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South Africa camps
Pafuri Camp update - February 2010 Jump
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Weather and Landscape
The first two weeks of February were very dry, continuing on from two months of no rain. Until the middle of the month, the days were also rather warm: we recorded the hottest day of the year on the 13th when temperatures soared to 46°C (115°F)! When it finally rained on the 17th
the change was remarkable. On the 19th we received about 68mm (2.5 inches) of rain, which was enough to fill some of the pans. A day after that the bush came back to life, with frogs calling in all the pans, White Storks marching about and Lesser Spotted Eagles in every second tree. The bush is now covered with a lush green blanket, studded with wild flowers.
Although it is wet now, more rain is still needed to fill the pans to their capacity, and to fill the ones that have no water at all. We always pray for more rain, and if this prayer is answered we will have incredible game viewing at Pafuri this winter. It seems that global warming is affecting our weather patterns and making this year's wet season very dry. But despite the climate change, Pafuri remains the best true African bush experience, with amazing biodiversity.
As usual, big breeding herds of buffalo are seen everywhere in the concession. The buffalo number up to 300 in a herd. The two old buffalo bulls are essentially part of the furniture, and are seen almost every day in front of camp.
Hippo are also seen almost every day in front of camp, and sometimes also during the night, when they leave the water to graze. A couple of breeding herds of elephant were seen before the rains, but now only bulls are occasionally seen on areas of higher ground within the concession. Eland sightings were not common this month, but towards the end of the month we saw a herd of about 60, with lot of youngsters, at Manqeba floodplain.
Big cat sightings have gone down a bit this month, probably because the bush is thick and the antelope have dispersed and are no longer concentrated along the river. The Pafuri Pride, which numbers 12, was seen five times this month. We also saw the two sub-adult lion a few times. We saw leopard on average every third day, testament to the notorious elusiveness of this spectacular big cat.
Other interesting mammal sightings include: African wild cat, African civet, white-tailed mongoose and black-backed jackal; African rock python drinking water from a puddle in the road, and a large spotted genet with two babies.
Birding is always phenomenal at this time of the year. The migratory birds are still around and some of the water birds are coming back because the pans are filled with water. I am almost tempted to say that Pel's Fishing-Owls are no longer rare birds at Pafuri, because we are seeing them now during the day at their roosts - sightings from the road no less. We also saw a Bateleur feeding on a big snake, possibly a snouted cobra.
Pafuri Walking Trail update - February 2010 Jump
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Kings Camp update - February 2010 Jump
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Lion and leopard sightings were plentiful
Our resident leopardess, Rockfig Jnr and her two cubs were sighted numerous times. Lion sightings were also excellent especially now that the white lions are moving around the camp area most of the time.
Frequent sightings of this pride ensured that most of the guests got to see them. I still believe that most of the staff, and guides don’t realize the significant importance of theses lions in our area of Timbavati at the
moment. This is history in the making and we are a part of it. Anyway, let’s start the report with Lions. After all the lion is the King of the bushveld.
The white lion pride known as the Kubasa pride is still in our area three months after they first arrived during December 2009. Several large kills
have ensured that the cubs are healthy and looking good.
Towards the end of the month the pride had a few anxious days. Pressure from male lions from the north and south forced the females to move extensively
to avoid any confrontations.
At the same time the leading female tried to keep the pride as central as possible therefore avoiding contact with the big males. Several small kills were made of which one was a medium sized zebra.
One of our oldest most respected and legendary lionesses of Timbavati died on the 26th of February at Manhattan dam. She was still seen during the morning and appeared to be fine. That same day during the afternoon drive
one of the guides informed us that she sadly passed away. This recessive white gene carrier was at least 18 years old. Warren and I agree that she still had at least another 2-3 years left. She gave us thousands of
sightings. She taught me so much about lion behavior and I will always remember her, as I was one of only 4 guides ever to see her litter of white cubs she had during 2005. Unfortunately they did not survive more than a
I also remember her as a leader, a fighter and one that was always with
her pride during territorial fights. This eagerness to fulfill the leadership role unfortunately meant that she frequently left her cubs unattended for
days and hence her poor parental care track record.
I would like to dedicate this report to her. Farewell my friend we will never forget you.
Voëldam pride is back
One of the most interesting and exciting sightings I had this month was when two of Africa’s top A-pex predators arrived at the same time at a buffalo carcass. If is believed the buffalo died of old age and I suspect the
hyenas found the carcass first. The lions arrived minutes later. You can only imagine what must have happened when they met....................
Well, I hate to disappoint you but there was no big fight as predicted. In fact it was very unusual. Have you ever seen lions and hyenas feeding on the same carcass and tolerating each other? Most people would say NEVER! I
have only seen this once before and this was my second time. The two lionesses started feeding on the carcass initially. Within minutes two large female hyenas took a chance and joined the two lionesses. Both parties were reluctant to move and I suppose decided well, as long as you stay on your side of the carcass we will stay on our side. Have a look the images and you will notice one of the lionesses keeping a very close eye on the hyena.
What more can I say, incredibly beautiful is this stunning spotted cat.
One has to see this animal in real life to appreciate the magnificence and grace of a leopard.
Rockfig Jnr leopardess has made headlines again this month and I predict that she will continue to do so for the next year or so. Her two cubs are well and healthy.
They are still very small and they are extremely relaxed around the vehicles making it a photographers dream. It has been several years since I last had the privilege to photography cubs this small and relaxed around a vehicle.
Surely this must be one of the best places in the world to view this spectacular top predator.
The cubs are extremely playful and it is confirmed that one is male and the other a female. In one specific sighting, one of the cubs was showing a great deal of interest in us and approached without a worry in the world.
One day during the month, Rockfig jnr was treed by one of the Timbavati male lions. She was forced to climb into a huge Apple leave tree and seek refuge there for several hours. Reluctant to move from the safety of the
tree she would occasionally grunt and growl at the male lion conveying her annoyance.
Keep watching these reports in order to view the progress of her cubs.
On a different note and something that would send most people running for
life. Snakes… a very beautiful and large African Rock Python
Python sebae is a non-venomous python species found in sub-Saharan Africa. With adults reaching lengths of over 6 m (20 ft), this is one of the world's largest species of snakes. The typical adult length is 4.8 m (16 ft) and
rumors of specimens over 6 m (20 ft) are generally considered reliable, but larger specimens have never been confirmed.
Albert and I were fortune to bump into this 3,2 meter Python. It took some time to secure this large specimen, which turned out to be a male. After teaching Albert how to handle non-venomous snakes, he clearly enjoyed
holding this beautiful and rare snake for his guests to view.
The colour pattern is typically brown, with olive and tan irregular blotching, fading to white on the underside. Typically associated with grassland and savannah habitat, not too far from water (rivers, streams,marshes), sometimes entering the edges of forests. They often occur in or near cane fields.
Opportunistic feeders, and will consume almost any animal they come across and can overpower by constriction. Young pythons eat primarily small rodents, which makes them popular with local farmers for reducing the populations of species harmful to crops, like the cane rat. However,
adults are capable of taking very large prey, including young crocodiles, goats, gazelles, warthogs and even humans making them potentially very dangerous.
Attacks on humans are very uncommon. Although this species can easily kill an adult, there are only a few cases in which the victim. The last known case in which a person was eaten occurred in South Africa in 2002, the
victim being a 10-year-old child.
Conservation status While considered endangered and threatened, this species is listed as a CITES Appendix II species, which puts restrictions on its exportation
around the world. The primary reason for this is because their skin is used in the leather industry, frequently being made into shoes, belts, and purses.
That is all for this month friends. I hope you enjoyed the report.
From all the rangers and trackers of Kings Camp.
Report by Patrick O’Brien
Rocktail Beach Camp update - February 2010 Jump
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Weather and Camp
What a great month! Even though February is a fairly slow month for travellers throughout Southern Africa, it's an excellent time to visiti Rocktail Beach Camp. A real highlight here is the overlap between nesting turtles and hatching nestlings - which we will discuss more in this month's turtle newsletter.
On the weather front, things have been somewhat unusual, and rain has been patchy. In defence of our rain god, other areas in the region have experienced above-average rainfall, which has helped crack the long drought that has been plaguing northern KwaZulu-Natal.
We touched on the excellent snorkelling at Lala Nek in the last newsletter - but it has become even better - if that is possible. According to Gugu and MB, our guides with a combined 40 years of experience in the area, the snorkelling is better now than it has been in many years. The bay in which we snorkel was scoured out by storms early in January and it seems that more and more silt is being removed as the months tick by. As more rock structure, with its associated micro-habitats, becomes exposed, more habitat is thus available for invertebrates and crustaceans. On a particular snorkelling excursion, seven new species were identified (i.e. not seen since the opening of Rocktail Beach Camp), and since then a further three species have been identified for our growing species checklist at Lala Nek.
Fishing continues to improve, particularly for the kingfish species on artificial baits like fly and plugs. A cold water snap midway through the month upset catch records for a good ten days. The water went from 28° to 21°C (82° - 70°F) overnight; the severity of the drop overwhelming some fish that couldn't handle the sudden change and washed out on the shore. March and April are the golden months for fishing, but prepare yourself if you plan to wet a line - give the camp a call for an up-to-date report on fishing conditions.
We have an announcement that will make all future guests very happy - tea and coffee is now available in all our rooms.
A most special event occurred this month, with the engagement of Keith to his lovely wife-to-be Tracey. As far as Tracey knew the weekend away was to celebrate Keith's birthday, but Keith had other plans... Unbeknownst to Tracey, he arranged a romantic dinner for two at the bird hide, while unbeknownst to Keith, Tracey did the same. The dinner was therefore no surprise to anyone, but the real intention was! The lovebirds were left to enjoy the evening alone and on their return to camp announced that Tracey was officially, and forever, off the market.
Sadly Ondyne, our dive instructor, has left us for a future with her fiancé, Mark. We'll miss them both. Apart her commitment to guests and her unwavering patience and professionalism, she will be most dearly missed for her peanut butter butternut roast! We warmly welcome our new instructor, Catherine, fresh from the Caribbean.
Rocktail Bay Dive Report - February 2010 Jump
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Wow! Where to begin? The first few days of February were quiet, with no divers in the camp - as it turns out, this was just the quiet before the storm. Even though we were not 'crazy busy' this month, we have had a steady flow of divers. Most of February saw hot sunny days with the odd rain shower, and some clouds to cool us off. Seas were mostly flat.
The first dive of the month was at Gogo's where we had a grey reef shark that swam around us for at least ten minutes - we ended up leaving it to carry on with our dive. Other shark sightings this month have included white tip reef sharks, several more grey reef sharks and some lovely sightings of whalesharks. We've seen three whalesharks this month - which is just awesome. The best sighting was a 15-minute snorkel with one on the way back from Elusive, when everyone managed to get a good look at it.
Staying with the big guys, we have seen loads of dolphins, with big pods of up to 25-30 at a time, and have taken great pleasure in swimming with them. At Solitude, the deepest reef we dive (sitting at a maximum depth of 24 metres), we saw two HUGE king mackerel, also known as couta, and some really big honeycomb moray eels.
There have been pregnant round ribbontail rays resting in the potholes at Aerial. At Elusive and Aerial we have seen really big green turtles - it's not that common to see the really big ones, so this was a treat. We have also had sightings of loggerhead and hawksbill turtles.
Living at Elusive, in one of the potholes just outside of the doughnut, and seeming to be quite content sitting on their starfish, is the pair of harlequin shrimps - still there from last month. Such a beautiful sight of one of the world's rarest shrimps! Other small creatures this month have included a lovely sighting of a long-nose hawkfish in the green coral at Solitude, several juvenile razor wrasses bobbing around on the sand, garden eels, loads of ghost pipefish and a rare yellow pipefish (which we have not been able to identify yet). One pineapple fish is still in its cave and slowing growing at Aerial Reef, and paperfish are abundant. We have also seen octopus, porcelain crabs and juvenile flutemouths, as well as a few great sightings of devil rays jumping out of the water. They put on this magnificent display in order to "slap" the parasites off their backs.
Pineapple Reef, which sits between 16-18 metres, has seen tonnes of action this month, and had what is probably going to be the sighting of the year for Rocktail...
As you all know, Ondyne will be leaving us soon to get married, so Catherine came to Rocktail for a trial period. On the 17th, on her seventh dive here at Rocktail, Cat saw what she thought was a pipefish on a little sand patch, so she went in for a closer look, only to find out that it was a twig. While she had her nose in the sand, so to speak, something black and very, very small swam right in front of her mask. Something so rare in our waters that she had to do a double-take to confirm what she was seeing... She signalled Mich, screaming with excitement to get her attention, to come have a look. Once Mich saw what she was pointing at, they were both screaming and hugging underwater. What was it? Nothing less than Rocktail Beach Camp's first-ever SEAHORSE!
Our little guy (or gal) is black and only 2-3mm big - see the pictures, one of which has a finger in it, so you can see how tiny it really is. We were all hoping it would stick around so we could watch it grow, and we managed to get a week of amazing sightings. Then, unfortunately, after a few days of bad weather, strong current and lots of surge it was gone.
Another wow for Pineapple Reef happened not even five minutes into a dive this month. We had a beautiful manta ray come gliding over the reef. It was so calm and relaxed; Cat was only centimetres under it - see the photos below left. Then as we looked up again, there was another one and quite a bit larger too; they just carried on feeding and dancing around us before they swam off. It was truly breathtaking! We also had another sighting of a manta ray, this time at Aerial as we were descending - always such a lovely sight.
Can't wait to see what next month brings!
Yours in diving,
Darryl, Clive, Michelle & Ondyne (and Catherine)
The Rocktail Dive Team
Makalolo Plains update - February 2010 Jump
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|Weather and Landscape
The latter half of February has seen plenty of rain, which has been good for both propagating the green grass, and for replenishing the pans and water table. The veld is looking magnificent and the good weather continues. The maximum recorded temperature was 35.6°C and the minimum was 16.5°C (96° - 62°F).
There was great excitement this month when three of our guests out on a game drive came across a male leopard lying up amongst the branches of a false mopane tree. Shortly thereafter they came across a cub on the dusty road - the mother must have been close by, but she managed to stay out of sight. On the same incredible drive the guests saw a beautiful, fully grown male lion and then roan antelope drinking at Little Samavundla Pan. At Madison Pan, five lion were seen - three females and two sub-adult males - basking next to the water's edge.
The vlei in front of Makalolo Plains Camp is a favourite for wildlife, from the dainty black-backed jackal family who entertain us almost daily with their hunting antics, and the endless play of baboon troops, to the quiet grazing of waterbuck, and the cacophony of the constant bird life. Elephant families are ever-present with a couple of newly-born calves, and the baby hippo at Samavundla Pan is growing at a steady rate, always under the watchful eye of its parents. It is amazing that this can all be seen without even leaving camp.
Two painted hunting dogs (called wild dog in the rest of Africa) have been seen four times and on all four occasions right in front of camp.
Meanwhile, our odd little herd of three waterbuck, two zebra, a wildebeest, and one impala are to be seen almost every day grazing. We think of them as part of the staff body here at Makalolo as they are never far away.
The frogs sing their melodies throughout the early evenings and we have been blessed with wonderful rain which has made the atmosphere fresh, the leaves green, the grass high and the waterholes abundant. The springhares bounce around in the evenings and the hyaena often break the relative silence of the African night with their eerie calls.
We have had a lot of rain and with it the water birds have been on the increase, as all the smaller pans have filled. The dawn and evening air is filled with a cacophony of duck and geese calls as they circle above, choosing which body of water to land on. A pair of Painted Snipe were spotted in the middle of the month, which is always exciting as they are so rarely seen. A Yellow-crowned Bishop (the previously named Golden Bishop) was sighted at Ngamo. A Cuckoo Hawk was seen flying high over the pans at Imbiza.
Whilst watching a glorious sunset a Crowned Crane was observed chasing a jackal, much to the excitement of all. We saw a total of 98 different bird species this month.
Our staff complement has increased quite a bit, bringing more smiling faces to Makalolo Plains. We've been busy this month - which has been a pleasure. Happy chatter filled the dining room at meal times and it was wonderful to see the large main table full to the brim.
"The camp staff, the food and the pristine location for Makalolo. Service was awesome! Thanks all!" - Evidence
"The baby leopard was amazing" - Nicole
"Smiling staff" - Rob
Little Makalolo update - February 2010 Jump
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Davison's Camp update - February 2010
Weather and Landscape
This month we have had 190mm (7.5 inches) of rain which came in the form of heavy storms with lashing rain and crashing thunder - very dramatic! Temperatures dropped to a minimum of 16° C and rose to a maximum of 36°C (61°F - 97°F).
With all the rain we've had this month, the bush is very thick and green, and most of the pans contain water for the animals. The plains are a sea of long green grass, with wildebeest and zebra dotted around like little islands hungrily feeding on the succulent stalks. The teak trees were in flower at the beginning of the month, which was a wonderful sight.
The small herd of zebra has returned to the plain in front of camp - three females and a stallion. They come down to the pan every morning for a drink and a bit of breakfast, and then wander off into the surrounding bush. We've also seen kudu, warthog and one sable visit the pan.
The sound of lion calling on most nights is a lovely sound that echoes through the bush. That, along with the eerie barking of jackal, makes the bush anything but quiet at night.
February was an exciting month for game viewing. We saw a mother and juvenile cheetah just on the edge of the Ngamo Pan, on the road to Linkwasha. They were lounging in an open, grassy clearing, and were quite difficult to spot, with just the tops of their heads and ears sticking up above the green grass. After a while of watching us watching them, they gave a long stretch and sat up so we were able to see their sleek, built-for-speed bodies. They then strolled a little further away towards some bushes where they flopped back down and started to doze again.
A pair of painted hunting dogs (which is the rather more poetic name we in Zimbabwe give to the African wild dog) were sighted twice this month, once by a guide on a transfer towards Main Camp and then again in front of Makalolo Camp with guests. The pair seemed to be hunting but no kill was seen. They have been in the Makalolo area for a while now and have been sighted often.
There is a flock of Arrow-marked Babbler around camp with a Jacobin Cuckoo chick. The Babblers are now chasing the chick away, so that it can grow up as a Cuckoo and not a Babbler. The noise is deafening! Cuckoos are brood parasites - which means they push Babbler eggs out of a nest and lay their own, so their chicks will be raised by the Babblers as their own. The Cuckoo is basically divesting itself of any parental responsibility - but somehow instinct wins out. The Cuckoo chick tries hard to imitate the Babblers' call while it is part of the flock, but as soon as it is chased away it finds its own voice again - and instinctively seems to know how to be a Cuckoo.
This month we have seen 156 different species, which is 47% of the total bird species found in the area. We were visited by one bird enthusiast who saw 103 bird species in his two-day stay!
"We had a fantastic stay, lots of great memories made by a special bunch of people." - Karen and Kevin, South Africa
"Awesome!" - Alistair, South Africa
"Amazing." - Tania, South Africa
"The area is beautiful and the camp is very well run with lots of attention to detail." - Helene, South Africa
Tendai Mdluli, Rania Mutumhe, Thembelani Sibanda, Dennis Nyakane, Mxolisi Sibanda, Mawa, Jaime Jolliffe, Lindie Mushure and Sara Short.
Thanks to Simon Stobbs for photos.
Ruckomechi Camp update - February 2010 Jump
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Weather and Landscape
We finally received some much-needed heavy rainfall, which induced the grass to start growing and the flowers to start blooming. The rains have also helped to cool down the usually hot valley, and temperatures have averaged a comfortable 30°C (86°F). We have received 334 mm (13 inches) of rain during the month.
With all the rain we have received the Nyakasanga, Ruckomechi and Charara Rivers have been in flood. The Zambezi is still very dirty as a result, with lot of debris floating down it. It looks like the Ruckomechi River has broken its banks and carved out a new course once again. What was once a little gully running past the "old hide" behind our old camp is now a little river, holding a great amount of water from the Ruckomechi River system. On further exploration of this new river, we discovered that the Ruckomechi had found another weak fold near Leopard Loop and an even greater amount of water now flows down this fold, through the adrenaline grass. This river flows from the adrenaline grass down what used to be our road to the Little Ruckomechi and eventually into the Zambezi River, forming a new mouth about 500 metres up from the Little Ruckomechi mouth. Old Camp is now an even smaller island than in past years, and is only accessible by boat.
We are excited that May is fast approaching, and that soon we'll be open to guests again. We understand why we have to close - what with the rain and impassable roads and all - but we missed being able to show off this magnificent area!
Most of the animals have done a disappearing act since the arrival of the rains and because the roads are impassable we are only able to see those that wander through and around the camp. A female waterbuck was seen with her newborn on the island in front of camp at the end of the month, and the duo are now a regular sight. On a late afternoon walk a leopard was briefly seen feeding on an impala on the ridge, but it quickly disappeared into the mopane.
Our lion are back and have been seen in and around camp on two occasions. The two females were seen hunting near the Ruckomechi River at one point, and they were heard calling near Tent #10 once.
Birding has been exceptionally good this month considering we have not managed to get out of camp much due to the rains. A total of 130 species were recorded for the month, with some of the highlights being Long-Toed Lapwing, Little Bittern, and Rufous-bellied Heron. A really great sighting for the month was a Black Coucal, which many say was their first for this part of the Zambezi Valley.
The camp remains fairly quiet on the staffing front, as most staff are still on annual leave. Kevin and Tendayi seem to be really enjoying their time guiding in Hwange and leaped at the opportunity to extend their knowledge in the guiding field. Jeremy, Johnny, and Clea attended a training course held in Hwange in mid-February before going on to write their learner guide's exams in Bulawayo. They were joined by Paul Mafuka from Ruckomechi - and we wish them all the best of luck.
Mana Canoe Trail update - February 2010 Jump
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No report this month - Trail re-opens again in May 2010.
Toka Leya Camp update - February 2010 Jump
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Weather and Landscape
Greetings from the banks of the Zambezi River! Although February is traditionally a fairly quiet time for tourism here in Livingstone, it is still an exciting time to visit Toka Leya. Especially if you're lucky enough to get the whole camp and staff complement to yourself.
After some good rains towards the end of January, the clouds vanished and we went through a period of nearly three weeks with no rain. Some very hot temperatures, as high as 38°C (100°F), kept us gazing up at the skies for any sign of relief from the baking sun. Eventually, we could feel a stir in the air and a few very humid days promised the return of the rains. We received over 100mm (4 inches) of rain during the last week of the month and, as I write this, there is a slight drizzle falling on the canvas roof of my home here at Toka Leya.
We've also received reports that some areas of western and northern Zambia received heavy rainfall recently, which is quite evident in the steady rise of the river over the last week. On some days we can see that the river had risen as much as 10cm from the day before. It's all very exciting and everyone has started speculating as to how high the water levels will get this year.
Wildlife & Activities
Despite some guests getting caught by unexpected thundershowers whilst out on activities, we were still able to show our guests all the wonderful sights of Livingstone and surrounds. Sundowner cruises are still very popular with our guests, who love the peace and quiet of floating down the Zambezi in the afternoon, after some bouncy game drives in Botswana. There is nothing quite like relaxing on the river with a cold drink in hand, watching dramatic clouds and storms unfold in the distance over Botswana and Zimbabwe.
Because the bush is so green, and there's so much water lying around the wildlife is more dispersed than during the drier winter months. Guests still see elephant and buffalo coming down to the river's edge for a drink. Shy bushbuck with their painted 'Bambi' coats still lurk warily in the thick riparian vegetation and young impala lambs dart around playfully on the outskirts of the herd.
Some guests were also lucky to complete their search for so-called "Big Five" (a term we find a little limiting) with sightings of our resident white rhino while on game drives here in the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park. Some guests saw not just one, but four rhino in one go, as the three females and the younger male have been spotted together recently. Other guests were fortunate to see Fwanye, the rather large, old dominant rhino bull wallowing in a muddy pool - see the picture on the left.
The baboons and monkeys have been providing some entertainment around the camp with a few very amusing sightings of these primates using a tent roof as a trampoline and clearly having a blast!
Victoria Falls continue to surprise visitors with their awe-inspiring beauty and power. A few of us from the camp recently visited the Falls and got completely drenched! It's magical being in the middle of a downpour when the skies are clear and the sun is shining. Some of our more adventurous guests have enjoyed river rafting, bungee jumping, elephant-back riding, helicoptering over the Falls, microlight trips and even a lavish dinner on the old steam train, the Livingstone Express.
We've had another glimpse of that ever-elusive and difficult to spot Pel's Fishing-Owl. Other avian highlights in February included seeing African Finfoot on several occasions, as well as Half-collared Kingfisher, Lizard Buzzard, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Giant Kingfisher, Little Sparrowhawk and Emerald Cuckoo.
Marc will be back from his holiday again next month to bring you more news from this beautiful and special part of Africa. Be sure to follow the reports on what is happening with the water levels of the Zambezi - this is a thrilling time to visit this part of Zambia.
Managers: Sjani Cuyler, Solomon Tevera, Justice Chasi, Evidence Musabi, Jacqui Mumakombwe, Phin Mufwaya, Kenny Lugayeni
Guides: Sandy, Godfrey, Sam
Warm regards from everyone here at Toka Leya.
Lufupa Tented Camp update - February 2010 Jump
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Kalamu Lagoon Camp update - February 2010 Jump
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Shumba Camp update - February 2010 Jump
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No report this month - camp closed for the season.
Kapinga Camp update - February 2010 Jump
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No report this month - camp closed for the season.
Busanga Bush Camp update - February 2010 Jump
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No report this month - camp closed for the season.
Desert Rhino Camp update - February 2010 Jump
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Palmwag Camp update - February 2010 Jump
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Doro Nawas Camp update - February 2010 Jump
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This is our raining season, but all our riverbeds are still very dry. We hope to get some more rain before the winter season sets in. Temperatures this month ranged from 16°C (60°F) - at night to a maximum of 40°C (104°F) during the day. The average temperature was a more temperate 36°C (96°F).
As a result of little rain, elephant tracking has become much more difficult than it usually is. The elephant have moved further north towards the Etendeka Mountains in search of greener pastures: shrubs, bulbs, herbs, grasses and sedges. The upside of this is that the trees in the Aba-Huab/Haub Rivers get the chance to prosper while the elephant are absent in the mountains.
On some days our guides drive up to 60km (38 miles) from Doro Nawas to try and find elephant. And there is no guarantee that they will. Tracking becomes exciting as everyone, including guests, has to work very hard to try and spot them. Even though we don't always manage to find elephant, these areas are very beautiful, and all our drives are rewarding. Most of the drive is through a valley in the Klip River, running alongside huge mountains. All three elephant groups, namely Oscar, Rosy and Tuskless, have been seen in these areas. If you are lucky, you might find all three groups together at once - and what an amazing sight that is!
Some exciting news is that the group of hartebeest have been spotted very close to the camp. It seems that they are getting used to people and to the area. Most of them have newborn calves, which brings the herd total to 24. That means the herd has doubled in size since 12 antelope were relocated to the area - which is definitely a sign that they are thriving.
On the way to Twyfelfontein a one-metre-long spitting cobra was seen 'standing' with its head reared upright in the middle of the road. As we came closer it did not move, and was looking at us as if wondering what we were up to. We got very close to it before it decided to move away. It was wonderful for the guests to get the chance to appreciate just how magnificent these, often misunderstood, reptiles are - with their colourful bodies, and incredible strength and alertness.
A flock of ostrich, with 34 chicks, has been seen about 10 km from the camp. The chicks are about a month old, and it's wonderful to see the mothers teaching their young what to eat. You can see that they feed on very small stones, as well as seeds and flowers - these help them to digest the other food that they eat.
"Seeing a zebra snake (cobra) posing in the road. The staff singing at dinner. The 360° view from the main area. Smiles everywhere you look!" - Berry and Jentsch, South Africa
"Activities with the guide were fantastic. He is very good with kids and has great knowledge. Thanks a lot, Michael!" - Vacheresse, Angola
"Getting close to 11 elephant at a waterhole. The evening walk out of camp with sundowner drinks. The singing and dancing of the staff at dinner." - Ros and Andrew, UK
"Shelvia gave us a very warm and friendly time, thank you. Thanks also to the whole team! We just enjoyed it so much." - Wilde, Germany
"Our stay here was the favourite of our trip to date. We only wish we had longer time to enjoy everything on offer. Who, we wonder, can beat this Shangri-la!" - Gurney, UK
"We all loved the songs you sang after dinner! We had an amazing stay here, even though the elephant tracking wasn't successful. The staff is really friendly! When we first saw the camp, we were amazed - it is right in the middle of nowhere!" - Bollore, France
We say farewell and thank you to Henry Luck (Assistant Manager) who helped us out from December 2009.
Coenie van Niekerk (Camp Manager)
Danize van Niekerk (Camp Manager)
Agnes Bezuidenhout (Assistant Manager)
Morien Aebes (Assistant Manager)
Arthur Bezuidenhout (Guide)
Michael Kauari (Trainee Guide)
Ignatius Khamuseb (Guide)
Richardt Orr (Trainee Guide)
Damaraland Camp update - February 2010 Jump
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Damaraland has been very dry and dusty this month. We had some spectacular sights of storms that thundered and rained all around camp, but nothing close by. Guests were treated to lightning shows on quite a few evenings, flashing against the black skies of the desert. Temperatures reached 40°C (104°F) during the day, only to be subdued by the afternoon breeze coming off the ocean. Guests enjoyed the relief of the swimming pool during the hot afternoons.
The guests that visited Damaraland Camp this month were treated to some great wildlife sightings. The elephant stayed in the Huab River for the first ten days, and then decided to make the guides work much harder. We went five days without seeing any elephant, only to discover them by accident near Bergsig (a local town).
There were lots of reports of cheetah in the area but we only saw their tracks. The local herdsmen are a great source of information for our guides, since they are always out in the veld looking after their herds.
We were lucky this month and saw the rare black rhino on most of our trips to the Springbok River. This has been a very productive area for us and we have seen lots of oryx, springbok, steenbok, giraffe and Hartmann's mountain zebra.
The more adventurous guests did some walking trails and were awed by some of the most spectacular views to be found in the natural world. At the top of the Damarana Trail one can see the towering Brandberg Mountains in the distance - a sight that brings a sense of peace and accomplishment to most travellers.
Guests were greeted in the morning by the call of Rüppell's Korhaan, and a pair of Mountain Chats entertained guests during lunch.
A great favourite of the guests is to visit Fonteine, the farm of Jantjie Rhyn. There the guests are told about the culture of the local people and how they live. During a recent thunderstorm the wind blew over a wind-powered water pump at Fonteine. We decided to jump in and help and connected a pipe to our main water line to give them water until they fix their pump.
The Jones family visited the camp five years ago and liked it so much that they had to come back this year to show it to their son. They were pleasantly surprised by the new Damaraland Camp and said they will be back in another five years.
"Thank you for making our stay in Damaraland so interesting and enjoyable."
"We had a super stay at your excellent camp. So friendly, so clean, so comfortable and great meals."
Damaraland welcomes new General Managers, Iván and Ilze, and Assistant Manager in training, Niël van Wyk. They have already settled in and are very enthusiastic about Damaraland.
Assistant Manager: Elfrieda Hebach
Guides: Johann Cloete, Raymond Roman, Anthony Dawids and Daniel Uakuramenua
Skeleton Coast Camp update - February 2010 Jump
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Serra Cafema Camp update - February 2010 Jump
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Ongava Tented Camp update - February 2010 Jump
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We had a nice amount of rain this month and warm days. We also had a few beautifully clear night skies - just perfect for stargazing.
February was a roller coaster month at Ongava Tented Camp, with spectacular sightings and nerve-racking moments.
Several lion kills were reported, with a zebra being pulled down very close to the camp waterhole. Significantly, a waterbuck was also killed. Lion don't usually predate on waterbuck, whose numbers are on the rise in the reserve. So, this kill could be a sign that the lion have developed a taste for waterbuck, which would regulate their numbers.
A rare cheetah kill was also reported. It was witnessed by an eight-year old from the States and we were all a little worried about how she would react - but she loved watching this incredible creature in action.
Silvia, a staff member from our office in Windhoek, had a close encounter in camp with Grumpy's Pride, and thought the experience was great. Which is admirable for a city-slicker.
One afternoon we saw a Yellow-billed Kite grab a Guineafowl at the waterhole, right in front of guests, and then the lion cubs who were playing nearby stole the kill. It made for exhilarating viewing.
The sweet sounds of the Double-banded Sandgrouse can still be heard emanating from the waterhole at exactly twenty minutes past sunset.
A new project on the rock hyrax (locally known as a dassie) population was initiated by a Nature Conservation student, Alton Tsowaseb, from the Polytechnic of Namibia. Alton will spend the next six months in close proximity to the hyraxes, studying their foraging and anti-predatory behaviour. We are planning to incorporate 'dassie hikes' as an activity at Ongava Tented Camp.
"Wonderful experience with the animals and a great interaction with the manager and staff. Thank you and see you again"
"Lions, lions, lions and a long horn (rhino)"
"Our guide, Rio, was very knowledgeable. Staff very friendly and helpful"
"Delivered all that was promised - can't ask for more"
Paul, Gerda, Inge and Alfonso
Little Ongava update - February 2010 Jump
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Ongava Lodge update - February 2010 Jump
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Weather and Landscape
The area is still looking nice and green, making the 180°-view we have from Ongava Lodge even more beautiful. The rain took a break towards the end of January, and the animals are now showing up regularly at the waterholes and giving guests excellent sightings.
The temperature can climb to as warm as 38ºC (100°F) in the afternoons and some guests opt to go for the afternoon drive at 17h00 instead of 16h00. It starts getting a little cooler after 17h00 and that's when the wildlife starts moving from away from the shade and out into the open at the waterholes - especially rhino and lion.
We had amazing sightings at the waterhole in front of Ongava Lodge this month - as well as the rest of the Reserve. A lot of black rhino have been coming to drink at the waterhole. We even saw up to six rhino at the waterhole on some evenings. They don't share the waterhole - they always give each other a little space. The "strongest" will have a drink, move away to the salt stones, and the next will move to the waterhole, have a drink and move away, and so it goes... This is very interesting to watch.
The lions belonging to Stompie's Pride are still around and roaring near camp in the early mornings. The guests love this and can't imagine a better wake-up call. The lion have tried to hunt at the waterhole in front of Ongava, but to no avail - perhaps because the area is too open and the animals can see them from far enough away to escape safely. Having said that, there was a zebra killed just 500 metres away from the waterhole. It was lunchtime and suddenly we heard what sounded like lion fighting. When we drove to where the noise was coming from, there was a fresh kill.
On one evening we witnessed five black rhino sharing a waterhole with two giraffe! I'm sure this isn't something that is often seen. It was quite extraordinary - and made for a very special Ongava evening.
Towards the end of the month, Abner, our guide, who is well known to be lucky in spotting cheetah on the Reserve, found three cheetah having a springbok for dinner. The guests were very impressed and so happy that they forgot to return to camp in time for dinner! They arrived very late and did not even mind. It is very rare to spot cheetah at Ongava as they are quite shy here.
Guides: Teacher, Abner, Kapona, Hennock, Lister and Michael
Managers: Adriano, Ment-Anna and George
Andersson's Camp update - February 2010 Jump
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Little Kulala Camp update - February 2010 Jump
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Kulala Desert Lodge update - February 2010 Jump
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The day begins and ends in darkness. Tired as you might be, you will thank your guide later for waking you before dawn. After a welcome hot breakfast you head out into the world's oldest desert. Visiting the Namib during the summer means that the heat will be your steady companion, but this also makes for a more sparsely populated landscape. There are fewer tourists here, and you will have much of the vast space to yourself.
We begin our morning at Dune 45, made famous by proximity to the road that allows for easy access. Climbing to the top is quite an achievement. You find yourself afraid to slip and fall, even though the thick sand will prevent you from moving more than a foot or two. Thanks to your early departure, the air still feels cool, and your slow ascent is rewarded as the magnificent vista comes into full view. I am struck by the smooth surface of the dunes; it appears that my footsteps are the first. This is thanks to ever-present winds that smooth the surface of the dunes at day's end, leaving a blank canvas for the next morning's visitors. I capture a few compulsory "I climbed a sand dune" pictures. Now the real fun begins.
The previous afternoon, our guide, Nanguei, told me that I would be 'swimming down a sand dune'. I immediately conjured an image of myself sinking in sand up to my ears while I tried to kick my way out. This is not what he meant. By way of demonstrating for the other guests, he has me get into position first, and I am nervous when he tells me to lie down on my stomach, facing the bottom of the dune. It's hard to describe the feeling of sliding head first down a sand dune, but my adjoining picture is evidence that I was smiling from start to finish.
Next on offer is a trip to Sossusvlei itself, home of the world's tallest sand dunes, in excess of 300 metres. It is hotter now, and we stop short of climbing these dunes. It is enough to walk to the "shore" of Dead Vlei and wonder at the parched pan with its famous skeletons; dead camel thorn trees, perhaps over 500 years old, are an eerie testament to the presence of water here before drought and sand dunes left the ground parched. Sossusvlei itself is still blessed by occasional flows from the Tsauchab River that fill the pan, attracting birds and lilies alike. The vlei is dry when we reach it, but this does not detract from its surreal beauty. Scanning the grand dunes, my eyes catch sight of a family of gemsbok. I am reminded that the most astonishing thing about the Namib is the presence of so much life in a place that seems completely inhospitable at best. As if to mock my ineptitude at facing the heat of the desert, animals can be found at every turn - and they are often running. When you've attempted to climb a sand dune at dawn, you gain a remarkable appreciation for a springbok that pronks at full speed in the midday sun. These animals put our poor climatic defences to shame. Springbok survive in times of little water by eating succulent plants. Ostrich raise their wings and body feathers to take advantage of cool breezes. Gemsbok can survive without ever drinking water; they dig for roots and bulbs that provide them with all the moisture they need, and a complex series of blood vessels in the nasal cavity prevents the gemsbok's brain from overheating even when its body temperature rises as high as 45° Celsius.
After enjoying the sights of Sossusvlei, we return to camp to spend the hottest part of the day in retreat back at Kulala Desert Lodge, enjoying stunning views of the dunes and desert landscape a safe distance from the sun. By 6pm it is cool enough again to emerge once more, this time to the ancient Sesriem Canyon, carved over two million years by the Tsauchab River. Historically important for early settlers because of its precious water, it now provides for a fascinating stop amidst the parched Namib sands. We are able to walk inside the canyon and sit by the water's edge, a perfect place to contemplate the contrasts that exist in this magnificent desert. We finish the day with a short drive in the Kulala Wilderness Reserve, catching a glimpse of two black-backed jackals before stopping for sundowners and toasting to the day's adventures. I raise my glass in the hopes that I will find myself here again soon.
The wonders of this desert do not fade with the setting sun. You also have the option of sleeping on the roof of your kulala, cradled by calm evening breeze. Turning my eyes upwards I am met with a night sky so illuminated by stars it literally takes my breath away. I leave Kulala Desert Lodge wondering if I will ever see constellations so bright again.
As I reflect on a day in the Namib, it becomes clear that the desert is not like anywhere else. If you seek space and solitude, communing with an environment that dares its plentiful inhabitants to survive immense harshness, or perhaps the chance to swim in sand, then a visit to Kulala Wilderness Reserve will leave you astonished and exhilarated.
Governors' Camp update - February 2010 Jump
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The first couple of weeks of February were hot, with temperatures reaching 34 degrees celsius and mostly dry. Uncharacteristically for this time of year, it started to rain, and a fair amount too. The mornings have been dry with a combination of sun and cloud with rain arriving in the evenings and at times late at night. The wonderful combination of rain and sun has caused the grass to shoot up to almost a metre in places. All this rain has caused the Marsh to flow and pour out some sizable cat fish which the Fish Eagles are gorging on. The whole of the Mara is looking amazingly lush, healthy and green.
There have been and continue to be huge groups of elephants moving over the plains, into the forest and through the Marsh. The elephant are content to feed on just the grass, sedge and fruit from the Greenheart trees, giving the acacia woodland in the surrounding areas a much needed break and time to re-grow.
The plains game have moved to where there is shorter grass mostly along the river line, leaving the large breeding herds of buffalo on the long grass plains.
The arrival of the rain has been wonderful for the resident birdlife. The abundance of life in the Musiara Marsh has drawn a crowd of water birds namely Herons, Storks and Hammerkops all hunting frogs and smaller catfish. The European Stork has recently made an entrance into the Mara, no doubt following the rain and the bounty of food which materialises with it. With food a-plenty many birds have nested and either have eggs or chicks at the moment. The weavers have built their nests hanging over the lush riverbanks, some are still building and some attending to chicks. Plovers, Longclaws and other ground nesting birds also have eggs and chicks in their nests hidden in the long grass and a Martial Eagle was seen killing a Wattled Plover near the Musiara airstrip.
The invasion of caterpillars we had in the camps and forest at the end of last month has now turned into the most brilliant display of thousands of different kinds of butterflies and moths. The Vernonia and Maerua plants along the riverside are flowering and are a big attraction for the butterlies and moths.
The lion prides are all well settled and thriving. The staple diet at this time of year is the unlucky warthog as there are plenty of piglets after the rain. However, they are just a snack for large prides of hungry lions. They risk not only injury but their lives hunting larger, more dangerous animals in order to feed their cubs.
The Marsh Pride has been seen feeding on a couple of buffalo kills first thing in the morning, although they mostly hunt at night as they have the advantage of better night vision. The lionesses and sub-adults were seen hunting a strong, young male buffalo. Three had jumped on it trying to hold on whilst the buffalo ran with them and into the deeper water of the marsh where he managed to face them off with his menacing horns.
The Paradise Pride males made a hippo kill not far from the river at night. The hippo may have been too far away from the water (where they normally seek safety) or it may have been injured or sick. The five males and cubs were able to feed first, followed by the lionesses. Three days later the hippo was reduced to bones and skin, which the hyena also fed on.
We have had some great sightings of the female leopard near the camps. She has been seen feeding on a monitor lizard and on a separate occasion a White Stork at the marsh.
The large male leopard was spotted with an impala kill near the Mara River.
Our resident leopard Olive and her cubs are found on most days near the river, her cubs still with her but happy to spend their day resting a little distance from her. They will become more and more independent as they learn how to hunt properly and both will go their separate ways.
The three cheetah brothers have been back in the area and are very well. The mother and cub are thriving, having been in an area with many hyena leaving us extremely worried, but so far nothing untoward has happened. They were last seen on a Thompson Gazelle kill and were able to relax and finish it without any interference. Shakira and her three cubs are still on the other side of the river, she presently has no chance of coming back across the river after all the recent rain, unless she knows where the bridge is.
Two Rhino were sighted on Paradise Plain. It is encouraging to see them in pairs, as they may be either a mother and older calf (often adopted at this stage) or a mating pair. This is a wonderful sighting since between the Mara and the northern Serengeti we only have an estimated 20 or so rhino.
Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge update - February 2010
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