UPDATES FOR WEEK ENDING SUNDAY 27TH APRIL 2003
Robin Pope's Weekly Zambia Update, April 27 2003
Robin and Jo Pope run several very successful safari camps in Zambia. Here is their weekly update:
It was another glorious week in the valley! Blue skies and hot days, however, the evenings have been chilly and Shanie and I have had to dig out our jumpers. Guests find this quite odd as they sit around the bar in shirt sleeves whilst we are hugging our fleeces. I think that our blood must have thinned! However, the clear night skies have given us some spectacular views of the stars and the Milky Way is just amazing - especially when viewed through binos as one guest suggested - more stars than sky!
With the full moon last week we had a lovely meal by the river. There was so much light that we hardly needed the hurricane lamps. The bush really seems magical under a full moon…
Here are the game viewing highlights for the week. Marcus spotted a Frecked Nightjar - an uncommon bird to see in the park and then on the way back to camp a serval was seen. The serval is a resident but is rarely seen, however, 2 different drives had sightings this last week with Paul being the first to show the lovely little cat to his guests. On the second occasion we were lucky enough to sit and watch the animal for about 10 minutes as he ambled along, totally unfazed by the spot light and camera flashes.
Elephants have been around in numbers and Jo and her friends, who had come to stay with us for a week, had a heart stopping moment. They were parked by a lagoon watching a very young ele wallowing in the water. Suddenly a crocodile lunged at it's face and the startled baby screamed. The rest of the herd instantly surrounded the baby, trumpeting and screaming loudly. One young bull rushed up the bank to keep an eye on Jo and her friends - they backed off. No further sign of the croc! And within 3 minutes the scene was peaceful again. Amazing how these moments are so sudden.
Simon and Shanie went off to visit friends last night. Whilst driving back a huge (Shanies description) male lion walked right past the vehicle almost ticking Shanie with its tail. Shanie is normally chained to the kitchen so not used to such close encounters! However, she says that the adrenaline rush was well worth it - the lion was beautiful with a lovely thick dark mane. They also followed a porcupine along the road displaying his impressive quills as he wiggled his way into the bush.
Shanie has been doing a sterling job of organizing children's events this week. Being Easter weekend we have had a camp full of families. The children have been doing all sorts of fun activities. They visited Kawaza village where they proceeded to teach the local children how to do cats cradle and double double (a modern form of pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake) which went down very well. They then went to visit the Chipembele Wildlife Center where they were introduced to the resident warthogs and rescued vervet monkey before visiting the education center to learn about spores and seedpods amongst other things. The children's safari culminated in a special Easter Egg Hunt organized by Ed and Shanie. The children were given safari related questions which led them to the next clue and great fun was had zooming around the camp looking for the eggs.
Chikwenya Camp March Report, April 27 2003
Chikwenya Camp is located adjacent to Zimbabwe's renowned Mana Pools National Park - one of our favorite camps in all of Africa. In spite of all the negative press surrounding Zimbabwe they are delivering superb safari experiences and at the same time their continued presence is keeping the poachers out and providing a safe haven for the wildlife. Here is the camp's March update:
Arriving back from an extended leave period Anne and I were astounded at how the Zambezi valley had become so green and lush. A lot of rain in the past few months (including the very recent effects of cyclone Japhet over Mozambique) had turned the bush thick and seemingly unpenetratable. After a few dry years, it was great to get a cleansing!
Unusually, the rain had not affected game viewing and large groupings of up to one hundred elephant have been seen feeding on the lush grass. One of these groupings was made up of Agatha's herd, which now has a new addition, a little calf of a couple months old. Unfortunately the original matriarch, Agatha, we think, is no longer with us. She was one of the most relaxed and kind tusk-less elephant cows I have ever come across. Agatha's herd has been coming right through the camp for at least thirteen years that I know about. The rest of the herd has her composure and during the dry season they will hopefully be regular guests in the camp again.
The solitary lioness with the slit nose that had been seen fairly frequently last year has teamed up with another younger lioness and they have been seen quite often around the camp, a couple of times this has been during dinner on the pool deck with a spotlight. Her teaming up with the younger lioness has been good news as she was struggling with hunting by herself and she certainly looks in a lot better condition. What is also very exciting is that it looks like she may actually be lactating; hopefully we will find her cubs soon. We think she may have the cubs in hiding fairly close to the camp. Towards the end of last year we saw her being escorted by a couple of large and very handsome black-mane lions who have extended their territory by what appears to be approximately ten kilometers to encompass Chikwenya as well, so we assume one of them to be the father.
Our baby genet, Nakai, has grown an incredible amount and is no longer the pathetic drowned rat that we found in November. She now spends most of the night and day on her own and does most of her own hunting. She is still very attached to the camp - especially those that are willing to have their arms used as pincushions during playing. Nakai has become very inquisitive of the larger animals coming through the camp. One evening at dinner one of the cow's in Agatha's herd, with her very young calf, walked between the swimming pool and the dinner table. Nakai bounced across to investigate, stopping centimeters from the cow's trunk. This unsettled the large lady, who trumpeted, spun around and moved off rapidly. Nakai was very excited at the reaction she received and came bounding back to us. She was obviously so impressed with herself she tried the same stunt with a hippo a couple of weeks later, with a very similar result!
The Sapi River in front of the camp has flowed this month, quite a sight for those of us used to the large expanse of sand. This cuts off our land access but does not affect anyone flying in. We have had a total of 162mm of rain this month.
The Chikwenya team for this season will be Anne Hadingham and San Lues as the managers, Sacha Toronyi as professional guide, Tamlyn Kluckow as hostess, Solomon Tevera and Kevin van Breda as canoe guides.
Kwando Renovates Lagoon Camp, April 27 2003
Kwando Safaris of Botswana has completed the renovation of their Lagoon Camp public areas (Lagoon Camp is located in the enormous Kwando Concession in northern Botswana). The relaxed personal atmosphere of this 12 bedded camp is enhanced by the special sand floor and minor design upgrades. The experience remains Vintage Africa.
Guests are enjoying quality wild dog sightings. The new alpha female is heavily pregnant and it seems sure that for the 7th year in a row Lagoon will enjoy the best wild dog viewing in Africa.
UPDATES FOR WEEK ENDING SUNDAY 20TH APRIL 2003:
Botswana Update, April 20 2003
The latest news from Botswana is that the seasons are changing. There is now an evening chill and the skies are clear blue. These are the first signs that the dry winter months are fast approaching and the rains have all but ended. This past rainy season was very weak and animals are already returning to the main water holes. Autumn colors can be seen on trees everywhere...
Botswana During the Green Season, April 20 2003
Many people inquire about the difference between the dry season in southern Africa (April through October/November) and the green season (December through March). Some areas of southern Africa can provide great wildlife viewing throughout the year and others cannot. Here we explain why Botswana is so special during the green season months.
Botswana is an arid country compared with other country's in the region. Botswana has 450 mm of rain (78 year average) versus the Kruger Park area with around 650 mm.
During December antelope feed on protein rich grass while their lambs and calves grow at astounding speed. The impala complete their lambing, the wildebeest start and complete in a few weeks. The rains become more regular with thunder storms every few days. The pans remain full and the brilliant green grasses are abundant.
While the grazers enjoy the green tender mouthfuls the predators are ever watching and stalking but their winter camouflage lets them down and they have to work harder - however, the bushes become more dense allowing more hiding places for them to observe their prey. All the migrant birds have arrived. Temperatures have cooled on average but hot days still occur and nights are still warm. Dramatic skies and lightning at night in the distances all add to the magic of December.
January is the peak breeding time for many of the colorful migrant birds species. Excellent wild flowers, brilliant green foliage, constant sounds day and night - from insects and birds - the bush is very alive. January is in the middle of the rainy season with spectacular afternoon thunder storms and warm days (average 30°C plus) and nights (20°C plus). Game viewing is average with active predators still chasing the fast developing young of their prey species. An ideal photography month for all the colors and dramatic skies. The contrasts of the predators natural winter camouflage, with the summer colors makes for dramatic photos. More easily spotted by their prey species the predators have to work hard while the prey have a time of plenty.
During February ripe figs are eaten by many species including the fruit bats who make interesting night sounds while feeding. Water lilies flowers peak - colorful and noisy reed frogs - the Okavango Delta is brilliant, noisy and alive. With the rains all the plants are growing actively, butterflies, birds, frogs and all the small creatures are at their most active and at their best. The rains continue in afternoon thunder storms with dramatic skies and sounds. Temperatures range up to 40°C but average above 30°C with warm nights (20°C plus). You can experience both wet and very dry spells within the month. The giant bullfrog emerges from months and sometimes years of hibernation to indulge in nocturnal feeding frenzies. The resident game species do not have far to go for water and the young are almost as tall as the adults..
During March the Marula trees fruit attracting bull elephants who wander from tree to tree in search of their favorite meal. The start of the rutting season leads to the sleek and fat impala males snorting and cavorting to attract females. Temperatures are still warm both day and night but the air is drier and the rains less frequent. At this time of year the mighty Zambezi is in full spate and the Victoria Falls are as powerful as they can be - very dramatic even though you cannot see the bottom of the Falls. Visit during March and you will know these are truly one of the 7 natural wonders of the world.
Robin Pope's Weekly Zambia Update, April 20 2003
Robin and Jo Pope run several very successful safari camps in Zambia. Here is their weekly update:
Simon and I drove out into the park this week as there was a rumor that wild dog were about - and low and behold after about 30 minutes we found them. In fact we saw 4 criss-crossing the road. They were hunting and the rest of the pack were in the long grass at the side of the road and so we were unable to see them - but what beautiful animals. These dogs were darker in color than the average. Jacob and his guests also found the dogs a bit later and came across what must be one of the rarer photo opportunities of the season so far. They actually saw wild dog, leopard and lion - all in the same photo frame. It appears that the dogs had stolen the leopards kill and a young male lion had just strolled up to see what was going on - extraordinary. On the birding side of things we have seen plenty of activity centered around the river with lovely views of white faced whistling ducks and African skimmers. Now that the river is dropping, lagoons are forming, providing a haven for waders such as crakes and gallinules. We have also seen some fluffy crowned crane babies and we have a giant kingfisher nesting just along the bank from the camp. Jo and Robin took guests off to Tundwe Lagoon - some 2 hours south of Nkwali - for a picnic and a spot of fishing. The fishing rights belong to the Chief so they had to drop in at "His Royal Highness", The Honorable Chief Kakumbi to get a letter (after paying a fee of kwacha 50,000 - US $10) saying we could fish there. Next stop was at the Chipembere Educational Center - where the 5 "pet" warthogs and the orphaned baby vervet monkey jumping from person to person enthralled the kids. We were warned about the road deteriorating for the next 5 miles before the lagoon. And it did and we inched along in 4 wheel drive and 1st or 2nd gear. We arrived at last (20 km - 2 hours driving), found a spot and set up the picnic. Shanie and the chefs, as always, had excelled. The lagoon is massive and lined by ebony, acacia and palm trees. Quite lovely. The kids fished and Marcus ran from line to line helping them. He certainly won the "patience" award. Kate and I sat chatting as only women can do and Robin and Brian watched on. Lazy hazy day. And only a small catfish caught. Brian said he would give it a go and much to the annoyance of the others, with his first cast - he caught a HUGE catfish. "Dad - typical". Then within another 5 minutes he had caught another! All afternoon we were watching two huge bull elephants slowly meandering down the opposite side of the lagoon, feeding and tussling. They decided to cross the lagoon and this was going to cut us off. A mad rush ensued to get packed up and out! And so back home we bumped - some were a little sunburnt, but a lovely African picnic was had."
UPDATES FOR WEEK ENDING SUNDAY 13TH APRIL 2003:
Robin Pope's Weekly Zambia Update, April 13 2003
Robin and Jo Pope run several very successful safari camps in Zambia. Here is their weekly update:
Here at Nkwali the sun is shining, the blue sky is dotted with high cloud and all is calm. I have just returned from a weekend in the park and lots of great sightings. We left by boat on Saturday morning and headed up the river. Although the water level is dropping there is still plenty of depth for boating. On the way we saw some of the biggest crocodile I have ever seen, one of them spotted 2 Egyptian Goslings swimming from one side of the river to the other, however, in mid stream the croc was gaining on them and we almost saw a kill. Happily the little fellows made a mad dash for a pod of hippos and in the general mayhem they managed to escape the jaws which where hot on their heels.
We slept the night at Kaingo Camp and then headed out early the next day for a walk. This turned into a pretty muddy affairs but none the less a great morning. We soon saw vultures circling overhead and set off in the direction to see what was afoot. However, the vegetation was thick and it was decided prudent to call it a day and leave what we are going to say was a lion kill to peace and quiet. However, we soon spotted a herd of about 50 buffalo with quite a few young calves quietly grazing and sat and watched them so for time. Then it was onward on what turned out to be a bit of a birding experience. I saw several new birds for me including, Woolynecked Storks, Green Pigeon and Knobbilled Ducks, we also saw a flock of Southern Crowned Cranes - what a lovely sound they make as they call to each other.
In the afternoon we set off to visit John and Carol Coppinger at Tafika, on the way we passed a sand bar, which was literally awash with Cattle Egrets. At the end of the bar we spotted a pair of African Skimmers, who of course took off before I could get my camera sorted out.
After tea at Tafika we set off back to camp and then home this morning. It was a good trip and served to remind me of how much I love being in the Park. I am now full of energy and revitalized for the week ahead in front of my computer, although Simon has kindly cut back a tree in front of the office so I now have a wonderful view of the river without having to get a stiff neck.
Back at Nkwali the season is well underway. Guests are arriving thick and fast and it is great to see the camp full and vibrant again. The game viewing has been superb with Wild Dog being seen on about 3 out of 5 game drives although this cannot last it is great for the guests who have had the chance to see them. The cats have also been strongly in evidence. Marcus and guests saw 2 leopards together in broad daylight - they spent about an hour with them, what a treat! Lions too, have put in an appearance. One group of guests actually holding their collective breath as 2 lion walked each side of their vehicle. Another interesting sight for those who like snakes was a python on the road at the back of camp - only a small one about 5ft long. We have also been seeing Hyenas at the back of camp and hearing them at night I sound that I like almost as much as lion calling.
UPDATES FOR WEEK ENDING SUNDAY 6TH APRIL 2003:
San Bushmen Launch Ecotourism Project, April 6 2003
One of southern Africa's most ancient and vulnerable communities, Botswana's Bukakhwe San Bushmen, have launched a community-run ecotourism project built on preserving their traditional values and protecting the region's declining wildlife. Working in partnership with Conservation International and Wilderness Safaris, the Bukakhwe Cultural Conservation Trust recently inaugurated the new venture called Gudigwa Camp.
The ecotourism project is fully owned by the Bukakhwe San and all proceeds will be funneled back into community development projects. The initiative aims to reduce pressure on wildlife in Botswana's Okavango Delta by providing alternative sources of income that respect the San's cultural heritage. "This integrated and socially-responsible approach to tourism will help deliver important local benefits," said Ms Pelonomi Venson, Botswana's Minister for Environment, Wildlife and Tourism. "The community will be able to maintain their ancient customs, tourists get to experience the rich cultural heritage of the Bukakhwe San Bushmen and the region's endangered wildlife is protected." This new project gives the 700 members of the Gudigwa community sustainable alternatives to livestock grazing and incentives to protect local fauna.
The Bukakhwe San of Gudigwa live in northeastern Botswana in the upper extremity of the Okavango Delta. Tracing their roots back to Namibia and southern Angola, they have maintained their cultural heritage for thousands of years, amid their unique wetland surroundings.
Gudigwa Camp will host up to 16 guests at a time in comfortable grass huts modeled on traditional Bushmen shelters. Through walking tours, community members will teach guests about San cultural heritage including the use of medicinal plants, gathering water in the dry season, traditional storytelling, song and dance.
Vumbura Tented Camp Update, April 6 2003
Vumbura Tented Camp is located in Botswana's renowned Okavango Delta. Here is the latest camp update:
March brought some really, really great wildlife sightings! Several different prides of lion have been visible almost every day and kills of mainly giraffe then buffalo and tsetsebe were common. Their cubs were also pretty visible. One male cheetah has been sighted with regularity and was also witnessed killing a warthog. A new young male leopard has been gingerly stepping in to Big Boys spot. He killed a baboon for us just outside the camp. Talking of Big Boy, we had the most exciting leopard sighting as he killed a young buffalo, hung it in a tree and then could not extract the head from the tree fork in which it was wedged. The resulting sightings of him trying to remove the buffalo saw him dangling from the animal just with his teeth holding him up, his body shaking around, but in vain. Eventually he rethought the tactics and managed to get it down. This sighting engrossed us for two days. Needless to say the guests were ecstatic.
The carmine bee-eaters are now thinning out as they leave the subcontinent.
Without going on, the wildlife has been great and the weather mostly good. We had 8 mm of hail mid month and yesterday the 31st, we had 17mm of rain. Otherwise its been dry. The mosquitoes are not a problem at all and generally every thing is going smooth…
Robin Pope's Weekly Zambia Update, April 6 2003
Robin and Jo Pope run several very successful safari camps in Zambia. Here is their weekly update:
The river at Nkwali is high and flowing very fast. There has been a lot of rain in the north as well as within the park and the river is therefore continuing to rise. We have now had some 940 ml (800 ml yearly average) so far and more to come - in fact the tin roof is dancing with droplets as I write. This is not good for the farmers, as their maize that has been picked, will be rotting if not protected from the rain. It is ironic that too little rain caused problems last year and too much may do the same for this year. Hopefully this late season rain will be localized and so not cause problems all over the country.
We have had great game viewing. The very first drive of the season turned out to be quite spectacular. After first seeing 10 wild dog around Big Baobab (they have also been spotted close to the Airstrip Road), the drive continued and spotted a leopard. This chap was busy stalking a monkey, when all of a sudden several lions appeared and proceeded to chase the leopard, who decided to take refuge in a tree! Quite an amazing sight.
Marcus reports that there are lots of elephant around at the moment and indeed Jo and I saw a lovely herd last night on our way out to a little rugby get together. In fact we unfortunately missed the rugby but thought it rude not to join in the post match drinks. Another lovely sighting was of a honey badger that guests saw digging away and totally ignoring them. This is quite unusual as they are normally shy and disappear off into the bush with great speed once spotted. We managed to spend quite some time with the badger, which was a real treat.
On the bird front, Simon reports that the cuckoo-shrikes are still around but that the red backed and lesser greys are starting to head north. He has also seen African crake nesting in the reeds around the lagoons as well as both purple and lesser gallinule being in residence. The gallinules have had an unfortunate name change and are now referred to as swamp hens - much less romantic. Jo is quite upset about the changes and has decided that it is just a ruse to keep the worlds official twitchers body in employment as well as throwing their weight around by deciding that we need to relearn our birds.
UPDATES FOR WEEK ENDING SUNDAY 30TH MARCH 2003:
Robin Pope's Weekly Zambia Update, March 30 2003
Robin and Jo Pope run several very successful safari camps in Zambia. Here is their weekly update:
Nkwali Camp has reported some great wildlife viewing whilst in the park with lots of elephant and a super leopard walking up the road. Another highlight was a lion kill - apparently the lion had pulled down a big bull kudu. All in all they saw 20 different mammals on one game drive and lots of birds.
The river is still dropping and Simon says that he has not seen the camp this dry in years. However, recent days have seen rain in the hills around the camp and the feeling is that there is plenty of rain about and some will hit the camp. The average rainfall for he year is 800 ml and to date we have had 890 ml so that is a good sign especially if we still have more in the air as our weather expert seems to feel in his bones!!
Progress in underway with the renovation of Robin's House. The second bathroom is being built and the place will be finished and ready for the first guests who will arrive at the beginning of July. This is quite an exciting project and we are so pleased that it looks like it is going to be a great success with lots of interest from both families and couples looking for some privacy - particularly those on honeymoon.
Chiawa Camp February Update, March 30 2003
Here is the February report from Chiawa Camp situated on the Zambian side of the Lower Zambezi River:
Fortunately we have had enough rain to avert any drought. The bush is still very wet and lush and our first foray of the season into the Park has whet our appetites. Elephant and buffalo have been in camp, a leopard attacked the baboons in the trees at the back of camp, and lions have been roaring nearby. Excellent, despite being drenched in the boat on our return journey during a heavy thunderstorm!
UPDATES FOR WEEK ENDING SUNDAY 23RD MARCH 2003:
Disease Threatens Gorillas, March 23 2003
The Ebola virus that has claimed many human lives in central Africa is also threatening the region's great apes, conservationists say. More than 80 people have died this year in the outbreak, in the Gabon / Congo-Brazzavile border area. There are now fears for one of the largest concentrations of western lowland gorillas. Some scientists believe the virus may have killed thousands of apes in the last few years.
The warning comes from IUCN-The World Conservation Union, which represents 10,000 government and non-government scientists from 180 countries. Dr William Karesh, of the US Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), co-chairs the veterinary specialist group of IUCN's Species Survival Commission. He believes the Ebola outbreak has affected tens of thousands of square kilometers over the last five or six years. In that time it has killed hundreds of people, and Dr Karesh says there is "a real possibility" that thousands of great apes have also succumbed. He said: "For years, many of us have been trying to point out that disease and health (whether wildlife, domestic animals, or human) are critical factors that have to be included in effective conservation planning."
Dr Jean-Christophe Vie, of IUCN's Species Program, said: "Diseases affecting wildlife have not always been properly taken into account in conservation planning in the past. Chimpanzees and gorillas are already endangered, and Ebola adds yet another threat to those already facing these species, such as deforestation and the wild meat trade."
Ebola haemorrhagic fever is described by the World Health Organization as "one of the most virulent viral diseases known, causing death in 50-90% of all clinically ill cases". The virus was confirmed in Congo in December 2002.
Six gorillas, all from one family group which had been followed by researchers for 10 years, were found dead at the time in a sanctuary covering roughly 11,000 square kilometers (4,250 square miles) in north-western Congo, near Gabon.
Local people have been involved in establishing the sanctuary as a protected area to prepare gorillas for the arrival of tourists. At the end of January eight gorilla families were found to have disappeared over the previous two months - Conservationists reported what IUCN calls "the quasi-disappearance" of the species from the sanctuary.
IUCN says primates are especially susceptible to many diseases affecting humans, apart from Ebola, because of their close relationship to us. It says: "The transmission of the virus from the forest near the affected villages follows contact between hunters and the carcasses of great apes. "Infected hunters have reported eating the dead gorillas and chimpanzees (although it is illegal to do so)."
Several organizations have been working for some years to monitor the health of the region's gorillas. They include WCS, Ecofac (Conservation and Rational Use of Central African Forest Ecosystems), and CIRMF (Primatology Center, International Medical Research Institute, Gabon). Dr Karesh said managing the problem was near-impossible because of the region's instability. He urged a program of Ebola research and prevention.
Lowland gorillas, which are classed as endangered, live in tropical rain forests in the DRC, Congo-Brazzaville, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon, and the Central African Republic.
UPDATES FOR WEEK ENDING SUNDAY 9TH MARCH 2003:
Robin Pope's Weekly Zambia Update, March 9 2003
Robin and Jo Pope run several very successful safari camps in Zambia. Here is their weekly update:
Wild dog are being seen on a regular basis at the moment around the Lupunga Spa. Clare reports a group of 12 comprising of 6 adults and 6 young. In addition to the wild dog there has also been a rare sighting of a side-striped jackal just inside the park, black sparrow hawk in the Chendeni Hills as well as lots of European storks and bee-eaters.
Nkwali has been receiving regular visits from elephant, giraffe and hippo. There was also a leopard on the loose last night and the baboons kept everyone awake with their alarming.
The weather in the valley has been dry and the river has dropped by about a meter in the last 2 days, however the lack of rain has meant very high daily temperatures and humidity.
UPDATES FOR WEEK ENDING SUNDAY 2ND MARCH 2003:
Duba Plains Tented Camp February Update, March 2 2003
Duba Plain's Tented Camp is located in Botswana's Okavango Delta and is reputed to have the highest density of lion in Africa. Here is the camps February update:
The summer rains continued to fall sporadically throughout February with a total of 68mm. The average temperatures experienced were a minimum of 22°C and a maximum was 32°C.
We managed an average of nine lions seen per day and a total of thirty-nine pride sightings. Not all of the regular lions were accounted for, only totaling forty-three of the sixty odd lions normally tracked down. We did not pick up the Old Vumbura Pride (7 lions), new males (3 lions) or the Vumbura Pride (10). A bonus was a sighting of a new unnamed, irregularly seen pride - a lioness with three very young cubs. In total, kills witnessed included seven buffalo and four warthogs. The buffalo continued with their avoidance of the lions, however, several spectacular kills by the Pantry Pride were witnessed.
The Tsaro pride remains fairly split up, with no sign of their new cubs yet. It appears at least three lionesses have now given birth. We expect to see the older cubs (three weeks old at present) within the next couple of weeks. The entire pride was accounted for, with the five young males moving around without the lionesses. This has allowed the four Skimmer Males to occasionally join up with the Tsaro lionesses. One sighting involved eight of the Tsaro lionesses being chased off a recent buffalo kill by ten hyenas. With no male lions present, they did not put up much resistance. As the hyenas began to enjoy their free meal, the four Skimmer Males turned up. The hyenas naturally vacated the area at speed. This did not assist the lionesses as the males were in no mood to share the spoils.
The Pantry pride gave us the best lion viewing of the month. The beginning of February saw the pride really struggling to find any prey. This resulted in the skinny little male cub, which was abandoned in December for two weeks, finally succumb to starvation. From that point on, the rest of the pride has not looked back. They pushed further into the Tsaro prides territory than ever before, in search of the buffalo herd. This risky strategy paid off handsomely with several successful buffalo hunts, as well as dominating a couple of clashes with the Tsaro females. One morning involved the Pantry pride isolating a big bull buffalo, eventually pulling it down and putting it out of its misery. Within minutes, three Tsaro females arrived on the scene in an attempt to steal the kill and see off the trespassing Pantry pride. They failed miserably, with one of the pregnant females being corned by the Pantry pride. She was severely attacked, but managed to escape with some nasty puncture wounds around her rear end. She will recover, but may think twice about challenging her determined neighbors. Another incident saw the Pantry pride challenge the five Tsaro Males for a buffalo calf, but alas, they failed this time. The Tsaro Males are steadily gaining in confidence and will soon be an awesome force. The Pantry pride cubs are learning fast. They do not hold back when it comes to pulling a buffalo down, at sixteen months of age they are showing considerable skill and courage. One of the cubs tried a little to hard and paid the price of being tossed several meters through the air by a big bull buffalo. This usually proves more than enough of a deterrent to the youngsters, but on this occasion, it went straight back on jumped on again.
The Duba Boys are still seen regularly and are spending more time than usual with the Tsaro females. Whether this is a good thing or not, remains to be seen. They are not the fathers of the new cubs, which does not bode well for the pride. The next month or so should answer our concerns. The Skimmer pride was fairly scarce as they remain to the north of the Paradise lagoon. The one adult female was seen once with her three sub adult female offspring. The two older lionesses must still be in hiding with their new cubs. With the annual flood arriving in less than a month, we should find the Skimmer pride moving back to their usually haunts further south. This will make it far easier for us to locate them, hopefully with several new additions.
The biggest surprise of the month came in the form of a shy cheetah. They are not regulars in the Duba area due to the high lion and hyena populations. The cheetah was fairly shy and immediately moved off. This may have been caused by the close proximity of the Duba Boys and the scent of the Tsaro females with their cubs nearby.
The hyena pack continues to thrive with four black young ones at the den. With their bold and inquisitive nature, they are a definite highlight for anyone visiting Duba. The buffalo are finally giving birth in large numbers. Several guest have departed overjoyed with the privilege of having witnessed the birth of a wild animal.
Moremi Rhino Re-Introduction Project Update, March 2 2003
Wilderness Safaris of southern Africa have been responsible for re-introducing rhino into Botswana's Moremi Reserve. Here is the latest project update:
There are currently 15 white rhino at Mombo Camp in the Moremi Reserve (7 females and 8 males). It has been three months since the second batch of ten white rhinos were released. The project continues to be extremely successful.
Joint Okavango Wilderness Safaris (OWS) / Botswana Anti Poaching Unit (APU) monitoring patrols are locating all of the rhinos on a regular basis, ensuring their safety and collecting a great deal of valuable data on the rhinos' movements and habitat preferences. So far there has been no evidence of any poaching or other illegal activities in the area, showing that the presence of the APU is an effective deterrent to illegal hunters.
Following their release, the new rhinos covered a lot of ground as they explored their new home. However, they now seem to be settling down and their movements between sightings are much less pronounced. For the most part, the rhinos have remained in the groups they were in while in the bomas.
With the onset of the rains, there has been some seasonal movement of the rhinos towards new grass and water sources, as expected. Of course now that there are more rhinos in the area we are encountering larger groups (up to four at one time) and guests at Mombo are enjoying more rhino sightings on game drives.
We have witnessed some interesting interaction between the adult bulls released earlier, and the newly released females, evidently with a view to mating.
Currently 12 of the rhinos are within 25km of Mombo, with six within the Mombo game drive area. Two others have recently left their usual area - we believe they have moved west as they did temporarily last year and the 15th rhino is the one which was re-captured by the Department of National Parks and Wildlife near Gumare and returned (for his own safety) to Chief's Island. It is entirely natural that the rhinos - especially males as they approach maturity - will move slightly further afield, seeking their own territories.
We are expecting our next consignment of ten white rhinos from South Africa during the first half of this year, hopefully when temperatures will be low enough to enable the Botswana Defense Force Air Wing to fly the rhinos directly to Mombo airstrip.
Everyone involved in this project is working hard to ensure that 2003 will be another great year for Botswana's growing wild white rhino population, and of course looking forward to the day when this population begins to grow organically, that is to the birth of the first rhino calf, which will be the ultimate seal of approval on this project.
UPDATES FOR WEEK ENDING SUNDAY 23RD FEBRUARY 2003:
Robin Pope's Weekly Zambia Update, February 23 2003
Robin and Jo Pope runs several very successful safari camps in Zambia. Here is their weekly update:
The area north of the South Luangwa National Park the Luangwa River has broken its banks and had flooded a campsite! There has been so much rain these past weeks that the river is now full. The river at Nkwali is now about 3 feet from the top! Tena Tena is partially under water with the river currently flowing through the kitchen!! Nsefu is not likely to flood. Tena is not such a problem because it is a tented campsite that has been packed away for the off season but Nkwali is a permanent camp! Fortunately Robin moved all the vehicles to higher ground and anything stored at floor level was moved higher up where possible. While the area behind Nkwali is full of low lying water there is no water passing under Robin's Bridge yet. It is only when water flows here that the Luangwa has reached its capacity. So fingers crossed!!
This morning at Nkwali the staff saw a leopard on the opposite bank. The baboons were barking madly and it didn't take long to see the female sauntering along the edge of the bank. Every night they have heard lion calling across from camp. Four big bull buffalo moved through Nkwali early this morning! The buffalo this morning circled Matthew and Sara's old house to the east then moved along the riverbank past the staff accommodation and through to the main camp, around the bar and out through the car park! What a sight! There was plenty of evidence left behind with all the steaming paddies on the ground! Every night giraffe move into Nkwali and there is plenty of evidence left behind of this as well! Abdims stork have been flying overhead and the emerald cuckoo has not stopped singing.
Keyala has been supervising general maintenance at Nkwali. Five local ladies have been living in camp to undertake the grass planting (they do a much better job than the men!). One of them indicated to Keyala that they have never been on a motor boat before so he took that as a hint and off they went up and down the river and across to what remained of the sandbank opposite Nkwali at sunset. There was much laughter and their eyes were like golfballs! The ladies were completely blown away by the idea of charging up and down the river on a boat with a motor! Apparently they want Keyala to take them out again!! All in a day's work I'm sure!
UPDATES FOR WEEK ENDING SUNDAY 16TH FEBRUARY 2003:
Makalolo Plains December Update, February 16 2003
Makalolo Plains Tented Camp is located within Zimbabwe's largest National Park, Hwange. Here is the camp's December update.
A definite highlight at the end of the year was the total solar eclipse on the 4th of December. We all drove to the western boundary of the park on the 3rd and camped under a large Acacia Eriloba for the night in preparation for the eclipse on the 4th. The 4th turned out to be a perfect day for the event - hot and cloudless. For some of us it was our second total solar eclipse in Zimbabwe in two years!
We received the first rainfall of the month on the 5th. This was a huge relief and an answer to prayer, as the grass was scorched by the sun and water holes were drying up fast. Even pumped waterholes were not coping with the demand put on them by thirsty animals. The first good rain we had was on December 10 when we received 29mm. The wildlife dispersed for a few days as the animals went exploring for water elsewhere, but awesome game viewing returned quickly.
Mammal species seen included - Genet, Bat-eared fox, Hyaena, Lion, Wild dog, Leopard, Cheetah, Side-striped and black-backed Jackal, Polecat, Porcupine, Caracal, African wildcat, White Rhino, Cape Buffalo, Elephant, Sable and Roan Antelope, Reedbuck, Impala, Kudu, Eland, Southern waterbuck, Steenbuck, Common Duiker, Warthog, Wildebeest, Zebra, Vervet Monkey, Chacma Baboon, Scrub Hare, Spring hare and several species of Mongoose. Highlights included - Lions Mating, Lions on kills, a caracal with a spring hare kill behind tent no 1. Three sightings of Wild dog, White Rhino and an increased no of sightings of Reedbuck and Large Eland herds. "Baby animals abound" Elephant with babies, Buffalo with babies, Jackals with pups, Wildebeest with calves, Zebra with foals and Sable with calves.
What an awesome birding month with 200 species seen. Guests on a 4 day stay not only had wonderful game but also 175 species of bird. Sightings included - Twenty three species of Bird of prey (nine eagle species), five species of Vulture, five species of Owl, eight species of Cuckoo, nine species of Stork (Including Hammerkop), eleven species of Shrike (including Lesser grey and Red backed shrikes), five species of Nightjar (including Pennant Winged Nightjar). Highlights included - Cape Vulture, Black Stork, Huge Flocks of White Storks (about 1500 birds), Black Egret, Green backed Heron, Quail Finch, Bronze Winged Courser, Palid Harrier, Eurasian Hobby and large flocks of Eastern Red footed Falcons. Each open grassy area with a pan is adorned with a pair of Crowned Cranes.
The year ended with lions pulling warthogs out of their burrows!!!
Mombo Camp Update, February 16 2003
Mombo Camp in Botswana's Moremi Reserve is considered by many to be the top wildlife viewing destination in Africa. Here is an update from Mombo:
We were starting to get really worried at Mombo as the rains kept on missing the area. We could see the late afternoon thundershowers falling all around us every second or third afternoon or so - but Mombo was dry and our new grasses were looking bleak. However all that changed with one recent big rainburst. We had 52 mm one night with a total of 148mm for the month of January. The vegetation seems to have changed overnight, and the bush is now lush and green. Mid January was hot, with the average midday temperatures reaching into the high thirties, but the evenings were cool and pleasant.
The two new wildlife viewing hides are a hit and make the midday siesta time options that more varied! One hide is at the "Hippo Pools" and the other to the west of camp. They have already produced wonderful game and bird watching opportunities including 2 sightings of Purple Gallinule, a pair of Crimson breasted shrikes and much more. Sightings of Painted Snipes have also been regular after the rains. On another trip to the hide, a python was seen eating a baby impala.
Kgosi "the rhino" has been the celeb of the month, allowing us to view him on 7 different occasions, including one sighting with him and one of the new females together. Poster, the head tracker in the rhino monitoring team, came back from a days worth of "hunting", and was very proud to announce that they managed to find 14 of the rhinos that day. In general the new rhino arrivals seem to have settled down, and are doing very well in their new environment, making it easier to find them and monitor them on a regular basis. One of the "new arrivals" did stray down towards the western side of the Okavango, but has been brought back home to Chief's Island by the Wildlife Department.
The lions have stolen the show, with roughly 60 different sightings this month! The "Maparota pride" and the "Wheatfield boys" seen the most regularly. Other prides seen: The Woody Boys, Phandani Pride, Boro Pride, Mathatha Pride, Pieja Pride, Martina's Pride, as well as a few nomadics traveling through the area. Mombo is going through a lion phase!
Other sightings include: lots of sightings of Cheetah, 2 sightings of Wild Dog, a breeding herd of about 400 buffalo and lots and lots of sightings of smaller buffalo herds and the more solitary "dagga boys", 2 small breeding herds of elephant - but lots of smaller bachelor herds and single males, and 14 different sightings of leopard. Despite the slightly wetter weather, we have had another month of "Mombo Magic"!
Conserving Botswana's Rhinos, February 16 2003
What you first notice about Danny and his friend is their size. They are huge, and surprisingly nimble and graceful in movement. No, not sumo wrestlers, but rhinos. Danny and Hector are white rhinoceroses at Botswana's Khama Rhino Sanctuary, a community conservation project, near Serowe in central Botswana. They are two of a herd of 21 rhinos currently in residence at the reserve, alongside a range of other animals imported onto the land. These include hartebeest, wildebeest, zebra, ostrich, eland, gemsbock and springbok, to name but a few. Named after Khama the Great, a wildlife enthusiast and revered one-time ruler of the Batswana back in the 1880s (whose grandson, Sir Seretse Khama, became independent Botswana's first leader), the rhino sanctuary is partly funded by the UN Global Environment Facility's (GEF) Small Grants Program.
Kicking up a little dust, and stamping gently, to show the visitors just who is in charge, Danny and his playmate then proceed to ignore binoculars, whirring cameras, oohs and ahs and gasps of admiration. Both the young bulls, like most male rhinos, are instinctively territorial, says Bathusi Letlhare, the chief warden at Khama,. To mark their patch of ground, the rhinos repeatedly defecate in a specific area and spray urine and scrape with their horns to warn off would be intruders, namely other bull rhinos. "They can mark territory every hundred yards up to 5 kilometers," says Letlhare, but the rhinos only allow other males of their species to transit through their stamping ground if they need access to a watering hole.
Over at the 'boma' (a Swahili word borrowed from Kenya, meaning animal kraal or homestead) is Chinga, also nervously staking out some space. She is the new girl on the block and is about seven years old. Chinga takes her name from the area of Botswana where she was found and is the latest arrival and addition to the crew at Khama Rhino Sanctuary. Chinga is also the exception at the reserve, indeed in the country. Unlike Danny and Hector, she is a prized black rhino and the only one of her kind currently in Botswana, said Letlhare, the head ranger at the sanctuary. He reckoned Chinga probably came from across the border from South Africa or from Hwange National Park.
The reserve's original batch of five white rhinos arrived at Khama sanctuary in 1995. South Africa provided another five and another 3 joined the breeding herd in 1998. 11 rhino calves born in the next five years made Khama home to the largest white rhino population in Botswana.
They may technically be black or white, but to the casual observer, Danny, Horace and Chinga all look grey. "They take the color of their last wallow or the color of the soil they are in," Letlhare said laughing. It depends on whether they have wallowed in black mud or white sand or red earth! But white rhinos are bigger than their black counterparts and weigh more, between 1600 to 2000 kg. And in the rhino world, your color matters. If you are black, you fetch more money, Letlhare noted. He said each white rhino sold for up to 100,000 pula (over US$18,000) in the local currency. People pay up to double that figure for a black rhino, and anywhere up to 300,000 pula.
White rhinos are 'grazers', eating grass. Black rhinos are 'browsers', consuming tree leaves and they have what Letlhare described as "narrow, prehensile lips for nibbling shoots of trees."
Clearly suspicious of a bus full of tourists, and warily watching developments beyond the confines of her 'boma', Chinga makes as if to charge the gate which is fashioned from solid tree trunks and bolted down with hefty nails. Ominously dipping and raising her mighty head and curved horn, as if poised for a 50 meter dash, she suddenly changed her mind and posed for the clicking cameras instead. Letlhare is hoping they will soon get a black rhino mate for her from South Africa or Zimbabwe.
Were it not for Khama Rhino Sanctuary, these giant herbivores might have become a thing of the past in Botswana and relegated to the natural history books. Years ago, as a boy, the warden reminisced, he spotted a black rhino about 20km west of Serowe. He put the population of rhinoceros back in the 1960s at "probably 500". By 1990, a wildlife census found only six rhinos in the wild, in the Chobe area of Botswana. "This country used to have lots of both black and white rhinos, particularly in the northern part of the country, in the Chobe area, in the Delta and even in the eastern part," said the head ranger. "But due to over-hunting and poaching, the rhinos came close to extinction. The communities here decided to put up this project and the main participating communities are from Paje, Mabelapudi and Serowe. We felt that it would be a good thing to set up a safe place for rhinos here. That is why we have this project."
Letlhare said it was worth noting that, "of the five rhinos originally captured in Chobe and brought here, one of them came [wounded] with poachers' bullets! When the Wildlife Department was tracking it to catch it, poachers were actually tracking it from the other end. It didn't survive and died a few weeks after its arrival here."
The attraction and reported medicinal properties of rhino horn make it a much desired commodity, especially in the Far East. Powdered horn is popular to combat "asthma and other ailments," said Letlhare. In parts of Yemen, he remarked, rhino horn is prized for use in the elaborate dagger handles.
Letlhare was keen to stress that "an important thing about this project is that we don't only conserve rhinos. Newer additions to the sanctuary include giraffe, eland, gemsbok, wildebeest and impala. Waterbuck have recently been reintroduced. There are also predators such as leopards and wild dogs at Khama. We have other smaller predators like jackals and caracal and African wild cats." In the next five years, Khama Sanctuary should reach its maximum carrying capacity of 30 white rhinos and hopes then to begin reintroducing them into the wild.
The reserve has another string to its bow. Khama is currently running an environmental educational program and is busy constructing an instruction facility, funded by the European Union. Letlhare underscored the importance of education at the sanctuary. This, he said, offered great opportunities to local and international groups of school children and created environmental awareness, while contributing to biodiversity in Botswana. Sixteen local people are employed at the sanctuary from neighboring villages. There is also a market for handicrafts produced in the area as well as other parts of Botswana, which Letlhare called a "bonus for communities in this country".
Tourism is also encouraged. About 8,000 visitors pass through Khama Rhino Sanctuary each year, generating enough continuing income to cover staff salaries, maintenance, vehicle repairs, borehole construction etc. And security is tight. An electric fence and security towers, as well as motorized patrols and patrols on foot and on horseback are an essential part of the running of the reserve. Staff are expected to be alert and, so far, there has been no successful poaching at the sanctuary.
All this may be lost on Chinga, Danny and Horace as they continue to enjoy the benefits of a privileged life at Khama, wallowing in mud and showing off their magnificent horns, unaware that their presence in Botswana now seems secure, thanks to projects like the Khama rhino sanctuary.
Ultimate Africa Safaris would like to note that travelers to Botswana may view wild white rhinos in the Moremi Reserve. White rhino were reintroduced to Moremi over the past few years by Wilderness Safaris, a local tour operator.
Star of Africa Zambia Update, February 16 2003
Star of Africa are a Zambian tour operator who also manage several lodge and tented camp properties in the country. Here is their early 2003 update:
We were fortunate to host Zambia's President, Mr. Levy Mwanawaza, at one of our properties over the Christmas period. He was very pleased with his time at Sussi and Chuma (at Victoria Falls) and thoroughly enjoyed watching the elephants swimming from his riverbank hideaway room. In addition to the abundant wildlife already within the Mosi Oa Tunya National Park there is a new development. Elephants from Camp Amalinda in Zimbabwe will soon be the newest residents at Sussi and Chuma.
At Chichele Presidential Lodge in South Luangwa the bush surrounding the camp has grown thick and dense, resulting in a temporary suspension of all guided walks as you are never sure of what is lurking behind the next bush. Being the time when most births occur, clients at the lodge have seen endangered wild dogs and even the very rarely sighted aardvark. Sightings of leopard, elephants and lion are still frequent both on game drives and from the new sun downer deck!
Star of Africa have received a pledge from the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) to upgrade the road network within Lochinvar National Park to the value of US $70,000. This will greatly enhance the wildlife viewing opportunities.
Beks Ndlovu, one of Zimbabwe's top professional guides will be running a series of canoe trails out of Kalefu on the lower Zambezi this season. The spectacular channels and waterways of the Zambezi teem with bird and wildlife.
UPDATES FOR WEEK ENDING SUNDAY 9TH FEBRUARY 2003:
Zimbabwe Update, February 9 2003
Maureen Vincent at Wilderness Safaris Victoria Falls office writes the following: I live in Victoria Falls, with my husband and young children. Our town revolves around tourism and has always been a haven of tranquility. There is no doubt that our country has problems however, this really only affects the people living in the larger cities of Harare & Bulawayo as well as the farming areas. Life is going on as usual here. When I see the CNN reports about Zimbabwe, I wonder which country they are talking about! I feel safe here and I have never thought of taking my family out of Victoria Falls. Concerns have been expressed about food and gas shortages that sadly plague the country. As the tourism industry earns hard currency, the hotels and other tourism suppliers are able to import all the commodities they require to maintain a good operation. So the tourist definitely does not feel the pinch of food shortages, and the lack of fuel, as we are able to import all these products.
Wilderness Safaris February 2003 Update, February 9 2003
Wilderness Safaris is one of southern Africa's most highly regarded tour operators. Here is their February 2003 update:
The Bushman San village at Gudigwa is on track to open April 1, 2003. This is the culmination of four years of hard work for Conservation International, the Washington based conservation NGO. The community owns Gudigwa 100%, from funds raised by CI. All revenue goes directly to the community. It's a one-night cultural experience and all the guests arrive at Gudiga together at about 4 PM and leave the next day at about 11 AM.
Kings Pool is being completely rebuilt to the same standards as Mombo and Jao. The rebuilding is on track and King's Pool will reopen at the end of April. Each room will be brand new and much larger, with its own pool and sala. Kings Pool will also decrease in size to a 9 roomed camp, the same size as Jao and Mombo.
The new flood has arrived up in the far north of the Okavango - and at this stage, if current trends continue, it is set to be a smallish flood. News from Angola seems to hint that there is possibly a large pulse of water on its way from heavy rains up there this past month but we are not seeing this on the graph as yet.
Jacana Camp in the Jao Reserve is getting new and bigger tents that will be installed in the camp by the end March. We have completed a complete interior upgrade at Mombo and the camp looks stunning.
Namibia's remotest camp opens on March 14, 2003. Serra Cafema up on the Kunene River is an incredible camp - in some ways is a bit like being on the banks of the Nile as the Kunene River meanders through the desert. It is closer from Windhoek to the center of the Okavango than it is from Windhoek to Serra Cafema camp - but the trip up there is certainly worth it. Personally I rate Serra Cafema alongside the Skeleton Coast in terms of quality and how remote it is. It is a wonderful location with the most incredible activities. Boating, the Himba cultural experience, walks, drives are all part of the plan up there. One of the new activities we are planning is a quad bike route through the sand dunes. Guests will travel out in formation with a guide and head for the dunes. The excursions will be carefully controlled to ensure that there is no environmental damage - and will get guests into some wonderful areas while having a lot of fun.
All is on track to open Palmwag Rhino Camp on April 2, 2003. Palmwag Rhino Camp promises to be one of the most exciting and unique camps in Namibia. It will be run with some of the "Save the Rhino Trust" trackers. This ensures that guests enjoy a great experience, and at the same time the "conservation through tourism" program will reduce the Trust's overheads by paying the trackers salaries etc. For those who want to add something even more special to Palmwag Rhino Camp, Blythe Loutit, who started the "Save the Rhino Trust" and who probably knows more about Namibian rhinos than anyone, can host your group at additional cost.
Little Ongava, a new "premier" styled camp is being built on top of the hills in the 30,000 hectare Ongava Game Reserve (just south of Etosha). It will open in April. Ongava will now have three different camps offering three different camp styles and experiences. The main camp has 10 rooms with brick and thatch; Ongava Tented Camp with 6 rooms has tents on the ground - and the new Little Ongava, will only be 3 rooms and will match the quality and service of camps such as Jao, Mombo and Kings Pool.
A huge plus to a visit to the incredible Skeleton Coast Camp has been the increasingly regular sightings over the past few months of lions in the Skeleton Coast Park. A pride wandered into the Park over a year ago. They were very elusive at first as no doubt they were harassed as they made their way to the coast. They are just starting to become habituated to the Land Rovers. They have now set up their territory in the Hoarusub Canyon, not far from the camp - between the Clay Castles and the coast. Initially they were surviving on Himba cattle and donkeys, and we were continually reimbursing the Himba for their losses. Now they have got to like the taste of gemsbok and have stayed put in the park, closer to the coast. The last time lion were seen on the coast was over ten years ago and their tracks are now within sight of the sea. It is certainly a possibility that we may once again have the sight of a huge male lion feeding on seals which will be a huge relief to the gemsbok! There are currently three males, one female and three small cubs - all of which look healthy and well settled.
South Africa News
Wilderness Safaris has been awarded the tender for the Makuleke concession within Kruger National Park. This is an interesting and incredibly beautiful area in the extreme north of the Kruger National Park. The Makuleke's northern boundary is the Limpopo River and its southern boundary is the Luvuvhu River. The area in total is a fraction under 25,000 hectares, so by Kruger / Sabi Sands standards it's large. Prior to the 1960s, this area was inhabited by a few Shangaan villagers - the Makuleke people - and was outside of the Kruger National Park. "Crooks Corner" on the junction of the Limpopo River and the Luvuvhu is where all the old time ivory traders and other mavericks used to hang out on their travels to and from central Africa. The area has such important habitats, so in the 1960's the Kruger Park authorities decided to move the Makuleke people out and incorporate this area into the Kruger Park. In the new South Africa, the Makuleke's won this area back in a land claim - as long as it remained a conservation area and part of Kruger - i.e. the Makuleke's get all the commercial benefits. There is one camp in this area that is about to open up - called Outposts. This is in the extreme west of the area. Wilderness are planning two 18 bedded camps in the east - one of Mombo / Jao quality and the other of what we call our "Classic camp" quality like Duba Plains etc. These will open in 2004 with the Mombo styled camp opening first. We anticipate excellent wildlife viewing in the stunning habitat and recommend complementary Kruger circuits that the new Wilderness camps with the Kruger / Sabi Sands camps in the south as the vegetation and scenery are so different. The wide open Limpopo River; the little "koppies" that are infested with huge baobabs; the fever tree forests; the lush riverine forests along the Limpopo and Luvuvhu Rivers; the incredible wetlands that are proclaimed Ramsar sites all combine to make this an incredible area for wildlife and scenery. The Thulamela ruins, just south of the Luvuvhu River, are close to the proposed camps, are a mini "Great Zimbabwe" with all sorts of wonderful gold and other artifacts having been found there. I believe that this Makuleke area will be a wonderful addition to the whole Kruger Park / Sabi Sands experience.
The Grace Hotel in Johannesburg is now being connected directly to the Rosebank Mall Shopping Centre via a new foot bridge. The Mall of Rosebank is one of South Africa's premier shopping malls with great shops, restaurants and a wonderful craft market. Access to the Mall is now a breeze as the Grace is a mere 15 meters away from the Mall. Now guests can walk from the Grace directly into the Mall. There is now talk of a new spa opening up at The Grace.
I have consistently "put my money where my mouth is" and spent my vacation time in Zimbabwe as the park and wildlife experience has been so good these past few years. My last four safaris have visited Zimbabwe and I have been up there three times since October 2002. I don't think anyone likes to see how the economy is spiraling downward out of control but the reality is that Zimbabwe offers incredible wildlife, great camps and great guides at bargain prices. I saw in the New Year at Makalolo and had one of the most breathtaking starts to any year that I can remember. Our New Years morning game drive saw huge amounts of wildlife and must have rattled off close to 700 photos in ONE game drive - which included two kills and lots of everything else.
I realize that there is now a travel advisory from the US State department and agree that warning is possibly accurate for the farming areas and the cities…However the northern parks are still havens of peace and tranquility offering a superb Zimbabwe safari experience
Malawi's drought has broken and they have had lots of rain. The country is back on track and local people are able to plant and grow their crops.
Rocktail Bay January Report, February 9 2003
Rocktail Bay is located on South Africa's coast and offers some of the world's finest scuba diving. Here is the camps January report:
On average, January has provided awesome weather and diving conditions. The good old wind has behaved, but the sun has been fierce, with bright humid days. Our average visibility has been 20 meters (60 feet) and our current water temperature has risen to a stunning 26 degrees C - yippee!
On January 2, whilst diving Solitude, we could hear the clicking of the dolphins very clearly and kept looking around, expecting to see them at any minute. Just when the sounds became almost ear deafening, one appeared, rushing down to the reef and then darting away again. For those that were in tune with what was going on, it was a truly beautiful sight to see.
January 18 proved to be an awesome day of shark sightings. We found 10 raggies at Island Rock and became so involved in spending time with them with snorkels that everyone almost forgot about the dive that we were on our way to! All the raggies were jammed inside the cave area, socializing and resting. We spotted 2 with tags, the one's tag is not easily identifiable and the other has a growth of sorts on the tag area. There were sharks all over the place - just as you watched the cave area from above, some would leave the cave and swim directly below you and others would return into the cave. It's such an eerie feeling to know that your presence has been noted but that it is not any problem. On this same day we also managed to spend time with two pods of dolphins, at different intervals of our outing.
So on the first trip out to sea we saw dolphins around the boat, snorkeled with sharks, then did the actual dive!!! And on the return trip we again saw a large pod of dolphins around the boat. This last pod actually came right in to the boat including a mother who had a small calf with her. The pod milled around, filled with curiosity and excitement. They just would not leave us alone and kept coming in and out to the boat to investigate us. When Darryl eventually signaled that it was time to leave, I looked down to find the dolphins looking up at everyone in the boat, almost saying "where are you going to?" - for anyone remotely interested in nature, this was a heartwarming vision. That something other than man could be so fascinated by us.
The 20th provided not 1 but 2 zebra sharks on Yellow Fin Drop. The first was spotted as we descended and the 2nd right at the end of the dive. It was resting lazily just off the reef, totally unaware of our presence and enjoying the cleaning station that it had found.
The 21st was potato bass day. Homer on Elusive has become quite the celebrity, on good mood days that is, and now rests on the sand and allows everyone to approach to within about a meter of him. Smaller Bart is becoming a touch jealous and tries to chase Homer away from us, but doesn't seem to have much success. Needless to say, everyone that is privileged to be a part of the encounter forgets about everything else that is seen on the dive and this encounter becomes the highlight.
On the 22nd we again spent a considerable amount of time with our ladies, the raggies. Snorkelers that have visited the site cannot believe that they are actually snorkeling above around 10 - 15 sharks. This is a big highlight in the memory bank.
January 23rd was also a special day - we took divers and snorkelers out to visit the ladies once again. We found 7 inside the cave and a further 3 moving around outside the cave area. Darryl did some free diving with the camera and managed to get some superb identification shots.
We also encountered a rather cheeky blacktip reef shark whilst snorkeling who tried to sneak up on everyone for a closer look and then once spotted, sheepishly swam away. On this particular outing, Island Rock produced a green turtle, spotted eagle ray, brown rays and honeycomb rays, in addition to the sharks. One of our snorkelers mentioned that he had seen more life here in 15 minutes than spending hours on the Great Barrier Reef!! He could not believe his shark encounters too. Neptune provided us with stunning conditions and exceptional visibility. Absolutely idyllic.
The 25th also produced spectacular diving and shark sightings. It's become a regular event that if conditions allow it, we visit the raggies first before going to the dive site. This way we get to do our research before the tides change and the area becomes too sanded up. Excellent photos were taken again on this day.
From a research angle then, we have visited the raggies now for most of this month. We have seen, in total, around 15 raggies, in larger numbers in the cave area and others were spilling out at other spots. We have managed to identify 4 individual animals from special features that they have. 1 female we have named "Jaws" - I think we've told you about her. She is the one with the protruding upper jaw - the Sharks Board is very excited about this one, as this is definitely an unusual feature. We have not sighted her now as regularly as the 2nd one, a female with a torn in half dorsal fin. We have photographed this shark and this is also a fantastic identifying feature for future years to come, as this will not heal. The 3rd and 4th sharks both have tags but they are unreadable, as we cannot get close enough to the shark to read the tag numbers. The 4th shark's tag appears to have some type of growth on it. What we have also noted is that the shark with the torn in half dorsal fin seems to spend most of her time near the cave area. To date we have still got the sharks here and will need to document their departure dates, which we expect could be late February or early March.
We are truly thrilled at the shark sightings this raggie season. They have provided us with much valuable data and have evoked incredible enthusiasm and delight with our guests this past month. There are not too many places in the world where you can snorkel safely above pregnant sharks, whether you are experienced in the ocean or not, and without having to think about the music to the Jaws movie.
In summary then, a superb month has been experienced by many, not to mention the actual dive team and all the rewards that we have experienced.
Thank you Mother Nature for all your splendors and thanks to Jacque Cousteau for trying and testing scuba gear. We are forever in your debt.
Ongava Tented Camp Report, February 9 2003
Ongava is a private reserve adjoining Namibia's famed Etosha National Parl in southwest Africa. Here is Ongava Tented Camp's latest update:
December was a very hot month with some days being overcast and slightly humid, the rest was blue skies and sunny days. Some days the weather looked promising for rain but strong winds in the afternoon caused the clouds to disappear. During January we had a few thundershowers and breath taking sunsets - some of them with white rhino's in sight.
Within Etosha elephant sightings were good with breeding herds and lonesome bulls sighted at the waterholes. We saw lion on a regular basis. We had regular black rhino sightings at Ombika waterhole. The migratory birds have arrived. The Cape fox and its puppies were regularly sighted.
Drives within the Ongava Game Reserve were excellent with white rhino, black rhino, lion, cheetah, mountain zebra and aardwolf. Lion, porcupine and spotted eagle owls were seen on night drives. The camp waterhole was very busy as usual with lion at the waterhole for 8 days in a row, mornings and evenings. Black rhino came during the nights. Tracking white rhino on foot is still the highlight at Ongava. White rhino sightings are excellent with the two cows and their calves in particular. Two cheetahs were spotted on a morning walk in the Sonop area. The aardwolf den with two puppies provided us daily sightings on the late afternoons and on night drives. I did an afternoon walk in the Allendam area with 6 guests. We walked into a lioness, she warned us, and half an hour later a black rhino charged us. Wonderful experience for the guests. Morning walks were very popular too.
Duba Plains Tented Camp January Report, February 9 2003
Duba Plains is located in Botswana's Okavango Delta and is reputed to have the highest density of lion in all of Africa. Here is the camp's January report:
The true rainy season hit us towards the middle of January. We thought we were in for a dry season, but were wrong. A total of 154mm of rain fell during January, re-vitalizing the entire area. Many people think of the rainy season as a bad time to visit, however, one should remember it does not rain all day and certainly not everyday. Usually it rains heavily, for short bursts, mostly in the afternoons or evenings. January saw only nine days with rain falling, with most of the storms occurring at night. The Duba area is looking in superb condition, with several channels flowing and all the pans topped up to capacity. The average temperatures experienced were very comfortable at a minimum of 22°C and a maximum was 34°C.
2003 started off extremely well, with the first few minutes of the first game drive producing a beautiful, relaxed young male leopard and the two Duba Boys (lion) near the airstrip. Bird watching was certainly one of the highlights of the month. The "fish traps" on the plains have continued, never failing to impress even those less keen on watching our feathered friends. If one had to select a bird sighting of the month, it would have to be of a juvenile Bat Hawk circling in perfect view above the vehicle at midday. We have been keeping bird-sighting records for the immediate Duba area, reaching a total of 275 different species. No doubt we have many more to record, but a great beginning all the same.
January has also revealed several good reptile sightings, including Leopard Tortoise, Water Monitor Lizard, Flap-neck Chameleon, African Rock Python and Nile Crocodile. Some smaller animals encountered were springhares, honey badgers, genets, civets, wild cats and regular sightings of bat-eared foxes. The fox family of eight has faired well, only loosing one pup. Exciting news is the dominant hyaena pack is denning again. They are utilizing the same den as in previous years, meaning perfectly clear viewing for our guests. So far three little, black pups have shown themselves. We will be following their development closely.
The buffalo are doing well, however they have only dropped one or two calves so far. This is as we expected, with last seasons calves dropping in March 2002. Somehow they continue to escape the lions, for the most part. They rarely venture into the Pantry prides territory, spending most of their time within the boundaries of the Skimmer and Tsaro prides. Both of these prides have temporarily split up to deliver new cubs, resulting in them not being quite the hunting force we are used to.
The Duba lions were tracked down on every day of the month, with 73 different pride sightings, averaging 13 lions per day. In total, 49 individual lions were identified. We did not venture to far to the north or east, so did not encounter any new lions on the concession. Kills witnessed in January was well down on previous months and were 4 buffalo, 1 lechwe calf, 1 adult male wildebeest and 2 warthogs.
The Tsaro pride continues to be fragmented, however, on several occasions they were all seen together. More often than not, this was when the buffalo herd was in the immediate locality. The lionesses are moving about a relatively small area, where we suspect one of the lionesses has her cubs safely hidden from sight. So far only one female has given birth, with a couple of others well on their way. It appears none of the young females have conceived, but only time will confirm this. The five young males are still seen regularly, but do tend to wander further in search of the buffalo herd. All the lions are in perfect physical condition, so they must be succeeding in catching sufficient prey in the form of lechwe and warthog. No doubt far easier quarry to subdue than the more formidable buffalo.
The Pantry pride has settled around the camp island. They ventured some way into the Tsaro pride's territory, with no sign of any resistance. December sadly saw the disappearance of a single male cub, while January saw its incredible reappearance after an absence of at least two weeks. He was extremely thin and in desperate need of a meal. The lionesses seemed to oblige him, with two buffalo kills that very night. A couple of days later, the pride managed to successfully pull down a solitary bull wildebeest. This was the first wildebeest kill we have witnessed this pride make, but no doubt not the first.
Once again, the Skimmer pride was not seen as a complete unit. All ten members were accounted for, but never more than four together at any one time. Two of the adult lionesses have moved north of the Paradise water, hopefully having cubs. They gave us one distant sighting of a perfect lechwe hunt. Through binoculars we watched three females chase a large herd of lechwe backwards and forwards, until eventually they managed to isolate a calf and capture it in the mud. It's not too often one gets to witness a successful daytime lechwe hunt, right out in the open. The four male siblings of the pride appear to have banded together, even though there is a three-year difference in age. It's unlikely this will continue for too much longer, especially if any Tsaro females come into season again.
The Duba Boys remain as the dominant males over most of the concession, surprisingly pushing further and further into their old haunts. The challenge from the two new males seems to have fizzled out for the time being. Perhaps they will be back? The Old Vumbura pride showed themselves over a five day period, at times several kilometers outside of their territory. They spent these few days on the trail of the buffalo herd, until they bumped into members of both the Skimmer and Tsaro prides. This minor altercation sent them on their way and they have not been seen since. The missing 28-month-old lioness was again back with the pride.
Duma Tau January Report, February 9 2003
Duma Tau Tented Camp is located in Botswana's Savute/Linyanti area. Here is the camps January update:
Shoowee..what a great green season so far and finally it really is the lush and wet summer bush that we have been yearning for. We have had regular rain showers followed by days of sweet smelling soil.
The Savuti Channel is resplendent in her new bright green coat and the riverine forests are a tangle of croton leaves and thick bush. Once again Duma Tau is the jungle home of migratory birds, zinging cicadas and curious herds of kudu and impala intermingling with our resident baboons. The troupe seem to have taken a liking to retail therapy and regularly make forays into our shop. They are not big spenders however and appear to ignore the "you break it you pay for it" policy of most outlets. We are in the process of fortifying structures (again) against the mischievous critters.
Wildlife viewing has been brilliant! The rains have sent most of the elephants into the mopane where the pans are brimming with water, birds and hippos. There are still a surprising number of breeding herds around, enjoying the muddy holes in the channel and the long 'elephant spaghetti' that grows there. The odd herd of buffalo can be seen further up the channel typically surrounded by hundreds of bright white egrets. This makes for a beautiful scene with black, white and green stark against each other and stormy skies. General game is fantastic with lots of zebra with bucking foals, and wildebeest herds turning circles and generally acting in the crazy way they do. Also hundreds of impala, nice herds of lechwe along the river and on the 31st a large herd (about 20) of roan antelope close to the airstrip! Wild dogs have been regular stars in the repertoire - still at 21, the whole pack is looking healthy and strong. The alpha male, never a beauty anyway, is really beginning to look old and tatty so it will be interesting to see what develops in the hierarchy in the next year or so. The Savuti lion Pride, also at 21, is back to weaving between the channel and the mopane although sightings have been very regular especially considering the one lioness has separated from them while her cubs are still young. Strangely enough one of the older cubs(about ten months) has stuck with them and she is allowing him to suckle to the detriment of her own cubs. They are not getting enough milk and are looking a bit waifish. Cheetah sightings have been great with the three brothers performing at their peak on their hunts. They can be seen causing havoc with the wildebeest and impala in the channel all the way from Zib to Manchwe Pan east of Savuti. A female and subadult have also been hanging around in the old 'Hunting Sign' area. Leopard has been better than expected for this time of year. Despite the lush bush the guides have surpassed themselves - one lot of guests saw three different leopard on one drive, after having seen the Savuti Pride bring down an impala. Interestingly, the presence of hyena has increased dramatically since last year this time. There appear to be larger clans around, with groups of 5 or more regularly seen in the last hours of daylight.
Once again Duma Tau has attracted drama in the form of an elephant calf who was found in a panic in the generator room. Clearly attracted by the low humming coming from the machine, the poor thing was head butting the big green box it felt drawn to...many hours were then spent leading it away from camp with the Land Rover (another machine with a low throbbing sound) until it ran off into the bush on its own. Despite leaving it far from camp twice, it returned to Duma Tau screaming indignantly for its mother. Sad to say a breeding herd did come through the camp, only to reject it into the waiting jaws of a clan of hyena meters from the camp. It was all very sad, but an inevitable outcome for a lost calf in the wild.
Lex Hess brought a group here for photography and were heard to say that Duma Tau was without doubt the best camp they had been to in Botswana, in terms of game and atmosphere. Well done to a great team here who never fail to make us proud and put smiles on our faces and on those of the guests.
Xigera Tented Camp January Update, February 9 2003
Xigera Tented Camp is located in Botswana's famed Okavango Delta. Here is the latest camp report:
We had an excellent month in terms of wildlife and bird sightings. The Pel's fishing owls are availing themselves for tremendous viewing and we even had the pleasure of watching a Pel's fishing from the bridge whilst having pre-dinner drinks. The rainfall has not been as much as expected, with 65ml being the sum total for January. This has not stopped Xigera from exploding into a green paradise.
Guests were treated to an uncommonly good month wildlife wise. Wild dogs and cheetah have been sighted - and we have had great leopard, lion and hyena interactions. We have a heavily pregnant lioness near camp so we are expecting a couple of cubs in the near future. I have detailed an interesting leopard vs lion vs hyena interaction below.
The Queen of the Jungle?
We were about 1 km from Xigera Camp on a thick sandy section of the road in the middle of the floodplains surrounded by dry savannah grassland and the occasional wild date palm thicket. I slammed on the brakes. "Smells like something's dead" said Cheryl. The unmistakable scent of a decaying carcass was being carried from somewhere upwind. I turned and headed into the strong breeze. The grass was high with some really thick scrub in sections, and I was hoping that I wouldn't ride over 'whatever we were looking for's' tail.
We had traveled about a 100 meters when I looked up into the only tree in the area. Something moved in the gloomy light...leopard. A large male leopard glared down at us with those big eyes protecting his rotting kill. I wasn't sure how relaxed he was so we cut the engine and sat very still. After staring at us for about 15 seconds he lithely climbed down the tree, moved about 10 meters away from the tree and sat at the edge of a palm thicket and started to groom himself. The kill was a large male red lechwe and there wasn't much left. Judging by the stench, he had made the kill about 36 hours before. Just as we were enjoying being in the presence of this magnificent cat, he got up walked 3 paces and vanished into the thicket. Silence. Only the wind and a few raindrops stirred. Then the soft pads of another cat moving through the grass behind us. I looked behind the vehicle. Lioness.
A solitary lioness was honing in on the scent of the leopards kill. She walked right past us toward the palm thicket, stopped at the edge, sniffed, gave a low growl and walked toward the base of the tree. I wondered what she sniffed at as the leopard was on the other side of the thicket. "Hyena" cried Cheryl. As the lioness was judging the difficulty of the climb to the carcass, an old grizzled female hyena with one blind milky gray eye stalked out of the thicket. She had been lying in the heart of the thicket the whole time unable to get at the carcass, waiting for her opportunity. It was about to come.
The lioness was solely focused on the meal in the tree. She bunched her muscles and leaped. In one lightning movement she had the kill in her mouth and jumped out of the tree. The leopard had underestimated the climbing abilities of this lioness. As she settled to begin feeding all hell broke loose. The hyena ran straight at the lioness and met her head on in cacophony of growls and snarls. Then as fast as it started, it stopped. The two carnivores stared at each other and then started to feed side by side on the same carcass. I sat there stunned I had never seen this before. They were feeding more co-operatively than 2 lionesses would have. Every few seconds the lioness would begin her low growl and the hyena would answer her with a high-pitched chatter, and then silence and the feeding would begin again. The male leopard was not seen again.
Any minute, I thought, the lioness's patience must run out. I was wrong; the hyena's patience ran out. Her tail curled up, the hyena's chatter increased to a frenzy and she dived at the main part of the carcass. The lioness responded and she attacked the hyena with her fore paws and her growls grew ferocious. The hyena didn't back down. She absorbed the best the lioness could give and started the tug of war. This is when the hyena's superior strength in her neck and jaws came into play, and she started to win ground. One last bit of resistance from the lioness and then the hyena tore free with the carcass in her jaws. With her head held high and her tail raised in a show of defiance she trotted off a few paces and remarkably stopped, dropped the carcass and began to feed in plain site of the lioness. The lioness's spirit was beaten. Rain began to fall. She started to feed on the scraps that were left on the ground. The hyena remembering that she had a clan to feed picked up the remains of the carcass and ran off into the grass. Today was a good day for her.
With nothing left to eat the lioness moved out into the open and for the first time I could confirm that she was lactating heavily and appeared very pregnant. Was it maternal instinct for self-preservation on the part of the lioness that allowed the hyena to win this confrontation? Or was the hyena simply the queen of the jungle today? Just to remind us who has the title presently, the lioness let off a ground shattering series of roars that burst the silence of the night.
UPDATES FOR WEEK ENDING SUNDAY 2ND FEBRUARY 2003:
Zimbabwe / Botswana Update, February 2 2003
Here is the latest from Zimbabwe and Botswana. Colin Bell of Wilderness Safaris has just returned from a two week trip to Botswana and Zimbabwe and specialist guide Garth Thompson is in Botswana at present.
Colin notes: I have just returned from nearly two weeks in Zimbabwe and Botswana, including a night in Vic Falls. As it's my favorite time of year to be in the bush, I always take a break at this time to visit the camps and enjoy the wildlife. This year did not disappoint. The weather was prefect...not too hot and not too cold and the countryside was looking immaculate with a carpet of short green grass everywhere. The game did not disappoint either as we had wonderful viewing everywhere and over 70 different lion sightings in our short stay.
Zimbabwe in particular was very interesting for me...and not surprisingly again provided the best game viewing as it has consistently done over the past two years. When one travels within Zimbabwe's northern parks, one has to pinch oneself that this is the same country that we hear about in the news all the time. I witnessed nothing but total peace and quiet with incredible game viewing. With the political problems in Zimbabwe, we are picking up two issues going forward that we have to deal with (a) the quality of Zimbabwe wine now is horrible and we may will have to start importing South African wine for the camps. Zimbabwe wine has never been great - but it was palatable. Now its not! (b) There are fuel queues in the towns and cities including Victoria Falls. This does not affect us - but it makes for amusing viewing if you are on outsider - but can't be fun if you have to be in the queue.
Other than that Victoria Falls was very full. Our flight to Victoria Falls was just about chock-a-block full and the hotels were doing good trade.
We have an interesting development happening in the Linyanti that we were fortunate to witness. A coalition of 5 youngish males have pitched up in the reserve and look like settling in for the long term and have started to flex their muscles. If they can claim the territory, they will / should provide an incredibly strong brotherhood that should dominate this area and in time control the interpride rivalry and produce many, many cubs. We look forward to a wonderful new lion dynasty arising from these five brothers
Garth writes the following: Namibia was incredible, three different sightings of desert elephant in the Horasib Canyon of the Skeleton Coast in under two hours, a pair of male lions in the same area, gemsbok on the beach with massive plankton rich waves breaking behind. Same setting for a black backed jackal. At the seal colony I had an 8 week old pup slide across my legs while sitting on the beach, a number of the pups came up and sniffed my camera lens, there must have been a minimum of 1,000 pups in each nursery group. One of the highlights was at least seven different sightings of gemsbok that were dune climbing, while we were in the canyon. One of the herds was 13 strong, all climbing the 300 foot sand dune while we were parked at the base. What a sight to see their black shadows reflected on the white sand dune.
Bots has been amazing, if this is the "quiet" period for game viewing, I can't imagine some of these areas in "peak" season. While at Duba we had a herd of about 800 buffalo herding a pride of 14 lion, it was quite a sight to see the pride retreating as this massive black regiment advanced at a deliberate walk, all this framed by about a thousand wheeling cattle egrets, all set against the lush green grass and stormy sky.
At Mombo we seldom had animals out of sight for most of our stay. Lions and leopard daily. A lovely female leopard drinking in front of us which filled the camera frame, then 14 lions on a zebra kill and that afternoon a leopard feeding off a young kudu. Little Vumbura is a gem, again lions daily and large concentrations of zebra and giraffe in that big sky country.
Duma Tau produced all the general wildlife of kudu, impala, lechwe, warthog, baboons etc. Then while watching a pack of 21 wild dogs, including 11 pups, a male cheetah and a lone hyeana were in sight. This was all in the Savuti channel which is emerald green and home to herds of about 80 zebra, wildebeest and impala. We went on to see a medium sized herd of buffalo and an elephant bull who was a real gent, he walked right up to the vehicle and welcomed us with a massive head shake! The bird life has been phenomenal with all the migrants still here in full force. While driving down the Savuti Channel today we were escorted by a small flock of carmine bee eaters who were feeding off the insects that our vehicle disturbed.
Ndumo Camp Report, February 2 2003
Ndumo is located in South Africa's KwaZulu Natal province and provides some of the world's finest bird viewing. Here is the latest report from the camp:
At last summer is here, after a year with no rain, Ndumo was starting to look a bit drab, but after quite a bit of rain we are lush and beautiful again, not to mention our animals have once again got sustenance.
The rains have also put passion in the air, and everything is busy procreating. There are mating birds, nesting birds and birds feeding nestlings everywhere. In the camp alone we have a bar throated apalis feeding (her second brood for the season). The blue-grey flycatcher is on eggs, and not far from her the yellow white eye is also incubating eggs. The paradise flycatcher's long russet tail can be seen sticking out of it's cup-shaped nest over a busy walkway. The Natal, Heuglins, and eastern bearded robins have all got chicks, and are flying themselves ragged trying to satisfy the young appetites.
Our wire tailed swallows suffered a setback when a pair of greater striped swallows tried to steal their nest, but they fended off the threat very well, and everything is back on track in the honeymoon suite. The greater striped swallows have also recovered and have made their home in reception. Room 7 has the perfect view of a grey sunbirds nest.
One sighting that got us all moving was an African Skimmer on Nyamithi that made his home on the mud flats, however back flooding from the Pongola into Nyamithi covered the mud flats and Skimmer has not come back.
A 5.5 meter python has made her nest in an termite mound not far from our driveway, she seldom moves further than a few meters from the nest, and should danger threaten, she glides noiselessly back into the hole to lie on top of her eggs. An awe inspiring sight, as few can picture such a huge creature.
Our camp warthogs have put on a great show for us, as one mommy has 4 babies and two other mommies have joined together to look after their combined brood of 3. One baby, had a bad deal when her front leg was broken in a rough play, but the whole family pulled together to help her live, and has she ever survived - the leg has healed - mother nature at her best!
Our resident camp nyala herd has grown quite a bit, and as clock work, they come in for a visit every morning and evening. Our first born of the herd has grown up, and now the dominant male is not too happy about the other's presence in the camp.
Oscar the crocodile has finally returned after a long absence, and boy is he a fat and slightly larger croc now - the fishing must be good. Our local genet is also up to his dirty tricks again, he has taken a liking to used earl grey teabags, especially if he can scatter the insides all over the deck in time for the guests early morning tea and coffee call.
White rhino sightings have also been good as most of the females have got young calves, which is always great to see. Herds of buffalo have also been spotted fairly frequently, with a few single fellas to boot.
The hippo are also giving us great sightings, as they have been seen out of the water on a lot of drives, which is always gives you a better idea of how big they really are.
The Pel's fishing owl has also been spotted on a drive along the inlet to Banzi pan, and three were heard calling at Red Cliffs (our border with Mozambique).
Robin Pope's Weekly Zambia Update, February 2 2003
Robin and Jo Pope runs several very successful safari camps in Zambia. Here is their weekly update:
I hope a great week was had by all! I was correct in last week's newsletter - a new weather pattern including rain was indeed around the corner and we enjoyed about 30mm on Friday afternoon! It was not before time - it was getting very dry around here with the river getting lower and small ponds drying up. The lead up to the downpour included some truly deafening thundercracks and lively lightening shows. Since then we've had very little rain though 85% plus humidity and lots of cloud! It's all very bizarre and the river is still quite low! One thing remains constant - the spectacular sunsets!
With Nkwali closed for the rains we still manage to see and hear a lot of wildlife activity. As I went to sleep last night what sounded like a lot of shouting way off in the distance became a group of baboon barking very loudly. It would have been across the river and upstream - a very faint sound but it did make me wonder what was out there. Early in the morning we heard lion calling from a similar direction - that might have answered the question! It's been a while since we heard lion calling near Nkwali. Around camp we've seen lots of impala, bushbuck and warthog rambling through the thickets. And just after sending last week's newsletter we were visited by a small herd of elephant feeding around the camp. It was WONDERFUL to see them from the office window again - it's been a while! Over the last couple of days from my house I've sat and watched a pair of African Goshawk with much interest. I think they have been quite interested in looking at me as well!! They are obviously nesting nearby as they fly about together everywhere looking for food, following each other from branch to branch. Quite often they just sit on the fence or a low-lying perch staring at me, stretching their wings or attempting to catch lizards climbing up the side of the house! I hear lots of squawking in the distance when they fly off to their nest.
On a drive to the Chichele area during the week I saw good concentrations of wildlife including zebra, puku, impala, giraffe, elephant and baboons. With all the green grassy plains it is great to see the animals enjoying a season of plenty!
The baboons have also taken to ripping the thatch off the roof from chalet 3! So the Nkwali staff have been taking it in turns to sit and read near the bar, warding off those naughty baboons as they try to take more thatch! It was quite a surprise at first....when trying to find Lameck (the chef) to be told he was "at the bar" and it wasn't even afternoon yet!
I (Jeffrey) am now entering my last month with Robin Pope Safaris - after three nearly three years with this wonderful company it is time to seek new challenges! I have loved every moment of living and working with the RPS team but it was always part of "the plan" to spend about 3 years working for Robin and Jo. At the end of February my work permit expires and off I will trot into the big wide world!! I'm pleased to announce that Kim Brake, who joined us as catering manager at Tena Tena last year, will be taking over my position.