovers and surrounding spoor suggest that the Lions are flipping the Porcupines over onto their backs to get to the soft underbelly and avoid the sharp quills protecting the upper body.
• On Tau Pan a female Cheetah has taken up residence and is often seen scanning the pan for vulnerable Springboks. The elusive Leopard was seen on more than one occasion in the acacia thickets towards the airstrip.
Mombo Camp update
- November 09 Jump
to Mombo Camp
Weather and Landscape
November is a particularly beautiful and splendid month here in the heart of the Okavango Delta. The skies darken with spectacular rainclouds in the afternoon, bringing about amazing displays of lightning; and the cooling life-giving rains that come with it are a relief to all. The flush of green makes the land here on Chief's Island look like a beautifully manicured and landscaped garden filled with wildlife.
This time of year marks the birthing season of a wide variety of animals, and there is now an abundance of young zebra, impala, warthog and other herbivores on the plains in front of Mombo. This profusion of young makes for some easy hunting for the predators. The leopards Legadima, Pula and Maru (Legadima's offspring), were all seen regularly throughout the month with impala lamb kills, usually draped over a tree branch. One particular sighting was of both Legadima and Pula on the same kill - it is very rare to see two leopards in one place. On another occasion Legadima was seen chasing Pula, aggressively showing that she is becoming increasingly intolerant of her offspring's presence.
Our resident single wild dog was observed on more than one occasion, hunting and bringing down small impala. She demonstrates how a single dog, usually part of an extremely gregarious pack, can still be an amazingly efficient predator. Her time spent in solitude from others of her own species has made her engage in increasingly strange behaviour, especially regarding her relationship with other predatory species. She has developed a close relationship with a family of jackal, who have taken to following her around. She has even been seen feeding on her kill and then regurgitating food for the young jackal.
We have had the usual abundant lion sightings in the Mombo area this month. The Maporota, Mathata and Piajio Prides were all seen on numerous occasions. They have even walked straight through camp a couple of times, once making a half-hearted attempt to catch one of our resident dagga boys (buffalo).
A particularly gruesome kill was observed by one of our guests from her room one afternoon: a troop of baboon foraging on the floodplain in front of camp suddenly turned on an impala herd, grabbed a lamb, and proceeded to eat it. Although usually quite placid omnivores, baboon do have a taste for fresh meat and relish the chance of an easy kill.
The floodplain in front of camp is also a haven for a wide variety of birds. The numerous puddles of left-over floodwater provide good habitat for frogs and other tasty food. We often see Black Egrets using their unique style of shading the water with their wings whilst hunting small frogs and fish. White-faced Ducks fly in and out of the floodplain, their whistling calls one of the most beautiful calls of any Okavango bird. For days we had a pair of Wattled Cranes very near to our main deck, a great opportunity to see this threatened bird at close range.
We bid a sad farewell to Tapera, Lizzy and Martin who have all moved onto different pastures within the Wilderness family; and we say a warm Mombo welcome to Gordon Karovsky, who will be filling Taps' shoes as the new GM; and also to Tanya, his lovely wife. We wish them luck in their new roles at Mombo!
Xigera Camp update
- November 09 Jump
to Xigera Camp
Chitabe Camp update
- November 09 Jump
to Chitabe Camp
With each shower we receive, Chitabe becomes cloaked in green while muddy pools fill up with grey water. This has created a haven for the large elephant herds passing through, as well as the big lone bulls that inhabit NG 31.
The wild dog pack has chosen to stay with us longer than it ever has before in the four years they have been traversing through our Chitabe Concession. Since the pack first brought their new puppies into the area at the end of August we have lost two, leaving them with a healthy 12. The pack now totals a massive 21; watching these dogs in action is an absolute thrill and a rare privilege indeed. The guests who have recently been here have been treated to some electrifying dog hunts: top speed chases through the bush that end in a marbled jumble of dogs squabbling over meat.
The dogs are tireless hunters and seem to take advantage of every opportunity to kill in order to feed their large numbers. Phinley recently came across the pack finishing off an adult impala. In no time at all they were off after an adult tsessebe, which they successfully brought down. The first rains have littered the area with impala lambs and multiple dog kills have been an almost daily occurrence. Thuso returned from a drive the other day with his eyes almost popping out of his head, as he had witnessed the pack taking down several baby impala in one drive.
One of the highlights of this month was the 5-metre python we discovered in camp! On the morning of the 11th, when everyone was ready to go on morning drive, Dawson heard what he knew to be a bushbuck distress call. He first thought was that the big male was in camp and was chasing his two young sons out of the area. When the noise continued and started to sound more like an animal's death throes, Dawson decided to investigate. He found a 5m python constricting a fully grown female bushbuck behind the Chitabe kgotla! The snake then dragged the animal by its snout to a more sheltered spot about 10m away, where it could swallow the buck in relative safety. The snake eventually swallowed the bushbuck around 8:30pm that night. There had been some debate between Dave, a guest and Dawson as to whether the snake would manage to swallow its prey, or would have to leave the animal as it was too big. Dave, you owe Dawson 10 bucks!
Camp Staff News
And finally on a sad note... After 14 years of dedicated, loyal and passionate service, Newman Chuma, Chitabe and Chitabe Lediba's head guide, will be "retiring" from full time guiding. Newman was the very first person employed when the Chitabe tender was won in 1996 - so he holds a very special place in our hearts. He has been instrumental in helping build Chitabe's reputation and his charm and incredible "bush sense" are legendary.
Not only has Newman been a pillar of strength and guidance to so many staff over the years, he has been a leader in the field of guiding and a mentor to many new guides hoping to make "the wilderness" their career. Although we will be sad not to have Newman around full time, we do understand his desire to spend more time with his family. We wish Newman a very happy retirement.
Vumbura Plains Camp update
- November 09 Jump
to Vumbura Plains Camp
After an uncommonly cool October, the temperature this month has soared, typically reaching 30-35°C (86-95°F). The first half of the month saw very little relief as the long-awaited rains didn't arrive - except for the odd shower.
The lack of rain did not stop the wildebeest and tsessebe females from dropping their young towards the beginning of the month. Baby season continued with the first newborn impala being spotted on November 10th.
A zebra foal was found with very unusual colouration. The curious colour and rat-like tail are probably due to a genetic anomaly. We will be following the progress of this little foal with great interest; particularly since its dark shade (against a backdrop of black and white stripes) could give it a distinct disadvantage in terms of survival.
The discovery of a dead female giraffe provided the opportunity for some great sightings. The cause of death was unknown as there were no signs of external injury, but it was clear that she was pregnant. The guides monitored the carcass closely: the first animals to appear were the Eastern Pride, a lion pride made up of four females, one male, two juveniles (aged 11 months) and two cubs (aged about three months). Lion are opportunists and when presented with a free meal they will make the most of it. This pride gorged themselves on the giraffe for four days! The carcass proved to be particularly entertaining for the younger cubs as they used it as their very own playground. We fully expected the hyaena to move in and take advantage of the leftovers, but they were only seen on the periphery, probably too fearful of the lions to come any closer.
The last part of the month was filled with lion action too; on one particular morning the guides were lucky enough to find the Eastern Pride on a zebra kill and the Kubu Pride on a wildebeest kill. The next day both prides had disappeared and the guides, having examined the tracks, speculated that the Eastern Pride had chased the Kubu Pride away. These two groups of lion are now competing for the same territory, in the middle of which is located Vumbura Plains Camp, making for frequent sightings of both prides.
Our local male cheetah, Vuka, made an appearance in the middle of the month. He was found far from camp in the Ostrich Road area, looking full and relaxed. Close by was an area of great vulture activity, which was investigated - an old impala carcass was found. It was unclear as to whether this had been Vuka's kill or not. With only one male in the area, cheetah sightings have to be savoured and the guests were thrilled to see such a relaxed and sated individual.
Leopard featured heavily this month too. A great sighting was had when a drag-mark caught the attention of one of the guides. The tracks led him to a young male leopard who was normally relaxed around the vehicles but this time very restless, jumping from the ground to a tree and back again. At first there was no evidence of what he had killed, but on closer inspection a carcass could be seen in the bushes at the base of the tree. The next day the same leopard was found in the same place, but this time with a fresh kill: an adult male impala. The young male was a bit too ambitious in his kill, as he couldn't quite drag it up the tree. The hyaena took full advantage and when the guides returned to the scene, there was no sign of the carcass or the leopard, but there were lots of hyaena tracks!
Vumbura Paradise was the scenic location in which the pack of ten wild dog appeared. They were highly mobile and the vehicles had to work hard just to keep up with them. The guests held on tight as the guides raced through the bush following the dogs chasing impala. Wild dog are chiefly diurnal, usually hunting in the mornings or late afternoons. The guests were fortunate enough to catch up with the dogs at dusk as they began a hunt into the fading light of the day. We did not see an actual kill, but dogs are one of the most successful predators, and we assume they got lucky.
Not only have we had excellent predator sightings this month, but general game has been seen in abundance too. One particular pair of guests were astonished to witness a herd of over 50 elephant on one drive followed by a group of over 100 zebra the next day! Large herds of buffalo were common sightings at the beginning of the month and the floodplain in front of camp has been host to elephant, kudu, red lechwe, buffalo and our regular nocturnal visitors, hippo.
The water activities offered at Vumbura Plains continue to be popular with guests and along with regular hippo sightings from the motorboat, elephant, lechwe and crocodile have all been seen.
As the month comes to an end, it is hard to believe that December might prove to be an even more thrilling month for game viewing, but this concession is full of surprises and nature never fails to impress and excite...
Vumbura Plains South Camp Managers and Guides: Kgabiso Lehare, Frank Matomela, Zara Shaikh, Obonye Kamela, Lethebe Sethwara and Banyatsang Shakwa
Vumbura Plains North Camp Managers and Guides: Warren Baty, Cheri Marshall, Penyo Tlalenyane, Emang Letlhare, Ona Lekgopho, Sebonta Thekiso (Zee) and Bosigo Keraetswe (Kay)
All photos courtesy of Grant Atkinson, Banyatsang Shakwa and Zara Shaikh.
Little Vumbura Camp update
- November 09 Jump
to Little Vumbura Camp
We have been blessed by rains this month. Although we have not experienced too many heavy downfalls, there have been some amazing displays of lightning across the endless Botswana sky. Apart from a very few rainy and overcast days, the weather has been clear and hot.
The Kubu Pride (three adult lionesses and two juveniles) is still doing very well and provided us with some great sightings this month. One particularly interesting sighting was that of the pride feeding on one of our very elusive species: the aardvark. Mixed feelings about that!
The Vumbura Pride (four adult lionesses, one adult male and four juveniles) is also doing well and was seen many times this month. The Vumbura Pride has some incredibly successful hunters in its midst and we enjoyed watching them in action on a number of occasions: a highlight was watching them spend a couple of days feeding (and in the cubs' case playing) on an adult giraffe.
One of our female leopards (Selonyana) has been a superhero for our guests this month. They had a number of great sightings of her hunting and successfully killing tsessebe foals and impala lambs. One great morning Rain and his guests found a male and female leopard mating. While they were watching the mating pair, Sam found another big male leopard moving determinedly in the direction of the mating pair. He passed them by however, and left them in peace. The Kubu Pride also happened to be on the same island - but didn't disturb the love-cats. The mating is a great sign and we hope to see some leopard cubs in the area in about three to four months.
We had some fantastic sightings of Africa's second most endangered carnivore: wild dog. With a lot of newborn impala lambs around, our pack of ten are having great feasts. We have had plenty of cheetah action also as, sadly, the young lambs are easy prey for all.
The general game was spectacular this month with great sightings of sable antelope, big herds of elephant, zebra and buffalo. Summer has delivered newly-born tsessebe, impala, warthog, zebra and wildebeest.
Management: One and Alex Mazunga, Adelaide Stanley and Unoziba Tema
Guides: Rain Robson, Sam Setabosha and Sevara Katsotso.
Duba Plains Camp update
- November 09 Jump
to Duba Plains Camp
November has been a great month. The weather was fairly unpredictable, but this is normal at the beginning of the rainy season. Most days were dominated by strong winds with the occasional light storm. Temperatures ranged between a maximum of 34°C (98°F) and a minimum of 15°C (60°F). We watched in anticipation, as the afternoon skies offered up great towers of cumulonimbus clouds that eventually discharged spectacular thunderstorms over the vast Duba Plains. We received two good downpours, 50mm (2 inches) and 20mm (about an inch) respectively, that flooded most of the areas in the concession and resulted in a sheet of water being visible on the floodplain in front of camp.
The general game viewing has been outstanding, with big herds of elephant migrating through the concession to and from the mopane tree woodlands to north. Duba Plains Camp is right in the middle of the elephant corridor between the substantial mopane woodlands closer to the Linyanti system and those of the Okavango.
November means baby season - and most of the antelope we have seen since the beginning of the month have lambs running around. The tsessebe were the first to drop their babies as the rains arrived.
Large herds of kudu have been seen browsing on isolated islands and in camp, where they favour the lush vegetation that grows there. The males are quite skittish so the herds normally move into the island in the afternoon when there are fewer people moving around. It is a privilege to be able to have such close-up views of these magnificent antelope in camp.
Night drives have been very special with guests enjoying great sightings of bat-eared foxes with their pups, foraging for harvester termites. The youngsters normally only come out at night, spending time in their dens during the day, so it is a rare treat to get such a good view of them. Aardwolf have also been taking advantage of the rain-induced termite activity - they are crepuscular critters and are only rarely seen in the very early morning or at dusk. We are very fortunate here at Duba to have regular sightings of them on the floodplains, frolicking with their pups out in the open in the last light of the day.
The Tsaro Pride has continued to provide the majority of the lion sightings this month. The pride consists of nine adult females and the dominant Skimmer Male. Sadly, the killing of cubs, which has contributed to the dramatic decline in the breeding success rate, continues to happen - eight cubs have been killed in the past two months.
The pride still lives in three different divisions, but they combine regularly to hunt and feed on a kill. On several occasions this month the three divisions were seen hunting successfully as independent entities. Silver Eye still seems to be isolated from the pride, and is in a very bad condition from all the attacks she has previously sustained from the other lionesses who do not want her in the pride. She isn't doing well at all.
The Skimmer Pride, consisting of three adult lionesses, four sub-adult lionesses and three sub-adult males, seems to be doing very well. We did not see them much until the end of November when they killed a buffalo not far from the airstrip. The pride is in excellent condition and still intact. In October, the Skimmer Pride was sighted a number of times hunting buffalo in the Tsaro Pride's territory. Once the Tsaro Pride realised they were present and moved in their direction, the Skimmer Pride left. The three sub-adult males in the pride are growing at an alarming rate and are very large for their age.
Guests have recently had amazing sightings of a young male leopard in the area around camp. The guides have often seen his tracks and suspect he might have been chased by the baboons as there are a lot of troupes living there. We are hoping to see him more regularly!
Birding is always a highlight at Duba. At this time of year the floodwater subsides leaving the sandbanks exposed, thereby creating breeding places for 'special' bird species like the African Skimmers. The Okavango Delta remains one of the few places where Skimmers and other threatened species, like the Wattled Crane, can flourish. We continue to see the Cranes in isolated pairs around our concession, with a resident on the floodplains right in front of camp.
The arrival of the Woodland Kingfisher, with its unmistakable melodious call from the thick canopies of large trees, is a clear sign of summer. We have also been delighted to see the pair of Yellow-billed Kites, which normally nest on the jackalberry tree above Tent No.1, back and busy building a nest in the same place once more.
A really interesting sighting happened recently: Not far from the camp there is water pan where we saw a Lesser Flamingo! Generally flamingos stick to salt pans, and breed in the Makgadikgadi, so it is very strange and exciting to see one in the Delta - and we look forward to seeing it more often.
The managers at Duba during the month of November were Moalosi, Cairn and Peggy, and Dardley. They were accompanied by a strong team of guides: James, Reuben and Spike, who joined us two months ago to replace Lets, who has moved to Savuti Camp.
Jacana Camp update
- November 09 Jump
to Jacana Camp
Weather and Landscape
The weather has been great this last month at Jacana. The days have been warm and the evenings cool. Some days soared up to 39°C (102°F) and some nights dropped to 16°C (60°F), but on average the days were a lovely 33.6°C (90°F). This is the time of the year for the rain and we had some spectacular thunderstorms. 56mm of rain fell over this period rendering the area lush and green. The water of the Delta is still receding, baring beautiful islands with spectacular sandy beaches.
November 2009 in the Okavango meant very warm days and great animal sightings. The water in front of camp is drying up and some lechwe have made their home right in front of camp. This has attracted the attention of a lioness and we have been lucky enough to see her twice while having dinner on the top deck. She has also left her presence in the form of tracks in the morning, to the great excitement of the guests. One afternoon the baboons warned of the presence of a predator in the area, and sure enough there was the lioness hunting lechwe right in front of camp.
We have had the resident visiting elephant bulls, but Jack has not been around. Another bull has made the island his home; he loves the sycamore figs in the main area of the camp, much to the entertainment of the guests at dinner. With the water receding, the hippo sightings are improving and there are lots of crocodile around. Many snakes have made their appearance, such as boomslang, spitting cobra and spotted bush snakes. We twice saw a boomslang eating a toad.
There are lots of young around and even the resident leopard has cubs. The young lechwe have great fun playing in front of camp, learning all the life skills needed to survive the wilderness of the Okavango Delta.
Children in the Wilderness
Towards the end of the month Jacana had the privilege of hosting Wilderness' Children in the Wilderness programme. We closed the camp to paying guests for two weeks and hosted 16 children at a time, along with a horde of mentors and leaders to assist and teach the children. The camp was turned upside-down, getting everything in order to host the programme. Children from surrounding communities came to visit us, with the first group being from Tubu Village. During this time the children were taught a variety of life skills and about the bush in a fun, playful atmosphere. This project gives these underprivileged children the chance to experience the bush in a safe and fun way.
- "The Okavango at its very best" - Mathew and Leigh
- "Thank you for a totally wonderful experience. Ivan, Ilze, Joseph and all the staff have been great. Botswana is beautiful" - Bea, Charles, Mary, and Brian
- "Happy to leave toys and sweets for the Children in the Wilderness" - Mike and Helen
- "Fantastic! Thanks for a wonderful holiday" - Jenny, Peter and Lindsay
Managers: Iván Phillipson & Ilze van der Vyver
Guides: Joseph Basenyeng and Mike Tebogo
update - November 09 Jump
to Kwetsani Camp
update - November 09 Jump
to Jao Camp
Weather and Landscape
As we head towards the middle of summer, Jao Island is revealed in all her glory. From the great heights of the majestic trees to the shortest blade of grass, green of every shade cloaks the land. This is due, in part, to the cooling thunder-showers that rise up in the east and drench the vegetation and our creatures with life-giving water. Our average rainfall for the year is only about 300mm (approx. 12 inches) and every drop helps. You might think that the Delta has an abundance of water, but as the annual floodwaters recede, a considerable area of vegetation becomes reliant on the rain. Dormant seedlings of every kind take advantage of this short window of opportunity to sprout.
Guests often come on safari desperate to see "cats", but often forget that the cats would not exist without the rest of the ecosystem. Everything is part of the "circle of life". Most prey species are vegetation-eaters, and they in turn become food for predators. Some people talk about the "Big Five" mammals (incidentally a phrase we find overused and misinformative), but we have the "Big Five Trees": leadwood; marula; knobthorn; large apple-leaf and the silver cluster-leaf. These trees are considered the "big five" because of their height, and Jao guides are always thrilled to be able to point out these magnificent trees to our guests. Leadwoods (Combretum imberbe) can live to be 1,000 years old and have a host of useful applications: the wood is great for carving; the leaves and twigs are eaten by most browsers; a cough mixture can be prepared from the flowers; and the roots can be boiled to yield a dark brown dye.
Tradition has it that Storks deliver newborn babies to their parents - well the storks in Botswana have been working overtime! Hundreds of African Openbill Storks I(which look a little different to the White Storks in the children's books) fly over Jao each and every sunrise on their way to their daily feeding sites on the floodplains, and judging by how many babies we have received this month, they have certainly been busy!
Beauty, our resident leopard, *Insert Drum Roll*, gave birth to her cub (or cubs) on the 11th of October! She was seen crossing the bridge from Jao Island towards thicker vegetation. (We suspect that she came onto the island to try and catch an impala.) Shortly afterwards she disappeared into some thick bush while guide Cedric sat quietly hoping for her to reappear. She showed herself again but seemed very restless. After disappearing for a second time, soft mewing sounds could be heard and Cedric concluded that she was in the process of giving birth. So as not to disturb her or to give her location away to other predators, Cedric drove on. We have strict "rules of engagement" when it comes to predators and their young: under no circumstances can they be followed off-road - they can only be viewed if out in the open. These rules serve to allow predators the best chance of raising their young to adulthood.
Over the past couple of weeks Beauty has been seen actively hunting and she is definitely lactating - so all looks good for the time being. We will keep you informed of any new developments.
In addition to leopard cubs, we have seen vervet monkey babies, squirrel babies, Spurfowl chicks, a baby bat and tsessebe calves. And we eagerly anticipate the arrival of new additions to our band of "Merry Mongoose". There are some very rotund females huffing and puffing their way behind their more agile family members as they forage around the island. Ringo, their leader, is very attentive and we know that he will take very good care of his brood.
Animal highlights this month have been numerous. Guide Kambango, or "Delta" to his guests, wowed them with a sitatunga sighting. These antelope are uncommon and the sighting was enormously appreciated by Jon and Julia who are very keen photographers. Even resident staff do not get to see sitatunga very often and we were all very jealous of the amazing photos that resulted.
Guests and staff have been willing participants this month in surprise sundowners, bush dinners, cheese and wine events, "Mongoose Tours" and Star-Gazing. The stunning African night sky is whole world that we take for granted, but under the expert guidance of Cruise, one of the Jao guides, all is revealed. While guests recline on ponchos with a glass of Amarula in hand, Cruise deciphers the night sky and imparts the traditional mysteries, myths and legends of Taurus, Orion and the Bushman Hunters - keeping everyone engrossed until it's time to head to bed.
As we draw closer to our annual Staff Christmas Party, preparations are in full swing. Jao Camp hosts all staff and management from our three sister camps, Kwetsani, Jacana and Tubu Tree, for two days of "Island Fun". The events, including Football, Choirs and Traditional Dancing are highly competitive, and we will be sure to send some photos!
Baboons killed a red lechwe on the Kwetsani Floodplains
Male buffalo ("Dagga Boys") in front of camp
Male vervet monkey that caught, killed and ate a tree squirrel
Very large water monitor in camp
Large breeding herds of elephant with babies
Civet and hyaena on the Island
A pair of Black-Headed Orioles returned to "their own" branch in a specific tree for the third year running - welcome home Oliver and Olivia!
- "We had the most wonderful first four days of our honeymoon at this enchanting place. Thanks for looking after us so well - we look forward to coming back! - Oliver and Pia, Montenegro
- "Too short, but an experience we will treasure forever. Thanks to everybody!" - Kathleen, Sven and Scott, Belgium
- "Perfect camp, great team, excellent food, wonderful lanscape: just perfect!" - Silvia and Oliver, Germany
- "Thank you for an incredible adventure. Beauty and hospitality unrivalled! - Mike, Laurie, Erin and Sam, USA
Des and Kim Nel, Noeline Geyser, Shane Dietrichsen, Jost Kabuzo, Joanne Davies and Virginia.
Guides: Maipaa, Cedric, Cruise and Kabo (a.k.a. KB)
We all look forward to a wonderful month ahead and send Jao Seasonal Greetings to you wherever you are in your part of the world!
Tubu Tree Camp
update - November 09 Jump
to Tubu Tree Camp
It has been a comfortable, overcast month with the sun breaking through the clouds, resulting in an average temperature of 33°C (91°F). However, the rain has made itself known - giving us one mega storm lasting 40 minutes which left trees knocked over and debris everywhere. The guests enjoyed a warm cup of tea and a card game before the sun came out for a perfect afternoon drive.
It is the season for little ones - and this month has been full of new life and growing families. Tubu Tree Camp's family has grown as well - we have two banded mongoose that made themselves at home here, and we've dubbed them "Simon and Garfunkel." Their playground stretches from one end of Tubu to the other, and the termite mound at the entrance of the camp is their very own jungle gym.
The newly-resident herd of wildebeest at Tubu has been adding calves daily - creating a spectacle very close to camp on the floodplain. Not to be outdone by the wildebeest, two female warthog with five young have made Tubu their home. Guests have been treated to visits from the warthog in the front of camp, in the back of camp and right at their tents.
Hunda Island has been taken over by a flourish of life, with little impala running and jumping, baby elephant causing enjoyable traffic jams, infant monkeys learning how to be mischievous and more leopard cubs... A mother and cub were seen near the hide on one occasion this month and we have seen a lactating female on many occasions, but not yet her cubs.
In balance with life there is death - and this month has seen some epic battles! Guests were treated to one starting right at the entrance of camp with a face-off between a tree squirrel and a rock monitor lizard. Then a spotted hyaena decided to put the run on a honey badger on Tubu's floodplain, and a couple of days later had the tables turned on him, when he was chased right into the small palm island in front of camp by the two warthog!
Then there was the battle of the cats... We had a single brave leopard charge the Tubu Threesome (Tubu's pride of male lions) resulting in the leopard escaping (just barely) with its tail firmly between its legs. The lion may have won that little skirmish, but there was some glory for the leopards - a lioness chased a leopard up a tree only to find itself face to face with the leopard on the tree branch. The lioness soon realised that the leopard had won this round, thanks to its agility and tree-climbing prowess, and made a hasty retreat.
- "Great game viewing - three leopard, hyaena eating impala, three male lion calling in the night, tracking them and then watching them. Beautiful grounds, great views and awesome rooms. Food was outstanding and Justin and Jackie go above and beyond expectations. Awesome place!" - Janee and Sandra
- "Nice room, nice staff, nice managers, everything was absolutely fantastic! We enjoyed it very much. The overwhelming views, and the animals we have seen here (three cheetah, three lion, bushbabies, elephant, zebra and numerous other animals) it was simply fantastic. Thank you for this unforgettable days and nights." - Roland and Maria
- "Saw a leopard in the first 30 min off the plane. Beautiful giraffe, kudu and baby warthog. Dinner in the bush with leopard and hyaena visitors. Saw three cheetah the next day. Lovely night sounds and camp visitors. The people (Jacky and Justin are fantastic). Thank you." - Clayton and Chenoa
- "Fabulous all-round experience. Camp extremely well run and hosted by Justin and Jacky. Our guide, Johnny, was outstanding and considerate and patiently taught us so much. His tracking skills were fascinating. We saw the leopard three times and we had not seen one on numerous drives in the past. Our room was very comfortable, staff excellent and food delicious food." - Patrick and Rachel
Managers: Justin Stevens & Jacky Collett-Stevens
Guides: Johnny & Kambango
Kalahari Plains Camp
update - November 09 Jump
to Kalahari Plains Camp
to Page 2