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South Africa camps
Pafuri Camp update - December 2010 Jump
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This was an exceptional month at Pafuri with regards to sightings, activities and the number of guests hosted in camp. Although December is known as one of the hottest months of the year, we had a few rainy and overcast days which cooled the weather down somewhat, however did not interfere with our activities.
The green and lush vegetation has made for a strikingly beautiful Pafuri. The bush is certainly thicker, which usually inhibits sightings, but this was definitely not the case this month. Elephant bulls were seen on most activities with breeding herds only occasionally seen as the majority of them have moved south of the Luvuvhu River into the wider Kruger. Eland were seen often and as usual there were large breeding herds of buffalo everywhere in the concession. Cat sightings were outstanding. Practically every guest that came through our camp saw fantastic sightings of the Pafuri Pride. One particular sighting involved two males fighting over a female in oestrus. Other guests were lucky to see leopard and in one case, on the carcass of an eland.
General game sightings were also outstanding as large numbers of impala, warthog, nyala, zebra, kudu, waterbuck and so on filed past us on game drives. Some were seen together in their hundreds, grazing in lush areas. The huge numbers of births of young are also swelling their ranks. We also had a number of sightings of rarer species such as porcupine, Sharpe's grysbok, klipspringer and occasionally white rhino.
We have also launched some exciting additional activities at Pafuri Camp. With some work done to our vehicles, we can now access parts of the Kruger Park south of Luvuvhu River. This has broadened the scope of our game drives giving us the ability to take in new habitats and with that, the potential of seeing species that do not commonly occur on our concession. Giraffe, tsessebe and ostrich are just some species which we are now able to view in this new area. This also means that we now have access the spectacular Thulamela Archaeological Site which will open guests' minds to the fascinating history of the area. This trip, as well as a visit to the Makuleke Village outside the park, are highly recommended and have been a favourite of many of our previous guests.
The summer season is always known for its birding and we were not disappointed this month. All the migratory are back and have been flying around, mating and displaying with vigour.
Children in the Wilderness
We kick-started the month hosting our Children in the Wilderness camp! 40 or so children from the Makuleke Community were hosted for five nights and enjoyed themselves so much that half of them did not want to return home. We had a great time on game drive and in camp learning all sorts of environmental and life lessons.
During the second afternoon game drive, as we left the camp, there was a lioness walking past camp which caused much excitement in the vehicles. Later on that afternoon, the young adult male lion was also seen just west of camp. This, together with plenty of plains game and regular buffalo and hippo sightings thrilled the kids and allowed us the perfect canvas to teach them about the environment and ecotourism.
Pafuri Walking Trail update - December 2010 Jump
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Kings Camp update - December 2010 Jump
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The bushveld has gone through tremendous changes within the last few weeks
It was still very dry at the end on November and one could see that certain animals were showing signs of stress as the food sources dwindled. But this all changed during the first two weeks of December, dark clouds filled the skies of the Timbavati and thunder could be heard kilometers away. Then it rained, rained and rained. The rivers started to flow and in no time the dry brown veld turned into a lush green paradise.
This all happened at the right time as days later the impalas started giving birth to their lambs. We now have 38 new impala lambs in our resident impala herd that frequent the camps entrance road. It is a wonderful sight to see the young animals with their mothers so relaxed in front of the camp.
For us guides, it was a busy month at the camp and in between normal daily game drives we even managed to partake in a scorpion course over a 3-day period. We had a lot of fun finding and learning about the different types of scorpions in our wildlife rich area. This course has enriched our knowledge and understanding of these little critters that are seldom seen unless you know where to look. With the aid of a special UV light torch we are able to easily find scorpions as the outer exoskeleton of the scorpion shines up fluorescent in the UV light. Finding them allows us to explain their ecological role in the environment to our guests.
The successful Machattan pride and their new litter of four cubs are alive and well. The cubs are growing fast and look incredibly healthy which is great news for their survival. Lions cubs have a high mortality rate and in our area it is not uncommon to have only 30% of the cubs survive their first year.
Another interesting fact about lions that I would like to mention is prey selection by lions from different regions in Africa. This part of lion behavior is poorly documented for the main reason that a person needs to spend incredibly long periods in one area to gather sufficient data on what prey species are preferred. As long standing guides working in the same area this allows that opportunity to gather this info.
Extensive statistics collected over various studies show that lions normally feed on mammals in the range 190–550 kg. In Africa, generally wildebeest rank at the top of preferred prey which therefore for makes making nearly half of the lion prey in the Serengeti followed by zebra. Most adult hippopotamuses, rhinoceroses, elephants, smaller gazelles, impala, and other agile antelopes are generally excluded.
In the Kruger National Park that includes our area, the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve, giraffes and buffalo are regularly hunted. Cape buffaloes constitute as much as 62% during the dry season in Kruger National Park. This is due to the high number density of buffaloes found in the park and neighboring reserves like the Timbavati. Occasionally hippopotamus is also preyed upon but this is rare. Warthogs are also often taken depending on population density and availability.
In areas around the Savuti River in Botswana, some of the lion prides have adapted and specialized in hunting elephant. Park guides in the area reported that the lions, driven by extreme hunger, started taking down baby elephants, and then moved on to adolescents and, occasionally, fully grown adults during the night when elephants' vision is poor.
After a lengthy absence from our area, our famous white pride, the Kubasa pride are now back and seem to have taken up residence around the camp. This pride appeared to be in poor condition nutritionally, which was probably due to the fact that they had gone many days without a meal.
The pride did make one large kill close to the camp at the end of the month when they successfully took down an adult kudu cow. Several hyenas rode their luck with the two adult lionesses but after several aggressive threats from the lionesses, the hyenas backed off
Rockfig and her little daughter Tumbela are doing very well and have provided us with their usual fantastic sightings. Mom and daughter are starting to spend more and more time apart from each other. Leopards generally become independent from their mother when they are between 18-22 months.
Nthombi and her son were not seen that often this month. I think this is due the two factors, namely, the bush is very dense and lush at this time of the year especially after the heavy rains we received and secondly, the high amount of kills leopards make at this time of the year especially now that the impalas are lambing. This means that they tend to stay on the kills for a number of days without moving around. Our trackers rely on finding fresh tracks when they move about to track them down. With NO leopards on the move there are NO tracks, and with NO tracks we cant find them! Quite simple!
Another stunning leopard that is fast becoming a regular on drive is the Xinope-nope male leopard from the south. It is unusual for male leopards to be so relaxed. We are hoping that he will stay in the area, as there are very few animals as impressive as a fully-grown male leopard.
It was a great privilege that the guides and trackers had the opportunity of spending a couple days with South Africa’s scorpion expert: Jonathan Leeming. Jonathan is one of South Africa’s foremost experts of scorpions and spiders and has recently written the book on this particular subject: ‘Scorpions of South Africa’.
The objective of the course was to explore the smaller creatures in the Timbavati like the Arachnids that are often overlook. The insects, arachnids and bugs that surround us tend to be easily forgotten in the shadow of the larger and more exciting animals that roam in the bush. During the two days of digging around under dried wood and rocks we were amazed to discover the array of different species of spiders and scorpions that abound in our area. We also happened to find two of the most venomous scorpions of South Africa.
Jonathan directed the rangers to dig and scratch and dig some more for scorpions in the surrounding bush. We managed to find eight different species for examination. Each species was examined, discussed and handled. We all gained a wonderful insight into the lives of scorpions and how they fit into the broader eco-system of the African bush.
I took these images of my team at work during the course.
Below is a link to Jonathan website: www.scorpions.co.za
That all for this month dear friends I would like to take this opportunity to wish you a happy and blessed 2011!
Rocktail Beach Camp update - December 2010 Jump
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December was a perfect month at Rocktail Beach Camp. With beautiful scenic beach vistas, lush, humid forests and a warm ocean our numerous repeat guests were awestruck once again. We had amazing sightings of both loggerhead and leatherback turtles while out on evening drives and the green and loggerhead turtles also showed themselves regularly during scuba diving excursions.
We invariably had a few rainy days, which can mess with turtle breeding habits. A number of turtles found it too difficult to dig into the sand to lay their eggs so they were forced to return to sea and try again on another day. Some lucky guests, who were relaxing on the beach, were privileged enough to see a turtle making her way up the beach towards the shelter of the dunes to lay her eggs in the middle of the day.
Other fantastic sightings revealed during scuba diving excursions were a pair of mating octopus, some bluespotted ribbontail rays, honeycomb moray eels and many colourful reef fish. A leopard shark swimming with a school of dolphins and the ever-inquisitive potato bass were some of the highlights seen this month.
Extraordinarily we had a sighting of a Palm-Nut Vulture on the beach - an unusual habitat to find these birds in. It may be that they are one of the numerous creatures and critters that feast on turtle eggs, but this is still to be determined. A Brown Robin was seen nesting between Tents 2 and 3 and guests were able to witness the regular feeding of her chicks. Seeing the beautiful Rosy-throated Longclaw was also a highlight of a drive to Lake Sibaya.
Forest walks guided by Gibson enlightened guests of the various unique trees and plants which grow in the Maputaland Coastal Forest and how many of these species are used for medicinal purposes. During one of these walks guests were fortunate to see a large green mamba beautifully winding its way through the forests.
Despite flight delays in the northern Hemisphere, due to heavy snow and blizzards, we welcomed a number of foreign guests from Europe for Christmas. Prior to the actual day, a vehicle full of children staying with us was taken to a nearby plantation to choose a Christmas tree. Their creative juices flowed handsomely as the children decorated the green branches.
New Year's Eve
New Year was a blast! We had an enormous fish braai out by the pool, and with lots of energy and spirit, the countdown for 2011 was heard loud and clear. There were plenty smiles and laughter.
The kitchen had a nutritious revamp and we have been serving a new menu full of healthy summer recipes. The christening of the pizza oven finally happened, and the ice cream machine ran full throttle for the whole month as children struggled to choose from the delicious flavours.
The first leatherback hatchlings of the season were seen on 7 January 2011.
Rocktail Bay Dive Report - December 2010 Jump
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Wow what a month! December gave us a wonderful gift of warm waters, fine visibility and outstanding sightings. We have had a month of hot sunny days, with some rain to cool us off. However, this was only temporary as the damp very quickly turns to humidity. Ocean visibility generally was about 15 metres climbing to as much as 30 metres on occasion. The warm waters have averaged at a perfect 26ºC.
Summer has not only had its influence on the sea but the land is looking exquisite at the moment. The trees are dripping with flowers, birds are busy nesting and butterflies are fluttering about everywhere. Clive's bees are working overtime making us honey!
Turtles are in abundance at the moment. We see them on almost every dive. A big female loggerhead that we used to see on Aerial Reef has moved to Elusive Reef. She can be identified by two large barnacles above her left eye. In five dives we have found her under the same ledge fast asleep, as if she had not moved at all. However at the end of the fifth dive, as we were about to head back to shore, we saw her popping up for a few breaths before going back down - we assume to the same ledge. Other female loggerhead turtles spend their time around our reefs waiting for the best time to take to the beach and lay eggs. They wedge themselves under ledges so that they don't drift away while they sleep and to guard themselves from sharks. Turtles have the ability to bring their heart rates down to an absolute minimum which enables them to stay underwater and sleep for longer. Hawksbill and green turtles are also seen on a daily basis.
A high-tide afternoon snorkelling trip to Island Rock remains as particularly memorable. There were fish everywhere and we lost count of turtles after seeing about 20 (mostly hawksbills), we saw several rays resting on the sandy bottom and even had the pleasure of watching six spotted eagle rays gliding right past us in only a few metres of water. We watched a couple of them feeding - a rather bizarre sight. Their pointy, duck-bill-like noses flare out into what can only described as a fan as it tears open the rockbait pods to get to the orange meat inside. One would need an extremely sharp knife to get these pods off the reef which shows the strength of the ray's bony mouths. We could actually hear the ripping and tearing sounds as they fed. As we were making our way back we were joined by a white-tip reef shark that circled us a few times before swimming off.
The ragged tooth sharks kept us waiting all month, however we received an early Christmaas present while while snorkelling at Island Rock. We spotted two raggies exploring the. As mentioned in last month's newsletter, pregnant females come up to our warmer waters, to help with their gestation period from the Cape. Each female raggie only gives birth every two years, and she will have two pups. What a maternity leave... all the way from the Eastern Cape and then all the way back with two babies.
On another occasion guests saw huge shoals of stonebreak, blacktail, mullet, parrotfish and many more species. To get to the Island Rock you need to be a relatively good swimmer and fairly fit so that you swim right up against the rock and become part of the action. The diversity of the ecosystem at Island Rock is really spectacular, so the swim is worth it. We are very lucky to have it right on our doorstep.
Back on the reefs, there were huge shoals of fry (baby fish) made up of many species. Most of the clownfish eggs have produced little Nemos. There have been several anemones with a dozen or so tiny clownfish, not even the size of a match-head swimming frantically around in the protection of their new home. There are still many clownfish that have their eggs right next the anemones, if you get close enough you can actually see the baby fish inside each individual egg.
On another dive, a guest had her fingers manicured by the cleaner shrimp at the cleaning station on Aerial. In the same cave there were two blue striped pipefish which is a nice finding as they are not common.
Devil ray sightings have been high this month. These graceful rays are often confused with the larger manta rays, as both species have horns. Guests on a Discover Scuba course on Elusive Reef saw one as they were descending. On Pineapple Reef, four rays swam within a few meters of the divers and one even did a graceful underwater summersault. On another dive at Elusive we had one gliding right toward us; I managed to get a guest's attention, and as the guest looked up the devil ray swam right over him.
The following divers have completed:
PADI Discover Scuba Diving - Cameron, Gabbi and Chris Barker, Jonathan & Miles Casson
PADI Open Water Course - Josh Miller
PADI Advanced Open Water Course - Lucy Soloman (aka Parker)
Makalolo Plains update - December 2010 Jump
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December has been very mixed in terms of the weather. Aside from one large storm on the concession, the rain hasn't set in properly. Thunder clouds have built up and rolled across the plains, accompanied by brilliant lightning displays, but they usually pass over, releasing only a few light showers. December is always slightly cooler than previous months. Temperatures range from lows of 17 degrees Celsius to highs of 37 degrees. What is lovely at the moment is the rainbows which are now a common occurrence.
Landscape and Vegetation
The landscape has dramatically changed in the last couple of months from a barren brown setting to one of virgin green backdrop. The grass has shot up providing a lot of food for the likes of impala - nowadays only noticeable by their horns sticking out over the top of the long green stems. More flowers have bloomed, breaking up the greenery with red and orange splashes. All the water pans have filled up to some extent and the trees are flushed green. The areas burnt in the bush fire earlier in the year are now been covered in shrubs and grasses.
Even though the fertile land and availability of water causes animals to spread out, sightings this month have been quite exciting. Elephant numbers have been down and we have only noticed a slight reduction in other species. However this has been compensated by an increase in the number of baby animals seen. The visibility in certain areas has been reduced due to thickening bush and some roads have been closed giving us less access in some areas. Walking can be particularly interesting at this time of year if you don't mind horse flies and the occasional shower...
Our wild dogs are back and we were gladly surprised to see one rush past our offices and the main deck as it chased a little steenbok. Clearly active, it was also seen around the camp chasing a jackal and then an impala. Three dogs were also seen hunting in front of the camp and it would be interesting to see if the single dog has any connections with these three.
Lion were around and the now single blonde-maned male has been seen frequently near Makalolo. He seems to be proud of the Ngweshla Pride that he spends time with. When he is present this pride consists of 19; they provide much entertainment for us when we see them. They are very relaxed and will happily walk the cubs close to the vehicle when they are passing or are happy to let the little ones play near us. On one occasion when we saw dogs, lion and leopard all in one day, we saw the Ngweshla Pride take on a herd of buffalo. These large creatures, having now gained newfound energy from the available water and food were able to chase the lion off. The Makalolo Pride consisting of two females and two tiny cubs were seen a few times in the vicinity of the camp. One female attempted to hunt warthog to no avail. Further afield we have been privileged to see lion and cubs at Linkwasha.
During the month we found a bat-eared fox den while we have noticed that warthog have taken over the hyaena den. On another drive we stumbled across a cheetah and three cubs. We are still seeing roan and sable and on a drive down to Madundumela we saw two gemsbok. Reedbuck have been seen now at Mbiza and Makalolo. While some guests were having a pool deck dinner an elephant tried to drink while there were floating candles in the swimming pool. The elephant burnt his trunk briefly before plunging his trunk into the water.
Probability sightings for the month:
Baboon - 100%, bat-eared fox - 3%, Cape buffalo - 45%, cheetah - 6%, duiker - 19%, eland - 13%, elephant - 68%, gemsbok - 3%, giraffe - 29%, scrub hare - 6%, hippopotamus - 65%, spotted hyaena - 3%, wild dog - 16%, impala - 100%, black-backed jackal - 65%, side-striped jackal - 26%, kudu - 45%, leopard - 3%, lion - 32%, banded mongoose - 10%, slender mongoose - 3%, vervet monkey - 13%, reedbuck - 10%, roan - 10%, sable - 35%, serval - 3%, springhare - 42%, tree squirrel - 68%, steenbok - 58%, warthog - 48%, waterbuck - 71%, African wild cat - 3%, wildebeest - 77%, zebra - 65%
The bird life has increased as expected with the summer. Due to the migrants our species list has grown substantially and numbers are incredible. Notable are the amounts of birds of prey that we have seen. All the cuckoos, swallows and storks made an appearance during the month. The water birds are also back in their thousands.
Kites, vultures, eagles, bee-eaters and swallows are seen in the hundreds as they congregate at the rising of termites from the ground. We were out and about on one such occasion and we drove straight into this amazing aerial display. The birds ignored us as they swept past our vehicle battling to make the most of the feast. The Red-crested Korhaans are still displaying, plenty of larks are calling in the open grasslands and other passerines are spotted in great numbers in the teak woodlands.
During December we often came across nests while on game drives. Interesting hornbill nests were found and we would watch these birds come in regularly to feed their little ones. All round it has been a bird watcher's paradise.
Camp and Guests
December was fairly quiet early in the month however we were fully booked towards Christmas and New Year. The weather cooperated enough for us to do a number of outdoor activities such as bush brunches, which were very much enjoyed by the guests.
Staff in Camp
Acting Manager - Kate
Guides - Godfrey, Bryan, Lawrence, Richard (trainee)
Hostesses - Kate, Cynthia and Tracy
Little Makalolo update - December 2010 Jump
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Davison's Camp update - December 2010
This month we have had typical December weather. Overcast skies, high humidity and light showers were the order of most days with a few scattered storms. The lightning displays have been spectacular especially watching the storms approach from across the pan on the horizon.
The heaviest rain hit us on 19 December. The almost-hurricane winds which ensued as part of the storm seemed to target our beautiful false mopane trees around camp. The destruction the wind left in its path saw trees uprooted, the collapse of the roof of the main area and branches everywhere. Thanks to the hard work and efficiency of our staff, the camp was again as good as new in just two days.
For the rest, we've had relatively calm days and only some showers in the evening. The highest temperature this month was recorded at 35 degrees Celsius and the lows during some evenings and early mornings were in the regions of 18 degrees.
Vegetation and Landscape
The emerald season is at its most spectacular this month. The deep greens of summer are speckled with yellows of the devil's thorn, oranges of the lion's eye, blues of the benghal commelina, whites of the coffee neat's foot and purples of the pretty lady to name a few. This month also marks the flowering of the long-awaited flame lilies and their magnitude of colours ranging from deep crimson reds to oranges and yellows. The colours on the concession are literally breathtaking.
While some plants are blooming, others are taking a turn for the worse. The pallid emperor caterpillars are mowing the leaves off the syringa trees, fattening themselves up before their magical transformation into moths. Guests are left astonished at the thorough work of these caterpillars as the syringa woodlands begin to look barren as if winter never left. Hopefully they will have time to recover next month.
A favourite place this month has been Ngamo Vleis where zebra, wildebeest and eland have been taking advantage of the luscious green grass growing across the flooded vleis. The Ngamo Pride, consisting of one male, two females and four cubs are having a field day with their choice of daily meals. The skittish pride has been spotted twice guarding its kill. With the breeding season in full force the vleis are also full of baby wildebeest trying to find their feet or hiding in the grass next to their mothers.
The Backpan Pride has also been around this month. Guests witnessed two females half-heartedly hunting a waterbuck. Whether they were hungry or just having a bit of fun is unknown, but the fortunate waterbuck was too quick for them and managed to get away. The lioness did not seem too distressed as they went back to their cubs playing at the pan. The next day the male lion was spotted just outside camp following a herd of buffalo. Buffalo have been seen around camp in abundance this month as they enjoy the fresh grass and the pan in front. In the evenings they move back to the thicker bush. A civet was also seen just outside camp but as soon as it realized it was being watched it disappeared into the bush. Driving back one evening, a lesser bushbaby was spotted sitting relaxed on an ordeal tree.
A cheetah was seen at Linkwasha Vleis with her three sub-adult cubs; they were very skittish but the guests managed to get a good viewing of them on a termite mound as they observed a herd of elephant walking by. Elephant have been very elusive this month. How such big beasts can disappear almost into thin air is a wonder.
183 bird species were spotted in the month. In the morning of 19 December one of the greatest and easily overlooked migration took place. The striking brown-veined white butterflies started heading in the thousands in a north-easterly direction. Their destination is a secret; however, it is a race against time and survival. Birds do not need to look far in search of food.
Red-Crested Korhaans are heard calling every day and the males are seen performing their unique seemingly suicidal 'rocket display' mating display where they fly straight up and drop down opening their wings just before they hit the ground. While some males are still vigorously advertising their bachelor status, some females have been spotted showing off their chicks.
New intra-African and Palaeartic migrants have made their way to Hwange this month. White-Winged Terns are regularly seen flying in small flocks around Ngamo. Banded Martins have also returned for the summer. One particular bird was observed quite closely as it was trying to find a place to roost for the night in the Davison's dining area. The classic White Storks as well as the Abdim's Storks are gracing the open vleis with their presence.
The rains have also brought in the African Spoonbills. These birds are seen dotted around the edges of pans and rain flooded vleis. They keep us entertained as they hunt for small fish and aquatic invertebrates by moving their heads rapidly from side to side with their bill submerged and partly opened. The Retz's Helmet-Shrike has become a regular in camp this month as has a Gabar Goshawk.
The Yellow-billed Kites and Barn Swallows have been allowing for great photo opportunities and much amusement and awe as many gather in the open areas to feed on termites during the insects' nuptial flight. The bird's cunning manoeuvrability was observed as they scarcely avoid colliding with each other while flying after the termites. The soft whirr of the Barn Swallow calls and wings are barely heard amongst plaintive calls and sharp wing flaps of the kites as they all try to get their piece of the feeding frenzy.
Ruckomechi Camp update - December 2010 Jump
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Mana Canoe Trail update - December 2010 Jump
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Toka Leya Camp update - December 2010 Jump
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From spectacular stormy skies with short but heavy downpours to deep blue and clear heavens drenched in sunrays, December weather at Toka Leya Camp saw many faces. The month has been pleasantly warm with day time averages hovering around 31.7 degrees Celsius and nights becoming a cooler 20 degrees. Looking at the averages, this December has been drier than previous years. With only 127ml of rain last month, December's precipitation reached only three-quarters of the average rainfall for this month. All in all last month has been great weather for the outdoors.
Toka Leya's game sightings have been absolutely outstanding this month. The absolute peak of our excitement was when the number of white rhinos in the Mosi oa Tunya NP increased to six individuals. In the early evening of 6 December a beautiful rhino calf was born, ending a gestation period of nearly 18 months. Estimated to weigh between 40 - 65 kg at birth, the calf is expected to stay with its mother for approximately three years. Reaching an average weight of 3 500kg at full adulthood, the size of the second largest land mammal on earth is impressive. With an estimated 17 500 white rhino remaining in the wild, this is great news for the conservation of this great creature in Zambia.
Another wonderful birth took place at Toka Leya Camp. In early December a Cape buffalo was born in the dense silverleaf terminalia bush right next to Tent 9. The newly born calf was then carefully hidden in the vegetation. The mother was clearly very protective of the small calf as on more than one occasion she carefully jabbed her horns into the veranda of Tent 9 when guests or staff passed by. So, to minimise stress on both animals, we offered them as much rest and quiet as we could. Towards the end of the month, mother and calf left camp to join the rest of the herd.
Another mammal which has proved to be reproductive over the past months is the vervet monkey. Good numbers have been born in December. Typically they give birth at night and therefore rarely witnessed by humans. They tend to like being around camp and it is wonderful to see the newborns clinging to their mothers bellies.
With the greenery intensifying around the region, new intra-African and Palaearctic migratory birds have arrived in the area. Definitely the biggest and most elegant bird of all newcomers this month is the White Stork. Being one of the larger wading birds, this stork reaches up to a metre in height. A highly opportunistic feeder, it consumes a wide variety of prey ranging from frogs and fish to rodents and snakes. The riverbanks around Toka Leya are ideal roosting grounds for the birds due to the open fields and scattered trees.
An interesting fact about the White Stork migration is that due to their size this species relies on the assistance of thermals during flight. Therefore storks are reluctant to fly over large bodies of water. Generally leaving Europe around August, migrating White Storks are known to cover a distance of up to 20 000km during their journey to and from southern Africa. Interestingly, only a small number of the population choose to breed in southern Africa.
December saw the arrival of more interesting birds. For example the cuckoo family further expanded their presence. Emerald, Diederick and Black Cuckoos were spotted from early on in the month. Preferring the lush and green forests surrounding the Falls gorge, they are best spotted on a tour of the Victoria Falls. Another intra-African migratory bird we recorded was the beautifully coloured Purple Roller. However widespread this bird is across southern Africa, it is still is an uncommon and fascinating bird to spot.
Due to the moist air from the Congo basin that prevailed above large parts of Zambia during the start of December, moderate to heavy rainfall has caused the Zambezi River to change significantly. Creeks that surround Toka Leya Camp have slowly filled up and rocks and islands, seen from camp, have been swallowed by the water. With this change of the habitat others birds are bound to depart. For example the Rock Pratincole is expected to leave due to loss of the rocky riverine areas where it breeds.
The increase in water volume is great news for the Victoria Falls. After a good period of nearly six weeks, spread out over November and December, the huge rocky escarpment that is the magnificent Victoria Falls has been relatively dry. This quickly has changed and the amounts of water that now flow are impressive again. Arguably one of the very best times to visit the Victoria Falls, guests are able to admire the full length of the gorge without intense spray blocking their views.
"A shining jewel on the Zambezi river whose sparkle should be widely shared!" - Zambia
"Top notch service! Friendly atmosphere in one of the most scenic spots in the world! What else could one ask for! Feel very fortunate to have had the experience!" - USA
"Fantastic scenery, great animals! We enjoyed every minute. Thanks for all your hospitality! We will come back!' - The Netherlands
Staff in Camp
River guides - Donald Lisama, Godfrey Mungala
Senior Guides - Amon Ngoma, Mike Muvishi and Sandy Sakala
Trainee Manager - Zoe Namangonze, Mavis Daka, Cynthia Kazembe
Camp Managers - Suzanne Scheffer & Bastiaan Rosenkamp
Lufupa River Camp update - December 2010 Jump
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As one would expect for this time of year we have had some heavy downpours in the northern Kafue, but this hasn't dampened our spirits. Night time temperatures are extremely comfortable, with the occasional need to don a fleece for dinner or on an evening drive. So far the weather has been on our side as the rains have tended to come at night or during down time between activities. We have not missed a single activity yet. On some occasions, those who have braved the rain have been rewarded with excellent sightings nonetheless.
November's run of predator sightings has continued into December. Most of our guests have had the fortune of seeing lion, leopard and wild dog. Perhaps this is because Lufupa has a number of open areas where antelope and other prey species abound during the rainy season, making for good hunting grounds. The mild temperatures have also meant that the predators are more active during daylight hours than they would be otherwise. A good time to spot these generally elusive animals is late in the afternoon following a rain shower, when they might be seeking some sunshine on an exposed termite mound to dry their coats.
Three lion prides have been seen regularly this month - a pride of nine, consisting of one sub-adult male, six females and two cubs; a coalition of two stunning males of about five years old and one lioness with her two six-month-old cubs that are full of mischief.
The leopard sighting of the month was a large unknown male seen with a freshly killed impala close to camp one morning. He was fairly relaxed in the presence of the game drive vehicle, and when the guests braved the rain in the afternoon to return to the site they were rewarded with a great view of the leopard sitting in a tree.
General game has continued to concentrate around the dambos, or vleis, near to the confluence of the Kafue and Lufupa Rivers. Large herds of buffalo are moving into the area along with kudu, impala, puku, and hartebeest. Zebra and wildebeest, who are mainly absent in the dry season like the buffalo, have also moved back into the concession.
Boat cruises have been rewarding as lion have been spotted a number of times on the banks of the Kafue River. It is always exciting to see prides that we do not know. Of course, one can't mention boat cruises without speaking of hippos. There are a number of pods who have taken up residence in the waters in front of camp.
As 2010 draws to a close, Lufupa wishes you all a prosperous 2011 and we look forward to welcoming you and showing you the wonders of this unspoiled corner of Africa - one if the last remaining true wildernesses.
Staff in Camp
Management: Phil, Solly, Chipasha, Sophie and Evie,
Guides: Rob & JohnD
Lufupa Tented Camp update - December 2010 Jump
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Kalamu Lagoon Camp update - December 2010 Jump
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Shumba Camp update - December 2010 Jump
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Kapinga Camp update - December 2010 Jump
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Busanga Bush Camp update - December 2010 Jump
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Mvuu Camp update - December 2010 Jump
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It is hard to describe the sheer magic of the rains in Liwonde. A barren landscape transforms almost overnight and as the dust and smoke fall away you look north to the edge of the Great African Rift and downstream to Zomba Mountain and watch migrant birds arrive in flocks, most notably the beautiful Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters which are all over the lagoons and the river at present.
The elephant herds do eventually move away to the mopane forests at this time of year but initially stay along the river to feed on the sweet new reed grasses brought on by the rains.
The roads into Mvuu are waterlogged and almost inaccessible now; therefore we have taken the decision to close all the roads into the park. This means access is done only by boat from Liwonde - a memorable one hour trip!
We have been privileged enough to enjoy some truly wonderful sightings at Mvuu this month. We've had several sightings of a young male black rhino along the Ntangai stream south of Mvuu. This rhino has 'escaped' from the sanctuary and is not moving much as the luxuriant foliage on the banks of this perennial watercourse provides all the sustenance he needs. The rhino is relaxed and guests have been able to view and photograph him on several occasions.
Towards the end of December our guide Angel and his guests witnessed an extraordinary sight while on a boat safari - a baboon feeding on crocodile eggs! The mother crocodile will usually monitor her nest site, which is buried in sand just below the surface, but she does move off to feed once in a while and leave the eggs at the mercy of several potential predators (monitor lizards being the most common culprits in Liwonde).
On the same day, while walking, our guide Jim was exploring the thick riverine thickets just north of Mvuu Lodge and came across a Pel's Fishing Owl feeding on a catfish. Liwonde is justly renowned for frequent sightings of these magnificent birds but in the daytime they are generally inactive and prone to sitting quietly and without movement in the tops of high trees. The best way to find them is to look for tell-tale signs of droppings and fish bones at the base. In this case the owl was clearly seen feeding on the catfish firmly gripped in its massive talons. On the same walk guests also had a great sighting of an African Wood Owl - very rarely seen in Malawi.
At the end of December, our guide Mcloud had wonderful views of a herd of no less than 60 elephant swimming and indulging in mud baths at the Cormorant Colony on the river north of camp - a wonderful send-off to 2010. That night he also spotted a pair of porcupines on the Ntangai River.
Mvuu Camp and Lodge organised a very special Christmas for guests. We erected an African Tree and decorated it with Guineafowl feathers. Lunch and dinner tables were dressed in reds and greens. A choir came from Ulongwe to sing to us during dinner. Guests were encouraged to participate in the singing where they knew the song and afterwards there was much joyful dancing.
Every month, Mvuu Camp and Lodge organise an Employee of the Month prize. Guests write down who they think have made their stay special during their stay. This can include anyone from guides, ground labourers, house keepers to waiters, chefs and managers. This started in July 2010 and has been a great motivator for staff.
This motivation was so well received by the staff that management decided to expand this to Employee of the Year. This time, the ultimate prize was a bicycle. This was won by Kinos Lijuni who has worked very hard indeed of the year. Having said that, management of course wants to reiterate to all that everyone at Mvuu has in fact worked extremely hard and that every member of staff was much appreciated over 2010.
Desert Rhino Camp update - December 2010 Jump
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Palmwag Lodge update - December 2010 Jump
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Doro Nawas Camp update - December 2010 Jump
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The weather at Doro Nawas is still hot during the day, a bit of cold wind blowing in the afternoons and cool in the evenings. Although we often see some clouds here and there, there have been no rain drops since November. The daytime temperature is between 25 - 30ºC with 14 - 15ºC in the evenings. With no rain, this is affecting the grazing of small antelope usually seen near the camp.
Wildlife and Landscape
A variety of antelope, such as springbok, oryx, red hartebeest, have been seen grazing around Doro Nawas Camp this month. They have been joined often by ostrich. This was a great chance for our guests to view the animals through their binoculars from the Restaurant deck area and take photos.
On the side of De Riet village in the Huab River, for the first time in the Doro !Nawas Conservancy a cheetah was spotted busy dragging an ostrich under some good shade of an camel thorn tree - it had clearly just killed it. The moment the cheetah heard the vehicle moving in its direction, it left its prey and moved off. We therefore didn't stop and drove past the scene, returning only after tracking elephant to the same spot. We found the cheetah lying next to the ostrich - it once again seemed nervous on seeing the vehicle. We stayed there until it calmed down and then started feasting on its prey. The guests wondered how the cheetah had succeeded in killing an ostrich, but it is my experience that a cheetah does not feed on prey that it hasn't killed itself. We stayed a while, and it was a wonderful experience, guests taking good pictures and chatting about the incident as it was the first time for all of us to see a cheetah killing an ostrich.
The next day when we returned to the same spot, we found martial eagles feeding on the remains of the ostrich. The martial eagle is a very large eagle found in the open and semi-open habitats of Sub-Saharan Africa and not above scavenging others' kills, it seems!
Apart from the Rosie and Oscar elephant groups, a previously unknown herd of about 25 elephants was seen in the Huab River at Pepe springs. They might have come from Bergsig or Palmwag area.
A yellow-billed egret was seen in the Huab River at Pepe Springs. This was an unusual sighting as they usually live in more watery areas, including flooded fields where they feed on fish, frogs, crustaceans and insects.
A Cleaning Day was held on 21 December at Bethanis Village, which lies at the turn-off from the main road to Doro Nawas Camp. The Day was agreed to by the Joint Management Committee and was a great success according to the Area Manager and the members of Bethanis community.
"Sleeping under the stars! The process of tracking down the elephants with a knowledgeable guide was as much as like seeing them." Nina & Peter
"Excellent driving skill of our guide and beautiful landscape." Inge
"The elephant tracking and determination of Michael as our guide to find the elephants. It was a wonderful experience, the Damara Village - living museum was interesting and though provoking." Lesley
"Outside shower, beautiful landscape, tidy environment." Sipho
Managers & Guides in Camp
Carina (Acting Camp Manager)
Agnes Bezuidenhout (Assistant Manager)
Morien Aebes (Assistant Manager)
Theobald Kamatoto (Assistant Manager)
Pieter Kasaona (Trainee Guide)
Michael Kauari (Guide)
Ignatius Khamuseb (Guide)
Richardt Orr (Guide)
Danize joined the Wilderness Safaris Head Office team in Windhoek from 1 of December, while Coenie said farewell to the Doro !Nawas team on Wednesday the 15th of December. The key word most staff members had to say to Coenie and Danize was that they have learned a lot from them and their last word to the team was, "Believe in yourselves, that you can be the best!"
Newsletter for this month written by Theobald Kamatoto (Assistant Manager) and Pieter Kamatoto (Guide).
Thanks to Peter Traxler from Switzerland for the photos.
Damaraland Camp update - December 2010 Jump
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The weather in Damaraland is forever unpredictable, but on average this December we have been experiencing hot days followed by the relief of cool nights. These have been brought about by a cold westerly wind which picks up in the evening. We still haven't received rain despite the ever-present clouds.
Oryx, kudu, springbok, red hartebeest, zebra and giraffe are the order of the day while out on game drives.
Ostriches are also seen regularly as they seem to have made the airstrip their home for the time being. The desert-adapted elephant always make their appearance while we are out and about which always thrills our guests. A group of these elephant have moved into the Opdraends area, having come from the Grootberg Conservancy.
The highlight of the month was the sighting of warthog and a rare honey badger.
The cloudy weather encourages the scorpions to show themselves, and therefore we have taken guests on night walks to view these interesting critters. They have made their appearance every time we've gone looking for them.
The Oryx Project
David Lehmann is a PhD student from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research of Berlin. He is currently working on "The Oryx Project" within Damaraland. This project aims to understand how springbok and oryx select their resources and habitats in response to drastic seasonal changes. This study will enable one to understand, model and predict the responses of desert ungulates toward habitat desertification, a threatening phenomenon in Namibia and in the world in general, thus aiding wildlife conservation and livestock management. This project also aims to help local communities in their conservation efforts through the sustainable exploitation of their environment.
For more information visit http://www.oryxproject.com/
Camp and Community
The Torra committee donated three goats or sheep to each registered household in the community as a Christmas gift. The pensioners also received food and presents.
We sent bread and soup to a bereaved family who were holding a funeral on a nearby Fonteine Farm.
"Everything was wonderful. Friendly staff! We especially loved the singing and the boma experience."
"The staff are wonderful and so friendly and our guide Johann was brilliant."
"We loved sitting around the table with staff and hearing about their experiences and perspectives of Damaraland and Nambia."
"We really enjoyed the lovely surprise dinner with the candle path, the singing and dancing."
Managers and Guides in Camp
Skeleton Coast Camp update - December 2010 Jump
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Serra Cafema Camp update - December 2010 Jump
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Ongava Tented Camp update - December 2010 Jump
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We had our first rains of the season at the beginning of December. We all were very excited and as an added gift, we also had beautiful rainbows to look at. For the rest of the month it has been very hot, with a temperature of 40 degrees Celsius almost every day - the guests have been enjoying the swimming pool. The heat is definitely not for the fainthearted.
Wildlife and landscape
December has been filled with animal sightings. With the beginning of the rainy season a lot of wildlife in the Etosha National Park began to migrate to the north. It is therefore difficult to see large herds of animals at this time. This is particularly true of the elephant herds as they have also migrated to the north of the National Park.
However, the sightings in Ongava Game Reserve are always great, with good chances to see rhino and lion, as well as occasional leopard. We had a very good sighting of a leopard hunting a steenbok; we held our breath but the steenbok survived in the end.
The waterholes have been very quiet as the animals can find water everywhere after the rains. At the end of the month the waterholes were quite busy again as it had not rained for a while.
With the beginning of the rains we have been having more sightings of the smaller animals such as zebra snakes and scorpions. We even found a big scorpion, Opistophthalmus wahlbergii, in our office ... we did manage to take it back to the hills unharmed.
As it is the time of year for many births, we have also started seeing different babies, such as those of Hartmann's zebra, hartebeest and Burchell's zebra. We are looking forward to the rest of the baby boom coming soon. We have also seen some of the lionesses who seem to be heavily pregnant.
"Our Guide Leon was Friendly and the staff went out of their way to ensure my special dietary requirements were met."
"Elephant in Etosha, washing their backs with mud, a few metres from our vehicle. And of course the lions next to the camp."
"Extraordinary commitment and dedication of our guide Rio, who has a deep knowledge and made us benefit from it." Edith and Jens
"Fantastic guide, Rio, great camp staff. We enjoyed seeing the rhinos, lions and all the animals, even the ground squirrels. Thank you for a wonderful time, we hope to visit again." King (third time to visit OTC)
We celebrated Christmas with a few guests this year where we had all a lot of fun - and we ended off the evening with traditional Christmas crackers.
Little Ongava update - December 2010 Jump
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Ongava Lodge update - December 2010 Jump
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The daytime temperatures have increased. Humid and overcast conditions are the order of most days, however the rain has cooled the air in the mornings and evenings.
Game viewing for this month has been very good in both Ongava Game Reserve and Etosha National Park. Lion have not failed to disappoint guests especially with one exceptional day when two separate prides were spotted hunting and killing on the same day. One took place in the afternoon and the other while we were out on a late night drive. On each occasion, guests were able to spend time with the cats as they devoured their feast.
One of the best game viewing spots at Ongava is from the comfort of an armchair at the lapa sipping a cool drink while animals gather at the waterhole to partake in the same activity - drinking! The waterhole still remains popular and is especially interesting at night. Black and white rhino are frequent visitors, as are lion. The hide overlooking this waterhole, just a stone's throw away, is in high demand. Here you get to view these fantastic animals up close.
In the neighbouring Etosha National Park, elephant are migrating further to the north of the park and therefore are seen less frequently. The only time that we are spotting these great creatures is at midday when they "flock" to the pans.
Bird watchers can still enjoy plenty of bird life in both parks. There are over 350 species of birds in and around the region. Currently, being summer, we are seeing a huge variety including the Southern Masked Weaver, Lilac-breasted Roller, Green-winged Pytilia and many more for birders to enjoy.
It is a real pleasure to give our guests the holiday of a lifetime at our beautiful Ongava. Many leave with memories which they will never forget. See some of the comments that we have received this last month:
"Unforgettable memories of the animals, sunrises and sunsets on safari."
"Excellent stay at a very comfortable lodge. Great sightings of the animals from our room. The star gazing at night was exceptional. A great experience that we'll never forget."
"Thank you for everything we are very happy to have seen a pride of lions feasting on a kill. We hope to return soon."
Managers and Guides
Our camp manager Adriano and assistant manager George were on leave in December but all ran smoothly with their replacements Agnes and Jason. The guides were all present except for Michael who was relieving at Little Ongava in the absence their guide.
Andersson's Camp update - December 2010 Jump
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Little Kulala Camp update - December 2010 Jump
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The weather kept us guessing for the best part of the month, ranging from days where we measured between 45 and 48 degrees in the sun at midday and about 38 degrees in the shade! The wonderful thing about the desert is that it cools down completely at night and the night-time temperatures were a lovely, cool 18 degrees. On many nights our guests decided to sleep outside under the night skies. There was one week where there was a cold front moving through and temperatures of 10 degrees were measured on some mornings.
Due to the bit of rain we received in November, a lot of the trees in the area have turned a very bright green, adding a little colour to the desert spectrum.
Due to the heat most of the animals are more active at night but in the early morning between 8 and 10, the Namaqua Sandgrouse and Pale Chanting Goshawks come for a drink at the nearby waterhole - to the delight of guests having breakfast.
Night walks are becoming more popular with our guests; this can be done before or after dinner and most guests prefer to do this activity after dinner, to walk off the excellent meal. During one of these walks, Thereza and Elaine, two of our guides, found two different species of thick-tailed scorpions as pictured. One is Parabuthus granulatus, and the other is the Parabuthus schlechteri known to spray venom when extremely provoked. The guides can spot these scorpions easily by way of using a UV light; this light makes the exoskeleton of the scorpion light up. It is not known why they glow in this light but it is speculated that light is reflected by the hyaline layer of the skeleton.
Special Event - Christmas!
Even if you are far away from civilisation - the Christmas spirit will find you! The Little Kulala staff prepared a special dinner for the guests at the swimming pool, consisting of a traditional barbeque and maize meal (usually eaten with the hands). After dinner the staff displayed their talents with a very enthusiastic musical performance complete with drums, dancing and singing.
"We encourage you strongly to continue your efforts to preserve the environment and the wilderness as we could enjoy it for years to come."
"We were impressed by the commitment of the staff to preservation of the environment we came to love. From the beginning it was clear that a minimal impact was important."
"The mountains and the light surpassed only by the tranquillity. The scenery was magnificent and I was surprised by the variety and quantity of wildlife we encountered."
Staff in camp
Managers: Daphne and Igna
Relief Manager: Lona
Assistant managers: Corrie
Guides: Richard, Agnes, Theresa, Raymond, Willem, Elaine
Kulala Desert Lodge update - December 2010 Jump
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The southern parts here in Namibia are known for scorching temperatures and December was certainly no exception. One morning at 10h30, the temperature gauge read 38 degrees in the shade!
This offending piece of equipment was very quickly removed and everyone tried to forget how hot it was! Strong winds dominated the late afternoons and the sunsets were spectacular as usual.
Brown hyaena have always been rare sightings, but some of our guests were lucky enough to see one driving back to camp after their sunset drive. Most of our guests are well travelled in Africa but for many of them seeing a brown hyaena was a first.
We have a massive area in which we operate and are constantly looking for new things to do for our guests. On one of these excursions, Kobus, Willem and Petrus went to Dune 1 to see what could be found, and came across one of the original desert 4x4s: a tenebrionid beetle, running effortlessly up the dune. A white lady spider also came out for an inspection and Kobus was ready to capture this on camera.
Special Events - Christmas!
December was marked by festive season silliness and even if you are in the desert, you don't escape the excitement. At Kulala Desert Lodge we keep Christmas as "Namibian" as possible by using a dry acacia tree and locally made Christmas decorations. Our guests got into the Christmas spirit and helped us decorate our tree. On Christmas Eve, our guests were invited to join us for a cocktail on the veranda of the main area and were treated to a huge spread put together by Phillip and his team. Lona and the Teek hosted everyone at the family table and turkey stuffed with apple and herbs was served as the main dish, followed by a traditional malva pudding. On Christmas Day, the service staff placed a buffet of gammon and salads out on the veranda so that our guests could enjoy the spread while catching a bit of the breeze outside!
"Very friendly and efficient service and assistance. Nice, lovely flexible people."
"Great visit, we loved the resort, unique experience, staff were superb, guides were excellent - very knowledgeable."
"Very satisfied ... Thanks for providing such a wonderful experience. We take away many fond memories of the area."
Staff in camp
Managers: Dawie and Christa
Assistant managers: Violet, Kobus
Food and Beverage Manager: Phillip
Relief Manager: Lona
Guides: Angula, Petrus, Jaos, George, Willem
Kulala Wilderness Camp update - December 2010 Jump
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Hot, hot, hot is the only way to describe the weather this month at Kulala. It is hardly surprising seeing as we are in desert land in the middle of summer. Cooler days on the reserve measured at around 38 degrees Celsius and the hottest recorded was 48 degrees. Guests therefore enjoyed the swimming pool and lots of cold drinks. There were a couple of days that a offered brief respite in the mornings when the temperatures came down to as low as 10 degrees. No rain fell this month unfortunately.
The larger animals of the reserve were fairly scarce during the month due to little food being found in the region and the oppressive heat; however a number of Oryx have been sighted which is a sign that the population is healthy.
A number of bird species were seen including the Ludwigs Bustard which is bigger than the Kori Bustard and sports brighter colours. A juvenile Pale Chanting Goshawk was spotted along with Namaqua Sand Grouse who have made themselves at home in the surrounds of the camp, sitting next to walkways and becoming so relaxed they almost don't flinch a muscle when guests walk past.
The highlight for the month was the sighting of mountain zebra in the distance when we drove our guests to our Christmas bush dinner.
Special Event - Christmas!
The Christmas spirit was alive and well at Kulala Wilderness Camp. Our Christmas tree was very much within the Kulala style - dead branches decorated with locally made beaded decorations.
On Christmas Eve we pulled out all the stops for the evening and showed our guests how to celebrate Christmas in the Desert. The guides surprised the guests with a special sundowner followed by a bush dinner and a menu consisting of grilled stuffed Turkey as the highlight. Our team entertained our guests by singing and dancing, but Mother Nature had her own surprise up her sleeve. Just after the staff finished their singing the moon started to rise over the hills flooding the flat valley with its light. It was so beautiful that it stunned everyone to silence; only the jackals dared to pay homage to this display of beauty.
"Great memories that will stay with me include the wonderful staff in camp, the chef announcing his menu during meals, the evening turndown and the outstanding guide who was so informative. The evening drives and sunsets were stunning and I very much enjoyed sitting on my porch looking at the dunes. The staff is superb, professional, thoughtful and kind. I look forward to coming back"
Staff in Camp
Relief Manager: Lona
Assistant managers: Dios and Petronella
Guides: Richard, Moses, Dawid
Governors' Camp update - December 2010 Jump
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Weather & the Plains:
December in the Masai Mara was mostly dry with scattered bursts of rain through the month. We received a total of 104mm and day time temperatures averaged around 29/30 C. The afternoon rain showers were very welcome, settling the dust and cooling off the day.
Photos courtesy of Philip McLellan and Joelle Delloye
The grassland plains are still fairly short after the migration of wildebeest and zebra had passed through. Looking out across the plains it looks tawny and dry from the unpalatable stalks left behind, but underneath it is a lovely green mat starting to grow back again. These are perfect grazing conditions for the plains game as the grass has plenty of nutrition in its new shoots. A good indicator of this are the white tissue paper flowers scattered across the short grass, these flowers will only blossom with the new growth of grass as they live off the nutrients in the meristematic tissue of the grass stem base. The baboons love eating these flowers as well as the new grass shoots.
The larger numbers of the migration moved southwards into the Serengeti in November, but small pockets of zebra and wildebeest remained into the first couple of weeks of December. The Mara triangle had fairly big herds of zebra munching on the longer grass that remained, but they moved on quickly toward Tanzania. It is amazing how they are driven by such a strong instinct to move when there is still plenty of grazing about. The last wildebeest, mostly males or lost young are picked off quickly by the lion prides as they are so conspicuous and it will be a while until times are plentiful again for the predators.
Photos courtesy of Joelle Delloye
The elephants have been frequent visitors to the camps again as they head back to the forests to forage. They are feeding again on the Teclea, ficus, Markhamia and Bligia trees, which have had a period of respite during the short rains. The elephants move from the forests in the morning, often crossing the river (the water line just touching an adults belly) and then onto the marsh as the day warms up.
Photos courtesy of Michael Poliza
Giraffes have been plentiful through December, eating many of the same trees the elephant prefer, but with a lot more finesse and selectively choosing the new growth.
The majority of the plains game from impalas, gazelles, topi to the warthog have had their young and now the process of rutting has started. Males are busy re-establishing their territories especially after a shower of rain as their scent markings will fade. The impalas are the most raucous as the males chase each other around, white tails fluffed out, heads held high in the air and letting out a loud series of grunts. This serves to assert their dominance as well as impress the does. The females already in season will not relent or be impressed so easily, they will make sure their male suitor has stamina. Thomson's gazelles will run miles in pursuit of a female. It will be another 6 to 8 months before we see the offspring which will tie in well with the lush grass brought about by the long rains in April/ May.
Photos courtesy of Joelle Delloye
The warthogs have their work cut out as their young are very vulnerable at this stage. Any animal that eats meat will be in pursuit, from lions to eagles. Sensing the imminent danger warthogs will graze close to their burrow, the female's burrow is adapted so she has a basement where the young will hide and keep warm whilst their mother stands guard above them with her sharp tusks facing the entrance.
"Fairies Whispers" (aptly named by our balloon pilot Dave Kew), are silk threads that fly off with the wind. They are made by caterpillars in the trees as they eat and fall or move from branch to branch. We started to see the first around Christmas time after a few showers of rain, so we should hopefully be seeing more butterflies and moths soon.
Birding has been interesting of late with a few flocks of migratory birds flying through the Mara including Black Storks, White Storks and Spoon-billed storks and the Rufous-bellied Herons are back in the marshes after a long absence. We have a pair beautiful but noisy of Double-toothed barbets nesting in a Lepisanthes tree at Il Moran Camp. The Teclea bushes are fruiting which the Bull bulls are loving and the Black and White casked Hornbills are seen more readily these days.
Through December we had great sightings of Rhinoceros. From the balloon on one day the pilot saw three rhinos on the Westside of the river and another two on the Eastside - a new balloon record! We also had some lovely sightings on the game drives, on one occasion a Rhino walked all the way up towards the Governors airstrip.
Hyenas were very productive last year, there are many den sites dotted between the airstrip and paradise plains. The pups ranging from shy black fur balls to curious nearly spotted young hyenas chewing the landrover tyres.
Photos courtesy of Samuel Kiplangat
The marsh lions have been moving around their area, following the zebra moving toward the Talek river area to the east. The core pride of lions have been seen feasting on many kills. Strangely enough on a few waterbuck which predators usually avoid as their sweat / scent glands secrete a substance which has very strong unpleasant odour, especially under stressful conditions! On one occasion they had killed two adult male waterbuck about 300 meters apart, the two lions feeding on one whilst the lionesses and cubs on another. On Christmas day the lioness with the three smallest cubs killed another waterbuck which they had all to themselves until boxing day when the rest of the pride showed up to help out. The first litter of nine cubs which were marginalized by the pride have moved a little way away where the females are trying to stay out of trouble. The five males have become quite sizable and have had a few scraps. They have been moving from the marsh area on to the ridge and over to the edges of the paradise territory near the main crossing.
Photos courtesy of Adrian Waller and Joelle Delloye
The Ridge Pride has been pushed over the ridge by the young boys from the Marsh Pride and now reside further towards the river. They have two pride males, four females and four cubs.
The Paradise pride was not seen much in the last month, the lionesses and cubs spending their time in the Croton bushes and the odd one spotted out in the open and on the other side of the Mara River. The five big pride males have been ranging over their whole territory. Notch was not seen in December, he may be over on the other side of the Mara River.
Our young Il Moran leopardess has been seen a few times at the Musiara marsh, once with a Thompson Gazelle kill in a tree. She is a very relaxed and tolerant leopard when she wants to be seen. Throughout the last couple of weeks of the month we heard the distinctive territorial sawing sound made by two or more leopards in the forest at night. The young female was seen once opposite the end tents at Il Moran in the bush near the river just watching the goings on in the late evening as the watchmen prepared for the night. There has been a sighting of the big male leopard along the Governors stretch of forest too. The forests around our camps are home to lots of leopards!
Olive is still doing well with her two beautiful 2-3 month old cubs and she is still cautious with her cubs. The cubs still have beautiful glazed blue eyes and very dark spots.
Photos courtesy of Joelle Delloye
Shakira, mother Cheetah of the year, is still with her six cubs which are now coming up to about 5 months and are starting to lose their tufty manes. She must be hunting every couple of days or so to keep everyone fed and this will become increasingly difficult as they get older and have a bigger appetites to satisfy.
Two single female cheetahs have been seen in the area, one is in amazing condition unfortunately the second has Sarcoptic mange around her neck. Another single male cheetah sighted on the plains above the marsh also had mange on his shoulders like epaulettes.
The three cheetah boys as usual are in great shape and are seen regularly. With the explosion of young antelope out on the plains it makes for easy pickings for a cheetah, even easier for three! The short grass does give them away a little easier but also makes it easy for the cheetah to spot new born gazelles trying to hide themselves in the open. The boys were seen chasing the one female cheetah and her cub from the area. As she is not in season she is seen as competition for prey in the male's range, any other cheetah is not welcome.
Other interesting sightings in December were; one single caracal which are always a treat and a few sightings of Serval cats. One Serval was chased off into hiding by a Secretary bird which was a different thing to see.
Bat-eared foxes have been out in the early morning sun warming up before disappearing into their burrows for the day to snooze. On one of these mornings a Thompson gazelle was seen chasing a few over the plains for some distance before they managed to escape into a burrow.
We had an enormous 3 meter python at the marsh and on one occasion we counted sixty-two crocodiles of various shapes and sizes down at the Mara river surrounding and feeding on a dead hippo which had been there for a few days!
Photo courtesy of Michael Poliza
We hope to share the magic of our corner of the Mara with you sometime soon.
Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge update - December 2010
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