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AFRICAN SAFARI NEWS

December 2011

(Page 2 of 2)

Page 1 Updates
General Safari News - General information and updates from our partners in Africa.
Wildlife News - Interesting wildlife sightings and photos.
Camp News - Camp specific news, including refurbs, rebuilds, accolades, etc.
• Monthly update from North Island in Seychelles.
• Monthly update from Kings Pool Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from DumaTau Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Savuti Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Zarafa Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Selinda Camp in Botswana.
Kwando Safaris game reports from Botswana.
• Monthly update from Mombo Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Xigera Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Chitabe Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Vumbura Plains Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Little Vumbura Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Duba Plains Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Banoka Bush Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Jacana Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Abu Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Kwetsani Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Jao Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Seba Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Tubu Tree Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Kalahari Plains Camp in Botswana.

Page 2 Updates
• Monthly update from Pafuri Camp in South Africa.
• Monthly update from Pafuri Walking Trail in South Africa.
• Monthly update from Camp Jabulani in South Africa.
• Monthly update from Kings Camp in South Africa.
• Monthly update from Leopard Hills in South Africa.
• Monthly update from Rocktail Beach Camp in South Africa.
• Monthly Dive report from Rocktail Bay in South Africa.
• Monthly update from Makalolo Plains in Zimbabwe.
• Monthly update from Little Makalolo in Zimbabwe.
• Monthly update from Davison's Camp in Zimbabwe.
• Monthly update from Ruckomechi Camp in Zimbabwe.
• Monthly update from Mana Canoe Trail in Zimbabwe.
• Monthly update from Toka Leya Camp in Zambia.
• Monthly update from Lufupa River Camp in Zambia.
• Monthly update from Lufupa Tented Camp in Zambia.
• Monthly update from Kalamu Lagoon Camp in Zambia.
• Monthly update from Shumba Camp in Zambia.
• Monthly update from Kapinga Camp in Zambia.
• Monthly update from Busanga Bush Camp in Zambia.
• Monthly update from Mvuu Camp in Malawi.
• Monthly update from Mvuu Wilderness Lodge in Malawi.
• Monthly update from Mumbo Island Camp in Malawi.
• Monthly update from Chelinda Lodge in Malawi.
• Monthly update from Desert Rhino Camp in Namibia.
• Monthly update from Palmwag Camp in Namibia.
• Monthly update from Doro Nawas Camp in Namibia.
• Monthly update from Damaraland Camp in Namibia.
• Monthly update from Skeleton Coast Camp in Namibia.
• Monthly update from Serra Cafema Camp in Namibia.
• Monthly update from Ongava Tented Camp in Namibia.
• Monthly update from Little Ongava in Namibia.
• Monthly update from Ongava Lodge in Namibia.
• Monthly update from Andersson's Camp in Namibia.
• Monthly update from Little Kulala Camp in Namibia.
• Monthly update from Kulala Desert Lodge in Namibia.
• Monthly update from Kulala Wilderness Camp in Namibia.
• Monthly update from Governors' Camp in Kenya's Masai Mara.
• Monthly update from Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge in Rwanda.


South Africa camps
Pafuri Camp update - December 2011               Jump to Pafuri Camp

Weather and Landscape
The Pafuri area is looking absolutely beautiful. Now that we've had some consistent spells of rain, an emerald-green blanket of grass is beginning to cover most of what was previously a relatively barren landscape. All in all we had 50mm of rain this month, and the vegetation is slowly assuming the lush, abundant look that happens at this time of year. Along with the rain it's been a hot, humid December, with temperatures fluctuating between 30 and 45° C, rendering both our swimming pools hives of activity.

Wildlife
The myth that Pafuri is not necessarily a big game viewing area has long been dispelled, and it's such a pleasure to be able to do it again. The abundance of general game here is remarkable. Guests have been treated to grassy areas covered with large herds of impala, nyala, kudu, sounders of warthogs, and troops of baboons, as well as impressive breeding herds of buffalo. 

Of course this time of year means that all things small abound. It's a delight to watch the sometimes enormous nurseries of impala lambs as they stand together in serene little herds, often interspersed with busily burrowing baby warthogs trying to keep up with their mothers. 

Lions being playfull at Pafuri Camp    Lion seen at Pafuri Camp

One of the things that make this particular concession so unique is the number of uncommon species that guests are lucky enough to encounter here. To see the usually elusive nyala in the numbers that we are at the moment is truly something special. They dominate much of the landscape, and also seem to have no problem with human habitation, content to walk underneath our boardwalk only metres away from guests and staff. Sharpe's grysbok is also a species that so many of us hardly ever see, but here sightings of these uncommon antelope have been numerous. On several occasions the klipspringer has been sighted as well.

Walks to and from tents at night have become lucrative game viewing opportunities in themselves, with genets and thick-tailed bush-babies gracing the boardwalks, and porcupines shuffling in the undergrowth. The centimetre-long baby chameleons clutching the leaves of a patch of feverberry trees close to our boma have been the source of much fascination and sighs of endearment - they're easy to spot in the dark with a good torch and keen eye.

Although elephants traditionally disperse once the rains begin and tend to move further south, breeding herds were still a regular entry into the sightings book this month. Lion and leopard have featured consistently as well. For an area that had been devoid of much game for so long, it is inspiring to find new prides of lion moving into the concession. This, along with the separate sightings of different leopard and the number of white rhino that our guides have been successfully tracking, has also been a reassuring sign that Pafuri continues to be a game viewing hotspot in the Kruger.

Pennant-winged Nightjars at Pafuri Camp

Birds and Birding
Pafuri is surely one of the most exciting birding destinations in South Africa. Birders arrive here with impressive camera lenses hoping to capture images of species that you'd be hard pressed to find anywhere else, and more often than not their expectations are met. 

Pel's Fishing-Owl is perhaps the most sought-after species here. Our guides are familiar with the areas that they tend to frequent, and walks into these spots have produced close, special encounters with the rare, large birds. 

Other notable species that inhabit the area and get regularly seen by guests include Racket-tailed Rollers, Three-banded Coursers, Lemon-breasted Canaries, White-crowned Lapwings and Pennant-winged Nightjars, among numerous others. Our guides have managed to locate the nest of a Grey Penduline-Tit, right next to the road, which has also caused much excitement.  
   
We're all delighted that the Southern Carmine Bee-eaters have finally come back, settling on trees in pink profusion. They were late to get here, and their return was eagerly anticipated. European Bee-eaters are also here in full force, as well as the Black Cuckoo, Woodland Kingfisher, and White Stork that have been back for a while. Of course there are other returning visitors and residents that are too numerous to mention.

Camp Activities
This month has been jam-packed with exciting events. Most important and gratifying of all was the hosting of Children in the Wilderness (CITW) - something we always look forward to and cherish. 38 underprivileged children from the Makuleke Community took up all of our guest tents, and were treated to five days of educational fun and entertainment. Between game drives and lessons and painting and swimming and dancing and role-playing, there was just enough time to get a little bit of sleep. All of our staff and the CITW coordinators got wholeheartedly involved in making sure that the children left here enriched with knowledge and appreciation of the wilderness, and the importance of conserving it. It was a privilege to be part of it. 

Children in the Wilderness (CITW)  Children in the Wilderness (CITW)  Children in the Wilderness (CITW)

We had just enough time to clean up the camp after the kids left before a group of 40 guests arrived for a wedding the next day. The whole camp was booked for the sole use of the bridal party and their friends, and we managed to pull off what has to be one of the most beautiful weddings we've ever been privy to. 

We kept Christmas a relatively low-key affair, but made sure that people felt the merry spirit by decorating our deck and tables with crackers and hand-crafted decorations, and by calling in our camp choir to sing and dance for the guests. 

On New Year we managed to keep most of the guests up until after 12pm, and it was a festive and merry event!

With the large amount of game that has been in the area, as well as all the guests we've been privileged enough to host, all in all December has been a fantastic month for Pafuri Camp. If December is anything to go by, it looks like 2012 is going to be a good year!

All the best!
Julie

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Pafuri Walking Trail update - December 2011               Jump to Pafuri Walking Trail

No report this month.

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Camp Jabulani update - December 2011              

No report this month.

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Kings Camp update - December 2011               Jump to Kings Camp

The game viewing during December was incredible and was one of my best months this year by far.

The game drives were packed with action that included lions killing a buffalo bull, hyenas fighting lions for the same kill and finally hyenas fighting hyenas of what remained of the kill.

We also received a down-pour of more than 8 hours of rain on the 24th of December, one day before Christmas and again on the 27th of December.

When the rain had cleared and we were able to go on drive one could feel the energy of the animals in the bush from the Impalas running around and elephants playing in the mud.

The female impalas also gave birth at the end of November and this is seasonally timed to perfection every year. This means a new generation of fleeting impalas are filling their ecological role as food for the top predators from lion to the smaller predators like Cape hunting dogs.

It has been a while since I have seen and photographed the incredible high amount of action sightings as I did this month and I would like to start off with a very rare animal to our area, the African Wilddog. These extraordinary animals were hunting very close to the camp and we witnessed several kills. It is an almost impossible task to photograph this amazing predator in action. Normally one gets to photograph them during a feeding session if you are very lucky. On two occasions the Wilddogs were seen hunting close to the boundary of the camp. Although several impalas were caught and eaten it still makes no impact to the resident herd of impala. One particular sighting stands out for me as I followed the Wilddogs hunting a Steenbuck. Soon after I lost visual contact, with the pack chasing the small antelope, we managed to obtain visual again of the pack feeding on a Steenbuck which they caught and consumed in less than 3 minutes. This is the most productive and successful predator in the African bushveld with a hunting success ratio of no less than 70 %.

Wild dogs with kill    Wild dogs with kill

Lions
The mystifying Ross Pride made a return to the western sector of Kings Camp. Several great sightings ensured that our guests were treated to watch this large pride which consists of no less than 10 lions. A new large male lion that I have not seen before was with the pride and I would assume he is the dominant male of this pride. Two smaller cubs of approximately 12 months of age were also present. The females of this pride looked a bit tattered and I can only assume this is because the pride core females are ageing.

Lion feeding at Kings Camp  Very tattered looking female lion  Lion feeding around Kings Camp

Nevertheless the pride was still in a position to take on a large Cape buffalo during a rainy night. Strong wind and a heavy rain made it difficult for the old buffalo to detect the direction the lions came from. Nevertheless the condition favored the lions and not the buffalo and the pride took advantage and killed the old bull. Feeding lasted 3 days before a clan of 15 hyenas arrived in the early hours of a crisp morning. Minutes later the pride except of one of the older lionesses moved away and the hyenas moved in to feed. I noticed on earlier sightings that the now remaining lioness found it difficult to compete with the other lions and often ate last. What made the situation worse for her was that her teeth were worn down and this meant that she has to eat slowly and with difficulty.

Realizing that she was weak the Hyena clan wasted no time to deal with the old female lion trying to kill her. Sadly, the old lioness was without the assistance of her pride and now at the mercy of her arch enemy which she did battle with her entire life.

In an all out effort the leading hyena took her masterful clan in to battle. Once the signal was given by the Matriarch hyena by means of a call the attack was launched. The call was so loud that it was almost deafening while saliva dripped from her mouth with hatred drawn on her face.
The scene was set and several attacks were launched simultaneously from all directions.

Like a general the lioness was determined to make a last stand and tried with great difficult to defend herself from being killed in this savage battle. It lasted a mere minute but felt like a lifetime. She was out of breath and looked very drained. As aged as she might have been she still had enough fire in her for one more battle with her enemies and by doing so she made a last statement to the hyenas that lions will always be the King of Africa.

Battle between lion and hyena  Battle between lion and hyena  Battle between lion and hyena

Surprisingly a sudden change of behavior was noticed when another clan of hyenas arrived at the scene. The original clan that attacked the lioness first redirected there attack to the approaching hyenas.

This opportunity gave the injured lioness an advantage and she moved into a thicket bleeding from her now visible wounds whiles the hyenas took their new battle to the approaching new hyena clan. Out of breath the lioness laid her head down on the soft grass and unknowing to us at the time her last warm breath left her body. Once so powerful and majestic now her lifeless body lied motionless under a tree.

In the mean time the two hyenas groups went into battle ready to kill for a pile of bloody bones and territory. Hyenas are super amassing predators and I often say had they been twice there own size they would be without a doubt the dominant predator specie in Africa.

The fight lasted only few minutes and was quickly settled with the original clan resuming power at the kill.I took theses images of the hyenas fighting for dominance. It was one of the most memorable sightings as a guide.

Hyenas fighting for dominance  Hyenas fighting for dominance
Hyenas fighting for dominance  Hyenas fighting for dominance
Hyenas fighting for dominance  Hyenas fighting for dominance
Hyenas fighting for dominance  Hyenas fighting for dominance
Hyenas fighting for dominance

Kings Camp’s two resident leopards Rockfig Jnr. and Ntombi have both given birth to an unknown number of cubs. This is one very important time in both leopards’ careers as this will be both female leopards’ second litters.
Does this mean we are going to have two new generations of leopard cubs in 2012?  Both female leopards are very thriving and have raised their first litter successfully.

These predators are amassing in many ways and it gives me so much pleasure showing and informing our guests about these beautiful spotted cats. Where else in the world can one follow a female leopard totally oblivious of our presence in a hunt or watch a female groom her cubs in front of a vehicle filled with guests. We are indeed privileged to be able to view these amazing animals.

Leopard seen around Kings Camp

Join us in 2012 for a once in a life experience that can bring you so incredible close to these cats that you can be part of their lives even if it is only for a few minutes and you will see what I mean with how magical these cats are.

I wish you all a happy and great New Year. We hope to see you in 2012.

From Patrick O'Brien Head Guide of Kings Camp and the ranger and tracker team.
Patrick O'Brien Head Giude of Kings Camp.

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Leopard Hills update - December 2011               Jump to Leopard Hills

The height of summer is upon us and scorching hot sunny days often lead to spectacular evening thunderstorms. It is the time to celebrate life and family as the year draws to a close and how fitting it is that Hlaba Nkunzi has returned home and given birth to her cubs…

Her cubs are hidden somewhere in the rocks on the left of this image, below suite 8, this is the Dayone male strolling past during mid December.

View of Leopard Hills

Leopards
Hlaba Nkunzi
A few months of speculation as to her potential choice of den site has culminated in her coming “home” to Leopard Hills (As if there was ever any doubt…) to give birth in the safety of the rocks below suite 8!

Here she is approximately a week before she gave birth.

Hlaba Nkunzi before giving birth

A few days after giving birth, suckle marks and matted fur visible...

Hlaba Nkunzi a few days after giving birth

Suckle marks close up.

Close up of suckle marks

Both males (Xhinzele & Dayone) have been through the camp while her cubs have been hidden here and great news is that there has been no aggression from either of them or from Hlaba Nkunzi toward the 2 males! We estimate the cubs are 7-10 days old now so we are hoping for our first glimpse of them during the first 2-3 weeks of Jan 2012.

In the meantime we are treated to her daily meanderings through the camp to suckle the tiny hidden fur balls. We will keep you all posted with lots of images and updates soon…

A little info on leopard cubs.

The gestation period of leopards is 90 to 105 days and the female gives birth to a litter of typically two to three cubs.

Newborn leopards are tiny, covered with dull grey fur that shows just vague spots and with their eyes tightly closed, they are completely helpless.

Leopard cubs open their eyes after 4-9 days and can walk within two weeks. During the first 8 weeks, while the mother leopard has to leave the den from time to time to hunt, the cubs remain in hiding. Only when the mother returns will the cubs walk out of the den and play outside with each other.

The mother will leave young cubs for up to 36 hours while hunting and feeding before returning to suckle them, they will be weaned at around 3 months.

Thlangisa
While still mostly residing in Hlaba Nkunzi’s territory she has been her usual playful self and has been viewed consistently, more often than not perched high up a Marula tree scouting around for prey.

Thlangisa lying in a tree

With the many nursery herds of impala lambs around being her prey of choice we were spoiled with an exceptional sighting of her stalking out in the open, then the chase and almost a kill!

Leopard stalking it's prey    Leopard stalking it's prey
Leopard stalking it's prey    Leopard stalking it's prey

Metsi and cubs
Her month has been spent down in the far south west and central areas where she has taken over the late Mambirri female’s former territory.

Metsi seen around Leopard Hills

Her 2 sub adult male offspring have been seen infrequently but are both alive and well, they are however keeping a low profile, avoiding the dominant males!

Xikavi
She has been seen south of the sand river this month but is still residing mostly up in the north of her territory across the river.

Xikavi see around Leopard Hills

Shangwa
She has been seen a few times without her male cub, he is moving about on his own a lot, becoming more and more independent now that he is a year and a few months old.

Shangwa around Leopard Hills

Xhinzele
The Dayone male’s regular movements up north towards Leopard Hills have kept Xhinzele down in the south of his territory towards month end, he has been scent marking and calling zealously! See video footage.

The Mabrak river now seems to be a clear territorial boundary for these 2 adversaries, not ideal for Hlaba Nkunzi being caught in the middle, they bisect the core of her territory and her current den site!

Xhinzele seen around Leopard Hills    Xhinzele seen around Leopard Hills

Look at the images above and notice how he has filled out recently, becoming more and more intimidating and confident by the day!

Mashiabanje
He was seen once in the far north during the month, let’s hope 2012 brings many more sightings of this imposing male!

Kashane
He gave us a few commanding appearances in the east, most memorably one morning when 2 of the Mapogo disturbed his resting place and he reluctantly hauled his full belly out of there!

Mapogo lions at Leopard HillsKashane seen around Leopard Hills

Dayone
How will he react to a confrontation with Xhinzele? This question will be answered soon, for now he has been spending a lot of time around Leopard Hills and south and west of us.

Here he is scent marking in front of suite 8.

Dayone seen around Leopard Hills

We are not sure if he did mate with Hlaba Nkunzi but she does seem relaxed with his presence around the camp so we assume so.

Leopard seen around Leopard Hills  Leopard seen around Leopard Hills  Leopard seen around Leopard Hills

Lions
Mapogo Coalition

Mapogo Coalition at Leopard Hills

The elder of the Mapogo and the short maned male have been prowling together for most of the month, spending a lot of time east, looking after the threat from the Majingilane's that side. The other male has been living an easier life further west with the Ximungwe pride for much of the month, taking advantage of the hunting expertise of the lionesses.

Mopogo lion seen around Leopard Hills  Mopogo elder seen around Leopard Hills  Male lions seen around Leopard Hills

Ximungwe Pride
The three lionesses with the four cubs (Ages ranging from 5 to 11 months) have remained together as a complete pride the entire month, spending much time up in the remote north west of the reserve. See video of the cubs and lionesses interacting.

The lioness that lost her cubs last month has been on her own much of the time and the Mapogo have been taking turns following her around, checking her scent and condition as she will come into oestrus again soon. See video of short maned Mapogo performing the flehmen grimace to test her reproductive condition.

Othawa young males
These 2 handsome pretenders made an appearance down south at Christmas time when 2 of the Mapogo killed a young buffalo and they picked up the scent. They were chased off by the 2 titans, who weren’t overly concerned by their presence in the area initially. There was apparently a short fight the following day and one of the Mapogo did give one of the youngsters a small beating but he is alright.

Lion seen around Leopard Hills

Elephants
Finding the parades that have spread out into the lush green wilderness is a bit tougher than in the dry winter months and it is often a fun exercise to track and locate them. This time of year it is sometimes easier to find leopards than the world’s largest land mammal…See amusing video footage of a cocky young male calf showing us some attitude.

We were also very privileged to be present moments after a little calf was born.

Baby elephant just born  First step of new baby elephant  Baby elephant at Leopard Hills

White Rhino
Crashes are in abundance, especially in the grassland just north of the lodge where the new growth is enticing them out of the woodland and providing excellent viewing out in the open! Look out for a young male calf interacting with the pack of painted dogs in the video.

Hippo
With the summer rains having topped up the waterholes hippo viewing has been superb. The impressive audio of hippo’s grunting is one the definitive sounds of Africa, enjoy the distinctive audio on the video section as a raft emerges for their evening feeding.

Painted Dog Pack
As the year draws to a close it is truly fitting that the Painted Pack who we have grown so attached to this past year have decided to spend over a week in our traversing area!

Painted dog around Leopard Hills

A week of enthralling sightings have well and truly delighted our festive guests! To spend quality time with these highly social and active animals is always rewarded with something exciting! We were lucky enough to view an impala lamb kill made by the Alpha female as well as the build up and all the social greeting that goes on before the pack heads off on a hunt! See video below.

Painted dog at Leopard Hills

The pack now consists of 9 healthy dogs, 6 adults and 3 sub adults (almost 9 months old now). These 3 youngsters are now more streetwise and will most likely make it to adulthood. In the video look out for them investigating and playing with a young male white rhino calf one windy afternoon when no prey could be found.

Buffalo
The large obstinancy has been seen frequently in the south, the grazing is particularly nutritious down there on the gabbro soils after the saturating rains.

Interesting and unusual sightings captured in December

2 male Black Bellied Bustards (Champagne birds) fighting over a territory, our first time to observe this behaviour and such aggression between these ground birds!

2 male Black Bellied Bustards fighting  2 male Black Bellied Bustards fighting  2 male Black Bellied Bustards fighting

Bird breeding season is peaking now…see below image of a Woodland Kingfisher male courtship feeding his female with a tasty morsel and a pair of Striped Kingfishers displaying.

Striped Kingfishers seen around Leopard Hills    Striped Kingfishers seen around Leopard Hills

A majestic Bateleur flying off with some nesting material.

Bateleur seen at Leopard Hills

The secretive cuckoos are more often heard than seen in their dense habitat, especially the Red Chested Cuckoo, luckily for us this one decided to rest for a few brief seconds out in the open.

Red Chested Cuckoo seen at Leopard Hills

Possibly the most Pangolin sightings ever in one year (8 separate sightings), unfortunately no more this month but here is a perfect example of tracks seen last week.

Pangolin tracks seen around Leopard Hills

An odd looking pair of mating giraffe.

Mating giraffe seen around Leopard Hills

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Rocktail Beach Camp update - December 2011               Jump to Rocktail Beach Camp

In the final month of the year - almost as though she was reminding us of the arrival of summer - Mother Nature sent us a myriad of different weather conditions including some incredible electrical storms, some cool and rainy days, and of course a couple of balmy Maputaland summer days. 

This of course provided countless glorious days on our deserted beach, and some diving experiences without comparison in Southern Africa. 

The numbers of loggerhead and leatherback turtles dragging their egg-laden bodies up the beaches have steadily increased to their current peak, with some nights producing up to eight separate sightings of these majestic mothers of the sea on one turtle drive. 

Beach view at Rocktail Beach Camp    Vervet monkey at Rocktail Beach

The warm waters have also provided us with an increased number of whale shark, manta ray and dolphin sightings, with a special treat being the presence of a four-metre tiger shark on one of the dives at our secret, unnamed, dive site!  

Wildlife activity around the camp itself has also been bustling in the coastal forest. A number of harmless Natal green-snakes, vervet monkeys, elephant shrews, bush babies and genets have been sighted, perfectly reflecting the buzzing busy camp filled with festive season spirit and excitement. 

Once more, the start of the summer at Rocktail Beach Camp has not disappointed, and we wait with bated breath for the hatching of our first turtle nests, expected to begin around the middle of January in the New Year. 

We at Beach Camp wish all the best for you and your families for this holiday season and the New Year, and look forward to seeing you then. 

From the Beach Camp Family

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Rocktail Bay Dive Report - December 2011               Jump to Rocktail Beach Camp

What a wonderful December we have had - the weather was hot and sunny, with a few rainy days to cool things down a bit. Sea conditions were excellent for most of the month with visibility averaging at around 18-20m and often sitting at 25-30m. We had one bad spell mid-month when for five days, we experienced dramatic thermoclines and the visibility dropped to 8m. Not sure where that came from but we were all glad to see it go - conditions returned to normal and water temperatures were back up to 26-27 degrees Celsius. 

Father Christmas certainly knew where to find us: in the ocean! We were spoilt with many wonderful gifts this December.

There were lots of turtle sightings at Aerial Reef; one was when Luca was enjoying the first dive of his PADI Open Water Course. We were busy looking at some clownfish in an anemone when we saw a loggerhead turtle swimming slowly in our direction. It came closer and closer, and it looked as if it had not seen us at all. We stayed right where we were and eventually it saw us and turned away, only to do a full circle and come back to see us again - we looked at one another and had a good chuckle. 

Josh was also doing his first open water dive when he got to stroke a hawksbill turtle. It was munching away on the reef and almost swam right into Josh, so he reached down and gave it a tickle. The turtle did not even flinch, in fact I think the turtle enjoyed it! 

An unusual turtle sighting was of a loggerhead that had a satellite transponder stuck to its back; it was stuck on with bright blue glue, so it could be seen from far away (this turtle was seen at Elusive a couple of days earlier). Another wonderful turtle sighting at Aerial was a brief and frantic chase to see a leatherback turtle. Judy saw a big black shape across the sand and swam closer to have a look at what it was. When she realised it was a leatherback, she signalled frantically to everyone and they swam to catch a fleeting glimpse as it headed off out to sea.

Other great sightings at Aerial this month included a leopard shark resting on the sand at the edge of the reef, a guitarfish that actually followed us for the entire dive -every time we looked across the sand, there it was, and two manta rays which also seemed to follow us along the reef - we first saw them on the northern end and then later as we had crossed to the southern section they came in time and again, circling and sweeping along the sand, whilst feeding. We watched them even at our safety stop and we did not want to get out of the water.

We had a magical dive at Brewers Garden - with 30m visibility, fish everywhere, a spotted eagle ray, a big school of about 15 bull rays and four bottlenose dolphins! We even got to snorkel with the same four dolphins after the dive; they were just hanging around in no rush to go anywhere.

Elusive was also magical this month with sightings of a green turtle, a female loggerhead turtle who was tagged, crayfish, schools of snappers, six huge honeycomb eels, paperfish, black-cheek eels, two blue-spotted rays and firefish all over the reef, some hiding under ledges, some out swimming across the sand - in one area there were six of them all in a row - and this was all on one dive. Just as we thought that it couldn't get any better, as we were doing our safety stop I looked down and saw a manta ray, we hung there and watched it and then another one came across the sand and joined up with it before they both swam away together. Lynette, from Singapore, said it was the best dive she has ever done.

The following day produced more gifts for the divers in the form of two whalesharks! The first one was about five metres in length and while everyone was snorkelling with it, Clive spotted a second one that was about eight metres in length. They were crossing paths and everyone got to see them both.
Snorkellers enjoying Ocean Experience trips were also spoilt with opportunities to snorkel with bottlenose dolphins, a manta ray, whalesharks, white tip sharks, grey reef sharks, potato bass, a free-swimming honeycomb eel and not forgetting all the wonderful fish life.

One of the most memorable dives of the month was on the 31st - the sea was flat, warm and the visibility was about 20m. We went to Pineapple Reef and as we worked our way along, Catherine signalled that she had seen a shark. We all looked around and saw the grey reef shark... but not just one - there ended up being three of them! We were surrounded by slinger, three sharks, three potato bass and a huge honeycomb eel that was free swimming. We did not know where to look! The eel had been injured and by the bite marks it looked like it had been fighting with another honeycomb eel. It was swimming along, looking for a good hiding place and as it did, the potato bass were hot on its heels, with the sharks circling on the outskirts trying to see what all the commotion was about. We just sat and watched this action-packed show, we could not have asked for a better last dive of the year!

Congratulations to the following divers:
Kombo Magara, Daniel, Benjamin and Andrew Sparks, Charles and Jaques Celliers, Anthony Wilton, Tania Temlett, Byron Losch, Michela Gioia, Gunnar Wach, Hannah Rosling, Rolene and Florian Bauer for completing their PADI Discover Scuba Diving Course.

Luca Buzak, Neil and Jason Lumsden, Craig Oehley, Daniella Ellis, Josh Potgieter and  Andy Openshaw  for completing their PADI Open Water Course.

Gina Houston for completing her PADI Advanced Course.

Yours in diving
Darryl, Clive, Michelle
The Rocktail Dive Team

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Zimbabwe Camps
Makalolo Plains update - December 2011               Jump to Makalolo Plains Camp

Weather and Landscape
December was a month filled with humidity and warmth. We did, however, experience a full week when it rained every day, with the highest rainfall being 50mm. Most of the rain occurred at night, which was then followed by clear mornings and cloud build-up as the day progressed. At the end of the month, the area had received a total of 146mm. Average temperatures ranged from a minimum of 17° C to a maximum of 35° C.

The arrival of the rains changed the landscape from a barren brown to a luscious green "golf course" look - all natural of course. The trees are green and dense, stretching skyward. The lower layer of vegetation has become quite dense, providing cover for both predator and prey. Many of the natural pans have filled up considerably with water, which is great, as the winter waterholes can now recover as the game disperses more widely.

Wildlife
The wildlife sightings have been wonderful this month and the area in front of camp has been very busy. One of our highlights for the month being a fantastic sighting of gemsbok (oryx).

Sunset over Makalolo Plains  Zebra seen Makalolo Plains

With the dense vegetation, we have struggled slightly to locate predators, although lions were often heard calling close to camp and leopard tracks were found riddled throughout the area. The herbivore species have also dispersed over a wider area, which has caused the predators to extend their range.

This trend has also carried over to the vast elephant herds which have dispersed dramatically, leaving behind mostly small bachelor herds. Buffalo herds have also split up but are found regularly, often in the area in front of camp.

The highlight for the month was the wild dog action that we experienced. These beautiful predators were seen on several occasions. We found them twice, taking advantage of the wildebeest calves and another time when they killed an impala fawn behind camp.

We also had a couple of sightings of cheetah, sable and brown hyaena.

Birds and Birding
The bird and reptile activity has increased as expected along with the arrival of many summer migrant birds. Crowned Cranes, Spur-winged Geese and Egyptian Geese have been a regular sight at the pan in front of camp.

Furthermore a lot of nests of different shapes and sizes have been built and out of an assortment of materials too! Within camp itself, the vibrant Red-headed Weavers' chicks have already hatched whilst the weaver species are still nesting. Kori Bustards and Red-crested Korhaans are quite common, often providing great photo opportunities. Vulture sightings have also been great.

Guest in Camp
Managers: Sibahle Sibanda, Cosam Milazi and Cynthia Ndiweni.
Guides: Lawrence Yohane, Elias Chiga and Douglas Myambo.

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Little Makalolo update - December 2011               Jump to Little Makalolo

Weather and Landscape
This month's weather was characterised by heavy storms, magnificent lightning, high humidity and also high temperatures. The Kalahari soil is something we are very grateful for as it releases the heat in the evening making evenings and mornings very cool and pleasant. We had continuous rain for a few days that gave us a total of 100.5mm for the whole month.

Sunset over Little Makalolo Camp

Indeed it is true that water is life. The first week of December was very dry and hot, making everyone pine for the precious liquid. The first storm of the month was on the 9th which amounted to 25mm of rain - this just wet the ground and slightly lifted water levels, effectively freeing the terrapins from their dried mud hibernation chambers. All of the waterholes are now looking great and the grass is growing fast and green.

Wildlife
This year we hadn't had very many rhino sightings so when one of our guides spotted the much sought-after animal, he and his guests were ecstatic. The rhino was spotted at a waterhole having a drink. Another special sighting for the month was the gemsbok spotted at Mbiza.

Other sightings for this month have been really good. We had excellent sightings of leopard, and on one occasion the beautiful feline was seen taking a lazy stroll at the back of the camp. On another occasion, the same leopard was spotted having a leisurely drink at the pan in front of camp, which was then followed by some territorial vocalisations. One early morning we had two wild dogs run in front of camp and then to the back - and in the process, the predators came across an impala herd. Due to their opportunistic tendencies, they did not hesitate to pick a meal from the herd, and caught an impala fawn. This however, was not the only kill right behind camp - the Ngeshla Pride of lions killed a buffalo close to camp and spent a good couple of days around the carcass, feeding and resting.

We experienced a handful of great cheetah sightings too.

Giraffe seen around Little Makalolo    Lion at Little Makalolo

Birds and Birding
The plains of Makalolo have been filled with a lot of life and birds having been on the increase. Most raptors are back and what a sight to see them in their large numbers catching flying termites. Amongst these, we have the following eagles: Lesser Spotted, Steppe, Tawny, Wahlberg's and Bateleur. Yellow-billed Kites have also been seen in their numbers feasting on the wide variety of frogs and toads. 

Large numbers of wildebeest have given birth around Ngamo, which has caused a feeding frenzy for the array of predators in the area, resulting in some great vulture sightings.

Another great sighting which many enjoyed was the Greater Painted-Snipes which can be found around the water's edge at any spot of surface water.

Cheetah seen around Little Makalolo    Wild dogs seen around Little Makalolo

Guest Comments
"For a large organisation, the staff are very good and truly meet the term exceeds expectation. Thank you for a great stay!" Conway.

"Great guiding from Charles and Buli - very well managed and back of house staff very friendly, efficient and helpful. No complaints at all." Hobbs.

"The bush is like a book that we are reading and with Tendai's magnificent knowledge and guidance we have once again unravelled another chapter." Thompson.

"We really enjoyed the vacation; everyone made our family feel very welcome and cared for. Really enjoyed sharing the experience and meals with the staff. Lawrence our guide was fabulous, very knowledgeable with a quite confident demeanour, always felt very safe with him." Clark.

"Best meals out of all Wilderness Camps by far - exceptional!" Du Rand.

Staff in Camp
Managers: Rania Mutumhe and Tracy Peacock.
Guides: Dickson Dube, Bulisani Mathe and Honest Siyawareva.

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Davison's Camp update - December 2011

Weather and Landscape
The most beautiful thing about this time of year are the hundreds, indeed thousands of butterflies flying around - they move across the landscape and look like nature's confetti, celebrating the wet season. Hwange has undergone a huge transformation and the dry season is nothing but a distant memory.

At the moment the grass is at a nice height and almost looks like it has been mowed! The many varieties of wild flowers appearing include red witch-weed, flame lily, devil thorn and water thick-head to name but a few. The bush is dappled with all these vibrant colours transforming the area into a collage of summer pastel shades. At the beginning of the month the trees were looking vibrant and lush until a little caterpillar called the pallid emperor emerged and ate all the leaves of the ordeal trees and red syringa.

Zebra seen around Davison's Camp    Impala seen around Davison's Camp

In terms of weather, most mornings were warm and humid, which resulted in a build-up of clouds in the afternoons with showers occurring most afternoons. This time of the year is never predictable as it can rain at any time, so the ponchos are always in the Land Rover and if you don't mind, getting a little wet can be fun! The storms roll in in the early evenings in their blue black majesty with awe-inspiring displays of lightning and thunder - there is nothing quite like an African thunderstorm.

Wildlife
A new season has been born with the onset of the rains bringing in new life. The wildebeest, impala and eland have started giving birth and there are now many calves in all the herds. Little baby chameleons have been spotted at night with a spotlight and a keen eye, hanging off the long grass. Terrapins inhabit the many rain-filled pans and duck underwater as the Land Rovers go through on the game drives. The "sundowner" moths are out in full force, quite eager to share your glass of wine at the dinner table! Reading can be distracting at night with the many other varieties of insects been attracted by your head lamp.

Large numbers of elephant have been seen, which is quite unusual for this time of the year, as they usually disperse throughout Hwange once the rains arrive. Ngamo Pan currently resembles a golf course, as it is covered in a carpet of lush green grass and is teeming with life. We were lucky enough to spot a honey badger here during a night drive.

Gloriosa superba seen at Davison's Camp    Vulture seen around Davison's Camp

The predators have not disappointed, and the lion prides have been seen on numerous occasions. Some guests sat in a vehicle close to a big male lion for half an hour whilst he yawned and showed off his sharp pearly whites. Leopards have been seen slinking through the bush during the day and night. A special treat has been the sighting of four cheetah moving around together looking for their next meal.

The zebra pictured above, has become know to all in the area as 'Marble' and has been seen on a regular basis throughout the month. As seen in the picture, the stallion has a very strange stripe pattern.

Birds and Birding
At this time of year the bird life steals the spotlight as the Intra-African migrants and Palaearctic migrants come for the festive wet season. The African Spoonbills are sifting through the water in all of the pans, and the Southern Carmine Bee-eaters are in aerial pursuit of the many insects the vehicle disturbs on route through the open grasslands. Racket-tailed Rollers are now seen once again quite often along with the European Roller.

Dinner table at Davison's Camp    Thunderstorm seen around Davison's Camp

Camp News
The festive season infected all who were at Davison's Camp over this special time of year. The kids in camp were entertained by various activities between game drives and even ate together in a special festive kiddies' boma. All in all, the festive season was magical at camp and was characterised by much fun and laughter.

The camp would also like to thank and welcome Lorraine Maritz, who helped create scrumptious meals throughout the festive season. She will be travelling through to all of the Zimbabwe Camps.

Guest Comments
"Beds were wonderful. Staff were awesome. Game Drives Tremendous. Livingstone was an exceptional guide, very careful with us "old" folks. Also willing to help with everything." Mr Francis.

"The warm friendly staff were super accommodating and made us welcome the whole stay. We really loved every minute of our stay. Seeing the male lion at close quarters was spectacular and just absorbing the environment was relaxing and rewarding." Ron and Kymba.

Staff in Camp
Managers:  Andre', Tammy, Ivan and Christie.
Guides: Bryan, Godfrey, Brian, Robert and Livingstone.

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Ruckomechi Camp update - December 2011               Jump to Ruckomechi Camp

Weather and Landscape
It has been a humid month, with the views of rain falling on the Zambian escarpment teasing us as they received bucket-loads of rain with only a few drops to spare for us. Then finally we had a good downpour on the last day of 2011 - 20mm in a couple hours ensured that everything was drenched and the roads impassable for a few days. 

Further inland rain must have been falling for longer as the Ruckomechi River started flowing on the evening of the 31st which poured water into the Charara River round the back of camp. The total rainfall for the month was 98mm. The average humidity for the month was 70% which made the hot days very sticky indeed. Temperatures were high, with a maximum of 41.8° C and a minimum of 23.1° C. The Zambezi River has been muddy towards the end of the month due to the waters of the Kafue River racing down to meet it further upstream.

The concession is filled with lush green flora and the emerald-green floodplain is dotted with puddles of muddy areas where the water is slowly collecting and finding nowhere to drain to. The Senna and Indagofera bushes are getting to the 'foot high' stage, with little ana trees sprouting up all over the place. The Natal mahogany trees have their bright red and black seeds, which are attracting the vervet monkeys, baboons and hornbills to gorge themselves. The large ana trees have lost most of their leaves and pods now, showing up as stark grey ghosts against the green of the mopane and mahogany trees.  The fever berry trees have been attacked by tiny caterpillars which are doing an amazing job of eating every leaf, leaving only the petiole behind.  

Wildlife
With the abundance of water around, most animals have moved off to thicker bush and inland water, and sightings have been spread out this month. The impala and their youngsters are always out the back of camp, the fawns bouncing around and generally enjoying the sunshine. The waterbuck have also been regulars, one little baby being seen hiding near the main area while the parents grazed nearby. The warthogs have disappeared almost totally, obviously finding much better wallowing puddles further away.  

Waterbuck seen around Ruckomechi Camp    Kudu seen around Ruckomechi Camp

The various species of mongooses in the concession are a treat! On one drive we saw a family of dwarf mongoose hiding in an abandoned termite mound, curiosity getting the better of them as they popped their heads out, chittering away trying to get a better view of us. Then a little further down the road a slender mongoose darted out of a fallen log and dashed away into the undergrowth. Finally, three banded mongoose chased each other across the road into the bushes - three species of mongoose in one hour, very exciting. 

On the predator side of things, the lion sightings have been good. We had the Ruckomechi females behind camp for a couple of days, chasing the many impala. We are sure they took down a zebra but we couldn't find the kill. Then late one night we heard lions calling and jumped in a vehicle to find them. Two young scraggly males were seen heading off towards the Charara River, only to be stopped by the flowing water. They obviously wanted to get across so, unperturbed by the river, they jumped up onto our big gumpole bridge that spans the river and wandered across and off the other side.

Lioness seen around Ruckomechi Camp    Mongoose seen around Ruckomechi Camp

We have heard leopard calling a few nights this month, with one taking down an impala near the workshop area. The staff village heard the commotion but it was too dark to see much. The impala carcass was left where it was found the next morning in the hope that the leopard would come back and finish it off. It did and dragged it out of camp for a bit, but didn't eat much more. Unfortunately, it was never seen but lots of spoor told the tale.

Birds and Birding
The rains bring the bugs and with the bugs come the birds, with such variety that it is mind-boggling. If you look in one tree and see the Lesser Masked-Weavers collecting material to weave their nests, in another you see the iridescent Violet-backed Starlings glistening bright purple in the sun. Another tree reveals a variety of LBJs, which, on closer inspection, turn out to be Red-billed Quelea.  

The male Red Bishops are all slowly getting their breeding plumage and, at the moment, look very funny and scruffy in their half-brown half-red feathers, but in a couple of weeks will be transformed into beautiful red and black flocks. 

The puddles and swelling rivers support huge amounts of water birds from bigger species like the Saddle-billed Stork, Goliath Heron, and Yellow-billed Stork to the smaller ones like the Common Sandpiper, Ruff and Pied Wagtail.  

Greater painted sniper at Rockomechi Camp    View of the escarpment

A highlight for the camp was the female Greater Painted-Snipe paddling on the edge of the Charara River in search of food. They are scarce residents and are always exciting to see. The hornbills are a treat always, with all five species - Ground, Crowned, Red-billed, Trumpeter and the African Grey - being seen this month.  

The pair of Black-throated Wattle-Eyes from last year has been spotted again taking up residence in the mahogany tree at the back of camp.  

Our two sightings of the month have to be the Narina Trogon and the African Pitta, spotted by Kevin in camp. These are very rare vibrantly coloured birds to the excitement was huge! 

A total of 140 different bird species were seen this month.

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Mana Canoe Trail update - December 2011               Jump to Mana Canoe Trail

No report this month.

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Zambia camps
Toka Leya Camp update - December 2011
              Jump to Toka Leya Camp

Weather and Landscape
December has been a wonderful month, the summer rains have arrived in full force and not a single drop has gone to waste. The landscape has been transformed into a lush, green wonderland which has been decorated by the myriad of blossoming flowers which add vivid shades of blues, reds, oranges and pinks to the landscape. It is not only the vegetation which has celebrated new life, but also many species on the fauna side.

In terms of temperature, the month has been pleasantly warm, with daytime temperatures averaging around 30° C, cooling down to a comfy night-time temperature of 20° C on average. For the entire month, we received a total of 140mm of rain.

Wildlife
Game sightings have been absolutely outstanding this month. Herds of elephant, buffalo, giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, and a plethora of unusual game has been encountered on a daily basis, either out on drive, walk or boat ride. We have experienced great rhino sightings, either from the vehicle or on foot. Tracking rhino on foot is really mind-blowing and is a-once-in-a-lifetime experience, allowing one to completely connect with the environment on every level.

Hippo seen around Ruckomechi Camp    View of Victoria Falls

The water level of the Zambezi River has increased which allows us to traverse into channels that were impossible during the dry months thus increasing the chances of seeing a greater variety of interesting wildlife. Our river cruises have been fascinating and have provided stunning sightings - hippos splashing and yawning and enjoying the last bit of the sun, herds of elephant swimming across, herds of buffalo drinking, giraffe bending awkwardly to drink from the river's edge and a lot more.

The Victoria Falls are a spectacular sight of awe-inspiring beauty and magnificence this month as the water increases. Columns of spray are seen from miles away as millions of cubic metres of water plummet over the edge.

Birds and Birding
Birding has been exceptional to say the least and with all the rain in the area it can only get better. Special birds such as Taita Falcon, Verreauxs' Eagle and Rock Pratincoles have been seen occasionally around the Falls. Lots of other birds have been sighted from the river cruises, like African Fish-Eagle, Bateleur and the African Finfoot.

Elephant seen around Toka Leya Camp    African finfoot seen around Toka Leya Camp

Guest Comments
"It was a magnificent surprise for me to arrive at Toka Leya for the start of our honeymoon! We absolutely loved our stay here, from the stunning rooms to the food, game viewing, activities and excellent staff. Would love to come back again." Beverly and Robert (UK).

"Great experience on the Zambezi River and Victoria Falls." Saki (RSA).

"Exceptional, once in a life time experience! Thanks to the wonderful staff for their care of us and for the care of this environment." Jim and Lisa.

Staff in Camp
Managers: Solly Tevera, Evie Bwalya, Chipasha Mwamba, Mavis Daka and Amon Ngoma.
Guides: Sanford Sakala, Histon Samatamba, Donald lisama.

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Lufupa River Camp update - December 2011               Jump to Lufupa River Camp

No report this month.

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Lufupa Tented Camp update - December 2011               Jump to Lufupa Tented Camp

No report this month.

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Kalamu Lagoon Camp update - December 2011               Jump to Kalamu Lagoon Camp

No report this month.

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Shumba Camp update - December 2011               Jump to Shumba Camp

No report this month.

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Kapinga Camp update - December 2011               Jump to Kapinga Camp

No report this month.

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Busanga Bush Camp update - December 2011               Jump to Busanga Bush Camp

No report this month.

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Malawi camps
Mvuu Camp update - December 2011
               Jump to Mvuu Camp

No report this month.

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Mvuu Wilderness Lodge update - December 2011               Jump to Mvuu Camp

Weather and Landscape
The rainy season is yet to commence in full force at Mvuu. Occasional showers are occurring throughout the month (a total of 88mm of rainfall) but the weather remains dry and humid for the most part. Light showers over the month have yielded fresh bursts of vegetation and an abundance of wildflowers are now in bloom across the park.

Wildlife
Even though the rains have encouraged some growth of fresh vegetation, there are still a few clearly exposed areas across the floodplains which provide high visibility for game viewing. Most of the mammals (such as the many warthogs which can be seen grazing around the camp and lodge) are giving birth, and their young and can often be seen with them in tow.

Wardhog family at Mvuu Lodge

Mvuu's elephant herds continue to regularly visit the Shire River, however as the rainy season progresses and herd dynamics shift, they will eventually disperse into smaller units and venture away from the river to graze on fresh forest vegetation north of Liwonde National Park. 

It has been a month of exciting predator encounters and guests have been able to observe two rather intriguing kills. 

On December 5th, a large crocodile was seen dragging a bushbuck far from the water's edge near Tent 5 at Mvuu Lodge. This took place at approximately 5:00 am in the morning and the previous night guards had noticed the antelope near the river's edge appearing less at ease and more alert. The crocodile was seen again the next day walking towards the river, with half the bushbuck carcass in its mouth.

On December 6th, guide Jimmy spotted a water monitor lizard killing and making a meal of a young stripe-bellied sand snake (30cm in length), just north of Ntangai.  

Birds and Birding
The green season is ideal for birding at Mvuu. During the rains, many species are in breeding plumage and all the migrant birds in the area are present. As the winters of the northern hemisphere increase in severity, many migrant species fly south in search of more favourable climatic conditions. Additionally, fluctuating water levels increase the chances of some phenomenal sightings (especially that of larger flocks of storks, flamingos, pelicans and a variety of other water birds). 

At the end of November, three of our lapwing hybrid chicks (whose eggs appeared in last month's newsletter) have hatched, however according to our most recent reports, one egg is still being incubated. These hybrid lapwing chicks are the product of a Blacksmith Lapwing that bred with a Spur-winged Lapwing at Old Skimmer Bank to produce offspring which then bred with Spur-winged Lapwings. We've yet to get a really clear photo of the young chicks, but hope to get one over the next few weeks.

Camp Activities - Cycling Trip to Njobvu
If you're looking to experience the essence of rural Malawian life whilst contributing to a wonderful income-generating project for the local community at Mvuu, try our bike ride to Njobvu Cultural Village. 

The funds for the construction of Njobvu Cultural Village Lodge were provided by Wilderness Safaris in an effort to provide the local community with an alternative income to poaching and other activities that are harmful to the environment. Guests are able to hire a bike taxi service to Njobvu from Mvuu. They are then welcome to watch and participate in traditional dances, indulge in local flavours with an authentic rural meal and take a guided tour of the village. 

For those eager to try the entire Njobvu Cultural Village experience, accommodation in traditional brick mud huts with a mat laid on the floor is available. Please do note that because this project has been set up to help generate an income for villagers living in Liwonde National Park, guests participating in activities and spending the night at Njobvu will have to pay a minimal fee - all funds generated go directly to the village to be shared amongst all the villagers who run the lodge.

Lapwing at Mvuu Lodge

Camp News
The Mvuu team would like to say goodbye to Frank Weitzer, an eco-training guide at Mvuu who made significant contributions in the field and to our newsletters with his amazing photos. Frank returns to Germany as a fully qualified safari guide after completing his practical work at Mvuu. He was a great team player and will be missed by the whole Mvuu team. The Wilderness Safaris Team and everyone at Mvuu would like to wish him all the very best in his future endeavours.

Staff in Camp
Guides: Mc Loud, David, Matthews, George, Danford, Angel, Julius, Frank, Patrick, Duncan, Henry, Justin, Jimmy, Danger, Lawrence, James and Samuel. 

Newsletter done by Samuel.

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Mumbo Island update - December 2011               Jump to Mumbo Island

Weather and Landscape
Sunny skies, fabulous cloud formations and the occasional spectacular lightning storm - perfect festive weather! The island is green and all the secret bulbs are springing into bloom - a great time for island hikes.

As we start summer and head into the rainy season the fireball lilies (Scadoxus multiflorus ssp katharinae) burst out among the rocks. Three days after the first rainfall, Mumbo turned from brown to green and amongst the green were busts of red - the fireball lilies blooming. The blooms last from one to two weeks. The spherical flower cluster crowns a leafless stalk rising from the basal foliage. Star-shaped blossoms pack individual clusters creating Nature's most perfect Christmas decoration. The flowers' brilliant orange-red petals and long, yellow-anthered stamens combine to create the lily's wonderful fireball appearance. The baobab trees have also started to bloom, which adds a shade of white to the summer spectrum.

African Paradise flycatcher seen at Mumbo Island      Fireball lily at Mumbo Island

Cicadas make music on Mumbo
Cicadas are also known as Christmas beetles in Africa as this is when they are most active. They appear on Mumbo for the rainy season. Cicadas live in temperate to tropical climates where they are among the most widely recognised of all insects, mainly due to their large size and unique sound. Male cicadas have loud noisemakers called 'tymbals' on the sides of the abdominal base. Cicadas like heat and do their most spirited singing during the hotter hours of a day, in a roughly 24-hour cycle. Think of it as Mumbo's Christmas music!

Birds and Birding
The African Paradise-Flycatcher is a common resident breeder on Mumbo Island for the summer and rainy season.  This species is usually found in open forests and savannah habitats. Two or three eggs are laid in a tiny cup nest in a tree.  The adult male African Paradise-Flycatcher is about 17cm long, but the very long tail streamers double this. We have a local resident pair who has made their nest overhanging the path from the lounge down to the beach to the delight of Mumbo guests.

Camp News
As is tradition on Mumbo, the local choir from Chembe Village Church paid a surprise visit to the island just before Christmas Lunch was served to sing to the guests - who very much enjoyed the experience.

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Chelinda Lodge update - December 2011

Weather and Landscape
The weather at Nyika has been somewhat unpredictable but overall the highlands remain very cool and refreshing. Mornings are often misty and at approximately 9:00am, the mist usually lifts allowing for clearer views. As noon approaches, we've had light rains falling over much of the grasslands and patches of forest.

The orchids are now coming into bloom and Zungwara Road at present is the ideal spot to observe a multitude of emerging orchids. 

Wildlife
Large herds of eland are frequently being spotted throughout the park - quite often these herds would number in excess of 300. This super herd has been spotted close to Dam 3, Chosi Viewpoint and Dembo.

Orchids in full bloom at Chelinda Lodge    Grass starding to become green

In terms of spotted feline sightings this month, leopards have been rather elusive. Serval sightings remain consistent, and we managed to have nine great sightings throughout the month - one of the sightings was a hunting foray on the airstrip. Staying on the predatory team, side-striped jackal sightings have been great with a total of ten sightings for the month.

Birds and Birding
Wattled Cranes are still being seen on the plateau where they seem to have made a home for themselves. Denham's Bustard sightings continue to rise with a total of twelve Denham's Bustard being spotted this month near Chelinda Bridge and Nganda Road.

Hunting around Chelinda Lodge

The beginning of the rains (the green season) usually coincides with the arrival of many migrant birds which come back from the less hospitable climates north of the equator. Although the ideal time for spotting the bulk of Nyika's migrant birds is between February and March, sightings of migrant species are still common during this time of year. A migrant Pallid Harrier was seen on two occasions this month, on December 4th, this visiting bird of prey was spotted hunting in flight on Dembo Loop.

Guest Comments
"The warm, cosy atmosphere was outstanding. Every need was met." Caroline (RSA).

Staff in Camp
Guides: Apollo, Whyte, Brave, Patrick and Sam.

Newsletter compiled by Sam.

 


Namibia camps
Desert Rhino Camp update - December 2011               Jump to Desert Rhino Camp

Weather and Landscape
No rains yet... thus the landscape remains covered in a sea of yellow grass, dotted with Damaraland euphorbia and whip-stick acacias. The daytime temperatures have been ranging from warm to hot, with little cloud cover offering temporary respite from the searing heat.

Sky over Desert Rhino Camp

Wildlife
Two weeks ago the rhino called Dessy was in oestrus and she moved into Don't Worry's territory - ready for mating. Dessy is eight years old and has not had a calf yet, so we will be expecting her first calf in about 16 months' time. Don't Worry is a sub-dominant bull, born in 1990 and his home range size is about 110 square kilometres. He shares his home range with his three sons namely: Tensie, Teabag and Erwin. 

After eight months of being absent from the Desert Rhino Camp area, Getaway decided to give the guests an early Christmas present and grace them with his presence on the 24th. He is known to be very nervous but during this sighting he was really relaxed and calm and allowed the guests to watch him for some time. He is a breeding bull, born in 1975, and his home range is about 409 square kilometres. All in all, our guests had good rhino sightings during the month of December 2011.

Rhino seen around Desert Rhino Camp    Elephants around Desert Rhino Camp

General game viewing was also very good. Elephants were seen a few times; a breeding herd of nine, plus a lone bull. We also spotted a leopard with the guests - the animal was very relaxed and thus provided the guests with a superb sighting which lasted a good eight or nine minutes - this provided great photographic opportunities for all.

Birds and Birding
Bird life present in the area, in the form of Secretarybird, Ludwig's Bustard, Swallow-tailed Bee-eater, as well as Black-chested Snake-Eagle, were seen regularly, but due to the lack of rains, no visiting migrant birds just yet.

Guest Comments
"The variety of animals seen in this environment was mind blowing and was enhanced by the beauty and starkness of the landscape."

"The use and awareness of conservation was excellent."

"Dedicated staff, excellent service, and top safety of guests. Information of tracking, professional guides - thank you! The environment was beautiful and provided a true feeling of wilderness and serenity."

Staff in Camp
Managers: Helen, Ian and Lizl.
Guides: Ali, Raymond and Moses.


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Palmwag Lodge update - December 2011               Jump to Palmwag Lodge

No report this month.


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Doro Nawas Camp update - December 2011               Jump to Doro Nawas Camp

Weather and Landscape
The rainy season is slowly approaching Doro Nawas and its surrounding areas, as we experienced cloud cover on most days with a couple of light afternoon showers. In terms of temperature, the maximum reached was 38° C with an average low of 18° C.

The landscape has dried out significantly and will surely bounce back with vigour once the summer rains arrive.

Giraffe seen around Doro Nawas Camp    Desert elephant seen around Doro Nawas Camp

Wildlife
This month, we were very successful with desert-adapted elephant sightings, as both the Rosie and Oscar herds have settled in the areas surrounding the camp. Both herds have small babies which are doing well and are growing rapidly. On most drives, the guides have been successful in finding these highly adaptive elephant herds.

Apart from the larger mammalian species, the smaller wonders of the environment have been thoroughly enjoyed by our guests. Star-gazing proves to be a firm favourite amongst our guests as well as scorpion viewing. Ignatius, one of our camp guides, has been taking out scorpion walks around camp at night, using his ultra-violet light to highlight the scorpions at night. 

Camp News
Doro Nawas Camp and Damaraland Camp guides got together on the 10th of December to share and discuss new ideas on how to improve and enhance the game drive experience as a whole. The main aim of the get-together was to formulate a strategy for full day guided tours through the Torra Conservancy which focused on elephant tracking as well as the variety of aspects of this unique environment. It provided a great opportunity for all the guides to share their areas of interest and expertise with one another.

As all the local schools had closed for the summer break by mid-December, many of the staff members' kids were able to spend some time at the camp with their parents. This provided the perfect opportunity for camp guide, Richard, to share ideas of conservation with the younger generation. The kids learnt the importance of keeping the environment clean.

Lobster Ink, a company specialising in raising the standard of hospitality in the tourism industry, spent some time at the camp getting to know the staff. The camp staff will receive ongoing training from the Lobster Ink team, which will provided additional qualifications for all camp staff.

Camp staff being trained

Staff in Camp
Managers: Agnes Bezuidenhout, Morien Aebes, Theobald Kamatoto, Emsie Skrywer and Jason Lundon.
Guides: Michael Kauari, Ignatius Khamuseb, Richardt Orr and Action Hambo.

This month's newsletter was done by: Theobald Kamatoto and Ignatius Khamuseb.


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Damaraland Camp update - December 2011               Jump to Damaraland Camp

No report this month.

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Skeleton Coast Camp update - December 2011               Jump to Skeleton Coast Camp

No report this month.

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Serra Cafema Camp update - December 2011               Jump to Serra Cafema Camp

Weather and Landscape
December's weather can be summarised as being hot and dry. There was a daily cloud build-up, also building up our hopes of rain, which just dissipated in much the same fashion as the clouds did; having said this, we did have a little rain towards the end of the month. 

The water levels in the Kunene River have risen considerably however, which means there have been substantial rains upstream.

Wildlife
With the water levels rising in the Kunene River, we have experienced an influx of large crocodiles along the river. On one occasion, our guests had the luck to watch a large crocodile devour its prey - slowly twisting and turning in the water, effectively breaking off small chunks of flesh which are easy to swallow.

Bird seen at Serra Cafema Camp    Kunene River water level

Another crocodilian splendour was experienced from the boat, when we came across a nesting crocodile. The large female croc had around 13-15 little hatchlings. We watched as she transported them from the nest, which was a fair deal higher than the high water level. It was amazing to watch her monstrous and well equipped jaws delicately pick up the hatchlings and transport them to the water's edge - truly amazing! It was clear that the mother was quite protective over her young, which is a unique trait amongst crocodiles - considering most other reptiles provide no post-natal care.

Camp News
The local Himba people have moved a little further away from camp, into an area that will provide their goats with better grazing; it also allows the area in which they previously inhabited to recover. This has made for some really scenic drives to the new village location.

Taking a rest at Serra Cafema Camp    Crocodile with hatchlings seen at Serra Cafema Camp

On another note, we would like to welcome Gert to the Serra Cafema guiding team; we wish him the best of luck!

Guest Comments
"We had a fantastic stay in this well-run lodge. The service and the food was excellent. The location is ideal for rest and relaxation and to get away from the city and the pollution. We will be back and recommend it to our friends." The Pasani Family (Malta).

"Perfect setting for the end of our Namibia Adventure. Thanks to the wonderful staff for making it so comfortable. No request was not taken care of. Thanks especially to Dawid for all of his efforts and knowledge." Judy and Jack (USA).

Staff in Camp
Managers: Harry, Dawid, Gerhardus, Gert and Dinish.
Guides: Ockert, Lynette, Elizabeth and Gert.

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Ongava Tented Camp update - December 2011               Jump to Ongava Tented Camp

No report this month.

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Little Ongava update - December 2011               Jump to Little Ongava Camp

No report this month.

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Ongava Lodge update - December 2011               Jump to Ongava Lodge

No report this month.

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Andersson's Camp update - December 2011               Jump to Andersson's Camp

Weather and Landscape
This month the weather has been very unpredictable but the great news is that the rainy season has started. We had a few rain storms around Etosha and Ongava Game Reserve, which sparked a dramatic change to the environment. Everything has turned into a shade of emerald green. It's wonderful to be able to witness such a quick change - the green grass shoots started emerging only three days after the first good rain storm.

Sormy sky over Andersson's Camp

The temperature has also dropped a bit due to the rain, so everyone has been able to enjoy the cool evenings. The rain created some fairly humid conditions during the day which definitely increased the camp pool's popularity!

Wildlife
This month, the game viewing was slightly more challenging than the winter months.

This is due to the fact that the wildlife can easily find water around the area and the animals don't need to go to specific waterholes for a drink. Also the animals are feeding on a lot more fresh grass which already contains a great quantity of water inside and so the animals don't need to drink as much water. 

The elephants in Etosha have also moved to the north leaving behind only the four dominant bulls in the Okaukuejo area. We will be able to see the big herds only next year at the end of the rainy season. The black rhinos are also starting to be more difficult to see as they tend to spend time in the thicker vegetation.

Some guests have also been very lucky to still have some great sightings, including some white rhinos with their calves and also the lions have been showing off a bit. There have been sightings of lion kills both in Etosha and in Ongava. One guest was also very lucky to witness a cheetah kill right next to the road in Etosha.

Due to the rain, we have also been seeing a lot of insects around, especially in the evenings. There has been a mass emergence of flap-necked chameleons around camp, which also provided a good amount of entertainment for the guests.

Rainbow after a storm    Camilion seen at Andersson's Camp

Birds and Birding
This month we were quite excited to see a pair of Golden-tailed Woodpeckers around the camp. We don't see them very often but the pair was very relaxed and we managed to observe them as they systematically searched each tree around camp for food. The Red-billed Buffalo-Weavers have also been quite busy this month renovating their nests on top of the marula tree next to the pool.

Guest Comments
"Your staff is the friendliest of any camp and hotel staff we met on our trip."

"Delightful warm staff, food was excellent and tastefully presented. Keep up the joyful spirit! We had a wonderful time."

"Excellent guided trips with Frans, very friendly welcoming staff, good food and comfortable beds. Thank you for a great stay."

Staff in Camp
Managers: Silvia Morgante, Corne Cocklin, Corrie Adams and Sakkie Hoeseb.
Guides: Shilongo Sauges, Franz Nuyoma and Ramon Coetzee.

Pictures by Silvia Morgante.

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Little Kulala Camp update - December 2011               Jump to Little Kulala Camp

No report this month.

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Kulala Desert Lodge update - December 2011               Jump to Kulala Desert Lodge

No report this month.

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Kulala Wilderness Camp update - December 2011               Jump to Kulala Wilderness Camp

No report this month.

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Kenya camps
Governors' Camp update - December 2011               Jump to Governors' Camp

Weather and grasslands
We have had lots of rain over the last month which has left a stunning landscape with varying shades of green. The grass has grown all over the Mara. The common grass here is Red oat grass (Themeda Triandra) and in some low lying areas it is almost four feet in height and there are small pockets of Elephant grass (Hyparrhenia sp) and this grass is a good thatching grass and can reach heights of over 7 feet. On the 20th we received 57 mm of rain. Total rainfall for December was 151.5 mm. It has generally been quite wet with afternoon and evening showers. Mid day temperatures were 28°C and early morning 23°C.

Early on in December the Mara River rose to quite a high level, receding again by late month.

Landscape at Governors' Camp
Photo courtesy of Katie McLellan

General game
Game viewing has been excellent despite the long grass and wet and slippery conditions. There has been good lion activity with some different males arriving on the scene in Bila Shaka and Musiara.

Christmas day’ was a bonus day of game sightings, in the afternoon of this day the ‘Big five’ were seen before 6.00pm.

Good numbers of Elephant remain on the Musiara and Bila Shaka grassland plains. As grass levels have improved this has brought many Elephant back, also within these family units there quite a few young calves. An average of over 100 Elephant can be seen at any one time. Large bulls that are in Musth have been moving back and forth sourcing females in oestrus and some of the bulls have been seen sparing, it is awesome to see two large bulls squaring off, their tremendous strength and weight mean that sometimes they inflict bad injuries on the other.

Musth is a periodic condition in bull elephants, characterized occasionally by highly aggressive behavior, accompanied by a large rise in reproductive hormones, noticeably on these large bulls there is a discharge called temporin which oozes out from their temporal glands, during Musth this temporin contains high levels of testosterone plasma and this can literally run down the cheeks. African Elephant can stay in Musth for up to nearly three weeks to a month or so.

Elephant fights
Photo courtesy of Sharon Roles

The large herd of buffalo has been seen on Rhino Ridge and also Bila Shaka buffalo move about and reside in areas where there are course grasses. There are many calves in this herd, some of which have fallen prey to Spotted Hyena and Lion.

Topi with a few one month old calves can be found on Topi plains, Paradise and Rhino ridge. Topi have a narrow muzzle so are bite selectors and when they have access to enough green fodder, topi usually don’t have to drink. They drink every day or two when subsisting on dry grass. With the good grass levels at present Topi can be seen in large numbers in certain areas. Cokes Hartebeest with young that are six weeks old can be seen on Rhino Ridge and Topi plains and good numbers of them at Bila Shaka.
The Warburgia trees are fruiting now and this has brought the Olive Baboons and some Blue Monkeys, Schalow’s Turacos and many green pigeons. Elephant also love these fruit and while good grazing is available this will hold them back out, although a few individual elephant have been foraging through the camps at night.

We have enjoyed good viewing of Giraffe all over the riverine woodlands and close to the camps. There are many calves amongst these loose associated herds and these calves remain in crèches. There are also male herds and these number up to 16 of varying ages. The larger breeding males will travel great distances looking for oestrus females.

Giraffe around Governors' Camp
Photo courtesy of Patrick Reyonlds

On Rhino ridge and topi plains many Bat eared fox’s are seen close to their dens or out foraging, these little fox’s also have young pups. In these wet conditions many species of termites are continually expanding their colonies and so this is a good time for these insectivorous foxes to feed well. Termites with wings (also called swarmers or alates) are reproductive’s that leave the nest to start new colonies. Alates lose or shed their wings soon after they swarm. Termites form a major role in the diet of Bat eared Foxes.

Crested cranes have been seen courting near the Marsh, this is quite an elaborate affair. One female near the causeway is sitting on eggs.

There are a few common Zebra in pockets near topi plains and also Rhino Ridge; with more of them in the conservation areas. Warthog and piglets that are 3 months old now will still be seen in all areas where there are open grassland plains, many of these piglets were heavily preyed on in October and November when grass levels were low and lion, leopard and hyena could see them from afar. Many sows that have piglets only have two or three left. Lion will also readily dig out warthog from their bolt holes. Impala and Olive Baboons can be seen within the camp woodlands and also Bush Buck. Male Bushbucks are quite habitual and will secretly emerge out into the open glades with the soft morning and evening light. Many Lilac Breasted rollers can be seen on the roadsides and also in the grassland verges, they seem to be feeing off the brown grasshoppers, these are a truly striking bird and in good light make great photographic subjects.

Reedbuck are also seen within the Musiara marsh, reedbuck like coarse grasses and will be found in low lying flood plains; during the dry months from August through to October the reedbuck had to compromise their habitat, many succumbed to predation from cheetah and leopard.

There have been many crocodiles on the banks of the Mara River basking and regulating their body temperature. They are ectothermic, (or "cold-blooded") this refers to creatures that control body temperature through external means. As a result, they are dependent on environmental heat sources and have relatively low metabolic rates, all reptiles have to regulate their body temperature from an outside source, some of these crocodile on the Mara river will reach 16 feet and weigh in excess of a 1,000 kgs, which is huge!

Crocodiles seen around Governors' Camp
Photo courtesy of Katie McLellan

We have had lovely sightings of Black rhino particularly on paradise plains and Rhino Ridge.

There are some lovely butterflies within the camp grounds particularly the swallow-tails; Mocker swallow tail (Papilio Dardanus), Green banded swallow-tail (Papilio phorcas) Noble swallow tail) Papilio Nobilis) and Narrow green-banded swallowtail (P.Nireus)

Lion
Bila Shaka/ marsh pride
The Marsh pride can be seen anywhere from the Musiara Marsh, Bila Shaka and as far as Rhino ridge. On Christmas eve the four new Marsh males killed a large male Buffalo at Bila Shaka and were still feasting on the remains on Christmas day.

Lion with kill at Governors' Camp
Photo courtesy of Peggy Chodorow

One of the males was seen mating with Bibi and the one with the damaged eye is slowly recovering and it is perhaps his luck that he did not lose the sight of that eye.
The 5 cubs of the Marsh pride of which one of the cubs is much younger (seven months old and the other four cubs are 10 months old) are doing well and are being seen mostly on Rhino ridge.

The 4 large males related to 'Notch' are being seen near the Talek river and the double crossing area, 'Notch' himself has been seen, he is looking his age though, they have been seen feeding off warthog and topi. One of these males was seen on the 26th at Bila Shaka.

On the 20th December on the plains to the east of Rhino Ridge in area called Naibor soit meaning white stones in Maa there was another male lion, who in 2009 met up with 3 Marsh Females that took flight in the takeover when Notch and his brother moved in 2004 and they since have resided in the Naibor soit area. This male lion looked very worse for wear and seemed to be suffering from many injuries perhaps as a result of a scuffle with other lions.

On Christmas day at 7.30am near the Toyota site close to paradise plains two young male lion from the Marsh pride that were looking for warthog jumped a hippo that was returning back to water and did not bring it down but made a determined effort.

Lion on kill
Photo courtesy of Nick Kourides

On the west side of Rhino Ridge the 9 females of the Paradise pride had killed a Topi early that morning and were being badgered by 30 + spotted hyena. The Hyena then dispersed quickly when an old male lion suddenly arrived on the scene and chased the hyena off. This was Clawed the old Marsh pride Male but as he is still limping heavily and not very agile the Hyena then re-grouped, turned the tables again, and chased him off, he and the females dispersed and the hyenas finished off what was left of the topi.

On boxing day four females of the Marsh pride had killed a female defassa waterbuck near Lake Nakuru within the Musiara Marsh. The Marsh pride also has been feeding off the many warthog that are in the Bila Shaka and Rhino Ridge grassland plains. On the 28th two lionesses from the Marsh pride caught and killed a warthog and piglet near Bila Shaka. There is also some new exciting news to report that one of the females from the Marsh pride has 4 new cubs that are around 5 weeks old.

Cheetah
A female Cheetah that is assumed pregnant has been seen near the Double crossing and also near Olkiombo and she has been sitting on cars recently so she has been well photographed, she was last seen on the 26th near Rhino Ridge.

The two males have been seen once only on the other side of the Talek River and that was early on in the month. Another female with an eight month old cub has been seen near Olkiombo and she has been feeding of Thompson Gazelles.

Leopard
Olive and her 12 month old cub have been seen quite recently but her older male cub has not been seen often.

The large male Leopard has been seen in the river bed south of Bila Shaka looking towards Rhino ridge and also at the Bila Shaka riverbed crossing.

Leopard seen around Governors' Camp
Photo courtesy of Sharon Roles

A female that is often seen near the croton thickets on the rocky hill south of Paradise plains near the Serena pump house has been seen more frequently with some good scenes of her crossing the salt lick flats near the Mara River. She has two young cubs and they are difficult to see, although a glimpse of them was seen in the early evening of the 19th.


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Rwanda camps
Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge update - December 2011

No report this month.


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