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Mombo and Little Mombo Top Resorts in 2009 Condé Nast Traveler Readers' Choice
Mombo and Little Mombo were voted the Number 1 Resort in Africa in the 2009 Condé Nast Traveler (USA) Readers' Choice Awards. Both camps achieved a ranking of 97.1 also placing them at the number 10 slot on the Top 100 list as well - a list described by the magazine as "...the hotels, resorts and cruise lines that achieved near perfection"!
The 2009 survey ranked the best cities, islands, cruise lines, airlines, hotels and resorts worldwide and was open to all readers. 25 008 readers voted on more than 10 000 properties and destinations. The criteria (rated on a five-point scale) covered Activities, Atmosphere/Ambience, Beaches, Friendliness, Lodging, Restaurants, and Scenery to come to the overall score.
Mombo and Little Mombo's impressive ranking was also the result of a new demand from customers - who are now seeking out properties with low numbers of rooms. In addition, Mombo prides itself in offering the best game viewing in all of Botswana. Andy Payne, CEO of Wilderness Safaris says, "In our industry there is no better feeling than to exceed customer expectation, it is the fuel for all growth in our business - so the recognition from Condé Nast Traveler readers in this form and to this extent is so important for our business and is greatly appreciated. Kudos to our team at Mombo, and of course, all the animals!"
Wilderness Safaris featured well overall, with Jao coming 6th, Savuti 7th, Vumbura Plains (14), Xigera (20) and Kulala Desert Lodge (36) all in the Top 50 Resort in Africa!
Condé Nast Traveler noted that despite the tough times, its readers are still travelling and reaffirming their passion for outstanding "cool" experiences coupled with top service. Wilderness Safaris is proud to be part of such a prestigious listing.
Fascinating Interaction between Goliath Heron and African Fish-Eagle
Location: Ruckomechi, Mana Pools National Park, Zimbabwe
Date: 01 October 2009
Observers: Neil and Vanessa Reinecke, Kevin Van Breda
Photographer: Kevin Van Breda
On a boat transfer between Ruckomechi and Chirundu, an amazing interaction between a Goliath Heron and an African Fish-Eagle was observed.
A Goliath Heron flew up and away from the river bank as our boat slowly approached the mouth of the harbour. As the heron flew across the mouth it was attacked mid-air by a territorial African Fish-Eagle. The heron avoided a strike by landing in the water and submerging its head under the water at just the right moment. It then took to the air again, closely followed by the fish-eagle which had the advantage of greater speed and agility.
Before it could reach the safety of the bank, the heron was forced to turn its head to defend itself from another attack by the fish-eagle. The fish-eagle now lashed out at the heron with its talons, causing the heron to lower its bill over its neck to protect itself. The two birds tumbled briefly in the air and when they separated, the heron tumbled out of control into the water just metres from a basking crocodile!
The fish-eagle flew off while the crocodile, noticing the flailing heron in the water, slid speedily into the river and rushed across the surface of the water towards the heron. The heron somehow managed to reach the safety of the bank - with the whole thrilling sequence of events recorded on camera by Kevin.
African Fish-Eagles are well known for being opportunistic scavengers and there are several records of juvenile and adult birds attacking Saddle-billed Storks, Great White Egrets and Goliath Herons to steal their recently-caught fish prey. They are also aggressive defenders of their territories with sometimes fatal attacks on other species regarded as competition such as Pel's Fishing-Owls and also diurnal fish-eating species like storks and herons.
Wild dogs at Toka Leya
Sighting: Wild dogs at Victoria Falls
Location: Toka Leya, Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park, Victoria Falls
Dates: 22 October 2009
Observers: Mike Muvishi, Alvin & Penelope Cowan
Photographs: Alvin Cowan
Early this morning guests Alvin and Penelope Cowan decided to finish off their two-night stay at Toka Leya with an early game drive before their departure. This was a brave move considering that the previous day they had seen four of Zambia's five white rhino and there wasn't a lot expected to top that.
Driving alongside the edge of the Zambezi River however, guide Mike Muvishi spotted a wild dog lying in the rays of the early sunlight, enjoying the quiet morning that was offered up. As Africa's second most endangered carnivore and a rare sighting in the Victoria Falls area, this topped even the rhino experience.
Nearby lay a half-eaten impala carcass, the reason for the wild dog's swollen belly. Usually these social animals hunt in packs with all animals rapidly devouring the carcass of the animals killed. In this case the very low density of wild dogs in the area and the fact that this animal appears to be moving alone at present meant that meat aplenty remained and the animal could feed at leisure. Not even any side-striped jackals or avian scavengers like vultures were present.
With its full belly and blood-soaked chops, the dog had obviously gorged on a fair share of the animal and proceeded only to lick and sniff the carcass before wandering off after 30 minutes to some nearby shade, its eyes still jealously guarding its prize.
Lounge Lizard Lions at Busanga Bush Camp
Sighting: Lounge lizard lions
Location: Busanga Bush Camp, Busanga Plains, Kafue National Park
Dates: 20 October 2009
Observers: Laura Christie & JD Dunn
Photographs: JD Dunn
On 20 October at about 08h00 we spotted one of the adult male lions from the Busanga Pride from the camp. He was moving directly towards us. Nothing unusual in this we thought, Busanga Bush Camp does after all form the core of this pride's territory.
He continued walking straight past our main area however and down the path to the viewing deck about 10 metres away. For the next few hours he alternated between lying on the pathway and walking 5 metres into the open plains and lying there. Around mid-morning he was joined by one of the pride lionesses and her three cubs. They followed the same route past our main area and went to lie in the thicket next to the viewing deck.
Later in the day when it started getting really hot, we couldn't believe our eyes as the male moved up onto the viewing deck! This was presumably to take advantage of the breeze, something this pride often does in the fig trees dotted across the plains. He lay here all afternoon, for all the world behaving like the camp had long been deserted and reclaimed by nature. It is perhaps something this pride learnt in the summer season when the camp is closed, since our first sighting of this behaviour came earlier in the year when we saw four lionesses from the pride lying there when the island was still inaccessible due to high water levels.
In the early evening the male and female moved off and left the three cubs essentially in camp. The youngsters moved onto the helicopter landing pad and played with wild abandon on this open area before wandering off into the night slightly out of camp.
Sexual Dimorphism in Roan Antelope at Makalolo
Location: Little Makalolo Camp, Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe
Dates: October 2009
Observers: Russel Friedman and Peter Mundy
Photographs: Russel Friedman
Roan antelope are a sought-after game viewing prize in southern Africa. Less than 40 free-ranging roan occur in the world-renowned Kruger National Park (indicating their rarity) and the best places to view this species in southern Africa are currently parts of Zimbabwe, such as Hwange National Park, and also northern Botswana (Chobe and Linyanti). Further north in south-central Africa, Kafue National Park's Busanga Plains is a stronghold while the high plateau of Nyika National Park in Malawi also holds a good population.
Given this context we were relishing a sighting of a herd of roan antelope near Little Makalolo Camp recently. After drinking our fill of what was a remarkably relaxed herd, Peter Mundy noticed a distinct difference in the facial masks of the animals present. Neither of us had noticed this before and we initially put it down to individual variation, but soon noted that the females were consistently marked while the male in the herd was dramatically different.
Like sable, roan antelope have distinctive black and white patterning on the face and muzzle. This is thought to vary between subspecies. In our sighting we noticed that while each cow had only a black muzzle and a 'roan' coloured forehead, the muzzle and forehead of the male was uniformly emblazoned with black. It was also clear that the forelegs of the male were far more darkly marked than the cows which showed fairly consistent colouration.
This does not appear to have been clearly noted before with descriptions of sexual dimorphism in the species limited to the horns (longer and thicker in the males) and overall size (males: 240-300kg; females: 220-280kg). Richard Estes for example mentions only that the male's mask is blacker, while Jonathon Kingdon notes that the tail lashes and 'earflips' are darker in the male. A new one for the books?
Displaying Kori Bustard and other birds at Makalolo
Location: Little Makalolo, Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe
Dates: October 2009
Observers: Russel Friedman and Peter Mundy
Photographs: Russel Friedman
While in Hwange National Park recently, we were thrilled to encounter a displaying male Kori Bustard, the first such sighting for us of this rarely-observed behaviour in over 60 combined years of bird watching.
The male was standing with his neck inflated to about four times the normal size (somewhat resembling an oversized stovepipe), tail cocked and strutting about proudly on the open plain. The visual display is accompanied by a deep booming call. When at rest he stood with his folded wings almost touching the ground as if disconsolate that his efforts had immediately attracted a female.
There is good evidence to suggest that this species - well known as the world's heaviest flying bird - is polygynous (one male mates with multiple females, the females burdened with all parental care), this indicating the need for such a dramatic display to ensure he is chosen above other males that might be around.
Our visit coincided with the arrival of some of the summer migrants including that of the Yellow-billed Kite and Wahlberg's Eagle and we enjoyed photographing these as well as other raptors such as Bateleur and Tawny Eagle.
It wasn't just the regal and rapacious that attracted our attention however. We also enjoyed the larks, recording Rufous-naped Larks (middle top image) as the common species in the grassland systems.
We were also thrilled at being able to locate and photograph a Fawn-coloured Lark (top right image) as well though. This species is a common and high density species on the scrub covered Kalahari sands of neighbouring Botswana but occurs at much lower density in Hwange National Park, nonetheless serving to illustrate the affinities of Hwange with the Kalahari ecosystem.
Okavango Fish Traps a Magnet for Birds at Chitabe
Location: Chitabe Camp, Chitabe Concession, Botswana
Date: 27 October 2009
Observers: Grant Atkinson and Helena Faasen
Photos: Grant Atkinson and Helena Faasen
The 2009 high water levels in the Okavango Delta are now a thing of the past. One result of this year's big flood is the exciting bird watching opportunities that are currently possible as thousands of fish become trapped by the receding waters.
These fish are a magnet for many species of water birds, and on a recent visit to Chitabe Camp we got to experience some of the action associated with these so-called "fish traps." Instead of viewing birds just flying overhead, or standing somewhere, the fish traps bring many species together and the interaction that occurs between them is fascinating.
Forced into close proximity with one another, the birds compete, cooperate, fight and steal from one another. The particular pool that we spent most time at near Chitabe was dominated for a while by a pair of Saddle-billed Storks. The pair were happy to share the pool with several smaller species of birds, but objected to the later presence of a flock of Yellow-billed Storks and some Pink-backed Pelicans, that joined in on the action. For almost an hour the two Saddle-billed Storks chased all the other storks and pelicans away, but eventually they either grew tired of the effort, or else they had caught enough fish for themselves.
Also seen was the interesting mantling behaviour of Black Heron and African Spoonbills with their peculiar feeding action working the shallower areas.
The birding action that we have observed will be happening all over the Okavango Delta over the next few months, and it will last until the annual floodwaters arrive and once again bring the sanctuary of deep water to all the beleaguered fish species.
Jao's Leaning Baobab Succumbs
Location: Jao Camp, Jao Concession, Botswana
Date: 30 October 2009
Observer: Cathy Kays
Photographers: Cathy Kays, Noeline Geyser
The Leaning Baobab, a landmark feature in the Jao Concession estimated to be hundreds of years old, has fallen over due to elephant-induced bark damage. This particular tree was situated along the river road, just north of Jao Camp.
The baobab tree (Adansonia digitata) is also known as the 'upside down tree'. It is well known for its massive trunk which is capable of storing water and produces large aromatic flowers and pendulous fruit favoured by many animals. While baobabs only grow about 20m (70 feet) tall, they can be up to 15m (50 feet) in diameter. Baobabs may survive as long as 3,000 years.
The elephant population in the Jao Concession has increased quite substantially in the last few years. Of late the elephants have begun to cause a fair amount of damage to many trees, with many knob thorns (Acacia nigrescens) trees being stripped of their bark, an elephant delicacy.
Towards the end of last year two male elephant started feeding on this particular baobab tree. Over the past few months the feeding activities increased with other elephants starting to feed on the exposed trunk of the tree. They peeled the bark off the trunk and cut deeply into the trunk with their tusks. It was obvious that the tree was becoming badly damaged as a result.
At the beginning of October the baobab splintered halfway and fell over during the night blocking the road. A new road had to be made around the tree. We hoped that the tree would still survive as the roots were still intact. It is however very unlikely that a baobab of such maturity would coppice again. The resident elephants then took full advantage of being able to feed on the exposed branches and continued stripping most of the bark off the tree.
It is very sad to lose such an old and beautiful tree, as well as an important landmark on our concession. Recently while on Kwetsani Island we watched young elephants feeding on the Kwetsani Baobab, which is a favourite spot for bush dinners. This tree is now also sustaining damage to its bark. In an effort to protect this tree from further elephant damage, we have started to apply chilli powder in a paste to the trunk of the tree. Chilli is now known as a popular elephant deterrent and is used by farmers to protect their crops from elephant damage. We hope that by applying this powder to trees in and around the camp environment we can encourage the elephants to focus their feeding on the abundant reed beds, palm trees, hippo grass and fruit in the area.
This raises the question: with Botswana's burgeoning elephant population will this iconic tree species completely disappear from our surroundings?
Green turtles observed hatching on North Island
Location: North Island, Seychelles
Date: 12 October 2009
Observer: Lindi and Jacques Smit
Photographer: Jacques Smit
Shortly after checking into the beautiful North Island and settling into our private villa we received a phone call from reception. It was our hostess, Kirsten, who advised us that something exciting was happening right on the beach in front of Villa 8. We wasted no time and dashed down to see what was happening.
Much to our excitement, we discovered that it was a green turtle nest and the youngsters were actively hatching. Since green turtles are recognised as endangered by the IUCN and CITES, turtle nests are closely monitored on North Island by Elliot Mokhobo (pictured below) to ensure that the maximum number of hatchlings make it back to the ocean. According to Elliot, only one or two out of an entire nest will survive to reach adulthood. It was incredible to learn that green turtles are long-lived - an average lifespan of 80 years or longer in the wild. These turtles are also mostly herbivorous, feeding mostly on seagrass, unlike predatory hawksbill and loggerhead turtles to which they are most closely related.
Elliot started out on North Island as a bricklayer and worked his way up to Nature Guide on North Island; he recently also qualified as a rescue diver. He meticulously marks each nest and knows exactly when they are due to hatch as well as the approximate number of eggs in each nest.
About 140 hatchlings hastily made their way straight to the water with guests and staff watching in awe, and making sure that they did not get stuck in our footprints on the beach! It was amazing to see how these little turtles know exactly where to go and even more amazing to think that they will one day return to the same spot to lay their eggs. Like other sea turtles, green turtles are known to migrate long distances between their feeding grounds and the beaches they hatched on.
Although green turtles are a protected species, their global population is under major threat. In certain countries they are still hunted as a food source, and their eggs are harvested and savoured as a delicacy. Nesting beaches are under threat to development, and many turtles drown after being caught in nets or ensnared in other human-induced pollutants like plastic bags.
Thankfully North Island is a safe haven for these endearing marine creatures to nest in peace.
Mangrove Kingfisher in South Luangwa National Park
Location: Kalamu Lagoon Camp, Luamfwa Concession, South Luangwa, Zambia
Dates: 25 October 2009
Observer: Dana Allen
Photographer: Dana Allen
While on photographic assignment in the spectacular South Luangwa National Park recently, we observed a kingfisher that just did not fit the bill (pardon the pun) as just another Woodland or Brown-hooded Kingfisher - of which we had already seen many.
The bird in question, presumed an adult male, was observed sitting still on a branch, calling and making a courtship display (flashing the wings outward very quickly a few times) to another bird, presumed the female.
Noting the various diagnostic features like the reddish legs, abnormally robust all-red bill, head colouration, unusual call very unlike the Woodland Kingfisher (which many know intimately by the end of summer) and lack of any rufous on the vent, lead us to excitedly identify the bird as a Mangrove Kingfisher (Halcyon senegaloides)!
In the African winter months this bird is mostly recorded along the coast in its preferred non-breeding habitat of mangrove swamps. This kingfisher breeds inland from the coast in summer and is even seen in 'bushveld' habitats on occasion. Although it generally breeds 5-50km inland (often inland from the Zambezi River mouth), records further into the interior have been recorded. Seeing this bird 750km from the coast makes this sighting astounding however! It seems to prefer wooded water courses when breeding and our sighting was about two kilometres north of Kalamu Bush Camp, fairly close to the Luangwa River.
We were extremely fortunate to see the onset of the breeding season of this kingfisher species with some courtship display thrown in for good identification measure. Previous confirmed records of this kingfisher species in the Luangwa Valley date back to October 2005 so perhaps they are being overlooked and simply discounted as just another Woodland Kingfisher!
The water levels on the Jao Concession (Jao, Kwetsani, Jacana and Tubu Tree) have dropped to a level where guests are now being transferred from the eastern camps (Jao, Kwetsani and Jacana) to Tubu Tree by air. The drop in water also means that mokoro activities at Tubu Tree have stopped for the season.
Summer Season Refurbishments
All four camps in the Jao Concession will be closed in a staggered fashion for summer season maintenance and refurbishments. Tubu Tree and Jacana will be closed for two weeks in January 2010, while Jao Camp will be closing for two months from the 9th of January for major renovations. Kwetsani Camp will also close for the month of March 2010.
Camps in the Selinda Reserve (Selinda and Zarafa) will also be closed for renovations (both will see the conversion of an existing tent into a family room and general maintenance) from 8 to 17 January 2010.
Both Ruckomechi and Little Makalolo camps have each converted one of their twin-bedded rooms into a family room. Little Makalolo's change is effective immediately, while Ruckomechi’s family room will be ready when it reopens for its new season - 15 May 2010.
North Island Dive Report - October 09 Jump
to North Island
The long-awaited departure of the south-east monsoon season has been uncharacteristically late this year but well in line with the general unpredictability of the weather this year. Usually by the end of September we start seeing changes in the winds, but this year, it only happened in the middle of October. From then on we had some beautifully calm days which were hugely appreciated, and which helped increase the visibility in the water, which was up to 40 metres on some days. Equatorial sunshine, ice-rink flat seas and gin-clear visibility - it just doesn't get better than the Seychelles! We are beyond picture postcard perfection!
Hundreds of swimming crabs were spotted on the surface of the perfectly calm sea, uniformly scattered about between North and Silhouette Islands. While we were not able to identify exactly which species they were, it is believed they are part of the Portunidae family. Flapping briskly at the surface, they seemed to be desperately (and suicidally) trying to attract the attention of passing noddys and terns who plucked them from the water with a single swoop.
With the change in the winds, we have now also had the opportunity to revisit our favourite snorkel sites off Petit Anse and around Spa Hill, including everybody's favourite - "the Aquarium". Already the activity noted on this site has been phenomenal and we look forward to more fantastic sightings during the rest of the summer. Specific attention will be focused on the resident grey reef sharks and the spawning white-spotted rabbit fish - both equally important species for our marine research programmes.
There have been fantastic turtle sightings throughout the month but specifically on Sprat City, which strangely enough does not usually produce many such sightings at all. While the seas were calm there were also numerous turtle sightings on the surface of the water on various trips around North and to Silhouette Islands. We have spotted turtles on almost every dive on Sprat City and Twin Anchors, two of our favourite dive sites this last month. One particularly large green turtle, that has been unusually inquisitive, has repeatedly been spotted on the northern reaches of Sprat City. We have occasionally spotted a similar-sized green turtle in this exact spot which was very shy, but this individual has been extremely 'friendly' which could be a result of the current breeding season - probably a good idea not to get too close...
An excellent sighting this month has been that of a manta ray on Brain Freeze, a dive site between North and Silhouette. While it is not uncommon for manta rays to frequent the inner islands, it is quite rare to spot one around North Island, as they tend to prefer slightly deeper reefs. This individual was quite purposeful in its movement and seemed to be heading in a specific direction - as far as we know there are no 'cleaner stations' surrounding North Island that might entice the mantas to venture this far toward the inner islands.
Another extremely exciting sighting this month has been that of a pair of humpback whales spotted off North East Point, just past Villa 11. While we usually have a couple of sightings of these whales each year it is perfect timing to have seen one while on a snorkel trip with guests. There was even sufficient time to collect the guests and take a closer look at the whales which were as close as 10 metres from the boat at one stage. While the inner islands are on the edge of their migratory patterns, it is extremely rare to have whales in such shallow water and so close to the island.
As is traditional this time of year, we have also continued to observe the juvenile spotted eagle rays in the shallows in front of the restaurant; however over the last month we have seen a marked increase in the number of leaping rays. While the reason why these creatures take to the sky is not known, it is thought that it could be either to escape predators, give birth, or remove parasites from their body - it is also thought to perhaps be spurts of pure excitement that cause these rays to leap up to a metre and a half of clearance from the water. Whatever the reason, they provide great viewing for anyone with the patience to stop and watch for a while.
Spotted eagle rays are actually listed as 'near threatened' by the IUCN (the World Conservation Union). One of the major negative factors that play a role in the conservation of this particular species is their low reproduction rate that results from slow sexual maturation as well as the fact that only one pup can be produced each year. Research on the spotted eagle rays has also recently shown that what was commonly thought to be a single species may, in fact, be several species.
There has been great activity on almost all the surrounding reefs throughout the month but specifically on North East Point where, from the surface, large dense shoals of lunar and yellow-back fusiliers have often been spotted as well as patrolling schools of milk fish, which look very similar to sharks, and which always cause much excitement from snorkellers and boat riders.
Our resident batfish on Sprat City have been extremely inquisitive during the calm weather and have even been spotted sucking bubbles off the surface of the water and coming right up to the side of the boat. A particularly large round ribbontail ray has also been seen frequenting the waters in front of the restaurant, sometimes cruising just below the surface right near the shore as well as further out toward the moorings.
We explored a new dive site this month which has for some time been one of our common fishing spots, affectionately named Tandy Banks. This is an extensive reef system which has proven to be an excellent fishing spot and has always tempted us with the possibility of diving. The dive was conducted on the far west side of the reef at approximately 25 metres. While there was great fish life and excellent coral formations, we still have substantially more reef to explore before we can make a full report as to the condition of the reef. So far it has proven to be very exciting indeed.
There are numerous 'banks' of reef surrounding North Island which rise up to around 20 metres that are all quite similar in structure and have all proven to be excellent dive sites - Brain Freeze being an excellent example - and we're sure Tandy Banks will prove to be no less exciting.
Kings Pool Camp update - October 09 Jump
to Kings Pool Camp
The weather has been hot this month, with temperatures reaching 42°C (108°F) in the shade. The lack of humidity makes this kind of heat quite manageable. We have not had much rain yet, just a few isolated showers, but we are expecting some precipitation in December. The surrounding vegetation has already started to turn green, and we know that with the first big rains the bush will erupt with fresh foliage.
The general game viewing has been phenomenal this month. Wildlife is hiding around every corner. Journeys of giraffe casually browse the mopane brush while vast herds of impala frolic along the riverbank. Hippo are ever-present in the Linyanti systems and their calls can be heard all night long. Kudu, red lechwe, waterbuck, baboon, tsessebe, sable and roan are frequently seen on our game drives.
Silver Eye and his brother have dominated the area this month and we have had almost daily sightings of these two big males. Toward the end of the month the Border Boys, whom we have not seen in two months, arrived back in the Kings Pool area. This resulted in Silver Eye and his brother chasing them out of the area. It was an awesome sighting - four ferocious lion challenging each other. It brought a chill to one's spine.
The LTC Pride is doing well after losing all of this year's cubs. The young male is still with the pride but tends to keep a low profile to avoid being seen by Silver Eye and his brother. We have seen these lion on two kills this month - one kudu and one giraffe.
Vast herds of these great, grey beasts are present in the Linyanti during October and November. We easily see around 200 elephant a day at the moment. There is a herd of elephant permanently on the floodplain in front of camp and lone bulls amble casually through camp in the afternoons, enjoying the greening foliage. We have also seen some incredible elephant crossings from our boat, the Queen Sylvia.
October and November are leopard season in the Linyanti. The dry conditions force these beautifully graceful animals along the river as water elsewhere is scarce. We usually spot them hanging out in a large jackleberry tree overlooking the Linyanti River, or on the hunt for their next meal. We have been seeing three individuals around the Kings Pool area - two females and one big male.
We have seen the wild dogs on a number of occasions this month. They usually move between LTC and Livingstone Hide and deep in the mopane woodland in between. We will be starting a wild dog research programme soon, with a researcher being based at Kings Pool to monitor their movements and activities. We'll be sure to keep you in the loop.
If you are a bird-lover, then the Linyanti is the place for you. Some of the migrants have been here for a while now. Broad-billed Rollers and Yellow-billed Kites have started constructing nests in camp in all their usual spots. Soon we will be in full birding season. We are still having great water fowl and heron sightings along the river and large raptors such as Martial Eagles, Tawny Eagles and Bateleurs and seen daily.
Management: Nick Leuenberger, Kerry Croll, Alex and One Mazunga
Guides: Moses Teko, OD Modikwa and Diye Kennetseng
DumaTau Camp update - October 09 Jump
to DumaTau Camp
October is generally a hot, dry month in the Linyanti. We reached a maximum of 32° Celsius this month. The good thing about the extreme conditions is that they make for extreme game viewing - this month at DumaTau was no exception.
The DumaTau Pride is doing exceptionally well - its three small cubs are fit and healthy, and we're happy to report there have been some new additions to the pride! The pregnant lioness we talked about in last month's newsletter has given birth to three little furballs - estimated at being four weeks old now. Having seen a dip in lion numbers in the Linyanti a few years ago, it is heartening to see their population growing.
The five young boys are also doing very well - always taking chances with elephant. Our guides spotted them recently waging battle against a young cow and her calf. The mother desperately tried to protect her young, but five sub-adults intent on food proved too much for her, and the calf was killed. That evening, as they were finishing up their meal, the females of the pride brought down a big male giraffe close to Bateleur Pan. In the darkest hours of the night a huge commotion could be heard between the lionesses and a clan of hyaena. Then the five boys went running through the bush to stand with the rest of the pride in securing the kill.
Silver-Eye and his brother are still being seen with the Linyanti females. We don't see much of them, but we hear them roar at night and in the mornings we see their tracks heading back to Kings Pool Camp.
The Savuti Female is being very careful in her movements in order to avoid confrontation with the DumaTau Pride. She and her two young males have been spending most of her time hunting in the Chobe 1 area. Around the 20th she was spotted hunting around the staff village fence, which is fortunately fortified with electricity 24/7! As the lioness spotted a staff member watching her (somewhat apprehensively) she walked off, followed by her two hungry-looking cubs. Two days later the three were spotted on the DumaTau airstrip road feeding on a warthog.
October was unusually quiet with regard to leopard sightings. The Zib Male was spotted hunting close to Middle Pan, and it was obvious that he has grown into a good hunter - just like his father, the DumaTau Male. Father has been dominating a big area in Linyanti for a very long time now - he covers the Savuti Camp area, all the way to Kings Pool airstrip. He was spotted this month along Elephant Valley Road moving towards his favourite warthog hunting spot. Theba and his guests waited patiently as the leopard stalked and killed a too-slow female warthog.
The Zib female has been scarce this month. She was spotted close to Mokwapa Pan, dragging an impala up a tree. There have been a few unknown leopard seen in our area and we will have to wait and see if they become permanent residents so we can get some identification marks.
The Mantshwe boys are still doing very well. They were spotted on many occasions this month around the Chobe 1 area and the airstrip feeding. They clearly aren't having any problems with their hunting skills!
African wild dog
The LTC dogs have been very active in our area this month. They were seen hunting along the the Savute Channel and the guest vehicle followed the dogs for quite some time, with their endurance paying off as they saw the pack pull down a kudu. (Day trips in the Linyanti are often very rewarding and a highly recommended activity for all visitors.) A week later we saw the dogs chasing impala right through camp! We followed quickly as the antelope ran for their lives helter-skelter through the camp!
This month Kai Collins, Wilderness Safaris Botswana's Environmental Manager, came to the Linyanti with two vets to start the concession's much-anticipated Wild Dog Research Programme. They found the LTC Pack and darted and collared one of the dogs for monitoring purposes. The pack has been seen hunting a lot along the Savute Channel and around Savuti Camp as well. The DumaTau Pack has crossed to the southern bank and can now be seen hunting there. The guides have tried to count the dogs to see if all the puppies survived but they've had no luck - it's difficult to count the dogs on a speedy chase through dense mopane woodland.
The general game has been incredible as is usual in the Linyanti at this time of year. Elephant numbers along the Channel are truly amazing and guests who love the species have been amazed by the sight of big herds crossing the Channel with their calves. The big buffalo herd that resides around Bundu Island seems to be increasing and has had no trouble from lion in a while. Ollie saw a herd of more then ten roan antelope close to Chobe airstrip and also spotted six very shy roan on the southern bank around Letsomo. Pictured is a pangolin, also seen this month, certainly not a 'general' sighting and one of the most sought-after mammals in Africa!
- "The wonderful staff and outstanding guiding by Ollie, the incredible sightings of lions with cubs, wild dog, elephant, hyaena and the managers were exceptional! Everything was perfect and you cannot improve perfection." JT
- "Where to start? The interaction between the lion, hyaena and vultures. I loved the hippo! Thank you Mocks, I got to see a leopard. Thoroughly enjoyed your drives and explanations, you cared deeply and I learnt a lot... my favourite memory for life has to be seeing elephants crossing the water, frolicking and the little ones meetings parents from across the other side, never will I forget that." RS
- "We loved the hippos. Ollie did a great job finding us all sorts of thing to see - big and small. And our last night dinner by the pool with candles and the rain hitting the umbrella was wonderful and so fun to eat with fireflies... Thank you, we had a wonderful stay with you." TR
Managers in camp were Attorny Vasco, Miriam Tichapondwa, Karen Jensen and Kele Mambo. The guides were Bahedile Theba, Ollie Porote, Ronald Masule, Nyaladzi Monyatsi and Mmoki Boatametse.
Savuti Camp update - October 09 Jump
to Savuti Camp
October in northern Botswana can be an exasperating but also an extremely exhilarating month... The life-giving rains are just around the corner, and they must come soon: the golden grass wilts in the sun and the calcrete pans start to look like the surface of the moon. As the month progresses there is a tangible tension in the air, like a single note played on a vibrating string; the sense of anticipation is palpable.
The African bush ecosystem is an intricate mechanism, lubricated by water. For all the beautifully engineered components to keep clicking together, we need the rains now. Sleek impala bellies are swelling with new life and soon thousands of hungry mouths will need to be filled with green shoots. As each waterhole surrenders to evaporation, animals must walk farther to find water...
Of course, many things have changed this year, with the waters of the Savute Channel creating a vital green path in the otherwise parched landscape. As the dry season reaches its peak, this reincarnated African river becomes a magnet for game.
As the heat spikes early each afternoon, herds of elephants trek down to the Channel and as we enjoy tea in the camp we watch as they delight in the river, demonstrating a real enjoyment of life.
Each afternoon the clouds gather, bruised thunderheads climbing thousands of feet into the sky above the camp and then fading away: seeming to promise relief but giving none. It's a meteorological tease right now. On evenings when the stars are blotted out by inky clouds, and a stiff breeze comes in off the Channel, it is easy to think that surely this is it. Sheet lightning flickers inconstantly, throwing the riverine trees into brief silhouette. Surely this is it ... But no, the next morning the sun's rays burn holes in the clouds, revealing the relentless blue beyond.
Our find of the month was undoubtedly the new lion cubs born to a female in the DumaTau Pride. We already knew one female had given birth several months ago, but now one of her sisters was seen nursing three little blue-eyed scraps of fur - which instantly and effortlessly stole our hearts.
If you like your wildlife cute, the DumaTau Pride is a must-see, with a total of six cubs under four months old. The order of the day is curiosity and play, but these are games with a deadly purpose as these future killers work in concert with each other to subdue such dangerous prey as grasshoppers or the black tuft of fur at the tip of a lioness' tail.
The imminent return of the rains is all part of the great cycle of the seasons, and the animals too are enmeshed in cycles of life. Great patience is needed, with mating often only occurring after several other key steps have been completed. Our territorial male leopard, the DumaTau male, is increasingly facing challenges from younger and fitter leopards keen to usurp his spot. We witnessed him get into a territorial dispute with the younger Moporota male. Whilst the scrap itself was inconclusive it might mean that the DumaTau male's long reign may be drawing to an end.
This encounter took place in a huge jackalberry tree leaning over the Channel, and just two days later, a pack of wild dogs chose a berth in the gnarled roots of this massive tree to lie up in and while away the midday heat. This was the twelve-strong DumaTau pack, one dog now sporting a radio telemetry collar as part of a new research project being sponsored by Wilderness Safaris. Twice in the last three days, they have chased impala right through our camp, on one occasion running their quarry to ground right in front of the guests as they arrived back from a bush dinner.
Only one sound can rival the rolling October thunder for sheer intensity and electricity, and that is the roaring of lions. The striking and short-tempered male known as Silver Eye can shatter the tranquillity of any night, silencing the frogs in the reeds and drowning out even the noise of a gathering storm.
The ten-strong DumaTau Pride has provided the most drama this month. They were the stars of a show that lasted several days following their killing of an adult giraffe. Such a bonanza would never go unnoticed or uncontested, and soon the nearby trees were festooned with vultures as though they had produced a crop of macabre fruit. Vultures are extraordinarily patient and will hang around for days for a beakful of blood-soaked sand. Not so the hyaenas. The smell of the giraffe was driving them crazy and they mounted repeated assaults to dislodge the pride.
Although many of these lions are relatively young, defending a kill comes naturally and as the hyaenas sidled nearer, one of the sub-adult males snarled into attack mode. He cuffed one hyaena with the claws on his massive paw extended. This wicked blow connected and sent the hyaena spinning away, yelping in pain. A second hyaena was even less lucky, being pinned down and badly bitten. This one was lucky to sneak off alive. And so the kill remained with the lions.
The drama everyone was waiting for, however, was yet to begin. Finally, at 3.15am on the last day of the month, as ghosts and goblins were getting ready for a big night out on Halloween, the rainy season began with a crack like a naval artillery barrage.
Rain hammered down, knocking flowers from bushes and pock-marking the sand, running in rivulets down the sloping banks to the Channel. At last, the long dry wait was over, we had survived "suicide month" - the rains had come. Half an inch (12mm) in just 45 minutes and then it was all over. A short while later the sun began to rise, signalling a new day - a day suddenly loaded with promise and hope, and a morning washed clean by the rains.
Preparations for summer continue apace everywhere we look. Lacking the vertical river banks they would normally use, a colony of Southern Carmine Bee-eaters at the Linyanti River (to the north) have resorted to digging burrows into the sandy ground. This spot is a constant hive of activity with bee-eaters circling and wheeling, or striking comical poses with their heads down and little feet whirring away, kicking more sand out behind them as they lengthen their tunnels.
They are by no means the only summer migrants to have returned. Swallow-tailed Bee-eaters are here too, and the skies are full of the distinctive shapes of Yellow-billed Kites as they carve the air, either trying to avoid the pesky attentions of mobbing Fork-tailed Drongos, or swooping down to seize the intestines of a spring hare killed by a pair of black-backed jackals.
In a lofty leadwood tree to the east of camp, a pair of Giant Eagle-Owls have built their untidy nest, and from this vantage point they regard the diurnal world through heavily-lidded eyes, waiting for the cloak of darkness, waiting for their eggs to hatch.
'Kane was fantastic! Great staff all round. The highlight was wild dogs killing and consuming an impala in front of our tent!'
'We'll never forget and we'll come back with our friends...'
'I would be ecstatic to recommend Savuti Camp! Thank you for your incredibly gracious hospitality - we will meet again!'
'Excellent game drives with our guide Lets...'
Tumoh Morena, Terri Krause, Nick "Noko" Galpine, Khutse Ramatsebe and Shady McIntyre.
-Images by Lets Kamogelo and Kane Motswana-
Zarafa Camp update - October 09 Jump
to Zarafa Camp
Camps Update - October 09
Lagoon camp Jump
• Lagoons reputation as Africa’s premier Wild Dog viewing camp has been underlined once again this month. No fewer that three different packs of Wild Dog have been seen in the concession. Our existing pack of puppies are now hunting with the adults and growing stronger by the day. Clans of Hyenas flank the Dogs in hope of a free meal which is always wonderful to watch when they get a bit close.
• Some early rains came as a relief to the parched land and started to fill the pans out in the Mopane woodland. Although some Buffalos and Elephants started to migrate west, the vast majority have remained by the clear waters of the Kwando River to quench their thirst.
• Lions, Leopards and Cheetahs remain common sightings in the area. The three brother Cheetahs killed an Impala on the airstrip which was a sight to behold, and our resident Leopard has been seen frequently around the Lagoon Camp area.
Kwara & Little Kwara camps Jump
& Little Kwara camps
•The hot weather, dead grasses and reduced water levels have combined to create wonderful game viewing in the Kwara area this October. Vast herds of Elephant and Buffalo have been migrating into western areas and countless summer migratory birds have returned such as Paradise Flycatchers, Wahlbergs Eagles and Woodland Kingfishers.
• Guests witnessed the unique sight of some Cheetahs defending themselves against a female Lioness on one lucky game drive. Lions are normally too formidable a foe for the speedy Cheetah but the three large brothers of Kwara did not hesitate to defend themselves. One was being chased by the Lioness before the two remaining brothers came from behind and started biting away at her hind legs. They were later seen unharmed and well with full bellies and looking very pleased with themselves.
• Kwara’s coalition of seven male Lions have been spotted at various intervals throughout the last few weeks and we have had several exciting Leopard sightings. On one occasion an astonishingly bold Leopard came and rested in the shade cast by safari vehicle on a game drive. Some exciting days have also been spent bush tracking the Wild Dogs that come in and out of the area. They are predating on the large amount of plains game that frequent the area, more especially the nimble Impalas.
Lebala camp Jump
• October has brought stifling heat and extraordinary game viewing to Lebala this month. Lebala itself means ‘open space’ where huge herds of Elephants and Buffalos are now crowding by the permanent river source of the Linyanti Swamps.
•Elsewhere, a Leopard was seen killing a young Lechwe and dragging it to safety up an acacia tree where it sat with its meal for two days. Cheetahs are a common site around the area especially if the Lions move somewhere else temporarily.
• Lion sightings have been numerous and very entertaining - they are often tracked and found stalking the large Buffalo herds of Lebala. A Black Mamba was also observed raiding a Carmine Bee Eater nest and coming out with a bird which it consumed whole – a very rare and special sighting.
• Around the camp, more wonderful sightings have been seen and especially great was when a Martials Eagle pounced onto an unfortunate Water Monitor Lizard and proceeded to have very substantial meal of it over the next days.
• In this driest of months the Nxai Pan waterhole has been teeming with the local wildlife. The unrelenting heat and dust has given the skin of resident bachelor Elephants an orange brown tinge in contrast to the dark greys and blacks of the Okavango and Kwando Elephants.
• All eagerly await the impending rains and incoming migration of Zebra and Wildebeest. Some early rains have encouraged fresh grasses but for now the resident predator species have to rely on the last remaining brave antelope species to hunt. Oryx, Springbok, Impala, Ostrich and Eland remain to be harassed by the Lions and Cheetahs. The two brother Cheetahs in particular are a familiar site for guests and have become less shy as the season has gone on. Wild Dog tracks have also been identified on the pan and a resident Leopard has been seen on occasion in and around the camp itself.
• Visitors flying into Tau Pan airstrip last month would have been greeted by the sight of a Leopards leftovers hanging from an acacia tree near the parking lot! A male Leopard killed the Springbok before dragging it up a tree to protect it from nearby scavengers such as Lions.
• Our two male Lions are a common sight and have almost adopted Tau Camp in their daily circuit of water, rest and hunt. Lucky visitors enjoying a morning cup of tea will see them casually stroll down to the water hole - drinking their fill and finding a shady spot to sleep under for the day.
• The legendary status of the Honey Badger has been maintained in the Kalahari once again in recent weeks. The central Kalahari where Tau Pan is positioned is one of the few places where Honey Badgers are regularly diurnal and can be seen in daylight. One such sighting took place close to a resting Cheetah. As soon as the cat saw the Badgers it sped off swiftly in the opposite direction!
• Lots of desert game has remained on the pan during this very hot month of October. Springbok, Oryx, Hartebeest and Giraffes can often be seen from the main deck and rooms of camp.
Mombo Camp update
- October 09 Jump
to Mombo Camp
The excitement of an action-filled month here at Mombo made time fly by so quickly that we hardly realised we were already in the hottest and the driest month of the year! Three days of light showers gave a real boost to much of the plant life here and the lush green of summer has appeared everywhere. The ripe fruit of the mangosteen trees has attracted a plethora of baboon, who have had a wonderful time harvesting the trees' bounty, which is bad news for the residents of the camp tents below wanting a lie-in. The primate acrobatics happening above your head are sure to startle you awake! As the floodwaters make their slow retreat, the floodplains beneath are revealed once again: and once again grazers congregate in large numbers.
Our lion kingdom, Mombo Island, recorded 64 lion sightings this month. The resident prides have had an interesting time in terms of their territorial boundaries: the small breakaway groups from each of the large prides have claimed a percentage of the original territories, resulting in a reduction in size of each original territory. It has become increasingly difficult to keep track of who's who, and the guides are currently attempting to compile a comprehensive lion identikit for this purpose.
More often than not, the breakaways join up with the main prides when there is a big kill - this month, for example, when the Mathata Pride killed a giraffe on Lion Island, the main Mathata Pride (six adult females and seven cubs) shared their meal with the smaller breakaway group (four females and three cubs). After the meal was finished they parted ways again. This pride is now dominated by the Western Boys who also cover the territory of the Western Pride. We have found them mating with females from both prides.
The 14-strong Moporota Pride is doing well (five females and eight cubs), and is always accompanied by their two dominant males, the Joo Boys. We also recorded the Piajo Pride recently, which appears to be multiplying, with three females and two cubs, around the Croc Corner and the Simbira Baobab area.
In general, all the prides in the area have cubs between two and five months old, which is a good sign of growth. The large number of lion in the area has always made life difficult for prey species and other predators - especially now that they are more widely spread out than usual. All these prides tend to prey on zebra now that there aren't so many buffalo around (we only seem to have one herd of about 100 animals in the area at the moment). Most of the time when we come across lion during the day we see them snacking on warthog and impala.
The lone (and lonely) wild dog in the area is still being seen with her jackal and hyaena companions. This wild dog works very hard for a meal (wild dog usually hunt in packs - so life is hard for a single female) and she is often seen exercising her hunting skills to their fullest. She has to be extremely canny, as even though there appears to be mutual wellbeing between her and the hyaena that follow her, they will pinch her meal in a heartbeat if she kills in their presence. She preys mostly on impala and we trust that the abundance of impala lambs on their way will make her life a little easier.
We have a few den sites with pups so small they are still suckling. Most of the active dens in the area are very close to camp and the one along Airstrip Road has bred pups that are very curious indeed! They are well habituated to the vehicles which drive past to and from the airstrip, as well as the game drive vehicles, which always stop to watch their amusing antics.
For only the second time since early 2000 we witnessed two adult rhino and a baby close to Tsessebe Street, heading towards Bird Island. It is unusual to see them this close to camp and it is interesting to note that the rhino are never sighted anywhere near their releasing point at the Rhino Bomas - they disperse far and wide and we usually have to drive long distances to get to where they have settled, making the chances of seeing them slim. For the past few months we have recorded an average of six sightings per month. We have been assured by the Rhino Monitoring Project that the rhino are doing well.
Life is certainly changing for Pula and Maru as they are forced into becoming more independent - and never more so than while Legadima attempted to raise two more cubs in October. Sadly, these new cubs were seen only briefly and then disappeared. Legadima was lactating for a few weeks and had the cubs so well hidden that it was impossible to find them. After she spent quite a few consecutive days in camp, lying on the walkways and sleeping under the decks, we realised that they must have died.
Legadima, Pula and Maru are taking turns to come to Mombo, and every week we have one of the three stalking around the camp. Despite the fact that Pula and Maru are independent of their mother now, they still inhabit the same territory and even share kills. There were many recorded sightings of leopard feeding on impala, but the highlight was definitely Motawana on a zebra foal in a tree - something we haven't seen since the demise of the Burnt Ebony male (Legadima's father).
The blue-eyed male normally found near Simbira and Croc Corner has been seen twice this month - both times feeding on impala. This male is a very handsome sub-adult and given another two years, he might prove a worthy adversary for Motawana.
A profusion of herbivorous animals are now gathered on the floodplains and one can easily see more than five different species grazing without even turning one's head. This is the main characteristic of our fantastic picnic site, the hippo hide area, where most animals come to drink. This area has a beautiful view over a meandering channel with an active hippo pool. Here we get to watch hippo at close range - both from a vehicle and on foot. We set our bush brunch by the hide next to the hippo pool and guests love to spend a few hours eating delicious fare while watching the ebb and flow of the beasts before them.
Guides: Cilas, Cisco, Tsile, Simon, Lebo and Malinga
Managers: Taps, Lizzy, Kago, Martha, Martin and Steve (head chef)
Xigera Camp update
- October 09 Jump
to Xigera Camp
October lived up to its reputation for being a very hot month with temperatures reaching 37º Celsius in the shade! The lowest was one morning of 15º Celsius after two cool days of rain totalling 26mm. The water level has dropped again this month.
Guests have enjoyed regular viewing of a tetchy bachelor herd of buffalo that inhabit an area along the route we take on the boat trip to Chief's Island. Teko Ketlogetswe sighted these big heavyweights recently, and one large bull with magnificent horns posed beautifully for the photographers on board, proving Robert Ruark's famous line "they look at you as if you owe them money." This same bull looked like he had either lost a tussle with another bull or met with some hungry lions, judging by the wound on his flank. He had some Yellow-billed Oxpeckers bothering him by continuously pecking at the wound. There is a debate raging as to whether the bird is aiding or harming the buffalo by doing this. It could either be cleaning the wound, or keeping it open, thereby enabling it to fester. The birds definitely help in other ways - by keeping the animals free of ticks, and by alerting the herd to the presence of danger with their shrill alarm calling.
Two male lion made a brief appearance near camp, roaring early in the morning at dawn. Brookes Kamanakao went out and after some expert tracking found the first male crossing our wooden vehicle bridge, the second male soon followed. The next day they were gone.
With the water levels so low, we have noticed large crocodiles ambushing the lechwe at shallow crossings. The huge crocodiles wait patiently as the antelope approach a small channel that can be even less than three feet deep. As the lechwe make their way through the water, or attempt to jump over the channel, the mighty crocs lunge into the air to grab one - and once they are caught in those steel jaws, it is impossible for them to escape.
Travelling by mokoro is the best way to see the interesting and beautiful smaller animals living in this unique ecosystem. The tiny painted reed frog can be seen sitting conspicuously on a lilypad, or hanging delicately to a reed stem. Gliding quietly along the channels one morning, our guide, Lemme Dintwa, came across a daintily patterned reed frog (pictured), posing long enough for a photo before leaping to the next pad. The underside of their foot pads are painted a bright red - a possible warning to would-be predators that their skin is poisonous and therefore not good to eat!
As usual, birding at Xigera Camp was a real highlight this month. We had a great sighting of the elusive Bat Hawk recently as it zoomed by the front of camp at dusk on the hunt for bats. Their aerobatics are thrilling to watch - black bodies a blur against the darkening sky as they dip and dive after their swift prey.
On the 22nd of October we saw our first Woodland Kingfisher: a sign that summer is truly here. He was shy and quiet, not calling his familiar call yet - but that will soon change, and the woodland of Xigera will echo with the descending song of these aquamarine beauties.
"Every day in itself was a highlight, from the boating trips to the birding, to the comfortable rooms, to the excellent food, to the attentiveness and friendliness of the staff." Anton & JJ
The Xigera team; Anton Wessels, Gabbi de Moor, Tendani van der Est, Matshelo Nkwe, Virgil Geach and the rest of the Xigera Team.
I would like to thank and congratulate my team on the work they put into Xigera this year. Being voted 20th place in Africa on the Condé Nast Traveler Rating 2009 speaks volumes and is recognition for the effort put in by every person here.
Chitabe Camp update
- October 09 Jump
to Chitabe Camp
Vumbura Plains Camp update
- October 09 Jump
to Vumbura Plains Camp
October is traditionally the hottest month of the year for us up here in the northern reaches of Botswana. It's a month where clouds are nonexistent and the clear blue skies radiate a dry African heat. Towards the end of October, the clouds start to build up, promising the first cooling rains, but then dissipate at the end of every day, disappointing the Delta's inhabitants and leaving them hoping that maybe the next day will bring that much-needed 'pula' (Setswana for rain). This year, however, it has been slightly different - our first rains fell in September and we had a couple of scattered showers in October. This made the average temperature much cooler than previous years - although still in the mid-30s every day. The few millimetres of rain we received were quickly soaked up by the dry Kalahari sand, leaving us all the more desperate for a good soaking.
October is also traditionally a month of great game viewing, and the Vumbura Concession definitely did not disappoint. Both of our lion prides have been active in the area. Both prides have two cubs each, so our guests have had every opportunity to witness firsthand the amazing bonds that the females have with each other and their offspring. It is such a special experience watching the cubs playing together - one just wants to pick them up and cuddle them. This would of course be about the worst thing you could ever do, considering just how protective a lioness is over her cubs!
The lion have been after the big buffalo herds frequenting the area, successfully killing a number of these formidable beasts. One evening whilst everyone was sipping on their sundowners the unmistakable sounds of the Kubu Pride chasing a herd of buffalo came drifting over Kaparota Lagoon. The chase resulted in a near miss, which was good for the buffalo, but bad for the lion.
We suspect that there may be even more new lion cubs in the area. We watched a lioness stalking a lechwe in the floodplain in front of Vumbura Plains one afternoon and noticed that she was lactating.
There have been numerous sightings of leopard through October, their beauty and grace always succeeding in wooing our guests. Our young male leopard seems healthy and is becoming increasingly habituated to vehicles. His mother, on the other hand, is not quite so comfortable with our presence and we often only get a mere glimpse of her before she slips away into the bush, leaving her son to soak up the limelight alone.
The wild dog have entertained us throughout the month. We had guests, who are repeat visitors to Botswana, get their first sighting of this endangered predator on our concession. Wild dog are always a cherished tick on the mammal checklist that all of us bush lovers carry in our hearts. Guests were really fortunate to witness a few kills - one particularly gory viewing of a kudu calf kill left some wondering if they would have perhaps preferred NOT to see the wild dog succeed....
The birds during these beginning months of summer are always amazing and plentiful. Southern Carmine Bee-eaters, one of the most special and stunning Delta birds, are common now. In front of camp we get to watch the wading birds such as Purple Herons, Goliath Herons and Saddle-billed Storks going about their business. We are also lucky to have a pair of Giant Eagle-Owls which roost in the big jackalberry trees around camp, their forlorn wails and hooting lulling us to sleep at night.
- "A fabulous end to our safari holiday. Tremendous variety of game/birds, wonderfully friendly staff and delicious food. Thank you all."
- "An amazing experience. First class service. We thank the entire staff for their efforts."
The managers and guides for the month were:
North Camp - Gordon and Tanya Karovsky and Phenyo Tlalenyane. Sebonta Thekiso, Onamile Lekgopho, Keraetswe Bosigo and Moronga Kandondi
South Camp - Zara Shaikh, Mpho Matomela, Mia Ives, Warren Baty and Cheri Marshall. Obonye Kamela , Lethebe Sethwara, Setsile Chikusi and Emang
We say a sad farewell to Gordon and Tanya as they depart this concession to head up the Mombo team. We wish them all the best and will miss them.
Little Vumbura Camp update
- October 09 Jump
to Little Vumbura Camp
The weather this October was far from normal. Relentless dry heat emanating from glaringly empty skies is usually the order of the day at this time of year, but October 2009 brought us a spattering of rain and many days with overcast conditions. We only had four very hot days at the beginning of the month, with average temperatures settling around mid 30º Celsius. The rains have brought forth the green of new leaf and grass which is a welcome sight for hungry eyes.
The game viewing this month has been phenomenal and has kept our visitors enthralled with this area. Elephant abound, with certain individuals keeping us on our toes on the island as they search for lush vegetation to eat.
General game has been abundant, and the first young tsessebe have been born - a clear sign that spring has sprung. These spindly-legged creatures may look like easy prey but they are the fastest antelope on earth and the calves are born to run. Even the cheetah needs to be pretty canny to hunt one down successfully. We had a few moments of breathtaking suspense as we watched a cheetah painstakingly stalking a herd of tsessebe with young. As dusk approached and the light faded in the cheetah's favour, we felt certain that a kill was imminent. But it was not to be: one wary mother caught sight of the cat as she inched her way forward and the herd quickly disappeared into the woodland.
There have been numerous sightings of the rare and spectacular sable antelope. During this year's flood sightings of sable became quite sporadic as they were cut off from our main game drive area by water, so it is fantastic to be able to see them regularly again.
We have had plenty of action from both lion prides present in this area. Each pride has two cubs at the moment, which gives the guests many opportunities to watch the interesting interaction between adults and the young. This interaction is a vital part of their skill development for hunting and ultimately surviving. The open floodplains, and wooded islands of the Vumbura Concession are a fantastic habitat in which to view these noble beasts.
The spotted cats, leopard and cheetah, have rewarded us with great sightings on a fairly regular basis this month. Wild dog have also been prevalent with excited guests being able to view them on fast-paced hunts across the concession.
The northern reaches of the Okavango Delta have once again woven their spell on all who have explored here. On leaving everyone promises to try to return to our piece of paradise and we believe we shall see many of them again. It is, without a doubt, a magical island surrounded by unspoiled beautiful wilderness that fills the heart and warms the soul.
This month's management team were Ross Dwyer and Kath Eybers, Adelaide and Max. We would like to welcome the new management couple, Alex and One Mazunga, to the team at Little Vumbura. We wish them every success and hope they have a wonderful experience here.
Duba Plains Camp update
- October 09 Jump
to Duba Plains Camp
Jacana Camp update
- October 09 Jump
to Jacana Camp
The early morning east wind carries with it a tide of Open-billed Storks and invites you to see the sunrise. The days are becoming longer with promises of splendour around every corner. The October days are warm and friendly, drawing the shadows and providing shelter from the midday sun. The skies are coloured like the lapis lazuli jewellery of an Egyptian pharaoh, mottled with pearly white egrets searching the waters for food.
Temperatures reach mid-thirties in the day and cool down to a comfortable compromise in the evenings, as the rolling thunder helps to settle the dust. Early in the morning Orion makes his appearance followed by his canine friend Sirius.
The sunset brings on the darkness quite rapidly, and with it the sounds of Africa... The unmistakable crack and pop of a wood fire, rustles in the undergrowth and in the distance a low melodious roar from a lion. Much closer, a spooked elephant bull trumpets as he breaks through the trees and then abruptly stops to listen for the impending threat.
With the water subsiding, the scatterings of hippo come together and make quite a show. Breeding males display with vigour just why they are the most dangerous of the African mammals.
Just as in years gone past, the summer influx of animals has arrived. The floodplains are filled with fawn-coloured red lechwe. Hundreds of antelope cover the grassy expanse, almost as far as the eye can see. Far on the other side of the plains, carefully camouflaged in a marula tree, the local female leopard lies draped over a branch like a blanket thrown off in the heat of a summer night - watching and waiting for her chance to strike. Soon she will have cubs again and more mouths to feed. Will she successfully mother another litter? Only time will tell.
The islands are lush again and the undergrowth recovered from the long winter. Dark shapes drift among the branches and feed as they move. Like grey ghosts the elephant move from island to island, never far away.The large bovine shapes of buffalo are also becoming more common as they arrive from all over to sample the sweet hippo grass.
The darkening of the sky resembles a swarm of locusts from afar, but under closer inspection the shapes reveal themselves to be a massed flock of Barn Swallows on their migratory path south, followed a few days later by huge numbers of Yellow-billed Kites.
Yellow-billed Storks and Wattled Crane grace the shallow waters in front of camp searching for snails and small fish. As the sun rises on another day in Botswana the distant call of a Pel's Fishing-Owl is rudely interrupted in the pre-dawn by an African Fish-Eagle proclaiming that this is his territory.
Once again we spend a wonderful time in Jacana! Gabi & Stefan - Germany
An excellent experience. Have to find time to come back next time we're crossing the continent. Duncan & Lisa - UK
Fabulous food - wonderful staff. Great place to stay! Annie & Biff - Pitssburgh, PA, USA
Pieter Ras, Danielle van den Berg and Joseph Basenyeng
update - October 09 Jump
to Kwetsani Camp
As expected, October lived up to its reputation as the hottest month of the year, with temperatures maxing out at 42°C - usually with a gentle breeze to cool things down a little. We were fortunate enough to have some early summer showers that brought welcome relief to the hot days. The beginning of the month produced a shower of 15mm of rain, and just when we thought the rains had disappeared we had another shower of 14mm.
Let's hope that the early summer rains are an indication that we are in for a good rainy season this year. We need the rain to rejuvenate the foliage on our island that has been heavily browsed by the plentiful herds of elephant throughout the winter.
The long hot summer days now begin at 5am. The rewards for the early morning wake-up are perfect morning temperatures, the smell of freshly brewed coffee and a breathtaking view of clear summer skies fringed with the brilliant orange of the sun still hidden well below the horizon.
The warm days and first rains have transformed the landscape, the fresh green leaves and fireball lilies are a treat after the drab winter foliage.
Despite their early appearance this year, the floodwaters lasted well into October allowing us to continue with trips to Hunda Island until the last week of the month. As always, this was a delight, with an abundance of zebra, wildebeest, giraffe and many other species interspersed with some wonderful leopard sightings and even a couple of sightings of the three cheetah. All of which made a wonderful safari experience for the guests.
Whilst our trips to the island have now come to an end, we are still exploring the channels by mokoro and visiting the hippo pools on the boats. We are also eagerly awaiting the return of the zebra and wildebeest herds to the floodplains in front of the camp, where they come to feast on the sweet green shoots of the summer grasses.
The Kwetsani lion pride has again been very active around camp and the surrounding floodplains. They have been seen almost daily this month. Perhaps the most wonderful moments were watching them mating, literally, a hundred metres from where we were enjoying our bush brunch under the trees on the fringe of the expansive northern floodplains. While at brunch, a herd of lechwe to the right was grouping to mob the two approaching lions. What an absolute treat this was for Mike and Leslie who were visiting with their sons and partners and their friends John and Claire.
We are ever hopeful that this union between Kgosi, the pride male, and Morenashadi, the lioness, is successful and that these cubs manage to survive the perilous conditions of this wilderness system that make it extremely difficult for predators to raise young to maturity. We had tremendous activity and loads of excitement earlier in the year when Morenashadi produced a litter; however the cubs all fell victim to competing predators leaving us bitterly disappointed. Let's hope Morenashadi is more successful with her next litter, which we predict might arrive in January.
The two lionesses and their two young cubs that were spotted in front of camp in September were seen briefly again this month but we suspect that they might have moved to a more remote island, due to the regular presence of the Kwetsani Pride in the area.
The warm summer nights are filled with the wonderful sounds of the African savannah and we have been woken, more often than not, to the sound of roaring lions this month. The large fruit bats also seem to be enjoying the early summer berries on the mangosteen trees. They fill the nights with their rhythmic metallic 'tinking' and their puppy-like yelps. After a night of foraging they settle down to roost in the canopy of the mangosteen trees that surround the camp, clearly exhausted. On occasion, if one is lucky, they can be observed flapping around during the day, looking for new roosting spots as the baboons disturb their much-needed sleep.
The summer migratory birds are also flocking in. It is super to see the Paradise Flycatchers, Broad-billed Rollers, Yellow-billed Kites and numerous other species. Each year, as we finally say goodbye to the winter, we wait in anticipation for the first call of the beautiful Woodland Kingfisher. On cue, the first one was heard and seen on the 31st, just in time to make the October news.
Coupled with the summer arrivals we have large flocks of Storks congregating around the fish traps that have been formed by the receding waters, which has been quite a spectacle.
Mike, Anne and all the Kwetsani staff
Guides: OB, Jonah, & OP
update - October 09 Jump
to Jao Camp
Weather and Water Levels
We can't believe that summer is already upon us - it seems like just a few days ago we were hugging hot water bottles, requesting knee blankets at the boma and wrapping ourselves in ponchos! The weather has been particularly warm over the past couple of weeks, giving guests the opportunity to relax in loungers by the pool, sipping a perfectly chilled glass of wine. We have also experienced our first cooling rains of the season, and we watch in amazement as the bush outfits itself in its summer attire.
In addition to warm days and balmy evenings, our daylight hours have increased which means we're waking up that little bit earlier to witness the transition from nocturnal to diurnal - a very special time under the African sky. There is, of course, also the added advantage of perhaps seeing some of the "Secret Seven" as they make their way home to bed.
The "Secret Seven" (with apologies to Enid Blyton) are those creatures that are very secretive and nocturnal, making them more difficult to locate than the "Big Five". They are: African civet, genet, porcupine, African wild cat, pangolin, aardvark and honey badger. (Aardvark, by the way, is the first word in the Oxford English Dictionary!) We had news that four of the "Secret Seven" were spotted on one drive at Hunda Island the other morning.
As the water recedes until next year, more land opens up, which allows our guests to experience Jao hospitality away from our usual "comfort zone". There is something very special about eating under the stars whilst the Jao guides, Cruise, David, KB and Cedric, regale all with African adventure stories that leave you open-mouthed with awe or rolling about laughing! With full bellies and aching cheeks, it's time to hop into your bush bed, or head back to the camp for a nightcap and a well-deserved sleep.
Just over a year ago two male elephants took a liking to an ancient baobab tree not too far from the camp. Since then we've been watching an epic skirmish between giants of the Delta. The elephants would regularly engage in a battle of wills with this tree, and for a while the outcome seemed undecided. Then, at the beginning of October the baobab lost the struggle. Although this landmark has succumbed somewhat, it is still rooted and we hope our newly-leaning baobab will still be with us for a long, long time.
The Jao staff have been quite active this month and have worked together to form a male a cappella choir that has been performing at our boma evenings, much to the delight of our guests. Philemon, one of Jao's fabulous chefs, sounds a lot like Barry White and he has a booming laugh to go with it, which puts a smile on everyone's face. In addition, Pondayi, who originally hails from Zimbabwe, has had everyone enthralled with his poetry recitations. Poems include "I Jumped through the Window", "My Shadow" and "My People's People". He even writes personal poems for special occasions and celebrations and maybe one day we'll have a Jao Poetry Book!
The real stars of Jao are, of course, all the wonderful two, four, six and eight-legged critters that inhabit our Island and the surrounding Delta. Recent sightings include greater kudu in front of camp (unusual for Jao), breeding herds of elephant (in camp), female lion and their cubs, female cheetah with 3 sub-adult cubs (on Hunda) and very large hippo and crocodiles in the channels.
Our ever-cute and engaging mongoose family pay an occasional visit to us in the office but are generally keeping themselves out of mischief. However, the other day, two of our housekeepers, Nelly and Maria, were none too pleased to find them sleeping under the cover on one of sala beds outside the room! Most of the adult females are pregnant and they had seized the opportunity of utilising a safe, warm, cosy sala to make their nest. They have since been asked to move to a more "mongoose-friendly" nesting place.
We are almost 100% sure that Jao's most elegant feline, Beauty the leopard, is pregnant. Guides and guests alike have commented on the roundness of her tummy, and she has been seen acting a little out of the ordinary and seems to be seeking a den/birth site for her impending arrivals. She is a well-loved and much-photographed supermodel, and we'll be keeping all informed if there are any developments on the family front.
It sometimes happens that the six- and eight-legged creatures are overlooked, some because they are very small and some because they are not very well-liked. However, all of these creatures are extremely important links in nature's "circle of life", and without them the bigger mammals would cease to exist. One of the most important insects in the Delta, and one of the lowest on the food chain, is the termite. They are a massive food source for carnivorous insects, birds, snakes, frogs, lizards and even mammals such as genets, civets, hyaenas and jackals. Moths, dragonflies, butterflies, mantids and a multitude of beetles also begin playing their important role at this time of the year. One of Jao's guests commented that they had a wonderful evening, comfortable and secure inside their room watching all the insects against the fly screens.
With the beginning of summer, many birds return to the Delta to breed after wintering in countries far north of the water paradise that houses them during the hot summer months. Bird enthusiasts have been thrilled to see Yellow-billed Kites (pictured), Lesser Jacanas, Red-headed Weavers and Paradise Flycatchers busy with their preparations for the busy upcoming months. Also seen was a Martial Eagle with a recently caught monitor lizard (pictured).
As usual, we have only the best guests visiting us at Jao! We have been thoroughly spoilt by the wonderful life stories, travel anecdotes, and hilarious situations that people experience in other parts of this planet. David and Jacky told us stories of their adventures in Patagonia, the Grohe family, and Charles in particular, had everyone rolling about with his wicked sense of humour and Stephen and Simone, who live in Shanghai, let us see communist China through their eyes. Thank you one and all - this is why we so enjoy our chosen profession!
- "Life changing! - Thank you!" Margaret and Marion, South Africa
"Wonderful entertainment. Thanks to all the staff. Unforgettable moment with the leopard and Cedric!" - Amanda and Kostia, Belgium
- "An original and exceptional experience for us - with comfort and service as well!" - Bonnie and Jeffrey, USA
- "The whole experience from friendly staff to magnificent architecture and décor, delectable food, stunning scenery... Fabulous massage... simply every aspect has been a highlight and we thank you! Lots of love and we hope to see you again!" - Michael and Benine, South Africa
- "Everything, the camp, the landscape, the animals, the service and of course Cedric as our guide! In only 2 days he showed us lion, leopard, buffalo and of course elephants. Always very friendly and funny, he took really good care of us! Great!" - Sebastian and Isabelle, Austria
Des and Kim Nel
Chris Barnard and Tara Salmons
Joanne Davies (Spa Therapist)
Kabo (a.k.a. KB)
We all look forward to a wonderful month ahead and send best Jao wishes to you wherever you are in the world!
Tubu Tree Camp
update - October 09 Jump
to Tubu Tree Camp
Weather and Landscape
October has been very warm with some spectacular thunderstorms. We also had the first rain of the season arriving with a deluge of 30mm, transforming the area from a parched wintry woodland to a green paradise. The temperature has occasionally soared to 38°C but the averages have been much more manageable, ranging between about 20°C and 32°C.
The water is receding and all the deep water crossings have dried up. The hippo are now congregating in the bigger lagoons which they have to share with crocodile. The water birds have been having a feast with all the pools drying up, creating fish traps. The dust has settled and the sandy roads leave lots of tracks to follow in the morning.
The fan (ivory) palms have flowered and the African Green-Pigeons are having a feast. Very soon the elephant will start shaking the palms and thereby give away their presence in the area.
This month marked the beginning of the warm season in the Okavango Delta. The days began with early wake-up calls and in exchange, some wonderful animal sightings. The big cats all came out to play with guests seeing leopard, lion and cheetah. There were also some African wild cat sightings. Michael and Barbara from the USA had the privilege of seeing no less than eight different leopards during their three-day stay, including one carrying a small cub! Ulrich and Peter from Germany were treated to a cheetah kill just outside the camp. A cheetah female killed an impala right next to their Land Rover and they got some great pictures. Then, towards the end of the month, we were thrilled to see four cheetah hunting zebra in front of camp.
The real highlight of this month wasn't one of the cats, as you'd expect, but something altogether much rarer. A pangolin was sighted late one afternoon to the great delight of both the guests and staff in camp. The southern African pangolin has been around for approximately 40 million years, continually adapting to new habitats. Sadly, it is now under threat from hunting - its scales are a prized commodity in eastern countries. Pangolin feed mostly on termites and ants, and their scales are used for protection. This was a very special sighting indeed.
Also of interest to guests was finding a flap-necked chameleon (pictured), a fascinating reptile we see fairly often.
- 'Chronological sequence: The very warm welcome. The cozy room (tent). The delicious cooking. The helpful service. The friendly staff. The well experienced guide, who did much more than his duty. Last but not least - the beautiful environment.' Peter and Ulrich (Switzerland)
- 'Saw leopard in a tree, cheetah, zebra, giraffe, blue wildebeest, elephant, impala, kudu and not forgetting the pangolin. Accommodation, food, service, everything was great.' Ramachandra and Jhansi (USA)
- 'Numerous leopard sightings. Having Shadrack as our personal guide. Monday night dinner with singing. Lunch in the hide. Getting to know the managers (Ivan & Ilze). All the game.' Barbara & Michael (USA)
Management: Iván Phillipson and Ilze v/d Vyver
Guides: Johnny and Shadrack
Kalahari Plains Camp
update - October 09 Jump
to Kalahari Plains Camp
It has been a hot October here in the Kalahari, with a few days of sporadic rain. As we watched the clouds disappear, having enjoyed the brief respite from the heat, the sun returned to scorch the earth once more. A small amount of rain has finally coaxed life into the landscape: most trees are verdant in their summer dress, and the grasses carpeting the Kalahari in green.
Game concentration has been centred around the Lekhubu area, throughout Letiahau and Piper's Pan. We are seeing huge herds of gemsbok and springbok together. This aggregation is probably due to the vegetation being more lush from a higher rainfall here than anywhere else in the Reserve.
It has been a little quiet with cats this month, especially cheetah. We have seen the Letiahau Pride (lions) for the first time in three months now and the juveniles seemed to be doing well and growing fast. The sub-adult male has already started developing his black mane which is great to see. The Lekhubu and Deception Prides have been sighted quite a few times this month as well.
Good news: the Deception Pride's big male is back and we have seen him with the females a lot.
Species we call the "Kalahari Specials", such as Cape fox, bat-eared fox and honey badger, have been seen on almost every game drive. Reptiles like Kalahari tent tortoise (pictured) are an exciting find for us.
The summer visitors that appeared last month have increased in number and guests are always entertained by watching them drink at the birdbath in camp. There is now a Gabar Goshawk that visits the camp daily, and we get to watch it trying to catch some of the smaller birds that are also attempting to quench their thirst. It's a dangerous business, taking a bath in the Kalahari...
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