(Page 1 of
Wilderness Safaris and Ripple Africa Partners in Malawi Reforestation
Wilderness Safaris Malawi has partnered with NGO Ripple Africa to assist with the reforestation of Malawi's most fragile forested area - the northern lakeshore of Lake Malawi.
Conservation has always been Wilderness Safaris' primary priority, while the issue of deforestation is a major concern throughout Malawi. Nkhata Bay district is one of the few areas in Malawi where dense indigenous forests still exist and for this reason Wilderness Safaris' Chintheche Inn is the perfect place to start a nursery/orchard project to grow trees from seedlings.
Ripple Africa is an NGO that primarily focuses on reforestation and afforestation along the northern lakeshore. Active since 2004, the NGO has become an expert on the subject, hence Wilderness Safaris Malawi's decision to partner with them in this area.
In this agreement, seedlings and seeds for the nursery and orchard are being provided by Ripple Africa, while the grounds, an area large enough to house up to 100 000 seedlings, belong to Chintheche Inn. Wilderness will also supply permanent staff as well as all tools, hardware and construction parts for the project.
The nursery will be marked out for growing about 5 000 fuel-wood and 2 000 fruit trees in the initial stage, which will provide the basis for the project in the long term. Cassia trees, for example, will be planted as they are fast growing and thus can benefit the local community as a sustainable resource within two to three years. Cassia can be used as firewood or as poles for building. Fruit trees help not only in the conservation of forest areas, but also contribute towards livelihoods in the local community.
A further goal of the nursery is to supply the neighbouring community with seedlings, thus providing the basis for a continuous process; the nursery will later be managed by the community.
Education is also a priority for the project, reaching out to local schools and getting the children involved. Students and adults alike will hopefully see the benefits of this project, both from the point of view of afforestation and economic upliftment: Easy access to firewood saves time, while those trees not needed at present can be sold to better the community.
With the assistance of Ripple Africa suitable areas at the Inn have been chosen, measured and cleared and the next step is now to get the seedlings into the ground.
North Island Environmental Update - March 2010
Location: North Island, Seychelles
Date: March 2010
Observer: Linda van Herck
Photographer: Linda Wambach
The rehabilitation of an island and its ongoing sustainable environmental practice is a full-time challenge.
This year, the rehabilitation of North Island's vegetation is continuing as before. Recent rainfall prompted a hasty reaction to plant as many endemic seedlings as possible on the glacis (granite mountain) areas of the island ... a monster task.
Members of the Environmental Team carried quantities of seedlings and of course various pieces of equipment up to the highest points of the island and planted out a number of species of seedlings including an indigenous Euphorbia.
One of the primary challenges about being on a sensitive island ecosystem is the waste generated by the ecotourism operation and what to do with it. Of course we cannot simply transfer our problem to Mahe, hence our focus on raising staff awareness. Pictured left is the Housekeeping Team attending a presentation and demonstration by Greg Wepener on the new waste compactor that has been implemented to reduce the volume of non-organic waste that is transferred off the island for recycling.
This new piece of equipment is making our waste management far more efficient and has additionally given us an opportunity for awareness raising amongst the staff on the volumes of waste generated unless managed appropriately.
Mombo's multi-species predator clan
Location: Mombo Camp, Okavango Delta, Botswana
Date: March 2010
Observer: The Mombo Team
Photographer: Russel Friedman
The African wild dog is an endangered carnivore that is perhaps best known for its social nature. It is this aspect that is seen as being at the heart of its success as a highly efficient predator of medium-sized antelope. Essentially mixed-sex packs operate in an orchestrated and cohesive way to bring down prey at far higher success rates than predators such as lion.
So what happens when this social component is removed?
The situation at Mombo provides some fascinating insight into this. In the 1990s, Mombo was renowned as an area of unusually high wild dog density. This has all changed and the area is now well known for its very high numbers of lions. This high lion density has kept wild dog numbers very low. In fact over the past two or three years only one very small wild dog pack has managed to exist in the area. There were also visits from larger packs but these have been only of a very short duration.
The aforementioned small pack saw a gradual diminishing of its numbers until at some stage in early 2009 only one animal remained - an adult female. It was presumed that this animal would either emigrate to join dispersing animals and form a new pack or, more likely, would perish in the hostile environment, unable to hunt efficiently on her own and even less likely to protect a successful kill from large scavenging predators.
We have all been proven wrong and this single wild dog has thrived in Mombo's prey-rich environment. She has done it with help from some highly unusual and totally unexpected quarters.
For the past six months or so this single wild dog has sought out the company of black-backed jackals and spotted hyaenas in an area north of Mombo Camp and has been seen associating with both species and even touching noses with the larger hyaenas with whom she seems well integrated (she reacts differently to hyaenas of different ages and genders of the local clan for example). Even more bizarre has been her behaviour where she solicits adult black-backed jackals to follow her on the hunt and even regurgitates meat on her return for the growing jackal pups!
Unsurprisingly, this sort of behaviour does not seem to have been recorded before. This really is unusual behaviour that no-one can have predicted. And it adds a whole new dimension to game viewing at Mombo.
Endless Green Season Game at Mombo
Location: Mombo Camp, Okavango Delta, Botswana
Date: March 2010
Observer: Russel Friedman
Photographer: Russel Friedman
The summer months in southern Africa are often called the 'green season' since it is at this time of year that the rains result in a carpet of green vegetation covering what can sometimes seem quite barren, bare earth. It is a time of plenty with most seasonal antelope breeders giving birth and many migratory and resident birds in their brightly coloured breeding plumage.
Mombo is no different of course and for many this is the prime time to visit this excellent game viewing destination. I visited twice in February and can confirm that we had excellent viewing. Of course Mombo has a huge lion population and viewing of this species is very reliable at any time of year, but we were thrilled with the numbers and diversity of other species.
Zebra seem to be around every corner, while lechwe dominate the floodplains and impala the drier areas. Giraffe, wildebeest and kudu are also regularly encountered, while tsessebe are less numerous and rhino need to be searched for. From Mombo Camo itself at any point in the day you are likely to be able to see red lechwe, buffalo, elephant and hippo on the floodplain in front of camp and of course the nights are full of lion roaring and hyaena whooping.\
Lion are seen frequently and while Legadema and her two now independent female offspring are the most-often seen leopard we enjoyed a sighting of a young male who had managed to get a porcupine quill jammed through his cheek.
Black-backed and side-striped jackals are common, as are bat-eared fox and in February the guides also recorded a sighting of a caracal. A thrill for us was seeing the lone wild dog and her hyaena and jackal companions whose association is discussed above.
Turtle hatchling release on North Island
Location: North Island, Seychelles
Date: February 2010
Observer: Linda van Herck
Photographer: Linda van Herck
From time to time, nature creates its own obstacles. A case in point is the nesting behaviour of both green and hawksbill turtles on North Island.
Female turtles always return to the beach of their birth to lay their own eggs as adults and so are relatively restricted as to where on the planet they are able to play their part in the reproductive cycle. As a result all the female turtles that hatched on North Island and which reached adulthood and sexual maturity return to the beaches here to breed.
This in itself is not a problem for these huge marine creatures. They flawlessly navigate their way back to the same beach year after year. What is a challenge is that the different currents and prevailing weather conditions at North Island cause a phenomenon where the actual beach profile changes shape. The changes are so extensive that during one part of the year the beach at a certain point is substantial and the distance from the ocean tens of metres. At another time this same beach is unrecognisable and looks instead like an exposed reef with the sand temporarily deposited elsewhere.
For turtles this can be catastrophic for their egg clutches and this has an impact on the already dramatically high levels of mortality in turtle hatchlings.
The strategy we have evolved to aid these endangered creatures is to excavate nests that are at risk of being washed away and to incubate the eggs in the environmental facilities on the island, later releasing the hatchlings back to their ocean future.
One such clutch laid on 28 November 2009 is a good example. All 133 eggs were carefully excavated and 'relaid' into a new nest with emphasis given to placement and orientation. By 25 January 2010 (two months later) the first hatchling was observed with more appearing on the 27th. By the 2nd of February, 105 hatchlings had been recorded and they were released en masse into the ocean as a predator swamping strategy - just as it occurs in nature.
Is Hwange the best green season game viewing destination?
Location: Little Makalolo, Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe
Date: March 2010
Observer: Caroline & Andrew Culbert
Photographer: Dana Allen
There is no doubt that Hwange National Park remains Zimbabwe's premier game viewing destination. It is best known for its dry season game concentrations at isolated water points - dust kicked up by trails of approaching animals, elephants dominating waterholes, mixed species of antelope waiting their turn to drink. These are the images that are so frequently used to market the destination and are well known and associated with the area.
What is less well known is that south-eastern Hwange is without a doubt one of the best green season destinations in southern Africa for game viewing. During the period December to April summer rainfall brings the plains in this area to life and causes the local populations of grazers in particular to concentrate where the grass shoots are best.
Inevitably this is centred on the incomparable Ngamo Plains in the south-east of our Hwange concessions. Here over the summer months you are practically guaranteed concentrations of wildebeest, zebra, giraffe, waterbuck, impala, kudu and even the local speciality - a herd of eland that ranges in number from 20 or 30 animals to over 100. Often many of these species can be seen within one view and on our recent trip this was certainly the case.
We were also thrilled to encounter some of Hwange's legendary antelope diversity with excellent sightings of sable and a single sighting of a roan herd to add to our eland experiences. Others saw a small herd of gemsbok (remarkably rare this far west since they are arid-adapted antelope) and reedbuck (more adapted to moist savannah).
Of course all this food doesn't come without accompanying predators and we enjoyed excellent lion sightings while others were lucky enough to see cheetah and wild dog over that week.
We were blown away by the diversity and abundance of wildlife and scenery, and will certainly be back for another summer season safari.
Nyika's nocturnal predators
Location: Chelinda Camp, Nyika National Park, Malawi
Date: March 2010
Observer: Dana Allen
Photographer: Dana Allen
The unbelievable Nyika Plateau in Nyika National Park, northern Malawi, is a spectacular and unique destination for game viewing. There is simply nothing like it in the rest of Africa. It is well known for its niche biodiversity and for important herds of antelope species like roan, eland and reedbuck. Below the plateau in vast miombo woodlands are a number of larger species like elephant and buffalo which rarely venture to the grasslands above. Lion are even occasional vagrants here.
On the plateau itself though are a variety of smaller predators. Leopards are a key feature, as are the more visible and common spotted hyaenas. Both seem to melt into the mist and are mysterious and thrilling species to see. Side-striped jackal, large-spotted genet and serval are the others that make up the suite of nocturnal carnivores most commonly seen by guests at Chelinda Camp and on a recent visit I was fortunate to see all five of these species on a handful of night drives out of Chelinda Camp. While some are active during the day, the lack of cover in the grassland presumably makes them more comfortable in moving around after dark in search of prey.
We had excellent sightings of all these species in the grassland and heather of the plateau with the serval especially relaxed with the vehicle while others - including the magnificent male leopard - showed a mild curiosity mixed with tolerance.
Amazing aerial displays at Chelinda
Location: Chelinda Camp, Nyika National Park, Malawi
Date: March 2010
Observer: Dana Allen
Photographer: Dana Allen
The open grassland habitat surrounding Chelinda Camp is an ideal display ground for a plethora or raptorial birds like falcons, buzzards, eagles, kites and harriers. While on a photo trip to Chelinda Camp in late March we took the opportunity to photograph some of these over the few days we were there.
A termite emergence out on the grasslands brought a host of Lesser Kestrels into range and we managed to get pics of a finely barred female (see above center with beetle prey) and a more dapper male (above left) with his handsome grey cap and rusty underparts. Weaving in amongst these European migrants was a handful of Eurasian Hobbies (above right) that also swooped in on the termites and fed while on the wing. On occasion these birds can be seen in large migratory flocks here and their aerial displays and impressive speed and maneuverability delight observers.
Like the ubiquitous Black Kite, the harriers - we saw mainly Montagu's - are impressive in a different sense with their buoyancy and slow control low over grassland their special skill. One male (pictured below left) plucked an unidentified chameleon from a low bush and flew past us with the poor reptile wriggling in its talons.
Less maneuverable and more prone to soaring are a suite of buzzard species that we managed to observe on the edge of the pine plantation at Chelinda itself. The Steppe Buzzard is a common summer migrant, while the Honey Buzzard (pictured left) is an enigmatic and less commonly seen visitor from Europe. The Augur Buzzard, resplendent with its white breast contrasting with charcoal upperparts and a rusty vent, is a year round resident. We even recorded the less common melanistic form with its all black underparts.
Chintheche's Special Species
Location: Chintheche Inn, Lake Malawi, Malawi
Date: March 2010
Observer: Dana Allen
Photographer: Dana Allen
Chintheche Inn on the central shoreline of Lake Malawi is best known for being located on one of the best beaches of the country. Guests here - often en route to Chelinda Camp further north on the Nyika Plateau - usually spend their time enjoying the warm waters of the lake, snorkelling to check out the cichlids around the offshore island, relaxing on the beach or enjoying the outdoor dining in the beautiful grounds.
The Inn has other charms though. Bird watching in the grounds and in nearby lowland forests is very productive and can produce some interesting rarities. The Inn gardens themselves are great for finding the enigmatic Blue-spotted Wood-dove, the yellow-tipped bill proving a far easier diagnostic in most conditions than the eponymous feature (the spots). In good light however the wing spots shine a deep iridescent blue and are thrilling.
The other 'garden special' is the mutable sun squirrel, a south-east central Africa tree squirrel that uses a variety of forest types and can be frustratingly difficult to photograph as it darts rapidly through the trees, making sure to always keep a branch between it and the observer! It is quite variable in colouration as these photos of two different individuals show, but the banded tail is fairly distinctive.
Patience and a quiet walk in the grounds gives you a good chance of seeing both of these species.
Endemic reptile diversity at Palmwag
Location: Palmwag Lodge, Palmwag Concession, Namibia
Date: 25-26 March 2010
Observer: Chris Roche
Photographer: Chris Roche
Palmwag Lodge is a veritable and literal oasis on the arid, rocky plains of north-west Namibia. The spring in front of camp has attracted wildlife for hundreds of years with elephant bulls the most well known and celebrated visitors. The grounds of the camp themselves - festooned with palms and the aromatic salvadora bushes - have a tranquil feel that contrasts with the surrounding harshness. Palm Swifts and the endemic Rüppell's Parrot nest in the palms while the very vocal Bokmakierie skulks in the salvadora.
A walk around camp yields more than just birds and tracks of the spring visitors from the night before (spotted hyaena on our visit). Instead it gives guests a chance to look more closely at the unique reptile fauna of this part of Namibia, one that is particularly rich in endemic species.
Aside from the ubiquitous Striped Skink (Mabuya striata wahlbergii), the most obvious reptile resident in camp is the brightly coloured and confiding Namibian Rock Agama (Agama planiceps). The male (pictured above left) and female are markedly different with the bright orange heads and deep purple bodies of the males indicating breeding and dominance status. This is a near endemic species to north-west Namibia.
The paths between the rooms cover some more typical habitat for the area and the rocky slopes, rock faces and gravel covered ground with sparse cover all harbour their own distinctive species, three of which we saw and photographed and which are endemic to the region. Anchieta's Agama (Agama anchietae) pictured above right with grey body and blunt head scurries between cover and freezes using its formidable camouflage to avoid detection. The Kaokoveld Sand Lizard (Pedioplanis gaerdesi), pictured above left, is a fast-moving and long-tailed inhabitant of more open ground (hence the blurred photo!), and Boulton's Namib Day Gecko (Rhoptropus boultoni), pictured above right, is a charismatic and easily seen species (look around rooms 19 and 20) of rocky outcrops and rock faces with a beautifully patterned back.
Namibia's desert diversity is spectacular with the hub of endemism being this north-western area around Palmwag.
'Rock stars' - the charismatic small mammals of Ongava Lodge
Location: Ongava Lodge, Ongava Game Reserve, Namibia
Date: 20-22 March 2010
Observer: Chris Roche
Photographers: Grant Atkinson, Martin Benadie
As a result of its arid isolation, Namibia is a haven for endemic species that have evolved away from their more widespread counterparts in savannah and woodland ecosystems. It is also ideal for small mammals that exploit specific niches and are able to withstand the extremes of the desert through their ability to use the abundant rock crevices for shelter and protection.
Ongava Lodge, situated as it is on the dolomite ridge of the Ondundozonandana Mountains, is an excellent location for camp-based game viewing. This is not just for the 'big game' that comes to drink at the waterhole below camp (black rhino, lion, greater kudu, black-faced impala, oryx and others) but also for the ability of guests to access the rugged, rocky surrounds of camp from the comfort of the walkways. This, and the fact that the camp has been in situ for some 15 years (giving the mammal inhabitants of the ridge time to habituate to human observation), means that guests can enjoy some spectacular viewing of three usually tricky-to-find species.
The most obvious is the rock hyrax or rock dassie, colonies of which swarm over the rocks behind the main area and all along the ridge from the vehicle parking point to Little Ongava higher up. The ability to observe them at close quarters is a fantastic boon for noting the adaptation to this rocky habitat in their paws and pelage. See for example the heavily grooved pads of the feet and the long, antennae-like hairs in the photographs above.
Just below the main deck, en route to Rooms 13 and 14, is the best place to find and photograph the endemic dassie rat (above left), a rather large rodent that is restricted to such rocky outcrops in Namibia and is usually quite difficult to watch. At this location a small family can sometimes be seen sunning themselves.
The last of Ongava 'rock stars' is the striped tree squirrel (above right). This is not strictly speaking a species that is adapted to the rocky outcrops, but it does favour the syringa and euphorbia trees that grow in these locations as a result of these being refuges from large mammals like elephant and black rhino, as well as fire. They can be seen in the trees between the main area and the curio shop as well as along the ridge towards the chapel and Little Ongava and are incredibly difficult to photograph as they whizz through the branches. This is the southernmost extent of their range (which falls mostly in Angola to the north) and this is perhaps the best place to see this species in southern Africa.
Damaraland's Rosy-faced Lovebirds - Jewels at Sunset
Location: Damaraland Camp, Torra Conservancy, Namibia
Date: 25 March 2010
Observer: Chris Roche
Photographer: Grant Atkinson
There are eight lovebird species in Africa - all bright green gems of between 12 and 15cm in size with various vibrant distinguishing colours. They are often seen in quite large non-breeding flocks in some species but can be distrustful and difficult to approach, making close up observation and photography quite challenging.
Of the three species that occur in southern Africa, the Rosy-faced Lovebird (restricted almost entirely to Namibia) is perhaps the most unusual. Unlike all the other species which use the more tropical locales of forest, woodland and savannah, this species is arid-adapted and is more at home in rocky gorges than in equatorial forests.
On a recent visit to Damaraland Camp we decided to spend the last hour of sunset at a remote sandstone cliff just north of the Huab River. There is a small colony of lovebirds that have used the pockmarked holes in these wind-eroded cliffs as nesting and roosting sites for a number of years and we aimed to photograph them in the last of the golden light as the sun descended in the west.
When we arrived at the cliffs there was no sign of the birds and we wondered if they had moved on. We soon found some brightly coloured tail feathers however and shortly afterwards jerked our heads upwards as we heard their characteristic call. Ten or twelve birds had flown in to roost, their chosen site for the night being too far above us to make for decent photos. They were however using a particular bush below the cliff to socialise in before ferrying to and from the roost holes.
We spent the next hour and a half clambering up to this vantage point with Grant getting whatever photographs were possible of the birds as they clustered on the bushes below the cliffs and then moved into and out of the roost holes and other rock crevices. They are spectacularly colourful and charismatic creatures and well worth the time and effort in observation.
Forest Birding at Nyika
Location: Nyika National Park, Malawi
Date: March 2010
Observer and Photographer: Dana Allen
Although the montane grasslands of Nyika showcase many special bird species, the forested pockets are akin to avian oases in their own right - havens to equally impressive range-restricted bird diversity, albeit a little harder to find at times through the lush foliage...
September through to November is probably the prime period for birding Nyika's forests as the birds are actively breeding, more vocal and thus easier to find. However, even though our visit was in late summer we were still impressed with our sightings.
Forest pockets can be explored on foot, the most productive and accessible being Zovo-Chipolo and Chowo. As one moves down into the depths of these forest patches in the early morning, incessant bird song surrounded us. Ancient trees, bedecked in epiphytic orchids, towered around us while the undergrowth was replete with lush greenery.
In no time we saw our first incredibly eye-catching Bar-tailed Trogon, Moustached Tinkerbird, Forest Double-collared Sunbird, Schalow's Turaco and Fülleborn's Boubou skulking through the thickets in the canopy. Other, rarer and more secretive undergrowth specialists such as the White-chested Alethe, Evergreen Forest Warbler and Olive-flanked Robin-Chat required slightly more focussed searching.
Targeting our binoculars on some brief movement in the dark understorey revealed a quick sighting of an African Hill Babbler while Little and Southern Mountain Greenbul were seen moving above us. The endemic Malawi Batis put in a good showing, as did White-tailed Elminia, Mountain Thrush and Chapin's Apalis.
Forest birding is sometimes an exercise of patience and dogged determination but the beauty of exploring the interior of these forests, and the birds we succeeded in spotting, all made up for it. Nyika is one of the best areas to find several Southern Rift forest endemics that are much harder to see elsewhere, thus a must visit on any birder's global itinerary.
Pictured above are Row 1: Bar-tailed Trogon, Malawi Batis; Row 2: Schalow's Turaco and Fülleborn's Boubou.
New Explorations Camps – Khwai Adventurer and Discoverer Camp
In an exciting new opportunity, Explorations in Botswana will no longer be travelling to Lechwe Camp on Migration Routes and Motswiri Camp on the Great Wilderness Journey. Instead, we are excited to announce two new Explorations camps for these safaris, operating from 01 May 2010 onwards: Khwai Adventurer Camp and Khwai Discoverer Camp respectively. Both these camps are located in the exclusive Khwai Concession which adjoins Moremi Game Reserve. The Khwai Concession is one of the most diverse areas in northern Botswana which seldom disappoints when it comes to producing extraordinary wildlife experiences. The life source for this area is the Khwai River – the northernmost “finger” of the Okavango Delta alluvial fan, which provides vital sustenance to numerous animals. Over time, the Khwai area has metamorphosed into a wide range of exciting wildlife habitats – some of the most varied to be found in the entire Okavango Delta: a blend of forests, floodplain, wetland and grasslands.
The narrow Khwai Channel is home to large mammals such as hippo and crocodile with buffalo and red lechwe often seen grazing along the fringe. The beautiful gallery riverine woodland found along the river provides further sanctuary to birds, primates and leopard. Elusive roan antelope often come to the river to drink. Activities focus around day and night game drives, nature walks and seasonal mekoro excursions. Away from the river there is a wonderful mix of acacia and leadwood trees of varying sizes that abuts into mopane woodland. The latter, together with the permanent presence of water, attracts large numbers of elephant to the area. Larger predators include lion, wild dog and spotted hyaena, while birdlife found here is just as varied thanks to the colourful palette of habitats.
New bridge over the Savute Channel at Savuti Camp
The bridge over the Savute Channel at Sausage Tree point near Savuti Camp has been completed. This now enables much easier access to the Southern Side of the channel.
Water flowing past Savute Safari Lodge again
The Savute Channel is once again in flow and the waters have now reached the camps in the March, including Desert & Delta's Savute Safari Lodge. The following images give you an idea of the look and feel of the renewed habit around the camp.
North Island Update - March 2010 Jump
to North Island
Weather and Beaches
The beginning of March has been characterised by unusually large swells - so much so that we almost decided to cancel activities for a day due to a dangerous shore break at Petit Anse, which would have rendered zodiac transfers unsafe. Fortunately this was shortlived and the sea soon calmed down again. From the 13th of March onwards the sea conditions were fantastic and more like what we have come expect from this season. The visibility has also been great and has exceeded 35 metres on some days - making diving the order of the day, and rightly so.
The rough seas during the beginning of the month also assisted in shortening the beach in front of the dive centre somewhat. West Beach was hit very hard by the big swell and has all but disappeared from the front of the West Beach bar. The famous dead takamaka tree by the West Beach picnic spot has fallen over and has had to be removed. Honeymoon Beach has remained beautiful throughout the month.
Marine Life and Conservation
The highlight of the month has undoubtedly been the sighting of six manta rays off Cathedral, a dive site situated below the steep cliffs of the south of Silhouette Island. The family were spotted calmly swimming just off the deeper ledges of this reef, but quickly disappeared. Manta rays are particularly rare in Seychelles waters and especially around North Island. Unfortunately, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) currently lists manta rays (Manta birostris) as 'near threatened'. It's known that several populations around the world are severely depleted, some possibly already extinct, but not enough scientific research has been carried out to properly assess the species as a whole. Almost nothing is known about their population ecology, use of critical habitat, movements or reproduction, all of which are vital in order to accurately assess the state of the species - the lack of protection in most areas is directly related to the limited research that has been conducted on these amazing creatures.
As previously mentioned, a second (and now possibly even third) species of manta ray has been recently discovered within the world's oceans - this research has been conducted by marine biologist, Andrea Marshall, mostly off the waters of southern Mozambique. This is the most significant news to date to come out of ray research, and its importance is the marine equivalent of discovering an unknown species of elephant!
Manta rays, which are totally harmless and do not possess a stinging barb, are the largest of over 500 different species of rays and skates. We hope our sighting of this clan of six is not an isolated incident, and that we catch sight of this family again in our waters. If possible we'd like to identify which species they are.
The most unusual discovery this month, however, has been of a flying fish which was found at the back of the dive centre. I suppose it may be possible that it was picked up by a small water spout and dropped at the back of the centre, or it may also be possible that it was chased by a predator out of the water onto the beach, through the dive centre and out the back - either option seems equally unbelievable, but there it was. Very strange indeed - although, as they say, stranger things have happened...
Our dive centre turtle nest, which was laid during January and soon thereafter 'adopted' by the dive centre team, had to be relocated as it was situated too close to the lights of the dive centre and restaurant and the hatchlings were in danger of being attracted to the lights instead of the sea during their hatchling scramble to their new ocean home. We decided to relocate the nest further down the beach, between Villas #2 and #3 so that the eggs could hatch without concern for any surrounding lights.
Strangely, the eggs did not synchronise their hatching (as is normally the case) and numerous visits were required by the enviro team in order to continually release what hatchlings had hatched. A very strange hatching, but nonetheless most of the hatchlings managed to hatch naturally, with only a dozen or so requiring incubation in the enviro office before being released at a later date.
In respect to the current Protected Areas Project, North Island hosted various members of the project on a day trip to the island, including individuals from GEF, GIF and UNDP. This orientation also included a dive on Sprat City with the intention of showing Michelle Etienne and a colleague (from GEF) the types of reef structures North Island has to offer. Both were equally impressed with the condition of the reef as well as the fish life and fish species diversity found on this one small section of reef. Further clarification was also received that this site is in fact quite special and rightly deserves any form of protection that can be provided. Several species of coral that dominate this reef were also discussed in more detail, including their importance within the marine ecosystem and especially to North Island in the event that we are able to demarcate certain areas as protected.
In relation to the current Coral Bleaching Alert as of February/March this year, we are keeping a close tab on our reefs in order to pre-empt any wide-scale bleaching that may occur. Currently, Sprat City and Twin Anchors have shown almost no change apart from what is normally expected during a traditional summer season (selected corals are expected to show mild signs of bleaching by the end of the summer season). Coral Gardens has, however, shown a distinct change and particularly with the horned corals (Pocillopora spp.) and the clustered finger corals (Acropora spp.). While it is still unknown if these corals have indeed died, we will continue to monitor the reefs and coral gardens in particular for any further signs of bleaching. Apparently several outer islands have already reported severe coral bleaching in some areas which is particularly worrying.
Kings Pool Camp update - March 2010 Jump
to Kings Pool Camp
DumaTau Camp update - March 2010 Jump
to DumaTau Camp
Weather and Landscape
Rain is considered a blessing in Botswana - which is why we named our currency after it. Well, March was a month of blessings in the Linyanti. We got a good soaking - which will hopefully serve us well during the coming dry, winter months.
Game viewing has been good this month. We had a few herds of elephant moving through the area. The most interesting sighting we had was of a small herd crossing through the deep water. The impala roamed around camp, as usual, and the red lechwe provided great game viewing along the floodplains. We have one particular hippo who ignores the general consensus that hippo should spend their days in the water and only come out for grazing during the evening - and he spends the whole morning grazing in camp. Giraffe, zebra, kudu and warthog remain part of the DumaTau scenery. Thanks to all the rain the grass is still quite high, and the leaves green - once the area dries out a little the game viewing will get even better.
Silver Eye has been seen occasionally near camp, and we suspect he is hanging out in Kings Pool area. The Savuti Female has been sighted a few times, with her two cubs - which means they are still both alive and well, which is always good news. We've also seen the Linyanti and DumaTau Prides, who seem to be doing well.
We saw two of our resident leopard this month - the DumaTau Male and the Calcrete Female - either resting, or walking along the road. We saw the female at the beginning of the month in some trouble - she was being chased by a pack of wild dog. She made optimum use of her climbing skills - and headed up a tree at lightning speed. We also saw two as yet unidentified leopard towards the end of the month - hopefully we'll see more of them in April and be able to identify them.
Our two cheetah brothers, the Mantshwe Boys, were spotted once this month, resting. It is quite difficult to spot cheetah at this time of year, when the grass is so high. Cheetah sightings in this area get better as the environment gets drier. The heavy presence of lion in this area might also be contributing to the scarcity of cheetah, as they tend to try and avoid conflict.
We've seen our resident wild dog, the Zib Pack (six adults and six young ones), several times. The dogs have been seen resting, hunting and feeding on impala. They are very successful in their hunting and the juveniles seem to be enjoying themselves and learning quickly. This is the pack that we saw chasing the female leopard up a tree. We've also seen them roaming around the camp, especially between the staff village and sunken hide, where they ambush the impala that go there to drink. We are optimistic that the pack will continue to grow as the young have now reached the age where they are really out of danger from hyaena and lion, and hopefully the alpha female will have more pups soon.
Savuti Camp update - March 2010 Jump
to Savuti Camp
Weather and Landscape
Life on the banks of the Savute Channel often exceeds our expectations but this month has given us particular pause for thought. One of the undoubted pleasures of living in such a remote, pristine environment is that the rest of the world more or less passes us by with its meaningless scurrying and alarms over nothing. Yet natural beauty is not an impervious shield to the troubles of our planet - as evinced by the weather we have been experiencing here. It reminds us that Savuti too is part of, and subject to, global currents.
Our rainy season normally begins in the old year, with the onset of the southern summer, and embraces the infant new year before petering out as the weather cools. This summer, we waited in vain for rains and it has only been in the last two months that we have experienced significant rainfall - much of it in the form of electric storms.
And what glorious storms! An artillery of thunder and the staccato brilliance of lightning. Velvet, starless nights, the clouds lit from within like paper lanterns by sheet lightning. Forked lightning that rents the sky asunder, lights the landscape like a second sun, and leaves a temporary memory of itself burned into the retina.
But more than the drama, the rain fuels a riot of vegetation - an orgy of foliage. It slices and seeps its way down into the aquifers which sustain all life here, building up watery credit in a time of so much debt. Leaves drip moisture onto sodden fur and soaked feathers, and down the necks of safari shirts. There is no way you'll stay dry out there!
As suddenly as the storms begin, they are over. Sunlight glints through a million tiny raindrop lenses before they evaporate. Manes shaking, feathers ruffled, ivory and monochrome stripes washed clean, the animals emerge into a wonderland of pools and terrapins, lush wet grass, and a banquet of insects.
The electric excitement in the air can be too much for some creatures, and we had a remarkable sighting of a female elephant enjoying the Channel in a most exuberant way: churning the surface with her front legs and creating a sea of foam around her.
If there is one legendary and iconic African species, it has to be the lion. Sometimes in the lull of a storm, after the bombardment of thunder is over and the celestial gunners are out of shells, listen and you will hear it vibrating in the water-rich air... The roar of a lion - terrestrial defiance hurled at the skies, at first almost indistinguishable from the last fading rumbles and gurgles of the storm. It is a regal sound, engineered to reach every corner of the realm.
Stalking that realm is the next generation of royalty. We see the lone lioness from the Savuti Pride with two eighteen month-old male cubs that she has raised on her own. They are almost her size now but it will be years before they can usurp the throne. In the meantime, there are a few lessons to be absorbed, and a few humiliations to be shaken off. We witnessed a fascinating episode when these three supreme opportunists (mother and sons) surprised a few banded mongoose who had strayed too far from their termite mound fortress. Panic tripped over confusion as the mongoose arrowed away through the long grass, the cubs in hot, if clumsy, pursuit. One succeeded in pinning down a mongoose, but the wily viverrid gave him the slip and lived to tell quite a tale.
Silver Eye and his brother suddenly re-appeared in the Linyanti after some months away to the east of Kings Pool and perhaps even across the water in the Caprivi Strip.
In an area as blessed as the Linyanti is with predators, and particularly with wild dog, it is hard for one individual creature to so impose his will that he almost comes to embody the spirit of a place, to breathe and move as its animate soul. But Silver Eye is just such a creature, and one hell of a lion - fierce, wild and free.
The Savute Channel
The Channel reached the Savute Marsh in March. This is the first time that Zibalianja Lagoon and the Marsh have been linked by a continuous ribbon of water since the early 1980s. And with the Selinda Spillway again about to connect the Linyanti with the Okavango Delta, ancient bonds are being reformed and the skeins of water twisted together to form unbreakable cables. This will be a year of renewed alliances, of allegiances sworn again. A year of rivers and of lions, and of transition as the hopes and fears of all the dry years are carried along by the Channel, and met again in the Marsh.
We live in changing times, but change is not always to be feared, it is to be welcomed too. The last motes of quarter-century old dust are smoothly swept away, as the Channel becomes daily deeper and wider.
One more link was made this year, with a wooden bridge being completed to allow us to cross the Channel to the southern bank, which has become almost a mythical place with the Channel so high. Even here the lions had a part in the story, showing a previously unsuspected appreciation of the finer points of civil engineering as they came to check out this new structure - and perhaps showing slightly too much interest in the construction workers themselves... Fortunately the very river the workers were trying to tame took pity on them and gave them egress, and they were able to paddle to safety in good time.
On a personal note, this will be my last Savuti Camp report as after two wonderful years in this astonishing place, it is time for me to move on. I'll miss the river that came back, the wildlife that revels in it, and most of all, the people who are the true magic of this paradise. Thank you all. For me, as for the Selinda Spillway, the Okavango beckons.
With very best wishes from the Savuti team: Tumoh Morena, Lindy Samunzala, Sean Matthewson and Nick 'Noko' Galpine.
Zarafa Camp update - March 2010 Jump
to Zarafa Camp
Weather and Landscape
March has been a changeable month: from hot dry days to cool and overcast days; from drizzling mist-like rain to thunderstorms lighting up our evening skies... We've received just over 50mm of rainfall this month, but only one storm in camp - it seems like the rainstorms keep bypassing and circling around us.
The most exciting news of the month was the re-appearance of the cheetah brothers that we have got to know so well. They had not been seen since January and we were not sure where they had gone - perhaps along the Savute or perhaps towards Kwando. They spent a couple of days around camp before heading off again.
Other exciting news is that the daughter of our well-known leopard, Amber, has had at least one cub. It was seen very briefly around Joubert's Island at the end of March. This is very good news as we also reported that Amber had two cubs back in December. This now means we have three leopard cubs in the area, although we've not seen Amber's cubs since January.
The Selinda Pride has been pretty scarce this month compared to February when we saw then every day for a week. The occasional sightings have been near the Old Zibadianja Camp - the same area where we were seeing them last month. They still have two cubs, which are mostly seen in the company of their mothers. The males (Silver-Eye and his brother) have moved far north-east of us towards and beyond King's Pool Camp. They have not been seen this side of the Savute Channel in many months.
The smaller Northern Pride, with two females (one adult and a sub-adult) also have two cubs and are mainly being seen north of the airstrip and the Spillway. Occasionally, we see them with two males (again an older and a younger male). This older male has a long, dark mane, while the younger male sports a shorter mane.
On one occasion, the Selinda Pride females were lazing in an open area west of the airstrip. The two Northern Pride males were seen approaching them. The females were very aggressive towards the males and kept their distance and showed no interest. The males lost interest soon enough and headed back from whence they'd come.
We saw wild dog a number of times at the beginning of March. On one occasion, the Zibadianja Pack, which normally consists of six adults, was seen with only five. We've not seen them since, so we hope that they are all fine and that all six are still together. The Selinda Pack (with their six pups) was seen only once this month along the treeline road south of Zarafa. The pups are growing rapidly and getting bigger and bigger by the day.
As always, the elephant are around and quite a few old bulls that we remember from last year have begun returning to Zarafa and spending time in camp. On one occasion, an old bull decided the best place to lie down and sleep was between our house and the main pathway - a good wakeup call for us as we stumbled out of bed at 05h00 in the morning!
Selinda Camp update - March 2010 Jump
to Selinda Camp
Weather and Landscape
Our seasonal chart informs us that winter should be knocking on the door any day now, as our rainy summer season draws to a close. Yet a battle between the seasons at Selinda seems to endure: autumn very much not wanting to give up its seat to winter. Rain is still in abundance and many a thunderstorm has caught not only the animals but also guests unawares.
Torrential rain has covered the whole northern area of Botswana and with the high rainfall for our northerly neighbours, it is only natural to expect a further rise in the levels of the water in the Delta and the Selinda Spillway. Already the Spillway has risen by 15cm, and we're expecting more.
Of course this is all advantageous for the coming dry winter season - as not only will the surrounds maintain their natural beauty, but the wildlife sightings will be greatly enhanced.
The game is in abundance at the moment. We're seeing herds of 100-plus elephant. We have not had to worry about travelling too far from Selinda to see as much wildlife as we can handle. A number of evenings have been enjoyed with elephant in camp - although their feeding habits have left much to be desired. On the upside - we don't need to worry about pruning the trees and bushes around camp...
The lion have graced us with their frequent visits and now show off their cubs for all to see and enjoy. A leopard has made himself at home sporadically within camp and his call is often enjoyed as a new day dawns. On a couple of occasions the camp managers have unexpectedly made the acquaintance of the young male leopard, and now keep a watchful eye out as they make their way home in the evenings.
We were treated to a very memorable experience recently - a rumble in the jungle between a male lion and a hyaena. A lioness and her cubs were feeding on a wildebeest calf the pride had pulled down earlier, and a hyaena was hiding in nearby scrub, waiting for the right time to steal the carcass. As soon as he made his presence known, the male lion gave chase and the hyaena, with a tremendous amount of luck, just managed to make it into a dead tree, where it took refuge. The male lion voiced his dissatisfaction rather vociferously - no-one and nothing in hearing distance could have mistaken the stern warning the roar contained.
Camps Update - March 2010
Lagoon camp Jump
• Lagoon has had the glad tidings of new lions moving into the area. Four males and five females appeared late last month from the wilderness and seem to have taken up residence in the area. Guides are unsure as to where exactly they have come from although the likely answer would be from the stunning upper Kwando area or the vast wilderness of the west – western Kwando concession. We will certainly be hoping their residence in the area is a long and successful one!
• The three cheetah brothers are still reining supreme through the Kwando and are a regular site stalking impalas in the woodlands. On one such occasion they had brought down an impala close to Lagoon camp and were then chased off by some spotted hyenas who were scavenging in the area.
• Guests, guides and trackers alike have been entertained by the strong pack of seventeen wild dogs who are terrorising the neighbourhood at the moment. Almost every evening there is a fair chance that these hungry dogs will be on the move and after some fresh meat.
• Away from the predators, we have seen several large herds of buffalo and elephant in the area which is quite unusual for this time of the year with such widespread rains in the woodlands. Many migrant birds have extended their stays due to the excellent rainy season and prolonged availability of food. However, it is likely that such migrants as Paradise Flycatchers, Woodlands kingfishers and Wahlberg's eagles will be departing within the next month.
Kwara & Little Kwara camps Jump
& Little Kwara camps
• There have been vast arrays of wildlife at Kwara recently. Water channels familiar to guests have begun to rise by the boat station and airstrip while Kwara lagoon in front of the camp has already risen. The water levels will continue to rise over the next couple of months as the annual flood pushes through towards Xaxanaka and Khwai. This means that there has been an abundance of wildlife in new areas of Kwara concession, including the legendary Tsum Tsum plains that are now home to large numbers of zebras, blue wildebeest, elephant and tssesebe.
• The splintered coalition of seven lions have been busy harassing these multitudes of game including an excellent giraffe kill seen by some guests. They have also been busy spreading their seed with the local lionesses and many such mating scenes have been recorded by delighted guests.
• The family of six cheetahs are now spending more time apart as the four cubs are now over a year old and will be readying themselves for life without their mother in the next few months. They are a constant terror to the areas smaller antelope like impala, duiker and steenbok. •
We have also seen a pack of wild dogs to the northeast in the Splash area of the concession. They numbered seven animals and passed away into the Mopane woods to the north after failing to kill a kudu.
• Guides picked up the very rare sighting of an aardvark (ant bear) close to the airstrip last week and watched the shy creature for over an hour before it head off into the surrounding thickets.
Lebala camp Jump
• A great month of game viewing on the savannahs of Lebala has yielded excellent predator viewing for our guests. A large variety of plains games species Is providing ample food for our resident Leopards, Lions, Cheetahs and Wild dogs.
• There is some concern for the smaller of the three packs of Wild dogs in the Kwando concession. Previously when sighted they had numbered six but now they number merely four individuals. It is not uncommon for skirmishes to break out with larger predators such as lions or hyenas so there is concern that two may have been killed in the fighting. Moreover, one of the remaining four dogs is heavily pregnant and awaiting a new denning site, so cannot be an enormous help hunting. Wild dogs rely heavily on numbers for success on their hunts and the less animals the higher the chances of starvation. On one occasion this was highlighted when the four dogs pulled down a sub adult kudu only for one of them to badly sprain its leg and put it out of action for up to a week.
• Lion sightings have also been good this month with the two males of the area being followed for several hours following a large herd of buffalo. The morning light revealed a successful hunt on a young buffalo that had been isolated and killed away from the formidable male 'Dagga Boys' of the herd.
• Elsewhere, there was the unusual sighting of a pangolin. The only one of its kind for several months. Astonished onlookers snapped with their cameras while the shielded ant eater slowly made its way into the bush.
• Nxai Pan has witnessed some astounding cat viewing in the Park this March. Firstly, a female leopard has been seen on occasion with a young leopard cub walking from pan to pan and stalking the numerous springbok in the area. The mother is naturally very protective of the newest member of her family but some excellent shots have been taken of the youngster oblivious to the dangers around him!
• Additionally, we have also had great sightings of a cheetah mother and her cub close to camp. The mother managed to chase down a springbok antelope right by the large Baobab infront of the camp Nxai Pan.
• There are also plenty of lions in the area. One group of seven lions have been seen recently on a zebra kill and they have ventured close to the camp to drink from our water hole. That water has to be shared with some huge resident bull elephants who still dominate the view from the front porch.
• Additionally, we have seen some good herds of eland in the area towards Khama-Khama Pan to the North-East. They are fairly shy but provide an excellent spectacle as they leap in front of the safari cars in front of the road.
• As well as the excellent migrant birdlife, we are still enjoying we have seen two fantastic sightings of a Stanley's Bustard and Martial's eagle hunting a White-faced Duck.
• Tau Pan's resident Brown hyena has returned to its routine of an early morning drink at the water hole in front of the main area. Camp guides believe that they time their drinks not to coincide with the two big male lions who are also fond of a similar morning routine. After quenching his thirst the hyena then slips away into the thick bush, usually to the east of the camp.
• On Phokuje Pan we have been fortunate to see a family of meercats (surricates) on several occasions. These highly gregarious bands are legendary for their bold approach to humans and fascinating group social structure. So far eight individuals have been identified.
Also on Phokuje Pan there have been excellent views of Cape eland antelopes. A herd of about thirty has been spotted quite a few times moving in and out of the area.
• In close proximity we still have a female cheetah living with her two cubs and hunting from the large springbok population in the area.
• Closer to the camp the blond and the dark maned lion coalition still rule the roost on Tau Pan. A total of six females have at times been seen in their company and one week three of the females were accompanied by three cubs. The lions in the area seem to single out gemsbok as their favourite prey but have also been seen hunting animals as diverse as the springbok or prickly porcupine!
Mombo Camp update
- March 2010 Jump
to Mombo Camp
Weather and Landscape
For a month nearing the end of summer, March was really hot and very wet - something we don't expect up here. We received a large amount of rain at the end of the month, attributed to the Inter Tropical Conversion Zone, a fancy name for a weather system which brings about good rains in our country. The flood is also here now, in full force, not as big as last year's yet, but with another peak coming down from the Panhandle of the Okavango, we will wait and see what this added influx of water will do.
All this rain and water has definitely not slowed down our game viewing here, and we have had some fantastic game drives this month. The big news is that Legadima, our local leopard female, has had cubs again! Not one, not two, but three little leopards have been seen. They are about six weeks old, and are already playing with each other and mum outside the den. She moves the den site every now and then, making them not always easy to find, but a huge treat when you do. Of course, she has also been seen regularly, away from her cubs and on the prowl for a meal.
Legadima's cubs from a previous litter, now adults themselves, have also been seen throughout the month. These two females, Pula and Maru, are just as beautiful as mum, and provide us with great sightings. The father of Legadima's latest little ones has also been spotted on a couple of occasions, although this is usually a bit more fleeting, as he is a lot shyer than the females, and usually slinks away from game viewers.
The two prides of lion, the Matata and Maparota Prides, are seen very regularly here, and it is not unusual for a group of guests to see both prides in one day - which is potentially a total of 28 lion! The Maparota Breakaway pride has also appeared, looking very bedraggled, not like the fit, healthy lion that we usually get in this concession. This is due to them trying to exist in an area that is dominated by the other two prides, and the fierce competition, coupled with them being a small, young pride, with no adult males, does not make for an easy life.
A big male elephant was found dead a few days ago, maybe killed in a fight, or died of old age. It has provided us with good entertainment with hyaena and vultures dominating the carcass and squabbling over the plentiful food.
The camp itself has offered some great game viewing from the comfort of the room decks or main lounge. The buffalo males or "Dagga Boys" come into camp every night, sometimes sleeping under the walkways or the rooms. A beautiful herd of elephant strolled by the lounge one afternoon during tea, the two babies in the herd playing around in the shallow floodwater. We also have a young male hippo who has taken to resting in the flooded areas around camp during the day, and walking past us at dinner at night. A great thing to see and something that people often have on their lists (hippo out of water - tick).
A juvenile Martial Eagle has taken up residence at Mombo, and is quite often seen flying over camp, and sometimes, when lucky, we get to see him roosting in a tree. They are definitely one of the most magnificent raptors found in Africa, a truly impressive bird.
With March gone, we now start to wait in anticipation for the beginning of winter, such a dramatic difference in the environment here and a change which seems to almost happen overnight. A crisp and cool morning and evening will be much appreciated by all of us living here, though, after the long, hot summer that has almost passed.
The managers for the month were: Gordon, Tanya, Kago and Phenyo at main camp and Nat at Little Mombo.
The guides for the month were: Pete, Cilus, Cisco, Ban and Moss at Main camp and Tsile at Little Mombo.
Xigera Camp update
- March 2010 Jump
to Xigera Camp
Chitabe Camp update
- March 2010 Jump
to Chitabe Camp
Vumbura Plains Camp update
- March 2010 Jump
to Vumbura Plains Camp
Weather and Landscape
It seems the coming winter is knocking on Vumbura Plains' door. Mornings are getting a little chillier and the sun seems to rise from its slumber a little later each passing day. However, temperatures are still rising to the early 30s and skies are generally clear. We had some rain which brought quick relief and then passed to give way to stunning sunsets in front of camp. There was an onset of thick clouds towards the end of the month.
Animal sightings have been good, with the usual herds of impala, tsessebe, wildebeest, kudu and elephant being seen on game drives. The resident sable, with their proud stance, have also been spotted nurturing their new additions - it is always good to see the young ones growing stronger. Passing buffalo herds have also been sighted recently.
Occasionally, the elephant herds pass in and around camp, once causing a small roadblock as the baby elephants of the herd slept in the middle of the road leading to camp closely watched by the protective and much larger females. Needless to say, it was best to leave the little ones resting and appease the ladies by taking another route home.
Predator sightings have been good with the local lion prides milling around the back of camp. They seem to pass by every now and then, and always cause great excitement with their thunderous calling in the dead of the night. The Kubu Pride have been exhibiting some "war wounds", and it is believed that they are from altercations with a third pride that has shown up in the area... Who will stay and who will go? Or will they all co-exist on the vast plains of Vumbura - watch this space!
Hyaena footprints are a common sight on the roads in the mornings and we were lucky enough to witness a pack of six stay for two days at the carcass of a stillborn elephant calf. The hyaena would dunk the meat in a nearby pan of water so as to cover the scent from any other predators and feast at their leisure.
Selonyana the leopard has been spotted with her cub on a few occasions and it is comforting to know that they are both still doing well.
With the rising floodwaters, guests have been enjoying the peaceful mokoro trips as they slink through the reeds and channels at one with the Delta and her smaller inhabitants. Watching the sun start to set with the calls of birds up ahead as they search for a safe roosting area is a great way to end a day at Vumbura Plains.
On the baby front - we also had a Crested Barbet chick born in the decorations in Vumbura South's main dining area - it gives us great pleasure to say that it has spread its wings and flown the nest. We will miss its continuous little chirps calling for food from its nearby watching parents.
Managers: Warren, Cheri and Graham, with a special welcome to our new managers, Britt, Virgil and Katie!
Guides: Zee, Moronga, Ona, OB, Emang and Ollie.
Little Vumbura Camp update
- March 2010 Jump
to Little Vumbura Camp
Duba Plains Camp update
- March 2010 Jump
to Duba Plains Camp
Weather and Landscape
The weather has been very accommodating for almost the whole of March, with nice cool mornings and very warm days. The weather changed somewhat towards the end of the month, when we had afternoon showers, some of which were quite heavy - we recorded 65 mm (2.5 inches) within an hour and a half.
The remote open plains and diverse habitats around Duba always give visitors that primal thrill of discovering the unknown in the wilderness. Open floodplains, isolated islands and meandering channels are all valuable habitats to different species. They combine to create a serene landscape and wide open vistas offering up spectacular photo opportunities.
Few things get hearts pounding faster than watching lion hunt. Their patience is uncanny. They will wait sometimes for hours - studying their prey and planning their attack. They wait for exactly the right moment to catch their victim off-guard. Suddenly they crouch low, hugging the ground as they creep silently toward their prey. They often focus on the weakest animal, but maintain a constant awareness of the rest of the herd. When hunting as a pride, they will work as a team, orchestrating a well-coordinated attack to cut off all possible escape routes for their prey, sometimes even herding the startled animal into the trap of waiting lion. This normally happens at night, but at Duba we see it happening during the day (at any time) - which is just one of the things that sets Duba apart.
This month, as usual, lion have been the dominant predators in the area. The Tsaro Pride was seen most regularly. This is the pride with the nine females and one dominant male (the Skimmer male), which has now split into two groups - the group of four have moved further west, towards Baobab Island, while the group of five has remained in our prime game drive area. It's very interesting to see how both groups have successfully divided the big territory between themselves, and how they now defend it against each other.
The pride splitting seems not to have impacted the lion versus buffalo interaction. Both prides have been very active around the buffalo as there have been a lot of calves this season. This interaction is always interesting, if sometimes gruesome, to watch, and it reminds us that we are in real wildlife area where nature always take its course.
The Skimmer Pride, numbering nine lions, was also seen in the area towards the end of this month in an excellent condition.
Sightings of a male leopard have been a highlight at Duba this month. On several game drives recently, for about seven days in a row, we saw this individual. He is surprisingly relaxed around the vehicles, which makes this probably the best leopard sighting we've ever had. We are hoping that he hangs around for a while - although one of our senior guides, James007, who has been at Duba since it was first built 14 years ago, has pointed out that the area in which the leopard is most often seen is one of the main home ranges of a big troop of baboons. Leopards and baboons are mortal enemies - so if the baboons come across him they may mob him (there is strength in numbers), and force him out of the area.
March has been another thrilling month here at Duba Plains. The photos accompanying this newsletter were taken by some of our guests on safari.
Managers: Moalosi, Bonang and Tendani. Tendani worked in the reservations department of our office in Maun for some time before deciding to venture into the bush.
Guides: James 007, Spike and Reuben
Jacana Camp update
- March 2010 Jump
to Jacana Camp
Weather, Water Levels and Landscape
The eerie cry of the African Fish Eagle and the boom of rolling thunder in the distance - these are sounds you are guaranteed to hear on Jacana Island. The annual flood has arrived, bringing about an immediate change to the environs - water can be seen for miles and birds abound.
The colours that are displayed with every sunrise and sunset can't be found in a box of wax crayons - not even photos can truly represent the magnificent shades of purple and pink mixed in with reds and blues. The mornings are cooling down slowly with the days still hitting the 30°C mark; autumn hinting that it's around the corner. Leaves turning golden and falling to the ground with the slightest breeze is a sure sign that the cooler weather is starting to slip in.
The red lechwe are once again taking over the Jao floodplains, their numbers growing day by day, soon to be in their hundreds - making a veritable feast for the lion. The red lechwe's natural habitat is grassy floodplains and shallow waters, and they are rarely found far from swampy areas. This semi-aquatic antelope is a flat-footed water lover, able to skim across wetlands and swamps with ease. They are very strong swimmers and have been seen diving into water to avoid becoming a meal. Jacana Camp is the perfect place for them.
Our resident female leopard has been elusive this month, but we did hear a pair of leopards mating. If this was her mating, it can only mean that her cubs, born last year, did not make it through to adulthood. This could be due to lion activity in the area, or maybe Mum trying to move the cubs through the high waters too soon. No-one can know for sure, except Mother Nature - and she's very good at keeping secrets. At this stage we can only wait and see what unfolds on the leopard front.
The lion cubs on the other hand have been seen on a number of occasions doing what they do best - either bugging Dad or pouncing on and playing with each other. Play is a major part of a cub's life - through play they learn the skills that will one day help them as adults. These four young boys may one day rule the Jao floodplains, but for now such thoughts are far off and it's playtime.
March is the last month of the ripening marula fruit. Elephants, baboons and a variety of different birds are attracted to the tree to feast on these fruits. High in vitamin C, legend has it that the lightly fermented fruit "drives elephants crazy". Reaching up to 18m, the marula gives much sought-after shade, and the cool sandy soil beneath is cherished by elephants during the mid-day heat of summer.
The marula is truly a remarkable tree, with many parts supplying cures and sustenance for man and beast alike. The skin of the fruit can be boiled to make a drink or burnt to be used as a substitute for coffee. The bark has been used to make a light coloured dye, while the nuts inside the hard kernel are rich in protein. Oil derived from the plant is used in skin care products; green leaves are said to relieve heartburn; the bark contains antihistamines and is used for cleansing by steeping in boiling water and inhaling the steam. In addition, the bark can be used as a prophylactic in the treatment of diarrhoea. Many marulas can be seen whilst driving around the immediate area of Jacana, and if you're lucky you'll see any number of wildlife sitting underneath and enjoying a snack.
"A wonderful time for all of us. Thank you" - the Stone Family, San Francisco
"Muchas gracias, Kealeboga, Thank you for a wonderful 35th wedding anniversary!" - the Lobera Family, Mexico City
"What a wonderful experience! Thank you very much" - Marie and Eddie, South Africa
"Thank you, we had a fabulous time here. You were great" - Fabienne and Miranda, Switzerland
Managers: Noeline and Tlamelo
Guides: Joseph and Op
update - March 2010 Jump
to Kwetsani Camp
Weather and Landscape
Our weather patterns have settled down over March and we have generally had sunny skies with 50% cloud cover during the day, with the wind starting and the skies clouding over in the evening. We have had a few thunderstorms with spectacular lightning shows and dramatic winds. The evenings have stayed mild to cool with slight breezes. The flood seems to have slowed down, and the water levels have only risen slightly over the past month.
Kwetsani was closed for maintenance in March and we were kept extremely busy combing and filling our thatch roofs, sanding decks and walkways and re-varnishing. We were also doing some preventative maintenance on all our tents, to give them a fresh lease on life and ensure that all facilities are in top conditions for our guests. The camp is looking great with its fresh yellow thatch and newly sanded decks, and is all ready for our first guests in April.
Even though the camp was closed for maintenance, we still had great sightings throughout the month of March. The lion pride moved away from the camp at the beginning of the month and then returned to the island right in front of our camp. The two lionesses were sighted with the four cubs and the lion was a regular visitor to their island. They killed a wildebeest one afternoon right in front of camp, as witnessed by several of our staff members.
The resident elephant herd has been seen occasionally - they moved away from camp due to the noise and increased human activity, but were seen regularly at the end of the month, when most of the refurb work had been completed.
We have a family of water reedbuck in and around camp and they have made Kwetsani Island their home. The baboons and vervet monkeys are still in attendance and causing trouble whenever and wherever possible. The hippo are common callers in the evening in and around camp. Our herds of impala are still on the island and are seen close to camp regularly.
If you come to Kwetsani this year, you'll see the rather unusual sight of a clothed baobab... We have wrapped the Kwetsani Baobab with mesh to try and prevent the elephants from damaging, and eventually killing, it.
The birding is always great in this part of the world - and we've had sightings of African Fish Eagles and Meyer's Parrots on the main deck of the camp eating the fruit from the sausage tree. A pair of Burchell's Starlings have made a nest in a marula tree and their chicks have hatched. We are not sure of the number, but will keep an eye on the nest.
Managers: Ian and Michélle Burger
Guides: OB & OP
update - March 2010 Jump
to Jao Camp
Weather and Landscape
The floodwaters have drenched our plains, island and surrounds. What a treat to have the flood move in so early in the season. Our channels are open for boating, the vehicles making use of their snorkels and, as always, the mokoro trips are splendid. Sporadic rains are keeping the area lush and vibrant, and temperatures have been dreamy.
With the floods comes another season, the marula season. Marulas are a popular fruit among wildlife looking for something sweet and juicy. Elephant love them - picking and choosing the best of the fruits, like a giant sorting through grain.
Saturated plains are the perfect habitat for our abundance of red lechwe. Prancing through the water, they complement the already superb scenery.
Some sizable crocodiles have been seen in the channels, baking their organic armour in the sun.
The Kwetsani lion pride, nursing four male cubs, has moved close to camp. The adult male, sire to the four young, is never far away and we see him often sauntering majestically through his territory.
Our resident leopard, Beauty, is still hiding away with her cubs and her presence has been scarce. We have, however, been seeing two unknown males and a female regularly. On one occasion, a lone old buffalo bull died quietly under a tree and the female and one of the males spent two days devouring it.
Our mongoose troop is as vibrant as ever. Due to the flooded terrain, their living space gets smaller and smaller, which encourages them to move closer and closer to the camp. This brings them in to the cosy areas of the camp, like sala beds, the library couches and cool camp floors where they will lie, legs sprawled, enjoying the audience, as curious about us as we are about them.
We've had some wonderful feathered visitors to Jao Island. Wattled Cranes have crept through the flooded grassland alongside a flock of Sacred Ibis, Saddle-billed Storks and Spur-winged Geese, with Open-billed Storks flying overhead. Our yearly regular, the Western Banded Snake-Eagle has also been hunting on the island.
The delicate Malachite Kingfisher always puts on a show for guests, nonchalantly pulling tiny fish out of the Delta as we drive past, cameras snapping.
The Ground Hornbills have been marching around the plains, caring for their young, who although the same size as its parents, is still dependent on them.
"Wonderful experience! Nature helped us reconnect on a spiritual plane. Thanks!" - Lindsay and Danijel
"Trip of a lifetime!" - Bruce and Debbie
"Absolutely paradise!" - Julia and Lars
"This is the Africa of my dreams. Unforgettable memories." - Lynn
Managers: Chris Barnard, Tara Salmons, Andrew Gaylord, Lauren Griffiths, Jost Kabuzo and Joanne Davis (spa therapist)
Guides: Maipaa, KB, Cruise and Cedric.
Tubu Tree Camp
update - March 2010 Jump
to Tubu Tree Camp
Weather and Landscape
March was a month of changes for the landscape. In the first week the first push of the flood came with a vengeance. In only a couple of days the dry and deserted plain in front of the xamp turned into a wet and lush paradise for birds and antelope, hippo were walking by and red lechwe took over from impala, who prefer a drier habitat. The weather got drier and drier as time went on and most of the thunderstorms that passed by didn't bring rain, only thunder, lightning and heavy wind.
The past month has been one of close encounters. Our guests were treated to some unbelievable sightings, in and out of camp.
After what seemed like a slow start, our guides were inundated with leopard - the elusive beauties for which Tubu Tree is best known. In only four weeks they counted nine different individuals, including a mother with two seven month-old cubs.
On some days, guests saw so many leopard on one game drive that they seemed to get a little blasé: they mentioned seeing kudu, zebra and giraffe before they remembered seeing cats at all! Leopard were seen walking over the airstrip in the middle of the day, stretching themselves on a branch, and just lying in the high grass.
One afternoon, while we were focused on a breeding herd of elephant, we noticed a herd of wildebeest behaving rather oddly. After looking around for a bit we discovered the reason: two leopard were stalking the whole herd, and looking for the point of weakness, so they could attack. In the end though all of the wildebeest made it through the day.
Another leopard was seen really close to a game drive vehicle relaxing in a tree. We drove around a corner, and there she was, at about eye level, lying on a branch. She slowly descended, stretched, posed a little bit and then wandered off for some hunting.
On that same game drive, close to the boat station, our guests were lucky enough to spot a pair of Pel's Fishing-Owls, enjoying the sunshine in a tree.
When it comes to arm-length close encounters, staff and guests definitely had the ultimate this month with the great grey giants. We had elephant feeling very at home at Tubu for several weeks in a row. They could be seen between the tents, scratching their backs on the tent poles, pushing over trees, feeding on marula fruit - bringing their calves so close you could almost touch them! Guests and staff had to make a few detours to get where they were going.
"We have been to the Okavango on numerous occasions before, Tubu was a highlight, as it was a complete and satisfying experience, the game, accommodation, food, above all, staff and management made it a most memorable experience." - Horst and Rebecca, South Africa
"Loved the location and the 'excitement' of our elephant visitors! Staff definitely, highlight - wonderful friendly & delightful! Our boat trip on a Mokoro was amazing. Lovely visit, especially for our Canadian visitors." - Diana and Steven, South Africa
"The kindness of the staff was over-the-top! Julian and Nina were exceptional hosts. They are young and fun and seem to enjoy the whole experience as much as we do. Kambango is a wonderful guide - Kathy was great. We will be back." - Karen and Jeff, USA
Managers: Julian and Nina
Guides: Johnny and Kambango
All in all March was a month of change. The incoming water had an effect on the animals, the landscape, and all of us at Tubu Tree. Until next month...
Kalahari Plains Camp
update - March 2010 Jump
to Kalahari Plains Camp
March turned out to be a fabulous month for game viewing at Kalahari Plains. The Kalahari really is the gift that keeps on giving!
Excellent cheetah sightings prevailed. The highlights in this regard include cheetah chasing a flock of ostrich, and later the cheetah themselves being chased by two oryx (gemsbok) bulls.
In the first case we found ourselves searching for cheetah in the dawn of another gorgeous Kalahari sunrise. We were fortunate to find the three Kalahari Plains males in repose on the great plain in front of camp. What a regal sight they presented as the skies glowed with the pre-birthing of another day. The plain was littered with scattered herds of springbok, oryx and red hartebeest. But it was a large flock of ostrich upon which the cheetahs' attention were riveted, and in particular upon a group of medium-sized chicks.
We positioned the vehicle in a situation from which we could best view the action. The cheetah skilfully stalked into a position from which to launch an attack upon the blissfully unaware chicks. What was amazing was how obvious it was that the cheetah had selected the ostrich chicks totally to the exclusion of any other potential prey which was also so obviously available. Getting into position without attracting the attention of the other animals on the plain was also a lesson in consummate skill. The stage was set, and we awaited the action. One of the cheetah launched the attack and the three torpedo-like forms streaked onto the plain. The peace and harmony was instantly shattered and hundreds of animals fled willy-nilly in all directions, with the ostrich leading the mass exodus.
The cheetah had launched the attack too soon and were unable to catch up with the ostrich. The now wide-awake plain glared at the crestfallen cheetah who walked shamefacedly through the herds of peeved springbok to the edge of the area. They knew that they had blown it and that they would have to keep a low profile as it would be hours before the plain returned to its carefree and trusting demeanour of moments previously. Though the cheetah had failed, the guests and I were pumped with adrenaline and excitement at having witnessed such a spectacle.
Later in the day, we decided to return to the spot at which the cheetah had disappeared. Sure enough, at dusk the cheetah reappeared from the scrub on the edge of the plain. In this instance they were given even shorter shrift and were driven off by two huge oryx bulls. A memorable day in the lives of the Plains coalition for sure.
Another highlight for the month was the sighting of a pangolin in camp. While sitting at the bar with guests after a game drive we were called by a staff member to see a pangolin in the staff area. We all rushed there to find Willy, one of our guides, pointing excitedly at this rare find. The pangolin was sleeping in a small bush a few feet from his tent. Everyone was extremely excited, as it's incredibly rare to see pangolin - especially this close up. Willy was fortunate enough to spot the same pangolin again a few evenings later while on game drive.
One more highlight was the spotting of two aardwolf on the great plain in front of the camp. It was on a cool and overcast day and we were treated to a lengthy display of them play fighting and being investigated by an extremely curious springbok ram.
to Page 2