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South Africa camps
Pafuri Camp update - April 2010 Jump
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Weather and Landscape
We received a substantial amount of rainfall this month, totalling 121mm (4.8 inches), which transformed our access road into a pan system. Thus Pafuri became an emerald gem of greens and reflecting pools of water. The month was nice and warm with temperatures ranging between 16° and 35°C (61° - 95°F).
The Pafuri Pride was seen at Lanner Gorge, which is the farthest west we've ever seen this pride of lion. We saw them subsequently in areas near the gorge, which was interesting. It made for amazing viewing for our guests - who saw not only the muscle-rippled big cats, but also the breathtaking views of the gorge.
On the subject of predators, six spotted hyaena were observed hungrily devouring an impala carcass along the Limpopo floodplains. Hyaena are both predator and scavenger - and here at Pafuri we hear them more often than we see them, so it was a great experience to see six of them feeding.
An elusive African wildcat was seen on a game drive. It resembles a domestic cat, but has prominent chestnut-coloured ears and is a master when it comes to catching rodents. Unfortunately, the African wildcat is under threat through hybridisation with feral domestic cats.
The sound of hippo laughing and their snorting water antics are quintessentially African. It is always special to see pods of hippo congregating, and we had an extra special treat this month when, from a viewpoint on the Luvuvhu Bridge, we saw hippo mating. Our viewing was unexpectedly disrupted by the fearful screams of a troop of vervet monkeys. One of their members had fallen victim to a 2.5m South African rock python, and was eventually swallowed. This is something one reads about, but very rarely sees!
As always the bird list for what was seen at Pafuri this month is extensive. Almost every month the number seen is well over 200 different species - this even applies for the dry months when the migrants have flown the coup, so to speak.
Some birds we saw this month:
Grey-headed Parrot; Ground Hornbill; Groundscraper Thrush; Pel's Fishing-Owl; Scaly-throated Honeyguide; Temminck's Courser; Three-banded Courser; Verreaux's Eagle; Arnot's Chat; Crested Guineafowl; Kurrichane Buttonquail; Brown-backed Honeybird; Blue-cheeked Bee-eater; Great Spotted Cuckoo; Senegal Coucal; Mottled Spinetail; Bohm's Spinetail; Crowned Eagle; Retz's Helmet-Shrike and Mosque Swallow.
The Elephant Transboundary Project is a research study of the elephant within the Makuleke Contractual Park, which was started in 2008. A total of six bulls and six cows were collared for the study in 2009. The study aims to determine the transboundary movements of the elephant within the Makuleke Contractual Park, and to ascertain whether there is movement into Zimbabwe (to Gonarezhou National Park) and if so, which route is being used by the elephant.
The study has two components:
1. A telemetry study, whereby the movements of the elephant are plotted (using information gathered from GPS collars). This is headed by Drs Steve and Michelle Henley from the Save the Elephants organisation.
2. The second component is an identity study, whereby the individual elephants are photographed and identikits are compiled using their ear patterns and tusks as the main identi-tools. This is headed by Walter Jubber, guide here at Pafuri Camp, in conjunction with Save the Elephants.
So far 71 individual elephant bulls have been indentified and nine different herds. The GPS data is showing that there is good movement by the collared elephant into the Limpopo Reserve within Mozambique, which is part of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park. April saw several of the collared individuals coming in and out of the Makuleke Contractual Park.
Pafuri Walking Trail update - April 2010 Jump
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Kings Camp update - April 2010 Jump
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April is always one of the most enjoyable months of the year to be in the bush.
With the onset of autumn the animals and their behaviour changes somewhat. The Pale-artic and Intra –Africa migrant birds are now on their way to a more suitable warmer environment further North in Africa and even as far as Europe . The colours of the bush will change and it also spells the end of the wet season. Dryer conditions will now prevail for the next few months until October when the summer rains make a return.
We have had a very good wet season and the condition of bushveld is good. This should hold us in good steed for the dry winter months. The animals will have an abundance of water and I suspect that the number of buffalos herd sighting will be high.
Regarding the game sightings, the white lion pride is still in our area of traversing. They seem to me nicely tucked in an open zone between the northern and southern prides territories.
At the moment it appears to me that both the adult lioness are trying their best to keep the four cubs out of harms way. Dominant male lions will generally kill lion cubs if they are unrelated and as far as I know the Kubasa prides four cubs are definitely not related to the northern or southern dominant male lions of the area. It is going to be a risky few months for this pride if they continue to move too far north or south. I suspect they will have to strike a good balance of remaining as much as they can in the center of the area.
What is also interesting to note is that both the adult lionesses are enormous and larger than the average female. They are much bigger than any other female lion in our area of Timbavati. I have a very good idea to believe that both these females belong to a pride previously known to us a few years ago as the Jacaranda/Timbavati Pride. This pride occupied the northern sector of the Timbavati a number of years back and specialized in killing giraffes. In one year I recorded 19 giraffe kills in 12 months. They were at that time one the most formidable prides in Timbavati.
One of the more interesting kills this month was when the White pride took down a female buffalo late one afternoon. Feeding was interrupted when the nomadic three young Shobele males arrived on the scene. Starving and keen to help themselves to a free meal they approached the carcass very carefully. I can only imagine that they must have been knocked around a few times before they were allowed to feed. This only after the lioness and the cubs had had their fill first.
Another fantastic sighting that I personally witnessed was when Machattan pride caught a young impala just after I had seen mating lions earlier during the drive. After seeing the mating lions we headed to the south of the reserve where the Machattan lionesses were found.
As we arrived I noticed that the lionesses were walking 30 meters apart from each other in same direction with their heads held low. Their intensive focus made me realize that they were hunting something. One lioness moved sharply to the right in a circle around her prey, which was standing behind thick bush. I decided to stay with the older more experienced lioness of the pride. She intern lay flat and motionless on the ground.
Then with an explosive charge, the lioness moved in chasing a herd of impala straight towards the second lioness concealed in tall grass waiting in ambush. The impala ran straight into the waiting feline and like a circus acrobat, the lioness launched up into the air swatting the impala as it attempted to leap over the cat. She did a 360-degree turn in a second. After she had caught the impala, her sister rushed in to join in on the success. One could feel the tension between the lionesses as they ripped the impala while each female claimed her part of the catch.
Leopard sighting have increased to a record high. At times it can be difficult to decide to which sighting to respond to. One afternoon we had 4 different sightings to choose from.
Rockfig jnr leopardess and her cubs are doing very well. Mom had no difficulty providing for her litter of two. The cubs are incredibly relaxed around the vehicles. They play hunt around the vehicle chasing birds and reptiles.
A young new male leopard has made an appearance recently. Looking at the size of this young male and his relatively small secondary canines, I would estimate him to be between 14-16 months old. I am not sure who he is related too but his relaxed behaviour is unusual for a leopard in the southern part of the reserve. All relaxed leopards tend to come from the northern and middle section of our traversing not the south.
I took this image of this male posing on a termite mound and no, he is definitely not showing any aggression although it appears to be the case. In fact he was only yawning.
On a delightful note, Ntombi leopardess is a first time mother. It was her birthday last month and she is now 4 years old. She has given birth to two cubs in the beginning on the month of March. This wonderful news was conveyed to me after one of the guides from the north informed me about the surprise sighting. I was so pleased to receive the news. I have followed this little leopardess's life since the start. She is an amazing animal and had already been viewed by thousands. I have been fortune to see the new little ones and they are about 3 weeks old. They are very small and I had to wait patiently for more than an hour to see them emerge from the rocky outcrop where they are being kept by mom. I kept my distance and after viewing them for a few minutes I decided to leave this rare and wonderful sighting.
We are hoping to see the cubs soon. Maybe by the end of the month
From all the rangers and trackers of Kings Camp.
Report by Patrick O'Brien
Rocktail Beach Camp update - April 2010 Jump
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April is possibly the most anticipated month of the year and this past month has truly lived up to its reputation as the best month for a visit to the area. What makes April so great is that it sits perfectly between shifting seasons - roughly translated, this means no winter chill and no summer storms, but rather a balance of perfect weather and idyllic sea conditions and on top of this the month starts with lots and lots of chocolate and very excited children... The local monkey troop thoroughly enjoyed our Easter egg hunt, but thankfully, being a considerate bunch, they left a few eggs for our kiddies.
The camaraderie between guests seems to be related to the number of guests in camp, so the camp being busy is a rewarding time to visit as the family holiday home feeling it at its strongest. April was just that and the guests engaged like old varsity mates, but thankfully not until the wee hours of the morning. A highlight of the Easter holiday was the boys vs girls beach soccer tournament which had been planned to last an hour, but continued into the dark with the entire camp involved (albeit with some more involved with the cooler box than the soccer...).
Wildlife and Marine Life
Another memorable event this month was a bat survey conducted in and around camp. The first two nights didn't produce much, but when we brought the mist nets into camp and over the pool the game changed completely. The most noticeable difference was the 1500% improvement in the capture rate. The added value of involving our guests and offering them the opportunity to experience the capture operation while seated for dinner was a real win. Our two budding research assistants Shane (4) and Dominique (7) were a great help and even managed to learn a few of the scientific names of the bats in the area. The pressure is on now as Shane and Dom found both species of turtle on a drive during their January visit, this time they had the bat survey and so when they come back in December we will have to pull a 'rabbit' out of the hat!
Turtle season is long over now, or so we thought. Two days ago however, whilst out on an early morning fishing trip, Vince found a trio of baby leatherbacks paddling down the beach. Elated with the find he hurried back to camp to spread the word. The turtle guides believed that a second hatch may be imminent and continued to monitor the nest for signs of more hatchlings - but it wasn't to be.
April is considered to be the month of the kingfishes and though things started a little slow, the fishing is now really good! Reports from local fishermen are positive and good catches of all sorts of species are a daily occurrence. If there is ever a time to fish this coastline it is now. Don't worry too much about the technical stuff and fancy lures and equipment - just get a line in.
Rocktail Beach Camp is a conservation entity and promotes catch and release - even of the tasty species!
95% PLATINUM STATUS: This is the rating the camp was rewarded after a recent eco-audit. The Green Leaf Programme, endorsed by Dr Ian Player, awarded Rocktail Beach Camp this status due to its commitment to responsible and sustainable tourism and operational practices. Green travellers can come here with total peace of mind!
Rocktail Bay Dive Report - April 2010 Jump
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When anyone asks what the best time of year to come diving is, we always reply 'April and May'. This year was no different. For most of these months, we had flat seas and sunny days and the water was still around a cosy 26°Celsius.
On the first day of the month two boats launched roughly at the same time. One had divers on board and the other had guests going on an Ocean Experience (a marine version of a game drive with snorkelling). On this day our guests where extremely lucky. Clive, who was with the snorkellers, found an enormous pod of spinner dolphins. He radioed Darryl with the divers and soon all our guests were watching 500 - 600 of these small mammals. Spinner dolphins are smaller than their cousins, the common bottlenose dolphin, and much shyer. Their name comes from the way they jump out of the water, spinning though the air like corkscrews. This huge pod gave us a wonderful display with adults and tiny babies all leaping and spinning around us. We drove the boat quite far ahead of them and quickly, but quietly, dropped into the water with our masks and snorkels. Shortly thereafter, we were surrounded by the pod - it was totally captivating.
Another dolphin sighting this month occurred at the shallow section of Elusive (around 12 metres). I was there with two open water students and about 20 minutes into the dive, a single dolphin came past, did a few circles around us, paused, "squeaked" and then swam off into the blue. It was such a wonderful way to be welcomed into the world of diving.
At Coachman's Ledge, a great reef just south of Coral Alley, Mich found a purple weedy scorpionfish. As its name suggests, it is part of the scorpionfish family and has the same highly venomous spikes. These scorpionfish are on everyone's "critter list" so it was a marvellous surprise to see it. (Photo: Karen Deller)
We have also had a several remora sightings. On one occasion, at Gogo's, a large one followed the group for more than half the dive. Remora are strange looking creatures also known as suckerfish because they stick themselves to the ventral sides of larger fish such as sharks, whale sharks, manta rays and even the occasional scuba diver.
We've been privileged to see two whale sharks this month. One of them was about seven metres and the other about eight metres long. On both occasions we were able to snorkel with them.
Other interesting sightings for the month have included a long-nose hawkfish at Solitude, peacock flounders, paperfish, whip coral gobies, green and hawksbill turtles and many moray eels (some of them enormous). Unfortunately the pineapple fish that has been living in a cave at Ariel Reef has gone. Hopefully it has moved on to a new home.
Congratulations to the following divers
Jean-Luc, Danielle, Sonja, Javes and Uince for completing their PADI Discover Scuba Diving Course
Julian and Celia for completing their PADI Open Water Diver Course
Oliver and Jayden for completing their PADI Rescue Diver Course
Oliver for completing his Emergency First Response Course
Regards from the Dive Team
Makalolo Plains update - April 2010 Jump
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Little Makalolo update - April 2010 Jump
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Weather and Landscape
April is generally one of the most comfortable and beautiful months in Zimbabwe - with crisp mornings, clear skies during the day and stunning sunsets that spread a multitude of colours across the horizon. We have had lovely warm days for most of the month, with the exception of a few days at the beginning when a cold spell swept through and delivered some heavy rains and cold, overcast days. Temperatures ranged between 17° and 30°C (63° - 86°F).
It's hard to believe, when driving through the teak forests, that the rainy season has ended and the dry season is slowly creeping in, because the tree tops and shrubs are still full of foliage and displaying a range of brilliant greens. However, as you emerge from the forest onto the open grass plains you can see that the landscape is changing. Every day the natural waterholes dry out a little more, encouraging herds of animals to move towards the permanent waterholes, which we maintain. These herds trample and graze the grassy plains, reducing density and making game viewing easier. We are only in the early stages but the winter (dry season) cycle has definitely begun.
We have a waterhole in front of camp and have been lucky enough to be able to sit in the main lounge and have a variety of animals come to us. Most enjoyable, to mention just a few, have been the herds of buffalo which have frequented the camp on numerous occasions; having tea with zebra not even 50 metres from the lounge; and numerous elephant arriving in the evenings to quench their thirst. All this is before we've even left camp for a drive!
The cats shone again this month, with numerous sightings of lion and cheetah. We have also seen lots of leopard tracks, proving that they are around and wandering through camp when no-one is looking, but no actual leopard was seen. Our focus has been on two different lion prides - the first being the Back Pan Girls and their four-month-old cub (who we mentioned last month - see picture on left). Both guests and guides have had the privilege of spending quality time with the family as they are seen often, on some occasions with the magnificent dark maned male, who we can only assume is the proud father.
On one afternoon one of the Back Pan females was seen stalking cheetah! Lewis and his guests were so engrossed in the sighting of the cheetah that they did not initially see the lioness using the cover of the vehicle to silently creep up on the cheetah. The cheetah gave the lioness a sporting chance and did not dash off at full speed - but ultimately there was no altercation.
The second pride has been seen around Ngweshla picnic site on the border between our concession and the public area of Hwange National Park. There were two males, four females and six cubs. One of the cubs was not looking very healthy but as we have not seen them since, we don't know whether its condition improved or not.
Elephant sightings have improved greatly on previous months and we are often seeing large breeding herds of gathering around the waterholes. They often meander past the main area and rooms in the evenings, and you don't even know they are there until their trumpeting disturbs the silence. As the year progresses we will be seeing a great deal more of the beautiful grey creatures.
Now for a quick update on the daily happenings of our more resident animals. The young hyaena has yet to show his face this month, although we know by his tracks and unique call that he is definitely around. One animal is lost from sight - and two are gained... Two black-backed jackal seem to have adopted us, and are seen early every morning in front of camp, while we stand around bleary eyed, warming our hands on cups of tea and coffee.
We recorded a total of 146 different bird species this month.
Sibs got extremely excited one afternoon as he saw a pair of Great Painted-snipes in amongst the reeds around a small waterhole. They are extremely well-camouflaged birds, and so are often missed.
Another brilliant sighting was of a Martial Eagle feasting on a White Stork. It was enjoying an early dinner at Samavundla waterhole and was disturbed by a black-backed jackal who, quick as lightning, stole the raptor's meal.
"Stimulating dinner conversation and a wonderful visit to the school to learn about the people, culture and politics of Zimbabwe. It was an unexpected pleasure. Our guide's knowledge was outstanding, Sibs and Lewis - thank you"- Katy
"Every aspect of our stay can be considered a highlight: the game drives, the friendliness of the staff, the meals, the campfire..." - Luc
"Staying here has felt like coming home! Thank you all for making me feel so welcomed and for sharing a part of your own lives and country. They say that once you have tasted the waters, you are thirsty for them always... I am thirsty again already. I wish you well, and lots of happiness." - Megan
Little Makalolo was managed by Charmaine, assisted by Sibs, who also guided, along with Lewis and Charles. Kim was the hostess, with the help of Angie.
We would like to say a warm farewell to Angie who has been with Wilderness for just over two years. We wish her success in her new adventure.
Davison's Camp update - April 2010
Weather and Landscape
Winter is definitely on its way and the days are growing colder. Strangely enough we had 20mm of rain this month, which is unusual for April. We had temperatures varying from 12° to 34°C (54° - 93°F) - so there has been quite a range.
The area around camp is still lush and green with the false mopane, ordeal and Zambezi teak trees still having full bows of green leaves. The combretum and leadwood trees are in seed, with their beautiful four-winged golden pods decorating both the trees and ground.
Our Ostrich Pan is looking a little low on water with the elephant and buffalo visiting frequently to quench their thirst.
We have had a very exciting sighting - the Back Pan pride of lion have three new cubs! These were sighted on the Linkwasha Concession, not far from Makalolo Pan. The whole pride was seen on a kudu bull kill and guests and guides alike were excited by the first sighting of the cubs.
Our zebra population out in front of camp has expanded, with a herd of five adults and a little foal spending a few days grazing on the grass in front of tents #6 and #7. The foal is a dazzling white compared to the adults.
A troop of vervet monkeys has taken a liking to tent #9, so we have had to employ some crafty tactics and have put up 'Fred', a scarecrow, in the hope that he will keep the little monkeys from using the tent roof as a trampoline!
Our guides have seen an increase in Saddle-billed Storks around the pans in the last month. They have been sighted often at Back Pans and Scott's, but there is usually only one per waterhole. The Meyer's Parrots have also been sighted around camp on numerous occasions this month, with their sharp call waking up the camp most mornings, and their distinctive fumbling flight making them very easily identifiable.
"Friendliness; efforts and knowledge of the guides; open-minded and well trained personnel." - Leutwiler, Germany
"Lions on the drive! Landscape, peacefulness, quietness, atmosphere, friendliness of every staff member." - Eppenberger, Germany
"Thanks to the very nice staff and guides." - Waller, Germany
Ruckomechi Camp update - April 2010 Jump
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Mana Canoe Trail update - April 2010 Jump
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No report this month - Trail re-opens again in May 2010.
Toka Leya Camp update - April 2010 Jump
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Weather and Landscape
Hello from sun-drenched Toka Leya! It has been a great month for us, and we've had the pleasure of a variety of guests coming in - from Mongolia to Mauritius. We really enjoy the different cultures that visit our camp.
The weather has been very surprising for this time of year and we had two tremendous thunderstorms this month, with sheets of unexpected rain moving in. When the clouds vanished we had some superbly sunny weather - which brought things back to normal. There was one storm in particular where we received 108mm (4.25 inches) of rain! Temperatures during the day are still lovely and warm, with things cooling down in the early mornings and evenings. This has made for some gorgeous, bracing mornings and beautiful cloud-speckled skies.
We have received reports that some areas in western and northern Zambia received some heavy rainfall recently, which is evident in the steady rise of the river over the last month. The water seemed to recede for a week or so, but by the 30th it was back up and higher than before.
Wildlife and Activities
Despite some guests getting caught by the unexpected thundershowers whilst out on activity, we were still able to show them all the unique sights around Livingstone and surrounds. We had one particularly stormy night at the end of a Kakunka Island sundowner trip, where we had to man the hatches and move breakables at a rapid race whilst making sure our guests were dry and happy. It turned into a lovely evening though and the guests sat together on one candlelit table in the middle of the dining room wrapped up snugly in blankets.
Afternoon cruises are still very popular with our guests, who seem to prefer the peace and quiet of being on the Zambezi River after some long game drives in Botswana and very early mornings deep in the bush. There have been a lot of buffalo and elephant around, even with all the rain. And we had rhino right near our Tent #12 in mid-April - which was fantastic. We also had a hippo snoozing very close to one of the management tents on one particular night!
The herds of impala and pretty bushbuck are still out and about for those observant guests who spot them in the thickets and still-dense vegetation.
Often guests arrive without having been able to tick off the "Big Five" on their safari. While we don't really subscribe to this concept - there's so much more to the wilderness - we like to help them out here. It is a pleasure to be able to take them into Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park to see white rhino.
The Victoria Falls continue to surprise our guests with their magnificence and sheer power. Everyone comes back completely drenched, but very happy - the volume of water coming over the lip of the gorge is awe inspiring. Apart from visits to the Falls, some of our more adventurous guests have enjoyed microlighting, elephant back safaris, Flights of the Angels over the Falls and canoe trips.
Several staff members have seen an African Finfoot swimming gracefully in the lagoon newly created by the rising river. He is there almost every day at tea time and is practically a resident. We have also spotted Pel's Fishing-Owl, Half-collard Kingfisher, Lizard Buzzard, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Giant Kingfisher, Little Sparrowhawk and Emerald Cuckoo.
We are anticipating the crisp chill of winter and some fantastic game sightings in May and we look forward to seeing you soon.
Best Regards from the Toka Leya Team
Lufupa Tented Camp update - April 2010 Jump
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Kalamu Lagoon Camp update - April 2010 Jump
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Shumba Camp update - April 2010 Jump
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No report this month - camp closed for the season.
Kapinga Camp update - April 2010 Jump
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No report this month - camp closed for the season.
Busanga Bush Camp update - April 2010 Jump
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No report this month - camp closed for the season.
Desert Rhino Camp update - April 2010 Jump
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Palmwag Lodge update - April 2010 Jump
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Weather and Landscape
April has been an interesting month in the Palmwag Concession and guests have been privileged to see some of the great beasts that call this area home, such as lion, elephant and black rhino. The rainy season is behind us now and we look forward to what the dry, winter season has in store for us.
We only had one small rain shower this month - it felt like the kind of persistent light drizzle (it lasted four hours) that you might find in places like Cape Town or London. We've had some spectacular storm builds up - with lighting and thunder - but no rain.
We are at that stage of the year when we have regular visitors to camp. Apart from Bliksem and Skelm, the two monitor lizards, we are starting to see porcupine - not just one but many. And this just might be the reason our leopard has returned to us. As beautiful as he is, and as much as we love having him around - when he walks past my room and grunts in that definitive leopard way, I get shivers down my spine.
Because we've had good rain around us for the past two years, the population of plains game has risen to new heights and now we're at the point where predators are stepping up to take full advantage of the abundance of prey.
A lot of people might not think of the desert as being the most romantic place on earth - but have a look at the second picture on the left, and tell me this isn't the perfect honeymoon spot! The area can be intoxicatingly romantic.
Our chefs, Mathew and Thomas, went out of their way to put on an Easter dinner worthy of our fabulous guests. They were also handing out a lot of chocolate eggs during the month - some of which were a little bend out of shape by the heat, but no less delicious.
We held a quarterly meeting between Palmwag Camp, Desert Rhino Camp and Save the Rhino Trust on the 21st of April. This meeting covers challenges that the guides or trackers might have with rhino sightings, reports from Save the Rhino Trust on the use of the area and suggestions as to how we can improve the guest experience. We all work really hard to ensure we make the most of the opportunity we have here - bridging the gap between wildlife, research and guests.
All Palmwag staff and management have been busy preparing Hoanib River Camp for the Children in the Wilderness programme due to take place at the beginning of May. We've been visiting the camp non-stop to make sure everything is up and running. We have also had the privilege of assisting Skeleton Coast Camp on the odd occasion, which gives us the chance to visit the beautiful north-west in all its glory.
With all these trips to the Hoanib at the end of the rainy season, it was only a matter of time before we encountered a flowing river. Both Hermann and I, on two different occasions, had to make alternate plans to get supplies across a suddenly flowing river. I was able to walk mine across before the river came down, but Hermann had to wait at the camp for the river to subside. On both occasions the river started off as a little trickle, followed quickly by roaring thunder and then white waters. Within minutes the water is bank to bank. Just one of the ways our environment reminds us who is really in charge out here!
Doro Nawas Camp update - April 2010 Jump
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At last we have had some rain - for four days in a row. We are very thankful for this rain and hope it will motivate the elephant to come back to this area. Temperatures varied between 14°C and 38°C (57° - 100°F) - which is quite a range! Some days were very cold and others rather hot. We are experiencing mornings with fog on the mountains - which means that winter is definitely approaching.
We've been concentrating this month on the more unusual species we get at Doro Nawas, and have been showing guests a host of reptiles, birds, plants and trees. It was our aim to get everyone, guests and guides alike, excited about this beautiful environment. It can't always be about the elephants and big cats! There is so much more to an area like this.
We found a very big parabuthus scorpion (Parabuthus villosus). This hairy, black, thick-tailed scorpion is quite large - about 140mm (5.5 inches) in length, and eats a variety of things, including lizards and mice. They dig shallow burrows in which the generally sedentary females stay, but the males are lapidocolous, which means they use any available cover during their wanderings or may even excavate a new burrow along the way. They have quick-acting venom, which means they don't need big pincers to hold on to their prey.
We have a small monitor lizard living on the roof of our main building. It tends to come out in the late afternoon and basks on one of the poles in the late afternoon sun. Its claws are long and sharp, and it has very strong jaws. Once they bite something it is very difficult to get them to let go! Monitors are carnivorous and will devour anything they are capable of gulping down as they tend to swallow their prey whole, like snakes. They don't divest themselves of their tails, like some other lizards, and if they lose their tail, it's gone for good.
We have found a beautiful moringa tree at Palms, which is about 100km from the camp. Moringa ovalifolia is a conspicuous, erect, deciduous tree which can grow up to 7m (23 ft) high. The specimen we photographed (on left) is much smaller. The moringa has lovely white flowers that come out from November to May. It is very well adapted to the subtropical, hot, dry Namib Desert because it has a succulent stem that stores water and nutrients to help it through the dry winter months. And it has silvery bark that reflects the sun's rays, preventing it from overheating. Elephant, giraffe and springbok eat the fruit and leaves, and elephant and porcupine utilise the fleshy stems.
When asked about their highlights:
"All day drive in search of elephant - so much more than just a pachyderm hunt! The starry sky in perfect peace!" - Whittlesey
"We particularly enjoyed the friendly people of the lodge." - Petry, Australia
"Nice warm welcome and elephant! The beautiful night and star observation. The beautiful rooms, the terrace, kindness and simplicity of the staff. Ludwiga (Waitress) is very nice!" - Berthelemot, France
"Richard and Arthur's 'Ele-Trek'. Arthur found us one elephant and we had a wonderful encounter. On the way back we were alerted to a herd so we saw about 30 elephant - incredible!" Rawlins and Newbury, UK
Coenie and Danize van Niekerk (Camp Managers)
Agnes Bezuidenhout, Sebastiaan Meyer and Morien Aebes (Assistant Managers)
Arthur Bezuidenhout and Ignatius Khamuseb (Guides)
Michael Kauari and Richardt Orr (Trainee Guides)
Thanks to Birgitte Berthelemot for sharing some of her photos for this month's newsletter.
Damaraland Camp update - April 2010 Jump
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Weather and Landscape
The little paradise of Damaraland Camp (or D-Camp to its friends) lies in a small valley about 90km away from the Atlantic Ocean. It is an oasis where guests can relax and enjoy the real beauty of Damaraland. Our ten rooms are positioned in such a way that each has a unique view of the landscape and the mountains. Our main area, complete with small library, swimming pool and fire place, overlooks the whole valley. The sunset, which can be admired from a small hill near cam, or camp itself, lights up the sky and surrounding mountains with every imaginable shade of light.
Winter is slowly setting in at D-Camp, which makes the warm glowing camp fire in the evening that much more inviting. There is a nice cool breeze during the day, bringing welcome relief after so many hot summer months.
We offer rhino and elephant tracking in the early mornings from camp - and guests doing this activity have a chance to see endangered black rhino or shy desert-adapted elephant. We also offer game drives, where guests can see a combination of wildlife, such as Hartmann's mountain zebra, giraffe, springbok, oryx and a great variety of birds. And in the afternoons our guests can enjoy a pleasant nature walk near the camp, a scenic drive to a local village or an unforgettable sundowner drive.
We had some visitors from head office come out and admire the way we do things out here. The environmental team offered some suggestions on how we can improve our eco/environmental footprint, which we will definitely heed - we are always striving to be better, especially where the environment is concerned. Head office wants to use D-Camp as a model for all Wilderness Safaris camps in Namibia. It's such an honour for us to be the oldest Wilderness camp in Namibia - and still a model camp!
Managers: Niël van Wyk, Elizabeth Parkhouse (thanks for helping out while camp managers Iván and Ilze were on leave), Elfrieda Hebach and Pascolena Florry.
Guides: Johann Cloete, Anthony Davids, Daniël and Alexia (training).
Hope to see you soon!
Skeleton Coast Camp update - April 2010 Jump
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Wildlife and Landscape
Referred to as "the place God made in anger" by the Bushman peoples of Namibia, the Skeleton Coast is one of the most desolate and enigmatic environments one could ever hope to encounter.
From the white, crescent-shaped dunes to the seemingly never-ending gravel plains that make up this desert you are always amazed at the beautiful colours that the - at times stark - light produces.
We had a lot of ominous cloud build-up over the catchment area of the Khumib River, and at times it seemed like there were thunderstorms all around us - even over the ocean! This is a wonderful spectacle - dark clouds looming and brilliant white flashes of lightning cutting through the night skies. At 21h30 on the 4th April we were taken by surprise when the Khumib River delivered an amazing rush of coffee-coloured water. We all went outside and watched the river levels rise. At 02h30 the water levels started dropping and by the time breakfast was served the river was once again a trickle. What an extraordinary, once-in-a-lifetime experience to be a part of - a flash-flood in the arid Namib Desert!
The strange weather continued when, seemingly out of nowhere, an easterly wind brought a ferocious sandstorm and a burst of rain! Temperatures rose and for a few days we spotted dragonflies, grasshoppers and various other insects that were carried here from further inland by the wind. Two days later the weather changed again from sweltering heat to the more usual cool days and cold nights accompanied by fog and mist that envelopes the camp with a soft glow in the mornings. All is back to normal now as we are heading into winter, with extra blankets, hot water bottles and a glass of sherry or red wine to warm us up in the evenings. We can't wait to welcome guests to this magnificent area in the coming winter months.
Skeleton Coast Camp went through what can only be described as an interesting month this April... We had an unlikely guest of the serpentine variety arriving in camp and surprising staff, who were amazed at the puff adder's ability to camouflage itself in the sandy environment of the riverbed in which the camp is built. The attraction for this particular snake is most probably the abundance of mice that live in the shrubs surrounding the main area. We removed the snake, very carefully, and relocated it outside the National Park's borders, in an area where it will be able to feed well.
We spotted a family of eight bat-eared fox running across the plains to their den. They are mostly nocturnal animals and we were delighted when an adult re-emerged to determine whether the "threat" had moved on and we were able to take a few pictures. These canids are insectivorous, and insects make up approximately 80% of their diet. Mated pairs are very social and monogamous; this family consists of two adults and six sub-adults.
No trip to the Skeleton Coast Park would be complete without a trip to the renowned Skeleton Coast itself, once called"The Gates of Hell" by Portuguese sailors. There is a surprising abundance of wildlife here, as the coast provides nourishment to creatures in many forms. One of the more common sightings is of the black-backed jackals that roam the coastline and the desert. Guests have been treated to their eerie evening calls regularly in the past few weeks since a female jackal has established a den in the vicinity of the camp for her three pups. Staff and guests alike had wonderful opportunities to see the mother returning to her young after a long and undoubtedly difficult day of foraging for beetles, grasshoppers, lizards, spiders and scorpions. The jackals residing on the coastline feed on marine mammals, most notably Cape fur seal pups, fish, mussels and more.
These intelligent animals featured in Egyptian mythology, where "Anubis", portrayed as a half-human half-jackal, was associated with mummification and protection of the dead for their journey into the afterlife. A harrowing thought when you remember that no so long ago sailors and travellers perished en masse on these unforgiving shores...
Another beautiful folktale is that of the Khoi people who claim that the jackal was always red in colour and that the black markings on its back and tail came to be after he offered to carry the sun on his back.
The balance of nature is clearly portrayed on the shores of the Skeleton Coast when one of the largest Cape fur seal colonies in the world can be found, at Cape Fria. Thousands of seals congregate on the rocks along the coastline and you are welcomed by the roar of the ocean, the constant guttural communication between mums and pups and the odd rivalry between males. The overpowering smell of rotting carcasses draws black-backed jackal and the more elusive brown hyaena.
Guests were taking a walk with their guide, Kallie, on their last morning in camp and were surprised to find the carcass of a springbok a few hundred metres from camp! Tracks of three different felines were easily distinguished, leading down the sloping sands from the airstrip. Kallie immediately realised how extraordinary this sighting was and followed the tracks, with guests in tow. Once on the harder surface of the dry riverbeds he was able to establish that the enterprising animals had, in fact, been no less than three cheetah. Kallie lost their tracks when they moved into a more mountainous terrain and we were keeping a look-out for them in the following days. The reality, however, is that cheetah are incredibly timid and feel threatened by hyaena and lion, both of which roam in this area. We thus assume that they would have made a very speedy departure from the vicinity - after a wonderful dinner of springbok fillet!
We were delighted to welcome two scientists to camp who shared their knowledge about soils and insects. Guests, guides and managers alike were all amazed at the wealth of knowledge and we look forward to welcoming them back to camp, hopefully in the not too distant future.
Relief Manager Trix and Assistant Manager Nandi oversaw the running of Skeleton Coast Camp for the duration of April - and what an adventure it has been! Manager Willie will return to camp in May to take up the reins.
Guides Kallie, Gert and Gotlod continue to take guests on an unforgettable journey through "the place God made in anger".
We look forward to sharing our adventures with you in the coming days in the Skeleton Coast.
Serra Cafema Camp update - April 2010 Jump
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Weather and Landscape
The month of April has surprised everyone with its fluctuating weather patterns. At the beginning of April we experienced some really hot weather with temperatures rising to about 43°C (109°F) and 60% humidity. We also had a day of rain, which left the Hartmann's Valley with enough grazing for oryx, ostrich and springbok to feast on. Then a couple of days ago we discovered winter creeping up on us, with night temperatures dropping to around 18°C (64°F).
We had cause for concern when the river level started rising rapidly thanks to the rain we've had in camp and inland. Around the 16th we quietly started getting ready for a possible flood, and were thinking of closing camp for a few days until the water levels subsided. Cars and quad bikes were parked on high ground and boats were double tied (two ropes - just to make sure they weren't going anywhere). But then the rain stopped in the most parts of the country and the water levels dropped considerably, and life carried on as usual.
Wildlife and Birding
The young resident crocodile that we mentioned in the March newsletter has decided that the steps leading to the boat docking area are where he is safe from the recent masses of water and strong currents of the river. We were able to have a closer look at the youngster when one of our guides caught him. He showed no signs of resistance while guests and staff had a closer look. After we studied him for a couple minutes he was released. He still comes back to the steps for his regular sunbathing sessions.
On a trip recent trip to the Marienfluss Valley we came across a big flock of Abdim's Storks (Ciconia abdimii). There are an estimated 300 000 - 600 000 globally, and they occur in semi-desert areas, especially after rains, while migrating. Large flocks are often seen around insect eruptions, and they eat mainly grasshoppers, millipedes, locusts and crickets. While foraging for food it's not unusual to find a single White Stork (Ciconia ciconia) among the Abdim's Stork flocks.
We had some amazing feedback from guests who visited our beautiful oasis on the Kunene River this month. We had one group that had wanted to come to Serra Cafema two years ago, but couldn't because of floods - but they came this year, and this is what they had to say about their stay:
"Steve, the camp guide, has hidden photographic talents and is a decorated footballer. The Kunene River prevented us from coming two years ago... We loved it! Crocodiles are our excuse to come back again, so we can see more. The reptiles were lovely - at a distance! Anthony, the Manager, was the best quad bike instructor and an incredible source of energy. You people are wasting your talents running a safari camp - and should be professional dancers! We're leaving with football skills. The landscape is WOW! The Himbas have beautiful traditions. As for sand dunes - the steeper the better, and forget the front brake. Thank you for an amazing stay! From the Swiss/Greek/Lebanese Quad Bike Fanatics."
Ongava Tented Camp update - April 2010 Jump
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Weather and Landscape
April has mostly been lovely and warm, with a few drops of rain releasing us from the heat. Closer to the end of the month though we started feeling the temperature drop, and evenings and mornings cooled down, compelling guests to wear jerseys at the start of the drives. Some of the trees around Ongava Tented Camp have started losing their leaves, creating yellow carpets along the paths to the rooms.
April has been a good month for lion. The OTC Pride has been a regular at the waterhole, missing only a few days this month.
During the day the waterhole is always quite busy with all the usual customers: waterbuck, zebra, impala, kudu and oryx. There are still lots of waterbuck, kudu and zebra babies running around and catching everyone's attention, lions included.
We've had some great (and lucky) drives on our reserve, where we've seen caracal and African wild cat. And, of course, lots of black and white rhino - which are always a favourite with the guests. Some guests saw 16 rhino in one day. On the 16th of April a few guests were very lucky to see a two-month-old baby white rhino. The sighting was quite brief as the protective mother was very quick to lead the baby into the thick bush for safety.
On another morning, our new manager, Silvia, saw a leopard very close to the road. What a nice welcome to Ongava! Leopard sightings are starting to become more frequent - which is great news. During late nights in camp we sometimes hear the resident leopard coughing, but it's too shy to be seen.
The doves at the mud pool have been having a difficult time this month... They are taken unawares while drinking - not, as you may think, by a raptor, but a terrapin hiding in the water. We were surprised one afternoon to see one suddenly surface and grasp a dove.
We also spotted a Peters' Beaked Blind Snake in the kitchen one day.
"Seeing 23 oryx at the waterhole and sitting at the lapa watching the lion cubs playing near the waterhole were highlights." - Cecilia and Brian
"Spectacular sundowners - one with many giraffe and another with the rhino. Very informative guide." - Stone
Gerda, Silvia, Alfonso, Inge and Corné
Little Ongava update - April 2010 Jump
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Weather and Landscape
Looking out over the horizon of Ongava Reserve, one can see the green and yellow colours of the white syringa (Kirkia acuminata). This is an indication that summer is passing, slowly giving way to autumn. With the sun setting a little earlier than in the height of summer, guests are leaving a little earlier for their afternoon drives. And the good news for guests is that they can wake up a little later in the mornings.
With winter closing in, we are experiencing cooler mornings, making the morning drives very pleasant (and productive because the antelope are more active as they prefer cooler temperatures). The days are lovely and warm, with temperatures dropping in the evenings, which means it's easy to sleep and there are fewer insects.
With no major rainfall this month, the terrain is generally arid, and we have been fortunate to spot large numbers of game at the waterholes. Most of our drives have been very enjoyable with regular sightings of antelope, lion, jackal and spotted hyaena. Guests were greeted one morning by a pair of klipspringer at Room #1. The inquisitive antelope froze for a few minutes, posing elegantly, before loping off the rocks.
The waterhole in front of camp has been very full of activity this month. In the early mornings the antelope come to drink water. At one point we observed seven different species of antelope drinking and grazing around the waterhole at the same time. They were waterbuck, kudus, red hartebeest, zebra, oryx, impala and springbok. It seemed like they were all guarding one another - understanding innately the concept of there being safety in numbers. In the late afternoons it's the turn of giraffe to annex the waterhole. They are extremely skittish because they are so vulnerable when they drink, and sometimes they run off before they've actually had a chance to drink.
Then, after a few hours of motionlessness, the lion come out to play. They first drink water and then settle around the waterhole. On one evening the guests were relaxing at the lapa when they witnessed a large black rhino chase a group of approximately nine sub-adult lion. It looked like they were playing hide and seek. Although the lion clearly didn't enjoy the game - they soon decided to run away.
A few weeks ago we were seeing cheetah on most afternoon drives on the reserve. Cheetah sightings have been even more common in the Etosha National Park, with guests getting great, up-close pictures of them.
Guests were also pleasantly surprised on a night drive with some unusual nocturnal animals - hyaena, chameleon and even an albino scrub hare.
This month has proved to be a good one for bird watchers - we've spotted Dusky Sunbirds; Pearl-spotted Owlets viciously circling and snatching rodents and reptiles to feed on; Lilac-breasted Rollers perching on treetops; Francolins and Short-toed Rock-Thrushes. One of the most unusual sightings we had this month was a pair of Red-headed Finches occupying and laying their eggs in the nest of a Southern Masked-Weaver. They didn't seem to mind that they were surrounded by other weaver nests.
One of the best sightings we had was a Secretary Bird perching on the top of a small tree in Etosha. These birds are usually in pairs, hunting on savannah, farmland and open woodland.
We had some guests who were very keen on the Namibia, its people and cuisines. They asked us to make them a local dish for lunch - so after much hesitation, Kapona, one of our guides, decided we should cook traditional mopane worms. When presented with the plate of pan-fried worms and a spicy salsa sauce, the guests wasted no time in tucking in. They thoroughly enjoyed it, much to the amusement of the staff, and commented on the leafy taste. This was one of the best cultural interactions we've had with guests.
"Simply the best service from a camp that we have ever experienced, and we have been lucky enough to stay in many of the world's top hotels. The staff were utterly compassionate, incredibly attentive and went to enormous lengths to ensure that we had the perfect stay and were looking after us at all times - to the camp manager in particular many thanks."
"After many years of world-wide travel - this comes close to perfection. Faultless, charming, courteous and comfortable. All staff deserve the utmost praise. Everything was beyond expectation."
Camp Manager: Florensia Mutrifa
Relief Camp Manger: Michael Kaeding
Camp Guide: Gabriel Haufiku
Camp Relief Guide: Michael Haidongo
Ongava Lodge update - April 2010 Jump
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Weather and Landscape
We thought that with the little rain we received at end of March we were saying goodbye to the rain for the rest of the year - but surprisingly April started off with the same soft showers. The days are cooler now and temperatures rise to 29°C (84°F), compared to 34°C (93°F) last month.
With a change in season comes daylight savings in Namibia, and our clocks have been set back by an hour - putting us one hour behind South Africa. Winter makes our days shorter and our nights longer, which has two bonuses for our guests - they can sleep later, and sit chatting over dinner for longer. We love the winter!
Sightings at the waterhole in front of Ongava Lodge are just getting better and better by the day. This is thanks to the absence of rain - which means that animals are reliant on the waterhole. The black rhino are visiting more often now - welcome back! In the second week of April we had 20 lion at the waterhole, just out of nowhere! Now, this is what we've come to love about the Ongava Lodge waterhole!
On one morning drive we came across a lion drinking from a puddle on the side of the road. The lucky guests got very excited to see a lion so close-up, and got some great pictures. Although Ongava is renowned for its rhino and lion, staff always get excited when they see them. Guests don't understand this because they assume we see enough of them. But really, who can ever get tired of seeing these amazing creatures? We start to get depressed if two days pass without seeing or hearing them. It feels like our family is not complete - and we can't live without them!
A bachelor crush of white rhino is a common aggregation around Ongava. These young males form into a group after weaning because they hadn't yet secured territories. The whole world is new to them, and being in a group gives them protection against predators. Ongava is home to a nice number of white rhino, giving the best sightings to guests while on game drives or rhino tracking walks. It's quite something to drink your African sundowner just 500 metres away from a white rhino, still endangered throughout Africa.
One of our guides, Michael, was very lucky to get two great shots of his favourite animal - a cheetah - as it appeared and then disappeared within seconds. Guests have been seeing cheetah on numerous occasions recently, but have been struggling to get pictures because they are so shy. This vulnerable cat is endangered in farm areas as it is considered a pest because it preys on livestock. Namibia has the largest population of cheetah in the world, primarily concentrated in commercial farming areas - which is bad news for the cheetah. Cheetah don't do well in places with high concentrations of big carnivores (lion, hyaena and leopard), which means they often get pushed out of conservation areas into farm land.
While other animals migrate to the western side of Etosha during the rainy season (we're talking to you, Mr Elephant), the ostrich never let us down - and we have seen them often. These prehistoric birds are cousins of the Australian emu. Guests love them and often ask why the males (a striking black and white) are more attractive than the females (a dull brown).
Ground squirrels (see picture on left) are often confused with meerkats - because you often see them standing on their hind legs, balancing on their tails. The ground squirrel is the second biggest rodent in Africa, after the porcupine. Ground squirrels are vegetarians, and are always admired by guests.
Hyaena are known to be scavengers, but they occasionally hunt in packs. And they often steal kills if they can chase off other predators. Hyaena have the strongest bite of all mammals, and are well-adapted to crushing bones. Sightings of spotted hyaena, and sometimes brown hyaena, are always exciting at Ongava.
A rock monitor, which can grow to 1.5m, was spotted in a tree at Ongava. These cold-blooded reptiles are inactive during winter and in summer they eat enough to get them through winter. They have an excellent sense of smell, for which they use their tongues, and are occasionally seen killing cobras, who are competition for termite mound homes. Ongava is a paradise for these living dinosaurs.
"Kapona is a great guide - Kapona for President! The staff are friendly and efficient. We loved the springbok pronking."
"It's our third time in Ongava and it keeps getting better!"
"Teacher is very informative and the food was the best!"
"Game drives are extraordinary."
Managers: Adriano, Ment-Anna, George and Jason
Guides: Michael, Teacher, Abner, Kapona, Henock and Lister
Andersson's Camp update - April 2010 Jump
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Little Kulala Camp update - April 2010 Jump
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Kulala Desert Lodge update - April 2010 Jump
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Governors' Camp update - April 2010 Jump
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April has been an interesting month, with heavy down pours, stunning cloud formations and thunderous outbursts all creating fascinating changes in the scenery.
All these rain storms meant that the Mara River became a roaring torrent for three days, rising around 14 feet. This deluge of water was a spectacular sight and hippos were seen scuttling for small pockets of calmer waters under the river banks. As well as enjoying the spectacle of the raging Mara River our guests also enjoyed some wonderful wildlife sightings.
The forests plants are now a deep rich green and we look forward with excited anticipation to the imminent blooming of the Mara wildflowers adding colour to the plains, forests and riverbanks.
In the forests around the camps the African Greenheart trees (Warburgia Ugandensis) are fruiting and these fruits now cover the forest floor. The Warburgia fruit is an elephant's favourite entrée and the fruiting has meant that we received regular visits from large bull elephants wandering into camp to feast on these hot fruit. Excited guests retreated to the safety of their tents, whilst the elephant feasted. Interestingly the leaves from the Green Heart are often used in place of hot chilies in cooking. Perhaps these fruits are eaten for medicinal purposes by the elephant, who knows?
The Musiara Marsh is full of elephant families with counts of at least 100 individuals. This is always a delight to see and an exciting start to our guests game drives. The elephant families include small feisty 3 month old calves to the old matriarchs. On the ground between the elephants legs cattle egrets busily feast off the rich pickings of insects disturbed by the elephants mighty round feet as they trudge along the marsh edges and grassy plains.
The long grass has caused the Bila Shaka / Marsh Pride of lions to split up and roam their vast territory in search prey, they are feeding on a lot of warthog at the moment and the occasional zebra which provides a more substantial meal. Two large black mane lions have been hovering on the edge of the Bila Shaka / Marsh Prides territory in anticipation of finding a weakness to exploit in the resident male kingdom, so perhaps this will be an exciting few months ahead as they build up their nerve to tackle the prestigious dominant Bila Shaka males and win control of the pride and their important territory.
The Paradise Pride comprises of Notch the old Bila Shaka pride male. He was forced out of the Bila Shaka pride by the current two black maned lions and he started a coalition with 5 of his male cubs, which is now the Paradise Pride. Normally a male lion does not tolerate his male offspring and at around two years of age they are usually banished by the male from the pride, the scientific reason for this is to prevent inbreeding by the sons mating with their mothers, aunts and sisters. However in this case Notch, and his male cubs moved prides so there is no close relationship with the females in the pride and also perhaps if Notch was to assert his dominance over his 5 male offspring he would be ousted himself. What this has created is possibly the most impressive lion family we have ever seen in the Mara - and at the moment there are 6 Blacked maned lions in this pride. Many of our clients in Feburary were lucky enough to see the entire pride of 22 individuals feeding on a hippo over several days.
On one occasion a young male and female from the Ridge Pride ventured too close into the Paradise Pride's territory. The 6 black maned lions were feeding on the hippo and must have caught a whiff on the wind of the intruders and sprang up, and despite their distended full bellies, raced across the plains towards the young male and female. All 6 were roaring and running across the plains - one of the most incredible sights and sounds in Africa. Needless to say the two Ridge Pride lions ran for their lives. Each of the 6 Paradise Pride males took up a position on the plains and roared. Notch epitomises what we think a black maned lion should look like and his sons carry the genes. In April the paradise pride, 'Notch' and his boys have surprised us all, by swimming across the river, repeatedly! Two of the paradise females have been spotted with 6-8month old cubs and recently with a topi kill.
Some of our clients also had an interesting sighting on a game drive over Easter, when they came across two male lions up on Rhino Ride. The young male lions encountered a large herd of buffalo, and being young and a little reckless the lions decided to hang around the buffalo herd. The buffalo took exception to this and chased the two, one of whom ended up halfway up a tree waiting for the angry herd to pass! Many thanks to Mike Robinson for providing the photos.
The three cheetah brothers have been regularly seen roaming the plains, including some fast action as they brought down their prey and eating quickly before any other large predator slipped in for the feast. Hyenas' too have been surprising us here and have figured out how to capture sleeping topi and feasting.There is also a den of little playful black balls of uncoordinated hyena cubs below 'Bila shaka'.
There have been numerous sightings of various leopards and in particular a beautiful female, recognizable by a split on the top of her left ear, which has been seen at regular intervals. Recently we have had wonderful sighting of her and her kills in the tree close to Little Governors, also elegantly traipsed over a dead log near the marsh, delighting many a visitor.
Due to the long grass the normal plains game have been scarce, preferring the short grass plains they have mostly moved into these areas and have been seen regularly on our bush walks with close encounters with snorting wildebeest, zebra, eland, giraffe, Thompson gazelle and impala. We have also been enjoying all the smaller insects and animals of the Mara ecosystem on our walks, including the industrious Dung beetles who have been busy burying copious amounts of elephant dung! The colours of the dung beetles never cease to amaze us from bright green to shiny black, some with large horns to wide scoops. They are amazing creatures and 1 dung beetle is capable of burying one metric ton of dung in a hectare in a year!
Butterflies have been abundant with glorious colours busily pollinating all the flowers around camp.
We hope to share the magic of our corner of the Mara with you sometime soon.
Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge update - March/April 2010
Although the month of March traditionally heralds the start of the rains in Rwanda, this year it has been mostly dry. The few heavy rainstorms that have occurred, have mostly been in the late afternoon and evenings. On a few mornings, there has been light rain as our guests depart the Lodge but by the time our guests have started their Gorilla trek it had cleared. Total rainfall recorded during the month was 286 mm.
Gorilla Groups 13 and Sabyinyo have been popular with guests and, on a number of occasions, these groups have been found on the Park's boundary very close to the Lodge. Group 13 consists of 25 individuals, including 1 Silverback, while the Sabyinyo group consists of 10 individuals, including 1 Silverback. Both of these groups live in the forest above the Lodge and guests visiting them usually return to the Lodge well before lunch. Another very popular group for our guests has been the Kwitondo group of 18 individuals, which, at the moment, has 3 Silverbacks, 2 Blackbacks and one very small baby. This group also lives not too far from the Lodge. One intrepid group of our guests visited the famous Susa group, which in total, numbers 41 individuals, including 6 Silverbacks. Unfortunately, this group has split into 2 groups so you are unlikely to see so many Mountain Gorillas together. Even so, our guests thoroughly enjoyed the Susa group and recommended it to other guests.
One other activity that many of our guests have experienced and enjoyed, is a visit to the Golden Monkeys. A troop of over 100 Golden Monkeys lives in the bamboo forest, on which they mainly feed, very near to our Lodge. Golden Monkeys only occur in the Virunga Mountains and a visit to them is highly recommended. These monkeys are closely related to Blue Monkeys, which occur in forest opposite Governors' and Il Moran Camps in the Masai Mara. The walk to see them is generally less strenuous than a Gorilla trek and the monkeys tend to be very playful, jumping about in the bamboo forests!
Another activity that has proved quite popular is a visit to the Twin Lakes, Lakes Burera and Lake Ruhondo. This can take place in the afternoon after your Gorilla trek. Afternoons at the Lodge, at this time of the year are often quite cool but, once your vehicle descends towards Ruhengeri and on to the lakes, the weather changes and it is usually sunny and warm.
The Lodge grounds, which are slowly returning to their original plant life, have many interesting wild flowers and birds. The common wildflowers occurring include Desmodium repandum, Crassocephalum vitellnum, Cyanotis arachnoids. Many of the Hypericum bushes are in flower, the scent from the Hypericum is quite strong and distinctive and many guests comment on the pleasant smell in the Lodge grounds. Flocks of tiny Black-headed Waxbills are very common and, occasionally, their relative Yellow-bellied Waxbills are also seen. Some of the birds are a little confusing, for instance, the White-eyed Slaty Flycatcher, a common highland bird in East Africa, has no white ring around the eye, while both sexes of another common East African bird the, Baglafecht Weaver, looks similar to the female Baglafecht Weaver. During the early and middle of the month, flocks of migrating European Bee-eaters could be heard and, occasionally, seen high over the Lodge. Small numbers of Steppe Buzzards and, one day, a single Steppe Eagle was also seen. All of these birds are on their way north to breed in Europe. Other birds of prey regularly seen, are Augur Buzzard, including a melanistic individual, Mountain Buzzard, Great Sparrowhawk and a pair of Rufous-breasted Sparrowhawks, which regularly hunt in the vicinity of the Lodge. One day, one of the Sparrowhawks swooped and caught a Black-headed Waxbill within a metre of a client. Chameleons are very common and one day a Mountain Buzzard swooped down and caught one, again, very close to where guests were standing, and not to forget, a pair of White-necked Raven, which have started visiting the Lodge at breakfast time.
Finally, it has been potato harvest time in this part of Rwanda. Everywhere the people have been busy harvesting their potatoes and then preparing their land for the next crop. Many of these potatoes are transported to the nearest town, Ruhengeri, in sacks on the backs of bicycles, whose riders seem absolutely fearless as they swoop around the many bends in the road.
We hope to share the magic of the Virunga Volcanoes with you sometime soon.
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