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Kalamu Lagoon Camp wins SLCS Eco Award
November 2011 - Wilderness Safaris Zambia is proud to announce that 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.
SLCS's Eco Awards assesses camps or operations on the following criteria: Environmental Policy and Mission, Environmental Conservation, Emissions and Wastes, Natural Resource use and Social Criteria. Kalamu Lagoon is the second camp ever to receive this commendation, for its excellent efforts in sustainable tourism and its contribution - along with Wilderness Safaris Zambia - to the protection of South Luangwa's wildlife and natural resources.
Anna Tolan, coordinator of the non-commercial scheme, stated: "Congratulations on your achievement of a Silver South Luangwa Eco Award, and for becoming the second tour operator in South Luangwa to achieve an accreditation. The enormous effort that the management and staff in general have put into the environmental and social management of your facility is endorsed by the Award and is to be highly commended."
The South Luangwa Conservation Society is a non-profit community-based organisation committed to the conservation and preservation of the local wildlife and natural resources in Luangwa and at the same time ensuring and encouraging community development amongst local populations. The Wilderness Trust has provided funds for the Society's wet season anti-poaching efforts over a number of years.
The Eco Awards have received Zambia Tourism Board endorsement and have been recognised by the Tourism Sustainability Council of South Africa.
Wilderness Namibia Unveiled as First Location in NBC TODAY Show's "Where in the World is Matt Lauer?"
7 November 2011 - Wilderness Safaris' Namibia camps were chosen as the first locations for the 10th anniversary of the TODAY Show's popular "Where in the World is Matt Lauer?" series. TODAY's "Where in the World" features Lauer's exotic travels around the world and Namibia was selected by its producers to kick off the week-long series, thanks to the country's stunning scenic landscapes, incredible wildlife and successful conservation initiatives.
As Namibia was revealed as Lauer's first secret location with him standing atop a sand dune - which he later skied down - at the start of TODAY, he remarked, "We're in one of the most amazing countries we've been to in the 10 years I've been doing this series. It's like something out of a movie."
TODAY's crews experienced a number of the regions in which Wilderness Safaris Namibia operates, from the stupendous Sossusvlei dunes to the starkly beautiful Damaraland.
Savannah Guthrie - who was waiting for Matt on the coast - was in awe of the amazing desert-adapted elephants that thrive in the area. TODAY crews also spent time interacting with the people of the country, including the Himba.
"The people are the best part about the country," said Guthrie. "They are so friendly and welcoming."
Three Wilderness Camps join the Zeitz Foundation's Long Run Initiative
The Long Run Initiative aims to build global synergies creating trustworthy locations around the world that have demonstrated that they are truly committed to sustainability. The coming together of these model organisations under one umbrella serves to pool the positive effects of innovative projects and activities, creating synergies between them and contributing to the collective knowledge base that will lead to sustainable business practises globally. DumaTau and Mombo in Botswana and Toka Leya in Zambia are new members of the initiative.
The River Club Eats Organic
The River Club has been cultivating an organic vegetable garden. Head gardener "Green hands" Gilbert produces tomatoes, radishes, lettuce, spring onions, carrots, beans, a host of herbs, lemons, limes, mangoes, chillies, spinach and more for the kitchen. This ensures a lighter footprint for both The River Club and its guests, as well as healthier eating! The garden, under Gilbert's leadership, is also growing trees for planting in the Simonga area.
Children in the Wilderness News
It's that exciting time of year again when the majority of our CITW programmes are held in camps across the region, from Pafuri Camp in South Africa to Toka Leya in Zambia. Reports from these camps will follow in the coming months, and we wish all the leaders and mentors a fabulous camp season, as they set out to inspire more children in Africa.
Jewel Africa donates 5% of guest purchases to CITW
Jewel Africa, specialising in diamonds and African art, has showrooms in both Johannesburg and Cape Town. For any Wilderness guest making a purchase at either of their stores, Jewel Africa will donate 5% to Children in the Wilderness.
CITW Zimbabwe School Project - Updates
For the first time in its history, Ziga Primary School received two awards - one for the Best Grade 7 results for a small rural school in Matabeleland, and the other for the "Most Enterprising School" - definitely as a result of this project. In addition, the refurbishment and rebuilding of Ziga's classrooms is now complete, and the new borehole is fully functional, thanks in part to the Wilderness Trust - plus they recently received new desks and chairs for the new Grade One classroom too.
Ngamo Secondary School is now ready for occupation! The new school is just 2km from the Primary School, and all four classrooms are now complete, with some teacher accommodation too. A wonderful celebration is being planned to commemorate this momentous occasion. We will now be able to focus on getting one more classroom block built, as well as smaller projects that will get the secondary school running at full speed.
The Nutrition Programme has continued throughout the year, and thanks to another generous donor, we are now feeding 980 children in the Tsholotsho District one meal per school day. This is a very necessary programme at this time of year, when last year's harvest is almost depleted.
Mombo Wild Dog Kidnaps Jackals
Sighting: Mombo Wild Dog Kidnap
Location: Mombo Camp, Chiefs Island, Botswana
Observers: Ryan Green and Brad Bestelink
Photographs: Ryan Green
The unusual story of the lone wild dog at Mombo has taken yet another fascinating turn. As is known, she had been associating with at least two packs of jackals in the airstrip and Siberiana Road area of the concession for the best part of a year, until one of these packs produced puppies at the end of August. The parents of these puppies were very protective of their offspring and wouldn't allow the curious dog anywhere near them while they were suckling. We presumed that as the pups grew older and started to feed on solid food, she would then follow the previously observed pattern of regurgitating food for the puppies after hunting with the adult jackals, as she had done for these adults when they had been young.
What happened next however, came as a complete surprise: she abandoned the pack she had been with, and moved northwards to find another pair of jackals who had four very young pups in a den. These were jackals she hadn't been previously observed associating with at all. Initially, the dog ingratiated herself with the jackals by either hunting cooperatively with them, or by calling them to kills she had made. Once the puppies started to feed on solids she started to regurgitate meat for them as well, as she has been recorded to do in previous years.
After a couple of weeks of this however, she began to behave aggressively towards the adult jackals, chasing them away from the den site while trying to gain possession of the puppies. This sparked off competitive behaviour between the dog and the jackals as each species vied to feed the puppies first after hunting. Things took a stranger turn when the adults moved the puppies to another den, approximately 100 metres away. Jackals do not normally move den sites, so this must have been in response to the dog's attentions.
Once the four puppies were installed in this den, the dog did something we have never seen before - she "kidnapped" three of them, and led them back to their original den, all the while growling and lunging at the adults who followed. For the next few days, the dog continued to hunt and to regurgitate food for these three puppies, while the parents, who were now more antagonistic during hunts alongside the dog, fed the remaining pup at the new den. They also continued to visit the old den site to keep an eye on the other pups, but were thwarted from coming too close by the dog's growls.
At one stage a hyaena came along and investigated the hole, standing shoulder to shoulder with the dog while looking into the den. This behaviour wasn't repeated again though - in fact, when any hyaenas came by after that, the dog behaved aggressively towards them.
Things came to a head a few days later when one of the adults tried to lead the three abducted puppies away from the dog's den while she wasn't looking, and managed to hide them under an acacia close by before the dog noticed what had happened. She pursued the jackals and in the melee, herded two back to "her" den. The third remained hidden in the bush and went unnoticed by the dog, but not by the jackal. When the jackal tried to lead the bewildered pup away, however, after a few minutes of dodging around the area, it made a dash back to the den where the dog had taken its siblings. The dog then went and lay in the shade some way off, having chased the adult jackal away. The jackal, seeing its chance after a short while, called all three pups out of the den while it was out of the dog's sight. All three were then successfully reunited with their remaining sibling while the dog was none the wiser. Later that afternoon, once she realised the pups were no longer in the den, she made her way to the new den, only to find that the adult jackals now had the upper hand.
The following morning the dog was nowhere to be seen, and we watched the adult jackals hunt and kill an impala lamb before returning to the den to feed the puppies. We then went to the dog's old haunts to see if she might have returned there, but the search proved fruitless - the other jackal packs were alone.
Towards dusk that evening, the adult jackals returned to the den after an unsuccessful hunting foray, and weren't able to regurgitate in response to the puppies' nipping their jaws. It was exactly then that the dog chose to make her return, face covered in blood, and run up to feed the puppies. If the adults approached, she growled at them and forced them away while she watched the pups consume the regurgitated meat. After this, she displaced the jackals by lying close to the entrance to the den.
A day later now, she is still close to the den, as are the parents, and an armed truce seems to prevail. What to make of this behaviour is the next mystery to unravel.
A Costly Clash between Packs
Sighting: A Costly Clash between Packs
Location: Savuti Camp, Linyanti Concession, Botswana
Observer: Grant Atkinson
Photographer: Grant Atkinson
There are two packs of wild dogs that make use of the area around DumaTau and Savuti Camp. One is called the Zibadianja Pack (named after the local name for a large lagoon that forms the source of the Savute Channel). The other is known as the Linyanti Pack. Both packs denned successfully during the 2011 season, with the Zib Pack bringing 13 pups out of a den near Selinda Camp, far to the west, and the Linyanti Pack emerging slightly earlier from their den (east of DumaTau) with 10 pups.
This is always a period that we watch with interest in order to measure the levels of mortality in the vulnerable young pups. The Linyanti Pack lost one pup soon after moving away from the den in early August, leaving nine healthy youngsters for the pack to look after. The Zib Pack also lost a single pup by the time they left the den, leaving 12 youngsters remaining.
After this post-denning period, both packs moved towards the productive hunting grounds of the Savute Channel in the Linyanti Concession. Wild dog packs are territorial, and defend their hunting territories fiercely against other dog packs. The Savute Channel, at a depth deep enough to deter crossing especially with young pups, lay between the two packs though, and by September both packs were hunting along the length of the channel, on opposite sides. It was during this month however that two dogs from the Linyanti Pack, including the alpha female, disappeared. The cause of the disappearance was unknown to us, but as her pups had finished suckling this did not have a direct impact on their survival, although the alpha female was obviously an important dog in her pack. The loss reduced the Linyanti pack to nine adults and the nine remaining pups.
For several days in early October after this disappearance the two dog packs were opposite one another on the Savute Channel and finally the tension became too much. The larger Zib Pack crossed to the north bank, and attacked the waiting Linyanti Pack in a savage territorial fight. After the fight, the dogs were scattered for several days. The cost of the fight was high, with two adult dogs from the Zib Pack dead or missing, leaving the pack ten adults strong. All twelve pups survived unscathed.
The Linyanti Pack appeared to have lost the fight, and moved to the east - which means that we have not been able to observe these animals since the clash, and do not yet have a clear idea of any adult mortalities - all their pups have survived however.
Since the clash, the Zib Pack has suffered further mortalities, losing two pups to lion attacks. This really puts into stark relief just how finely balanced wild dog survival is. It is not all bad news for the dogs however, as both packs still have a high percentage of their pups remaining alive after six months, and each day that the pups survive sees them bigger, stronger, faster and more likely to make it to adulthood.
A Play on Pangolins
Sighting: A Play on Pangolins
Location: Seba Camp, Abu Concession, Botswana
Date: 20 November 2011
Observer: Anne Marchington, Joseph Molekoa and Matamo
Photographs: Joseph Molekoa
For those of us who have the privilege of working here in the Okavango Delta, each day brings its own surprises; and some are more surprising than the next!
On a beautiful early morning drive, heading south of the Abu airstrip towards Deep Crossing, Seba guides Joseph and Matamo spotted lion spoor on the road... and so the adventure began.
Not long after this, their tracking skills were rewarded with a sighting of three young sub-adult lion cubs frolicking in the grass on an open floodplain. This pride is known to them and it appeared as if they were just enjoying the coolness of the morning, waiting for mum to call them for breakfast.
While guides and guests were watching their antics, the three juveniles suddenly stopped cavorting and it became quite evident from their behaviour, that they had spotted something moving in the tall grass nearby. The bravest of the three immediately adopted a stalking stance and slowly crept forward to investigate what had disrupted their play. To the utter amazement of the onlookers, the youngster had discovered one of Africa's "lifers", the rare and elusive pangolin.
The ground pangolin sometimes better known as the scaly anteater is one of those creatures that everyone talks about but rarely gets the opportunity to see.
This is indeed one of our planet's strangest looking creatures which, contrary to popular belief, is not related to the armadillo found in desert areas of the Americas. It is estimated that the Southern African pangolin has been around for 40 million years, adapting itself to the ever changing environment in order to survive.
Normally nocturnal, this creature can grow to a length of one metre, depending on its gender, and can weigh up to 14.5kg. It has a small head, no teeth and no external ears, a long tail and is adorned with hard keratinous protective horny, overlapping scales.
All of these features put together - while making for a very strange looking creature - contribute to its survival.
The dried up floodplains surrounding Seba and Abu Camps is quite simply an ideal habitat for these rare animals, which feed mostly on ants and termites but are also known to feed on a variety of arthropods. As they are toothless, they use their extremely long tongues (up to 16 inches long) to extract their prey. Large salivary glands coat the long tongue with gummy mucus to which ants and termites stick. Their stomach is also specially adapted for grinding food. This process is helped along by the small stones and sand which they consume.
For protection, pangolins rely on their ability to roll themselves into a tight ball, and it takes considerable force to unroll them. The cutting action of their armour-plated scales, worked by powerful muscles, protects them too, by inflicting serious wounds on anything inserted between them.
In this case, the three feline musketeers displayed more curiosity than boisterousness and kept themselves amused rather than trying to eat pangolin for breakfast which might have put the pangolin defence mechanisms to a more severe test.
Lions, leopards and other large animals such as hyaena do occasionally prey on pangolins, but they are obviously well-protected from smaller predators.
The very lucky guests who witnessed this sighting had no idea what they had woken up to that beautiful morning, it is a sighting that would normally bring tears of amazement to most guides and other bush lovers who have spent a life time searching, in the hope of getting the tiniest glimpse of this prehistoric creature - and here in the Abu Concession, we have seen two in the past couple of weeks.
As the saying goes, "seeing a pangolin will bring you great luck and great wealth" so at this stage we are all feeling touched with good fortune!
Battle of the two Kings - at Kings Pool
Sighting: Battle of the two Kings
Location: Kings Pool Camp, Linyanti, Botswana
Photographs: Callum Sargent
The Kings Pool resident male lion, Romeo, has become famous and well-loved for his vain tendencies - he patrols his territory and devotes time and energy to preserving his perfect, unscarred appearance and wooing the females of the area. Guests adore his majestic looks and his fondness for the camera, and he is forgiven for his somewhat cowardly habits of running in the opposite direction when the Selinda Boys venture over into his domain.
It came as a huge surprise, then, when one morning recently the radio lit up with reports of a bleeding and badly injured Romeo, and furthermore, another male lion - dead.
After months of teasing Romeo for his vanity, it seemed that he had proven us all wrong. In what appeared to be a landslide victory, Romeo had killed one of the Selinda Boys in the night. The dead male lion lay on his side, and it was only the damage to his face that revealed Romeo's method of attack- he had suffered a swift blow to the head and had most likely been suffocated by the so-called 'docile' resident male.
The victor was not unscarred, however, and lay nearby looking very sorry for himself and licking his paw, which appeared to have suffered a severe puncture wound. Over the next few days, Romeo did not stray far from the remains of his adversary, and the vultures began to close in on the dead lion.
OD, one of the Kings Pool guides, witnessed some fascinating behaviour when two lionesses caught the scent of the dead lion whilst walking near the river. They cautiously approached, with an adolescent male following behind, and appeared to be 'stalking' the carcass. Suddenly, they stopped, and seemed very frightened as they identified the scent as belonging to one of the Selinda males; not realising that he was dead, they turned abruptly and ran in the opposite direction. Romeo tried to follow, moaning after them with pitiful contact calls, but they did not even glance back, too terrified to risk an encounter with a male who may well have been responsible for the deaths of their two young cubs.
All in all, the event made for some very interesting interaction amongst the lions. We are pleased to report that Romeo is on the mend and back to his usual, self-indulgent patrols around the concession.
A final note: The other member of the Selinda Boys is still missing and has not been seen for some time - perhaps he has also fallen to the Kings Pool King?
Change in Activities at Banoka Bush Camp
Please note that with immediate effect, both boating and walking will not be on offer at Banoka for the time being. There will be no walking until the end of the year as there are no walking qualified guides in camp and no motor boat activities until the water levels rise again next year – they are now too low and therefore both the activity plus safety is compromised.
No More Walking in the Jao Concession
Please be advised that walking will no longer be offered in the Jao Concession – which includes Jao, Kwetsani, Jacana and Tubu Tree camps. A shortage of walking qualified guides in Botswana and limited areas for walking due to animal congestion or high water levels as well as safety being of prime concern, has resulted in this decision. Activities still on offer include day and night game drives, mekoros, boating & fishing (both seasonal), birding and the hide sleep-out.
New Banoka Airstrip Update
The process to obtain permission to build an airstrip closer to camp is a long and complicated one but we hope to have the new Banoka Airstrip completed by the end of March 2012.
Selinda Airstrip Update
The new Selinda Airstrip has opened 3.3km south-west of the previous airstrip and will be utilised by both Selinda (approximately 25 mins vehicle and boat) and Zarafa camps (approximately 30 mins by vehicle), as well as for the Selinda Canoe Trail.
Pilot/Guide Accommodation at Kalahari Plains Camp
A pilot/guide room is scheduled for completion by 1 December 2011 at Kalahari Plains.
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. Any existing bookings and new bookings will be accommodated at Little Mombo.
Sleep-outs at Chitabe
Please note that sleep-outs are no longer an option at Chitabe. We have had little or no access to the hides due to water levels in these areas, and as a result their condition has deteriorated. Therefore there are NO hides and NO sleep-out’s possible in this concession for the reminder of 2011 and possibly in 2012 too. There is a possibility that they may decide to move one hide to a point closer to Chitabe Camp in the future that will be in a drier area and thus easier to service. This has not been confirmed and we will advise when we know more. As alternatives, sleep-outs are possible in the Jao and Linyanti concessions.
Another albino eland at Pafuri
An albino eland calf was seen at Reedbuckvlei by a trails group during the middle of the month.This is not the first case of albinism in Pafuri; in 2006 two separate sightings were confirmed, both being eland as well. Leucism also does occur in the wild and has also been recorded in buffalo in the Pafuri region.
Developments on the Busanga Plains in the Kafue National Park, Zambia
We are re-structuring our offering on the Busanga Plains so Kapinga Camp in it’s current format will be closing at the end of the 2011 season, and will not be available in 2012. Alternative arrangements will be made for any affected bookings, utilising Shumba Camp or Busanga Bush Camp where possible. However, we are delighted to announce that we will be re-building the camp during the dry season next year to create Kapinga Star Beds, a unique and exceptional offering where guests will enjoy the stars as their ceiling and have all the modern day facilities and luxuries in our new ‘open air’ classic safari camp. Off the back of the success of the Kalamu Star Bed offering in the South Luangwa, and a demand from the market for something a little different, we are looking forward to offering this new experience on the Busanga Plains in 2013!
Walking Excursions from Toka Leya
Optional walks will be conducted for Toka Leya guests from 1 December 2011 by highly trained walking safari guides in Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park. This will be a leisurely walk exploring the fauna and flora at the most productive times of the day. Morning walks will commence at 06h30 with a break for snacks and drinks, afternoon walks at 16h00 with the opportunity to enjoy sundowners next to the Zambezi river. Walking safaris will be available on a first come first serve basis, and booking is to be done at Toka Leya directly at an additional cost of $20.00 pp. The minimum age limit is 13 years.
New Pool at Davison’s
The plunge pool at Davison’s Camp in Hwange National Park is now operational.
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.
Mvuu Lodge Name Change
Please note that Mvuu Wilderness Lodge has simplified it’s name to Mvuu Lodge and all collateral will be updated accordingly.
No report this month.
North Island Update - November 2011 Jump
to North Island
Kings Pool Camp update - November 2011 Jump
to Kings Pool Camp
There is a baby boom going on at Kings Pool, which is proving both entertaining and heart-wrenching as the staff become attached to the various characters emerging around camp. The pitter-patter of tiny feet is most pronounced beneath the front-of-house rest rooms, where two warthog sows have camped with their seven piglets. These charismatic little piglets have become so relaxed around guests and staff that they can be seen every day, running along the pathways and boardwalks after their mothers, playing in front of the swimming pool and snoozing near the curio shop.
They were originally a group of eight, but the presence of a big male leopard in camp is most likely the cause of this number diminishing... Chef Ben was walking home one night recently, and he saw this leopard trying to hunt a group of oblivious impala grazing near the pilots' tents.
As well as the warthogs, there are baby impalas bouncing about everywhere, getting used to their spindly legs and giving their long-suffering mothers the run-around. Guests have witnessed a few of these impala births, and have returned to camp in awe.
For the predators, it's a buffet in the bush, and there have been many sightings of leopard, lion and wild dog feeding on some of the less fortunate new arrivals to the Linyanti. An example of this was at the beginning of November, when two leopards were sighted on a kill in a tree. The pair was a mother and son, the former balancing precariously with her feast in the fork of the knobbly tree; the latter crouched below waiting for pieces to drop from above.
It is not the large predators alone, however, that are revelling in the new variety of prey on offer. On a game drive recently, Ndebo heard a distressed female impala bleating near the road-side. Recognising the call as being that of an anguished mother, Ndebo investigated, and discovered a very large Southern African python (over two metres long) in the very drawn-out process of devouring an impala baby. The guests watched in fascination as the python gradually unhinged its jaws wider and wider around the impala's head and body, rendering the impossible possible right in front of them. A few hours later, the python had retreated to the shade of a nearby bush to digest its gigantic meal. It looked rather uncomfortable to say the least!
The backdrop to this unfolding drama is itself changing before our eyes - the recent rains have quenched the thirsty bush, and spread a green and luscious coat across the previously bone-dry landscape. With the rains have come smorgasbords of insects, both crawling and flying, which generates a new, weird and wonderful dimension to life at Kings Pool. Swarms of winged alates appeared after the first heavy rains, clouding the air in a celebration of the long-awaited rain.
The mopane moths are also making their silent and graceful presence known; among their favourite perches, the edge of a glass of Sauvignon Blanc.
As a result of this increasingly prolific insect life, the birds in the area are in full party mode. Along with the usual suspects such as the bee-eaters, babblers, parrots, herons, crakes and weavers, are some new, seasonal arrivals: the European Swallows have been spotted at last, as well as Levaillant's Cuckoo.
A spectacular, unexpected discovery was also made near Room 4 only a few days ago. A strange call was heard by one of the managers and two guides from the main area of camp, and they became irritated when they could not identify it - was it a cisticola, or maybe even a frog? Eventually they marched to Room 4 to find out, and after twenty minutes of watching and waiting, they flushed out, to their amazement, a Pallid Honeyguide. This bird is only supposed to occur in the very north-eastern tip of Zimbabwe, bordering Mozambique, so its appearance in Kings Pool has, naturally, provoked great excitement, the other guides and managers are now determined to spot it for themselves!
So we enter an even rainier December surrounded by wreaths of green, the hum of summer and the calls of new visitors from afar. As ever, the rumbles of our resident male lion, Romeo, provide the 'bass' to our new summer soundtrack, reminding us that whatever the weather, he is still the King of Kings Pool.
"To all that made my birthday so special a big thank you. You guys are a bunch of beautiful people. We take only fond memories home with us. May you all be blessed!"
"Thank you very much for this most amazing time! It will be difficult to top!"
"Thanks you all, especially to Khan who found the wild dogs for us!"
DumaTau Camp update - November 2011 Jump
to DumaTau Camp
Savuti Camp update - November 2011 Jump
to Savuti Camp
The wild dog is critically endangered in most of its range throughout Africa. These unique predators operate over large home ranges which sometimes overlap into community lands. Wild dogs are easily susceptible to diseases such as rabies, which they pick up from domestic dogs in these community areas. They also regurgitate their food to feed other members of the pack which only fast-tracks the spread of disease through the pack.
Due to their status, spending time with wild dogs in the wild should be seen as an extraordinary experience. So you can only imagine the excitement when I was woken early on 2 November to the news that the wild dogs were running through the camp. The LTC Pack, a relatively large pack of 19 dogs, had killed an impala right outside our staff village. They caught the antelope on a road but quickly dragged it into the thickets. We stood and watched with the staff from the safety of the village.
As if this was not enough a few weeks later the dogs again came tearing through the camp. This time it was in the camp's parking area. Helena (camp manager) and Lets (safari guide) were standing by the vehicle waiting for guests when one of the dogs took down another impala only metres in front of them. It was a spectacular sighting that they, and our guests, will remember forever.
Later in the day we spent even more time with the dogs just east of camp. They younger members of the pack ran rampant through the shallow waters, chasing each other in a playful manner as any dog would do.
Further out in the Linyanti concession the excitement continued. A large pride of 15 lion had made their way into the concession. On two separate occasions they killed a large buffalo. Many guests returned to camp with a new understanding of why they are Africa's king of the beasts. The guests watched as the felines fiercely competed for the best parts of the kill. The sound of feeding lions is a bone-chilling experience complete with vicious facial expressions and exposed teeth.
Fishing has been on offer at Savuti since the waters in the Savute Channel returned but it hasn't been actively promoted. This month we had a couple of guests who were very interested in fishing. Chaplin happily took them down the channel to drop a couple of lines before meeting the rest of the group on Mantschwe Deck. When they arrived Chaplin was boiling over with excitement - and the adjoining picture explains it all. They had successfully landed the largest catfish any of us have ever seen. Being catch-and-release they let it go but the expression on Chaplin's face tells the story. Since then the fishing rods have a permanent place on the boat, so anyone who is remotely interested in the joys of fishing can cast out to see what they can catch.
Meanwhile the Savuti team has continued its mission to develop and improve on the Savuti Camp experience. Last month we reported on the new Savuti Deck, which guests already believe to be one of the best sunset spots in Botswana. In order to find an appropriate local name for the deck we ran a competition amongst our staff. The winning name was Mantschwe (meaning Ostrich) Deck. We felt it was fitting since the area where it is located has always been known as Mantschwe.
The next exciting project on the horizon is the new Savuti Bridge. Our construction team began working on the bridge only a few weeks ago but have made good progress. In the coming months I look forward to reporting on the incredible sightings that our guests are enjoying in the area south of the Savute Channel.
Text by: Stuart Parker.
Photos by: Lets Kamogelo, Stuart Parker and Cara Hanburry.
The Savuti Camp Team
Managers: Helena, Stuart, Willie and KT - trainee manager.
Guides: Grant, Lets, Ace and Carlton.
Zarafa Camp update - November 2011 Jump
to Zarafa Camp
November brought with it the start of the summer rains and a welcome drop in temperature. The rain was welcomed by the dry earth and the local wildlife. All sorts of new life came with the rains, starting with the smallest of insects, up to the elephants, all of which had young in tow.
Granted, some guests may not have been too enthusiastic about the insect life, however, one must remember that in the circle of life out here, insects provide food to many other animals such as frogs, birds, small mammals and even us humans. If we take some time to appreciate the diversity of insects, our wildlife viewing will be much more rewarding.
Sightings at Zarafa this month have continued to be fruitful and exciting, included a male lion that has been wandering the concession. The Selinda Pride has been around and about, lots of elephants and very excitingly, the return of the wild dog pack, puppies in tow, all growing up fast and learning how to hunt.
Unfortunately the pack seems to have a lost five puppies and are down to eight. Two of the adult wild dogs were also seen around the camp. They are part of the larger pack but have split off from them and are yet to rejoin them. Guests have been treated to sightings of the dogs hunting, playing, sleeping and grabbing some shade under the cars!
Breeding herds of elephant were abundant at the beginning of October. On one day in November, guests enjoyed watching the 'elephant parade' as over 300 elephant walked in front of camp, one after the other. On the afternoon drive, they found them to the south-west of camp, enjoying an afternoon swim and playing in the mud, surrounded by giraffe, zebra, wildebeest and warthog. As the month has worn on, some of the elephants have migrated south-west, into the mopane woodland and towards the Delta.
Let's not forget the bird life as the avian highlights have been fantastic this month. A wonderful dawn chorus has been created by the melodious calls of the Woodland Kingfisher, Diederick's Cuckoo and Broadbill Rollers creating a symphony around camp. As mentioned above, the abundance of numerous arthropods has also caused a major feeding frenzy amongst the avian insectivores which a literally gorging themselves with the bounty.
Another great sighting was that of cheetah, which stuck around for most of the month and allowed us the privilege of getting some great pictures. The roan antelope have also been seen more frequently, in a herd of around 20, including some youngsters.
Selinda Camp update - November 2011 Jump
to Selinda Camp
November has been an excellent month at Selinda Camp. We have had some excellent wildlife and birding sightings and have been fortunate to have great guests from all around the globe. November really is a magic time to visit the bush, as Mother Nature goes through an elegant state of chaos. The seasons change, we wait for rainfall and once it does arrive the bush bursts into life.
Our new airstrip opened on the 6th, a momentous occasion indeed. Our "old" airstrip was swallowed by the annual inundation in June this year and we were fortunate enough to be able to determine a new location and build the new airstrip during this year!
Weather and Landscape
November started out as October ended, hot and dry - not many signs of rain. However, as the month progressed the afternoon build-up of rain clouds became more pronounced until finally on the 18th, a lone thunderstorm came rolling in from the south-west and bathed the landscape around Selinda in regenerative, life-giving rain.
Since that day we've had a total of 30mm of rain and our summer rainfall season has well and truly begun. Daytime temperatures are now being moderated by the appearance of clouds and the rain, resulting in daytime highs of around 35° C. We look forward to more rain as it really transforms the vegetation in the area from hues of brown to emerald green grasses and leaves.
With the rain begins the new cycle of life for many of the animals of Selinda Reserve. Antelope mothers begin to give birth to their calves safe in the knowledge that soon there will be sweet new green growth of grasses and leaves to feed on, ultimately improving the quality of their milk for their suckling youngsters.
For the Selinda predators; lion, leopard, cheetah, wild dog, hyaena, jackal and even some raptors this means an easy meal - the balance of life is precarious and nature can be a cruel master. But, this is what it means to have evolved here and is a very necessary part of life - the new rains being the trigger.
Guests have been treated to some spectacular sightings this month. High on the list was the return of the Selinda Pack of wild dogs. They spent a few days around the back of camp and guests had easy viewing of them as they went about their daily routine of hunting, resting, socialising and hunting again - very special moments were shared.
Our lion pride has also been moving in and out of the area regularly, and our remaining big male has been ranging around - calling and patrolling his turf.
We've been conducting regular night drives too. Guests finish their evening meals and then hop back onto the vehicles for another hour or two in the darkness - questing for night life. These night drives have been extremely rewarding. We've spotted numerous serval, aardvark, aardwolf, bus babies, genets, civets and many other creatures who ply their trade on the night shift.
Birds and Birding
This time of year is notable for the return of our summer visitors; migratory birds that arrive from other parts of Africa and many that migrate from North America and Europe to spend the warm summer months here to breed.
The Woodland Kingfisher is a favourite summer visitor of ours. This kingfisher is one of a few that does not "fish", but rather exists by catching insects and other invertebrates as well as small vertebrates in the wooded areas around camp.
We've also had some super sightings of the elusive Purple Gallinule (or Swamphen) along the edges of the Selinda Spillway.
Soon we will start to receive more of the summer visitors and by the end of December the bush will be alive with birds!
In closing then for this month: November really is a great time to visit Botswana and in particular the northern parts which are home to Selinda Camp. There is such a vast diversity of new life here at this time thanks to the start of the summer rains. Game drives can be very rewarding and the odd afternoon thundershower is welcomed as it cools the day off and makes for a superb evening in the fresh, cool air. We hope to see you soon on the Selinda Reserve!
Photographs by John Hilton.
Camps Update - November 2011
• No report for this month.
Lagoon camp Jump
• One can appreciate the size of Kwando concession when you hear that although rain was falling heavily in the Lebala area for more than a day, not a drop arrived in Lagoon. Towards the end of the month, they finally got a few drops. Again, a welcome relief from the heat.
• The whisper of more rain further off and potentially new grass to eat generally means that in late November, early December the majority of the elephants cross the river for a short holiday before returning en masse again. However, not all go, and there were still plenty to see and enjoy in the Lagoon area – both breeding herds and bulls!
Male lions were keeping a low profile this month – yes, they can really "disappear" in spite of that large glamorous mane! However, the lionesses were seen quite often, in the area around half-way pan – hunting and snoozing during the heat of the day.
• A variety of leopards were seen this month, mostly males, but also a sub-adult female was seen attempting to hunt. Other leopards caught baby impalas, and one adult male was seen feeding on a warthog – normally a tough animal to kill due to its vicious tusks and thick neck – hard for a leopard to get hold of.
• The highlight of the sightings this month was a 'two for the price of one' where the pack of wild dogs got wind of a male leopard in the area they were moving through and chased it up a tree!
• Although October we hadn't had any luck with cheetah sightings, the three brothers were seen each week, looking well fed and relaxed.
The wild dogs had a successful month – also for the guests who witnessed several kills, mostly of impala, though a baby buffalo was also taken down by the pack. With such a large pack, it is necessary for the group to hunt at least once a day, with twice being preferential. Hunting is mostly done in the late afternoon, or the few hours after dawn, before the sun gets too hot. And coincides well with game drive times!
• Although the rains have not yet arrived, most of the migrant birds are here already. The carmine bee-eaters have excavated their nests – miniature caves into the side of the river bank, so this makes a great trip for everyone on the boat – watching them fly in and out of their holes at eye-level.
• Lots of lovely general game in the area, and great birding with the carmine bee eaters still abounding. Those especially elegant antelope – sable and roan – were both sighted this month. The highlight of one drive was the sighting of a honey badger digging up and catching a mole rat. Mole rats live in tunnels underground, so the honey badger must have heard/smelt the rat moving below and then dug fast to get the animal out. Super determined animals, honey badgers rarely stop once they get fixated on the chance of a meal!
Lebala camp Jump
• At the beginning of the month, lions were being a little elusive – extensive tracking by the guiding teams eventually managed to locate some, including four lionesses picturesquely relaxing under the shade of a baobab tree. They were later seen attempting to hunt in the woodland, but were unsuccessful at that time.
• Several leopard sightings including sightings of two males, one very relaxed, and the other much shyer.
• The three brother cheetahs were seen regularly this month – and even managed to kill an adult female kudu – quite a large antelope for cheetahs to bring down. However, working extremely well as a team enables the brothers to attempt such a challenge and minimise the risk of injury to themselves.
• The so-called Kwando pack of eleven adult wild dogs and eight puppies made forays into the Lebala region for several days, making regular successful kills of the baby impalas that arrived this month. Interestingly, another grouping of six dogs – two adult males, three adult females and one puppy – was also seen in the area west of Kubu pan. It has been difficult to identify whether this is a split of the Selinda pack – unusual for there to be only one puppy if that was the case.
• The huge herds of elephants – numbering up to four hundred individuals – have been moving into the floodplains south of the camp – a wonderful sight! Large herds of buffalo are also moving throughout the concession, waiting for the rains to arrive and the promise of green grass.
• Towards the end of the month, Lebala was lucky enough to get a some rain – quite overdue! No one could have been happier than the bull frogs…. Having been estivating (burrowing into the ground and slowing their metabolism) since the end of the last rains. These large, rather unattractive amphibians dug their way to the surface and found any puddle of water that gave promise of a good breeding ground, and their own handsome prince.
• A pair of black backed jackals have denned in the area, and guests are able to check in almost every day how the couple are raising their cubs.
Kwara & Little Kwara camps Jump
& Little Kwara camps
• Strangely for November, the rain just never arrived… temperatures got hotter and hotter, with clouds building, but there was no longed-for rain drops to cool the area, and provide relief for the animals. Although the flood waters have receded a lot, there is still enough water in the area for the animals to drink, and a few green shoots of grass peeked their way to the surface after the quick rainfall we had on Independence Day on the 30th September. They didn't last long!
• Moving into the area in search of green pastures was a huge herd of buffalo – "uncountable", as some of the guides said, but probably numbering around 500 or so individuals. A large number of zebras also mixed into the area, for good measure.
• Some of the feline inhabitants of the area took time to appreciate the influx of the large moveable feast… two male lions pulled down a buffalo from the herd. Not to be outdone, on the same day, 3 lionesses and four young lions were found feeding on a giraffe carcass! Being such a large animal, a giraffe can feed several lions for a few days, so guests were able to return to the sighting a number of times over the next few days. Two groupings of cheetahs – the mother with three young, and three adult cheetahs – were seen throughout the month, mostly resting up in the shade.
• Successful hunts were not limited to the large cats in the concession. The diminutive African wildcat – the same size and colouration as a household pet tabby-cat – caught a small rodent and enjoyed his meal whilst guests looked on. One wonders if these cats have slight inferiority complexes when faced with their much larger cousins of the lions, leopards and cheetahs.
• Another good sighting of the pack of four wild dogs this month – as the water recedes, we hope to see even more of them. Four individuals is an unusually small grouping for wild dogs, and with no puppies to slow them down, they are highly mobile.
• Godikwe lagoon continues to be the highlight of the boat trips, with the wonderful heronry.
• Still no rain in the beginning of the month, so animals are making good use of the waterholes. Towards the end of the month, heavy rain – 38mm in three days – reduced the need for the animals to focus on the waterholes, and they dispersed somewhat. However, when the sun comes out, they spread out over the plains.
• The pride of nine lions – six adults and three young were seen for many days by the waterhole, and also at Baines Baobabs. At Baines, they had killed a zebra and her foal, so spent some time feeding on the two zebras. Earlier in the month, they had killed a female kudu.
• The 14th November was "hyena day" with three spotted hyenas (including one young) drinking from the camp waterhole, to be followed by one brown hyena also drinking. Once the rain falls, sightings of the brown hyena will become even rarer, as this shy animal will drink from puddles.
• Cheetahs have been seen regularly, with the female with young being the most often sighted. Most sightings they have been relaxing in the shade, but two male cheetahs were also seen moving intently along the western road.
• The zebra migration has yet to arrive at the pan, but part of it was seen in the vicinity of Baines Baobabs. It's expected once the grass starts growing after the late November rain, many more zebras will arrive into the area.
• Towards the end of the month, the springbok females are looking a little heavy and tired – their babies are almost ready to born, and it's only a good rain that they are waiting for. They will all give birth within days of each other, increasing the springbok population instantly by 30%.
• No sooner had we mentioned it in last month's sightings report, than the scuffle between the lions happened. The pride from Passage Pan met the Tau Pan pride, and neither side were amused… Used to seeing the Tau Pan lions daily, strolling along, playing with the little cubs, or resting in the shade, it was hard to imagine them working up enough energy to fight any other lions off! However, with two litters of cubs at stake, and an ideal water source, it was worth fighting for. The lionesses from the Passage Pan pride suffered the most, and one especially seemed badly injured, with a suspected broken jaw. On a few occasions, she was seen in the vicinity of the camp, as she obviously felt safer there out of the way of the Tau Pan lions, and yet close to a water hole so she could sneak down to drink. As she seemed to get weaker and weaker, the camp liaised with the Botswana Department of Wildlife as to what to do. As she was injured naturally, and not by human influence, as a rule there should be no human interference. However, we were worried that she was tending to use the camp area as a safe area, which could be a potential threat to the people working and staying in the camp. The decision was made to fly a vet in to dart her, and move her back to Passage Pan area to rejoin her pride, and see if she could make a recovery with them. Some how, she must have got word of the threat of an injection, as by the time the vet was about to get on the plane to come into camp the next morning, the lioness had managed to move herself 5km away! Happily, she was able to rejoin her pride, and a short time later was seen feeding with the rest of them.
Tau Pan pride, could happily rest on its laurels.
• You'd think with all the lion activity in and around camp there would not be much chance of other cat viewing. It seems the leopardess from last month has developed a penchant for chlorinated water, and this time brought a friend. The mating pair (room 1 is now going to have to be renamed the honeymoon suite after the leopards called to each nearby this room) didn't quite share the same taste in water however, and whilst one drank at the swimming pool, the other drank at the waterhole.
• Quite a few cheetah sightings – the mother with cubs, and also a couple of individuals – one looking quite lean and hungry, the other fat and relaxed. In the Tau Pan area, a single sub-adult cheetah was also seen for four days in a row before it moved off.
• Sadly, although there was no sighting of wild dogs in the area this month, a carcass of a dog was found at Leteahau water hole. It could not be determined what the cause of death was, but this is sad news for the few dogs that are sometimes in the region.
• A rough over-view of the birds this month: crested korhaans in courtship display, kori bustards, European rollers, pallid harrier, Montague's harrier, martial eagle, black chested snake eagle, steppe and Wahlberg eagles, tawny eagles, black shouldered kite, and many assorted vultures!
• Drives are also seeing a good variety of general game, including eland, hartebeest, oryx, duiker, and steenbok. Sightings of honey badgers are regular, and caracal has also been seen on several occasions. A rare but very welcome visitor to the camp waterhole was a brown hyena – seen twice drinking.
Mombo Camp update
- November 2011 Jump
to Mombo Camp
The dry heat of October continued into the first weeks of November this year - a shimmering haze of dust enveloped the land while clouds built up temptingly above, without releasing their life-giving load of rain. The feeling of expectancy grew more and more tangible as the days wore on, as if the earth couldn't wait any longer, the trees had pushed as much sap as they could, the parched ground crackled underfoot, ready to spring into life at the first hint of moisture. A few drops fell in the middle of the month, not enough to quench the overbearing thirstlands, but enough to hold a promise of what had to come. The rain has now arrived, a few days before the end of the month, and already the first signs of exuberant life are on display, as fireball lilies burst out of the ground, and a scarcely visible green flush appears where once there had been only barren sand.
Impala felt the brunt of the delay the most: pregnant ewes that couldn't hold their young any longer sought cover to give birth to their lambs. Finding at most sparse thickets or at worst none, they had to drop their lambs regardless. With hardly any hiding places for the newborn lambs, a great many were taken by both predators and omnivorous opportunists alike.
Everywhere we saw signs of animals taking advantage of this unexpected bounty, from lion, leopard and hyaena to the lone wild dog, jackals and even baboons feasting on the lambs.
One of the most notable events of the month was the arrival of a pack of 16 wild dogs that had come up from the south. We were thrilled to see a pack in the area after a very long absence and hoped they might stick around and establish a territory in the area. They were seen across the length of the concession as they moved north to south and back again, causing great excitement wherever they went. At one stage one of their hunts was interrupted by a hyaena, which had obviously never encountered wild dogs in numbers and had no idea how formidable an adversary they were. Regardless to say, the hyaena was sent packing, tail firmly between its legs, the dogs nipping at its heels.
We also wondered what would occur if the pack encountered our lone wild dog, and this did occur, although not in the manner we were expecting. The dog was at her usual station close to the jackals' den when she heard the approaching pack drawing nearer. Her reaction was to vacate her position and move down into the floodplain out of their path, avoiding them completely. This was probably due to the fact that a wild dog "pack" (in this instance, with only one member) holding a territory would be challenged by an incoming pack, and possibly be killed or injured in the resulting conflict. Thus, discretion became the better part of valour, and they never met face to face, although they must have been aware of her scent markings in the area. The pack stayed around for a week, and was finally seen in the south near Simbira Baobab before disappearing once more.
The lone wild dog, once left to her own devices, continued her peculiar relationship with her adopted jackal family.
Leopard sightings have been great this month, and Legadema has been the star of the show once more. Around the middle of the month we were privy to the most thrilling sighting as she showed us her three-month-old cub. We knew that she had cubs in September, and a brief glimpse in the old Mombo area confirmed the fact that two had been born. After that the area was closed in order to allow her and her cubs the space they needed. When we found her again, some two months later, only one remained, and she was in the process of moving it west towards Limpy's Island. We had several days of sightings with her and the cub in a hollow sausage tree, which is worryingly close to where a large troop of baboons roost.
On the 17th, we came across Legadema in the same area, this time without the cub, and as she roamed around calling gently, we assumed the worst: the cub had been found by the baboons or possibly a hyaena, and subsequently killed. She was sighted several times once more, never far from where we had last seen the cub, but always alone. She disappeared for a few days at this stage, and when we finally caught up with her once more, she was further west towards Mpororo Island, and behaving in a peculiar manner. A troop of baboons, her arch-enemies, had spotted her, and were giving their characteristic alarm barks. Instead of fleeing the area, however, she deliberately walked into an open floodplain and showed herself. She then moved back into the forest where the baboons were and began calling sporadically, all the while staying just one step out of the baboons' direct line of view. This went on for some time, until we heard the unmistakable rasping of another leopard answering her calls. She skirted the trees where the baboons were and walked across a small plain into another dense tree island. As she did this, the shadowy figure of Lebadi emerged from deep cover and crossed over to join her.
This was the first moment of the characteristic three-day mating event between the two leopards, and we were able to follow them throughout. In our eyes, this confirmed that Legadema had indeed lost her remaining cub, as cats will often come into oestrus very soon after losing their young.
Imagine our surprise when on the 3rd of December, we found her once again on Limpy's Island, this time accompanied by a healthy, well-fed looking cub! We will keep you posted on the details of this story as we come up with a possible interpretation of this bizarre behaviour we have witnessed.
Other leopards seen this month were Blue Eyes in the Suzy's Duckpond area and Ngonyama in the Stompy's Road area, both lazing in trees with kills nearby. There is also a hitherto unidentified male leopard that has been seen close to SImbira.
Elephants have been seen in large numbers; mostly making their way south-west across the open floodplains and often we have been treated to the sight of dozens of them crossing the channel near our picnic site. On one such occasion, the Mporota Pride were on the opposite bank, the males visible in the open, the rest scattered in the dense tree island a little further away. A gathering of some three or four herds were making their way to the channel and crossed on several well-used paths. As the elephants loomed closer, the lions slowly melted into thicker cover, staying well out of their way - it seems nobody would want to get on the wrong side of such a congregation!
The pride did give us a fantastic sighting one night when they brought down a buffalo right in front of Tent 1, and we were lucky enough to watch the entire event by torchlight, and saw the aftermath in the morning.
The Mathatha Pride has been encountered a few times this month, usually in the south-east of the concession. One day they provided some exciting viewing as they hunted in the burning midday sun. First they killed a baboon, which wasn't enough to go round the 12 lions together on that occasion, so they continued hunting, despite the high temperature. Close to old Mombo Trails they saw their chance and ambushed a lone bull wildebeest, right in the open in front of Sefo and his guests. Obviously the lions were very hungry, as within two hours the carcass was reduced to a pile of bones and scraps. Another notable feature of the event was that one of the young cubs was as aggressive as his elders in battling for his share of the carcass - he certainly is going to be a character to watch as he grows up!
General game is, as always, in abundance, the only thing that changes is where to find them as they move closer to sources of water in the drying plains. We see herds of giraffe, zebra, lechwe and wildebeest in the open areas, kudu in the woodlands, with impala in abundance switching between the two.
Birds are seen congregating near fish traps - up to two dozen species are seen together, taking advantage of the plentiful source of protein - from pelicans to lapwings, fish eagles and African skimmers.
Guides in camp were Cisco at Little Mombo and Tsile, Moss, Sefo, Tshepo and Moses at Main Camp.
Managers in camp were Graham at Little Mombo and Martha, Claire, Katie, Tumoh and Phenyo at Main Camp.
Photographs by Cisco Letio and Ryan Green
Xigera Camp update
- November 2011 Jump
to Xigera Camp
Weather and Landscape
November has been a typical summer month characterised by hot summer conditions. We did experience a couple of windy days, which blew in some cloud cover, causing some spectacular lightning displays but no rain has fallen yet.
The water levels continue to drop, but Xigera remains the ultimate Delta water camp, with mokoro trips and boat cruises still being the focus, in addition to game drives.
Xigera really is a special place that offers some very rare and unusual wildlife. Our guests were often treated to superb sitatunga sightings from the comfort of the mokoro as well as some outstanding sightings of Pel's Fishing-Owl along the riverine thickets.
The immediate area around camp has also provided abundant game viewing, in particular, leopard sightings. On occasion, two to three different leopards were seen on one day whilst on activity. Perhaps Xigera will get a reputation as being the place of leopards if the current trend continues.
General game is plentiful, with a strong presence of giraffe, lechwe, kudu and zebra around camp.
Our resident troop of vervet monkeys have also been highly entertaining, as they have a number of babies in the troop which are ever active and cause much laughter amongst guests with their antics.
Birds and Birding
As mentioned earlier, Pel's Fishing Owl has been sighted regularly whilst on activity, but sometimes there has been no need to go out and search for the birding special. The pair that has nested close to camp is still doing well and has taken a liking to perching on top of Tent 6.
With the water levels subsiding, many aquatic creatures have become trapped and exposed which has caused a flurry of activity with the array of water bird species which are taking full advantage of the feeding frenzy.
Chitabe Camp update
- November 2011 Jump
to Chitabe Camp
Vumbura Plains Camp update
- November 2011 Jump
to Vumbura Plains Camp
It's been a simply incredible month here in the heart of the Okavango Delta in northern Botswana. Another winter recedes into chilly memory, and another summer crouches low, tenses, and then pounces on an unsuspecting landscape.
The start of the month saw a prolonging of the hot dry teasing weather of October, with the clouds piling up like candy floss, only to dissipate again each day. The bony supplicating branches of long-dead leadwood trees reaching up in vain, as the promising formations fluttered and became ragged, day after day, failing to deliver on the promise that every upturned eye read there.
Then, wondrously, the rains began midway through a parched November. A delayed start to a summer that had already been prematurely declared by returning Woodland Kingfishers, flaring their wings and announcing their presence.
A stifling day, queer little gusts of wind and building cobalt bruise in the sky to the north. The wind died away, the audience hushed as the curtain rose, and then the first few drops began pitting the sand. Hard to believe at first - is it rain, or just dried jackalberry fruits falling on a tin roof or a wooden deck?
But then the exhilaration of that first whiff of wet earth, a smell both fresh and clean, and rich and loamy all at once. A smell sharp enough to prick the nostrils and awaken heat-dulled senses. Just an incredible feeling... Then a pause, a gathering of strength, and the rain began falling in earnest, hissing through the moist heavy air and cratering the ground.
Grass stems bending with the weight of precipitation, and pools forming in vehicle ruts and elephant tracks - summer at last!
Predicting rainfall patterns here is a tricky game, and after the initial downpours we had a few more dry days, but that didn't matter, because in that one evening, everything had changed. Now rains were no longer merely a distant memory, but a distinct possibility, on the radar rather than just the wish list.
Towards the end of the month, we enjoyed several cooler days, with cloudier, damp mornings making for very pleasant conditions, and excellent game viewing as the herbivore herds moved out onto the rejuvenated grasslands to enjoy the first pioneer shoots of the rainy season.
The explosion of new life from within the soil has been mirrored by a proliferation of new life above it. Our nightly chorus of frogs has been augmented by cicadas, some of which have spent up to 17 years underground waiting for some secret signal to urge them to emerge. Most visible though are the newly-born baby mammals, wobbling through suddenly green pastures on spindly legs, blinking in the daylight or staring intently at every new thing they encounter, over-sized ears twitching. Bodies a-quiver, legs primed for flight, but too curious to flee just yet.
First we noticed the caramel-coloured baby tsessebe, trying to keep up with their mothers or lying low in the golden grass, keeping a low profile. Then the herds of wildebeest increased in number with the addition of many gangly, khaki calves. At last came the turn of the impalas, as the imperatives of rainfall and countless generations of genetic programming kicked in, and the phenomenally successful strategy known as "predator swamping" swung into action.
At first just one or two impala lambs, all ears and legs, butting at their mothers' udders to encourage the flow of milk. Then more and more of them, until they were able to start forming crèche groups on the shade of the new frondescence of feverberry bushes.
The impala birthing season is a bonanza for predators of every stripe - or spot. The leopards and wild dogs in particular have been enjoying a grisly feast. It can be very hard to watch tender young lives cut short so peremptorily, but in that moment you can see two seemingly contradictory needs to survive. The sudden abundance of easily-caught prey helps leopards and other predators raise their own young, while it is impossible for the carnivores to kill every new impala. With each day that passes, the young antelope grow stronger, swifter and smarter, ensuring that those that do survive this carnage are the very best of the bunch, and will make the greatest contribution to the health of the species in the future.
Even with so many meals available, we have seen some fascinating competitive behaviour between our resident predators. Perhaps the most remarkable example of this was an occasion when the Golden Pack of wild dogs - now numbering well over twenty with the inclusion of this year's puppies - were honing their impala hunting skills. One dog succeeded in bringing down a young impala, and then raced off to fetch the rest of the pack to share in his good fortune.
This was all the opportunity a wily leopard needed to rush in and snatch the kill. The plan of course was to secure it in a tree before the dogs returned, but hungry wild dogs do not hang around, and the leopard was soon very heavily outnumbered and had to seek the safety of a tree branch himself - without breakfast, only to suffer the indignity of watching its breakfast being consumed just metres below. The leopard was perfectly safe in the tree, well out of the reach of the dogs, but probably didn't enjoy losing its stolen meal!
Impala lambs also provide a good opportunity for novice hunters to get in some vital practice. Our surviving leopard cub, having lost her brother to a baboon attack in October, is now starting to flex her predatory muscles, and this month we saw her with what was almost certainly her first significant kill (she is likely to have been a scourge of squirrels and other rodents prior to this).
In fact, such is the bounty on offer, that on occasions it seems that the predators are more interested in amusing themselves than feeding. The Golden Pack provided a perfect illustration of this one rainy morning when they isolated an adult wildebeest from the herd, and chased it to a waterhole. The wildebeest turned at bay in the shallow water, and defied all comers with short charges that threw up impressive gouts of spray. Psychologically, such encounters can be compelling - this time around it seems that the dogs were not in deadly earnest, although a slip or other suggestion of weakness from the wildebeest could have led to a very different result than this stand-off. The dogs though seemed rather reluctant to enter the water, an aversion they will probably have to overcome as calcrete pans start to fill with rainwater, and every road harbours large puddles.
Mammals of course are not the only predators we have, and one of the more interesting sightings this month involved an avian hunter: a Martial Eagle (easily the largest kind of raptor we see here) had pounced on and seized a Spurwing Goose, and was busily trying to pluck it whilst pinning the still struggling goose to the ground with its massive talons. Quite a harrowing scene, but at the same time, another fascinating turn in the cycle of life.
Almost immune from this never-ending game of eat or be eaten, the grey herds of elephant lumber on through the landscapes, and seem to actively enjoy the rain: who could forget sitting eating a hot breakfast, listening to the rain drumming a tattoo on the decking, whilst watching three big tuskers turn ever darker shades of grey as the rain runs in rivulets through the creases on their ancient hides?
Even the insects had their turn in the limelight this month - especially the winged termites. As soon as the rains begin, they emerge en masse from their mounds for the two or three evenings of the nuptial flight. Known as alates, these are the future kings and queens, and this flight is all about sex and home-making - strictly in that order.
Navigating by moon and starlight, they become disorientated by the lights from the camp (which we dim of course) and they also seem to have a propensity for tumbling into glasses of wine. A cloud of these insect monarchs soon forms around each light, much to the delight of the mice who wait there and gorge themselves on as much free protein as they can stuff into their cheek pouches.
Each queen searches for her king, and vice versa, and once they find each other, they shed their disposable wings (leaving us to sweep up drifts of these the following morning!) and try to dig down into the softer earth to start a new colony (hence the emergence with the return of the rains).
When these nuptial flights occur during daylight, each termite mound appears to be on fire. But it is not smoke that is pouring forth, but alates. These skeins of flying insects attract hungry visitors to the mound, from jackals to Yellow-billed Kites that come knifing through the air.
It is truly a time of plenty: plenty of meteorological drama, plenty of new life and new leaves, and all of this novelty accentuated by the pungent odour of the wild sage after rain, and the heavy, heady aroma of the great white baobab flowers, suspended many metres above our heads like so many aerial ballerinas in tutus...
November has been a wonderful month here at Vumbura Plains, and this is only the beginning of summer. Just imagine...
"The highlight was the lunch picnic in the bush with elephants!"
"Thanks to OB (our guide), we were able to accomplish our goal of seeing as many bird species as possible."
"Fabulous - best sundowner ever!"
"We loved the surprises! Picnics, sundowners with elephants. Great food and presentation - would love to return!"
"The friendliness and professionalism of all staff was amazing! They went above and beyond to help and accommodate us all. Thank you!"
With the very best wishes from the Vumbura Plains November team and here's hoping you too will visit us soon: Julian Muender, Nina Reichling, Britt Twyford-Vaughan, Lorato Bampusi, Wayne Vaughan, Cara Moroney and Nick 'Noko' Galpine.
Little Vumbura Camp update
- November 2011 Jump
to Little Vumbura Camp
Weather and Landscape
Summer has finally arrived in all her might, as demonstrated at the beginning of the month when daytime temps rose to 43° C by midday with little respite as the dry air stripped any moisture left behind by the sun. All this changed midway through the month when we were treated to daily summer thunderstorms, sometimes even twice a day. The cooling rains helped to bring the temperature down to a bearable average of 32° C.
Now that the summer rains have arrived, the entire ecosystem has been invigorated and is celebrating the time of plenty by blossoming, hatching and calving. It truly is a time of transformation. The insects are out in full force, pollinating the flowers and recycling the moribund (dead plant material) back into the Kalahari soils. The annual inundation will start to trickle through the papyrus beds soon, peaking within the next five months or so.
As mentioned, once the rains arrive, a cycle of new life is celebrated by all and November can be characterised by the mass arrival of various antelope newborns.
The impala have taken the lead in producing young but are closely followed by the tsessebe and blue wildebeest. Our guests really enjoyed watching the interaction between the parents and their offspring which have an innate instinct to find their feet and get stable as soon as possible. Many wobbly-legged calves were seen, which means that they were only a couple of hours old.
We also enjoyed some great sightings of elephant, lion, leopard, buffalo, wild dog and the elusive cheetah. All in all it was a great month that was action packed and bursting at the seams with new life!
Birds and Birding
Birding has been no less than phenomenal as the full complement of summer migrants have arrived. The piercing chrrrrrrr of the Woodland Kingfisher fills the bush, as these birds pour into the area and announce their arrival by calling all day. Good numbers of Pink-backed Pelican have also been seen in the area.
The winged alates have emerged from their mounds in masses and have provided a feeding frenzy amongst the insectivores which are beginning to nest. It is great fun watching a plethora of bird species hawk the alates while on the wing.
Mokoro trips and boat rides continue to wow our guests and allow for some great encounters with elephants that come to the water for a soothing drink and wallow. Game drives have also been enjoyed and have offered superb sightings of the predator species.
Staff in Camp
Frank, Ras, Hamish, Camilla, Tshidi, Sam, Sevara, Rain and Dennis.
Photographs by Dennis Smith
Duba Plains Camp update
- November 2011 Jump
to Duba Plains Camp
November is normally the beginning of the rainy season, but this year the rains started a bit late; we had some serious rains almost three weeks into November. This rainfall amounted to 25mm and before that we only had occasional showers that did not have a significant impact on the environment or vegetation. At the end of the month, the grass and trees were starting to show some life and there has been some increase in the water level in the channels. This might be an indication that there have been some rains somewhere along the river basin or our catchment area. We hope for much more rain in the upcoming months.
Game viewing has been fantastic with a lot of big game like elephant, lion, buffalo, giraffe and hippo being sighted regularly this month. The elephants have been seen with young ones and in big herds of up to 60 at times. These elephants cover the area around camp.
Lion have also not disappointed as they have been present for the whole of the month, especially the Tsaro Pride, and have been sighted sleeping as well as hunting or feeding on buffalo on several occasions. The Skimmer Pride is now back after disappearing for almost ten months without a trace. This pride probably crossed the channel and was unable to return due the high water levels, but now with the water at its lowest level, the pride has crossed back to our area. This has brought joy to all our guests as well as everyone in camp as there are now two prides again at Duba.
With the increased number of lions in the area, we witnessed quite a number of kills and on one occasion, six buffalo were killed just behind camp on the same day. We also found one of the dominant males successfully hunting a tsessebe.
Duba has become famous for the predator/prey interactions, notably the lion/buffalo saga, and this month continued to produce very tense interactions which did not always end in the lions' favour. Sometimes a herd of between roughly 600 - 900 bovines was seen, exponentially outnumbering the feline foes and commanding respect.
Others species spotted were bat-eared fox, serval, civet, side-striped jackal and a great variety of common game. Some of the great birding sightings we had were Martial Eagle, African Skimmers and Southern Ground-Hornbill.
Apart from all the above-mentioned action, our boat trips have been fantastic, and provided our guests with great sightings of hippo, crocodile as well as elephant crossing the channel. Fishing has also been enjoyed by guests who enjoy throwing a line into the water and then returning the fish, as we follow a catch-and-release policy.
Duba continues to shine as one of the most unique areas in the Delta, and with the arrival of the rainy season, things will only get better.
Compiled by Martin Mathumo.
Banoka Bush Camp update
- November 2011
With the rains finally arriving, this month has been phenomenal with many of the smaller animals taking the spotlight. The butterfly migration has begun, and many familiar migrant birds have arrived from their countries far away. These birds include the various cuckoos (the Jacobin Cuckoo being the most prominent) and the star of the show, the Woodland Kingfisher.
As usual, the Yellow-billed Kites are frequently around the camp, the Southern Carmine Bee-eaters are breeding aplenty, the Woodland Kingfishers give the landscape a beautiful soundtrack, and rare 'spots' like the White-breasted Cuckooshrike are even popping their heads up to add action to any twitcher's stay.
Apart from the birding specials, the larger mammalian species have also been plentiful. In the previous weeks, at least six common reedbuck have made the lagoon in front of Banoka their home, and on a daily basis, the guests were treated to sightings of these secretive antelope grazing on the water's edge along with our resident hippo family.
Another big bonus around camp has been the influx of predator species.
The area around camp became home to a small pride of lion for most of the month. We often encountered the five lionesses and on a couple of occasions, a large male was found with them. The feline highlight was when we found this large male feeding on a warthog carcass very close to camp.
Leopards have also made a good presence in the area during the month, with the best sighting of the spotted cat being the large male we found feeding on an impala.
The tsessebe, zebra, impala and kudu are all staying close to the camp and can be spotted grazing in the distance from the main deck. Giraffe and waterbuck are another two species that dot the landscape in front of camp on a weekly basis, with some resident sable coming around every now and again. A massive herd of buffalo had also settled in the area behind camp and was often in excess of 500 individuals.
Hippo action has also been great, especially since the water levels are dropping, causing high concentrations of hippo to congregate in bigger pods. On one occasion, an adult bull attempted to take over the resident pod, but was disposed of rapidly and sent running back to the safety of the water. It was a very vocal encounter with lots of grunting and honking.
The arrival of the summer rains has also sparked the calving season in many antelope species and has been most notable with the impala which have had a huge population explosion during the last two weeks of the month. Zebra and tsessebe have also been giving birth at a rapid rate as well as a good number of baby elephants being produced.
As far as our scaled friends go, there have been many spotted-bush snakes and flap-necked chameleons found around camp. As usual there are several Mozambique spitting cobras and puff adders seen from the safety of the drives.
There have been several foam nest frogs found around the bar, and their presence is an indication of the health of the lagoon and the Khwai River. Frogs are an indicator species that tells the conservationist whether the ecosystem is healthy or not.
With the arrival of the rains and the change in temperatures, the landscape is changing dramatically, opening a new chapter in the ecosystem and bringing with it new life and beginnings for many.
Jacana Camp update
- November 2011 Jump
to Jacana Camp
Weather and Landscape
November proved to be hot and dry. When there was a threat of rain it was a relief to everything as the evenings cooled down. The African thunderstorms over the Delta are a spectacular display of lightning in the sky as the thunder echoes over the water. The change in the scenery throughout the year is really something to behold. Jacana, being a water-based island, expands as the water recedes, and we have begun to see more animal activity in front of camp.
Now that the waters are shallower, the red lechwe frequent the shallows in front of camp and every now and then we hear splashing as they give us a show of jumping through the water.
Imagine our excitement when one morning we saw a lioness swimming from one island to another in front of Jacana! She was identified as 'Broken Nose' - a lone lioness who appears to have lost her cub, which we assume was around eight months old when we last saw it. Apparently, once the water recedes like this, the locals tell us that she comes around to reaffirm her territory. Since this episode, she has graced our small island with her presence, using the way under the staff bridge to get to her next destination. This has been wonderful for all of us on the island.
We often hear the call of the Jao lions in the still of the morning, and because sound travels so clearly at this time, they sound much closer than they really are - giving the guests the erroneous expectation of seeing them around the next corner!
Again, the old bull elephants that prune the natural gardens around camp have provided endless entertainment to those guests that have been in camp when they come to do their gardening.
One night we were kept awake for hours as two fighting hippos raged all night, while during the same night our 'regular' old bull hippo stayed calmly by our tent to mow the grass around us.
Birds and Birding
A pair of African Fish-Eagles has nested near the camp and has provided excellent sightings for our guests from the main deck. The parental pair has been very busy fishing in an attempt to sate their young ones' insatiable hunger. On one occasion, one of the parents caught a huge bream, which would have made any fisherman envious. The fish was so big that the eagle was unable to get it up to the nest and eventually managed to settle on a low-lying branch and call to its family, which wasted no time in joining in on the large meal. On another occasion, the fish-eagles stole a fish from a Saddle-billed Stork which tried to fight back but was quickly sent flying off with an empty crop.
One of the most enjoyable things to do from the deck of Jacana is to mark off the birds you can see from this comfortable position. In a space of 15 minutes we identified the following: Saddle-billed Stork, African Openbill, African Fish-Eagle, African Jacana, Pygmy Geese, Golden Weaver, Woodland Kingfisher, Wattled Crane, Glossy Starling, Swamp Boubou, Black-eyed Bulbul, Whiskered Tern, White-faced Duck, Heuglin's Robin-Chat, Bennett's Woodpecker, Yellow-billed Kite, Pin-tailed Whydah, Goliath Heron, Squacco Heron and Grey Heron.
This is more than one bird a minute - making this an exciting hobby.
Catch-and-release fishing is a popular activity at Jacana - the challenge this month has been to find water deep enough to fish without getting our hooks caught in the reeds. The channels near Kubu Lagoon proved to be abundant in fish and gave the fishermen something to catch, photograph - and release.
Staff in Camp
Managers: Dan and Charmaine Myburg.
Guides: Timothy Samuel and Bafana Nyame.
Abu Camp update
- November 2011 Jump
to Abu Camp
Weather and Landscape
There was some relief from the summer heat this month. After an extremely hot October we experienced a number of overcast breezy days that made the warm summer days very bearable. The cloud build-up has on occasion looked very threatening, however, it has not yet delivered much rain - the total rainfall recorded this month was only 8mm. The average low temperatures have been around 21° C with daytime highs averaging around 36° C but the temperature did peak at 39° C on a couple of occasions this month.
The landscape is still holding on to a bit of greenery and the small amount of rain which we have received has sparked the new growth to pop out of the soil. As soon as we receive more substantial rains, the environment will burst into a mass of green foliage and vegetation.
The recording of pangolin sightings is highly unusual and very rare and is something I have waited many decades to see. It is therefore very unusual for a camp to record and report pangolin sightings in two consecutive months but despite the rarity of this happening, I am pleased to be able to do so this month. On the rare occasions that we have heard about pangolin sightings over the past few years we have been highly jealous, as a result we had asked our guides to make sure they called us should they come across a sighting. We couldn't believe our luck when we were called to a sighting where three lions were trying to get the better of the pangolin. When these animals are threatened they roll themselves into a tight ball exposing only hard armoured plates which make it very difficult for predators to harm them.
We were extremely happy to reach the pangolin sighting that was within half an hour of the camp. When we arrived there, the three sub-adult lions had lost interest and were leaving the tightly rolled animal in peace. On a number of occasions the pangolin unrolled itself and started to make a move but then rapidly wrapped itself up into a tight protective ball again when one of the lions showed some interest. It was finally able to walk away with the magnificent morning light gleaming off its armoured scales. We couldn't have asked for a better sighting of the beautiful animal that allowed us to capture a memorable picture.
The lions have continued their presence around the camp this month and have made numerous kills that have offered wonderful sightings for our guests. It is always a treat for guests to discover lions on a kill where they get the opportunity to witness the drama, interaction and dynamics of a pride; we did, however, have very mixed feelings in one instance when the lions had killed a roan as these animals are not abundant and are seldom seen.
The concession is very fortunate to have a small and healthy herd of roan that have managed to grow from a group of three to 17 over the past few years. They have clearly found a perfect habitat at the suitably named roan island a few kilometres south of our camp. We are hoping that the lions have not developed a taste for roan meat as we would hate to see the population decline.
November really has been a month of highlights, and apart from the mentioned sightings, our biggest joy has been the arrival of the myriad newborn babies. It is difficult to describe as there are hundreds of impala fawns all over the show along with a great number of tsessebe calves. Although they are not seasonal breeders, the giraffe decided they did not want to be outdone and they too have added a number of babies to our resident herds.
The dark demeanour which hyaena carry has been multiplied tenfold this month, as our guests have witnessed many babies being savaged and feasted on by these opportunistic predators. A very dramatic interaction was when a clan of hyaena killed a baby giraffe and the mother was not able to do anything but watch the carnage from a distance.
Birds and Birding
Abu is an absolute paradise for birdwatchers, particularly at this time of the year when we enjoy the return of a number of migratory species. Perhaps the most popular is the Woodland Kingfisher, whose very characteristic call is so prevalent following its return in November each year. It is always an unofficial competition to be the first to record the return of the Woodland Kingfishers each year. In addition we are enjoying the return of the Broad-billed and Purple Rollers, Southern Carmine Bee-eaters as well as a number of cuckoos along with many other summer migrants.
The fish traps created by the receding waters are an absolute haven for birdwatchers with literally hundreds of birds all taking advantage of a concentration of fish and other aquatic species in the shallow waters. The pans are surrounded by all kinds of stork species.
Abu Camp has certainly lived up to its name in November, not only has our Abu herd continued to delight guests on rides and walks, they have also kept us all enthralled and more than a little jealous with their lengthy mud wallows and swims in the summer heat. It is difficult for guests to keep away from the cool waters while watching the elephants completely submerging themselves as they wallow and play for ages to cool off their enormous bodies.
Wild elephants have also been around in large numbers, often feeding off the sweet hippo grass in the receding channels. There are a number of magnificent elephants amongst the wild herds that were previously part of the Abu herd and have since been successfully released into the wild. Our most recent release of Gikka and her daughter Naya took place in July. It is wonderful to see how they have adapted to their role as wild animals and how they frequently join up with wild elephants and most often with Nandipa, one of the Abu elephants that was released a few years ago, and now has two calves of her own, both of which were conceived and born in the wild.
Social by nature our elephants certainly do regard Abu as their home and are naturally attracted to the safety of the boma late every afternoon, they do, however, roam absolutely free during the day, grazing and browsing where they please and frequently mingling with wild herds. They have an amazing affinity for the handlers and need no coaxing in the late afternoon when guests arrive to accompany them on foot and on their backs as they amble back to camp.
The big news is that Sirheni, the mother of young Abu that was born at Abu Camp, is close to increasing the size of the Abu herd once again. She has been placed on maternity leave and is expected to produce another calf sometime in December. Conceptions such as this take place in the wild without anyone being aware that a wild bull has managed to cover one of our Abu elephants while they are out feeding in the bush. This was the case with Sirheni, so the exact birth date of the new calf is speculative but she is certainly looking as round as a ball.
The staff at Abu would like to take this opportunity to wish all our past and future guests a wonderful month and would like to pass on their very best wishes to all at this time of year.
Joanne, Luke, Mike, Anne and the rest of the Abu team
This month's newsletter was done by Mike.
update - November 2011 Jump
to Kwetsani Camp
November has been another warm month filled with a variety of animals, colourful birds and interesting insects. It has also been a busy month with a wide range of guests coming from all over the world. Towards the end of the month, things slowed down a bit, giving us the opportunity to prepare for the festive season ahead.
Weather and Landscape
The past few weeks have been rather dry and dusty, raising the anticipation for the summer rains to arrive. With the days getting hotter and the winds blowing warmer air around the island, we occasionally had the smell of fresh rains lingering in the air, bringing us hope and excitement for what is yet to come.
The boat channels (aka Hippo Highways) are becoming drier by the day, as the hot summer's sun soaks up the remaining moisture. We have moved our boat station twice since July, and we will soon have to stop the boat activities until the annual inundation arrives. Driving to and from the airstrip has become the new routine, allowing one last game drive before our guests depart.
On the 20th November we received our first rains of the season! This has been long overdue and has been welcomed with open arms and cheerful smiles of joy. The grounds have been wet and the dust has all but settled once again. We have had roughly 24ml of rain since then.
Soft melodious rumbles of rain clouds and the odd flash of light dancing across the earth's canopy are seen in the distance and are appreciated by many. As the rumbles get louder and the winds stronger, we retreat indoors to enjoy a hot meal on buffet and a nightcap of our choice, knowing that tomorrow brings a whole new window of excitement and adventure.
The well-known area to the west of our concession (known as Hunda Island) is still accessible by boat (due to the large amount of water we had this year) and our activities still go on, with leopard sightings and hippo encounters to brightly coloured birds and smaller reptiles. These daily excursions are still available but not for much longer, as the crystal clear waters that are home to thousands of small and large Delta inhabitants are slowly disappearing. But not to worry, our floodplains are now dry and the wide open space is the perfect playground for our four-legged friends.
Here are some of the highlights of November:
As we watched the earth around us get drier we were eagerly waiting - and hoping - for the return of the Jao Pride, especially the male who seems to have a liking to Kwetsani. True to form, we heard his claiming of the territory as his roar vibrated through camp. This was about halfway through November and since then he has been spotted numerous times on drive and is often heard calling in the middle of the night; sometimes loud and powerful, other times soft like a lullaby putting us all to sleep.
The elephants are still visiting camp although less frequently. There are many babies around and at times it's like an elephant nursery in camp and ever so entertaining. Larger herds can are still seen around the concession.
The sighting of the month caused a buzz of excitement. As our guests arrived back from a night drive, they had a fantastic sighting of a leopard in a tree. Not only was this elusive creature perched in a tree but it was feasting on a kill - a baby hyaena. The most captivating thing about the sighting was the fact that the mother of the hyaena was at the bottom of the tree watching. As the saying goes "it's a jungle out there" and the circle of life can be rather cruel. But it doesn't end there: although nature appears cruel as the poor mother hyaena watches her young being devoured, there is a strange sequence of events as a leg falls to the ground and the mother eats her young's leg. All at the sighting watched in awe. It was a rather bitter-sweet ending to the day as it was a sad yet amazing sighting.
Now that we have received some rain, the flying termites or winged alates have erupted from the safety of their mounds in a bid to colonise the area and spread their genes. Both male and female reproductives embark on a flight after rain, many of which fall victim to rapid predation. The handful that do manage to reach a suitable spot, find one another, go underground and mate, spark the beginning of another termiterium.
Birds and Birding
The Woodland Kingfisher is back - despite its name, this beautiful blue, white and black bird does not eat fish. It feasts on an array of insects, perching on a tree branch, scouting out the land until it finds its next tasty meal. This is the first month these birds have been around this year as they are summer migrants; we will be hearing a lot more of them throughout the next couple of months.
The echoing call of the African Fish-Eagle is truly the sound of Africa. We see them all year round but it never gets boring. They feed on fish so are often seen perched in a tree with their mate close to the water's edge. They are monogamous birds and have one mate for life.
Staff in Camp
Managers: Bradley White and Annelize Hattingh.
Guides: MT Malebogo and Florence Kagiso
update - November 2011 Jump
to Jao Camp
Weather and Landscape
November started the same way October ended - with very hot weather!
We thought the rain and a little relief would never come. The long term weather forecast predicted more hot and dry conditions with below average rainfall for the rest of the year. Towards the end of the month, we began experiencing some decent cloud build-up during the afternoons, mostly dissipating as soon as the sun rose the following morning. We then had three short thunderstorms which produced just over 19mm of precipitation over a three-day period. This was enough to jump start the wildlife and settle the dust.
The water levels continue to drop at a rapid rate, and we can only just get to Hunda Island from Kwetsani. The channels between us and Jacana are still quite deep and provide awesome mokoro trips.
With the arrival of the first rains, everything is starting to sport new life, which provides a great green backdrop for some amazing photos and the clouds in the sky also make for those breathtaking Delta sunsets.
This time of year is always special - the birds are in breeding plumage and there are baby antelope everywhere. Even our resident business of mongoose has a couple of new additions to their family and have found a comfy spot in a storage shed next to the office.
The impala and red lechwe have been at the forefront of replenishing their numbers and continue to provide a constant flow of newly-born fawns and calves. This abundance of easy prey has attracted a good deal of lion activity to the surrounds of Jao Camp. We have also had a brief glimpse of a leopard on the island, which is not a very common occurrence and is encouraging for the upcoming months. Hopefully this master of elusion will become more comfortable around humans and make regular appearances.
Hunda Island has been very productive as always, although it is getting more and more difficult to get there. The drive and boat trip do, however, give a great all-round experience which is then complimented with a half or full day trip onto the island. Leopard sightings on Hunda continue to amaze as well as the vast numbers of zebra, wildebeest, giraffe and hippo.
Birds and Birding
The Jao environment has been overrun by the melodious calls of the plethora of summer migrants which continue to pour into the Delta from further north. The Woodland Kingfisher is at the forefront of the avian choir and Chrrrrrrrs throughout the entire day. One of our guest, who is an avid birder managed to rack up over 100 birds in one day as well as five lifers for his bird list.
Following suit with the mammalian species, a Giant Eagle-Owl pair nested in camp and the chick has just fledged and taken its first flight at the end of the month.
Mokoro trips are still magical, with all the birdlife and frogs out calling and the water lilies in bloom, no engine noise, this is not only true Delta tradition, it is a sensory overload with so much activity to take in. Although the water levels have dropped all around, we are still able to offer sundowner boat trips in the deeper channels. These are very popular with all our guests who have enjoyed watching the sunset over the Delta from the boat.
Night drives are becoming increasingly popular too with the arrival of the lions. Nothing quite matches the experience of observing the lions hunt cooperatively at night at close quarters from the comfort and safety of a vehicle.
"Very lovely location, facilities and most of all, staff. Favourite activities were boat trip to the island, mokoro ride and sundowners party at the hippo location." Thomas and Kathrine.
"Vundi was a great guide. We really enjoyed the variation in drives (night, boat, day, Mokoro, Hunda) Beautiful rooms and facilities. Friendly staff team and great service." Tom and Ellie.
"The highlight in this camp certainly was the boat trip. We particularly enjoyed the warm and friendly hospitality; we felt like part of the family. The spa treatment (intonga massage) was highly professional and relaxing." Huenie.
Staff in Camp
Managers: Antony Mulligan, Kalinka Mulligan, Billy McKechnie, Minette McKechnie, Marina Lunga, Neuman Vasco and Phil Ngisi.
Guides: David Mapodise, Vundi Kashamba, Joseph Basenyeng and Maipaa Tekanyetso.
update - November 2011 Jump
to Seba Camp
Tubu Tree Camp
update - November 2011 Jump
to Tubu Tree Camp
With the change of season and the first rain came a whole new feeling of excitement here at Tubu Tree Camp.
Weather and Landscape
The first two weeks of the month were full of anticipation. Almost every afternoon the clouds would build on the western horizon, the crash of thunder and the brightness of lightning as the sun set promised us rain, but in the distance you can see the rain falling and yet none fell on Hunda Island.
All creatures big and small were waiting for the rain to come. Within days of our first November rain shower, the plants seemed to come alive, the impala population increased in numbers, and the smell of wet earth surrounded us, and don't forget the future kings and queens of the termite kingdom that spread their wings.
Our temperatures have fluctuated from the low twenties to the high thirties.
It has once again been the month of the leopard here on Hunda Island. There are many stories to tell, and we have selected the best to share.
The beginning of the month came with a female leopard and her sub-adult female cub that killed a tsessebe on the way to our boat station. After two days of being able to feed undisturbed, a large male hyaena sniffed out the carrion and found the feline duo having a siesta not far from their leftovers. In typical opportunist hyaena fashion, he moved in to claim the prize. When the guides arrived on scene, they found a peculiar situation.
The hyaena was casually feeding on the carcass, whilst the female leopard was keeping a watchful eye on the hyaena as well as her cub from a safe distance. Suddenly, the sub-adult cub began stalking the hyaena and managed to get within two metres before the hyaena showed any real agitation. Every now and then the hyaena would glance at the cub who would momentarily freeze. As the cub was so close, the hyaena decided enough was enough and stood up, slowly approaching the cub and emitting a low growl. The cub immediately fled, using clumps of vegetation as camouflage, and soon the hyaena was outsmarted and left guessing where the feline was. After some time the hyaena returned to the carcass but was quickly irritated by the collection of flies and other carrion eating insects. The hyaena dragged the carcass into a palm thicket for some respite from the buzzing. The two leopards moved in to look for some scraps.
On another occasion a male leopard was seen from the decks of Tent 1 and 2 taking down an impala. The leopard killed the impala in the early afternoon before tea, and dragged his prize into the palm thickets on the island, where he was successful at keeping it secret from the ever-present hyaena clan.
A few days later, whilst all the guests were out on an activity, the camp managers were surprised to find a leopard sitting on the deck next to the rest room. As soon as the spotted feline saw the Homo sapiens, it disappeared off the deck and into the scrub.
The baboons have also made their presence known on the island. The resident troop leader once again killed a bushbuck fawn outside camp, in the river crossing. The subordinate males were trying their best to distract the leader so one of them could steal the fawn from him, with no success at all. Bushbuck 0 - Baboon troop 2 - Leopard 1. Looks like our bushbuck population is not increasing in size this year.
Since the fig trees started fruiting at the start of the month, we had almost constant visits from a herd of elephants on the ground and the resident troop of baboons in the trees. The baboons being messy eaters would drop a good number of figs to the ground which the elephants gladly enjoyed.
Birds and Birding
The resident Wattled Cranes have been seen on numerous occasions even providing us with a fly-by the camp. Courting Saddle-billed Storks were also seen from camp. On drive we discovered a Giant Eagle-Owl chick, sitting very protected in its nest with either mom or dad close by, keeping an ever watchful eye out for danger.
The bird bath at the top of the steps at the main area has been a major attraction for all birds in and around camp. As the summer migrants have arrived, many of them being breeding migrants too, the bird bath has provided the ideal place to bring their fledglings or to stock up for their nesting period.
"Three leopard sightings of increasing quality, black mamba, spitting cobra, fighting giraffe, African Fish-Eagle catching a fish, the lovely staff and food, dinner under the stars, eagle-eyed Johnny - all in all, a great experience!" Helen Cox
"Game drives with Delta - his knowledge of the area and enthusiasm which he passed on completely made our safari, I can't thank him enough. Other highlights were: Mat's cheesecake, Eloise's pop up bar at sundown and dinner under the stars." The Nicholson Family
"The friendly and hospitable atmosphere at the camp, the expertise of Moruti, our guide, sitting on our balcony and having elephants as our guests, the food and interaction with the staff, outside shower and seeing leopards was amazing!" Nicole and Rico
Staff in Camp
Managers: Hein Holton and Eloise van der Walt.
Guides: Kambango Sinimbo, Johnny Mowanji, Moruti Maipelo and Maipaa Tekanyetso.
Kalahari Plains Camp
update - November 2011 Jump
to Kalahari Plains Camp
Weather and Landscape
Spring has fast approached and jumped straight into summer with some scorching daytime temperatures, although the early mornings have been quite chilly before the sun spread its hot rays over the Kalahari. Towards the end of the month, daily temperatures were reaching 40° C. This heat, coupled with the lack of moisture, has dried the landscape out.
At the beginning of the month, we did experience some bush fires in the eastern areas. Although, these fires appeared to scorch the land, new signs of life are sprouting up everywhere demonstrating how resilient the landscape is. Many tree species have also started to bloom, adding an array of summer colours to the drab winter shades.
During the month of September we had some amazing sightings of predators especially cheetah. The open plains/pans of the Kalahari provide very suitable habitats for this elusive cat and also makes spotting them a bit easier.
The Kalahari Plains Pride has also been seen around the camp a couple of times. Most of the time we heard them roaring close to camp at night. At one point the two pride males were spotted, one of whom was looking very skinny and in poor condition as he was quite old at this stage. We have not seen him since the beginning of the month and assume that the Kalahari has claimed him.
The lioness that was nursing close to camp last month is still doing well and so are her three cubs which are around seven months of age now. Thrillingly, the little family spent most of their time close to camp this month.
As for the general game, wildebeest numbers have picked up around camp, especially around Khudu Pan and Big Pan. Generally the numbers of wildebeest dwindle during the dry season, and we have not seen large herds at this time of the season for years. Perhaps this is why the lions have been sticking close to camp.
Birds and Birding
The birding around the camp has been great. We had sightings of Bradfield's Hornbill, which are becoming abundant. This is no regular sighting for us, so it has excited both guests and guides.
Kori Bustards have also been very active around the camp, often treating us to their wonderful courtship display. This is a truly amazing sight to see as the male puffs his neck feathers out like a balloon and emits his resonant oom-oom-oom call in order to attract an interested mate.
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