UPDATES FOR WEEK ENDING SUNDAY 24TH OCTOBER 2004:
Robin Pope Safaris Update, October 24 2004
Robin Pope Safaris is one of Zambia's most respected tour operators. Here is their latest news:
I am sure that you are reading this from much cooler climes than here in South Luangwa, where mid October is upon us, temperatures are rocketing and we are all baking - anyone fancy slow roasted camp staff in a khaki dressing?! But this week the heavens opened and we had huge storms every afternoon for 4 days. The sky is blue and clear today.
For those of you interested in learning about Robin's House here are some details: Robin's House is slightly further up the river from Nkwali Camp - set apart from the camp, with its own guide, private facilities and catering. It is ideal for families, honeymoon couples, groups of friends or those who just want a little bit more privacy. For children we provide a variety of activities including shorter kids game drives, swimming, painting, fishing, a sandpit, egg collecting from the chickens and cookie making.
Our most recent guests at Robins House should really have been classed in the kids category (well…. big kids category) and should have been kept in the sandpit for safety reasons during their stay. Take a bunch of excited Canadians including one camera man to film their safari, more big cats than you could shake a stick at (not that you would want to shake a stick at a growling lion), add a variety of fresh kills, spend three days in South Luangwa and mix with a generous sprinkling of thunder, lighting and heavy rain. And what an incredible trip they had.
Straight after filming a commercial for CARE in Lusaka, this gaggle arrived in the bush. On their first day, the big cat viewing was spectacular (not to mention the abundance of other game), thanks to our man with an eye for a kill, the Robin's House guide Obi (or Obi-1-Kenobi as guests find endless amusement in calling him). Our first sighting was of a beautiful lion by the rivers edge who was feasting on a huge and rotten hippo head (slightly revolting but pretty fascinating). Twenty crocodiles, beadily eyeing up the remains, waited in the surrounding water. Resting nearby was a one eyed, short tailed lioness - a frequently sighted resident these days. Some camera film later and we spotted a striking looking leopard lazing in a tree with its legs dangling and belly full from a recent impala kill. When we past the kill, a black cloud of vultures erupted into the sky and left behind just a few bare and bloodied bones.
Further in the park we chanced upon a recently deceased buffalo. It had lost its life not through an attack but from becoming hopelessly stuck in thick clay mud. It had been part of a large herd but his friends were long gone. It was wedged up to its rib cage and was being devoured; rear first, by two hungry lions. Two hyenas were hanging back, waiting for their turn. When the lionesses had had their fill and had settled to digest, the hyenas took their chance and bickering all the while, started to rip off great chunks of the animal in a ferocious manner. Three more hyenas heard the commotion and scampered, hunch backed, over to join the others. This irritated the lionesses and a fight ensued where they demonstrated their awesome power over the hyenas. During the ruckus, one hyena got stuck in the mud as well, his efforts to break free just making the situation worse until all four legs were trapped. The others fled and left this helpless hyena to the mercy of the big cats. Distressed, the hyena would attempt a bite at the lionesses resulting in an almighty blow from a huge paw or a canine crunch to the animals neck. Blow after blow ensued; the hyena making weaker and weaker attempts to defend itself and it died as we left the scene - much to the satisfaction of the pride's lion who had come out of his shady spot to check that the females had everything in hand before disappearing back into the bush. Amazing!
On their night drive that day the Canadians came across two fresh lion kills. They were a little taken aback to see the gory sight of the lions ripping open the insides of a waterbuck .It was the groups first time on safari and being so close to such a powerful predator was quite an experience for these city dwellers. Hearts were thumping as they turned their heads to discover another kill (impala) by the bumper of the game vehicle and were surrounded at all sides by a pride of feasting lions! Despite Obi's calm reassurances, our guests were adamant that they were on the prides pudding menu. At this point the heavens opened to a spectacle of sheet lightening and booming thunder and the Canadians (all accounted for and limbs in tact!) returned, adrenaline fueled and soaking wet to Robin's House for a stiff G&T! Not quite the state we would like to arrive back in after a game drive but there are always exceptions!
Rhino Spotted Near Eagle Island Camp, October 24 2004
Eagle Island Camp is located in Botswana's Okavango Delta. Recently the camp reported:
It has been years since the last rhino was seen in the vicinity of Eagle Island Camp, but with the Department of Wildlife and National Parks re-introduction of both black and white rhino onto Chiefs Island in the Moremi Game Reserve, sightings are again possible.
Last week, approximately 10 kilometers from Eagle Island Camp, a single black rhinoceros was spotted on one of the islands in the area. Although the sighting was brief and concealed by thick brush, the mere fact that they are in the area is fantastic.
A few months back, just a little over a year after the first of the rhinos was re-introduced, the population indicated that it was doing well by having its first calf.Hopefully, this population will continue from strength to strength and sightings of this nature will become common place in the years to come.
UPDATES FOR WEEK ENDING SUNDAY 26TH SEPTEMBER 2004:
Sanctuary Lodges Kenya Update, September 26 2004
The Wildebeest Migration is one of the world's greatest wildlife spectacles. The migratory animals seem to have turned up in incredible numbers this year. The wildebeest are currently moving from the Central Plains of Mara (Kenya), where they first settled after coming from the Serengeti, and the herds have taken three different directions with the majority heading towards the Mara Triangle. There has been some rain in the Mara, but not very heavy - making it perfect for game drives, as it settles the dust. The animals gather at the riverbed before the pressing weight of the huge herds force them to face the challenges of the river crossing, and these crossings have become the highlight of game drives. Guests at Olonana witnessed a crossing a few days ago where about three thousand animals crossed the river. With the rain and the anticipation of lush grazing, it looks as though the wildebeest could stay in the area for at least another month. Predators are enjoying this perfect opportunity for easy hunting and guests on safari have reported seeing several hunts while on game drives.
Olonana offers unique opportunities for guests on safari. This luxury camp is nestled in the Masai Mara Conservation area on the banks of the Mara River. Accommodation is in twelve double tents, each attended by a personal butler. Each tent has 2 queen size beds, en-suite facilities with hot and cold running water and a spacious veranda overlooking the river. Facilities include a swimming pool, elegant lounge/dining cottage as well as a large deck outside lounge and dining area for breakfast, sundowners, afternoon tea and stargazing. The Masai Mara is host to the most spectacular array of wildlife and activities at Olonana include game viewing drives (day and night), bush walks, bush breakfasts, lunches, dinners and sundowners.
Preservation of culture is one of Olonana's goals and achievements and the camp has established and supports a Maasai cultural village. The village is built along traditional Maasai lines, complete with cattle enclosure, outer palisade and traditional mud and cow dung huts. Outside the village is a traditional blacksmith's enclosure and an area for shield-making and other crafts. The Engang is home to four elders, their wives and families. Guests are invited to visit the village to learn about the Maasai culture in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere. Accompanied by an experienced Maasai guide, guests learn the medicinal uses of the trees and herbs, the social structure of the homestead, the role of women in their society and many more aspects of their daily life. Interaction and discussion is encouraged, so whether the ladies are building a hut, the warriors are dancing or the Oltorrobo is making fire, guests are free to join in.
The camp is also at the forefront of eco-tourism in Kenya with solar power, biodegradable products and a wetlands project which allows for all used water to be totally recycled. A tree planting project which aims to help curb the deforestation of the Maasai Mara gives guests the opportunity to purchase an indigenous tree that will be planted in the tree nursery area.
Masai Mara Update, September 26 2004
Here is another update on the wildebeest migration in Kenya's Masai Mara: A thriving landscape, with masses of animals have kept visitors very busy over the last few weeks. The wildebeest show no signs of leaving the Mara and why would they? Early rains have resulted in long, fresh grasses providing more than enough food for the wildebeest. Of course in turn this is providing more than enough food for the predators with many sightings of the cats looking extremely fat and very lazy.
Wildebeest crossings have proven to be both splendid and frustrating for all. We have witnessed quite a few large crossings. In between these crossings have been some agonizing waits as the beasts all milled around seeming to go round in circles before making the decision either to cross or more frustratingly to go back the way they came! Many a lunch has been put on hold as everyone in camp held their breath waiting for these wildebeest to make up their collective minds.
UPDATES FOR WEEK ENDING SUNDAY 21ST AUGUST 2004:
Wildebeest Migration Update from Rekoro Camp, August 21 2004
The migration never fails to impress! The Serengeti wildebeest have been arriving in Kenya's Masai Mara now for over six weeks and they still keep coming! After an incredibly hot week the heavens have opened and there has been over two inches of rain. This will have a dramatic effect on the ecosystem during the next few days. It will also bring on more wildebeest There is plenty of grass, so lots of action to come.
A few days ago James Sengeny found a ten foot python that had just caught a male Thomson's gazelle. Guests at Rekoro Camp spent most of the afternoon watching the python slowly but surely swallow the animal whole before slipping into a termite mound. To witness this really is a once in a life time event and there was a lot of excitement amongst the camp residents that evening.
Lions are nearly as common as wildebeest at the moment! It is has not been unusual for the three local prides to make at least two kills a night. The 'camp pride' has a new member - a three week old cub so they have been resident on chui lugga for a while now. The cheetah are also in their element as a large portion of the paradise plain was burnt last month and now has the new growth and with it thousands of 'tommies'. A female with three nine month old cubs has taken up residence there and guests have been lucky enough to witness several kills as well as the cubs having hunting lessons. Leopard had been few and far between until recently when five different leopard were sighted in one day, three by Jimmy in the valley around the Cottages and a mating pair in Camp which guests were able to view from the dinner table!
There have been no black rhino sightings since June which is not uncommon at this time of year. The rhino don't seem to enjoy the company of the wildebeest and remain in the forests until later in the year when the wildebeest move on. Elephant and buffalo are frequently being seen around camp and in good numbers.
With the rain in the area and the plentiful grass it looks as though the wildebeest will be in the area for at least another month, and hopefully as late as October if the rain continues for a few more days. It really is an exciting time of year in the Mara, plenty of predator action at any time of day, crossings and a symphony of nocturnal voices.
Muchenje Lodge Update, August 21 2004
Muchenje Lodge is located on the western boundary of Botswana's Chobe National Park. Here is the latest news:
The weather is finally warming up however guests still need a fleece in the morning and late evening - but no where near as cold as June through August.
Wildlife is plentiful. The best news is that the 3 cubs born into the Muchenje pride are thriving. Mother and cubs are quite relaxed around the vehicles now and the cubs do what they do best - charm the guests with their antics. There also seems to be a new pride in the area, further up towards Serondella. They may have come from inland, maybe Noghaatsa, but hopefully they stay and bring some new blood.
Giraffe - one guest said there were more than she could have ever imagined. They are everywhere and so beautiful. Eles - well, what does one say. Hundreds of them, in and out of the water, so many hippos - in and out of the water- the are likened to rocks. Puku Flats is now "unflooded" and teeming with game. Coming from the boat trip it is probably one of the most spectacular sights to see - uncountable elephant of all sizes, giraffe, kudu and impala.
The river in front of the Lodge is now just that - a river. The grass now is all dead and the trees are losing their leaves, it is amazing how quickly the seasons come around.
Okavango Delta Flood Update, August 8 2004
This year has been an incredible year in Botswana's Okavango Delta with floods that are just perfect and guests enjoying a great experience out there.
The water levels at the top of the Delta are starting to drop slowly, but there is still a lot of water coming into the Delta. A lot of the water has rushed down the western side of the Okavango and has now reached Lake Ngami, which is now rapidly filling up for the first time in nearly twenty years. The birdlife is spectacular. The water flowing down the Boro River to Maun has not been as high as anticipated. A large amount of water is backed up at the Buffalo Fence fault line waiting to come down the Boro to Maun and we anticipate that the waters will push well past Maun - about halfway to the Makgadikgadi.
Wilderness Safaris Summer Update, August 8 2004
In 2005 Wilderness Safaris of southern Africa plans to build a brand new 12-roomed lodge at a beautiful location in Botswana's Okavango Delta - at the same level of comfort as Jao, Mombo and Kings Pool. Nearby Mombo is often completely booked up, so they felt they needed an alternative - another superb Okavango game viewing camp what will rival the Mombo experience. It will be in the Vumbura area because the game there is outstanding - especially around the new site - and guests can do night drives, walks and boating there. This new camp will open at the end of April 2005 and will be located in a totally new area to the east of the present Vumbura Camp. Bookings for the existing Vumbura continue right up until the new camp opens (at which time the old Vumbura will close). The new camp is to have 10 twin rooms, two of which will be honeymoon tents, and they will probably divide this camp into four small and intimate sets of 3 roomed camps so that they maintain a small and exclusive atmosphere. Little Vumbura will continue on as is with 6 rooms
Chitabe and Chitabe Trails are to be linked in future by a common raised wooden walkway. This will allow Wilderness to create a "Camp within a Camp" theme similar to that which presently exists at Mombo and Little Mombo. Chitabe and Chitabe Trails can then be expanded and contracted for groups and private parties, so that they can offer a more flexible personal experience.
Speaking of Mombo - Mombo will be undergoing a major refurbishment to make the rooms more comfortable and functional. New roofs have been ordered and there will be a fresh internal configuration within the rooms with new furniture, which will result in an even better experience for Mombo's guests. The game has been truly incredible at Mombo this year - with this being the year of the leopard! Some guests have been seeing up to four different leopards in one day! One group of guests even saw the Big Five in 15 minutes!
Alistair Rankin, an old friend of Wilderness Safaris, has, along with his partner Murray Collins, bought Abu's Camp and Elephant Back Safaris in Botswana. The sale has just gone through. Randall will no longer be running Abu's and Alistair will be the person on site looking after the guests and making sure that things happen. We believe that there will be some exciting new developments here and for next year, we believe that there will be a new 3-night program!
2004 looks to be the year of wild dog sightings in the Linyanti Wildlife Reserve and from all indications it seems there are three dens in the area. Guests staying at Kings Pool, Duma Tau and Savuti are all enjoying fantastic wild dog experiences and interaction.
Wilderness are debating whether to increase the number of beds at Xigera and open an additional camp known as 'Little Xigera' during the course of next year - again linked and a similar concept to Mombo/Little Mombo and Chitabe/Little Chitabe.
Air Botswana will be flying direct from Cape Town to Maun three times per week as from mid-October 2004. This is now an excellent and efficient way of getting from the Delta to the Mother City, Cape Town.
Wilderness will add two extra Cessna Caravans to their fleet of aircraft in Botswana by the end of July this year - and for 2005 they are striving to have guests only fly in these beautiful aircraft. They are looking into the feasibility of having an all-Caravan fleet of aircraft next year with the added benefit that guests would then be able to travel with 20kg worth of luggage instead of the present 12kg restriction. No promises at this stage, but this is what they are hoping to achieve in 2005.
In South Africa the building schedule for Pafuri Camp in the Kruger National Park is looking good with expected opening date moved slightly out to December 23 this year. They are building a tented camp using tents that will look similar to Duba Plains, raised off the ground. We believe that this will be the best value camp in all of Kruger!
Exciting news at Rocktail Bay - Wilderness Safaris has been given permission to built new luxury, sea-facing rooms at Rocktail Bay next year.
Several of the higher ups at Wilderness in Johannesburg recently went down to Mkambati to experience the "Greatest Shoal on Earth" (the Sardine Run in South Africa) first-hand. All have returned raving about the fact that they were swimming, snorkeling and diving all day with innumerable whales, sharks, dolphins, birds - and even manta rays! The dolphins and sharks follow sardines that are on their annual migration along this coastline. Wilderness are currently finalising the EIA's (Environmental Impact Assessments) for the development and, once concluded, construction will begin in earnest. Expected opening early to mid-2005
Wilderness Safaris North Island property features as the location shoot in the upcoming movie Thunderbirds, which is due to be released this month. North Island remains on top of guests' Wish lists for Seychelles and Island getaways.
Namibia sees expansion next year too with the planned opening of an additional camp in the Damarland area in partnership with the local communities. It will be called Dara Nawas. Skeleton Coast Camp in Namibia and The River Club at Victoria Falls have been recently featured in the Natural Traveler magazine.
At Victoria Falls Wilderness have acquired six new sprinter buses in Vic Falls for tours and transfers and will be moving two of these to the Zambian side where they will be able to offer tours and transfers
Robin Pope Safaris Weekly Update, August 8 2004
Robin and Jo Pope operate safaris in Zambia's South Luangwa National Park. Here is their latest update:
Doctor Death is back! - Regular guest Paul Deniger has arrived back for his month long stay with us. Paul was nick named Doctor Death a few years ago as he always manages to see a kill. Unfortunately the buffalos do not seem to have realized this and came to greet him on his arrival at Nsefu….I am sure the predators will be close behind.
This week seems to have been mating week in the Nsefu sector with good sighting of both leopard and lion coupling up.
Tena Tena had the most amazing sighting this week. Three lions in a tree with a couple of cubs playing underneath, yes I did say three lions in a tree!
Also in the Nsefu sector this week there was another unusual event. Debs was out walking and saw a giant eagle owl at 10 o'clock in the morning - unusual enough but this owl was hunting a genet. He managed to catch it and then flew off with the genet in his grip, it's tail dangling in the wind.
Jason also had a lovely bird sighting when he found a green spotted wood dove with 2 chicks.
Another super sighting of wild dog yesterday - August can you believe it. Six dogs were seen posed to kill a puku. This seems to confirm that they are going to stay around throughout the year which is fantastic and surely shows that the numbers must be increasing and they are therefore needing to hunt in a larger area.
Not to be out done Nkwali guests caught a glimpse of a leopard whilst having breakfast. They heard it calling and it was then spotted directly opposite the bar.
Stay well and have a great week. Cheers - Kim
UPDATES FOR WEEK ENDING SUNDAY 27TH JUNE 2004:
Wildebeest Arriving in Mara, June 27 2004
Over the last week the first wildebeest have been arriving into Kenya's Masai Mara. Small groups of less than a hundred have crossed the Mara and Sand rivers and are now in the Rekero Camp area, with larger groups of about five hundred seen crossing the Sand River whilst recent guests were on a scenic flight.
At Rekero Camp the lone bull hippo is back in front of camp, as are the three buffalo brigadiers. The camp lion pride was also back in residence over the last few days and is now a male, eight females and a six month old cub. Even with the incredibly long grass, the game viewing has been excellent.
Keke (the female cheetah who along with her three cubs stars in the BBC's 'Big Cat Diary') welcomed the first group of guests of the season by jumping straight onto the bonnet of their car and then calling all three cubs up. That was ten minutes after they landed! Within the last week Keke has left her cubs and was last seen in the Rhino Ridge area, the cubs have headed out south and have been seen regularly on the Ol Keju Rongai. Their hunting techniques are by no means perfect, quite entertaining at times, but they seems to be managing and like their mother seem to have learnt that the best vantage point to select the next meal is on top of the Landcrusier! Also in the Rongai area is a young female cheetah with her first two cubs. They are now about six weeks old so have a long rocky road ahead.
Further a field guests have been seeing plenty of hungry lions - the Ol Kiombo pride, the Ridge pride and River prides are all in their usual territories. With the grass being so long most animals had moved north to the short grass plains of the Conservation area so it's been tough for the lions and they have had to adapt by living off bigger animals such as hippo and buffalo.
On the leopard front, sightings have been frequent but often fleeting. A BBC crew is back in the area trying do a follow up episode on Bella and her cubs, but they too have been struggling with only three sightings of her in two weeks and none as yet of her cubs. She has moved nearly a mile into a new territory on the double crossing and it seems that her old spot has been filled by another female who has one cub. Jackson recently spotted the big camp male leopard up a tree on our Talek crossing with the remains of a warthog which you don't see too often.
Elephant and buffalo numbers are incredibly high in the Ol Kiombo area and the smaller grazers are beginning to move their way back in as the Loita zebra migration works their way through the longer grass.
Muchenje Lodge Update, June 27 2004
Muchenje Lodge is located on the western boundary of Botswana's famed Chobe National Park. Here is their latest news: Another uneventful week at Muchenje, life is tough! Two more leopard sightings on two consecutive days - and 3 days later, 3 leopards in a tree. Neo has the crown again as the leopard man, one sighting was a kill, directly after the kill, (does that make sense?) the impala was still kicking. Lions have been seen an average of every 3 days at this stage so things are looking up. Hopefully the prides are settling down again zebra seem to be less this year, maybe because there is still water. We have seen them every day but not quite the huge herds of previous years. We have seen many sable with babies which are adorable.
The weather has been really funny - like August save but a few lovely days thrown… so don't forget to bring a warm jacket.
Many, many elephants - to everyone's delight and just to cap things off - mock charges by the teenage elephants and lots in the water. Even had a charge by an old buffalo but I think he saw that our vehicle was much bigger so he backed off.
We recently saw a croc eating a python.
Donald is the wild dog man having seen wild dog on a kill this week.
Our resident Crested Barbet is back at the bird bath again. Now that the leaves are falling, the birds are starting to come for breakfast again. I think he looks like a punk rocker, with his mohawk and messy colors but beautiful. Other birds around now are trumpeter horn bills, regulars in camp giving their wailing call, lots of raptors, blue wax bills, Jamesons fire finches, puff back shrikes, and many more.
Our greatest delight is in the sighting of one of the Muchenje females (lion) with three new cubs. This is very exciting as the new lions in the area (the sons of Shaka and Khama) have been rather demanding, and killing off the cubs. It looks like they are "planting the right seeds" so to speak! Neo reports that the cubs were fat and health but still very tiny.
Pete has been doing the walks for a while and guests have really been enjoying them, With Pete's yeeeaaaaarrrrrsssss of experience his knowledge is endless. Yesterday they encountered a herd of buffalo. They were not interested in Pete's little party, just looked and kept on their way. Stay well - talk to you soon…Sandi
Africa's Black Rhino Population Growing, June 27 2004
Numbers of African black rhinos are rising in the wild, conservationists say, suggesting the endangered animals could be on the road to recovery. New figures put the current number of black rhinoceroses at 3,600, a rise of 500 animals over the last two years.
The black rhino had been on the decline since the 1970s due to hunting, war and increasing demand for land. The estimates come from IUCN - the World Conservation Union - and the Worldwide Fund For Nature (WWF).
The black rhino suffered a near-catastrophic decline from about 65,000 animals in the 1970s to only 2,400 in the mid-1990s. But the continuing rise in black rhinos since the mid-1990s is encouraging, say the conservation groups behind the new estimates. "One of the greatest challenges facing the future of rhinos in Africa is maintaining sufficient conservation expenditure and field effort," said Taye Teferi, WWF's African rhino co-ordinator.
"Illegal demand for horn, high unemployment, poverty, demand for land, wars, the ready availability of arms and internal instability also pose a threat to rhino populations."
Rhino horn is highly sought after by practitioners of traditional medicine in the Far East. In the Middle East it has traditionally been carved and polished to make dagger handles.
The number of white rhinos, which had fallen to just 50 individuals one hundred years ago, now stands at 11,000 and appears stable.
But two rhino sub-species still face a high risk of extinction. The northern white rhino has been reduced to a single, small population of just over 20 animals in the Democratic Republic of Congo and continues to be vulnerable due to organized poaching.
And in Cameroon, only a few scattered western black rhinos are thought to remain.
"Despite threats like poaching and habitat destruction rhino numbers are moving away from the brink of extinction," said Callum Rankine, WWF's international species officer for the UK. But he pointed out that there are around 90% fewer black rhinos now than there were 30 years ago.
The African Rhino Specialist Group (AfRSG) of IUCN's Species Survival Commission recently held a meeting in Kenya to discuss biological management and security for the animals. It concluded that, although numbers of the animals are on the rise in general, specific populations continue to be threatened by increased poaching.
Okavango Flood Update, June 13 2004
In Botswana the early and dramatic flood of 2004 is now spreading out into the Okavango fan proper. In fact, it has actually passed the Kunyere and Thamalakane faults, via the Boro, Matsebe and Xudum distribution river systems.
As can be expected with the incredible dynamics of the Okavango, this years flood has shown itself to be very different to recent years, in both timing and direction.
The wonderful combination of early rains in the catchments of the Cubango and Cuito rivers in Angola and rainfall that fell throughout the season over the Okavango, has resulted in large areas of the system to be flooded. Many distal floodplains that have not flooded for 20 years are now dressed in shallow water. It is amazing to see, what looks like a floodplain, filled with dry grass, but on closer inspection, has 20cm of water.
The Duba, Vumbura, Little Vumbura and Kaparota areas feature huge areas of this newly flooded grassland. Get out of your vehicle and wade a short distance into the water. Stop, and let things settle around you. Then you will see the life that these waters bring. A myriad of tiny fish, including the fry of several species are everywhere. Tiny green flushes on new emergent grasses, and aquatic insects abound. It is going to be a wonderful year for the ground nesting fish species, as these shallow floodplains are extremely rich in food and especially cover from the long grasses. The water is also warmer than in the deeper distributor channels, which will suit them.
Mombo is now a complete island, water on all sides, although there is still lots and lots of dry land everywhere - so their game driving is superb! In a southerly direction, along the tree line of Chiefs Island there is water to the very edge of the floodplains, a phenomenon not seen since 1984. Red lechwe antelope love these conditions, and can be seen in large numbers throughout the Okavango. The lechwe is another species, which will benefit from the widespread floodwaters. They will have increased areas to live away from many of the dry land based predators. It can be expected that their numbers will increase dramatically this year, back to the numbers of years gone by.
Of interest has been the distribution of the flood waters. Although, the entire Okavango has increased amounts of water, a large percentage increase has traveled down the "west" of the fan. One needs to look at a map of the Okavango to see this clearly. The fact that the Okavango is dynamic and there are periodic shifts in the direction of water flow, is well known. This phenomenon is one of the dynamics that drive the Okavango and make for the unique make up and distribution of habitats and species.
By the "west", I mean the Jao flats (Home of Jao, Jacana, Kwetsani and Tubu camps), down the fan via Xigera, thence through Pom Pom and into the Xudum and Matsebe rivers. These two rivers travel south after gathering the remnant waters of the vast areas described above. After joining on an extension of the Kunyere fault they swing south west towards Lake Ngami.
Lake Ngami is an ephemeral sump, which has a long history of filling and drying. It was described by Livingstone in 1879 as being a "shimmering lake, some 80 miles long and 20 wide". At that time it was the headquarters of the Batawana tribe and subsequently became the focus for explorers, adventurers and ivory hunters. The Okavango waters flowed into Lake Ngami via the Thaoge river at that time.
However, over the next thirty odd years, the Thaoge became blocked by papyrus and the waters flowed elsewhere in the delta. The lake started to dry, forcing the tribe to re-locate to Maun, today the gateway to the Okavango. During the last century, Lake Ngami filled several times and subsequently dried. Older residents of Ngamiland remember a full Lake in the 1970's, but it has remained largely dry since then, with only minor amounts reaching the lake. This year should see a large puddle within the lake bed, but not a full lake. My guestimation is possibly 10 kilometers by 5 kilometers. Just one indicator of the amount of water within the Okavango this year.
On the other side of the Okavango, in the so called "east side", there are reports of the Gomoti river flowing strongly. This is an indicator of much water to come in the Chitabe area. The combination of wet and dry habitats which will emerge make Chitabe an exciting destination.
The Okavango is absolutely dressed in her finery. It is a hugely important wetland, in a wet year, at the beginning of what may be a wet decade. Almost impossible to describe in words, the diversity and beauty are just that - indescribable!
UPDATES FOR WEEK ENDING SUNDAY 23RD MAY 2004:
Okavango Flood Update, May 23 2004
While the Okavango has being steadily filling up these past few weeks the arrival of the second "spike" of new flood waters (caused by the rains that fall in Angola in January, February and March) has not materialized.
The water levels in some areas of the Delta had dropped by about 10cm over the past weeks - but they have started rising fractionally once again.
It appears as though the biggest effects of the first and early flood waters have been more felt in the west of the Delta. Large areas around Mombo are still largely dry. The main flood from that first and early pulse is now just past the "Buffalo fence" just outside of Maun and should be reaching Maun shortly.
Some of the flood waters in the East of the Delta have already gone way down the Gomoti River and the floodplains are starting to fill up there - although Chitabe is still dry.
In the Linyanti area, the Zibadianja Lagoon is reasonably full from localized rainfall - but not from the flood waters from Angola. They are still waiting for the flood waters to get to the Linyanti area. The waters have pushed about 300 meters down the Savuti Channel but have stopped flowing for now.
UPDATES FOR WEEK ENDING SUNDAY 9TH MAY 2004:
Orient Express Safaris Update, May 9 2004
Orient Express was voted Botswana's best tour operator in the year 2000. Here is their latest update:
The Okavango seasons have turned quite drastically - from hot stormy nights we are now experiencing cool cloudless starry skies. Morning temperatures are very cool and warm weather gear is now needed for morning activities.
The long and above normal rainy season has come to an end. During the past rainy season, incredible rains were experienced over the whole region. The Savute area in particular received extraordinarily high rain this season (amounting to double the normal annual average).
The flood waters seem to have stopped their meandering through the delta. The flood that initially arrived at the pan-handle with such force has now slowed considerably, however the water levels at Eagle Island remain on the rise.
The main reason for this is that the flood waters have now reached the large floodplains of the delta and are currently spreading out on the low lying areas. Another major influence in the flood control is the various fault lines that characterize the delta. Once the water hit these fault lines it is forced to "backfill" as the faults tend to act as a large dam wall. Once enough water has entered the system, the waters will eventually break over these natural barriers and continue their course to the bottom sections of the delta.
Once the second push of water arrives from Angola, the water will also speed up its travels through the delta as it will basically be riding on top of the existing water.
Other water of interest is the remaining pans and water-holes that were filled up during the rains. Many of these are now beginning to dry up and the majority of roads that were flooded during some of the rains are now accessible again. From the air it is possible to see the pans that are normally hidden from view (from the main access roads) and it is becoming evident that the pans will not have water for much longer.
The Khwai River water level has risen quite dramatically over the past month. Although many of the roads in the area have dried out, our next challenge will be when the Khwai River floods the low lying roads as the river continues to rise.
With the change in season and the surface rain water drying up, the vegetation is beginning to change as well. Many of the trees having started to lose their leaves already (such as the large fever berry trees - Croton megalobotrys) and others have started to lose the fresh bright green foliage that they grew during the rains. In most areas the grass sward has also begun to dry out and will continue to thin over the next few months making sighting game easier.
As the winter approaches, so the termite activity will increase. They are one the controlling factors of the vegetation in the delta. During the winter months they cut the grass sward and take it below ground where they utilize it. Unbelievably, this termite behavior accounts for the majority of grass utilization in the delta area (far outweighing the amount of grass utilized by the mammals in the area).
In contrast to the trees and grass are the succulents and wild-flowers. These are still flowering and their vibrant colors can be seen around the camps and on the activities. Some species include water lilies (Nymphaea sp.), wild stock rose (Hibiscus calyphyllus) and cats' tail (Hermbstaedtia odorata) and the balsam pear (Momordica balsamina), with its bright red fruit. Many of the herbivorous (animals that predominantly eat vegetative matter) and omnivorous (animals that eat both vegetative matter and carrion) animal species within the area are thriving on the flowers and fruits of these plants.
The large number and widely dispersed water-holes all over the delta have meant that game are not restricted to the main rivers and large permanent water-holes. However, even with this difficulty imposed on the guides, they have managed to maintain good sightings throughout the month at all the camps.
The impalas' rutting season has also started, and males can be seen and heard as they chase rival males away from the area and begin to physically challenge each other for dominance. Often their grunts and snorts can be heard well into the nights - something for the uninitiated to listen out for, as the sounds are often mistaken for large predatory cats.
At Savute guides and management have reported that the past months lion sightings have been the best this year so far. It seems that the lions are coming back into the area and it should be only a short matter of time until we start seeing the large prides form again. These large prides and their elephant hunting are something that Savute has become famous for. Savute has also over the past moth provided some spectacular hyena, cheetah and wild dog sightings. On more than one occasion there have been sightings of a number of different species at the same place and at the same time - giving clients and guides an opportunity to witness the various interactions between the predators.
The top sightings for April were as follows:
A big male leopard was seen across from the government campsite on the main road to Savute.
Nearby the leopard sighting at Savute the guides also found 2 lionesses and three cubs.
Two wild dogs (one with a radio collar) were seen halfway between the camp and the Khwai village. The collar is used for telemetry racking and aids the Botswana Wild dog Research Project in monitoring the dogs.
5 wild dogs were seen at the Khwai River Lodge airstrip - one male, one female and three sub-adults.
Outside Moremi near Khwai River Lodge - a pride six lions were seen (including cubs).
Large herds of Zebra on the Savute marsh. This is the "return" migration that is coming back through the area. Zebra and wildebeest normally move through at the start of the rains and then move back through once the rains have come to an end. A pride of lions were seen eating off a buffalo kill at Savute.
Regarding birds many of the migratory birds are starting to leave the area. Species such as the woodlands kingfishers and blue checked bee-eaters have already become very rare.
One of the best sightings that we had this past month was that of an arrow marked babbler feeding a striped cuckoo fledgling. The reason for this cross-specie interaction is that the striped cuckoo is a parasitic nester (i.e. they lay their eggs in other bird's nests and get the other birds to raise the young for them). Striped cuckoo are parasite specifically with babblers.
Many different owl species were seen on a regular basis this month. The owl species that were often seen and heard, include the Verreaux's (Giant) Eagle Owl, Barn Owl (roosting in the palm trees next the office), Scops Owl, Pearl-Spotted Owl, Barred Owl and the Wood Owl. There have also been regular sightings of Pel's Fishing Owl at Eagle Island and a couple of sightings at Khwai River Lodge (inside the Moremi Game Reserve).
Palm Swifts have been nesting in the palms in and around the camps. These little birds nest in the crevices and folds of the palms and secure their nests into these positions. Often, strong winds may bring down a palm frond - ultimately destroying the nest. This has been happening on a fairly regular basis as the winds have been increasing as we go into the winter months.
There have been numerous sighting of a variety of frog species at all the camps. Their choruses run late into the nights and mixes wonderfully with the other bush sounds. With a little effort and some mud splashing it is possible to locate several species of frogs in a very short space of time. One downfall however is that you need several people on the look out for hippos and crocodiles.
Various reptile sightings included those of a young monitor lizard at Khwai River Lodge as well as an abundance of flap-necked chameleons. With the high water levels, many reptiles (and other animals) are being pushed to the dry islands. The frequency of reptile sightings is likely to main fairly high until the cold winter weather causes them to reduce their activity.
Muchenje Lodge Update, May 9 2004
Muchenje Lodge is located on the western boundary of Botswana's famed Chobe National Park. Here is their latest update:
It is starting to get a tad cool in the evenings and early mornings so please remember to bring a warm outer layer of clothing. Travelers will probably need about 3 layers - one for early/late, one for mid morning and on the way back from the game drive and one for the middle of the day - which is beautiful.
The flood is slowly receding, in my opinion anyway, Pete says the grass is just growing taller up through the water. Whichever, it is still a beautiful expanse in front of the Lodge. As we have had no rain for several weeks, the random waterholes are drying up and the game viewing along the river area is starting to pick up considerably. Yesterday Neo and guests followed a male and female lion for several kilometers along the river whilst in the boat, then when they returned to the vehicle, they picked up the tracks and followed further. They were then duly treated to the first of many matings. Our Muchenje females who went underground (so to speak) to have cubs still haven't surfaced so not sure what has happened there. Hopefully soon we will see them an can pass on some good news.
Birding has been spectacular for those enthusiasts. We've even had some converts - not birds, guests who weren't interested in them before. Grass is on it's last legs, and the trees are now starting to wear their autumn colors. Ele's have been raiding the marula trees again, and unfortunately pruning several other trees and bushes, close by the lodge, leaving HUGE calling cards in their wake. We are walking guests to their rooms at the moment till they move through. Last night I think one of them ate too many green ones because he was making a hell of a noise for quite some time. My pride and joy, the vege garden has been untouched so far.
The zebra still haven't arrived from Savuti yet, but still seeing eles, buffalo, impala, owls, genets… Last week apparently they saw a chameleon in the middle of the road doing a little waltz routine. I think that's about all for now.
Take care - Kindest - Sandi
Robin Pope Safaris Weekly Update, May 9 2004
Robin Pope Safaris is one of Zambia's most famed tour operators. Here is their latest update:
We are all a little slow this morning as Robin and Jo had their house warming yesterday - a lunch party which finally ended at around 8:30 in the evening - a fantastic day sitting out under the trees, drinking pims and bloody mary's, an excellent braai orchestrated by Robin and Jason Alfonsi and then swimming, snoozing and chatting - a perfect lazy Sunday, except for poor Shanie who was busy covering for Emily at Nkwali and had guests arriving and departing for most of the afternoon. Called "RoJo's House" the new house is situated at the back of camp, overlooking the grass dambos and in the distance the Chendeni Hills. Finally Robin and Jo have built their dream house and Jo is showing spectacular domestic tendencies after 16 years of living in the bush without showing any house pride at all. She now discusses curtain fabric and has learnt how to use a magimix. We are all finding it quite a hoot!!
Last night guests were lucky enough to see the lioness and her little cubs again. She seems to be quite a performer and does not mind guests photographing her as she moves her brood around.
Simon told us he had a critical job to do on Saturday - it turned out it was taking his wife, who was suffering from cabin fever, out on a birding trip in the park. They saw some lovely birds - Simon managed to get super shots of a three banded plover and an African jacana.
Paul had a rather unusual sighting of a puku being attached by vultures - it seemed to still be alive and so must have been injured and the vultures were taking advantage of its lack of mobility.
Tuesday is the total lunar eclipse and as we speak Shanie is busy researching on the internet to see what time we should all be ready for the hopefully spectacular sight. Amazing to have this technology in the bush......
Stay well and have a great week, Cheers - Kim
UPDATES FOR WEEK ENDING SUNDAY 11TH APRIL 2004:
Orient Express Safaris Update, April 11 2004
Orient Express Safaris operates 3 very luxurious lodges / tented camps in the wilds of Botswana. Here is their latest update:
Over the past month temperatures have begun to drop and the feel of winter is definitely on its way. Early morning and evenings now on occasion require a jersey to be worn - a relief after a hot summer. Amazingly, rains have continued to fall, with most areas receiving well over 100mm over the past month. This is somewhat the exception as normally the rains have disappeared by the beginning of March. This year, as we go into April, we still see huge cloud build up and have had thundershowers almost on a daily basis. Flying over the delta you get a great feel for the amount of water that we have received this season - large bodies of water can be seen all over the delta and extending all the way up through to Savute. The Khwai River has risen considerably over the past month - solely due to rain water.
Rain and flood waters are still entering the delta. The rainy season should, according to past years have already come to a halt; however, the entire region continues to receive above average rains. Angola, the source of the flood waters that enter the delta, is still receiving high quantities of rain. This will result in a constant flow of water entering the Okavango over the next few months.
Water flow entering the delta has dropped significantly over the last week of March. Although the flow rate has reduced, water levels are still rising. The second peak is reportedly already entering the Caprivi Strip in Namibia - this means that it is only a matter of weeks before the next influx of water arrives.
At Eagle Island Camp the water levels have risen substantially. Water has now covered the majority of the floodplains in the vicinity of the camp and Eagle Island Camp is once again a true island - totally surrounded by water. With the water levels so high, water has now reached all the tents and guests can now enjoy watching fish from their decks.
The view when flying over the delta is totally breathtaking. Water predominates and the vegetation is responding to the presence of the water. Large floodplains are now covered by a variety of aquatic plants and the surrounding areas have turned a magnificent green. The vegetation for the most part remains fairly dense and it will be a while until the termites begin their role in cutting and removing large quantities of the grass sword.
At Savute Elephant Camp, the vegetation is beginning to change. The vast areas that have been covered by greenery are now beginning to give way to the browns and oranges of autumn. With the extremely high rainfall over the past month, huge sections of Chobe are now under water. This in the long term will have a effect on the vegetation in the area as the sandy soils will loose a great deal of their nutrients (in a process called leaching) as the waters drain through the soils and effectively dilute the minerals and nutrients that the plants rely on.
Sightings have, as already mentioned, been more challenging now that the vegetation is so thick and high. None-the-less, the guides have managed to find the game and have provided the guests with some fantastic sightings.
Savute Elephant Camp, has yet again provided fantastic sightings of wild dog. The frequency of sightings near camp seems to indicate that the dogs may have a den in the vicinity. Should this be the case, it is likely that there will be sightings of pups in the next month or so. At Khwai River Lodge, similar sightings of wild dogs have also been seen. The dogs have on several occasions been seen in the immediate vicinity of the camp and have also been seen hunting through the camp itself. The vegetation tends to be slightly denser at Khwai River Lodge than at Savute Elephant Camp and as such no kills have actually been seen.
Other sightings at Khwai River Lodge over the past month include several of plains game (which at this time of year are flourishing due to the low predator densities and the abundance of food and water), the occasional leopard, and buffalo (buffalo have been scarce during the rainy season as the move to areas that have been rested during the previous winter season).
One of the highlights at Eagle Island Camp was when guests were fortunate enough to witness the entire labor and birth of a baby giraffe. Guests then remained at the sighting until the giraffe eventually took its first steps. This is something few people will ever get to witness and is also one of the most interesting births that you could ever witness.
Eagle Island Camp, with the re-introduction of water activities, is now experiencing some fantastic sightings of a variety of wildlife from the water. The elephants and buffalo are beginning to come back into the area after having spread out during the summer season.
At Savute Elephant Camp it looks as if the large prides of lions are on the return. During March, lions where seen on practically every drive and at one stage a pride of 30 individuals was seen. This pride had 10 adult lionesses and 20 cubs (no doubt the resident male was somewhere in the vicinity as well). A highlight for many was when this same pride took down two adult and one foal zebra. This allowed them to feast for several days and allowed guests the opportunity of observing the young at close quarters.
The rains and floods have definitely provided some great habitat for birds. Water-fowl have been abundant at all three properties and some fantastic sightings have been had over the past month. Greater painted snipe, slaty and black egrets, saddle-billed storks have all been regular sightings at the camps. Purple gallinules have been seen regularly and in abundance at Eagle Island Camp and Khwai River Lodge (last year they were not seen at all at Eagle Island Camp). At Savute Elephant Camp, the carmine bee-eaters have still been following the game drive vehicles (the vehicles disturb insects and the bee-eaters come down to catch them). Other interesting sightings at Savute Elephant Camp have included the three banded plovers, blue-cheeked bee-eaters and Kittlitz plover. Eagle Island Camp has again this month had several sightings of Pel's fishing owl (often at very close range) and of Scops owl. With many of the trees now coming into fruit (such as the marula tree - Scelrocarya birrea), many species such as the grey loeries (go-away birds) and green pigeons are seen feasting.
As with last month, amphibian life has been very noticeable in and around the camps. Yet again the abundance of standing water has come into play - this time by providing the ideal habitat for breeding.
Eagle Island Camp has had several sightings of snakes and a variety of lizards over the past couple of weeks. This is mainly due to land areas now being flooded and the reptiles (and other wildlife) now being restricted to smaller areas. Effectively this results in higher densities of reptiles in smaller areas. Probably the highlight at Khwai River Lodge was witnessing a battle between what is thought to have been a boomslang and a slender mongoose - both animals where battling it out, until the mongoose eventually ended victorious - a meal worth fighting for. Savute Elephant Camp has had several sightings of spitting cobras while out on drives and have also had a couple of good sightings of African rock pythons.
The event of the month is again water related - however this month it is not the flood (which still remains extremely impressive). This month it is the rain. The reason why it is so impressive is that on a normal average year, the rains are long gone (having normally stopped towards the end of February). This year this is far from what we are experiencing - in fact this year in March we have had our highest rainfall figures yet. Savute has recorded rainfall figures for March that come close to the normal average annual rainfall for that area. Daily, clouds are still seen building on the horizon and the entire delta area is still receiving significant amounts of rainfall.
Robin Pope Safaris Update, April 11 2004
Robin Pope is one of Zambia's leading tour operators. Here is their latest update:
Nkwali Camp is now open and in full swing. The first guests arrived on Friday and as of tomorrow we are back to full camp. Keyala, Daudi, Paul and Jacob are here doing the guiding and the guests had superb gameviewing over the weekend. Daudi came across a lioness at the Wafwa in the process of moving her cubs and was seen carrying a month old cub in her mouth - a lovely sighting. There have been many siting of lions in the past few days - not large prides but lots of small groups of both males and females. Also on the cat front our first guests - 3 ladies from Norway had the luck to come across a leopard in a tree during daylight and sat for sometime with this beautiful animal.
A large herd of around 400 buffalo have also been seen as well as lots of elephant, zebra, giraffe and even a few hyenas.
Kerri was in the park again with trainees this week and they saw a gymnogene trying to pull a squirrel out of a hole in a tree. He was successful even whilst being mobbed by a group of longtailed starlings - quite an achievement.
We are at that in-between stage at the moment - the river is too low to boat up as the sandbanks get in the way, but the Kauluzi is still running and not quite crossable but we are hoping that an expedition will be ready to head north at the end of this week.
Our family of elephants came back to camp this weekend. I was rudely awaken at 4 AM on Saturday by a huge squeal which could only have been a young elephant running around the staff compound. They remained, pulling down the trees around camp and then surrounded my house about 2 hrs later - a lovely sight and hopefully I got some good shots of the young one just after the sun rose - luckily no-one spotted me creeping around in my nightie, camera in hand. Stay well and have a great week…Kim
Mombo Camp Update, April 11 2004
Mombo Camp, in Botswana's Moremi Reserve, is one of Africa's premier wildlife viewing locations and provides brilliant wildlife viewing throughout the year. Here is the camp's latest update:
This month has been one of quite incredible transformation. 2004 could just enter the record books as one of the most remarkable years in the Okavango Delta in living memory... after two years of below-average floods we are finally seeing the full power and beauty of the Delta, in a way not witnessed for 20 years... this year's flood is going to be awesome!
Water which fell months ago as rain in the highlands of Angola has slowly been making its way towards Mombo, across Namibia's Caprivi Strip and down the Okavango Panhandle, filtered by great stands of papyrus and sand banks, until it began arriving in the Mombo area at the very beginning of the month - a good two months early.
Combined with this we have had much of our year's rainfall arriving late in the rainy season, with the result that huge amounts of water have caused some radical changes in our area in the last few weeks... It is hard to believe that an area as flawless and beautiful as Mombo could be improved upon, but the arrival of the floodwaters have lifted the area to a new level...
Those of us who have had the privilege of calling Mombo home for some time are particularly taken aback by the earliness and intensity of the water flows into the Mombo area. Comparing this year's flood with last year's, there is already much more water here than there was at the height of last year's much less impressive inundation.
You can see the water pushing in day by day as it creeps nearer and nearer to the steps of Mombo. The view across the floodplains from the main area is simply breathtaking - infinite expanses of green grass and reeds, and occasional stretches of open water which reflect the glittering sun. The floodplain is dotted with the black, half-submerged shapes of buffaloes, each with a brilliant white cattle egret perched on its back.
The arrival of the floodwater at Mombo has brought many animals and birds in closer to Mombo - we have seen slaty egrets and pygmy geese searching flooded grassy areas for food, and we have had some remarkable moonlit sightings of groups of hippos grazing. The buffaloes and red lechwes especially have been enjoying the lush vegetation in the newly flooded plains.
The late rains have added to this spectacular transformation - we have had another good month for rainfall, with most of the rain occurring during afternoon thunder storms, carefully timed so as not to interfere with game drives! As we head into winter, temperatures have been a little cooler - the sun has lost a little of its intense summer heat and daytime temperatures are very pleasant.
In March we have had a total of 121.5mm of rain, giving us a total of 400mm since November. This however is only just above the average likely to be experienced in this area around Maun during the summer season. While temperatures have been generally getting cooler, with some cloudy and windy days being experienced, the sun has been particularly intense following rainstorms. This is probably due to there being less dust in the atmosphere after each rain shower. Minimum recorded temperatures have ranged from 18°C to 23°C, with an average daily minimum of 20.16°C. Maximum temperatures have ranged from 21°C to 30°C, with an average daily maximum of 28.00°C.
This "sunshine and showers" weather has meant that we have regularly enjoyed seeing rainbows arch over the Mombo floodplains... anyone looking for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow need go no further than Mombo!
As well as a month of water, March has been a month of leopards. After an absence of almost a year, the Maun Road female leopard made a welcome re-appearance in some of her old haunts, now accompanied by a ten month old cub. This means that we currently have three female leopards in the area with cubs born at various times during the last year. We believe that there are about 30 leopards in total in and around the Mombo game drive area.
The huge Burned Ebony male leopard used the cover of some of the new plant growth to kill an impala, and then concealed his kill close enough for us to have some very personal encounters with this incredible but elusive predator, the ultimate in deadly stealth.
March has also been a month of frogs - the nightly chorus fills the Mombo opera house to the rafters, with hippos, hyenas, and lions, all performing too to create a perfect nocturnal African symphony - sounds that we know none of our guests will ever forget...
As we reach the end of March, the moon is waxing again towards its monthly zenith, casting a silvery light over the buffaloes and hippos as they graze, and casting shadows over the water as the giant eagle owls drift silently among the raintrees.
In the Camp itself, we are continuing to refine the many little details that make a stay at Mombo or Little Mombo so special... couples on honeymoon are enjoying intimate and romantic private dinners and our chefs have been busy making special cakes for birthdays and wedding anniversaries. Freshly boiled water delivered to each tent with the morning wake-up call gives our guests the chance to have an "emergency" cup of coffee at first light - although of course they soon realize that the bush experience delivers a far greater boost to the body and soul than caffeine ever could!!
As this area undergoes its annual change into a much more watery kingdom, we are taking advantage of living in a huge natural classroom to extend our meet and greet talks to explain to guests some of the wonder of the flood and the rivers that turn their backs on the sea. Many guests have commented that this additional information has really helped them get even more out of their Mombo experience as it has further opened their eyes to the wonder that is the Okavango Delta...
While some of our roads have flooded and are now impassable, this has not compromised the quality of the game viewing experience at Mombo in any way. Rather, game viewing is in many ways more intense as with the floodplains now inundated, many animals have been pushed into smaller areas in the center of islands. The beauty of Mombo, and the reason that it boasts such exceptional numbers and variety of game, is that it encompasses a variety of different and contrasting habitats, thus providing the perfect habitat for a great many species of animal and bird all year round.
Recent unusual sightings include a caracal (a large lynx-like cat) and a large grey mongoose, the largest southern African mongoose but a very secretive animal and hard to spot despite its size. Also a male leopard mating with two females at the same time, and somehow dividing his time (and energy!) between the two of them. Also some rare daytime sightings of honey badgers and porcupines.
Perhaps the most spectacular sighting was one which set a new Mombo record: seven of the reintroduced white rhinos grazing together on a large open area known as Suzi's Duckpond. One quarter of all Botswana's wild rhinos together in one place at the same moment. It was late afternoon, and the sky was brilliantly lit up by the setting sun, bathing the whole scene in that special soft light so beloved of photographers... and what a scene to photograph! In the background were hundreds of zebra, and a quick glance around the area would also reveal giraffe, warthog, wildebeest, jackal and tsessebe... Meanwhile the abrupt alarm calls of impala hung on the still air as they spotted the female leopard we had watched playing with her cub only a few minutes earlier... and that was not so very long after we had seen one of the four black rhinos near the airstrip... the kind of hour that only ever seems to happen at Mombo - a place so magical that it can have twenty-four hours like that in just one day! And of course we have still to see this year's flood reach its peak, so no doubt many more spectacular moments and special sightings await us... 2004 is simply flying by, proof (if any were needed) of how much fun we are having...
UPDATES FOR WEEK ENDING SUNDAY 21ST MARCH 2004:
Eagle Island Camp Update, March 21 2004
Eagle Island Camp is one of Orient Express' properties in Botswana's famed Okavango Delta. Here is their latest news:
Following the increase of water levels in the Eagle Island Camp vicinity, all water activities are now possible! The main floodwaters arrived at Eagle Island on March 11 and since then, the water levels have risen by over a foot. Assisting the flood waters have been heavy thundershowers. On March 17 the camp received over 90mm of rain in less than 24 hours.
Water levels have been rising on a daily basis, with water now reaching all the tented rooms at the camp. The floodplains immediately in front of the camp have now been completely submerged and offer fantastic opportunities for mokoro trips.
The arrival of the flood and the extensive rain at Eagle Island Camp has brought about many wonderful sightings. One morning we woke up and set off on a mokoro trip to one of the islands not far from camp. On arrival we set off on a walk. Minutes into the walk we had our first sighting - a female wildebeest on her own. The guide explained this was unusual as they are normally herd animals. We watched for several minutes before heading off. Our next sighting was of the rare Pel's fishing owl - a large tawny colored owl that preys on fish. Unbelievably, the owl seemed as interested in us as we were of it and we watched for at least fifteen minutes. There was more to discover, so we continued on the walk. For a while we enjoyed the smaller fauna and flora that we came across; baboon spiders that have there homes in the ground, Tsama melons that taste extremely bitter, a pair of African green pigeons, grasshoppers, and so much more. Then the guide heard a noise - he motioned for us to keep still and quite. Buffalo. In the distance we could hear the sound of stampeding hooves running through the wet flood plains. We moved to a high vantage point - a termite mound. From here we could see a few buffalo running in the distance. The guide suggested that we move further around the tree line where we would be able to get a better view. Approximately fifty meters further on, the floodplain opened up before us and we had perfect views of around 300 buffalo, feeding and slowly on the move towards far tree line. While watching this spectacle, the guide told us that the barking sound that we could hear in the thicket in the distance was the alarm call of vervet monkeys. Probably some kind of predator in the area. We headed on. Just before arriving back at the mokoros, we came across the tail of a wildebeest.... just the tail. The guide examined it and explained that it was still fresh - something had recently killed the wildebeest and had dragged the carcass away. After checking that the coast was clear, the guide motioned that we should follow him. Not far along the trail, we found the wildebeest. It was a leopard kill and the leopard had moved off, after having just begun to eat. After all this excitement, the guide proposed that we return to the mokoros for some tea and coffee. While sipping away, we had our last view on the island. Coffee finished, we began the tranquil mokoro ride back to the lodge for brunch - a morning for all to remember.
On another front Eagle Island Camp has yet again been fortunate enough to be chosen as the nesting area for a pair of Pels Fishing Owls. The pair is regularly seen in the thicket surrounding the camp and has become habituated to the activities of the people moving around the area.
As these birds are extremely rare, many "twitchers" travel the world to see just one of them. At EIC, it seems that they are so common that the staff no longer even look up when the birds are around.
Leopards were the predator of note last week, as they were seen on several occasions. The most dramatic of these sightings was when guides spotted a leopard lying up in a tree. On closer inspection, the group noticed an impala carcass hanging on a branch just below the leopard. While watching the leopard, the guide was alerted by the sound of twigs snapping of another animal approaching. After a few seconds two hyenas appeared and promptly began to hassle the leopard in the tree. The group eventually left the sighting, with plans to return the next day.
UPDATES FOR WEEK ENDING SUNDAY 14TH MARCH 2004:
Wilderness Safaris Southern Africa Update, March 14 2004
Wilderness Safaris is one of southern Africa's leading tour operators with lodges and camps in South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi. Here is there latest update:
The drought has been broken! South Africa's Kruger Park is completely wet, wet, wet and the aquifers countrywide are being replenished after years of drought. We have had some great rain in the Makuleke area of Kruger which has all but wiped away any signs of the drought. Grass is growing everywhere and the area is looking superb.
The Okavango Story........In Botswana here are our thoughts on the great floods. The whole Delta will be flooded to the brim this year as a result of all the rains in Angola. Its going to be the MOST amazing spectacle, much like it was in 1977. That year, 1978 and 1984 were some of the best years ever in Botswana. You should all make the effort to get to Botswana this year and see the Delta at its very, very best. We have been waiting nearly 30 years for such a great flood! We are hoping that the flood waters head all the way through Maun and fill up Lake Ngami and the Makgadikgadi too - and even flow down the Selinda Spillway and top up the Linyanti!
The high water will create complications for behind the scenes operations in the camps. However, we are confident that we are going to be able to keep operating successfully and keep guests very, very happy. In the past few weeks we have moved over 125 tons of goods and 250,000 liters of fuel into our camps, so the camps are all stocked up for the next 4 months. We will then be flying the rest of the goods into the camps to top up these supplies to see us through the high season. We are investigating hiring a larger freight plane to help fly all our goods into the camps. This will make all our supply movements that much more efficient and cost effective.
More specifically on the wildlife and camp front here is the latest:
Jao Concession and camps (Jao, Kwetsani, Tubu Tree Camp): The flood is already well past Jao. Normally at this time of year its north of Jao and trickling through. All the Jao camps have water in and around them. Jacana is surrounded as it normally is - but the depth of water is greater than ever before. Jao has water under some of the rooms and the water level is about a foot from coming over the top of the bridge. Kwetsani will have water lapping onto the edge of the island - and Tubu will be likewise. All Jao concession camps have easy boat access to Hunda Island which is a large dry island with the areas best game. With the very high water levels we can easily access Hunda by boat and then start our game drives. Very high floods are easier to operate in as one can just hop onto a mokoro or boat and quickly get to where the dry land is. When water levels are not so high, it is often too low for a boat and too high for a vehicle.....that's when we really struggle on our activities!
What is going to happen with the wildlife viewing this year anywhere in the Delta is that there are going to be incredible concentrations of animals on every dry island - the concentrations and game viewing will be truly superb this year in all areas!!!
Xigera and Pom Pom: We are expecting that conditions around these two camps will be much the same as the Jao areas.
Mombo: The camp is just starting to recover from NBC's Matt Lauer Show. The floods are about 300 meters away from the front of the camp - and there should be enough dry land in the interior to keep us out of mischief during the height of the flood. However, we are building a bridge to link Mombo to the dry land as there is a patch of a few hundred meters that could get tricky later on when the floods arrive at Mombo and surround the camp.
Jack's Camp: The zebra migration is still at Jack's Camp and continues to fill the grasslands of this normally harsh desert landscape. The flamingos have all but headed on to their breading grounds, but the large variety of water birds remain feeding on all the new life in the pans. The meerkats have survived the wet season again and are flourishing on the abundance of food brought on by the good rains! With rain in mind, spectacular does not adequately describe the evening skies that are accompanying these storms. San Camp opens later this year.
Duba Plains, Vumbura, Little Vumbura, and Kaparota: Duba has water lapping at its doors as it does every year but in March we normally expect things to be dry out front of the camp. Thank goodness we moved the airfield into the interior of the island some years back otherwise we would have been in deep trouble. We have some of our vehicles to the dry land to the north east and depending on how the floods proceed, we expect to hop into a boat and then meet up with our vehicles in the north east of the concession.
To the north east of Vumbura and Little Vumbura camps we have a massive area of dry woodland that never floods. We are currently organizing a network of tracks in these dry woodlands so that we can do our game drives there if we run out of dry land at Vumbura.
Chitabe and Chitabe Trails: This camp has lots of dry land - prepare for great viewing!
The Linyanti Concession (Kings Pool, Savute, Duma Tau and Linyanti Camp): The big question is whether the Savuti channel will start to flow again this year. The Zibadiabja Lagoon will certainly fill up again after slowly receding all these past years. Will the Savuti flow this year? We certainly hope so and maybe we can get back to what the Savuti used to be in the 70s
At Kings Pool the elephants made a premature return and were all around the camp for about two weeks. Folks sitting at the underground hide one morning watched about 300 eles move through the pan on their way to the river. The majority have returned to the endless mopane again, but they are not far away. There are still some herds around the Livingstone hide area.
Savuti Camp now has a brilliant new face with the recent renovations to the main area, dining room and two new tents. The two additional stunning rooms (4 & 5) are now fully completed. Baboons have already christened the room on numerous occasions!! The camp will operate as a 7 roomed camp from the beginning of April.
Duma Tau is now a 10 roomed camp. The new 'honeymoon' suite sports an outside sala area where couples can relax and view the beautiful Osprey lagoon. I actually watched an osprey from the sala last month! We have made small renovations to the lounge/bar area, as well as added a shaded ' pergola' to the pool deck. The rooms are looking great after replacing the green shade netting with black.
And more news - For those who have not had enough to read here is some more detailed camp news:
Kwetsani - After flying over the flood before it reached Jedibe we decided that we had 3 - 4 weeks before the water reached the camp but 10 days later the water was at Kwetsani. The flood arrival was extremely beautiful to watch with vast herds of lechwe following the flow of the water, huge flocks of water birds feeding on drowning insects and competing with barbels in a feeding frenzy. We counted 3 flocks of wattled crane all with more than 70 birds on one small stretch of floodplain. The water was moving at a pace of about 1 meter every 45 seconds and the front trickle was very quickly followed by a stream of deep water. A crossing just north of Kwetsani that is usually passable for a few weeks after the flood arrives was too deep to cross only a few hours after the water arrived in the channel effectively cutting off the northern Kwetsani plains. The flood arrived at Kwetsani on February 22. The floodplain lion pride had moved north of Kwetsani, their home base, closer to the lechwe herds and we were extremely concerned that they would be caught unaware by the swiftly moving water. Frank was telling us about how the water can stress the lionesses into abandoning their cubs, and for days after the water arrived we had no idea what had become of our lions. We were extremely relieved when Maipaa arrived back from a walk on Pupup Island near the Jao airstrip to tell us how he had almost walked into the pride and had caught a glimpse of some lions disappearing into the thick bush. Most importantly he had seen the tracks of the 3 month old cubs! In February we assisted Birdlife Botswana with their wattled crane survey, and can proudly say that we have more wattled crane than the entire population of South Africa in one flock north of Kwetsani! They were hoping to sample 200 birds to count juveniles and ascertain the breeding success rate, so you can imagine their delight when they came across one flock of 200 birds! The largest population of wattled crane in Botswana is to be found in the Jao Concession, with most of the birds being just north of Kwetsani.
Jacana - Jacana had the benefit of lions in and around camp most of the time this past month. These were new lions that took advantage of moving up from NG26 while the floodplain pride had moved north. Every once in a while one of the floodplain males would move south to chase off the intruding male, but as soon as he retreated to join his pride the intruder would move back in. On the February 22 we could see the flood water approaching Jacana and a small trickle started to flow across the Jacana bridge in the channel. In the early hours of the morning of the February 23 the managers woke up to the sound of bubbling water as the trapped air bubbles in the soil were released thus heralding the arrival of the flood water at Jacana. They arose to a water wonderland and had the good sense to immediately drive their vehicles off the island and onto Pupup Island. The crossings were already deep and they got Spike to service their outboard and prepare their boat for use. 12 hours later they boated into camp, the water was flowing so quickly through the channels that they got to experience some white water for the first time ever! One can appreciate how remarkable this is when you consider that we normally carry on driving through the crossings for 2-3 weeks after the flood arrives while we wait for the channels to get deep enough to boat! Jacana is once again an island with the prettiest "lake" of shallow water surrounding the island and lush green forested small islands dotting the lake. The water has about 50mm to go before it floods the concrete verandah, but luckily there is a high step on to the lounge. The rest of the island is quite high. While they were conducting the wattled crane survey from microlights we asked for a rough guide to our sitatunga population and the results were quite plentiful so that is great news.
Jao - Life at Jao has been very exciting these last few weeks. Once the flood arrived at Jacana Camp Frank moved the mekoro from the mekoro station back to Jao. That night at dinner his jovial bunch of Italian guests said that they wanted to mekoro the next morning, and Frank promised them a mekoro experience right from the front of camp. His guests thought he was crazy as the river was completely dry apart from one muddy patch in front of the lodge. Frank did not have an easy night as he worried about his rash promise, but the next morning (February 25) the guests thought Frank was truly amazing as they arose to this huge river spanning over 400 meters across and spilling over across the road on the opposite side of the bank. During those few hours the water had filled the channel and risen over 700mm to be level with the lowest section of the Jao bridge and 30mm lower than the highest peak ever recorded in our 6 years of intense Jao knowledge (previous peak was July 2001). The guests had an awesome mekoro experience and were totally absorbed with the miracle of the flood arrival. Within 2 days of the water arriving the flood moved past the previous peak and the resistance of the water flow against the bridge caused the river to push past the sides of the bridge threatening the access road from Jao. This area had to be sandbagged and the road topped up with sand to repair the damage. The water is now 190mm higher than we have ever experienced and still rising. There is 50mm to go before the water flows over the low part of the bridge. From the air it is immediately apparent how little dry land is left on Jao, there is a dry patch from the main area to the kitchen, the tree line along the front of camp is dry, a little in the staff village and a little in the workshop - most of the island is flooded. Our resident band of banded mongoose have relocated from the bridge area to just behind room 4 with all their little ones and are now a great source of interest from the walkway. The Kwetsani lions are now the Jao lions and are relaxing into their new home on Pupup Island which is the largest dry land we have on the floodplain side of the concession and a very sensible choice. Although we have not yet seen the cubs, we have seen their tracks a couple of times, and we have mating lions this week. We have completed the floodplain sleep out platform / hide although the lions stopped work for one day when they became a little too curious. We can now offer hide sleep outs from Jao, Jacana and Kwetsani (weather permitting). We managed to extend the Jao airstrip by 100m on the higher eastern side before the flood arrived, and we have built a bund on the western side which is holding the water off the strip nicely. Should part of the strip flood we should still have at least 900m of usable runway. We have to agree with Clinton and Rebecca that Jao truly is at it's best when it is surrounded by water, and this year it looks simply stunning with the camp perched right alongside this flood which is filling the Okavango to levels that we have not seen for 20 years although they were once the norm!
Tubu - After all the action on the eastern side the west has been much quieter as far as the flood goes. Tubu has been enjoying good rain transforming the dry area into lush grasslands which have attracted lots of plains game. The water hole in front of camp in the dry river bed was a tremendous boost to the camp as it attracted animals all day long. A lioness with three young cubs has been sighted frequently and we have two new male lions that have moved into the area, so this coupled with frequent leopard sightings has made a wonderful improvement to the predator sightings. The boat channels were all mowed before the flood arrived and the water moved across to the eastern side of Hunda Island on February 27 filling up the floodplains and boat channels - now Hunda boat trips are back on offer from the eastern camps. We are lucky to have access to this dry area and we are sure that Hunda is going to have a tremendous population of wildlife over the next few months. Today the water flowed past the front of camp and the barren floodplain has been transformed into a lush wetland.
Orient Express Safaris Botswana Update, March 14 2004
Orient Express in one of Botswana's leading luxury tour operators with 3 properties in the country. Here is their latest update:
Temperatures have been moderate over the past month with maximum temperatures in the low thirties, however, with the high volume of rain that has fallen over the entire region; humidity levels have been fairly high.
Savute continues to receive large amounts of rain and has now got large standing pools of water in the open areas / marshes. Elsewhere in the delta rains have not been quite as heavy as in Savute, however the total average of the region indicates that we have already exceeded the past few years' average rain falls - and the rains keep coming.
Sightings have, as already mentioned, been more challenging now that the vegetation is so thick and high. None-the-less, the guides have managed to find the game and have provided the guests with some fantastic sightings.
Savute Elephant Camp has had several good sightings of wild dogs over the past month. The dogs have been coming to the camp waterhole on a regular basis and have provided "easy-sightings" for the guests while they relax in the afternoons around the swimming pool. On drives the dogs have also been spotted several times, with probably the most impressive sighting being two kills on one drive. Leopard have also been common during February, again with one coming in the evening and drinking from the waterhole in front of camp.
Khwai River Lodge has had a variety of good sightings over the month. As with Savute, Khwai River Lodge has also had a few wild dog sightings in close proximity to the camp. As per usual Khwai River Lodge has had a myriad of predator sightings, including hyena, lion, cheetah and leopard. One of the more interesting sightings was of a hyena chasing a kudu along the river in-front of the camp. The kudu managed to escape the hyena only by jumping into the Khwai River.
Eagle Island Camp, not to be out done by the other properties, has provided an amazing range of sightings. This ranged from a young hippo that had died in the water in front of the camp and the resultant feeding frenzy of several hungry crocodiles, through to a sighting of a warthog that decided to reverse the roles of predator and prey and gave chase to a leopard that had been harassing it (the leopard, after a brief sprint disappeared into a clump of trees). Another great sighting was of giraffe, kudu, elephant, impala, plovers, doves and geese all at the same waterhole at the same time - true Eagle Island Camp style. Conditions for birding have been fantastic over the past month. Again, with all the standing water, birds like amphibians and reptiles have been thriving. In particular abundance in the Khwai area, were the white-faced and fulvous ducks. Also at Khwai, a pair of saddle billed storks has been seen nesting in close proximity to the camp. Owls have also been spotted regularly at the camps. Eagle Island has had a pair of Pel's nesting over the past few seasons and is again back this year. They have been seen on almost a daily basis along the paths to the tents. Savute has also had its fair share of wonderful bird sightings, with many water-birds having found their way in to this normally dry and arid part of the country. Some of the species seen in February include the red knobbed coot, sand plovers, three banded plovers and spotted crakes. Away from the water there has been a high number of Stanley's bustard.
With the abundance of standing water, the frog life has been exceptional and many different species can be heard calling in the evening. The abundance of amphibians is an indicator of a healthy eco-system, as frogs are very sensitive to environmental disturbances and would normally be some of the first creatures to be adversely affected by negative changes in the environment.
In northern Botswana during the months of January and February, the one thing that you will notice is that the local community gets hyped up. This is due to a phenomenon that starts around the end of January in Botswana and continues through to the last quarter of the year. This phenomenon is the life blood of the Okavango Delta. This phenomenon is the annual flood that comes through from the highlands in Angola.
February this year is no different. The locals are already in full debate as to what to expect for this season, and so far things are looking good. In fact, if the early signs are anything to go by, this season is going to be fantastic!
The flood waters are measured up in the pan handle of the delta, where it effectively enters the whole system. The levels recorded coming through the pan handles so far are on par with the floods that came through in 1984 (which in the past thirty years was the highest flood that we have experienced).
The past couple of months the entire Delta have experienced good rains, which ultimately mean that the ground has a high water level and that there is a good vegetative layer. With the ground having a high water content, it will mean less water soaking away when the flood comes through and more water spreading out - eventually covering a larger area. The vegetative cover will also assist the flood, in that it slows down the rate of evaporation - again meaning less water lost and more to spread out.
Muchenje Lodge Update, March 14 2004
Muchenje Lodge is located on the western border of Botswana's famed Chobe National Park. Here is the lodge's latest update:
The elusive female leopard has been seen a several times recently - not that I'd get too excited as she does this from time to time and then we don't see her for months. I guess it's hard work keeping the young safe, hunting, and staying dry. There are still lots of elephant though… one morning guests only saw two elephant however on the afternoon drive were rewarded with about 500!
With regards to lions one pregnant female from the Muchenje pride disappeared. We haven't seen her now for a few weeks so lets hope she is nursing some healthy babies somewhere close by.
The grass is too long for walks except along the riverfront where the birds are abundant. It's still pleasant walking along there even if you are not a birder - the apprehension is still there as you just never know what is hiding behind that long grass or bush - so close by!
On a recent night drive Neo saw baby scorpion crossing the road and the has been good lion more often than not for the last few days.
This year has been the best for rain… Kindest regards, Sandi
Mombo Camp Update, March 14 2004
February has been a very busy month at Mombo with the arrival of the first flood waters, high rainfall and the whirlwind that was the NBC breakfast show. NBC arrived at the beginning of the month and took over the entire camp, turning Mombo into something resembling the NASA control center. The generators ran 24 hours a day, wires and cables were laid all over the camp, and telephone linkups were established via satellite. It was an eerie sensation hearing the ringing of telephones. A bonus, however, was being allowed to call family and friends from the camp. The whole aim of the nine day preparation was a 3 hour live broadcast to the USA as part of NBC's "Where in the world is Matt Lauer" morning show. The rain kept away for the full nine days of the preparation, but as Mombo, or Murphy, would have it the heavens opened during the live broadcast. This did not cause any major problems however and the show went off smoothly. Numerous guests were present, including Mr Louis Nchingo of Debswana Mining and an entourage of policeman who were there to make sure the almost US$1 million worth of diamonds were safe. The show ended at 5 PM where upon the crew had to pack everything up in time for the arrival of the first guests at 12 PM the following day. We were all amazed at the speed at which the packing happened. The new guests would not have known anything had taken place were it not for the fact that they were informed that Matt Lauer had been and gone. It was very obvious from most USA visitors' reactions that the NBC morning show is huge in America.
The camp then settled into itself again. News of the biggest flood in two decades was at first greeted with complacency, but soon turned to excited concern when it became obvious that a big flood was on its way. The first fingers of water caressed the floodplain in front of Main Camp on the last day of the month. This flood is two months ahead of schedule when compared to the previous two years. Operations are now under way to prevent any mishaps. Bridges are being put in and roads raised in preparation.
The second half of the month has seen very good rains (129.5 mm) at Mombo resulting in the landscape turning to all shades of deep greens. There is a lush, fat scent permeating the air. Zebras and wildebeest are cavorting in the plenty and the elephants have returned in small numbers. The rain has been great for Mombo as we have missed out of a lot of the rains these past few years.
Game sightings have been great as usual with the highlight been the return of the wilddogs. They have been seen regularly this past month with one of the guides reporting a mating. It is hoped they will find the area to their liking. There are eight in the pack. Leopard have provided a great deal of entertainment with two reports of mating over a three day period. The mother and cub are doing very well and provide guests with exciting viewing. Lion were sighted daily. Rhino, cheetah and elephant sightings were less regular. The general game overall is mind-boggling.
We all look forward to March and the phenomenon that is the flood.