May-June 2003


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Robin Pope's Weekly Zambia Update, June 15 2003

Robin and Jo Pope run several very successful safari camps in Zambia. Here is their weekly update:

Nsefu Camp have reported that their phantom lions have now appeared in the flesh. Unfortunately - or maybe fortunately for any guests who prefer not to have close encounters - they were only seen in camp by staff. The first incident being when Claire was in camp waiting for guests to come back from the evening game drive and 2 lionesses walked between the bar and room 1. On the second occasion guests had just been shown back to their rooms after dinner when Ed and Claire came across 2 males strolling between room 6 and the fuel store. The lions are obviously very considerate and wait for the guests to be safely in their rooms before taking their promenade through the camp.

The highlight of the week however was eland in the Nsefu sector. Firstly 2 males were seen in the Game Management Area (GMA) near the Kauluzi and then a lone male at Lunga Lagoon. Later in the week Ed saw a group of 30 eland consisting of 19 adults and 11 young, again in the GMA. This is early for them and a real treat. Wildebeest have also been much in evidence with sightings of 2 different herds, the first, a group of 32 seen at Kahchangja drift and then a different herd of 11on the Kauluzi plain.

Birding at Nsefu has also been good with sightings of, amongst others, a peregrine falcon, 4 male painted snipe, a temminck's courser, black sunbird and mosque swallow.

Meanwhile Tena Tena not to be out done report flying baboons. Ross saw around 20 baboons at play, running up a tall tree and leaping off a top branch onto another tree some 4 meters away. They then scrambled down, across to the same tree and repeated the antic. With 20 baboons doing this, there was a continuous trail of "flying" baboons. The larger ones found it quite easy, but the smaller ones were determined but only just made it. And this went on for 30 minutes!

Another highlight of the week - during lunch at Nkwali, a squeaking noise revealed a snake eating a frog! Guests were out on the platform overlooking the lagoon and the snake, on a branch in the lagoon, thought he had lunch secured. Suddenly a western banded snake eagle swooped down and grabbed the snake - lunch inside lunch inside lunch!!

Stay well and have a great week, Cheers Kim.


The Return of the Lions to the Skeleton Coast, June 15 2003

After an absence of more than a decade, a small pride of lions has made its way back to the Hoarusib River in the Skeleton Coast Park of Namibia. It caused concern among the local community at Purros. On their way through to the Park, the pride killed the stud bull of one of the headman of the community.

The local Himba people at Purros are pastoral people and have a long tradition of fiercely protecting their livestock against predators. In the meantime the lions took eight more head of cattle and several donkeys. The community members are therefore well within their legal rights to exterminate these lions if found outside the Skeleton Coast Park.

The conservation personnel officer of the Skeleton Coast Park as well as the staff of Wilderness Safaris, operating in the Skeleton Coast Park, welcomed the return of the lions for its ecological importance as well as the tourism potential. This has become a classical situation of clashing interests in a truly African context.

The previous pride of lions to inhabit this region could be described as exceptional. They were lions that covered a vast area, roamed the coastline and fed off Cape Fur seals and beached whales. They however also moved inland, crossing the boundary of the Skeleton Coast Park and killed cattle. They were all exterminated by herdsmen in the late 1980's.

According to Dr. Flip Stander, head of Lion Research at the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, the four lions that entered the area of the Hoarusib in July 2001 are vagrant members of the Damaraland pride that lives in the region of the Aob and Barati rivers to the south.

These lions, three males and one female, were driven out by the dominant Aob and Barati lions after they reached adulthood and became possible contenders in the dominance hierarchy. They walked two hundred kilometers north / north west to reach the Hoarusib River. While still in Damaraland two of the males and one of the females were fitted with radio collars by Dr. Stander.

It seems as if the pride have since learnt to remain within the boundaries of the Skeleton Coast Park. They roam the immediate vicinity of the Hoarusib river valley where there is plenty of water and shelter. Their main prey species is gemsbok (Oryx gasella), which are concentrated in the riverbed during the dry season.

The lioness disappeared for a while about a year ago. Her track was last seen at a fresh water spring at the foot of the dune field at the mouth of the Hoarusib River, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. She was seen months later with two small cubs.

The lion sightings by Wilderness Safari guides have become more and more frequent. These lions are far from habituated; sometimes it takes half a day of tracking with a vehicle and on foot to catch find them. The sightings of the three males are by far the most frequent. They are in exceptional condition, with blond and red manes. One is considerably bigger than the other two and seems to be dominant and definitely more aggressive.

The female and cubs have been seen in the area of the Hoarusib Poort and the Clay Castles. The cubs are growing big and are in good condition. The Hoarusib River flooded four times between December and April. For a long time the river was non-negotiable by vehicle. The lion tracks however were seen during that period at the fresh water spring at the mouth of the river. It is possible that the female could be pregnant again.

The rains this year weren't good. It will cause the herdsmen from Purros to move their cattle downriver, closer to the Skeleton Coast Park boundary. If that happens it is inevitable that there will be conflict between herdsmen and the lions.

It must be mentioned that the Purros community is a conservation-minded community, which is evident when you travel through their land. Herds of springbok, oryx, mountain zebra and giraffe abound in their area, often sharing pastureland and water with their cattle. They are also a shining example of peaceful co-existence between man and elephant.

The elephant herds of the area move past their villages undisturbed, which is truly remarkable. These are elephants that were subjected to poaching and harassment less than twenty years ago.

Their cattle however, take top priority and predator conservation is an alien concept. Wilderness Safaris has implemented a compensation system for cattle losses. Hopefully this and other benefits derived from the tourism industry will bring about a change of heart. In the meantime there exists an uneasy relationship between man and lion. Written by Christiaan Bakkes, Skeleton Coast

Robin Pope's Weekly Zambia Update, June 15 2003

Robin and Jo Pope run several very successful safari camps in Zambia. Here is their weekly update:

On the wildlife front we have had a "normal" week with several sightings of lion and the usual suspects at Nkwali.

One drive really stands out - it was an all day picnic. The guests were treated to a pair of giraffe have a "necking session" which turned into a bit of a tussle. It was later described as looking like a pillow fight but with the giraffes using their heads to take great swings at each other instead of pillows.

Later in the day the lucky troops found a small leopard who had just killed a puku. They stopped to watch and a larger leopard suddenly appeared and stole the puku. All pretty exciting stuff but then a hyena came on the scene and tried to steal the puku from the second leopard. Being older and wiser than the youngster he was having none of it and promptly took his prize up the nearest tree. This was all caught on video by one of the guests and a replay at the bar that evening enthralled the rest of us back in camp.

Good news on the flamingo front. The 3rd flamingo which arrived and then had a bit of a hard time from a fish eagle has recovered and all three are still here and well. Fabulous to have them in front of camp and we hope they will stay a little longer.

Tena Tena opened last week and Daudi, Aniek and Ross are all happy to have the season underway. The camp is looking superb and I for one am dying to get up their for a weekend soon.

At Nsefu there was a correction from last week's report - in fact Ed saw 2 lone wildebeest and then a group of 36, so even more exciting than we thought! Claire reports that they are finding spores in and around camp and hearing calls most nights but have not seen the illusive lions now know as the Phantoms of Nsefu. Cheers, Kim.


Star of Africa Zambia Update, June 8 2003

Star of Africa runs several of Zambia's top safari lodges and tented camps. Here is there latest update:

At Sussi and Chuma the river remains very high for the time of the year, with the Barotse Floodplains experiencing the highest water levels in 25 years. With the end of the rains the elephants are taking up residence again in and around the lodge, which has caused lots of excitement among our guests! Our elephants have now moved up to Victoria Falls from the Matopos and are currently being housed with Shearwater Adventures where they are doing some training with their ndunas. We are waiting for their "passports" to come through and will then be moving them across to be based at Sussi and Chuma Lodge.

The migratory birds are now starting to move away from Lochinvar. The herds of zebra and lechwe continue to grow with herds of up to 500 zebra and over 1000 lechwe being sighted. WWF continues to support this wetlands area with the road network within the Park being shortly upgraded."

What an exciting start to the season in Lower Zambezi…this promises to be an excellent year in terms of the overall guest experience. The arrival of Mark and Robyn Roberts in the valley has seen guests treated to some amazing experiences. Mark offers a truly memorable walking experience in the Lower Zambezi National Park…We have had various sightings of wild dog in the past three weeks, with 2 separate sightings of 2 different packs in one game drive! With the movement of buffalo in large numbers down towards the river the lion are also far more noticeable.

Mark from Chichele reports that the property is looking superb at the moment with the end of the rains. We have had some great animal sightings from our viewing platform…clients have seen wild dog, leopard and lion. The buffalo have moved down to the river now and are often seen on the plains surrounding Chichele Hill. The loop roads in the Park have now been regraded allowing us access to the many wonderful river viewing points.

Progress is now well under way at Puku Ridge with us being on-track for a soft opening the first week of July. Our first residents of Puku have been the "Chichele" pride of lion, making the ongoing construction work very interesting! The pool which has just been built has already been put to good use with a resident hippo!

Robin Pope's Weekly Zambia Update, June 8 2003

Robin and Jo Pope run several very successful safari camps in Zambia. Here is their weekly update:

We were happily surprised a couple of days ago to find a third flamingo had joined our other couple. We were hoping that maybe we will find one addition a week and have a huge flock in front of Nkwali by the end of the season! However, yesterday morning one of them got into a bit of a fight. A fish eagle was spotted attacking the larger bird in the air. The flamingo then fell to the water and after an initial look, the fish eagle decided to leave it alone - probably because he know it would be too heavy for him to get out of the water even if he managed to kill it. However, it now appears that the flamingo has sustained a broken leg. We are hoping that maybe it is not as serious as it looked and will recover with some protection from it's friends, it will be sad if it does not manage to pull through. I will keep you posted.

Again from Nkwali Camp, Keyala had the amazing sight of 2 palmnut vultures sitting on a winterthorn tree, on the other side of the river. This caused much excitement as it is very rare to see these birds in this area and they are certainly the prettiest of the vultures.

The guides at Nkwali have reported increased sightings of buffalo in the park and only yesterday guests watched a herd of some 150 progressing along the river bank opposite camp.

Now to Nsefu. Newly opened and reporting superb game with 14 leopard sightings in the first 7 days. Ed and Claire have settled in and are doing a great job up at the camp.

Continuing the birding sightings they have even had the rare view of a secretary bird. In fact these birds have been seen by the guys on three separate occasions! They have also had a giant eagle owl perching behind room 6 and saw a juvenile whitebacked pelican at the stork colony, which by the way is now in full swing with crocs and raptors taking any opportunity for an easy meal. Other interesting birds seen in the area include a pygmy goose at Lunga Lagoon, hottentot teal and painted snipe at the salt pan, a peregrine falcon at the Kawaluzi river crossing, a pair of Dickenson's kestrels in the mubisa drift area and finally a whitebreasted cuckoo shrike.

Ed was out for an all day drive with guests and come across 2 male Cookson's wildebeest - they were looking for eland but unfortunately did not find them, however, as luck would have it the guys went on a firewood run later in the day and came across a small herd of 6. Not to be out done, Jacob had an amazing drive seeing not only a secretary bird and a pride of 8 lions but also 26 wildebeest. Very happy troops returned to camp that evening. Jacob also came across a lovely python at Tena Tena's 2nd ebony grove. In addition lions have been seen on the bank opposite camp as well as many leopard sightings around the area.

Unfortunately pukus have been in for a tough time with both hyena and leopard being seen with puku kills.

Stay well and have a great week! Cheers - Kim

Linyanti Tented Camp Update, June 8 2003

Linyanti Tented Camp is located in wildlife rich northern Botswana. Here is this small camp's latest report:

The bush has thinned out considerably in the past weeks and we are starting to see under the Knobbly Combretum shrubs. The leaves of the Kalahari Sand Apple (Lonchocarpus nelsii) have started turning yellow and much of the scrub mopane has started turning brown. Autumn colors are showing in the veld.

Towards the end of April and the first half of May the Purple Pod Terminalias were in full fruit and were very beautiful to look at, competing with the rich golden colors of the kidney-shaped mopane seeds. Both hanging like Christmas decorations in the woodlands. The grass is rapidly disappearing and we can here the termites chewing away in the nights.

The water in the Linyanti River is getting lower and lower as the days go by, and the elephants are starting to stream in. The Acrotomes and Vernonias have finished flowering and there are fewer butterflies around. Towards the end of May the Cat's Claws (Clerodendrum uncinatum) started showing off their beautiful blood red blooms (the color warning one of what your fingers will look like if you pick them - they have sharp thorns - hence the name). The leadwoods have finished throwing their seeds all over the front area.

The nights and early mornings are getting chilly and the clouds seem to have disappeared towards the end of May. The mopane pans are all rapidly drying up and the game is starting to move in towards the river side.

The impala have been great to watch this month as they have been rutting, and thus chasing each other all around, fighting and generally making lots of noise. The rut is now ending and the males have lost a lot of their former condition. Just out of interest - Chantelle found, on gamedrive, a tiny baby impala of only a few weeks of age. This is very unusual considering the time of the year. We have seen it on numerous occasions afterwards and it seems healthy and doing well.

On the 18th of April one of the Chobe Boys (lions) was still seen at the giraffe carcass, gnawing on the rotting remains. On the 9th of May we witnessed one of the Chobe Boys mating with presumably one of the Kings Pool lionesses. On the 18th of May we found the 2 boys sleeping near the turnaround point at Kings Pool Airstrip. They paid no attention to us and carried on sleeping even though there were planes landing nearby - typical lions - just lying around. On the night of the 20th we found the two Chobe Boys walking along the river road towards LTC. Just prior to seeing them we had bumped into a breeding herd of buffalo in the riverine ahead of them. The two boys looked thin and hungry and we were expecting that something may happen when the lions found the buffalo, but as things happened the lions carefully avoided the buffalos and carried on their way. Whilst waiting for the lions to pitch up at the buffalos we sat for a while with the lights off at the buffalos and stared at the African night sky, while listening to the buffalos chewing and moo-ing all around us - What an awesome evening.

Kings Pool Pride (4 adult females and 3 subadults) have been quite active in the area during May and we have seen them on quite a few occasions (usually between the Botswana Defense Force Camp and Kings Pool Airstrip). They tend to frequent the area close to the river and riverine/floodplain vegetation. On the night of the 8th of May we saw 1 Kings Pool Lioness with two of the subadults. She had a bad wound on the tail and we could even see the bone inside. On the 12th three females and 2 of the subadults were seen in the thick riverine vegetation near the BDF Camp. We did not notice the female with the wounded tail, maybe she was lying somewhere in the thick vegetation with the other subadult. On the 15th the four females and the three subadults were lying near the river close to the airstrip. The wound on the tail of the female was still clearly visible. The lions had obviously fed earlier as some still had blood on their chins and chest. On the 28th the four females and three subadults were seen sleeping in the floodplain grass near Boscia Lagoon. They all looked well and quite content (possibly a little hungry) and were seen lying close to each other, rubbing against each other and licking each other.

The Linyanti Pride were not seen again during the period after they left the giraffe carcass.

Unlike last month, this month we have seen many buffalos. Almost every day we have come across either breeding herds or "dagha boys". We have also bumped into a few on the walks that we have taken. Just adding that bit of excitement and reminding us to move around very carefully, listening often, reminding us that Africa can be a dangerous place.

The elephants are definitely piling in and in the afternoons, in particular, we are seeing numerous come down to the water to drink. We often see elephants whilst on the canoes and have had a few cross the river right in front us. It is amazing how big they look when you are so close to the water level. On one canoe trip we saw over 70 elephants come down to drink. The elephants often swim across the lagoon in front of camp, just showing the tops of their heads, trunks and backs. They also go into the reeds on the other side of the river and we are only given notice of their presence by the sounds of breaking reeds and gurgling water (sounds like a scuba diver). In one of the breeding herds seen this month we noticed a youngster without a tail and with only half a trunk. We wondered what caused this mishap and marveled that this poor creature was still looking in such good condition considering. On the 9th of May we saw a breeding herd come down to the river to drink and play around. We noticed that there was a very tiny calf with them. When they had all had their fill of water the herd proceeded to cross the river to the other side. We could see that the mother of the calf was quite concerned and she kept on walking up and down the water testing it. Finally she attempted to cross, with the baby following. Where the youngster started struggling the mother and another female assisted by pushing the baby's backside with their trunks until they were all over. It was great to see the motherly emotions and protection and left us all in awe of the mother and the courage of the youngster. The few guests that we have taken into Kings Pool Sunken Hide during gamedrive have all been amazed at the close proximity that one gets to the elephants. I am quite sure that these periods will remain etched in their memories forever. On the 24th of April we came across a group of elephants that were extremely agitated near the Chobe Border. Then we noticed a male mount a female and proceed to attempt to mate with her. She started to move away from him and then ran away, with the male right at her heels. Suddenly the rest of the herd charged us and we had to rush away and leave them behind.

The leopards have given us a great show all this month. On the night of the 18th of April we heard the baboons barking loudly near camp. I took the Land Rover out while the guests were all having supper and discovered a female right near the manager's tent. We tried to gather all the guests on the other vehicle, but by the time they managed to get themselves together and ready it had disappeared into thick bush and we could not find it again. On the 27th of April we were out early in the morning when we noticed that many impala were staring in one direction. Upon looking round I surprised a young female who ran away. Later on in the evening before coming to camp we made a turn back to that place in the hopes of finding her again, and got lucky. Whilst following her she led us to a site where there were two other leopards. It was a mother and her two subadult cubs at an impala kill. While we were watching them a hyena pitched up and managed to steal the kill, which the leopards had left on the ground. The next morning we came back to the spot, without really any hopes of finding the leopards again when we came across the young male, cornered up in a mopane tree with the hyena at the bottom. The young female was also in the nearby vicinity. On the 30th we again saw the LTC mother nearby camp. She was calling constantly (presumably to find her youngsters). On the 5th of May, very close to the spot where we had seen the young male in the tree with the hyena below, we came across the LTC Female again. She had just killed an impala and quickly moved away from the kill site as other impala were all snorting at her. We returned later on in the afternoon to find that she had dragged the kill under a fallen mopane. We had great views of her, but the next morning when we returned to the site we found only tracks of hyenas again.

On the 9th we managed to get some good views of the BDF leopard female near Ele Carcass Loop. On the 12th we saw her again near Mowana Plains, stalking impala. On the 17th we again bumped into her near the BDF on a night drive. We again saw her on the 22nd, stalking impala. She was very relaxed and allowed both vehicles very good views of her as she lay on a fallen tree trunk before getting up, yawning and then getting on to stalk the nearby impala. This BDF Female is definitely the most relaxed leopard in the area and has allowed us some great views of her.

On the 28th of April I was following the tracks of a male lion when I managed to spot a male leopard stalking impala. I quickly got the guests and went in to view him. He was very skittish and only allowed us a brief view before disappearing into thick vegetation. We think that this was the Inkwe Hide Male. On the 24th of May we were going to the airstrip to drop off guests when I noticed vultures dropping down and landing in a nearby dead tree. I quickly got out of the car and went to investigate. There I managed to surprise the Inkwe Hide male, who was staring at a hyena who had just taken his impala kill. He ran into thick bush and we couldn't find him again. After dropping off the one set of guests we quickly came back to the area and found him picking at the bones the hyena had left over. I then took the second set of guests back to the airstrip for their transfer. On the 28th of May Kenneth, from Kings Pool spotted an impala kill in a large leadwood tree. When we arrived the leopard was not to be seen, but later on in the evening the Inkwe Hide Male was observed crunching on the head of the unfortunate impala.

On the 5th of May we bumped into 1 unknown male leopard near the Chobe border. He was quite unconcerned with us and seemed to be waiting for animals to come and drink at a nearby pan.

The wild dogs have also been good to us this month. There are 2 distinct packs which move through the area. One pack consists of between 14 and 16 dogs, while the other consists of 6 or 7. The pack with 14-16 we assume is the same pack that frequents the Duma Tau area. The other we have named the Linyanti Pack.

On the 21st of April we found the Duma Tau pack lying in the shade nearby the airstrip, as we were picking up new guests. We then saw them again on the 9th of May running through Kings Pool and also on the 14th (halfway between Kings Pool and LTC). We noticed that one of the younger dogs was limping. On of the adult males looks extremely old with grey fur around his muzzle and tattered ears. On the 16th, while we were having tea at the sunken Hide this group of dogs came and joined us. They were quite unconcerned that we were all standing around, to the delight of the guests and photographer Hans Rack.

On the 26th of April we saw the Linyanti pack near Waterbuck Pan. They were resting in the shade. The Alpha Male is very dark in color and one of the females seems to have a slight case of mange on the rear end. We then saw them again on the 2nd of May near the BDF Camp, sleeping with full bellies. On the 6th they were seen hunting at Ele Carcass Loop. On the 9thg they were again seen hunting in the same vicinity. We were having sundowners when they ran past. They took no notice of us and proceeded to disturb a female impala and gave chase. They missed it, but the guests were all stoked by the sighting. On the 24th whist transferring guests to the airstrip we found this pack sleeping in the mopane near camp. The next morning we bumped into them again, whilst on a walk in the BDF area. They lay down nearby us and even waited so that we could call in some of the Kings Pool guides who were on gamedrive.

On the 1st of May we were alerted of a single male cheetah resting in the shade of a Blue Bush near Kings Pool Airstrip. On the 28th Chantelle was taking new guests back to camp after picking them up and found a dead impala just in the riverine nearby Lechwe Flats. When she got out of the car to investigate a male cheetah sat up and stared at her. She returned to the car and the guests had great views of it feeding on the impala and dragging the prey into the shade nearby. The cheetah was quite alert and was constantly looking around for other predators.

We have had 3 sightings of sitatunga this month. Twice from the canoes and once from a vehicle. On the 22nd of May we were out on the canoes when I saw the ear of a female sitatunga peaking out from the papyrus beds. We approached carefully and she then came out into the open giving us great views and even allowing some of the guests to get photos of her. She was extremely relaxed and then slowly made her way into the papyrus beds. We were all very excited at the views she had given us.

On the 28th of May Chantelle was on her way to go and pick up guests at the airstrip when she managed to see roan antelope halfway between KPL and LTC. It was very skittish and ran away as soon as it saw the vehicle.

No sable were seen this month.

The general game is great and we are seeing impala, kudu, baboons and giraffe every drive. There are also a fair number of zebras around and a group of +/- 20 wildebeest have also arrived. One of these wildebeest has a radio telemetry collar around its neck. On the 22nd we had great views of a couple of giraffes mating near camp. On the 24th of April, on a night drive, we came across an African wild cat who was spitting and snarling at something in the grass. After the cat left we went in to investigate and found a python of approximately 1 and a half meters.

The migrant birds have now left us and we saw our last Paradise flycatcher at the end of April. Gymnogene sightings have been great.

On the 5th of May we were all having tea at the main area when we heard a thud in the grass nearby. There, in the grass we saw a large chameleon fighting with a male boomslang. They had obviously fallen out of the leadwood by the main area. The fight continued for almost an hour, coming right up to the fire-place. We then left them and went on drive. I was told by Meshak that the fight continued almost until sundown.

Peter Warrick was here at the beginning of the month and we enjoyed a long walk from LTC to KPL. It took us 5 hours and we bumped into 12 different groups of elephant and 2 groups of buffalo en route.

Jacana Camp Update, June 8 2003

Jacana Camp is located in Botswana's famed Okavango Delta. Here is the camp's latest update:

It has been another very enjoyable month in our water paradise here at Jacana Camp. We have had some stellar sightings and guests have been very happy.

Our resident elephant named Jack spent a good part of the last month on the island. At one stage he was present right in camp for 10 days straight alternatively thrilling and scaring guests. Occasionally we will have other large bull elephant's visit us and we have to be careful to determine whether it is Jack or not. Jack is generally very placid so we have to be a bit more careful if it is another elephant.

Pel's fishing owl sightings were on an absolute high nearing the end of the month, with sightings every day (sometimes twice). We have also had regular sitatunga antelope sightings, from both boat and mekoro. When guests have been more interested in the bigger game, the Kwetsani flood plains have been very productive with regard to lion and general game sightings. The birding on surrounding islands has been fantastic as usual.

A highlight of many a guests stay has been our traditional dinners, staff village tours and bush brunches. The staff village tours take guests through the many traditions that are still carried out today by our staff who mainly come from villages in the surrounding areas of the Delta. We follow this up with a meal consisting of all the traditional foods, eaten with hands while sitting on cushions on the ground around the camp fire. This is then followed by singing and dancing with the staff. The bush brunches take place in the heart of a nearby small island only accessible by water, under the shade of a large sycamore fig tree. We have plans to also do dinners on this island next month.

The guests have all enjoyed themselves immensely this month, and we have really enjoyed the fact that they have all embraced the water aspect of the camp. There are many activities that take place at Jacana Camp that are just not possible in many other places. The main two are mekoro rides across the vast and open flooded plains, sometimes to relax and other times to search for birds, sitatunga or Pel's fishing owl as well as all the general game of the Okavango. Another very popular activity is to mekoro to a large island in the area and take a walk amongst red lechwe, zebra (that are trapped on these islands for the season by the rising floods), baboons, vervet monkeys and elephant to name a few.

We expect that the boating season will end rather early this year due to the low floods. Currently there is plenty of water for all activities but we expect that use of the motor boats will become more difficult as time goes on. Fortunately mekoros are a good backup in the time between boating and driving.


Robin Pope's Weekly Zambia Update, June 1 2003

Robin and Jo Pope run several very successful safari camps in Zambia. Here is their weekly update:

It was an exciting week. Guests saw an aardvark and an Albino Fly Catcher was spotted on more than one occasion in and around the camp at Nkwali. There has been some debate as to its type but we seem to have settled on a Blue grey. An even more amazing sight was that of two greater flamingoes who have settled on the banks of the river opposite Nkwali Bar. I was quite excited to see them as I had not seen any before but did not realize the magnitude of the event. Apparently we do not have flamingoes in this part of the world and they are therefore "lost". The last time any were seen in the area was about 15 years ago. They have now been with us for about 5 days and we hope they will stay at little longer. They really are the most graceful birds and a pleasure to sit and watch.

Breakfast time has been a wonderful time for cats of late. At Nkwali guests were treated to 5 lions, lying around on the bank just down from camp and stayed for several hours. At Nsefu Ed heard baboons making a racket on the first morning with guests in camp and suggested that they pop to the termite mound by the bar for a look see. Low and behold a leopard walked out onto the "beach" just in front of them. A great start to their season. It is good to have Nsefu open and welcoming guests again. Tena Tena will also open in the next few days and Daudi, Ross and Aniek are now putting the final touches in place and the camp is looking great - or so I am told. I am hoping to go up next weekend to see my old place and will let you know how it looks. Shanie and Jo have been working hard with the refurbishment of the tents and bar and by all accounts it is going to be fabulous.

Simon took 2 guests up to the Bangweulu Swamps this week. A short trip for just one night but they had a super time. The sight of thousands of antelope is something that will always stay with them with lots of black lechwe and tsessebe. The main event was of course the shoebill and they had a very close sighting so they were very lucky and pleased on their return. Simon also reported three new birds for him, being the greenheaded sunbird, blackbacked barbet and the longtoed plover.

Stay well and have a great week - Cheers Kim


Sossusvlei Wilderness Camp Report, May 25 2003

Sossusvlei Wilderness Camp is located in Namibia's Namib Desert. Here is the camp's March and April report:

March has been a month of clear days and extreme temperatures. Throughout the month, temperatures have ranged upwards from 30C. We also experienced a brief rain shower early in the month. This was nowhere near enough but was highly appreciated. We thought this was the end of our rainy season and caused a bit of concern. Then April came, bringing with it a belated rainy "season". Just before the rain, hundreds of white butterflies filled the air pollinating the surrounding shrubs. The blue skies were then replaced with dark, drape like, clouds. The clouds opened with rain causing a fruity / herbaceous scent to linger in the air. This continued for 4-5 days dropping the temperatures to an average of 20C. The rain did not affect any activities and helped in creating the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets.

The day our guests arrive we introduce them to the area by guiding them through the property until a sundowner viewpoint is reached. During this time the guides explain the adapted fauna and flora of the desert. The guests then enjoy a drink of their choice, watching the sunset over the dunes. On there return they have the chance to see some of the nocturnal carnivores. The sightings we have had on several occasions are mainly cape fox, Bat-eared fox, Black-backed Jackal and less common the spotted hyena and aardwolf. The spotted eagle owl is also sighted frequently.

The next day is an early start. We are now waking the guests a 4:00 AM to see the spectacular dunes. This is a full days activity which includes walking, climbing of dunes - Big Daddy is still a challenge for the fit, great photographic opportunities and a lovely picnic brunch is enjoyed in the shade of an Acacia tree. After the brunch the guests have the choice to include Sesriem canyon.

Sossusvlei is known to be one of the best areas for stargazing. We are making very good use of our telescope and are exploring the heavens with our guests. This is always a great way for our guests to spend their last night in the camp.

If our guests are staying for 3 nights we include Naukluft Mountains hiking trail which is fantastic for bird watching. Kudu and Hartmann's Mountain Zebra are also frequently seen while on the trails.

Tom Mangelson, who is a world famous photographer, visited the dunes. He had the opportunity to watch a springbok giving birth to her fowl. Another sighting, which needs to be mentioned, is that some of our guest were enjoying a balloon flight with Eric and saw a cheetah in the riverbed. Everyday is a wonderful but these were special sightings.

Skeleton Coast April Update, May 25 2003

Skeleton Coast Camp is located on Namibia's remote Skeleton Coast. Here is the camp's April update:

What can I say, there is never a dull moment at the Skeleton Coast. We had a fantastic month with a lot of excitement and fun. It is just so special and incredible just being here.

It feels sometimes like we have 4 seasons in one day. We have hot days and also very cold days. At the beginning of the month we had a few raindrops. Most probably about 2mm of rainfall and that was our total annual rainfall so far for this year. The Hoarausib River came down in flood again as they had big rains inland. Luckily no trucks got stuck or washed away. I remember Dave asked me to call him the morning before the Jack Hanna Film crew came in to let him know what the weather was like. I said to him that morning that the weather looks good, it is a wonderful morning with a couple of clouds inland, but here at the camp it looks good. Just as the whole group arrived that afternoon, it started to rain. And that whole afternoon was raining. Luckily the guest were very happy and did not complain at all. After the 100+ raindrops, we had hot days again. The last couple of days of the month were fairly cool and actually chilly in the evenings and mornings.

In terms of safari experience the Skeleton Coast was rated as the #1 place by all the guests we had in April. Partially it is because we keep them busy the whole time. We take them through this magnificent desert and all the landscapes that this area offers. We still do the Himba people, and Douw and Chris started to do the full day trip, driving over the mountains to the river to search for desert elephants. Our desert friends are being seen again after they must have moved off into the interior. Chris Bakkes saw 6 elephants and Douw saw 9 elephants. The area inland is looking just so amazing. It is green after the rain and there are so many springbok, oryx and ostriches. The game is plentiful on that side.

The Cape Frio trip was still a highlight of the safari and all the guests came back with so many stories about the seals. It is a long day for everyone, but definitely rewarding. Then there was the famous "Garden Route", the Clay castles and the Highway to Hell drive at the Hoaruasib Mouth. Fresh Lion tracks are still found at the Poort and Mouth of the Hoarausib River. These lions are still in the vicinity. All of the activities were very pleasant and the guides and the guests enjoyed each moment of it. The sunsets, sunrises and fog made each trip so unique and unforgettable. We had a few walks with guest around the camp and in the Khumib River as well as at the Clay Castles. Some of the Lithops (those flowering "stones") came out in flower and it was very beautiful to see the small flowers with different colors.

The Jack Hanna Film crew was fantastic. All of them began their safari with a lot of fun and had ended it with a lot of fun. We had a surprise lunch for them on the beach and that day was so perfect. There was no wind, no fog, only sunshine, pleasant water and a beautiful day on the beach. The sea had looked very attractive that specific day and we had a good swim.

Robin Pope's Weekly Zambia Update, May 25 2003

Robin and Jo Pope run several very successful safari camps in Zambia. Here is their weekly update:

Robin has returned from his safari of the year to the Bangweulu Swamps full of excitement and stories which we all heard around the bar at sunset. A group of four travelers had stayed with us at Nkwali for 5 nights before flying off - a 50 minute scenic flight over the valley, up the escarpment and across the plateau to the swamps. This is a huge low-lying basin containing rivers, swamps and further north, a lake. It is remote, wild and very undeveloped. The locals hunt and fish as they have for generations. The "pull" is an extraordinary amount of birdlife including the extremely rare shoebill stork and tens of thousands of black lechwe, endemic to the area. So Robin and his group were in for a treat. The water level was only 400 meters from the edge of the grass airstrip - which is high. Last year, when I went in late June, it was a few kilometers away.

The main concentration of birds was along the edge where they were feeding - and there were thousands. Robin ticked a "lifer" - the spur winged plover (twitcher speak). A morning of poling through the thick reeds produced two of the elusive shoebill. Wading and stalking, they all managed to get close and take photos. No one returned with leeches! The game drive, that afternoon, was exceptional. Apart from the curtains of black lechwe, 200 tsessebe and many jackal were spotted. And amongst all this game were the majestic wattle cranes. Returning to camp, poling after sunset, the full moon lit their way through the pools. The local fisherman were always around, poling their dugouts, throwing nets, chatting and singing long into the night. "Magical" says Robin.

After 2 nights at Shoebill Camp, there was a short flight to Shiwa N'gandu, The Africa House, where Charlie and Joanna Harvey now reside. I have talked about this extraordinary place before, but for those of you who do not know, it is a huge English style estate house, complete with terraced lawns, a chapel, turrets, family silver and "drawing rooms". Built in the early 1920's by Sir Stuart Gore Brown and recently renovated by grandson Charlie this is quite the most unexpected experience in the middle of Central Africa.

Robin said they had an "amazing" and varied time. From the hill they walked up they could see the Luangwa watershed far off to the east - an incredible view. A visit to the Kapisha Hot Springs - lying in the warm mineral water in the forest, birding, walking and wonderful slanting light as they drove back through the miombo woodland. A yellow throated leaflove - a WHAT?? - was another lifer for Robin (we're twitching again!).

Joanna had previously found some notes on a furnace that had been used to make all the tiles for the massive roof - and we are talking many tiles here. Following the notes they have managed to find the old tile furnace built into the side of a river bank. The excavations were fascinating. The final night and 50 locals gathered on the manicured terraced lawn. A lion, who had been terrorizing the people and killing cattle and goats over the last few months had been finally been shot by Charlie a few days before Robin arrived. The lion was thought to have been a stray from the Luangwa.

The group re-enacted the killing of the lion, with someone under a blanket and others "beating" it to death with sticks. This "wake" was necessary to release the lion's spirit. The lion had been buried under a large spreading tree, along side a number of other lion graves from over the years. The lion had to be facing east "to placate the lion spirit", the tail was in the mouth "so it could not kill again" and the grave was trampled so "it could not be reborn". The lions were all thought to be previous chiefs returning!

So my husband returned, with a handful of beautiful Protea flowers for me (what a sweetie), and having had a fabulous time.

Back at the ranch another week of great wildlife viewing, wonderful morning breakfasts around the camp fire and fun had by all. I have to quickly mention the morning when the Simon's attention was drawn to across the river by baboons barking and through the scope he could see the pack of wild dog running in all directions. Never before have the "crew" scrambled so fast. Everyone quickly boated across the river to the vehicles and drove off the see the dogs. Not to be - the dogs were long gone!

An here is an update on Robin's house - golden grass to thatch the roof is arriving by the truck loads - all the way from Chipata. The local grass is too thick for "porcupine" thatching. The bundles, around 15 cm in diameter, are counted by hand. This week 10,690 arrived! Yona, from the office, spent 2 days sitting on a pile of sand, with a clip board on his lap marking down every 5 bundles as the workers piled them up. They have to be stored off the ground so the termites do not chew them! The "House with Five Roofs", as it has become known locally, is now half thatched and has started to look like it will be a house. With walls only - it is certainly just a building site. Willy-the-builder is now starting to plaster the walls and Francino-the-plumber (pronouncing the "b") has put pipes into the bathrooms. The mechanics at the workshop had a laugh as I tested out the re-enameled old fashioned metal baths that had arrived from Lusaka - stepping into them fully clothed of course. Then I had to ask Simon to join me to see which one should go into the honeymoon suite. All at 6:45 in the morning! Have a wonderful week, Cheers, Jo Pope…


Matusadona Water Wilderness Update, May 18 2003

Matusadona Water Wilderness is a floating safari camp on the shores of Lake Kariba, within Matusadona National Park, in Zimbabwe. Here is the camp's April update:

We are now in winter. The maximum temperature being 30 degrees and the minimum 23 degrees. The lake is rising and islands are starting to disappear.

Walking and tracking in Matusadona has been exciting. Within the immediate area around camp there are three rhinos - Shungu, Mvura and Boma. The two Mvura and Boma were released into the wild about three months ago. They are not very shy and guests can often get very close to them. Their middens are scattered all over the country side.

Over and above these three rhino guests this month have had five sightings of other wild black rhino - seeing a mother and her infant on two occasions and seeing the three bulls at different times. One day going out for a walk we a came across some fresh three toed beast tracks. It was about half an hour when we heard the black rhino munching away in the thick jesse bushes. We found a comfortable place down wind of the animal and just sat there for awhile observing the rhino and taking pictures of him. During that time we had a herd of kudu come in and on seeing us they gave us a wide berth, fortunately without any interruption from the rhino. Then young boisterous elephant bulls pulled in and after screaming and performing disappeared into the thicket noisily. Again, much to our advantage the rhino was unperturbed.

Elephants are around all the time, some with some brilliant looking tusks.

On two separate occasions now, whilst appreciating the break of the dawn, as the sun rose over the mountains, the early morning chirp of pied wagtails and squawking Egyptian geese has been drowned by the desperate snorts from the impala from across the bay. Anxiously looking through our binoculars from camp, searching at every patch of the grass and under every bush, we spotted lion stealthily stalking impala. With their heads all glaring on one direction it was easier to spot the well camouflaged predator. My thought is that this is the same lion that has joined the choruses that have become the night music almost in sync with the hyenas and leopard in the distance. Sitting at the mothership, steaming cup of coffee in hand, watching the sun rise on one side and then seeing the lioness making for her prey on the other has convinced me that there is no better way to start the day.

Guests have been enjoying views of mud bathing, swimming elephant bulls, not to mention the scattered herds of impala, and warthogs on bent knees from their floating cabins.

On the birding side all the migratory birds have moved away. Our resident fish eagles have been seen catching fish close to the mothership on many occasions.

Xigera Camp April Update, May 18 2003

Xigera Camp is located in Botswana's Okavango Delta. Here is the camp's April update:

As always, things are great out here in the bush. The bulk supply trucks have been and gone and we are all stocked up with fuel, gas etc for the next few months - our fitness levels also got a bit of a boost getting all the goods into camp.

Winter has closed in on us with it's chilly mornings, shorter days and it's Scorpio dominated night skies. The days however are still nice and warm with temperatures averaging around 31'C. The long awaited floods eventually reached us on the 15th of April. We had a marker up against the side of the entrance bridge, and the guests kept an enthusiastic eye on it to see the rising levels. The water level has been constant for the last 11 days now, and the water is rapidly becoming clearer.

We have had quite an array of guests in camp, mostly Swiss, German, French, Italian and American. A few South Africans and Mexicans. One Mexican gentleman in particular, (by the name of Carlos), will be remembered for some years to come. He made sure the guests learnt all the different ways in which to consume Tequila, and the morning after he was just as happy to prepare and share a few of his weird hangover concoctions.

Talking about activities, we've had really had a good month of sightings. Amongst the most memorable would definitely be our 3 cheetah sightings. The first was a female on an impala kill, which later got stolen by the lions. The same cheetah was found the next morning on another impala kill. This time she was lucky enough to eat her fill before she moved on. The third cheetah, a big male who just graced us with his presence for a day.

We have had lions on a dead hippo for a day, but they decided to move on when things got too smelly! Of course, the hyenas were just too happy to take over. These lions, and many others were also seen on numerous other occasions during the month. It has been a lion month of note.

Our leopard sightings have been just as good, and we are happy to say that we have found another relaxed male which have brought many of our guest's great viewing pleasure. A leopard was also spotted from a mekoro, which is amazing. Elephants have been plentiful, as per usual and we have also recorded quite a few buffalo sightings for the month.

All in all, guests have been very happy, due to a combination of good food, hospitality, good guides and great sightings. Feedback in our visitors book says it all. Georgina Sack from France: "Many thanks to the team. An unforgettable stay!"

Sandra Pierce, Toronto Canada: "A dream come true, we walk away with memories that will last a lifetime.

Sonia Berry,London,UK: "You all make this a wonderful experience, great for relaxation, an escape from the rest of the world. Fabulous!"

Natalie Fitz-Gerald from Santa Fe', came up with this one: X-celent I-nteresting G-reat E-ternal Memory R-epeatable A-mazing

It would be impossible to quote all the other good comments from satisfied guests. So we can say that it has been a great month, and that we are looking forward to the next.

Jao Camp Update, May 18 2003

Jao Camp is a platinum level property located in Botswana's Okavango Delta. Here is the camp's latest update:

A great month has passed us here at Jao with a lot of exciting experiences happening all around us everyday. We have been yet again witnessing the forever changing Delta and the highlight this month was the yearly floods arriving. A bit early this time but still a sight that makes anyone humble at the immense power and beauty of this ecosystem (with the temperature making it even more of a phenomenon). There was a minimum average of 19, and an average maximum of 34. With all of this water, still 6mm of rain fell throughout the month.

As I mentioned, the water came early and pushed strongly for just under two weeks, and now has slowed to a trickle. There may be more arriving in the future as we hear that the water coming in at the top of the Delta has increased in volume again.

On the food and beverage side there have been some very successful occasions. Many private dinners and the like have taken place. Also we have found a new location where we can have the most awesome bush dinners, while the floods are in. The venue is fantastic and the location I will keep a secret, so that you and others can experience the surprise when you come and visit us.

There has been some great night time drumming sessions happening here, where the guests and all of the staff join together and practice the African way of drumming. This normally turns into huge fits of laughter, as the guests take over to beat the rhythm.......the rest for you to see when you are here next.

As usual there have been a lot of folks that have taken full advantage of the option of sleeping in, having breakfast and champagne on their balconies and watching the world go by through papyrus and palm.

Frank was heading his team of guides for this month and we thank them for being able to show, share and educate so many folks that have come through our area. To be noted was the movement of game, such as the antelopes. They have moved from the Jao game drive area down to the south, away from the flood water. Like any other flood season there is a very high population of red lechwe on the Jao and Kwetsani flood plains.

Due to the high water levels, it is difficult to follow the lion movements however and we have had a fewer sightings this month. There are more elephants around the area, especially on the Jao Island. The birdlife has, as usual, been very good. There have been awesome sightings of up to 1,500 wattle cranes.

There have been two herds of buffaloes sighted regularly. One herd is about 1,000 and the other of about 300 buffalo. Also there have been many requests for boating and we are able to explore most of the area to the east. However the area to the west is at the present limited, due to the low level of the water there. This should change next month.

I am sure that the Delta will show us more of her magic in the following days and entertain all of the wonderful people that come and share our home with us.

Duba Plains Tented Camp Report, May 18 2003

Duba Plains Tented Camp is located in Botswana'a Okavango Delta and is noted as having the highest density of lion in Africa. Here is the camp's April update:

During April the minimum average temperature was 19°C and the maximum was 33°C. There was no rain. Instead we had wonderful blue skies welcoming us into the coming winter season. The floodwater arrived towards the end of March, but really pushed in over the last two weeks. We are now cut off from the Paradise area until about September. No worries though, as most of the resident animals from that area have shifted further south to the drier areas, over which we can traverse on our game drives. The most noticeable of these being the Skimmer Pride and the two new male lions. With the onset of winter, the long grass is dropping and the elephants are returning in large numbers. The buffalo calving has peaked over the last month, much to the delight of our well-fed and content lions. Seven zebra surprised us with a 24-hour visit before realizing the floodwaters were rising and it was time to head for higher ground. Other special sightings included serval, bat-eared foxes, aardwolf, a leopard and a couple of pythons.

The hyena clan continues to do exceptionally well, with seven pups currently at the den. All the pups are very relaxed in the presence of game drive vehicles and take great pleasure investigating the tires and anything else that may be worth chewing on. Luckily they lose this curiosity before they are big enough to cause any damage. The highlight of our hyaena viewing had to be watching them get the better of a three-year-old Skimmer male at a buffalo carcass. The bull buffalo was killed at night during the full moon and shared between three Skimmer males and fourteen members of the Tsaro pride. The scene was surprisingly peaceful until the hyenas arrived, managing to isolate one of the young male lions and then move in for the attack. About fifteen hyenas encircled the lion, all rushing in at once & biting him on his back. No serious damage was done, other than to the lion's ego as he slunk away with his tail between his legs. The noise created by the hyenas was incredible, happily recorded by guests on their video camcorders.

April must rank as one of the best lion viewing months Duba has experienced. Not in terms of the numbers seen, but rather in the awesome quality of the sightings witnessed. The lions were recorded on everyday of the month, averaging 16 lions per day and 73 different pride sightings during the month. In total 42 lions were located, with only the Old Vumbura pride (7) being absent. This is expected at this time of the year as the Old Vumbura pride relocates to the drier areas further north. The main reason for the incredible viewing was the regrouping of the Tsaro pride, bringing with them a two-month-old male cub. The last few months had seen the Tsaro pride disband into smaller subgroups, proving more elusive and not needing to prey on the buffalo herd to the same degree that they used to. Many successful kills were witnessed, including 24 buffalo, 1 lechwe, 1 baboon and 3 warthog. All were carried out by the Tsaro pride, bar the baboon, 1 warthog and perhaps 3 buffalo. All except one buffalo were daytime kills. The Tsaro pride tactics at this time of year are to stampede the herd and separate out any injured, sick or young animals. With the floodwater rising, the shallow channels offered perfect obstacles for the lions to take advantage of the calving buffalo herd. Unfortunately this resulted in many calves being caught, sometimes along with the females coming back to protect their young. One sighting saw the buffalo get the upper hand as a new born calf struggled to its feet for the first time, only to have two lionesses zero in on it. The mother and calf were left at the back of the herd and appeared to be a sure thing for the ever-present lions. Courageously, a lone bull buffalo returned upon hearing the bellow of the calf's mother. Between the mother and bull, they successful managed to escort the calf back to the safety of the herd. "A very happy and satisfactory ending to what could have been a very sad termination of a new and innocent life", so commented some very relieved guests.

The Pantry pride has moved back into the camp island, resulting in more regular sightings. The pride seems to be fairing a lot better, often seen with full bellies. The cubs are now 18 months old, remaining very playful, often enticing the adult females into a hilarious game of chasing each other all over the place. From what we witnessed, they sure need all the practice they can get before they take on any buffalo. The best Pantry pride sighting involved the entire pride setting off after two buffalo bulls at sunset. Just as the buffalo reached the water in front of camp, one of the lionesses managed to leap onto the buffalos back. This slowed the buffalo down sufficiently for the rest of the pride to jump aboard and force the buffalo down. Quite amazing to watch the fearless cubs taking part in the hunt. As we enjoyed our sunset drinks watching the lions feed, the Duba Boys decided to enter the fray. This they did very peacefully, no doubt due to the immense respect shown by the lionesses as they nuzzled up to rub head to head with the two Boys. Dinner at camp that night was regularly interrupted by the snarls and growls that erupted as the buffalo was reduced to skin and bones.

The Duba Boys continue to preside over the Pantry and Tsaro pride, but never venture back into the domain of the New Males. Although the Duba Boys still appear to be in great shape, they are facing more and more resistance form the five young Tsaro Males and four Skimmer Males. No longer do these younger males give way to the Duba Boys, but rather they stand their ground with much vocalization and aggression. The four Skimmer Males are now completely separated from their natal pride and have become nomads. We thought one of the older Skimmer males had been killed, but then he appeared again on the last day of the month sporting a few fresh battle scars. The remaining three males shared several kills with the Tsaro pride and were regularly seen exploring parts of their territory. Although some aggression was seen between the various males, they were surprisingly tolerant of each other. Only time will tell how they sort themselves, but one thing seems certain and that is the presence of the two New Males first located in October 2002. These two beautiful specimens have successfully laid claim to the Skimmer pride, with some mating being recorded. One incident saw the dark maned male fight off the Skimmer Males from a fresh buffalo kill. He strode around for sometime with his awesome mane and chest puffed out. The Skimmer males cleared the area and were found many miles away by morning.

Lastly, the Skimmer pride is moving back south to their usual winter haunts and bringing their new males with them. With the floodwaters rising and dry hunting areas becoming highly sort after, we will no doubt witness some fascinating encounters in the months to come. Hopefully the Skimmer lionesses will produce some cubs and perhaps the Tsaro lionesses will begin mating again. Fascinating times lie ahead and we all look forward to welcoming our many guests to share in these experiences.


Chikwenya Camp Monthly Report, May 11 2003

Chikwenya Camp is located on the border of Zimbabwe's Mana Pools National Park. Here is the camp's April report:

There has been no rain at all this month and already the temperatures have started dropping. The acacia albidas are preparing for the winter - all are in full leaf and in various stages of flowering. Some of the albidas in Mana are even in fruit already, very early in the season. The rest of the bush is still quite green, with only the beginnings of drying off of some of the smaller seasonal plants. The various seasonal pans are still holding water and harboring small populations of water life - the most noticeable of which being a flock of Garganeys - a rare migrant waterfowl! Other noticeable birds for the month are purple-banded sunbird, Pel's fishing owl, osprey, arrow-marked babblers feeding a striped cuckoo chick they had reared and a Gabar goshawk in a remarkable aerial dive to catch a speedy chameleon.

We found tracks of a lioness with a cub, through the camp, which confirmed last month's suspicions that Elolaka had had young. However, from the 22nd to the 25th we found her mating with one of the males. Judging from the size of the tracks of the cub we would estimate that it was around two months old, so probably too early for Elolaka to be ovulating again if it was still around. We can only assume that the cub must have been killed. While she was being courted at the far end of the concession, the young lioness was being courted by the older male, right in front of camp - a couple of nights where sleep was frequently punctuated by the growling, scuffling and roaring of the amorous couple. So maybe in five or six month's time we will have two lots of youngsters entertaining the guests and staff of Chikwenya.

'Chikwenya', the grand dame of Chikwenya's elephants, passed by the camp a couple of days ago with her herd. This seldom-seen matriarch has one tusk - the left one, and what a tusk - straight as an arrow and reaching the ground. Another female in her herd also has only one tusk, the right one and about half the length. One other female in the herd has no tusks at all - not unusual in this part of the world. We followed the herd for about an hour on foot, being very careful not to be seen or smelt. They contemplated the river for about half an hour, then, stimulated by a teenager who could not resist the cool Zambezi water any longer, all climbed in and swam across to a sandbar. They then crossed a couple of small channels to Chikwenya Island, where they normally spend a lot of time. The tusk-less female was even more hesitant, but not far behind, with her small calf and another sub-adult female. They kept the calf tightly sandwiched between them and for good reason. We watched a large crocodile move rapidly in, the herd oblivious to its presence. The crocodile had its face swatted a couple of times by the continuous flicking of the elephants tails and at one point had its snout up on the rump of one elephant. When the group started climbing into shallower water the crocodile backed off.

A couple of extracts from our visitor's book :

"Lion, leopards, cobras, genets, & much, much more! Caring staff & delicious food ~ heavenly. Many thanks to everyone." Hugh and Wendy - USA.

"Outstanding weekend - thanks to the wonderful management and staff. We'll be back!" Lawry and Carol - Harare.

"Sitting here enjoying a most stunning view while being thoroughly looked after! I have been on a number of safaris & can honestly say that the past few days here at Chikwenya rate the highest!" Jason - USA.

That's all for April

Ongava Tented Camp Monthly Report, May 11 2003

Ongava Tented Camp is located on the boundary of Namibia's famed Etosha National Park. Here is the camp's April update:

This has been a very strange month for Namibia. We have already experienced all four seasons during the last month. The beginning of the month there was some rain that lasted for about 5 days. The temperature is getting cooler at night. The last few days it dropped to 13 Celsius although at midday it was well into the 30s Celsius.

During the last couple of weeks there have been few ele sigthings due to the rain. We expect the eles to be back shortly though.

Lion sightings have been really good. It looks like the lions at Ongava are busy forming a pride of 10 lions. There is Stompie and her three baby's of about 4 months old then there is a collared female and her three big cubs of about 1 year old and also the Two Blond Brothers as we call them. In the western part of the reserve there are the three brothers without any manes. During the beginning of the month they killed an oryx and 5 spotted hyena's tied to take the kill. Luckily there were two game drive vehicles on the spot who witnessed the whole incident. What a sighting! Another very interesting sighting was watching three black backed jackals killing a springbok inside the park.

The white rhino sightings at Ongava are a highlight with 98% of guests seeing them. On the morning drives We also had a few black rhino sightings in Etosha and in the reserve.

The night drives have been good with lots of interesting sightings - a few pearl spotted owls and then smaller animals like the bushbaby's and African wild cats and some small spotted genets.


Getting Intimate with the Okavango, May 4 2003

Richard Field recently visited Botswana's famed Okavango Delta and wrote the following:

Intimacy - It is what most people search for in life, but few people find. I have lived and worked in and around the Okavango Delta in Botswana for over 5 years, but it was only just the other day, that we finally became intimate. How? I went on a three-day mokoro trail in the heart of the Okavango………

It is 2pm on an April afternoon and I'm sitting in a mokoro in Botswana's Okavango Delta. The sun is hitting us directly, as well as reflecting off the water. It is hot. Ahead of us, we can see hundred's of pelican's and Marabou storks lined up on a sandbank at the end of Xigera Lagoon. There are also red lechwe grazing peacefully on the bank to our north. Aside from the heat, it is a very peaceful scene. The serenity is accentuated by the fact that we are moving silently. With a BaYei paddler in the back of the mokoro, there is almost no sound as we move through the open water.

As we move closer to the pelicans, we understand why they are here in such numbers on today of all days. The annual flood of the Okavango Delta has just hit Xigera Lagoon, where we are camping for the next couple of days. Perfect timing. Xigera Lagoon is a huge expanse of fairly shallow water, and before the new floodwaters arrived, there were numerous sandbanks that had emerged. As these sandbanks had been covered with shallow water, the pelicans and marabou storks were lined up along them and were picking off fish as they arrived with the water. They were essentially making their own fish trap. When we continue our approach, the pelicans begin to take off. There must have been over 400 White and Pink-Backed Pelicans that took to the air. Added to this were several hundred Marabou Storks that had come to feast on the incoming fish, and hundreds of African Skimmers that were flying in long circles above our heads. The skimmers had been nesting on the exposed sandbanks until the water arrived, but were now also making the most of the glut of food. Also in smaller numbers were Yellow-billed Storks, Saddle-billed Storks, Wattled Cranes, Fish Eagles, Greenshanks, Grey Herons, Goliath Herons, Squacco Herons, Rufous-bellied Herons, Slaty Egrets, Little Egrets, Malachite Kingfishers, Pied Kingfishers, Long-toed Plovers and a host more. It was an absolute festival of birds topped off by a sighting of a pair of Caspian Terns. We knew that this was a special sight when our BaYei guides, Ishmael and William, who had been born and raised in the area, admitted that they had never seen them before. Yet their shear size rendered them unmistakable.

As we checked our bird books to confirm the sighting of the Caspian Terns, we nearly fell out of our mekoro (the plural of mokoro) by a noise that sounded like a huge clap of thunder moving across water. We looked back to see the herd of red lechwe, that had previously been grazing peacefully, charging across the open expanse of water. Clearly unimpressed with us, but in doubt as to whether to carry on crossing the lagoon, the lechwe stopped midway. They seemed to be evaluating the relative risks. Us behind them or the unknown in front of them. They decided to take a chance on the latter and carried on their explosive mission across the lagoon.

With the spectacle of the birds and the lechwe behind us, my traveling companion (an American travel writer named Jeff) and I were keen to try some fishing. Ishmael found us a quiet spot on the main channel of the Boro River and proved that he had chosen the spot well by pulling in a huge tiger fish with his first cast. However, the next half-hour was spent casting unsuccessfully and the decision was made - collectively - to move to a new spot.

The new spot was perfect in every way - except for the fishing. But that didn't actually matter. We sat with fishing rod in one hand, cold beer in the other, casting into the rushing water. As we fished we watched another herd of lechwe grazing on a flood plain in front of us. A couple of bull elephants sauntered past us. All the while the sun was starting to sink slowly and the light was changing to a color that fairly closely matched our beers.

I was getting intimate.

Jeff however was itching to move. He was in the process of telling Ishmael as much when his fishing line took off. He had latched himself a tiger. It took him a full ten minutes to bring it in, and whilst we didn't have a scale with us, it must have weighed in at about 4 kilograms. We decided to fish on. A couple of bream later and a fairly quiet fishing afternoon had turned into fresh fish for dinner.

We returned to our mekoro and headed for our fly camp. The sun had just set and a full moon was rising in front of us. The only distraction was a 747 that was still catching the sun that had so recently left us. It was flying so high that we couldn't even hear it. I wondered if they knew that at that moment they were flying over one of the most pristine areas left in Africa. I wondered where they were going but didn't worry about it for long. Wherever they were going I knew where I would rather be.

This mokoro trail was something of a renaissance. Twenty years ago, a few days camping in the heart of the Okavango, and traveling purely by mokoro was standard fare for most tourists who weren't into hunting safaris. Many of Botswana's top professional guides cut their teeth doing these sorts of trips.

Hennie and Angie Rawlinson are the owners of Xigera camp. Located on the southwestern edge of Moremi Game Reserve, and right in the heart of the permanent water of the Okavango, it is perfectly situated for an amazing water experience in the Delta. Hennie was one of the Okavango's top guides in the early '80's, and was best known for his camping trips in the Delta. When he and Angie won the lease for the Xigera concession in the late 90's, they soon decided that aside from a beautiful, up-market camp, they were going to run mokoro trails as well. Hennie and Angie met at Xigera, and having spent much time being intimate in the Delta, they now wish to revive intimacy with the Delta for their guests

Ishmael Setlabosha is one of the more amazing people that resides in the Delta. He was born and raised on an island just north of Xigera lagoon and an incredible knowledge of the Okavango and its many inhabitants - both plant and animal - is now thoroughly ingrained. His knowledge is not from textbooks but from life. It is an intimate knowledge and those who have walked with him on the islands of the Okavango will not soon forget the experience.

I was fortunate enough to have this experience the next morning. We had a short mokoro ride to a large island where we began our walk. We set in behind Ishmael who was armed only with a rather fearsome looking, home-made spear, a pencil flare and a lifetime's experience in the Okavango.

He missed nothing. Any tracks and signs were analyzed and a new route was taken accordingly. For example, Ishmael found fresh tracks of an old bull buffalo heading into a dense thicket. Whilst we were relieved when Ishmael started walking in the opposite direction, such was our trust in him that we would have been right there with him had he headed straight in after the tracks. We were able to stalk to within 20 meters of a herd of grazing impala, and tracked and found a small herd of kudu browsing on the edge of the island. He chatted willingly about many of the plants that we walked past. He gave us an indication of the full medical cabinet that exists in the bush, as well plants that poisoned fish, plants that you could eat, and plants whose roots would leave your baby smelling fresher than Johnson and Johnson baby powder. We had walked for three hours, but hadn't raised a sweat. It was a botanical experience, an anthropological experience, and a cultural experience, but most of all it was an intimate experience.

On the way home, Ishmael spotted a female sitatunga - a rare and highly aquatic antelope, and one of the most prized sightings of the Okavango Delta. Once again, through the skill of Ishmael and William we were able to get close to the "tunga" before it leapt away into a thicket of papyrus.

We returned to camp around midday, had a substantial brunch and snoozed until early afternoon. We had planned an afternoon of swimming and fishing.

Swimming is the ultimate way to get intimate with the Okavango. Clearly safety is an issue, and swimming at random is not recommended as large crocodiles and hippos abound. Ishmael however, took us to his swimming pool. It was a tiny channel between two small islands of sand that would soon be entirely covered by water. The new floodwater was charging through this little channel and staying in the one spot was difficult but not impossible. The water was deep enough for us to dive without danger, but shallow enough on its extremities, for us not to have to worry about the presence of unwanted reptilian visitors. Even at the deepest point of this small channel the water was clear enough for me to count all the hairs on my big toes. Yep, all three were still in place! The temperature was wonderful. It was cool enough for us to feel immediately refreshed, yet warm enough for us to rather stay in then get out. At one stage I saw a tiny White Fronted Plover about twenty meters down stream from me. Using the fast current I drifted towards it with only my nose and eyes out of the water. I was able to float to within a meter it finally flew off. The whole experience was absolutely unbelievable. Whilst sitting in the water with it rushing over my back and shoulders I knew that I was no longer just a visitor. At that time and in that place, I was a part of the Okavango. There was genuine intimacy.

It was with reluctance that we left our swimming pool and carried on our way. We were in the mokoro's for a while, but I couldn't say how long exactly. The rest of the world may have been in turmoil, but I was in a state of total peace. I had a few interesting things happen to me on that afternoon mokoro ride.

Firstly, as we brushed a reed, a tiny green frog jumped onto my lap. He was a Long Reed Frog. A very inappropriate name as he is only about 13mm long. He stayed in my lap until much later when I relocated him onto a water lily pad.

Secondly I saw a pair of bright orange dragonflies mating. Nothing unusual about that except that they were flying in the same direction as I was, they were moving at roughly the same pace, and were about a meter from my head. They spent so long traveling right next to me, that I was able to pull out my field guide and identify them - Urothemis assignata. Despite their long and complicated name I was touched by their intimacy and I could not think of any other mode of transport that would let me spend so long with a pair of amorous insects.

Before sunset we stopped so that Jeff could fish again. There is definitely a certain Zen that you get when fishing. However I didn't need to fish - I was there already. I instead stayed seated in my mokoro and watched as a Western-Banded Snake Eagle flew overhead and perched in a nearby tree. If I hadn't been in such a state of "Okavango Zen" I probably would have fallen out of my mokoro at this wonderfully rare sight. I listened to fish eagles and swamp boubous calling. On a neighboring island a troop of vervet monkeys started chattering. From the same place came the alarm calls of a red billed francolin. I wondered what predator they saw, but marveled at the fact that the feeling that I was still part of the Delta had not left.

That night during dinner we had a large male hippo come and join us on the small island on which we were camping. We saw him coming from a long way off as the moon shone brightly off his wet back. He wandered to within 20 yards of our small camp, before sensing that something was not quite right and moving back into the shallow water. He stayed close by for most of the night, and his slow footsteps and constantly munching jaws, were strangely comforting. The only other animal that disturbed my sleep that night, was a Pel's Fishing Owl, which issued its haunting call from somewhere close by on the island. We would look for him tomorrow.

Any sighting of a Pel's Fishing Owl is special. They are unbelievably attractive birds, not common anywhere, and are highly secretive - particularly in daylight hours when they spend most of the day hiding from the unwanted attentions of their main competitor, the African Fish Eagle. Xigera however, is one of the best places to find the "Pel's". The habitat is perfect, with many good hunting sites, and many safe places to roost and nest. Consequently, it should have been no surprise that we had three separate sightings of Pel's the next morning. We had to work for the first two - mokoroing to small islands, hopping out and closely inspecting the dense woodland. The tough task was made easier by the skill of Ishmael and William, who had an amazing sense for which islands and which trees to look in. We managed to accidentally flush the final Pel's whilst in our mokoro. As he burst out from within a Mangosteen tree, he was harried and harassed by a flock of grey louries. We were as sorry to have disturbed him as we were happy to see him.

Our safari finished later that morning when a boat from Xigera Camp came to pick us up. As the boat approached it struck me that for the last two nights and three days we had been without any artificial noise. There had been no engines. No boats, no vehicles, no generators, and best of all no radios blurting out depressing reports of wars in far off places. Whilst I was not happy that I had to return to the "real" world that afternoon, I felt a strong sense of relief that with the rebirth of the mokoro trail, should I ever feel the need, I would once again be able to get intimate with the Okavango.

Star of Africa Update, May 4 2003

Star of Africa operates a small number of top end luxury safari lodges and camps in Zambia. Here is their latest update:

Greetings from a sunny Victoria Falls and Sussi and Chuma Lodge! There has been a lot of rainfall this season and the grass has now become knee high. This has caused the new 'butterfly haven" that now exists on our property. Besides the copious butterflies that are around, the game is now starting to appear, as the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park is now fully fenced and the previous game enclosures removed, making the 36 km2 national park, 15km2 larger than before. Recent sightings of elephant, buffalo, zebra and giraffe have been reported.

Under the guidance of Andrew, our operations manager, Sussi and Chuma has implemented a new menu. This exciting new menu blends together traditional African flavors of Zambia with a variety of international dishes.

At Lechwe Plains in the Lochinvar National Park there has been very little rain to date. This has resulted in the very shallow Chunga Lagoon receding 400 meters from the camp. On the travelers behalf, this is a positive thing as this has left a rich deposit of soil which has transformed into a lush green grassy plain right on the camps doorstep, this encouraging an array of animals to come and graze there. On a recent visit, 200 zebra and 2,000 lechwe were contently grazing on the plain in front of the lodge.

One can never describe the sheer numbers and varieties of birds. At dawn, one is awakened by an incredible crescendo of woodland birds, and francolin whilst, the fish eagles, crowned cranes, and herons add to the performance. On exiting your " pavilion tent" the sky is filled with open billed, yellow billed and marabou storks, often mixed with white backed and lappet faced vultures. This is a definite stop over for the avid bird watchers with over 428 species of bird found there. "

Our team is busy getting Kulefu Tented Camp ready for opening. We are delighted to advise you that we have a new couple joining our team as the Managers at Kulefu - Mark and Robin Roberts. Mark, who was formerly based at Mfuwe Lodge in South Luangwa is an exceptionally accomplished guide and his wife, Robin, will be a superb hostess.

Mark from Chichele in South Luangwa reports "Game viewing this green season has been exceptional. Sightings of the endangered wild dog are regular and the Chichele lion pride has come so close into camp that they have taken to sunbathing on our old tennis court!"

Also in South Luangwa Star of Africa have just started construction on their Puku Ridge Tented Camp - A real wilderness experience under canvas with attention to luxury and comfort and emphasis on exciting wildlife opportunities. This superb property is located on a ridge overlooking spectacular game rich floodplains." Puku Ridge Tented Camp will open on July 1, 2003.