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Kalahari Plains Camp in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) offers some of the best summer wildlife viewing opportunities in Africa. With the advent of the summer rains, the desert truly comes to life, short grasses sprouting in the pan systems and fossil riverbeds attracting a plethora of plains game. The summer and green season are the ideal time to send your clients!
Kalamu Lagoon Camp wins SLCS Eco Award
Kalamu Lagoon Camp has received the South Luangwa Eco Award - Silver rating. This award is an initiative of the South Luangwa Conservation Society (SLCS) which is aimed at encouraging tour operators in the area to increase their awareness and management of environmental and social issues in their businesses.
African Pitta in Mana Pools National Park
Location: Ruckomechi Camp, Mana Pools National Park, Zimbabwe.
Date: 13 Dec 2011
Observer: Kevin Van Breda
Photographer: Kevin Van Breda
If there is one bird most African birders lust over, it would probably be the African Pitta. Having pored over its illustrations in field guides a number of times myself, I have long wondered when my time would come to see this feathered jewel. That is, until December 2011...
The Zambezi Valley, where Mana Pools National Park is situated, has long been known as a sacred haunt of this elusive species. As an intra-African migratory bird species, they have been recorded breeding in Zimbabwe any time from November through December - the latter being the best month to search for this species in suitable habitat in southern Africa.
Early morning on December the 13th, I leapt out of bed, scarcely believing my ears - I had just heard the distinctive prrp call of African Pitta! In a state of heightened anticipation I grabbed my camera and headed towards a Natal mahogany tree where I thought the call was originating from.
After a rather protracted search, with the help of other excited Ruckomechi staff members, we found it when it called again. Eventually we got a glimpse and found him sitting high up in the Natal mahogany on a well-shaded branch. Finally, we all managed to see the bird. What an amazing bird to add to our lifelist and a definite one for my personal record books!
As we experienced for ourselves, this bird is very easily overlooked unless calling. A probable annual visitor, I will definitely be keeping a look out for it next season!
Birth of an Elephant Calf at Abu Camp
Sighting: Birth of a calf to Shireni
Location: Abu Camp, Abu Concession, Botswana
Date: 21 December 2011
Observer: Abu Camp staff and guests
At 10:05pm on Saturday, 17 December 2011, Shireni, one of the leading elephants at Abu Camp, gave birth to a female calf. She was in good health and measured 90cm at the shoulder. Staff and guests braved the bad weather to but once she managed to get to her feet, instinct kicked in and she immediately began to suckle - after this, all systems were go!
The entire process was dramatised by the flashes of lightning, giving us a series of still images in the darkness, which have been engrained into the minds of all the spectators forever. The other six elephants rumbled through the night, no doubt spreading the happy news to the wilderness beyond.
Early in the morning, the clouds parted and we found the baby curled up next to her brother, six-year-old Abu, both fast asleep after the excitement of the night before. Our little girl's first attempt to leave the boma was short-lived, and after just six steps she flopped over and had a twenty-minute nap; getting around is a rather big effort for an elephant just a few hours old!
After a while, mom gently woke her baby and with the help of Cathy, the matriarch of the herd, got her to her feet and on the move again. This time they got out the gates, across the dry riverbed, through a few small puddles and out into the green bush to the north of camp.
We all watched as her bandy rubber legs quivered and gave in time and time again, and each time one of the other elephants was there to get her back on her feet, always surrounding and protecting her and stroking her with their trunks, never letting her out of their sight.
The herd spent the rest of the day meandering through the bush, making sure the newest member was always right in the middle of the herd. By lunch time Paseka, our mischievous two-year-old and the baby were fast asleep under a tree, taking a good few hours of rest, while Cathy, Shireni and Abu stood over them keeping watch.
After nearly 36 hours of 'brain fracking', the elephant handlers announced that they had agreed on a name. The name 'Warona' was chosen, the Setswana meaning being 'for us'.
Warona delighted us all on Day 2 by joining the rest of the herd for a mud wallow in the midday heat. A little steadier on her feet than the day before, she spent the entire day right next to her mother, often playing with Paseka. It looks like there is a deep friendship developing between the two calves.
Our tiniest elephant did her first weigh-in today and it turns out the thigh-high baby weighs more than anyone in camp - a whopping 110kg!
The other elephants also took their turn on the scales, Cathy, matriarch and largest of the lot weighs in at 3 340kg! While Kitimetse, mother of Lorato and adopted mother of Paseka, is a much lighter 2 080kg.
Summer mists hung low in the air over Abu Camp, allowing our guests to get some outstanding photos of the herd, Warona in tow, crossing the dry riverbed to Baboon Island in the mist.
Whilst working out at the Mombo Gym... Sighting: Whilst working out at the Mombo Gym
Location: Mombo Camp, Chiefs Island, Botswana
Date: 24 December 2011
Observer: Carla and Tom Becnel and Mombo staff
Photographs: Carla and Tom Becnel
It was a warm summer's afternoon, and Carla, a guest at camp, was working out in the Mombo Gym, when she noticed red lechwe casually coming down to the pan right in front of the gym for a drink. Carla braced herself for some action as there was a large crocodile hidden in the pan, not noticed by the thirsty herbivore.
As anticipated, the crocodile lunged at the lechwe who was caught utterly unaware. A tense struggle ensued, when suddenly the Western Pride of lions burst out of the adjoining thicket and snatched the lechwe away from the predatory reptile! This pride contains the famous 'maned lioness' of Mombo and can be seen in the adjoining photographs.
The struggle for life was short-lived and the lions quickly began feeding. By this time a crowd of guests and staff had formed, all watching in awe, when one of the lionesses pulled out a foetus and retired to the comfort of some shade to feed on her prize.
This was a truly incredible sighting, and if the gym workout did not work up a sweat, this sighting definitely did!
Leopards of Hunda Island
28 Dec 2011
One morning drive, our guides came across two hyaena running down the road with serious intent. The reason for this became obvious very soon. Up in a sycamore fig tree was a young male leopard with his kill. The hyaena were trying their best to get as close as possible but with no luck.
The guides and guests tried to figure out what the kill had been but all that they could see was a black "fluff ball". They eventually got it - it was a very young hyaena pup! It was now obvious that one of the hyaena was the pup's mother. The leopard just gazed down at the hyaena, with the little carcass under his chin.
The guests felt very sorry for the mother because she had lost her pup, until the leopard accidentally dropped one of the legs, which the mother hyaena grabbed eagerly and gobbled it up. Not used to such 'unDisney'-like behaviour, the guests were all suitably shocked!
Later that afternoon the guides went back to have a look. The hyaena and leopard were gone, but they later found the leopard again with a big gash on his leg - this could have been inflicted by the hyaena as the cat was exiting the tree?
Not long after that, a young female leopard and her mom gave us an incredible show that could be called "How a young female leopard becomes a queen..."
On an afternoon drive, we located the mother and young female leopard. The mother had stalked and caught an impala fawn, but she did not kill it. Rather, she brought the youngster back to her daughter. It was time for the cub to learn the skills of the trade!
The young leopard had to learn how to make a kill - she was obviously not sure what to do with this new "toy". The princess would walk up to the fawn and slap it lightly with her paw and the fawn would just fall to the side, before staggering back up. They were often nose to nose looking closely into each other's eyes - the impala not knowing this was a predator and the leopard not really knowing how to kill its prey - a poignant moment.
After hours of chasing, smacking, slapping and falling over, they were both exhausted with the impala fawn lying down in the middle of mommy leopard and her cub. The mother was also playing with the fawn like her youngster was. Eventually the daughter got the trick; she grabbed it by the throat and suffocated it. And so, this is how a young leopard learns to make a kill: after hours of play, the natural instinct just kicks in.
A New Lion Pride for Banoka
Sighting: Banoka - a new pride discovered in lion study
Location: Banoka Bush Camp, Khwai Community Concession, Botswana
Date: 23 December 2011
Observer: Simon Dures (lion researcher), Neil Midlane (Kafue Lion Project) and Emma Midlane.
Photographs: James Moodie
Last week, as part of our ongoing lion research in northern Botswana, we were out conducting a lion call-in survey close to Banoka Bush Camp in the eastern Okavango Delta. The Botswana Lion Research Team was working alongside the team from the Kafue Lion Project, Zambia, to ensure that all the results of our work could, if needed, be used in conjunction; we were accompanied by James, one of the managers from Banoka Bush Camp.
It was early in the morning after a night of light yet persistent rain and we were sitting in a small clearing surrounded by thick green mopane a few kilometres from camp. We were using a recorded distress-call of a buffalo calf played at full volume through a set of speakers mounted on the car. This is not a pleasant sound, and certainly not the nicest way to spend a beautiful early morning but it is an essential and effective process that is commonly used to determine the numbers and density of lions across large areas.
After just seven minutes, however, we were treated to the nervous approach of three very pale young lions. They could be seen, mostly hidden in the damp undergrowth, for just a minute before they dashed back into the bushes towards the call of another lion. We thought that would be our only sighting, but a few minutes later they reappeared accompanied by an older female. In total there was a lioness, two young males and a young female; all ghostly pale in comparison to the lions we normally see in the Okavango Delta.
The lions were nervous, clearly not accustomed to vehicles, and only approached to about 30 metres, grunting and moaning as they were teased by the sound of the buffalo calf that did not exist. We stopped our calls and the four lions faded into the mopane woodlands. I am sure as they become more accustomed to the presence of vehicles we will see more of this pale quartet.
Tree-Climbing Lions of Pafuri
Sighting: Tree-Climbing Lions of Pafuri
Location: Pafuri Camp, Kruger National Park, South Africa
Date: 9 December 2011
Observers: Brett Wallington and Jaclyn Jonosky
Photographs: Brett Wallington
On a recent trip to Pafuri Camp in the northernmost section of the Kruger National Park, we were entertained by a group of adolescent lions in a way not usually associated with these animals. However, before I can describe the wonderful sighting that we were witness to, I must first congratulate the guiding team of Pafuri for the great teamwork it took for us to see this unusual sight. Most guides had guests and were driving while Brian Masters, most often busy with the Pafuri Trails, had some time to spare. Brian took it upon himself to go out and track the lions that everyone knew where around but just were not being found.
In the midday to early afternoon sun, Brian went out tracking the lions about a kilometre east of the camp. Just as we were leaving for afternoon drive from the camp, Brian radioed Edward, our guide, and informed him that he had found the lions and that we should meet him along Luvuvhu East where he will jump into our vehicle and show us where they were. It is thanks to this kind of teamwork and willingness to help each other in a guiding team, that such sightings are possible.
As we arrived on the scene we were greeted by young lions clearly waking up from their midday nap. This provided some excellent opportunities for some photographs of them yawning. It was not long however before one of the youngsters found a nearby Apple Leaf tree rather interesting. The first cub climbed the tree with relative ease, going to the end of the branch and lying down, striking a pose one would expect from a leopard in such a situation.
The other cubs watched their sibling with curious interest. Moments later, a second cub decided that this looked like fun and joined his sibling in the tree. What followed was some wonderful interaction between the two cubs, playing and grooming one another in the heights of the Apple Leaf. Finally a third cub could not overcome its curiosity and joined the other two in the tree. Some more youthful playfulness followed with all cubs eventually resting up in the tree as if they were regulars to tree climbing.
It was only when the cub that had first ascended the tree had decided it was getting a bit crowded and needed to return to ground level that a lion's typical clumsiness and instability when climbing trees began to show. The first cub was stranded on the end of the branch and needed to get back to the middle of the tree and past his two siblings before making his descent. However, his two siblings were not going to make room for him as he attempted to get down - they were far too comfortable where they were.
With every attempt of trying to pass his siblings, the cub looked like he was about to make his return to the ground prematurely. Failing to navigate the small spaces that his siblings had allowed him in the tree he returned to the end of the branch where he was stranded until his siblings finally decided to make a move. But, his patience ran out and he began to consider leaping to the ground from the end of the branch. After staring at the ground for some time, he eventually mustered up the courage and slowly lowered his body down the branch, being watched ever so closely by another sibling (that had not joined the rest in the tree) lying on the ground beneath him. Once he lowered his body as far down as he could, he made the leap successfully, reminiscent again of the skill of a leopard, and landed with some unfamiliar style and grace. The other two cubs decided it was far too comfortable in the Apple Leaf tree and remained there most of the afternoon.
It was a fascinating sighting and the lions provided us with fantastic entertainment, albeit in a manner we would not have expected from them!
Duma Tau Camp rebuild
Duma Tau Camp is to be rebuilt on a new site that overlooks Osprey Lagoon. The classic camp, scheduled to reopen in March 2012, will have 10 rooms and offer breathtaking new views.
Xigera Camp has received a facelift!
These updates include re-canvassed tents and new doors for the en-suite washrooms. The main area has also undergone a redesign to enhance guest enjoyment: the bar now looks out onto the channel, the new, lower foot bridge avoids disturbing the view from the camp, and the new star deck is perfect for star gazing and discussion, as well as the perfect setting for private dinners. The novel sand-pit, where animals tantalizingly leave their tracks, is still there to educate and entertain! The most exciting change, however, is that the latest in-solar technology has been installed and now powers the camp.
Meanwhile in Linyanti, with the rebirth of the Savute Channel and greater inflows into the Linyanti River itself, the waterways of the Linyanti concession area are now available to explore in new and exciting ways. Unique combinations of activities like canoeing, walking, and boating, depending on the time of year and water levels, have been created and run with great success.
Fall in Love Again with Uncharted Africa’s San Camp
Deemed one of the most romantic camps in Africa, Unchartered Africa opened the many curtains of San Camp to its first guests on July 27, 2011 in the Makgadikgadi Pans. With one of the most spectacular and extraordinary locations in the world, the classic white tents stand majestically perched on the shore of an enormous sparkling saltpan ‘sea’. Each tent is sheltered by a cluster of stately desert palms, offering a serene escape from reality.
Imbued with such dreamy tranquility and an overwhelming sense of space and freedom, it was inevitable that a respect for the environment and a sense of romance would transform both the design and building principles of this unique and very special camp.
San Camp’s energy requirement is supplied almost entirely by solar energy, thus dramatically reducing the use of fossil fuels. As an added advantage, the absence of generators ensures that the silence of the vast and empty surroundings is complete!
San Camp is a seasonal camp and is closed for the green season. It will reopen April 16, 2012. Don’t wait to book your clients for next year – the camp was sold out in its inaugural season.
A new deck located on the Savute Channel near Savuti Camp has been built - a great spot which will be used for dinners, sundowners etc.
Jacana Room Re-Build
Jacana Camp will be closed from 5 January 2012 until 24 February 2012, re-opening on 25 February 2012. The old rooms are being taken down and new rooms built in their place, in the same style as the new family room which was built earlier this year. The rooms are more spacious, with the bathroom on the side forming an L-shape.
Mombo Refurbishment Closure
Please be advised that Mombo Main Camp will be closed from 8 January 2012 up to and including 23 January 2012 in order to remove and replace all the decks at Main Camp, as well as install new vanities and outdoor showers. Structural work on and improvements to the roofs will be done as well as construction of a new bridge for the approach into the camp.
Pafuri Gate – Kruger National Park
We have just received an unverified notification that the Pafuri park gate will be closed from 16 December 2011, until further notice. No reason has been provided as yet but we are following up with the relevant Park authorities for clarification and verification and will advise accordingly. Access on a self-drive basis will need to be via the Punda Maria gate until further notice.
Little Kulala Refurbishment
Wilderness Namibia Operations have commenced a refurbishment programme at Little Kulala, due to be completed by 15 December 2011. 1 to 3 rooms will be closed off at a time as they work through the camp. Changes being made are:
• Shading verandas with latte/narrow wooden poles to bring temperatures down at the units
• Adding luggage racks, reading table and chair
• General tidying up.
No report this month.
North Island Update - December 2011 Jump
to North Island
We had a slow start to the nesting season, with few emerging hawksbill turtles, but from November onwards it became clear that this season will also be a record, just like the previous one, when numbers were substantially higher than those of the years before. Over the last three months, we have confirmed a total of 55 nesting sites, 53 of those being hawksbill nests!
The regular beach patrols have paid off and all the nests are now clearly marked. These patrols have become an important part of turtle conservation on the island as many nests needed to be moved as to avoid being washed away - as they were too low below the high water mark. The researchers either relocated the nests to a higher spot or the eggs were taken back to the Research Centre, where they placed in an incubator in a sand box, resulting in a very good hatch rate. The hatchlings were then released into the ocean. This has really raised the awareness amongst our guests, as well as all the levels of camp staff. Amongst the latter, several local staff members enthusiastically told us that, although they have lived their entire lives on Mahe, they have never had an opportunity to witness such a memorable event, and we now have several dedicated volunteers to help with next releases!
On the terrestrial side of things, we have spotted a couple of mating pairs of tortoise. This is quite interesting to watch as the male has to run at 'full speed' after the female, who often plays hard to get - it can be a very audible experience as well! A number of females were also seen digging their nesting sites and we were extremely happy when we found a minuscule hatchling in December which only weighed in at a tiny 40g. The hatchling was taken back to the research centre's baby tortoise pen, where it joined another five hatchlings. The hatchlings are then cared for until they are a little bigger whereby they are released and stand a better chance of survival in the wild.
Another highly anticipated natural process which blessed us towards the year was the arrival of the summer rains. The rain which we received effectively replenished our underground aquifer, putting an end to the dusty roads and turning the vegetation green, thereby producing food and nesting material for our wildlife.
Birding has been productive, but to date, fewer migrants have arrived on North in comparison with last year. Common Sandpipers as well as Grey, Sand and Crab Plovers have been arriving along the beach in moderate numbers. A large raptor was spotted in mid-November which we identified as a Honey Buzzard. We have been hearing a number of cuckoo species calling around the island. We also had a handful of Blue-cheeked Bee-eater sightings for a couple of days. In terms of bird research, Seychelles White-eye monitoring and ringing was resumed at the end of December, thanks to funding provided via the Protected Areas Project.
Another highlight for all of us on North Island was the return of the Children in the Wilderness programme (CITW) for the fourth time. The entire island was closed off to guests from 11 - 14 December to host local children from the surrounding communities. This year the camp was run in collaboration with the National Council for Children (NCC). The main aim of the CITW camp was to increase the children's awareness of conservation and the history of the island. At the same time, the project aids in building life skills and developing self-esteem. And a good time was had by all - both children and staff!
Kings Pool Camp update - December 2011 Jump
to Kings Pool Camp
It has been a Christmas and New Year to remember, and despite the occasional rainstorms, the guests continue to be rewarded for their persistence in all weathers, encountering some familiar faces and some new characters as well...
The festive season at Kings Pool was, undoubtedly, the time of the hippo. It is currently almost impossible to walk even a few metres at "3-2-1 Diantsha" Camp without encountering a large mass of pink-purple making its slow and purposeful journey down to the water and back again, utterly unperturbed by the various merry activities of both staff and guests. The two hippo-highways that cut the boardwalk in camp have carried so much traffic this past month that it has become necessary even in the middle of the day to check right, and left ... and right again, before passing through. Meet and greets have been interrupted frequently to allow for photographs and videos to be taken of our obliging residents, and they have become extremely vocal during the early morning and evening, revelling in their now private lake, as the elephants have moved away since the rains arrived. Early morning duty for managers, chefs and waitresses is made all the more challenging by the silent train of hippos making a beeline for the water after a night of feeding.
It has not been entirely peaceful, however. There has been intermittent tension between some of the large males in the river, who may be fighting over territory or females. Their battles are epic, the screams and clashing of teeth tearing through the still summer nights, ending just as abruptly as they begin.
There have been other displays of rivalry in the water that concern both hippos and another vicious water-dweller. Recently, guests witnessed a strange assertion of dominance by the vegetarian hippo over the carnivorous crocodile. After the opportunistic snatching of a naive and oblivious impala drinking at the water's edge, a crocodile was feeding in the water, observed by two hippos that lurked nearby. All of a sudden, the two hippos confronted the crocodile and snatched the carcass away with no apparent reason or explanation. There seemed to be a scuffle underwater, as the crocodile was tossed in the air by the hippos and chased away. This type of behaviour is difficult to understand, as the hippos showed no interest in stealing the meat for themselves, rather choosing to demonstrate their superior strength. This type of 'bullying' has been documented frequently, and there is no clear explanation for it, but hippos have been known to chase crocodiles and even lions away from carcasses, in a seemingly impulsive show of aggression and dominance.
There has been evidence of clashes between hippo and lion this month as well. During a recent outing, a male hippo lurched out of the bushes in front of the vehicle, provoking gasps from those on board. He had been badly injured, and it was assumed at first that he was the victim of an attack by a larger male. One part of his back leg was torn open, severely hindering his attempts to walk. However, as the hippo turned, he revealed the large claw marks all over his rump and side. It seemed that lions had tried their luck here, and although they had not succeeded, the hippo was clearly in pain and wincing at the merciless beaks of the persistent oxpeckers on his back. He finally made it to the water, and seemed visibly relieved to be able to cool his battle wounds. This encounter proved that despite their formidable size and famously powerful jaws, hippo can still be vulnerable to attack by hungry predators.
The lions themselves have not disappointed this month either. Since his ferocious encounter with the nomadic male from the west a couple of months ago, the resident male lion, Romeo, has been living the life of a bachelor, as the females had been shying away from him. His roaring went unanswered every night, until finally, after three weeks of solitude, Romeo's ladies returned to the area. It is a relief to see them reunited, the adolescent male growing every day and benefiting from the influence of his powerful father. In the recent, unforgiving heat, the foursome have often be found slumped in the shelter of a bush, their position only betrayed by the tell-tale tuft of Romeo's impressive mane.
The leopard sightings have not dwindled despite the increasingly thick and overgrown bush. One particular young male, known as Mokoro, has been seen regularly. Now that he is beginning to move outside his mother's territory, he is frequently found by himself attempting to hunt tree squirrels or stalking unwitting impala lambs. His mother is usually around, however, when these escapades fail, and she tolerates his meek return, tossing scraps of her own kill down from her perch in the tree so that he does not go hungry.
The wild dogs are still gracing each corner of the Linyanti Concession with their presence, sharing their loyalties amongst all three camps in the area. With the bush as thick as it is, it is quite spectacular to witness a quiet sun-downer being abruptly disturbed by the sudden onset of panicked, fleeing impala that are followed keenly by a pair of hungry dogs. The pack follows shortly afterwards, and once a kill has been made it is only a matter of minutes before the impala is reduced to a pile of bones and the dogs are off again, leaving stunned guests and guides in their wake.
So we move into a new year at Kings Pool, and look forward to new adventures and more incredible sightings. For now we content ourselves with the grunting of hippos as the Linyanti sun goes down on a fabulous 2011.
DumaTau Camp update - December 2011 Jump
to DumaTau Camp
Weather and Landscape
December was a great month at DumaTau, as the air was filled with a festive spirit and the environment had benefited from a healthy serving of rain. It was almost as if the Linyanti Concession was bursting at the seams with new life! We received rains throughout the entire month, mostly in the form of afternoon showers.
In terms of wildlife, the lions made their presence felt this month, as we had great encounters very often. We were very happy to see the Savute lioness on the southern banks of the Savute Channel - she is doing well and appears to be pregnant. We have had a number of great sightings of the LTC Pride, which comprises one dominant male (Mavingo), two adult females and a young sub-adult male. This pride has extended its territory since Mavingo's brother was killed by the Romeo, the dominant Kings Pool male. The pride often moves as far as the Savute Channel and are all looking healthy.
Mma Lebadi, a young female leopard who hangs around the southern bank of the Savute Channel near Shumba Pan, has been mating with the DumaTau male. He has been seen a lot around the DumaTau area and is still looking strong and healthy. Rabogale, a large male leopard who is new to the area, stays around Letsoma on the northern bank of the Savute Channel. The DumaTau male has been fighting with this new leopard, protecting his territory. Rabogale is quite an aggressive leopard and has even been known to charge the vehicles.
The wild dogs are still being seen frequently. We saw the LTC Pack around the Savute Channel and throughout the Linyanti Concession and on one occasion, we have seen them chasing roan antelope on the airstrip! In terms of the packs hunting, they have been taking full advantage of the impala fawns which are scattered all over the area. The pack has been seen almost daily, feeding on the unfortunate impala fawns.
The Zib Pack has been seen around the Shumba Pan area on the southern bank of the channel. We are only seeing 11 of them, which suggests that the pack has recently split and the sub-adults, who are ready for mating, have possibly moved off to form another pack.
On the cold blooded side of things, we have seen a big increase in snake activity, both in the bush and around camp. We have seen quite a number of Southern African pythons as well as boomslangs. In camp, there is a resident spotted bush-snake which is often seen on the camp boardwalks.
Many of our guests have enjoying some casual fishing, often just fishing directly off of the barge, and catching some impressive pike, bream and barbel. The fishing season is coming to a close, as many fish species breed and spawn during February.
Staff in Camp
Managers: Gerard, Claire, Abiella and Abbie.
Guides: Mocks, Name, Tank, Moses and Bobby.
Savuti Camp update - December 2011 Jump
to Savuti Camp
Zarafa Camp update - December 2011 Jump
to Zarafa Camp
Selinda Camp update - December 2011 Jump
to Selinda Camp
Camps Update - December 2011
• No report for this month.
Lagoon camp Jump
•With the wild dog pups now completely part of the pack, the dogs are highly mobile, and cover a large territory. This means it's harder to track them down and keep up with them, but it's a good sign that the puppies have adjusted well to their life, and are learning the skills needed to sustain them throughout adulthood. This month they ranged over the whole concession, and spent several days close to Lebala. Later in the month they were back close to camp. One morning, they caught a warthog piglet and killed whilst the guests looked on. The next night they switched back to their more usual diet of impala.
• Leopards were also seen this month, hunting impala. A shy female cheetah was also seen hunting impala, together with her two cubs.
• As predicted, the large herds of buffalo that we have been enjoying seeing the last few months have moved off again into the areas of good grazing. They will be back, but not in the number that they have been for a few months.
• Jackals – both black backed and side striped – are often seen in most areas of northern Botswana. However, it's very rare to see them together, and even rarer to see them chasing each other! Jackals do compete for the same food, but generally keep out of each others way. On this particularly morning, we were watching the two black- backed jackals running along in line with the car, when we realised one of them was actually a side striped jackal – much fluffier and larger looking than the black-backed. It streaked passed us, and was running at pace, being chased by the much smaller black-backed jackal. A second black-backed jackal was following at a distance. We lost sight of the side striped, and a few minutes later the black backed jackal came trotting back to check on his partner.
• The carmine bee eaters are still in abundance, and have been joined by their offspring, who have not quite got the same vibrant colouration as their parents. Also still learning to catch, their parents occasionally catch an extra insect on the wing, and offer it to the young.
• With the large Kwando channel right in front of camp, it's essential to get out on the boat and take a trip on it. And this month, the guests are providing some strong competition with the crocodiles that inhabit the water: impromptu fishing competitions! Some huge catfish and bream (tilapia) have been hauled up on the lines, to the glee of those watching. Cast off to live another day – or perhaps end up in the croc's mouth after all – the end of December marks the end of the fishing season for Botswana, to let the fish breed in peace!
Lebala camp Jump
• There has been phenomenal general game in the area close to the Baobab: zebra, wildebeest, giraffe, tsessebes and baboons all in the same area. Visits to Kubu Pan were also very productive, with 25 hippos squeezed into the rainwater pan! Three roan antelope – normally a very rare sighting – have been seen relaxing around Lebala airstrip each morning. There was also a very unusual sighting of a black mamba fighting a yellow mongoose – we couldn't tell who the ultimate winner was!
• Smaller herds of elephants than last month – about 30 at a time – have been seen coming from the western edge of the camp, crossing the swamps in front of the camp.
Normally in December, the elephants spread out through the area once the rains have fallen, sometimes making it difficult to find them, but this year they have still had a forceful presence.
• Leopards were also seen during this month, with an unusual sighting of a large male and younger male seen playing and relaxing in the same area. Males are exceptionally territorial, and do not normally tolerate the presence of other males, but perhaps the older male in this case did not feel threatened by the younger one. As it was, the older male was also seen the next day, being chased by a pack of 20 wild dogs, and he eventually had to take refuge up a tree!
• The pride of four lionesses were found several times this month, once feeding on a kudu, with a hyena keeping a watchful eye over them. The three male cheetah were also seen a few times, hunting, but no successful catch whilst we were watching.
• The festive season was not a very happy one for some of the young impalas and tsessebes in the Lebala area, particularly around Kubu Pan.
• On Christmas Eve, the wild dogs killed a baby tsessebe – it took them about 20 minutes to devour it. On the same day, the cheetah brothers managed to pull down a baby wildebeest, but before they managed to kill it, the wild dog pack arrived and took over the kill, quickly ripping the wildebeest to pieces. Not satisfied, the dogs then moved through the bush and killed three baby impalas. This all happened between John's Pan and Kubu pan – about 15km – moving through the bush.
• Again on the same day, a leopard was found hunting but was unsuccessful.
• The wild dogs spent the night Kubu pan, and for Christmas morning, they found Santa had delivered them four baby impalas which the pack caught simultaneously.
• The cheetahs, which – sensibly - had moved off away from the dogs, also had a good Christmas catching a male impala. When they finished eating, they moved a long way off – as they had been sandwiched between the wild dogs and the lions.
• The lions – one male and a female – were found at Wild Dog Pan, also on Xmas.
• The next day, they were seen in the same area, mating.
• Ensuring that they make the most of the abundant young, on the 27th December the dogs killed a female impala by Kubu pan, and then a warthog piglet in the afternoon.
• On the 28th of December, close to Lebala camp, the dogs again killed an impala. As they were feeding on it, a hyena made a surprise visit – only to be attacked by the wild dogs. As the hyena made a swift retreat, a lioness appeared out of the nearby bushes and grabbed the remains of the kill before the dogs could return to it! Amazing interaction!
Kwara & Little Kwara camps Jump
& Little Kwara camps
• The beginning of December truly proved to become a festive month for all. We began the month with two sightings of leopards: while driving around Marula Island, we spotted a relaxed male, looking a bit hungry, who began hunting whilst we looked on. Unfortunately he was unsuccessful. In the afternoon we spotted another leopard, this one female, she was walking around in the same area that the male had been in the morning, so it's possible she was interested in mating. Leopards were seen through the rest of the month, including a mother with her cub feeding on an impala.
• Predator sightings in the Kwara concession have been quite successful. Lions topping our wish list and rarely disappointing, seeing them almost every day. There is nothing better than observing social behaviour and interactions and what better cat than to display all these than a cheetah and her 3 cubs. As we drove towards Wild Dog pan, we spotted the female cheetah and her 3 cubs playing under the shades. We stayed with the cheetahs for a while and through the month these were shay cats were seen in our concession every week. The coalition of three males were also seen often in the Tsum Tsum area but were difficult to follow through the mopane woodland
On the 14th we were so excited after spotting a pack of wild dogs near Tsum Tsum, and to top it all off, the dogs were feasting on a zebra...
• Ever since the rains, general game has been quite plentiful, including in and around camp. Usually in the mornings, we have a lot of impalas foraging between the tents. It's always great to witness these antelopes in large groups, with the baby impala still quite skittish, always staying close to their mothers. We have not been seeing a lot of elephants in camp, ever since the rains, these majestic animals are mostly feeding out in the marshes and plains. On the 11th we spotted 21 elephants whilst out on the boat cruise, crossing the Kwara channel. Quite an interesting sighting, we stopped the boat and witnessed the ellies swimming, feeding and having a great time in the water.
• There have been plentiful sightings of antelopes, including tsessebes, wildebeest, reedbuck and buffalos. Also herds of zebras, dust bathing and grazing at four rivers. We also caught a glimpse of a rare sighting: bush pig! Looking a bit like an over-furry warthog, these animals are exceptionally shy, and hard to see.
• A huge crocodile was located at Paul's crossing, not shy at all and on the hunt for fish. We also spotted 8 hippos at Peters crossing and these colossal giants were playing, and of course grunting!
• Birding has been wonderful this past month, considering that all you have to do is sit out on the porch in front of your tent with a pair of binoculars and look out in front of our camp. In the trees in camp we hear the birds calling constantly, including the black eyed bul bul, crested barbet and starlings.
• The beginning of December saw heavy rains, turning the roads into water channels, more suited to a mokoro! The sun came out, quickly drying things up again, but not before the first of the springbok began to be born… Soon, lots of little springboks were bouncing around, learning to run and jump on their stick-thin legs.
• The rain also collected in the pans in front of Baines Baobabs – a magnificent sight at any time, but with the addition of the water birds skimming the pans for frogs and insects, it's a magical place indeed.
• The first two weeks of December saw lots of cats – cheetahs and lions – all doing what cats do best – sleeping! However, there was a leopard who decided not to fit into the same pattern, and was seen walking along West Road.
Perhaps realising she had to set a good example for her cubs, in mid December, a female cheetah caught a young springbok, but didn't kill it, She gave it to her two cubs to play with – this helps them learn hunting and killing techniques. There is always the chance that the springbok will be able to escape the cubs, particularly when they a first learning what to do, but on this occasion, the baby springbok was not so lucky, and cubs killed it.
• After the burst of rains at the beginning of the month, very little else fell, and as things got drier again, the lions and cheetah were seen more and more often relaxing in the vicinity of the natural water holes. Elephants and other animals are also visiting the water holes regularly, as the puddles dry up again.
• The zebra migration is currently moving through the park. The zebras appear to have split into two, possibly three groupings this year, spreading further out, possibly due to the late appearance of the rain this year.
•Unusually hot temperatures for December which followed the few days of rain at the beginning of the month led to the Tau Pan lions doing a fair amount of resting from the heat, under the shade of umbrella thorn trees. A leopard was also seen walking along the cut-line, quite relaxed, but no repetition this month of the leopardess drinking from the pool! Tracks are still being seen in and around the camp, so we know she is still around.
• Two brother cheetahs were found feeding on a baby oryx, in Passage valley. They were a little nervous and shy, perhaps fearing the arrival of the lion pride that inhabits the area. We also saw a female cheetah that was encouraging her two cubs to try to stalk springbok… not very successfully I am afraid!
• The most spectacular – and exceptionally rare sighting for the Central Kalahari – was a group of 20 bull elephants drinking and wallowing in the mud at Passage Pan! Although signs have been seen of elephant activity in the region, this was the first sighting of the actual animal in many months. And then there were 20 of them!
• Great birding this month as well, with secretary birds, painted snipes, hamerkops, marabous, lappet faced vultures, and giant eagle owls. General game was also good with sightings of bat eared foxes as well as the black backed jackals, giraffes, springbok, hartebeest, kudus and wildebeest.
Mombo Camp update
- December 2011 Jump
to Mombo Camp
December is the month that feels most alive in the Okavango - when the summer rains set in, giving rise to rampant growth everywhere, cumulous clouds boil on the horizon, lightning flashes across the sky, giving us thunderous downpours and spectacular sunsets in the evenings. Rainbows arch in contrast to gloomy skies behind, fireball lilies add bursts of colour to the landscape, and everywhere are butterflies, flitting against a backdrop of a thousand shades of green.
The rainwater pans have filled up almost to capacity, and are host to a variety of birds, from tiny sandpipers and Ruffs to Greater Painted-Snipes, Spur-winged Geese and Wattled Cranes.
Impala lambs are everywhere - their nursery herds have now formed large numbers as they wander the overgrown woodlands, giving out their characteristic bleating contact calls.
Elephants have been seen in numbers on the plains, feeding on the nutritious grasses that the receding waters and abundant rains have left behind. The floodplain in front of camp often contains a small herd of buffalo, red lechwe in numbers, a pod of hippo out of the water on cool days, and a constant parade of elephant as they pass on by...
Several big herds of buffalo have moved through the area this month - some of them numbering in their hundreds, and the lions were quick to push their advantage with the smaller splinter groups, and on one late afternoon we saw the Mporota Pride make a kill practically on the soccer field!
Legadema and her cub have provided us with many hours of fascinating viewing this month. The cub becomes bolder with each passing day, and can often be seen following her mother around as she wanders her territory. We were fortunate enough to witness her hunting one beautiful afternoon, which culminated in her catching a young impala and quickly hoisting it up a tree to avoid the attentions of a hyaena that had been lurking nearby. The tree wasn't an ideal hiding place as it had virtually no horizontal branches for her to comfortably feed, so after night fell and the hyaena moved off in search of easier pickings, she moved the carcass some distance towards Old Mombo and called out the cub to feed with her. She and the youngster have been seen many times this month and quite often very close to camp. It has been a joy to spend time with the two of them as they interact with each other and feed on her various kills.
A downpour in the late afternoon one day gave us the rare sight of the entire Mporota Pride of lions friskily playing around in the rain. We watched all 22 of them chasing each other, climbing trees, cuffing each other and rolling around in a beautiful display of feline exuberance. When they finally calmed down, they began roaring; giving full voice as they surrounded us - a truly magical moment!
A few days later, the entire pride camped out with us for two days as they lazed around the Mombo Island and floodplains in front of Little Mombo. The weather was sunny and hot, so we didn't expect them to do much in the burning heat of day, so imagine our surprise when a sudden burst of activity in the floodplain drew our attention. They had opportunistically killed a red lechwe right in front of camp, and quickly tore it to shreds. We then watched the whole pride on the move through the water and onto the island, contact calling as they went.
As if this hadn't been enough excitement, the following day we spotted Lebadi, the large male leopard in front of Main Camp, just as a small breeding herd of elephants came wandering right past his hiding place! Once again, as it was a scorching hot day, we didn't expect him to move out of the shady protection of deep cover. Another surprising moment came then, when he sprang out and killed a large male lechwe right in the open between Tent 8 and the Mombo Lounge! This was indeed unusual as he is a characteristically very shy individual, and we wouldn't normally expect this behaviour from him. He has been recovering from quite significant wounds to his leg, and possibly this was the cause of his boldness, or possibly desperation for a meal. He dragged the carcass off into a thicket in front of Tent 8 and we decided then to leave him to feed and recover his strength in peace.
Pula the leopard was seen on one occasion, and we spent a delightful few hours watching her move through the woodlands and pose in trees. Blue Eyes, the male leopard in the Simbira area was also seen on several occasions, twice with kills hoisted into trees.
Another notable sighting has been of Bogale, the white rhino cow, who has given birth to her fourth calf. George, our rhino monitor, found the two of them on Christmas Eve - a truly special gift!
Guides in camp were Cisco at Little Mombo, with Malinga, Moss, Tshepo and Sefo at Main Camp.
Managers in camp were Graham at Little Mombo, with Ryan, Claire, Katie, Tumoh and Nathan at Main Camp.
Xigera Camp update
- December 2011 Jump
to Xigera Camp
Weather and Landscape
The month of December was not as rainy as we would have expected although very hot and mostly overcast in the afternoons. On a few occasions though, did we experience a proper thunderstorm with a downpour of rain, but mostly the clouds and lightning threatened in the distance offering a beautiful light show. With so little rain, the water levels continued to drop rather drastically in the area.
With the water levels continuing to drop, more and more red lechwe and kudu seem to be gathering out on the floodplain in front of our guest tents. People have been enjoying sitting out on their front deck with a pair of binoculars, looking at the variety of bird species that are also attracted to this big open area, which provide the perfect spot to catch fish and other aquatic creatures. We have even had a couple of Great White Pelicans visit for a few days!
The resident bushbuck family is still enjoying our camp. The calf has tiny horn buds popping out and is very relaxed around us and has become habituated to human activity. An old and dark-coloured male giraffe also found his way into camp the one morning and stayed well camouflaged behind the bushes even though he was just a few metres from the boardwalk.
Our familiar vervet monkey troop is still around and cheekier than ever before - the little babies' playful antics continue to be a popular entertainment for all in camp. The smallest of them is now starting to leave his mother's comforting arms to play around on his own but as soon as he spots a human being he raises his eyebrows, looks terrified and screams as if he had just seen a monster - it is very funny! Never leave your plate of food unattended, that's all I can say.
The elephant seem to have decided to give the trees in and around camp a rest and have moved on to other areas, to the relief of our maintenance team as they were getting a bit tired of fixing broken boardwalks.
Out on activities, the month of December was rather exciting here at Xigera! As the roads are no longer under water, the guides have been doing both game drives and water activities with their guests. Big cats are not necessarily the first thing you think of when at Xigera, but in December, the predators decided to come and put on a show for us! A young female leopard was seen several times; she was very relaxed around the vehicles, giving some beautiful photographical opportunities. She has been seen hunting, feeding and resting up a tree.
It all got even more exciting on Christmas Eve, as a big and amazingly imposing male lion and a very shy and large female entered the territory. They were seen feeding on an impala that a young leopard had killed earlier - the poor spotted feline had to climb up a tree and hide for quite a while when the lions arrived. When out on an afternoon game drive, we found the two lions not far at all from camp, they looked rather tired (had they been mating possibly?), but when the sound of a dazzle of zebra running through the water reached the male, he suddenly stood up and started running at a surprising speed towards where the sound came from. Unfortunately for him, that attempt failed and he came back head hanging low. On Christmas Eve, all in camp had the privilege to be serenaded by the booming calls of the pair during the dark of night. The next day, we found their tracks just behind our solar panels.
Reptile sightings were also really good this month and on the subject of Christmas, we had a black mamba visit the bar area on Christmas day, taking cover in the thatched roof. A number of small water monitor lizards were also seen around camp as well as a large number of crocodiles while out on the water activities.
Another highlight for the month was the great sitatunga sightings which we enjoyed. These rare and beautiful aquatic antelopes were seen a number of times whilst on mokoro trips.
Birds and Birding
The Pel's Fishing-Owls have also been putting up a show in December! On several occasions one of them decided to come and sit in the tree overhanging the water by the bridge as we have been enjoying pre-dinner drinks in the bar.
The very special call of the Woodland Kingfisher is still heard throughout the day. We have also had some beautiful sightings of Pygmy Geese in flight, as well as Meyer's Parrot, African Fish-Eagle, Wattled Crane and Saddle-billed Stork ... the list goes on.
Staff in Camp
Managers: Gabriella, Gideon, Cathryn and Tendani.
Guides: Palo, Moreri, Luke, Teko and Onx.
Chitabe Camp update
- December 2011 Jump
to Chitabe Camp
Vumbura Plains Camp update
- December 2011 Jump
to Vumbura Plains Camp
Weather and Landscape
Another amazing month and incredible year has come to a close.
The rainy season has definitely arrived in full force now. After there had only been a number of teasing showers and thunderstorms in November, it rained almost every day during the first few days in December.
Due to the Coriolis Effect (a term used in climatology and pertaining to wind movements in relation to the earth's rotation), most of our rainy weather comes from the east and never stays around for too long. Even the heaviest downpour and thunderstorm will keep moving and the sun breaks through the clouds within hours of the first few raindrops.
December has just been amazing - we have seen some of the year's highlights during this month!
With hundreds of baby impala, wildebeest, tsessebe and zebras enjoying their first few weeks in this Eden-like paradise of green shoots of grass and newly grown vegetation, the predators have been equally successful in raising their young. Every few days guests have been able to witness interaction between the carnivores and one of the many species of herbivores.
Our local leopard female, Selonyana, has started to leave her cub alone for longer periods every day. The little female, born last year, is doing well - catching birds and rodents and going on real hunts with her mother every so often. She frequently spends a whole morning by herself, exploring her surroundings, trying to stay away from other predators and baboons, but always on the look-out for a quick snack. When her mother finally comes back from the morning's hunt, she instantly reacts to the soft purring that both use to locate each other. The following greeting ceremony is one of a kind and needs to be witnessed live!
Our "Golden Pack" of wild dogs is also doing phenomenal. The 15 puppies have grown so quickly that one has to look twice to distinguish them from the adults. They are taking part in most hunts now, and if the teaching lesson doesn't work out in their favour, the adults will show them, once more, how it's done, and then let them feed.
The four male lions that have been around for a while seem to have made the immediate surroundings of the camp their base and walk around camp every couple of days. More than one afternoon game drive had to be extended when the 'boys' were found lounging just a few hundred metres away from the camp's main area. Nothing like sitting around the campfire with a glass of wine, looking at the stars and listening to the majestic roars of four male lions - come and see for yourself...
"We have never experienced serenity like we did here. Your staff is amazing."
"Attention to detail and knowledge is superb. Everyone totally went out of way to make our anniversary special. Thank You!"
"Everything was excellent, Honeymoon room was magnificent!"
Staff in Camp
Managers: Beatrice, Aaron , Nick, Julian, Nina and Cara.
Guides: OB, Zee, Moronga, ST, Ban and Lazzy.
Little Vumbura Camp update
- December 2011 Jump
to Little Vumbura Camp
Duba Plains Camp update
- December 2011 Jump
to Duba Plains Camp
Banoka Bush Camp update
- December 2011
Weather and Landscape
During the wet season, Khwai must be one of the most beautiful places in Botswana. The landscape has completely transformed and the mopane trees have officially sprung back to life with their trademark luminous green leaves, making the drive around the camp absolutely spectacular. Of course, for all the green there must be the rain, and what a month it has been for storms. The sky in front of camp has been unbelievable, and with the sun catching all the storm clouds during sunset, it has created some of the most magnificent landscapes many of our guests have ever seen.
The storms create much excitement and as soon as you hear a clap of thunder, expect an immediate bucket of water to drop from the sky. This cools down the drives quite substantially although the humidity is still fairly high!
This month the animals have been a little more difficult to spot due to the woodland trees sprouting their new leaves, however, the game is still as amazing as ever. On one sunny morning a pack of six wild dog were spotted running through the wetland in front of camp, wreaking havoc amongst our resident reedbuck, and although they were unsuccessful in their hunting our 'family', they were still very active and dashed off into the thicker woods in search of more game.
Another sighting (possibly the same pack) happened not too far from camp with the dogs hunting baby impala. The dogs were very efficient, and in one hour at least four young impala were caught and devoured while in full view of the excited guests who were witnessing a very successful day for our endangered friends.
A pride of 14 lion was spotted near the Mogotlo game viewing area having taken down a zebra; this was a lovely sighting as there were several cubs and two very large males involved in the episode. The lion have made Banoka their home, and have stayed around the camp, with their spoor (tracks) seen on the roads leading out of camp every morning. Their roars also dot the soundscape on a nightly basis.
Where there are lion, the hyaena follow closely. Side-striped and black-backed jackals are also being sighted more regularly in all the areas.
The herbivores are also making an appearance in camp more and more, with kudu walking the paths along with impala, giraffe and reedbuck coming through the camp to get their water. The hippos are also quite active out the water during the day with the cooler temperatures, and their clumsy and grumpy antics are quite amusing for our many guests.
Tortoises and terrapins are the name of the game nowadays for the game drives. Many hatchlings are found wandering the roads and that shows there is a very healthy reptilian population in Khwai. The roads are full of large water puddles and small terrapins are often found swimming in these puddles - when a vehicle is seen they quickly swim to the edge and climb out, scuttling away to the safety of the bush.
Snakes have also been very active around the camp lately, with spotted-bush snakes, stripe-bellied sand snakes and eastern tiger snakes found, hunting small lizards and chameleons, who are also spotted in the trees if lucky enough to get around their amazing camouflage. A small vine snake was found in a tree and they too are amazingly camouflaged.
Birds and Birding
The bird life has been particularly brilliant, with many species being seen around the camp. These include the Rufous-bellied Heron, Slaty Egret and Kurrichane Thrush. There have been many other birds spotted in the lagoon in front of camp, such as the Great-white Egret, Saddle-billed Stork, White Stork, Marabou Stork, Wattled Crane, African Darter, White-faced Duck, Red-billed Teal, Spur-winged Goose and many, many more. There is also a Red-headed Weaver nesting outside the office.
During the last week of the month, as part of the ongoing lion research in northern Botswana, a research team was out conducting a lion call-in survey close to Banoka Bush Camp in the eastern Okavango Delta.
Jacana Camp update
- December 2011 Jump
to Jacana Camp
Weather and Landscape
Comfortable conditions have returned to Jacana this month, with the arrival of rain - the clouds providing much relief from the hot summer sun. With the change in weather, we are becoming familiar with the daily sound of thunder rumbling around us, followed by the darkening of the sky and the falling of the warm rain. The smells of the bush become stronger following the showers - the lemony fragrance of the wild sage, the earthiness of the ground, and even the reinvigorated odours from the old elephant dung add to the atmosphere of the rainy season.
The vegetation has literally turned over a new leaf and is blossoming with new life, adding a varied spectrum of colour to the environment.
Jacana is still being visited by the great giants - the elephant bulls. The tall ilala palms are now full with their palm nuts, a most inviting treat for these great beasts. Imagine the experience of swapping stories under the stars around our camp fire when all of a sudden the silent approach of an elephant bull is noticed as he enters our boma. The air is filled with gasps of wonderment as, with care and dexterity, this huge animal treads a pathway taking him inches from the backs of our chairs before merging into the darkness of the bushes, as quietly as he had first entered - simply magical!
As the water levels continue to drop around camp, the red lechwe are again in the area, with their babies, and frequently provide us with the beautiful spectacle of running through the water in front of camp to cross from one island to another.
Less cute and cuddly, but equally as entertaining, we watched with fascination as a female boomslang killed and consumed an adult skink right in front of our office. In an attempt to avoid predation the skink shed its tail as a decoy (a practice known as autotomy). Unfortunately for the skink, this was not successful and the snake quickly consumed it. What happened next was interesting - the snake proceeded to consume the wriggling skink tail!
Birds and Birding
As ever with a water-based camp, our bird life is fabulous. Daily, we are seeing the glorious elegance of the Wattled Cranes. One lonely Saddle-billed Stork provides us with daily low level fly-overs - his wings just inches above the water.
We are watching the progress of two juvenile African Fish-Eagles opposite our viewing deck. A few mornings ago, one of the adults left the nest and flew straight for the front of our camp. As we enjoyed our morning coffee, we admired the skill involved as it swooped down and grabbed a bream with its talons before returning to its perch.
Our other regulars are also lovely to watch through the day: the African Openbills, Woodland Kingfishers, Pied Kingfishers, African Jacana, White-winged Terns, and many more.
At the start of the month, Jacana Camp hosted the Children in the Wilderness programme, or CITW. This was an enormous success and both children and adults alike seemed to benefit from the experience.
These children came from various Delta villages and arrived at Jacana feeling very shy and quiet. It was not long, however, that our tranquil island was filled with childish laughter and excited chatter as their confidence levels grew. It was clear to see that the children were gaining from their experience as each day they learnt more about the importance of the Delta and its conservation.
Another valuable insight that the children gained was concerned with life skills. They learnt how to wash and mend their clothes, how to keep themselves clean and more importantly for later life, how to protect themselves from HIV/AIDS. When it came for them to leave Jacana, we witnessed the moving sight of some of the little ones sobbing in the caring arms of their mentors.
Staff in Camp
Managers: Phil and Jo Oliver.
Guides: Timothy Samuel, Bafana Nyame and Sox Jwaka.
Abu Camp update
- December 2011 Jump
to Abu Camp
Weather and Landscape
The high water levels have long receded and the scorching sun has dried the earth, leaving only a few deeper waterholes and the main channels for thirsty animals to drink from. Unlucky fish stuck in the last shallow pools were gulped down by a multitude of birds, all enjoying the splendid buffet on offer.
Beautiful summer rainstorms have changed the stark barren wilderness into a green jungle, teeming with flowers, birds and insects each more colourful then the next. We hope to receive more rainfall next month, which will provide the drying waterholes with some time to recover.
New summer foliage means that the animals of the area are taking advantage of the abundance of food and protection of the overgrowth by giving birth to large numbers of young.
Tiny tsessebe sprint across the plains, while baby wildebeest hide behind their mothers. Loads of new-born zebra, giraffe and impala join their mothers for a gathering around the remaining waterholes in the afternoons, to enjoy a drink before dark.
The profusion of babies has also attracted a few predators to the area. We were very lucky to find a lioness that had three young cubs. She would methodically hide her cubs in a thicket and then set off hunting. She was very successful considering that she was hunting alone. She would return every second day or so and lead her cubs to the carcass which she had hidden away. Naturally, lion cubs have a very difficult life and face many challenges, especially in this situation where a dominant male is absent from the area. The mother has done a great job in rearing her cubs so far, and hopefully these cubs will form the nucleus of a new pride in the area.
Birds and Birding
Abu has enjoyed some great bird sightings this month. A Kori Bustard was spotted several times in the area! A more common sight in the drier areas of Botswana, it was a real treat to see one smack bang in the middle of the Delta. One of our guides, Thapelo and our elephant experience manager, Wellington also managed to spot a Black Coucal - another rare sighting in these parts.
The birding highlight, however, goes to the sighting of Pel's Fishing-Owl. During dinner, we heard the unusual call of the Pel's and upon inspection, found it perching in some dense brush. The owl then swooped across the tree line and over the boma into the cover of darkness.
Warona - "For Us"
The jumbo story at Abu this month was the arrival of Shireni's baby - Warona.
On the 17th of December, just a week before Christmas, our little elephant, Warona, arrived. At 10pm guests and staff were finishing dinner when the call came "It's happened... we have a baby girl!"
We grabbed umbrellas and raincoats hoping they would shield us from the storm as we made our way across to the boma. Wind whipped the rain around us leaving us drenched. The only light came from the lightning, which flashed intermittently, lighting our path.
But a hippo in the boma blocked our path. Slowly backtracking, we made our way to the bridge where we had to traipse through an ankle-deep water crossing before coming round on the other side. The wind, rain and darkness, with the occasional crash of lightning illuminating the boma as we approached added a touch of Jurassic Park to our adventure. Once inside the gates we caught the first glimpses of Warona, held up on either side by Shireni and Cathy while she slipped in the mud. Our baby's first moments were captured in stills as the storm rolled on into the night.
The Abu Herd wishes everyone a happy new year - may every day be an adventure!
Staff in Camp
Managers: Mike, Anne, Cayley and Ike
Guides: Thapelo and Newman
update - December 2011 Jump
to Kwetsani Camp
This month, camp was filled with festive spirits and a sense of excitement. We celebrated Christmas with a grand feast with the staff coming in to sing and dance for our guests. It wasn't long before everyone in camp was dancing and singing together with the staff choir - it was a truly joyous occasion!
Weather and Landscape
Most of December was overcast and wet. On the days that the sun did come out and shine its rays on us, the afternoon normally gave us a deluge of rain, even if it was for a few minutes. On the other hand, we have had the most beautiful display of rainbows, sunrises and sunsets as the light filtered through the wet skies.
The elephant have not been as busy in camp as they normally are, but we have had the odd bull pruning the vegetation around camp.
We have had fabulous sightings of the leopard on our trips to Hunda Island. What we are really excited about, is the shy leopard that has been gracing Kwetsani Island with its presence. It has been heard vocalising on several occasions very close to camp. On one occasion, it was seen dashing through the back of house. We do hope that it will make Kwetsani a more permanent home.
Several times this month, both a male and a female lion have walked through camp and then back round the front of camp on the floodplains back to Jao, every now and then letting out a roar to advertise their presence.
The hippo have been gathering in the larger pools for most of the month, so seeing them in big pods was a highlight for many of our guests. Another highlight was when the hippo came out of the water to eat the fresh, lush grass - this was a special treat to see their huge bodies out of the water, looking deceivingly docile and lethargic.
On this subject, one particular experience comes to mind: all of the guests were enjoying dinner, when a hippo bull passed the back of camp and started to graze. All of the guests quietly left their tables to get a better view of the aquatic mammal out of the water, when an opportunistic hyaena tried to sneak in and steal some food off of the table; luckily one of the waitresses spotted the spotted scavenger and chased it off.
Birds and Birding
We have had really good bird sightings in and around camp. We have put a bird bath on the deck, and within hours the resident birds knew it was there and were taking advantage of the new feature. The sausage tree in front of camp has also been providing some good birding, as it attracts large numbers of Meyer's Parrots, Green Pigeons as well as a variety of sunbirds.
Unfortunately, the Paradise Flycatchers which have been nesting outside the office lost their chicks to a hungry troop of monkeys. The birds have since moved out of the area. The Woodland Kingfishers have moved into the camp area in full force and are constantly calling and chasing other birds away.
A Verreaux's Eagle-Owl was seen in camp a number of times, but did not allow any good photographs as it was very shy. A large group of Wattled Cranes has also graced the floodplains in front of camp, often seen foraging amongst the red lechwe which have also taken a liking to the floodplain.
Staff in Camp
Managers: Dan and Charmaine Myburg.
Guides: MT Malebogo, Ronald Gaopalelwe and Florence Kagiso.
update - December 2011 Jump
to Jao Camp
Weather and Landscape
The end of the year was good to us and provided a dose of much-needed "life giving" rain. We received a total of 127mm of rain which also helped with lifting the water levels enough to make sure we can still do trips to Hunda Island, and our boat activities are still taking place without scraping the bottom of the boats in the shallow areas. The highly anticipated rains have caused the landscape and vegetation to explode with new life and growth.
The weather has been hot to say the least, but the heat evaporates the water, the clouds start building from about 9am, and by the evening the large clouds make for amazing sunsets before it all builds to a level that they burst. Evening thunderstorms have been taking place at least twice a week, resulting in cool and comfortable conditions.
December has been a great month on Jao Island. The resident mongoose family has expanded and the few females that were not pregnant are now expecting, so we are hoping for even more babies; however these cute little balls of joy are also bite size for the Yellow-billed Kites, which have arrived in full force with a myriad of other summer migrant species.
Also adding to the Jao family are the lions. Firstly a new male lion has been seen coming into the area and although he has not spent a lot of time here yet, his regular visits show signs that he might be interested in setting up a territory. Added to this, the pregnant lioness has given birth and although we have not yet seen the cubs we have heard them calling to their mother from a thicket.
The elephants have moved away from the camp area and we have gone from having an abundance of elephants for the last three months, to this month battling to find these friendly giants - indeed, most of our elephant sightings have been made up of elephant bull sightings. This is expected, as elephants historically disperse once the rains have arrived.
Four buffalo bulls have found the front of camp quite comfy and have been seen regularly around the bridge and in front of Room 9. One bull even spent a few nights in camp.
Clearly also finding camp attractive, a female hyaena has spent the last few weeks sleeping during the day just outside the single treatment room of the Spa and then as the sun goes down, she moves away to start searching the island for food.
Hunda Island has been very productive as always, and the elusive leopards have made for great viewing, even sharing sightings of their cubs with us a number of times. The general game numbers and sightings on the island are amazing and are being supplemented by good numbers of babies. Picnic trips to the island have been the order of the month, and all of our guests have thoroughly enjoyed them.
With the rain and the hot weather, the snakes have also become more active with a few puff adders seen around camp - one made his home close to the workshop, another in the termite mound by the curio shop and one even caught a baby mongoose by the office. However, they were all moved safely to more accommodating areas - for both the adders and us.
Birds and Birding
This time of year is always good for bird life and December has not disappointed the birders. Three Southern Ground-Hornbills have been in and around camp for the last week of December and as their name suggests they very seldom fly or perch in trees, however for a couple of nights at sunset they have roosted in a tree in camp, making it not only a rare sight but also a great picture (left).
The Yellow-billed Kites have been pestering the mongooses and squirrels and even raiding the weaver nests. But on a whole, all our migratory birds are now back and the male birds are full of colour and song, a great time for listening and for taking pictures.
The traditional mokoro trips continue: no engine noise, just the lapping of the water on the side of the mokoro and the sound of bell frogs and birds makes for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Fishing has been enjoyed by most guests who enjoy throwing in a line. However, the fishing season will be closed in January and February, allowing the fish time to spawn and breed.
It has been a great month and a great way to end off the year.
"Everything was great - the drives, the staff, the friendliness and the water activities. Keep doing what you are doing, thanks for a great three days."
"Nice scenery, friendly staff, real good food and great accommodation."
Staff in Camp
Managers: Billy and Minette McKechnie, Marina Lunga, Andrew Gaylord, Lauren Griffiths and Phil Ngisi.
Guides: Vundi Kashamba, Joseph Basenyeng, Bee Makgetho and July Mogomotsi.
update - December 2011 Jump
to Seba Camp
Tubu Tree Camp
update - December 2011 Jump
to Tubu Tree Camp
Weather and Landscape
The month was characterised by hot and humid days that cooled off with afternoon or evening thunderstorms. Days have varied between 20-33° C. Afternoon showers followed by beautiful sunsets with more rain clouds on the horizon became the trend for the month. In general, the water levels have dropped a little more this month, but there is still enough water to mokoro.
As always the leopards have kept us busy - from lying on a branch of a tree with the afternoon sunset light shimmering off a rosette body, unsuccessful hunts, hunting and being successful, to learning how to hunt. The month has been filled with lots of drama.
The young adult male, which is still unnamed, has been based mainly around the airstrip. There have been many sightings of him, including being chased by the resident troop of baboons that have no respect or love for him. He is also very relaxed, often coming close to the vehicle to lay in the shade of the vehicle or scratching an itch on his nose by rubbing it on the bull bar of the vehicle - he is surely the best model out there.
A mother and sub-adult female have been seen often around the airstrip and even just outside camp as well. The mother is still teaching her daughter the most important trick of the trade... hunting. They have been seen stalking, pouncing and making the kill, the daughter of course sitting by and watching - sometimes the mother still brings her an impala fawn to practice on.
We have been spoiled at camp with daily sightings of zebra, blue wildebeest, elephant, buffalo and very often hyaena too. Many nights walking guests to their rooms have been halted by a hyaena standing on the pathway having a stare down with a manager or guide, resulting in the hyaena turning tail and running away, only to return a while later. Their tracks tell a story every morning, where they have been and what they have been doing.
A few times this month we have heard a male lion calling in the distance. On one misty morning we were lucky enough to hear him proclaim Hunda Island as his, the guests and guides rushed out, to find him on the southern side of the Island. It was a brief sighting of him walking in the mist as he was heading south, out of our concession. On another occasion camp management were doing a game drive and came across a lioness, with three sub-adult males. The small group of felines did not stick around on the island for long and has not been seen since.
Elephants have been the hit of the month. The hairy babies are getting bigger, but their trunks are still an unusual appendage on their faces and learning how to use their trunks can take up to six months. On New Year's Day we were treated to a small breeding herd coming down to a waterhole located close to our brunch spot. A few adults and teenagers were frolicking in the water, spraying mud all over themselves then pulling out grass and enjoying brunch with us. Then out of the bushes the rest of the herd came to the water, and with them was a female with a calf that was under the age of six months. It is easy to estimate the age of a calf - if they are younger than six months they can still fit underneath their mother's belly. While mommy was having an enriching mud bath, the baby went down on his or her knees and started rolling around in the mud with feet in the air. After the mud bath, they walked up to the brunch spot, and then disappeared into the bush as quickly as they have arrived.
An amazing feature of the abundance of the area has been the emergence of hundreds of caterpillars in the fever berry trees all over the island. After many days of research and help from a mentor, we finally discovered that they belong to the family of Geometridae (originating from the Greek words: geo - meaning earth and metre - meaning measure, due to the way the caterpillars move). It is a family of moths that are cryptically coloured and very easily overlooked.
Birds and Birding
Tubu Tree Camp has welcomed the Diederick's Cuckoo into camp. Every morning we get woken to the sound of the Woodland Kingfishers sitting in the tops of the trees above the tents. For almost a week we were privileged enough to have the mating Wattled Cranes on the floodplain in front of camp, we had lovely sightings of them from the deck, using the telescope. The Southern Ground Hornbills have also been very active lately; coming to visit camp almost daily, they have taken a fancy to the sycamore fig that is in front of Tent 3, with the parents sitting in the tree and calling while the rest of the family is looking for tasty morsels in the grass.
Staff in Camp
Managers: Hein Holton and Eloise van der Walt.
Guides: Maipaa Tekanyetso, Moruti Maipelo and Johnny Mowanji.
Kalahari Plains Camp
update - December 2011 Jump
to Kalahari Plains Camp
December marked the arrival of the annual summer rains, characterised on most days by the thunderous storms and spectacular lightning bolts that the Kalahari is renowned for. The much-anticipated rain directly translates to a mass explosion of grass on the open plains and adjoining ridges. A plethora of annual flowers and seasonal herbs have also joined in. Botanists have had a blast as there is a huge diversity of vegetation, some of which is endemic to the Kalahari.
This diversity also brings out the best of our Bushman guides, as they relish on demonstrating the nutritional and medicinal uses of certain herbs that only occur at this time of the year.
In terms of wildlife, the rainy season is also very rewarding to wildlife enthusiasts. December marked the arrival of large herds of oryx (gemsbok), red hartebeest, springbok, wildebeest and many more into the open plains. This period is also the peak breeding time for most antelope species. We have witnessed masses of young calves and lambs of different antelopes throughout this past month. This feast of prey species naturally attracts opportunistic predators such as lion, cheetah, leopard and jackal, to name a few, into the open plains as well.
Lion and cheetah sightings have been plenty as their home ranges are now smaller due to the availability of food within the plains. This has been most notable at Deception Valley, where a game drive occasionally takes guests through two sets of lion prides within hours. The Lekhubu Pride's forays into the Deception Pride territory deserves a special mention here. The Lekhubu Pride is dominated by a prime black-maned Kalahari male who optimises the legend of huge Kalahari males. This beautiful male quickly displaced the two Deception males, sending them off into the distance, licking their wounds. Since then, the ever-dominant male has been seen mating with three females from the Deception Pride - possibly creating a super-pride in the area as he was also seen mating with a female from his own pride. The fragmented pride which has taken up residence around the camp still has five cubs which are growing rapidly. Hopefully they can avoid the black-maned male for some time so as to avoid infanticide.
Cheetah sightings have been frequent, as expected at this time of the year; the area around the camp continues to see unknown nomadic coalitions. Our resident female was recently spotted a mere three hundred metres from the camp after a four-month absence. The Deception Valley remains a prolific cheetah destination around this time of the year. As the rains wear on however, sightings become limited, possibly due to the grass being too high.
To birders, the Kalahari during December becomes a paradise to different resident and migrant species. Of note particularly are the raptor species. We have encountered great numbers of falcons such as Peregrine, Amur and Red-footed Falcons. We have also had great sightings of Montagu's and Pallid Harrier. The cuckoos have also arrived in full force as we constantly hear the calls of Diederick's, Jacobin and Black Cuckoo.
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