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None this month.
Lake Malawi harbours incredible cichlid diversity
Location: Chintheche Inn, Lake Malawi, Malawi
Date: March 2010
Observer: Dana Allen
Photographer: Dana Allen
Lake Malawi, the third largest in Africa and one of the Great Lakes in East Africa's Rift Valley system, is home to incredible fish diversity within its placid depths. These languid tropical waters harbour more endemic fish species than any other lake in the world.
The most well known are probably the colourful cichlids, a large and diverse family. Numerous new species are discovered annually and many have still to be described - mostly due to their rapid evolution into a large number of closely related yet totally distinct species. This species radiation is at its peak within the large lakes of Africa, notably Tanganyika, Victoria and Malawi and - like Darwin's finches in the Galapago islands - has been used as an evolutionary yardstick and illustration. Lake Malawi contains more than 400 different cichlids, the majority of which have distributions restricted solely to this picturesque water body.
The central lakeshore region, where Chintheche Inn is scenically located, provides convenient access to observing these 'underwater jewels'. A nearby offshore island is the perfect locale to undertake a leisurely morning or afternoon snorkelling or diving activity in the clear, warm waters. The entire experience is akin to swimming in your own tropical aquarium surrounded by these fascinating fish, which the locals call mbuna.
Mombo's Moporota Pride takes on buffalo
Location: Mombo Camp, Okavango Delta, Botswana
Date: April 2010
Observer & Photographer: Doctor Malinga
The Moporota Pride, currently consisting of eight sub-adult lions, was seen taking down two buffalo for the first time in January 2010 in an epic battle that lasted for hours - only to lose their hard-fought kill in the end. They also sadly lost two of their own pride members in one of the confrontations, a young male and a female, both killed by the dominant male coalition known as the Western Boys.
In another recent sighting, guides Doctor and Moss came across the six remaining members of the Moporota Breakaway Pride as they ambushed one of the breeding herds of buffalo found in the Mombo Concession. This all happened not very far from the staff village at the back of Mombo Camp.
Picking out a female with a young calf, the lions attacked. The female buffalo defended her baby relentlessly, putting her own life in danger, to save that of her offspring. Finally, the rest of the herd returned, trying to help the mother and baby. Sadly, the buffalo herd could not defend the calf who succumbed, although the mother managed to escape.
Moments like these are sometimes hard for us to watch as the dramatic event unfolds in front of your eyes. Even though it is nature and the natural order of things out here in the African bush, it can still be quite emotional. The lions however, had a good meal, leaving nothing but a few scattered bones for the scavenging spotted hyaena.
Unusual Underwater Behaviour of Roan Antelope - Nyika
Location: Chelinda Camp, Nyika Plateau, Malawi
Date: April 2010
Observer: Dana Allen
Photographer: Dana Allen
Roan antelope are a specialist species that are highly selective feeders. For this exact reason the roan has never been an abundant species, even though their numbers are today greatly reduced due to poaching and habitat degradation. They are generally not seen in large numbers anywhere and in fact are declining in many parts of their former wide range as a result of increased competition from other antelope species that are not as selective when it comes to feeding, and a variety of other factors.
Two exceptions to this are the Busanga Plains in Zambia's Kafue National Park and of course the plateau of the Nyika National Park in northern Malawi. Roan thrive in both these habitats and are easily seen in large herds on the open grasslands.
We know how selective roan are in terms of the grass species that they feed on, but this selectiveness reached new heights as we watched a small herd feeding in the grassland on the edge of one of the dams in front of camp. As we watched, two of the cows in the herd actually waded into the water. We thought this was in order to gain better access to the grasses at the water's edge but as we continued to watch, one of the animals actually lowered its head and the bulk of its neck under the water until even the horns were almost completely submerged!
After a few seconds the cow emerged from the water and then jumped out onto the adjacent bank before wandering away with the herd. We imagine that she had been attempting to get at some underwater vegetation to eat - something that has been seen in species like bushpig - but it all remained a little unclear and the roan itself a little bedraggled after the event, looking rather forlorn with her long Eeyore-like ears.
The Leopards of Hunda Island
Location: Jao Concession, Okavango Delta, Botswana
Date: 30 April 2010
Observers: Justin Stevens, Jacky Collett, Johnny Mowanji, Kambango Sinimbo and Izzy Ntema
The leopard is regarded as the most elusive of all of Africa's large cat species and quite often hard to see on safari; an element of luck is involved in encountering this fascinating feline. In the Okavango Delta however we are blessed with frequent, admittedly at times irregular, sightings of these reclusive cats.
Hunda Island, poised within the Jao Concession and where Tubu Tree Camp is situated, is home to several leopards. This prompted the Tubu Tree managers and guides to embark on an informal study on the social interaction and territorial changes caused as the annual floodwaters rise and recede. As the flood this year looks particularly high it could produce some interesting trends due to reduced territory size etc.
Leopards can be uniquely identified by looking at their distinctive facial markings, such as their whisker spot pattern, forehead patterns and eye markings. Other useful methods used are noting notches or tears in their ears and other distinctive marks like scars.
From cubs to siblings, large males to dominant females - they can all be found here venturing around Tubu Tree Camp. Over the years we have witnessed sisters growing up together; young males growing into formidable adults and females fighting for their territories. Other unique and extraordinary sightings we have been privy to have been a large male leopard resting on the Tubu Hide (read more here); a leopard using the camp bird bath as his personal drinking spot; a young female stalking buffalo; the single male leopard observed charging the Tubu Threesome (Tubu's pride of male lions); a mother and two sub-adults sharing a kill and a leopard relaxing in a tree in front of Room 3. These have all been some phenomenal encounters!
Guests that have shared in these experiences also have often assisted us in sending photographic evidence and aided us to map their territories, and thereby confirm 11 individually identified leopards.
This informal study is only for the leopards observed around Hunda Island and has already resulted in the following confirmed identikits:
1. Moselesele female
2. Sicklebush male
3. Sicklebush female
4. Mopane Ridge Male
5. Beast (male)
6. Tubu Female
7. Cub (not yet named) Male
8. Cub (not yet named) Female
9. Boat Station Female
10. Keledi (female)
11. Kamanyana (female)
Another possible three leopards still need to be positively indentified.
Wild Dog Research Project
A comparison of wild dog behaviour and movement patterns between populations in the Okavango and Central Kalahari Game Reserve.
MSc Student: Bothilo Tshimologo
Supervisor: Dr. Casper Bonyongo (University of Botswana, HOORC)
Co-Supervisor: Dr. Richard Reading (Denver Zoological Foundation)
Collaborators: Kai Collins and Glyn Maude
Funding for this project has been generously provided by the Denver Zoological Foundation and the Wilderness Trust.
This project aims to build on past work done within the Okavango Delta as well as add to the body of knowledge being assembled by these groups without duplicating any efforts of data collection, hence the selection of areas with wild dog packs that had not yet been closely studied. This study aims to compare Wild Dog packsin the Okavango Delta site and the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR). It uses the same data collection methodology and time period of data collection in order to gain a better understanding of how wild dogs are able to survive the relatively harsh conditions in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve.
The MSc student, Bothilo Tshimologo, is conducting his fieldwork on packs of wild dogs based in the Delta and packs based in the CKGR and by the overall program analysing a wider comparative dataset. Information gained from the comparison of the species in the two very different habitat types as well as movement of the species across fence lines and into communal rangeland areas can be used in proactive conservation of this endangered species. Wild dogs in NG 22, NG15 and NG16 have not yet been studied, so the project decided to focus on packs in these areas and compare these to packs in the CKGR.
There is movement between packs in the northern Okavango (NG22) and Linyanti (NG15 and NG16) and both areas are fairly close to villages and communal rangeland areas. This is a major cause for concern as rabies can easily spread from domestic dog populations into free ranging wild dog populations.
A key conservation focus of this project is to determine pack movements and which villages they are coming into closest contact with. This will then enable a more efficient focus on a rabies and canine distemper vaccination program on domestic dogs in villages closest to these wild dog populations to attempt to minimise the risk that rabies will be transferred across to the wild dog packs in our areas.
Preliminary results have showed some surprising and alarming findings with packs moving very close to villages where domestic dogs occur. A recent outbreak of Rabies in Kasane showed at least 10 domestic dogs testing positive for rabies. A vaccination program was carried our immediately in Kasane, but not much work has yet been done regarding vaccination for rabies and canine distemper in outlying villages.
Preliminary data have also shown that the the pack in the Vumbura Concession comes within 10km of Eretsha and within 16km of Betsha. The initial movement maps of the LTC pack show the pack traversing along 83km of the Linyanti Fault line from Zibalinaja lagoon north east past Saile. The pack moved far beyond the suspected home range and coming within 17km of Parakurungu and 35km of Kachikau. This was an alarming discovery and efforts are now being put in place to arrange a domestic dog vaccination program in those specific villages initially.
The map above indicates movement patterns over the past 3 months for three of the study packs in the Okavango and Linyanti. The Red dots indicate the highest risk villages from which rabies could potentially spread into free ranging wild dog populations.
Banoka Bush Camp to open in August 2010
Safari Adventure Company is thrilled to announce its entry into Botswana's world-renowned Okavango Delta.
The Okavango is the cornerstone of every safari to Botswana with its waterways, floodplains, islands and woodlands offering access to staggering biodiversity in an untrammelled wilderness area with remarkably low density of tourists. We are proud to have won the tender for the strategically located Khwai Concession, for which we have exciting plans.
This enormous 180 000 hectare (445 000 acre) concession is comprised of a wide range of habitat types that ensure a diverse species composition and good year-round game viewing and activities such as day and night game drives, walks and mokoro trips. Floodplains, riverine woodland and channels along the well known Khwai River in the south contrast with mopane woodland, Kalahari apple-leaf savannah and fossil channel systems in the north. Each habitat type attracts its own suite of large characteristic mammals with lechwe and reedbuck common on the floodplains, buffalo, giraffe, impala and kudu present on the floodplain edge, and herds of elephant and zebra in the woodlands. Rarer species like roan antelope also occur as do the full complement of predators.
The planned Safari Adventure Company development, Banoka Bush Camp, will be located in a prime area on the southern floodplain and will consist of 10 tented units (including two family rooms) shaded by a stand of ebony and mangosteen trees. A series of platforms and hides are planned for the most productive waterholes and pans in the mopane woodland, which will enable our guests to sleep out overnight and experience this area from a different angle. The 24-bedded camp is scheduled to open in August 2010, which is peak game viewing time in Botswana.
Aside from the already-mentioned activities, a constructive engagement is planned with the nearby Khwai community which will allow our guests exposure to traditional rural culture and the opportunity to contribute to the interface between responsible ecotourism and adjacent rural communities.
Banoka Bush Camp will combine with Kalahari Plains Camp in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve to create an ideal Safari Adventure Company circuit, with the best of two very different ecosystems.
Doro !Nawas Conservancy and Wilderness Safaris reaffirm partnership
A recent meeting between Safari Adventure Company (a brand of Wilderness Safaris) and representatives of Doro !Nawas Conservancy reaffirmed the relationship between the ecotourism company and the community.
The meeting was the first since the Doro !Nawas Conservancy elected its new Chairman, Amingo Honneb. Honneb, a former principal at Welwitschia Junior Secondary School in Khorixas and holder of an Honours degree from UNISA, has been the Finance Manager for the Khorixas Town Council since 2008. One of Honneb's goals as Chairman of the Conservancy is to "promote community tourism as a means of protecting and conserving wildlife in the Doro !Nawas Conservancy."
This goal is very much in line with the relationship between the Conservancy and Safari Adventure Company/Wilderness Safaris, who signed a shareholders' agreement in 2009.
What began as a landlord/tenant relationship has evolved into one where the Conservancy not only receives a percentage of revenue from Doro Nawas Camp but is also an equity shareholder in the company. The venture is a pioneering project that is described by Lena Florry, Damaraland area manager for Wilderness Safaris, as "a very positive experience for the community ... [who] ... can see that Doro Nawas Camp and the partnership have created jobs and contributed to ongoing education and training. The long-term prospects for the community and the camp are very good."
This statement is echoed in the results of a recent survey in which 78% of Doro Nawas Camp employees expressed a belief that tourism helps to reduce poverty in the greater area of the conservancy.
The relationship between the Doro !Nawas Conservancy and Safari Adventure Company is also based on transparency, as evidenced in additional agreements that have been concluded between the two parties, including a management contract and sales and marketing agreement.
"As we move forward, the community continue to be involved in the decision-making process through representation on the Conservancy committee and by participating in general awareness meetings," stressed Honneb.
The original aims of the joint venture - to create a high-income, low-impact tourism camp for sustainable tourism; to train members of the local community in all aspects of tourism; to create immediate employment in a previously low-employment area; to uplift the local area financially and socially; and to allow local wildlife numbers to increase and stabilise - remain the guiding principles that guide Doro !Nawas Conservancy and Wilderness Safaris as they enter new agreements and forge a strong partnership for development in the region.
Safari Adventure Company is an independent division operating within the Wilderness Safaris Group.
Background information on Doro !Nawas Conservancy
Registered in December 1999, Doro !Nawas is now a well established community conservancy. Home to the Petrified Forest, the Conservancy is 407 300 hectares and represents some 500 community members. The Conservancy employs nine Community Game Guards, an Office Coordinator, two Conservancy Facilitators and one Secretary. Revenue from the Doro Nawas Camp and other Conservancy initiatives has allowed the Conservancy to reinvest in employment opportunities and other important community projects.
Background information on Wilderness Safaris Namibia
Wilderness Safaris is a conservation organisation and ecotourism company dedicated to responsible tourism in southern Africa. Focused on creating sustainable conservation-based economies, Wilderness Safaris strives to ensure the protection of Africa's spectacular natural heritage while at the same time, sharing the benefits of ecotourism with the people whose ancestral land is being visited. As long as these communities receive sustainable economic benefits that exceed alternative land uses, they have a powerful reason to commit to long-term conservation.
Recognising that conservation is as much about people as about the environment, the company has pursued important objectives through its Children in the Wilderness programme, as well as through the Wilderness Safaris Wildlife Trust. Wilderness Safaris firmly believes that its single most important achievement to date is to have built a sustainable business model that does not compromise environmental principles and which provides jobs, training, skills, careers, adjusted horizons and a realistic alternative to less sustainable development.
North Island Update - April 2010 Jump
to North Island
Once again the seasons begin to change, with the shifting south-east monsoon winds having already started to blow. This year the winds have arrived far sooner than expected and have made quite an appearance - the sea is changing from peaceful directionless ripples to large surging swells overnight.
The ocean conditions have, however, been beautifully calm for most of the month, with the ensuing south-east monsoon winds only managing to disturb the last week or so. In the past the south-east monsoon winds have often provided us with a sneak preview of what to expect but have usually relented soon afterwards and allowed the sea to return once more to the serene waterscape we have been accustomed to for a further several weeks - however, this year we have not been so lucky and the monsoon winds have remained.
With the arrival of the seasonal winds and rolling swells, come the shifting sands - once again beginning their annual migration from in front of the restaurant to the lower reaches of Grand Paloss. Already there is a beautifully soft white beach forming below the lower deck of Villa 11.
Despite the winds, the diving has been fantastic. The visibility has seldom been less than 20 metres, with most days in excess of 35. The swell and rough seas have not yet prevented us from travelling to the less-frequented reefs around the south of Silhouette Island, which bear the full brunt of the wave action and can be extremely rough indeed. While the surface can resemble a boiling cauldron, the conditions underwater have been excellent - the visibility has exceeded 40 metres on some days and the sightings here have been extremely successful - always a very exciting dive. The manta rays were spotted on this location last month and whilst we have not spotted them since, it has not been because we were not trying - perhaps we will see them again next month.
Twin Anchors has been a favourite site this month, primarily due to the presence of the bumphead parrotfish which have been resident here for most of the month. These prehistoric looking fish traditionally move from reef to reef and have not generally been spotted in the same location for extended periods. This school has remained here for some time which has provided great viewing for divers and snorkelers alike.
There have also been several different sightings of green turtles on the northern reaches of Sprat City. Towards the end of the month there were several sightings of a particularly large green turtle on Sprat City itself. This individual was first spotted in a small cave in the north of the reef and has since been spotted in several other locations around the reef. No tags have been seen on this individual. It is interesting to note that large green turtles, possibly the same animals, have often been noted this time of year on Sprat City. There is, as yet, no direct correlation that can be found between these sightings and any green turtle nests laid around the west beach bar area.
Another especially interesting sighting this month has been that of one particular shark remora (Echeneis naucrates) which has taken to 'sticking' onto divers on Sprat City. The spiny part of the dorsal fin of this fish is modified into a flat oval sucking plate which is composed of a double series of cartilaginous cross-plates with serrated free edges - with this they are able to 'stick' to their hosts for literally thousands of kilometres, catching a free ride. Initially we were more interested to try to find where the host of this little remora might be hiding, perhaps a large hammerhead shark or something equally exciting, until we realised there were to be no exciting discoveries apart from the one the little remora had made - we were the hosts. The remora has taken to trying to stick to any diver that swims slowly enough to allow him to find an appropriate spot - what is appropriate for him is not always convenient for us! Some guests are (as you can imagine) somewhat perturbed by this little free-loader who cannot be persuaded otherwise. The remora seems to have a special knack for finding divers and has even been spotted well off the reef at 30 metres while we conduct deep diver training here, usually following us back to Sprat City all the while trying to find a good spot to hang on to.
Updating the recent coral bleaching Alert as of February/March this year, we have been keeping a close watch on the corals on various different reefs. As mentioned, selected corals are expected to show mild signs of bleaching by the end of the summer season due to the increase of water temperature during the summer however with an added increase of only 1°C above the summer maximum, wide-scale bleaching is expected with certain coral species.
Coral Gardens, as mentioned last month, has shown the most significant bleaching with wide scale bleaching of most of the clustered finger coral species as well as the horned coral species. There are different levels of bleaching, some of which the corals can recover from. Within the next month we will be able to accurately be able to ascertain which corals have in fact died and which are likely to recover, partly or wholly.
The reefs on the east side of Silhouette (up against the granite rocks) have also shown wide scale bleaching, but mostly of the branching coral species (Acropora) which is a little more alarming as some of these corals are very well established and were in a very healthy state prior to this summer season.
Similarly Twin Anchors has also shown bleaching of the branching corals but to much less extent. Various horned corals have also shown signs of bleaching but not to the extent recorded on Coral Gardens.
Interestingly, Sprat City, consisting primarily of daisy and lettuce coral species, has shown almost no bleaching at all. There was limited bleaching here during the wide scale bleaching episodes of 1998 which devastated many of the Seychelles reefs and yet again this reef survived almost intact. We will continue to keep a close watch on our reefs in order to keep track of any further developments.
Kings Pool Camp update - April 2010 Jump
to Kings Pool Camp
Weather and Landscape
The rainy season has extended itself into April, which is normally fairly dry. The first two weeks were dominated by heavy showers and spectacular thunderstorms, but the sun eventually 'came out and dried up all the rain'. We have had the odd shower here and there since then - but nothing dramatic.
Temperatures have been quite hot during the day, cooling down nicely in the evenings. We are slowly starting to prepare for winter, as temperatures start dropping in May. It's almost time to get those woollies out.
General game viewing has been spectacular this month. The zebra are returning from their annual migration and have started lining up along the Linyanti River front. Warthog are often seen in and around camp as they forage for the best bits. Giraffe can be seen browsing on succulent leaves in the riverine woodland and herds of kudu dissolve into the thick mopani woodland while red lechwe frolic in the shallow waters of the Linyanti floodplains.
The LTC Pride, consisting now of only two females, has frequently been seen at Kings Pool. The young male who used to accompany them has split away and is now roaming around the Savute Channel and Selinda. One of these females was observed killing a huge kudu bull on her own - an incredible sighting which showed just how brutal and powerful Mother Nature can be. The kudu bull fought long and hard but after a struggle that lasted over an hour, he was overcome by fatigue and the lioness gave the coup de grâce.
The two dominant males that patrol the area around Kings Pool have been seen on many occasions and their roaring echoes through the night, keeping us all wondering how close they are to camp. One of the males has been mating with one of the LTC females, and we are hoping that this will produce some offspring in the near future.
Elephant were seen often this month, with numbers not dwindling like in previous rainy seasons. The resident bulls are constantly ambling though camp, feeding on the vegetation, giving us superb close up views - see picture on left. In the afternoon we often see big herds crossing the Linyanti River into Namibia. The mopane woodland also still holds vast amounts of elephant as the pans are still full of water and the mopane trees are a major source of food for the jumbos.
Leopard sightings have been very good this month. We have been seeing an adult female that we are very familiar with - we saw her with three impala kills this month, which proves how successful she is. One of these kills turned into a confrontation when a large hyaena challenged her for the meal. She fought hard, but the strength and courage of the hyaena was too much, and she eventually gave up her dinner.
We have seen four other individuals during April, and they all seem to be very successful, with plenty of prey to hunt. It is always a treat to spot one of these elusive cats in the wild and we enjoy every second we get to spend with them.
We have seen wild dog twice this month. These energetic canines have huge territories and they are permanently on the move, only settling down during the denning season which is coming up very soon - so watch this space. Wild dog are most active during dusk and dawn, spending the heat of the day sleeping in the shade. Despite their low numbers, they are the most successful of any predator in Africa and usually kill twice a day, if not more.
The birdlife here in the Linyanti is staggering. This is due to four habitats blending into one - we have wetlands, riparian woodlands, grasslands and mopane forest.
We have been seeing three Wattled Cranes, which are critically endangered, around our sunken hide. It's a treat to be able to view these rare creatures as it is estimated that there are only 7 000 left worldwide.
The raptors are always plentiful around Kings Pool - Fish Eagle, Bateleur, Tawny Eagles, Wahlberg's Eagle and Hawk Eagles are seen most often.
Management: Nick Leuenberger (also the photographer responsible for the amazing photos accompanying this newsletter), Kerry Croll, Karen Jensen, Frank Matomela and Ben Gouws.
Guides: Moses Teko, Kahn Gouwe and Diye Kennetseng.
DumaTau Camp update - April 2010 Jump
to DumaTau Camp
Savuti Camp update - April 2010 Jump
to Savuti Camp
Weather and Landscape
The days have been hot this month, but we can feel winter's slow arrival in the air as we huddle around the fire at dawn. We have had unusually late rains leaving the seasonal pans full and the bush green and lush. Water is still in the channel, which continues to rise. Watching the sun rise over water lilies and sedges we find it more difficult to recall this camp's drier days.
While the elephant have their pick of numerous pans full of water, they continue to visit us in camp and many guests have returned from drives exhilarated from their encounters with these massive inhabitants. We often see them coming down to the Savute Channel, where they bathe and frolic in the water.
April is the month of the impala rut. It is at this time that the males separate from the females and begin establishing territories. They will chase out all other intruding males and concentrate on gathering females. The excitement is palpable as they rush to attract mates, letting out loud roaring sounds and splaying their white-tipped tails in display. These distracted bachelors are vulnerable to attack by predators, and those that survive this season will be weak, sporting gashes on their necks that are the scars of fierce battles with their competitors.
Zebra and wildebeest are beginning to return from the Savute Marsh and the Makgadikgadi area. Giraffe, kudu, impala and other browsers and grazers are still fixtures here; there is plenty to lure predators who should be seen more frequently as the grass and leaves fall away.
Guests have enjoyed numerous predator sightings this month. The DumaTau male leopard nearly lost his warthog kill to a hyaena close to camp. While carrying his bounty up a tree, still alive and trapped in his jaws, he was surprised by a hyaena bite on his backside. The warthog made a quick escape back to its burrow, but was met by the determined cat soon after, who finally succeeded in transporting his kill a safe distance from the hyaena. We have also been seeing an unknown, but very relaxed, female leopard in the riparian woodland near the Linyanti River.
The young male Mantshwe Boy cheetahs seem to be favouring the area near the Chobe airstrip, where the grass is short and they can pursue prey more easily.
Silver Eye, the lion, continues to reign supreme, and is moving with his brother towards the Linyanti River. A lioness from the northeast stalked two male kudu near Livingstone Hide who were too busy fighting to notice her presence, and guests were privy to the ensuing kill.
The wild dog are still in the concession and we have watched them running and chasing impala on a few occasions. With only 3 000 - 5 000 of these incredible creatures remaining in the African wild, we are privileged to have the opportunity to spend time with the Linyanti's resident packs.
Most of the migratory birds have now left us; the last to depart were the Woodland Kingfishers and the Southern Openbill Storks. We are still seeing fairly good concentrations of eagles and other raptors, particularly along the Savute Channel, and we have even been lucky enough to see an Osprey on a few occasions. We have become accustomed to the daily fishing attempts of a pair of resident Fish Eagles nesting in front of camp. Their presence here is only one reminder of this water's permanence, at least for now.
Warren Baty, Cheri Marshall and Sean Matthewson
Zarafa Camp update - April 2010 Jump
to Zarafa Camp
Selinda Camp update - April 2010 Jump
to Selinda Camp
Camps Update - April 2010
Lagoon camp Jump
• The northern Kwando region has been home large numbers of zebra, giraffe, tsessebe and wildebeest which have been attracted by the excellent grazing resulting from the seemingly never ending rains.
• The relative absence of lions this month as they follow the buffalo herds means that Wild dog and leopards have been a regular sighting, including a large male found in a tree guarding his impala kill. The buffalo sightings remain sporadic due to the excessive water and grazing found in the mopane forests though guides have spotted small herds on several occasions.
• An additional and unusual sighting made this month was the regular sighting of large herds of Livingstone's eland. This is the largest member of the antelope family and is extremely shy, generally residing in dense forests. Sightings are therefore very unusual and often fleeting.
Kwara & Little Kwara camps Jump
& Little Kwara camps
• The Kwara concession continues to disprove that the commonly held view that the rainy season is not a good time of year to see game. Consistent quality game viewing in February and March continued in April with regular sightings of lion, cheetah, wild dog, leopard, hyena, honey badger and elephant. Of course there was also the usual lechwe, reedbuck, giraffe, zebra, tsessebe, wildebeest, warthog kudu, impala, hippo, crocodile, jackals, cobras, pythons, ostrich, ground hornbills and wattled crane to name but a few!
• Significant sightings included a lion pride chasing a male leopard up a tree and an incredible confrontation between two pack of wild dog, in which the heavily pregnant alpha female was targeted and almost killed. She was last seen with serious wounds and the guides are unsure whether she survived or not.
Lebala camp Jump
• The above average number of zebra, giraffe and wildebeest in the region has led to an increase in the number of predators hunting a wide variety of game species.
• A mating pair of lion were found on giraffe kills on two separate occasions while several other male lions have been sighted this month stalking wildebeest.
• Several leopards were also followed on drives both during day and night drives as they stalked warthog and impala.
• The three cheetah brothers, not to be out done, were observed hunting wildebeest, while the three separate packs of wild dog were sighted hunting regularly and kills were made on lechwe and two kudu.
• Further sightings of an eland herd, of approximately 20 animals, has also been spotted on more than one occasion. These sightings bode well for the eland population which is notoriously difficult to estimate due to their shy nature and the remoteness of their habitat.
• The seemingly never ending rainy season has some positives apart from muddy roads! The zebra have remained in their hundreds along with large herds of gemsbok, wildebeest. The ready supply of drinking water and abundant grazing means they are under no pressure to return to the Makgadikgadi. The many hundreds of zebra and various antelope species mean rich pickings for the many predators which inhabit the open pans.
• A lion pride of a male, two females and two cubs has been sighted regularly along with a group of four lionesses on a zebra kill.
• Cheetah have also been sighted on kills including a female with a young cub which was spotted regularly.
• The spectacle of the waterhole in front of camp becomes ever more impressive with up to 30 elephant bulls drinking and covering themselves in cooling mud. They are surrounded by herds of gemsbok, zebra and wildebeest all vying for a space to drink. The view from each room's deck is simply awesome!
• The late rains meant that Tau Pan is still the hive of activity with large herds of gemsbok, wildebeest and springbok, as well as honey badgers, jackals and giraffe all being seen regularly. The resident Tau Pan pride have also been seen often especially the two brothers and two females seen hunting on the pan itself.
• Elsewhere on the popular day drive activities the other pans and fossil river beds have been providing excellent sightings as large herds are attracted to the sweet grasses. As well as the wide variety off general game, including a herd of over 30 eland, there have been impressive predator sightings. At Phokoje Pan guests have seen a female cheetah accompanied by a young cub and sub adult female on a springbok kill. A pride of seven lion are seen often at Phuku Pan, while San Pan has provided sightings of a small family group of six lion including 3 young cubs, as well as two adult female cheetah with a cub. 11 different lion have been seen within Deception Valley and two male cheetah were spotted feeding on a gemsbok kill in the Passarge Valley.
• The most unusual of sightings for the month and especially for the Kalahari was the arrival of a troop of baboon on Tau Pan! The troop spent two days foraging on the pan and then moved away. The presence of such animals so far from their recognised habitat is most likely due to the high rainfall this year. The abundance of surface water has allowed these water dependant animals to roam far into the central Kalahari.
Mombo Camp update
- April 2010 Jump
to Mombo Camp
Weather and Landscape
Lots of rain fell at Mombo during April, which is a little unusual for this time of the year. We were hit by two spectacular storms towards the end of the month, both during the night, when we could all watch the amazing lightning show whilst tucked away safely in our beds. The second storm, and subsequent rain through the night, left what looked like a massive lake in front of camp. The water level on the floodplain, which had already risen due to the annual flood, came up a few centimetres overnight and left an amazing expanse of water in front of us. There was an expanse of water on the airstrip too, with, can you believe it, some White-faced Ducks swimming in it.
This extra water has pushed onto floodplains and areas of our concession that have never, in living memory, had water before - a most spectacular sight. This water coupled with the next push of floodwater coming down the Okavango River is set to create one of the most epic floods in the Delta in recorded history - what a privilege to be here to experience this!
All this rain and water has not put a damper on our game, although the guides have certainly been having an adventurous time tracking them with all of the flooded roads in the concession. This has led to them sometimes getting stuck, although with the skills learnt whilst guiding in a wet area like the Okavango Delta, they can usually get themselves out with some clever tactics and a bit of hard work.
Our two resident lion prides, the Maporota and Matatha Prides, have been seen regularly throughout April. We have also been getting some great sightings of another pride that visits these parts, the Western Pride. The Western Pride has a most unusual and special member - a female with a mane! She looks remarkably like a young male lion with an underdeveloped mane, although the size of her head and other obvious tell-tale parts give her away as a female. This must be a genetic abnormality, and she must be a descendent of Martina, a famous maned female of the Mombo area who roamed these parts a few years ago. A new male has also been seen with this pride, a very big lion in very good condition.
Legadima's babies have been seen throughout the month as well. The sad news is that from the initial three leopard cubs, there are now only two. It seems that one has died. We do not know how or when, but it is a tough and difficult environment for a leopard cub to survive in. The two healthy cubs, however, are full of life, and have been seen playing together and with mum.
Our lone wild dog has made the airstrip her home, and has been seen lying next to the windsock pole whilst planes take off and land not 20m away from her. She does not even look up from her slumber as the plane roars past. Her jackal acolytes, however, create more of a problem, and the guides have to try and chase them off the strip before any planes come land or take off.
With all the water around camp, we have way more aquatic visitors now. A young hippo often walks past our front deck at dinner time. It is amazing to see one of these huge, lumbering beasts out of the water. The usual array of aquatic birds is also ever beautiful in front of camp.
With the second push of water into the Delta just a few weeks away, we all wait in anticipation for one of the biggest floods any of us will ever see. What an amazing and dynamic area we live in! For your sake I hope you've already booked your trip to Botswana - if not, hurry up!
Little Mombo Guide: Cisco
Mombo Managers: Gordon, Tanya, Martha and Max
Little Mombo Manager: Nat
Mombo Guides: Doctor Malinga, Moss, Simon and Pete
Xigera Camp update
- April 2010 Jump
to Xigera Camp
Chitabe Camp update
- April 2010 Jump
to Chitabe Camp
Weather and Landscape
The month of April has been a bit wetter than normal, and as a consequence, the rainwater has combined with the early floodwaters to elevate the water levels in the Chitabe Concession to some of the highest we have seen in the last 10 to 12 years. For the first time in decades some of our usually dry floodplains are getting saturated with water. This will change the habitat for years to come as dry plant species, such as sage, which had intruded into the floodplains, will die off and give way to new palatable grasses, which in turn will entice many more of the plains game species to the area.
General game is concentrated at the moment, and game drives are wonderfully productive with a constant array of impala, wildebeest, zebra, giraffe and kudu. The warthog are fat and happy with the abundance of food, and some of the big males have gotten so large that we have labelled them "little rhinos".
We've been privileged to have the wild dog around on a regular basis and one of their favourite hangouts is in an area that we call "Robin's Floodplains". This is a lovely open area with a variety of natural pans, which are all full of water currently. It was here on a beautiful summery afternoon that we found the Chitabe Pack. They were all lying about in various smaller groups. As if on a timer, one young dog suddenly got up and started making some twittering noises and approached another dog with its head down and what appeared to be a big smile on its face. This was the start of the "greeting" and within a minute the whole pack was up and about, all greeting and playing with one another. It is truly such a treat to see this level of interaction. At 20 dogs, the Chitabe Pack is now the largest pack in all of Botswana and it is impressive that so many of the puppies have survived. We did have one rather upsetting incident where the dogs had an altercation with a group of lion and one of the pups was seriously injured. It appears that the pup died as it has not been spotted since.
We welcome a new addition to the leopard population of Chitabe. The Kgaruru Female, who has become quite familiar to us, has been seen with a cub. When the guides first spotted her she was fighting off another female, whom we had not yet identified. The fight continued on and off for days until the Kgaruru Female emerged victorious. It was after all these battles that we realised she was defending a little cub of less than a few weeks old. Since then, we have been fortunate to see the tiny cub on a couple of occasions, with mum always keeping a close watchful eye. On one particular drive, the guests were watching the female leopard take down a baboon, which she then nimbly hoisted into a tree for safekeeping. It was only afterwards, when she came back down and started wandering through the underbrush, that this beautifully painted little face peeked out from its hiding spot, and all the guests caught a magical glimpse. We have no doubt that we will be getting a lot more sightings of our new little "prince".
The hyaena den is full of activity once again and seems to have become quite the popular spot as some rather brazen warthog decided that they wanted to take occupation rather urgently. A bit of a game developed between the hyaena clan's alpha female and the warthog. Not surprisingly, the hyaena retained their den, and the warthog ran off, tails in the air, to find another spot.
The waterlogged roads have made game drives somewhat more adventurous than normal. However, the rain seems to slowly be coming to an end and the nip of winter is in the air. After its annual scheduled closure, Chitabe Lediba is open once again and for the month of April, Alice is hosting. Kenny and Saardia will be the Lediba managers for the month of May.
At Chitabe main camp in April, we have had Dawson, Shaa, Tiny, and Lieana with Trevor returning from leave towards the end of the month.
From all of us at Chitabe - take care and we hope to see you soon.
Vumbura Plains Camp update
- April 2010 Jump
to Vumbura Plains Camp
Little Vumbura Camp update
- April 2010 Jump
to Little Vumbura Camp
Weather and Landscape
April has been a great month here at Little Vumbura, with some good rains almost every day, which is a great way to end the rainy season. On one day we had 80mm of rain which is unusual for this time of the year. The sunrises and sunsets have been amazing thanks to rising water levels and the reflections they offer. The Delta water is flowing quite fast at the moment and we are waiting to see how high the flood will be this year. We are already having some great tiger fishing trips with our guests.
Although we have had a lot of rain this month we still had amazing game sightings. We had some great sightings of more elusive creatures like side-striped jackal, honey badger, and large spotted genet. One of our guides saw three sitatunga together, grazing in shallow water. This was a truly fantastic sighting because this particular antelope is very rare, endangered and shy. We also saw big herds of elephant, zebra, giraffe, sable and a 200-strong herd of buffalo.
Predators were like grass this month - they were all over the place, and we had unbelievable sightings. Guests saw lion on almost every game drive. They also experienced excellent wild dog sightings, when we saw the resident pack of ten twice in a week successfully hunting.
Leopard sightings were also very good. Our resident female, Selonyana, is still around with her cub and they are both doing very well. On one game drive guests saw her hunting and kill an impala, which she took up a tree to avoid competition with other predators. This all happened right in front of the guests, which was pretty amazing for them to see.
Our resident male cheetah proved again this month that he is a superstar. One morning guests saw him chase some impala and make a kill. Spectacular! Unfortunately for him there were some hyaena not too far away, who heard the impala snorting and came running to investigate. As soon as they saw the kill they stole it, so the poor cheetah had to look elsewhere for his breakfast.
As a great finish to a great month, we hosted the Soccer in the Wilderness Finals. After a good, nail-biting game, our team was victorious! We won the tournament. Let's hope that home-ground advantage helps South Africa win in the upcoming World Cup.
Guests who were keen birders had a good time at Little Vumbura this month - the bird life was magnificent.
Management: One and Alex Mazunga, Adelaide Stanley
Guides: Kay Bosigo, Rain Robson and Sevara Katsotso
Photos: Alex Mazunga
Wishing you all the best out there, enjoy every moment and try to stay positive, until we meet again, take care!
Duba Plains Camp update
- April 2010 Jump
to Duba Plains Camp
Jacana Camp update
- April 2010 Jump
to Jacana Camp
Weather and Landscape
The last month has been a little unsettled, weather-wise - warm, sunny days and more temperate evenings, broken by the odd rain shower. It would be foolish to assume that the rainy season is over, as we have been blessed with 230mm of late rain this month, and there could be more on the way. The long, hot days are giving way to a soothing autumn, marked by the light easterly wind that we know so well here at Jacana Camp. May marks the month where Scorpius, in his full stellar glory, joins the Southern Cross in the clear cloudless night sky, making the star gazing from our viewing deck that much more spectacular. And to top it all off we were lucky to have a cloudless night for the full moon that closed out this month for us. The floodwaters are still steadily pulsing through the channels, rising and falling, keeping the ecosystem alive with wonder.
The rise in water levels has not adversely affected the camp, instead it has allowed for the most amazing views, doubled in reflections! The recent rains have left behind lush green trees and shrubs which provide ideal cover for the local monkeys who ambush your dinner plate or anything that looks tasty. The young monkeys are now becoming young adults and provide guests with hours of entertainment as they swing from trees to tents.
April is arguably one of the greatest months for game viewing, and this year was no disappointment - the month started off with a bang! Two new leopard graced us with their mating rituals, audibly enhancing the night sounds with that hoarse rasping call that carries for miles. The two leopard, a small female and large dark male, were spotted on a regular basis and we're hoping to see cubs resulting from that explosive affair in the months to come.
The Jao lion pride has been anything but shy, entertaining us with their now five month old male cubs. These cubs have illustrated that good genes will take you far - they've been spotted regularly swimming in deep water, something that is unique to lion of the Okavango Delta, and specifically the Jao Concession. The older of the females was spotted one morning walking next to the road in the short grass with all four of her offspring happily swimming in the road with tails wagging, and none the worse for wear. Since the cubs switched their diet from milk to meat they have been growing at an alarming rate. Sadly the younger female lost her whole litter of cubs, who succumbed to the unrelenting challenges posed by this wilderness. It is not uncommon for first-time mothers to lose a litter to the elements - we're sure she'll have more success with her next litter.
With the seasons slowly changing and the easterly wind the abundant elephant are changing their patterns and we are having more regular visits from these grey giants. Soon the palm nuts will ripen and we'll have elephant shaking palm trees all over the island.
The rise in water levels here at Jacana and the surrounding area brings other large animals, such as hippo, much closer to camp. It is not uncommon to see these amphibious mammals on an afternoon or morning boat ride. Hearing them splashing around your tent always makes for good breakfast table talk.
Special sightings of the aquatic antelope sitatunga and the rare Pel's Fishing-Owl are always something to look forward to - and here at Jacana you can spot them from both mekoro and our bigger boats.
Have a look at the picture (above left) of a juvenile African Jacana - the bird after whom we are named. They have incredibly big feet - as you can see - which they do eventually grow into!
We have had many great guests this month from all corners of the earth and all walks of life. Thanks and we hope to see you again soon!
"It was a really great experience! Thank you so much!" - Thomas, Susan, Sarah and Karin
"This was the best. Thank you so much, Pieter, Joseph, Danielle and everyone else! Mahalo (Thank you)" - John and Victoria
"Ha sido muy divertido. Una gran experiencia. Ojala podavus volves. Muchos gracias!" - Victoria and Luis
Managers: Pieter Ras and Danielle van den Berg
Guides: Joseph Basenyeng and Florance Kagiso
update - April 2010 Jump
to Kwetsani Camp
Our weather patterns stabilised at the beginning of the month, and we continued to have a few thundershowers in the late afternoons and evenings. On the 25th of April we had a tremendous storm late one evening, which lasted until morning and deposited 60mm (2.5 inches) of rain. This pushed our water levels up quite considerably, and we're expecting more water as the annual flood trickles down to us. We had more rain in April than we usually have at this time of year.
We reopened Kwetsani on the 1st of April after being closed for annual maintenance in March. The weather played a bit of an April Fool's joke on us as we had 54mm of rain in two hours on the 1st, from a storm that went on to Maun and caused quite a few disruptions with flights and new guests arriving. With the water rising our little island has become smaller, which means we have had to get inventive about finding outside dining areas, as the usual ones are submerged. Our boat jetty is also currently submerged, and the pan area has been joined to the main Delta by a small stream.
Our wildlife has returned in full force now that the maintenance teams have left and the area around camp is once again serene. The breeding herd of elephant was here to greet us on the day we reopened and the resident troops of baboons and monkeys took great joy in resuming their thieving from the breakfast buffet.
We had the two female lion with their four older cubs on the island for four days, and then a female and male mating in camp for two days and roaring continuously. The two females and their cubs walked right past our pool area, and the mating pair! The mating female seemed to have abandoned her remaining cub after the guides noticed that one cub was missing. The remaining cub was sighted regularly on its own - in the open without its mother and, sadly, on the 30th we found its little body.
We have had a number of breeding elephant bulls, either alone or in groups of up to four individuals. In the last days of April, four lone bulls uprooted a strangler fig near the main camp area and proceeded to consume most of the tree. They did not only eat the leaves but broke off most of the small branches and ate all the bark of these. The elephant really took a liking to the tree and stripped most of the bark off the larger branches and the trunk. On the evening of the 29th a breeding herd was also sighted around the fig enjoying the fruits of the bulls' labour.
The family of reedbuck is still near the camp and seem to feel secure in the camp surrounds. We were fortunate to see our resident leopard one evening, near camp and we have also seen two hyaena on the floodplain in front of camp.
Our Burchell's Starlings have successfully raised their chicks, which have now flown the nest. We have also seen a Green Wood-Hoopoe (which used to be called Red-billed Wood-Hoopoe) that has made a nest in a dead tree near Tent #4 and seems to be in the process of breeding.
Our vlei area on the southern side of the island has increased and we now have a large variety of birds that have taken up residence, such as Saddle-billed Storks, Egyptian Geese, White-faced Ducks and Spur-winged Geese.
"Lion and four cubs seen on Jao Island. Outside shower. Great views and atmosphere. Nice chats with OB, a very dedicated and competent guide." - Paolo and Corrine, South Africa
"'Our' elephant around our tent every day. Leopard, lioness, buck and all the other beautiful birds. In fact, everything was excellent. Staff couldn't have been kinder and more efficient!" - Jim and Norma, South Africa
"We will be recommending Kwetsani to all of our family and friends who are thinking of travelling to Africa. The combination of setting, accommodation, the warm welcome and attention from the staff has created a world-class destination. The stay has been the highlight of our trip. Special mentions to OB and the catering team. Also loved the mokoro trips!" - John and Janet, UK
"We appreciated the small camp feel and the friendliness of all the staff. Kenny, our guide, proved to be very knowledgeable and used his skill to make the best of the opportunities. Whatever questions we had, he helped with information on not only animals and birds but also plants. Sophie did a beautiful job of keeping our room clean and providing thoughtful touches. Your attention to detail was apparent throughout our stay. We will recommend your camps and we look forward to returning. Kealeboga!" - William and Carol, USA
Managers: Ian, Michélle and Tlamelo
Guides: OB and Kenny
The photograph of the lions mating is courtesy of Charles and Bethany from Beaver Creek, Colorado. Thanks!
update - April 2010 Jump
to Jao Camp
Weather and Landscape
Another Delta summer slips away as the water rises. The water started rising by 1cm a day, and then we had a mammoth cloud empty itself onto Jao Island, raising the water level by 10cm. This prompted Jao's smaller animals to come out and play more. The ever-loved mongoose family have had eight youngsters this month, and with the water so high they have made their home in the termite mound behind the office. That termite mound is not only a home to some of our smallest animals but is also a bed to our biggest. One of the resident bull elephants sleeps on it, which has made walking to work in the morning quite interesting as he sleeps in later than the staff...
Elephant have been seen almost every day on Jao Island - mainly bulls, but also the odd breeding herd. There is so much water around and they have been entertaining us by swimming in the channels whilst we're out on boat cruises.
Our resident leopard, Beauty, has not been seen, and we are all quite worried about her, and wondering whether she and her cubs have survived the deluge. A new young male leopard has been seen and is becoming more and more relaxed with the game drive vehicles.
We have a good population of hippo here at Jao and fights can easily break out over territory and mating rights. These battles aren't one-day affairs - they can last for days and move across many islands. With long sharp teeth and very powerful jaws they can inflict quite serious damage to each other, and one unlucky hippo was fatally wounded in a fight and died close to Jao Bridge. Because it was so close to the camp, we relocated it a little further away, on drier land so that lion and other scavengers could devour it. So far only the young male leopard has been seen standing on the top of the defeated hippo.
Lion have been quite an attraction this month and we've seen them on almost every single game drive. The four cubs have been seen quite regularly and they are all growing up fast and strong. They were all found one morning on a tsessebe kill, which had apparently been poached from the young male leopard earlier in the day. All four youngsters were giving their dad little growls whilst feeding on the carcass with him. You'll see one of the cubs looking very wet, and a little angry on the left.
From Martial Eagles snatching mongoose, to snakes succumbing to Snake Eagle talons, to Spur-winged Goose nesting in the guides' village, to White-browed Scrub-Robin singing in the morning chorus... our bird life has been fantastic. Bird spotting has become the fastest growing hobby in the world and what a place to enjoy it. The Delta has over 360 species of birds and they are very abundant. The Jao Ground Hornbills are still finding our concession an awesome place to be and the youngsters are now fully grown, but still very demanding when it comes to being fed by their parents. Wattled Cranes, Saddled-billed Storks and the various Egrets and Herons are taking full advantage of the abundance of fish and frogs brought in with the flood.
"Keep doing what you are doing - service is impeccable, staff all friendly and helpful. Thank you, thank you, and thank you!" - William and Christina
"Setting, boat drives, mokoro tour, game drives, Maipa was great." - Ben and Anette
"Lion cubs, leopards in tree, mokoro experience, hospitality and food, great room, Cedric amazing and perfect guide." - Ed and Lou
"People! Food, the atmosphere, the nearness to nature. Outstanding presentation at dinner - loved the GONG! TJ was more than bright, enthusiastic, funny, well informed, lovely to speak with and showed interest in the guests. Pearl and Marina were very sweet. Lauren was fun, smart, interesting and accommodating. Andrew was fun and an excellent host." - Andrew and Janice
Managers: Andrew Gaylord, Lauren Griffiths, Noeline Geyser, Julian, Nina and Marina (Spa)
Guides: Maipa, TJ, David and Cedric
The upcoming flood is a huge event and all of us here at Jao are waiting with bated breath to see this wonder arrive. Until next time...
The Jao Team
Tubu Tree Camp
update - April 2010 Jump
to Tubu Tree Camp
Kalahari Plains Camp
update - April 2010 Jump
to Kalahari Plains Camp
Weather and Landscape
The Intertropical Convergence Zone (ICZ) has caused a lot of rain in Deception Valley. Lake Deception is full and Pink-backed Pelicans and Ducks are wading in the waters - a phenomenon that the Owens (Cry of the Kalahari) recorded in their diary in the 1980s.
Evenings and mornings are becoming colder - which means winter has arrived. The night skies are amazing and a sleep-out at Kalahari Plains is a must, as there is nothing like sleeping under a blanket of stars in the middle of a desert! We also highly recommend a full-day safari into Deception Valley.
We've had great sightings this month of the two dominant male lion. The pride has been patrolling around the camp and came to the camp waterhole on three occasions. Dinner was disrupted one night by a loud roar, very close by, as the huge black-maned male walked to the waterhole. Three days later he was seen mating with one of the females just ten minutes from camp. It would be wonderful to have cubs at Kalahari Plains - we can grow together.
The sub-adult leopard is becoming very relaxed around the vehicles now, and seems to be settling in near a small mopane woodland. Who could imagine a mopane woodland in the middle of the Kalahari Desert? This curious sub-adult leopard comes into camp on some nights, which we know by the tracks we see the next morning.
We had a more than usually interesting Bushman walk a couple of days ago which was interrupted by the leopard, who clearly wanted to learn a little more about the Kalahari.
Otherwise we've been seeing large numbers of gemsbok, springbok, red hartebeest and blue wildebeest.
Management: Ras, Basha and Olivia
Guides: Tshepo and Willie
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