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South Africa camps
Pafuri Camp update - March 2012 Jump
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Weather and Landscape
As the baobabs start to shed their leaves, this heralds the arrival of the winter months and the onset of autumn. Having said this, we did have a number of hot patches and did not experience much rain. The average high for the month was a balmy 36°C with the hottest being 43°C.
The hot conditions with the lack of rain and the prominent winds of change have created dusty conditions, especially along the river roads, is another indicator that we did not receive a lot of rain in our rainy season.
The area in front of camp has produced some amazing game viewing again - with the highlight being two crocodile kills. On the first occasion, a nyala bull was taken by several crocodiles whilst drinking and on the second occasion, a large waterbuck bull was grabbed by a large crocodile and then swamped by many more... this all happened in the space of a week.
Large numbers of elephant are slowly making their way back into the concession as the dry season sets in. These large herds as well as single bulls are being found dotted all along the Luvuvhu River. Buffalo are also plentiful throughout the entire concession. The bulk grazers are slowly making their way from the camp area down to the Limpopo floodplains, where they will spend the dry months grazing on sporobolus grass.
After disappearing for almost a month from mid-February to early this month, the Pafuri Pride of eight (two females and six youngsters) have been sighted several times this month. They are operating mostly along the Luvuvhu River, sometimes going south. Although the bush is still quite thick along the river, our guides have made efforts to track these lions and most of our guests have enjoyed beautiful lion sightings this month. We ended our month with an interesting sighting of the Pafuri Pride hunting and killing a nyala bull near Crooks' Corner, a very special experience. Nkanu, the dominant male, was seen only once this month with the Pafuri Pride and has disappeared again; we think he is spending more time on the southern side of the Luvuvhu River.
The six nomadic young lions have been sighted few times this month. This coalition of six independent youngsters is prowling around the whole concession hunting every antelope that could provide a possible meal. On the 17th they were seen hunting impala with no success. There was an exceptional sighting of two of these young male lions killing a warthog on the 14th while our guests watched. These warthogs were sleeping in the culvert under the road. One the young lions crossed the road and waited in ambush as his accomplice chased the warthogs in his direction and straight into his jaws.
There have been several leopard sightings this month and in total we saw 13 leopard, most of the sightings taking place along the Luvuvhu River and tar road.
The rhino have been fairly elusive this month, only rewarding those who track them on foot with the occasional sightings, as they have moved far away from the roads.
Birds and Birding
We had exceptional birding this month as most of the migrants are still around. Our resident specials such as Racket-tailed Roller, Pel's Fishing-Owl, and Three-banded Courser have been sighted several times. Chestnut-backed Sparrowlark was also spotted at Makwadzi Pan, and a Narina Trogon was also seen between the two Luvuvhu bridges.
This month, our guests have enjoyed presentations, which were done by our guides, and covered topics such as cultural history, Ramsar sites and rhino conservation in the area. The ever popular Thulamela trips have continued to please our guests as well as some rhino tracking excursions.
Pafuri Walking Trail update - March 2012 Jump
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Camp Jabulani update - March 2012
Kings Camp update - March 2012 Jump
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Leopard Hills update - March 2012 Jump
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The winds of change are fanning us towards winter as we celebrate our action packed 14th birthday month with some scintillating sightings.
As the wood sandpipers (pictured below) and many other migrants fatten up for the long journey north we reflect on a period of transition that handed us some agonising reminders of the harshness of Africa.
The last year has been a really trying period for her, 2 litters of cubs sadly lost mostly due to instability among the male leopards in the area. Her previous cub may have been killed by a scavenging hyaena, the Ravenscourt female leopard , another male leopard or even lions…we will never know.
In this image taken a few days ago one can sense the fatigue in her expression. This was taken after we presume she had a territorial encounter with the Ravenscourt female who is territorial east of her, see the injury on her right ear.
We hypothesise that Hlaba Nkunzi is pushing further east due to the commanding presence and protection provided by the Kashane male over there.
She still needs to look after her western territory near Leopard Hills and has been following the Dayone male around for the latter part of the month, presenting herself to him seemingly to no avail! See below image of his disinterested body language. Let’s hope he has already given in to her charms or does so soon!
As usual she has provided us with many wonderful sightings during the month, high up trees, atop termite mounds…next to waterholes! The list goes on! She is scent marking more regularly and has claimed the small but vacant territory north west of Leopard Hills.
With Hlaba Nkunzi spending more time east and not marking here as frequently, Metsi has seized the opportunity of pushing in from the west! She has been seen numerous times very close to the lodge, possibly searching for den sites as she was mating with the Dayone male early in the month and could be pregnant.
There may some disputing over this prime location between these 2 experienced females sometime soon.
Here she is mating with Dayone.
This stunning yet elusive female creates much excitement when she is located in her riverine habitat, here is a rare sighting of her rolling over out in the open.
She has been located a couple of times in the far north east, still with her sub adult male cub on most occasions.
Towards month end he has patrolled frequently on the western side of his expansive territory. This is most likely due to both the Hlaba Nkunzi and Ravenscourt females coming into oestrus. See video for interesting behavioural footage of him performing the Flehmen Grimace and then calling and scent marking to attract one of these females.
He has taken over Xhinzele’s previous territory which has proved to be tiresome work for a young male… at least 4 females have flung themselves at him this month (Metsi, Hlaba Nkunzi, Dam 3 and even the youthful Thlangisa is trying her luck) See video of this fascinating behaviour.
Now much bigger, stronger and more self assured let’s hope that he remains territorial here for some time to come! Whether he is confident enough to hold his own against rival males remains to be seen.
Still no sign of Xhinzele or Mashiabanje in the north, there are however tracks of a big male up there, could be one of them…
Lions (Lion dynamics and behaviour and then some!)
End of an Era! Last stand of the Mapogo Coaliton!
The defining moment had to come, speculation as to how and when has dominated conversation around dinner tables and campfires in recent weeks.
Every epic tale must build up and deliver a scintillating finale and the story of arguably the most acclaimed and notorious coalition of male lions ever documented to prowl Africa certainly did!
Here is a captivating image taken by Hannes in 2007 of 5 of the Mapogo during their heyday.
The 4 challengers a few days before the confrontation!
After their brief encounter with the 4 Selati (Southern) males a few weeks ago when the weakest Mapogo member was slightly injured, the dynamic changed and a follow up encounter involving the coalitions was imminent.
Was it the Ximhungwe lioness mating with the Selati males a month ago and giving them a taste of the trophy at stake? Was it a sudden a weakness detected in the weaker Mapogo male? What is certain is that a number of factors led to the showdown and heart wrenching culmination on the morning of March 16th!
Our guests have been privileged enough to witness both sides of the story evolve over the past week.
Firstly the youngsters moving in, strengthening their coalition bond, scent marking all over the Mapogo’s northern territory. It was almost as if they were preparing themselves for the inevitable confrontation.
Meanwhile the 3 Mapogo were occupied and content with a large buffalo kill in the south that kept them busy for days.
On the morning of the 16th when we received the radio message “we have audio of lions fighting in the south”, we knew it was on! The initial message was relayed as 3 Mapogo’s have isolated a young male, this is what we expected…what we wished to be for the proud old men we had known and revered for so long!
On arrival on the scene to see the tables turned was unforeseen, shocking…it took us all some time to grasp what was unfolding in front of us. We expected all 3 Mapogo’s to stand their ground and rise to the challenge!
The old boxing adage “You’re only as good as your last fight” certainly holds true! It was the veteran gladiator that stood up to be counted and fought admirably for his territory, his offspring, his lionesses and ultimately his livelihood as a male lion!
Without a territory is he not a male lion? He would rather die defending his pride than live out his existence as a castigated nomad, whatever your thoughts are on the short maned Mapogo and there are many contrasting opinions! He will always be respected and remembered for his character and fearlessness.
An afternoon thunderstorm rose eerily and saturated the bloodstained earth, washing away the Mapogo bloodline and unveiling an exciting new era.
The fate of the remaining Mapogo cubs hangs precariously in the balance, they will most likely be killed! We are however excited about new beginnings and some stability for the Ximhungwe pride under the Selati males.
The 2 remaining Mapogo have been seen infrequently since the takeover and are keeping a very low profile. Their existence will now be a struggle for survival with limited hunting ability and strong young coalitions looking to eliminate them from all sides.
Below images are of content looking Mapogo on their buffalo kill a mere 2 days before it all ended.
Ximhungwe pride rally together
The 4 Selati males had been on the scent of the Ximhungwe pride for over a week! What they didn't bargain on was the maternal instinct and teamwork of 4 united lionesses that are prepared to put it all on the line to protect their cubs.
10 days ago both the males and lionesses were within 2 kilometers of each other far up in the north. During the night the lionesses must have picked up the males in hot pursuit and high tailed it south for over 10 kilometers.
In the morning the lionesses were located right on the southern fence line with their 4 exhausted cubs trotting heavy legged behind them. One of the males hadn’t given up while his weary brothers couldn’t take the pace. He was very close, within 500m of them and it was remarkable to observe his acute sense of smell as he trailed them until he finally caught sight of them.
The lionesses were left with no choice and rallied together.
Enjoy the images below.
Pride takeovers are a lengthy sequence of events and the lionesses have won the first battle but we feel a confrontation with all 4 males is inevitable. We will keep you all posted!
Strong, imposing, growing in stature and confidence by the day, these 4 handsome males are really looking the part as dominant, territorial male lions.
We are busy trying to establish if there is clear a dominance hierarchy amongst the 4! It seems the bolder male with the short lighter coloured mane who confronted the lionesses on his own takes the lead much of the time. He did so in the fight with the Mapogo and then again with lionesses, one of the males is also older by a few months and is sporting a darker more developed mane. Their ages are roughly between 4 and 4 and a half years old.
Specialist buffalo hunters
Schooled in the south east, roughly 40 kilometres away from here, amongst the herds of buffalo along the Sabie river, these males are experts at confronting the most formidable prey species Africa has to offer, head on!
We were privileged to witness the below sequence along the Sand river a few days ago, most likely their first buffalo kill here in the west.
One of the 2 lionesses unveiled her litter of 8 week old cubs to us during the beginning of the month, 4 of them in total. (See pictures below)
One of her den sites was discovered in the far north but this was short lived as the 4 Selati males entered the area on the rampage and forced the lioness to rush them far towards the east to safety somewhere. The lioness is moving the little ones a lot to try and keep them safe and we have only seen tracks in the last week.
Painted Dog Pack
The pack is apparently faring well in the east, the Alpha pair were reportedly mating during the month and are possibly searching for den sites or even denning already. After being spoilt with a den site this time last year we can only hope they select a suitable termite mound den on our traversing area again to raise their pups!
Parades abound and are relishing the feast before the onset of winter and the pickings become a little scarcer.
The massive herd has been in the south for most of the month, they lost an experienced member to the 3 Mapogo for the last time in mid March, now they have to contend with the formidable Selati males. Fascinating times lie ahead as we will continue to observe one of the ancient ongoing duels of Africa, now just starring new contenders.
Interesting sightings in March
Let’s not forget the little nocturnal mammals, an amazing sighting of a relaxed lesser bush baby during the month.
Female dwarf mongoose babysitter carrying a young one to safety. The sub ordinate females look after the Alpha female’s offspring.
Along with other Intra African migrants, the cuckoos are beginning their migration, this rare sighting of an African Cuckoo in the open was probably due to a stop over for a rest on it’s way north!
Rocktail Beach Camp update - March 2012 Jump
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March did not get off to a great start as we were right in the path of Cyclone Irina. For the first week we experienced heavy rains, wind and rough seas. Luckily most divers were able to postpone their holiday and returned to dive after the bad weather had passed. The remainder of the month was great and we were blessed with sunny days, excellent sea conditions, warm water averaging 27 degrees Celsius and visibility sitting between 18-25 metres for most of the month.
Shark and ray sightings have been plentiful, with a lovely guitarfish seen at Elusive, a huge marbled ribbontail ray at Yellowfin Drop, the resident white-tip shark at Gogo's and grey-reef and black-tip sharks on most dives.
A dive at Pineapple produced a school of what must have been about 60 to 80 bull rays! They flew past us, crossing right over the reef in front of everyone before heading out to sea. We then saw three big couta, one hawksbill turtle, two honeycomb eels and a total of three grey-reef sharks, one of which came really close and circled around us, much to Bradley's delight and Claire's dismay!
One of the most memorable dives of the month was at Solitude. The sea was flat, there was not a breath of wind, the sun was shining and the water was the most wonderful shade of blue. Diane Macdonald was busy doing her Advanced Course, so we decided to do a deep dive at Solitude, which sits at a maximum depth of 24 metres. Clive was helping everyone kit up and as he turned to put one of the cylinders on the pontoon, he shouted "tiger shark!" We all turned quickly to have a look and there it was - a big tiger shark right next to the boat. It did not hang around for long before we watched it disappear into the blue.
The dive was just as spectacular, as we did our backward roll and started to descend, we could see the reef at the bottom, a potato bass sitting above the main rock, surrounded by a plethora of other fish. We saw schools of blue-banded snappers, blue-fin and black-tip kingfish, sangora, a big honeycomb eel, three sharpnose rays and schools of fusiliers and scads. The reef was alive and we sat and watched as the bait fish darted from side to side, forming a wall of silver as they tried to escape the couta and kingfish that were chasing them.
Once back on the boat, Clive had another surprise for us. A juvenile Cape Gannet was floating along, resting on the surface of the ocean. We normally see these birds in winter time as they follow the humpback whales during their annual migration, so it was a bit unusual to see one so early. It was tired and clearly hungry, so Clive threw it a couple of sardines that he had on the boat. The gannet was so tired that it missed one of the fish and could not even dive down far enough to catch it. Duncan did his good deed for the day and jumped in to give the fish to the hungry bird. Hopefully having some food would have given it a better chance at survival.
There were also lots of good macro sightings this month including tiny whip-coral gobies and shrimps, baby juvenile razor wrasse and rockmover wrasse, tiny geometric moray eels, tapestry shrimps, nudibranchs everywhere, porcelain crabs and partner (clown) shrimps in anemones. Nearly every anemone had groups of tiny baby clownfish and some also had baby dominoes in them.
The most exciting macro find happened quite by chance. We were diving at Aerial Reef and had completed the southern section of the reef, so we were busy swimming across the sand to the northern section. I skimmed my hands across the sand to see if there were any small shells hiding under the sand when I spotted something tiny sitting right in front of me. At first I thought that perhaps it was just a piece of sponge or weed but it had a strange shape so I took a closer look. It was a Pegasus sea moth (Eurypegasus draconis)! In all the years that we have been diving on these reefs, Clive had only found one pair of these fish at Elusive and I had only seen one individual at Elusive before this tiny specimen, so this was a truly rare and special sighting! These strange little fish have flattened bodies with wing like pectoral fins and a body encased in thick bony plates, they also have an elongated snout in front of their jaws. Their pelvic fins are modified allowing them to walk across the sea bed and if disturbed they can move at greater speeds by beating their caudal fin. These little fish even shed their skin to keep themselves clear of parasites and algae growth!
The end of March signals the end of turtle nesting season which means that we are just a few weeks away from the time when we begin looking out for the first humpback whales. We are still lucky to see turtles right throughout the year though as loggerhead, hawksbill and green turtles live on these reefs. It is just the leatherback turtle that lives in very deep water, so we won't be seeing any of them till next year.
Can't wait to see what big and small creatures next month brings.
Congratulations to the following divers:
Jonathan Saby for completing his PADI Discover Scuba Diving Course.
Diane Macdonald for completing her PADI Advanced Course.
Yours in diving
Darryl, Clive, Michelle
The Rocktail Dive Team
Rocktail Bay Dive Report - March 2012 Jump
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Makalolo Plains update - March 2012 Jump
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Little Makalolo update - March 2012 Jump
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Weather and Landscape
The beginning of March was characterised by a very dry spell with very high temperatures in the afternoons. The mornings were quite chilly and around mid-morning the temperatures would start to escalate. We noticed a weather change towards the end of the month characterised by heavy storms - along with lightning and thunder. The maximum temperature was 35° C and minimum was 17.6° C.
Just when we had given up on the rain and concluded that it had gone, Mother Nature gave us a surprise and graced us with wonderful storms towards the end of the month. The grass had already begun to turn a golden colour, an indication that there is not sufficient water and that winter is on the approach, but was quickly rejuvenated and brought back to life. A lot of trees are still looking green and lush like the teak and false mopane trees that dot the landscape. The teak trees are now flowering, adding more colour to our beautiful paradise.
This month we had really good sightings, starting off with cheetah feeding on a zebra kill in the Linkwasha Concession. Our guests arrived just after the kill took place, but were in time to see the cheetah drag the carcass to a nice shady area and start feasting.
The Linkwasha Pride of 16 lion has been seen on numerous occasions. On two sightings they were hunting, though unsuccessful, but the cubs seem to be getting good training. The whole pride is looking very healthy and is in great condition. We had two brilliant leopard sightings. One was at Scott's Pan - a relaxed female having a drink from the pan though she didn't stay in sight for a long time once she noticed the vehicles. The other sightings were right in front of camp - a gorgeous male leopard was relaxing in the log pile after sunset. It was very interesting for our guests who were scheduled to use the log pile hide the following day...
The highlight for the month though, was the wild dog sightings which we enjoyed this month. The most exciting sighting we had of them was right in camp! This sighting took place while our guests were enjoying breakfast and the dogs were spotted by the housekeeping staff who alerted everyone. All the guests quickly jumped into the vehicles and drove to the back of camp where they found the pack resting in some shade. That afternoon the pack had moved to the front of camp and started to stalk a herd of impala, which luckily managed to avoid any mortality - very exciting indeed!
Another highlight for us was the sighting of two porcupine just outside camp.
Birds and Birding
Walking to a pan one afternoon we came across a tiny Egyptian Goose chick. It was nicely nestled in the grass, well hidden and camouflaged. The mother quickly made her presence known when we kept hovering over her however, and we had to quickly move away.
The Southern Carmine Bee-eaters are definitely on their way out, as evidenced by a decline in their numbers. We had good sightings of the European Rollers this month, as they often would pose for photographs. A special sighting for this month was the Great White Pelicans spotted at Ngamo. We had some great sightings of Crowned Cranes throughout the month.
"Our entire stay has been fantastic - one big highlight! This is mostly due to staff being so efficient and helpful and kind!"
"The staff and guide were exceptional and were extremely polite and service orientated."
"All the staff were amazing and made our stay extra special."
Staff in Camp
Managers: Rania Mutumhe, Charles Ndlovu, Tracy Peacocke and Cynthia Ndiweni.
Guides: Dickson Dube, Honest Siyawareva, Bulisani Mathe and Charles Ndlovu.
Davison's Camp update - March 2012
Weather and Landscape
This month, on days when it has not been raining, the temperatures have exceeded 35 degrees Celsius, but generally the maximum has ranged between 29 and 32 degrees Celsius. There are still some good thunderstorms; the highest rainfall in a day was 52 mm. The nights that have been clear and have given us some amazing views of the stars. We had a total of 129.5mm rain this month.
We have noticed some pans drying out and this has led to an increase in elephant activity at the major pan systems. The ordeal trees have started to turn a brilliant shade of yellow - a sure indicator that autumn is on the approach. The undergrowth is still flourishing as there is a profusion of grasses and flowers.
Normally the rainy season is avoided in Hwange as many people think it is an unproductive time for game viewing - but this was proven incorrect this month!
Apart from being a fantastic time for birding, we had some wonderful sightings of both high profile and rare animals. Among the highlights was the sightings of wild dog which we had. We regularly found the small pack of two dogs which frequent the Davison's area. We also encountered the larger pack which hangs around Ngweshla. Some of the other predators seen during the month were cheetah, honey badger, African wild cat, and three zorilla!
You may ask what a zorilla is - is it a Zimbabwean gorilla? Most definitely not: this is the other name given to a stripped polecat, which can be likened to a skunk.
We often caught sight of a trio of cheetah, which we assume are part of the group of four that we continually encountered last year. We suspect that one of the felines has died, and quite possibly at the claws of a lion owing to the large amounts of lion activity in the area.
Lions have been seen frequently and those at Ngamo were mating this month. There is a fine new male lion there that appears to be doing all the work. The two males who spent some time in the Mbiza area have been causing some disturbance for both the Makalolo and Linkwasha Prides. These males have gained confidence and appear to be challenging the resident males.
Ngamo has plenty of antelope herds at the moment and looks a bit like the plains of East Africa, with its abundance of wildebeest, zebra and other species.
Birds and Birding
March was still wet on occasions and the rain kept many of the main pans and puddles full. This has meant that there are still plenty of water birds on the concession - ducks, waders, storks and the like. Some birds may have started their northward migration already. There are less Ruffs around and we saw a large flock of White Storks passing camp. Certainly the Lesser Spotted Eagles have vanished. Having said this, we are still seeing numerous passerines and raptors, and the rainy season does not disappoint.
Davison's was been busy this month with a training programme for all the guides on the concession. Courtney Johnson organised an exceptional course which was a real challenge to the learner guides and helped improve the quality of guiding here in Hwange. The professional guides were also involved in a guides' selection course that ran at Little Makalolo. This was also very well managed and hopefully we will be seeing some of those that participated on the selection working here later in the year.
This month we say a sad farewell to one of our professional guides, Bryan Orford - we will miss your knowledge, professionalism and laugh... especially your laugh!
'The guides were wonderful. They took us to see the amazing animals that we had so much dreamed of seeing. The staff was awesome in surprising us with a dinner for two in front of the fire for our anniversary.'
'My grandmother didn't even treat me as well as the staff at Davison's Camp.'
Staff in Camp
Managers: Andre' and Tammy, Buhle and Avias.
Guides: Bryan, Godfrey, Brian, Robert and Livingstone.
Ruckomechi Camp update - March 2012 Jump
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Weather and Landscape
The month of March was interesting in terms of the weather. We have had some very hot and humid days towards the middle of the month and towards to the end of March we experienced some rain with overcast conditions that cooled the Zambezi Valley off to a very comfortable temperature that was enjoyed by all. Our maximum temperature reached this month was 37° C whilst our average minimum temperature was 25° C. We received a total of 65 ml of rain throughout the month.
The Ruckomechi Concession is looking beautiful in all its shades of green. With the rainy season coming to an end now, the bush is still green and lush. Most of the plants are in flower and creating the perfect still-life picture. It is amazing to see the purple flowers of the Vernonia glabra and the white flowers of the waterlily. An abundance of caterpillars are stripping the green leaves of the fever berry trees. It is soul-soothing to drive above the ridge behind the camp this time of the year. The mopane woodland is still uniform and green and the sausage trees still have their fruit hanging in abundance.
Mammal sightings have been good and surprisingly huge numbers of elephant have been seen on the floodplain. We have been fortunate to have the Ruckomechi Pride of lions around camp and the concession throughout the month. Hearing their roars every night has been a joy. The pride has been spotted in the Ruckomechi River with a new born cub and this little bundle was looking healthy and fit. We have also noted that one of the males was mating with the younger lioness of the pride.
Herds of buffalo have been a regular occurrence on the floodplain in the late afternoons with impala, waterbuck, baboons and kudu.
Birds and Birding
As March progresses, we witness more grass. It looks so lush, due to the amount of rain received, which naturally triggers a series of activities within the birding world such as breeding, nest building and the arrival of new species into the Zambezi Valley.
Along the great Zambezi we see the Collared Pratincole and the plover-like Ruffs flying around for insects.
On land we see a variety of weavers in search of grass for housing, Red Bishops as they become more aggressive in defending their respective breeding sites and the determination of Wire-tailed Swallows as they build mud houses.
On an overcast day, as we drove around without much expectation, we came across a Peregrine Falcon.
This month, Ruckomechi Camp hosted a Children in the Wilderness programme with great excitement. These children were from two schools - Chipfuko School and Nyamakate School.
The CITW programme was a success and the joy of seeing our future generation of entrepreneurs was exciting. Sue Goatley and her team did a fantastic job. It was a privilege to host this CITW camp at Ruckomechi. The 23 slightly apprehensive little faces that arrived were a whole different group of children who left six days later. Games, songs, learning and laughter, team building and all of this coupled with good food and a great team ensured that the children had a time that they would not forget.
A very big thank you needs to go to the Ruckomechi staff, who not only offered their beautiful home to these children but their eager helping hands too.
Staff in Camp
Managers: Carel, Juliette, Theunis, Belinda and Elizabeth.
Guides: Gadreck, Champion, Theunis and Mathew.
Mana Canoe Trail update - March 2012 Jump
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Toka Leya Camp update - March 2012 Jump
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Weather and Landscape
As expected for this time of the year, the rains have begun to slow down, with very little precipitation being received at the beginning and end of the month. We did experience some pretty amazing cloud formations which enhanced the beautiful Zambian sunsets tremendously.
Water levels on the on the Zambezi River continue to rise, causing a monstrous 'spray' at Victoria Falls, which really makes a visit to this wonder unforgettable.
Although the Mosi-oa-Tunya Park is probably one of the smallest parks of Zambia, it's definitely one of most diverse in terms of game, birdlife and activities offered. One definitely never leaves this park disappointed in terms of what you will see both in numbers as well as photographic opportunities.
The little rhino that was born last month has really been the highlight of the month with most of our guests who had a chance to see this character. As per our last newsletter, the pride and joy in the faces of the rangers as well as the guides when they tell the story of the project to the guests is so obvious.
Guests have on many occasions woken up to the great herds of buffalo and giant elephant bulls walking through the camp as well as the usual variety of the plains game which the park has in large numbers.
Birds and Birding
For the birders, the increase in water levels on the Zambezi has created a new habitat for the waterbirds and an afternoon can easily be spent birdwatching. Of note this month was the African Finfoot that frequented the waters in front of the Toka Leya bar up to Tent 4. This special bird is usually a difficult one to photograph as it is naturally shy but an extremely special sight for any birdwatcher.
Camp and Community News
This month we are proud to announce our community relationship, tours and contribution. Once again this remains a really special part of the guest's trip to Africa as well as one of Wilderness Safaris principles. We have noted that most of the guests that get a chance to visit the nearby community have left with a different impression to life and will always remain a great eye-opener to everyone who gets a chance to do the cultural trip. The smiles and obvious happiness of the people, especially the children, are always a highlight of the these excursions. Guests always remark on the creativity of the village kids who by every means keep themselves happy with basic toys which they hand-make themselves out of what most in many other places would consider waste.
We have started on a project at the local school to build the teachers' accommodation. This month saw us delivering the building materials to the school which included bags of cement and door frames. This follows on the roofing sheets and window frames we sent a little while back. Heavy rains have halted the building which has now been able to resume. In addition to the building materials, some of our guests have donated a huge amount of school books, pens and pencils which will definitely be a great help for the school. The focus on the materials donated was particularly books for the Grade 7 pupils who will be sitting for their examinations this year.
"It was an amazing stay, exceeding all my expectations. The guides and staff were all excellent. Everyone was so friendly and made you feel so welcome."
"The entire experience was fantastic. We loved all the activities and the staff is so accommodating. We just loved being here - Thank you."
"We had a wonderful time! Your staff is superb. Thank you for a very special time!"
Staff in Camp
Managers: Petros and Gogo Guwa, Jacquie Munakombwe, Amon Ngoma and Mavis Daka.
Lufupa River Camp update - March 2012 Jump
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Lufupa Tented Camp update - March 2012 Jump
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Kalamu Lagoon Camp update - March 2012 Jump
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Shumba Camp update - March 2012 Jump
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Kapinga Camp update - March 2012 Jump
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Busanga Bush Camp update - March 2012 Jump
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Mvuu Camp update - March 2012 Jump
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Weather and Landscape
As is typical for this time of year the days grow ever colder and drier and it is now definitely necessary to wear our custom-made ponchos on game drives and sit around the boma fire in the evening. Early mornings are wonderful with occasional dawn river mists. The perennial waterholes are drying up and while some remain we can already see increasing numbers of elephant on the river and increasing numbers of buffalo and sable antelope on the northern floodplains.
With the seasonal waterholes drying up rapidly, an astounding variety and number of animals can be seen congregating around the remaining water sources, taking advantage of the water as well as the associated vegetation around the surface water. The general game activity really has been superb and is definitely on the increase.
We were entertained by constant elephant activity, with many encounters of both bulls and large breeding herds. On more than one occasion we got to witness the gargantuan mammals mating, starting the 22-month gestation period that elephant cows undergo to produce a calf weighing in at around 120kg - amazing to think that the large adult males can weigh in at 6000kg.
Our guests were also treated to a number of small wonders throughout the month, some of these sightings including: nine bushpig, a group of five porcupine, eight Lichtenstein's hartebeest and three roan.
Birds and Birding
May was great for birding, as the avians came to the party. Some of the notable sightings include: an Orange-breasted Bush-Shrike feeding its young, a flock of over 50 Lilian's Lovebirds near camp - these common 'specials' usually live in flocks of 20 or less. Regular daytime sightings of White-backed Night-Heron, increasing sightings of Martial Eagle (a rare resident) and numerous sightings of Bronze-winged Courser on the Ntangai River. Brown-breasted Barbets were also sighted in and around camp throughout the month. The highlight for the month was a White-headed Vulture, Osprey and a Palmnut Vulture all sharing the same tree at Mkango Corner.
Recently Dr. Claudia Weinspach and her friends from Germany enjoyed a popular new activity at Mvuu - a full cooked breakfast on the boat! Dr Weinspach had the following comment:
Thank you for all your help during our time at Mvuu, we enjoyed ourselves very much, it was a special experience because you put so much effort into your guiding. Especially the day when we had breakfast on the boat and saw the elephants bathing."
Mvuu Camp says farewell to Amini Wailess, who has retired after 17 years of service at Mvuu Camp. We wish him a long and happy retirement.
Mvuu Wilderness Lodge update - March 2012 Jump
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Weather and Landscape
Despite a dry spell at Mvuu earlier in the month, towards the end of March, we have been experiencing light showers and rainfall in the early mornings and afternoons. Sometimes a drizzle simply falls lightly through the sunlit skies and at other times the rainfall has been heavier.
The floodplains remain dense with vegetation and their appearance vibrant and lush. Following the rainfall, some breathtaking rainbows can be seen across the Shire River.
We can hear Titus the lion roaring again and we're sure that it's only a matter of time before we have another sighting of him. We have heard rumours of more lions in Liwonde National Park and have yet to acquire a confirmed sighting. We are however planning to give the lion population in Liwonde a boost, by introducing a few females into the park sometime in August. We're keeping our fingers crossed in the hope that the lion reintroduction will go smoothly and help re-establish the population in the area.
Elephants are starting to slowly frequent the river again and as the end of the green season approaches and the area dries up a little more, we're hoping that these majestic mammals will visit the Shire more regularly. The park's zebra continue to be seen near the airstrip and sightings of buffalo, civet and large spotted genet have continued through the month.
Some of the highlights for the month include:
On the 16 March, fresh rhino tracks were seen by our guides, Samuel and McLoud whilst out on game drive. Our guides suspect that these tracks were made by a male rhino who has become known as Roger. We hope that Roger will follow a similar movement pattern this year as he did last year. A serval was also spotted close to Ntangai Drift on the same drive.
On the 28 March, during a boat safari, we saw two hippo bulls fighting in a show of dominance. The unlucky male that lost the battle ran out of the water to hide on land, but the winner was not going to let him get away so easily and followed him. Luckily for our defeated male, the dominant hippo missed his trail and went searching in the wrong direction.
Birds and Birding
It has been yet another exceptional month for birding at Mvuu. Justin Mwaiwatha reported a strange looking Blacksmith Lapwing, and our guide and resident expert on lapwings, Samuel, tried to get a picture but with no luck. Samuel believes that the strange lapwing (which was not very active and had white patches on its black head) could be a hatchling of the hybrid eggs that hatched in December.
On 1 March, our guides spotted the extremely rare Speckle-throated Woodpecker on Masanje Road and on 4 March, we spotted a Grey-headed Parrot feeding another adult parrot which in turn went to feed its hatchlings in a nearby baobab tree hole. On the subject of feeding young, a pair of Brown-breasted Barbets were seen feeding their young in their nest. We had a keen birder in camp at the time, who visited Mvuu to photograph and record the barbets and successfully got all the material needed.
Our regular birds for the month were: adult and juvenile African Cuckoo Hawk (increasingly common near the camp), African Hawk-Eagle, Bateleur, Western Banded Snake-Eagle, Brown Snake-Eagle, African Harrier-Hawk, Grey-headed Kingfisher, Woodland Kingfisher, Giant Kingfisher, Marabou Stork, Red-headed Weaver, Palm- nut Vulture, Martial Eagle and Lillian's Lovebird to mention just a few. Crowned Eagle and Long-crested Eagle was seen along the river as well as Racket-tailed Roller.
This month, we are happy to announce that we have launched a new activity which is known as the Rhino Tracking Experience.
The objective of this new activity is to enable guests to track black rhino and see them in the wild on foot whilst getting involved with practical monitoring and contributing to the rhino conservation programme in Liwonde. This activity is being run by Wilderness Safaris in a joint venture with the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and the Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW). The programme is run and funded by both these parties who have assigned the Rhino Protection Team (RPT) to monitor and protect the black rhino in the park.
The next two years will see a crucial new direction for the project where the sanctuary fence is gradually dismantled and the park itself becomes the "sanctuary". By participating in this activity, guests will be contributing directly to the funding of the rhino conservation programme as 90% of the additional activity fee will be allocated to it.
The activity itself includes a briefing on the plight and history of the black rhino in the area, a three-hour walk with RPT scouts and Wilderness Safaris guides into rhino territory, monitoring and observation sheets for the guests to fill in and a bush breakfast or dinner depending on whether you chose an morning or evening walk.
Wilderness Safaris and the team at Mvuu continue to reach out to the surrounding communities, and part of this outreach is achieved by encouraging guests to visit some of the rural communities around the park. Most of our guests opt to visit the villages and thoroughly enjoy the excursion. These trips often leave an impression on the guests, who often go the extra mile to improve the living conditions for these rural communities. One example this month was the Hosanna Group which donated bars of soap to the community near Mvera.
Staff in Camp
Guides: Matthews, Mc Loud, Danford, Etienne, Danger, Duncan, Samuel, Justin, Henry, George and Warren.
Newsletter by Samuel
Mumbo Island update - March 2012 Jump
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The weather has been fantastic for the entire month, characterised by warm and sunny conditions. The forest is lush and green and the rains seem to be over, which has left clear and crisp conditions - great for taking photographs.
Between Mumbo Island Camp and Lake Malawi National Park, two very successful school visits to the island were arranged this month, when the top three students in each class from Cape Maclear Primary School were awarded a trip for their hard efforts and perseverance.
The students were taken to Dombwe by boat, treated to a good lunch and given a rousing and inspiring talk on conservation in the area in order to conserve the natural fauna and flora of Lake Malawi National Park. The children really enjoyed the whole experience and hopefully the seeds of conservation have now been planted in these bright young minds.
Chelinda Lodge update - March 2012
Weather and Landscape
We have been experiencing some very bright and sunny conditions on Nyika, especially during the mornings, as most days would cloud over in the afternoons. At this time of year, the plateau is breathtaking as there are clear views of the vast montane grasslands that stretch out as far as the eye can see.
This month, the animal sightings highlight was that of a caracal at Nyika. This is an exceptionally rare sighting as we haven't had an official recorded sighting of caracal in 25 years.
Leopard sightings have also been fantastic this month. On 5 March, we had already seen five leopards, and when we thought that it couldn't get any better... it did! We continued to have numerous sightings of the spotted felines throughout the month.
The elephant sightings have been picking up in the woodland areas and near the Chisanga Falls.
Some of the other highlights for the month include five side-striped jackals all seen near the Chelinda Bridge Road.
On one occasion, six different leopards where seen in the space of an hour and a half on a drive towards the Thazima Road! A new record for the area.
Birds and Birding
We've had a mix of birds on the plateau this month. African Black Ducks and Yellow-billed Ducks have been regulars at our dams.
Two of our guides, Patrick and Stanford, saw 17 White Storks flying above the Zungwara Road. This species is widely acknowledged in Europe as a symbol of fertility (this is where the notion of a stork bringing a baby originates). Although none of these associations seem to resonate in Malawi, in countries such as Bulgaria the stork is greatly respected. There is a myth in Bulgarian folklore which states that if you greet the storks standing on your feet, your work in the field will be easy. But if the first time you see the bird it is perched, then this is a sign of languor and tiredness to come during the agricultural season.
On the 13 March, there must have been a kill close by, as 11 vultures were seen descending near the Chosi Loop.
Chelinda is becoming even more family friendly by the day! Kids visiting Chelinda will have a brand-new play area at their disposal. The pine construction has a flyover bridge connecting two play huts, a swing and a nice decking area overlooking the dam. The fishing deck on Dam 1 has also been renovated for our guests should they wish to do a spot of trout fishing while on their trip.
Guides in Camp
Apollo, Whyte, Brave, Patrick and Sam.
Newsletter by Sam and Apollo.
Desert Rhino Camp update - March 2012 Jump
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Weather and Landscape
The weather has been very hot for most of the month, although we did experience some partly cloudy days. We were very surprised at the end of the month, as we did not have a single drop of rain the entire month.
The landscape is looking very dry as it is dominated by a sea of dry, yellow grass and Damaraland euphorbia, broken only by the green of the mopane trees along the riverbanks. We experienced a very unusual occurrence in the middle of the month, as a vigorous tremor coursed through the area. The tremor lasted for around one minute and occurred at 06.30 in the morning. Staff and guests were left stunned and in awe.
March was an excellent month for rhino as we experienced a good number of fantastic sightings. Ben provided our guests with some great views of a black rhino in its natural environment. Don't Worry did so too; he is a very relaxed individual who can be curious at times. On the other side of the scale, the usually nervous rhino known as Getaway provided some good sightings too. It is amazing how these bulk browsers can maintain such excellent physical condition despite the dry and trying conditions.
Feline sightings have been few and far between this month, although we heard lion on most nights. We spotted a large male near the Aub River, casually walking towards the river. The lion showed some curiosity, when he stopped to have a better look at us before melting into the riverine vegetation. The guests were so excited that they were at a loss for words! We also had a fleeting sighting of caracal.
A spotted hyaena was seen during an afternoon drive in the Uniab River. Another hyaena sighting took place from the comfort of camp, as a lone individual strolled past the front of camp during the afternoon siesta for all to see.
The general game numbers have tapered off a little with the onset of the very dry conditions, as the masses are on the move, in search for greener pastures. We have noticed that the herds of general game have become smaller, forming splinter groups, owing to their movements in search for water.
A highlight for the month was the sighting of a Nama padloper tortoise. This is a tiny reptile that is not often seen, so we were all excited when we found this little wonder.
Birdlife has been pretty good, with regular sightings of an array of raptors, such as Pale-chanting Goshawk and Black-chested Snake-Eagle.
Whilst on a rhino tracking outing, a group of guests was very excited when they came upon a family of meerkats (suricates).
This month, Desert Rhino Camp welcomes Heinrich Heberling from head office in Windhoek as well as Elizabeth Parkhouse from Serra Cafema. They will be helping out the management and we wish them an enjoyable stay.
Palmwag Lodge update - March 2012 Jump
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Doro Nawas Camp update - March 2012 Jump
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Weather and Landscape
It looks like Doro Nawas will be receiving late rainfall this year as most mornings and afternoons are covered with dark, ominous clouds, which haven't really delivered any substantial rain so far, but we are keeping our fingers crossed. Maximum daytime temperatures have been ranging between 38 - 41° C, so some cooling rain will be much welcomed.
The landscape is also looking ready to receive some rain, as much of the area is still covered in golden brown grass. Most of the trees break this monochrome by bearing green foliage.
Recently Ignatius came across a monitor lizard that was feeding on a dassie rat in the rocks outside the main camp building. These lizards are becoming very common here as we almost see them daily. It is unusual for a monitor lizard to feed on dassie rats, but they are opportunistic predators at the end of the day, so they will use the opportunities that they get.
General game has been very good, especially around the ephemeral riverbeds, which offer good graze and browse.
The desert-adapted elephants have been spotted regularly and have provided our guests with some outstanding sightings and photographs.
There have been reports of a lioness with four little cubs in the area, and we have come across their tracks during the middle of the month, so we will be keeping our eyes peeled for these feline desert predators.
As the popular saying goes, "the early bird catches the worm" - so we have been surprising many of our guests with bush breakfasts, allowing them some special time to take in the breathtaking scenery whilst enjoying some coffee and a scrumptious breakfast in the solitude of Doro Nawas. Some of our guests were surprised with this on their birthdays too.
This month, we bid farewell to Mateus Karunga, who has been one of our chefs. We wish him a successful future in his next endeavour. He will be replaced by Erwin Kandjii, who has come from Skeleton Coast.
"We loved sleeping outside under the stars - the views are calming and spectacular. The solitude is food for the soul." Rob and Dee.
"Our drives with Michael our guide were very interesting, we learned a lot from him. He explained the vegetation, the wildlife and the history of the area. You made our trip extra special!" Klaus.
"We thoroughly enjoyed tracking the elephants and then finding them." Ann.
Staff in Camp
Managers: Agnes Bezuidenhout, Morien Aebes, Theobald Kamatoto, Jason Lundon and Emsie Skrywer.
Guides: Richardt Orr, Ignatius Khamuseb, Michael Kauari and Edward Namitondo.
Damaraland Camp update - March 2012 Jump
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Weather and Landscape
This month we just had a little more than 15mm of rain. We had a lot of hot days but on most of these, the south-westerly winds made it bearable in the afternoons.
The landscape is looking great as all of the trees now have a dense covering of leaves, which provide food for numerous animals as well as shady oases for anything trying to escape the summer sun. The dry riverbeds in particular have been great for game viewing.
March proved to be a very exciting month for us. Our guides went out with expert rhino tracker Philemon Nuab to learn more about tracking and approaching rhino. They were successful in tracking down one bull with a female and calf after four hours of tracking in the vast Springbok Valley!
We were very lucky to have a number of desert-adapted lion sightings along the Huab River towards Peter's Pools. The definite highlight was the lioness that we found with several tiny cubs. Dr Flip Stander from the Predator Conservation Trust has joined us in the Huab River to investigate and document the sudden rise in lion activity in the area. We assisted him with his efforts which provided great learning experiences for us and our guests. We managed to find a male which was collared a year ago and he is still doing well, which is awesome news especially after the sad demise of the Hoarusib lions. We also managed to collar two new lionesses, so all in all it was a great step forward for the ongoing research and conservation of this unique desert-adapted species.
We also saw a lot of scorpions this month, with the arachnid highlight being the colourful Opistophthalmus sp. and the highly venomous granulated thick-tailed scorpion.
One of our chefs, Doris, had her birthday on the 21st of March - which also happens to be Namibia's Independence Day. She was invited to dinner by Elfrieda, one of the camp managers, to celebrate this special day. Doris dressed in her traditional Herero dress which looked stunning!
At the beginning of March, we got news that all guides and managers from Doro Nawas and Damaraland Camp must meet at Twyfelfontein. After entrusting the overseeing of the camps to senior supervisors, we all joined Lena, our area manager... only to discover that she had organised a wonderful team-building evening for us.
We also had Mr Roux Marnitz donating money for dog food to one of our local villages in the Torra Conservancy. The food was distributed among the whole community at Fonteine Pos and was received with great joy.
This month was the first time Damaraland Camp had guests staying for seven days! Pat and Linda became friends with everyone at camp. We were overjoyed that in their weeklong stay they saw three black rhino, a beautiful male lion and helped out with collaring two lionesses. It almost seems as if a week was not long enough.
We were very proud that Vitalus Florry from the Torra Conservancy won an award for best student in a course in Rhino Crime Scene Investigation and Anti-Poaching that was given by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism. Hopefully we can learn from him how to better protect this unique and vulnerable species.
Staff in Camp
Managers: Elfrieda, Maggie, PG and Erika.
Guides: Anthony, Johann, Willem and Albert.
Skeleton Coast Camp update - March 2012 Jump
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Serra Cafema Camp update - March 2012 Jump
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Ongava Tented Camp update - March 2012 Jump
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Little Ongava update - March 2012 Jump
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Ongava Lodge update - March 2012 Jump
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Weather and Landscape
This year we have experienced very unpredictable and unusual rainfall conditions. We had a number of rain and cloud-free days, when the temperatures would climb into the early 40s (Celsius), but these days were broken by solid days of rain which cooled things down. Night-time temperatures were pretty comfortable, as the average evening temperature was 20°C.
The vegetation is bursting into a variety of green shades and hues, as the excess rain has caused a growth explosion in all forms of vegetation. The landscape is very beautiful and scenic, but the density has resulted in difficult game viewing in some instances.
This month, Ongava Reserve produced absolutely fantastic sightings despite the lack of rainy conditions.
Lion sightings have been great as the Stompie Pride has returned to the area, making daily appearances as they use the thick vegetation to their advantage in hunting. A highlight was the sighting of a lioness with her cubs, which were quite young.
Cheetah have also been encountered on a regular basis, most often around the airstrip and Tiervlei area.
In camp, the local subspecies of rock hyrax have been entertaining our guests as they energetically scamper amongst the rocks.
Game viewing in Etosha - the 'Great White Place' - has been pretty good, as the nomadic elephant herds return to the south-western areas. The wildlife has spread out a little more, as there is a large amount of surface water now, allowing the wildlife to further disperse from the winter waterholes.
'The level and standard of service has been fantastic - keep up the great work!'
'When we return to Germany, we will tell all our friends about Ongava Lodge and how excellent it is.'
'Our guide, Henock was extremely knowledgeable, the sundowner stops were magic and the camp staff were very attentive to our needs.'
Staff in Camp
Managers: Adriano, Agnes, George and Jason.
Guides: Teacher, Kapona, Henock, Abram, Willem and Salomon.
Andersson's Camp update - March 2012 Jump
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Weather and Landscape
This month the weather has been very pleasant. We have been experiencing quite a lot of rain during the month but it has not been as constant as in the previous month. Most of the days, there was still cloud cover, which helped to keep temperatures comfy, although the humidity could climb up a little. The evenings were generally very comfy, as temperatures dropped considerably, making for cool conditions. During the early mornings, the winter nip is starting to sneak in as a light jersey is now needed on activity.
The landscape is as green as ever and very thick owing to the abundant rains that we have been receiving.
Due to the rains this month, sightings have been fairly quiet but we have been seeing quite a few more animals compared to last month.
The black rhino sightings at the camp's waterhole have been quite good this month. Odin has come through a bit more often to drink water and to enjoy a mud wallow. We had the pleasure to see Odin interact with Elizabeth (a young female black rhino also resident in this area) a couple of times - the guests always enjoyed watching these interactions.
Large congregations of a variety of herbivores have been visiting the camp waterhole too. There are generally always zebra and springbok at the waterhole. Giraffe were seen a number of times, coming to have a drink as well as a very large herd of blue wildebeest, which had quite a few babies present.
As the prey species start to collect at the camp waterhole, so do the predators. We were very lucky to see five young lions coming to the waterhole one evening after a vigorous thunder shower. Owing to their opportunistic habits, their attention was grabbed by a herd of blue wildebeest off in the distance. Instinct immediately kicked in, as two young males started to move towards the herd, while the three other stayed behind to observe. The two males, being quite inexperienced, were spotted immediately by the beady eyes of the wildebeest, who made alarm calls and moved off immediately - except for one, which tried to hide in the grass and was spotted by the three observant lions. The cats took advantage and swiftly killed this individual. This happened very quickly, but all of our guests were able to enjoy the whole sighting. Once the lions started to feed, the guests jumped into a vehicle and went for a closer look.
Etosha has also been very productive with a lot of lion sightings and many black rhino sightings. Giraffe have also been seen in abundance, as they take advantage of the densely foliated trees. Elephant sightings have still been quite rare, but they are definitely picking up as the herds begin to return to the south-western areas of Etosha.
Birds and Birding
We had quite a few special sightings this month. One day we had a whole flock of Cattle Egrets that rested around the camp. For the whole day you could see the flock flying from one tree to the next. Cattle Egrets are rarely seen around camp, especially in such a big flock. The next day they were gone.
During the month, we also had another visitor that is rarely seen, this being the Chestnut Weaver. They are communal nesters, which mean that they are quite noisy visitors. By the end of the month, they had moved on and were replaced by the more common Southern Masked-Weavers.
"Our highlights were seeing the black rhino (Odin) and the ostrich dancing, as well as the zebra and springbok at lunchtime at the waterhole. Your staff is extraordinary in friendliness, efficiency and overall good management." Barbara
"Wonderful experience for our last camp in Namibia!" Ken
"The camp is delightful; we enjoyed the safari drives and seeing the many animals Etosha and Ongava has to show." Jane
"We enjoyed the camp waterhole and especially the black rhino that came to the camp. The common area is very comfortable." Thomas
Staff in Camp
Managers: Silvia Morgante, Corne Cocklin, Corrie Adams and Sakkie Hoeseb.
Guides: Shilongo Sauges, Franz Nuyoma and Ramon Coetzee.
The pictures were taken by Silvia Morgante.
Little Kulala Camp update - March 2012 Jump
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Kulala Desert Lodge update - March 2012 Jump
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Kulala Wilderness Camp update - March 2012 Jump
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Governors' Camp update - March 2012 Jump
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Weather and grasslands
In the last month we were treated to gorgeous pastel dawns with the sun rising at 6.41 am. The early morning temperatures were averaging 17°C and mid day 29-31°C. The humidity has been fluctuating between 63% and 72%. Majority of grasses within the Musiara, Rhino ridge and Bila Shaka areas have been grazed with little moisture content left. Reasonable growth is still evident within Paradise plains and certain areas of the Musiara plains. The water levels are very low in the Mara River with Hippo pods congregating into deeper pools with much resonating honks from ominant bulls as the sounds reverberate down the river. There is still reasonable dew on the grass in the early morning and this burns off relatively
quickly. A few light showers of rain fell mostly in the evenings with a 10-12 mm being as much at any one time, the total rainfall of 73.5mm.
Photo courtesy of Patrick Reynolds
Elephant in their related family units can be seen within the Marsh grasslands and woodlands. Midday is a good time to see them in the Marsh itself. Large bulls pass back and forth with a few of the larger and older bulls in Musth. There are many claves some of which some are very young and who have entertained us. Many of the fruit from the Warburgia trees (African green heart or pepper tree) have dropped and eased off, although some large bulls will still rattle a tree for the little fruit that is left.
Photo courtesy of Nicola Davies
Many of the Wildebeest and calves that came through in mid February have moved back out to the Eastern short grass plains in Maasai land by mid March the Musiara and Bila Shaka grassland plains seemed suddenly very quiet.
We have seen many Giraffes even within the camps as they move through the riverine woodlands browsing from trees to shrubs. Within the rverine vegetation is a robust woody climber called Capparis Tormentosa which can grow to the top of the canopy. It may also be a straggling shrub or small tree. The stem has sharp, paired, and hooked pines. Young stems and spines are covered in dense velvety yellow hair and the fruit is orange when ripe. This shrub in many areas of Kenya is not popular with pastoral people and they say that there are toxins in the leaves and fruit which affect cattle and camels. Although it is interesting to note that Giraffe have been seen browsing off the leaves of this shrub with little to no affect.
There are many Eland with calves who come and go, with a lovely herd seen in the Marsh and riverine woodlands and whist in the these woodlands they have also been seen browsing for limited times off this shrub. Within a breeding herd of eland calves will often be seen in crèches while mothers graze and browse nearby. The larger bulls move within these breeding herds.
Photo courtesy of Nicola Davies
Bohor’s reed buck are seen on a daily basis particularly in areas of long coarse grasses like the Marsh verges. Males have horns and the females do not and will often be seen in a group. Male calves are driven away from the herd after six months, and form bachelor herds until they become fully mature at the age of four years. These males then often form their own groups or older males can be on their own.
The large herd of Buffalo who’s last count was 286 animals are at Bila Shaka sometimes moving into the bottom grassland areas of Rhino Ridge and Paradise Plains. There are a many calves in this breeding herd two of which were taken by predators one by hyena and the other by lion. A few cows have also been taken by the Marsh Pride as well as two large breeding bulls.
Topi and their five month old calves are spread out with good congregations of them on Paradise Plains and also on Topi Plains. Male Topi who are a little darker and bigger can be seen on their breeding grounds with individuals standing on well trodden leks. Topi can go for long periods of time without drinking if there is dew on the grass this will sustain them. Topi also have a shiny coat which looks like it has been polished, this is typical of a short haired coat and it deflects heat. Cokes Hartebeest are also in small groups on Paradise Plains and Bila Shaka. The calves are the same age as those of the Topi who calved down in October to December. Impala breeding herds with fawns of varying age groups are within the woodlands and on the open plains, a few females are heavily pregnant so hopefully some fawns will be seen soon, fawns are suckled for 4-6 months, and the doe will look for a secluded spot to give birth. Males are the ones who have horns only and stay on their own in bachelor herds while still sparring with one another over hierarchy. The males are very vocal and will snort and roar. This roaring in the males only suggests that the males have a more modified skull and larynx so as to amplify a perhaps weak bleat into a loud roar that carries far. Impala are among the dominant species in many savannas. They can adapt to different environment by being grazers in some areas and browsers in others. They graze when the grass is green and growing and browse at other times. They will also browse on shoots, seedpods and foliage. Impala have fetlock glands and these will expand as they jump purposely from side to side as they flee from all possible adversaries. Herds will use specific areas for their excrement. Impala are active during both day and night and are dependent on water. The presence of an Impala herd is generally an indicator of water close by. Impala and eland are similar in that they can thrive in areas where pure grazers cannot survive. Warthog with 2-3 young piglets that are now 4-5 months old are in most areas of open grassland. Lion, cheetah and leopard prey on warthog regularly.
On the 21st March we received a huge influx of zebra as large numbers of them poured into the Masai Mara National Reserve from the Conservation areas that lie to the east of the reserve. Zebra have also been seen crossing over from the Mara conservancy in the west, some individuals have been seen with large wounds on their flanks and shoulders which are more than likely from crocodile attacks. Many remain throughout Bila Shaka, Musiara Plains and the Musiara Marsh and through into the Masai conservation areas to the north east of the Reserve. Lion have taken many of these zebra now with 8 of the Marsh pride females taking a zebra at 4.30pm on the 22nd February with the zebra ending up in the Marsh itself.
Photo courtesy of Nicola Davies
The stripes of a Zebra have caused much speculation as to the why the stripes are present. Certainly in dappled light in a herd they help to dazzle a predator. The white stripe would most aptly act as a window to deflect heat. Biologists now believe that the ancestors of all equines were stripped. Selective pressure helps maintain crisp patterns on the social zebra herds of tropical Africa. All zebra patterns are like our finger prints in that they are all individuals and foals have to imprint their mother’s coat pattern at an early stage in life. The original name of the plains zebra Equus quagga is probably derived from its characteristic vocalization call ‘Kwa-ha-ha’ to Quagga. Burchell’s Zebra (Equus quagga burchellii) is named after the British explorer, William John Burchell who was a keen naturalist and who explored southern Africa for five years from 1810-1815. The plains zebra are highly social and usually form small family groups called ‘harems’, which consist of a single stallion, several mares, and their recent offspring. The adult membership of a harem is highly stable, typically remaining together for months to years.
Large troops of Olive Baboons will be seen all over specifically areas with good tree cover and or rocks, being omnivores Baboons have a varied diet so whatever is available they will eat from roots, flowers, fruit, leaves and meat. Often when they start to forage in the early hours of the morning one can often see bush buck along with them and there feeding habits will take them forging and feeding amongst a herd of Impala. Defassa waterbuck are also found on the Marsh verges or close to the woodlands. Waterbuck particularly the defassa waterbuck are very water dependent. They will eat a variety of grasses, both medium and short in length. Their diet is high in protein. When the amount of available grass is low, Defassa waterbuck will venture further a field and will supplement their diet with herbs and small shrubs to satisfy their needs.
The large African rock Python has been seen again from the hole of the termite mound at Bila Shaka. We think that it is a female as a driver guide thought he saw something like a brown/white cluster deep in the hole, female pythons lay their soft shelled eggs typically in old aardvark holes and will lay up to 50-100 eggs and she will incubate them for 2-3 months. This Python killed and ate a full grown male Thompson Gazelle on the 5th of August last year.
There have been some good sightings of two male black Rhino on Paradise plains. On the 21st another male Black Rhino was seen moving fast through the Marsh in the afternoon but we have not seen him since.
Photo courtesy of Patrick Reynolds
Note: On the 26th there has been a large hatching of caterpillars of the family (Pieridae) and could well be of the genus Dixeia Sp, and they are everywhere. There are also some rather attractive colored caterpillars that are in fact the larval stage of Hawk Moths (Family: Sphingidae) and are strong fliers.
Bila Shaka/ marsh pride There are up to 23 lion in this pride which includes the four males. There is one sub adult female who is approximately 2-3 years old and she has two brothers who are most often seen near paradise plains and below Bila Shaka river bed. The dominant females all mated with the new males in February. We often see the four males Scar, Hunter, Morani and Sikio and they have all also been mating with the four young lionesses. Scar has fought a few times with Hunter and both are still together but a little ways apart. Morani and Sikio also seem to spend time together when lionesses are in oestrus. On the 26th the lioness that was being mated by Scar killed a wart hog and all four were there although Scar dominated the situation. They have been feeding well off buffalo, zebra and warthog.
Photo courtesy of Nicola Davies
Four lion of the Ridge Pride; 2 adult lionesses and two sub-adults (a lion and a lioness) have been seen more frequently, although earlier on in the month near topi plains two of the adult lionesses and two 4 month old cubs have also been seen.
There is a lioness of the Olkiombo pride that has a 5 week old cub and she has been seen often. Notch and his four sons have been seen near the Talek River and double crossing area. Notch was seen on the 27th near the Olkiombo air strip.
There are two new males lion that have been seen on the Paradise Plains, on the 16th March the larger of the two males was seen on a termite mound near the Bila Shaka crossing.
On the 13th March a young 10 year old elephant died in the open grassland plain between the riverine woodland of Il Moran and the Marsh, this brought in two male lion and they fed off this elephant for a number of days. The four Marsh females also fed of this elephant and so did 30 odd spotted Hyena. These lion moved away towards Paradise Plains a few days later and were seen again at the bottom end of Bila Shaka on the 29th.
Photo courtesy of Patrick Reynolds
Another male was seen on Rhino ridge on the 29th at 9.00am with a fresh zebra Kill, there were three lionesses and two sub adults nearby and many Spotted Hyenas but with the male lion present these hyena were holding back and eventually eased away. There are two large hyena den sites on Rhino Ridge and hyena can number up to 50 when challenging lion over a kill site, if there were no male lion present hyena can often have the upper hand. Male lion given the chance will kill hyena and this phenomenon is known as ‘predatory aggression’ He was again seen at 4.30pm with the Zebra kill almost finished. This is now in the last two days three different male lion between Rhino Ridge Bila Shaka and Paradise Plains.
There have been good sightings of cheetah over the last month. We often see the female of Paradise and Rhino Ridge as well as the two males from Topi Plains, they have been feeding off impala and Thomson Gazelle. Cheetah prefer open areas with short grass being a cursorial they need space to run their prey down. Another young male was seen near Musiara gate on the 21st and this male may have come on from the Mara North conservancy, according to driver guides he has been seen hunting Thomson Gazelles more often north of the Musiara plains.
Olive and her two cubs that are 4-6 weeks old are being seen in a rocky croton thicket on the Talek River, we had good sightings of them 8th-12th and just recently Olive has been seen but not her cubs. She has apparently moved them to another location not far away. This is often common with female Leopard and their cubs and will be moved about quite often in the first two months of giving birth.
Olive’s daughter has been seen often the other side of the Talek River to where her mother is a very good sighting of her was on the 29th at 10.15am. The female leopard near the croton thickets at Paradise, has two cubs a male and a female which are estimated at 6 months old now. She has not been seen often and the 8th at 8.30am she was seen walking back to the river. A male was seen at 9.30am on the 16th near the paradise crossing points. A driver guide saw a male and female mating in a croton thicket on the 22nd near the crossing point at Paradise.
Photo courtesy of James Collier
Walking in the Mara North Conservancy.
Lovely sunrises started the walks on a good footing. Early mornings are cool with dew on the grass. We have had lovely sightings of Elephant in family units of 6 -12 animals, they spend much of their time feeding off grass which is the main part of a savannah Elephants diet. Their dung contains fruit from the Warburgia trees (Elephant pepper tree) that are common on the Mara River and also on the banks of the Olare Orok and Ntiaktiak Tivers in the Mara North Conservancy. There are many calves within these family units and the interesting to note is that at birth, a calf’s trunk has no muscle tone; it will suckle through its mouth. It takes several months for a calf to gain full control of its trunk.
Zebra in good numbers can be seen crossing the Olare Orok River and it appears that they have come from the east. Many of these Zebra have also continued into the Mara reserve.
There have been lots of giraffe with a herd of 26 being seen at any one time. Calves are often in crèches similar to that of eland and females will browse from tree to tree. Giraffe have also heavily browsed the acacia Hockii which are in small groves all of these trees are now very stunted. This Acacia has a very pretty yellow flower that is actually scented. There is one large male Giraffe who we call white face and he will like many bull giraffe travel large distances looking for females in oestrus. Impala breeding herds within the acacia woodlands are ever present and a joy to see.
Thomson Gazelles are abundant on the open plains above and below the fly over ridge with females aggregating between loose associated herds while males holding and marking territory boundaries with olfactory communication. Male Thomson Gazelles have a prominent pre-orbital gland that contains a black sticky substance which they will paste onto a grass stem with intricate accuracy, this secretion is made up of two clear substances apocrine and Holocrine and held together with melanin. Grants Gazelles are also in similar areas to that of the Thomson and males will hold Bachelor herds or dominant males will escort his herd of females.
There is a breeding herd of Buffalo who numbered 110 individuals at our last count. There are a few old bulls that are sedimentary in their movements and will be found quite often in roughly the same place. There are two herds of Eland one of 8 females a two breeding males and the other of 24 females and five bulls of varying ages. The bulls of breeding age are very large and sexually dimorphic with a velvet mat on their forehead a well developed dewlap, are larger and grey in colour, a bull Eland will be as heavy as or heavier than that of a bull buffalo.
Lion have been seen on a few occasions with 4 adult females and their nine cubs of which 4 are 6 months old and 5 are 7 months old, they were seen briefly on the 12th in a croton thicket and it appeared that they were feeding on wildebeest. There is also a male that was seen on the fly over on the 14th and he was seen again on the 23rd on the little croton hill below the white highland ridge.
Three different cheetahs have been seen altogether. There is a female with two cubs that are estimated at 4 months old. They were seen on the 14th near the fly over and again on the 19th near the lone Balanites tree and on this occasion there was only the one cub, they had killed and were feeding off a female impala at approximately 6.30am. Many of these Balanites trees show the giraffe browse line and so does the Gardenia ternifolia who’s white and yellow centred flower has a sweet smell. The fruit of this tree is used by the Maasai as a drinking cup when cut open and scraped out.
Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge update - March 2012
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