Sept-Oct 2002

 

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UPDATES FOR WEEK ENDING SUNDAY 27TH OCTOBER 2002:

Okavango Delta Trip Report, October 27 2002

Here is a report from a guest who just spent 6 months traveling around the world and spent 4 days in Botswana's Okavango Delta! I think he sums up well what life in the camps is all about.

"Since I left you last I have had the best part of my six-month sabbatical. A crazy week in Mauritius and a simply amazing 4 day safari in Botswana. Now I am back in Johannesburg. Mauritius was the typical beach holiday - sand, sun, watersports, deep-sea fishing and general partying. Again South African hospitality shone through as I joined 9 others at a friend of a friends house. After this I flew out to Botswana for a trip that another friend had organized. After an hour flight I touched down in Maun (Botswana).

I jumped into a six-seater plane and flew into the Duba Plains in the Okavango Delta I knew I was in for a treat as the plane swung over thousands of running buffaloes, zebras, giraffes etc. We touched down on a dirt runway in the middle of nowhere having first carried out a topgun sort of flyby to clear the elephants from the runway.

As we got off the plane we met with a National Geographic crew who were just leaving having just completed a shoot for a possible documentary on the lions (if its good enough for National Geographic its good enough for me). A short Land Rover ride later I was in the camp. Absolutely unbelievable the most amazing luxury in the middle of nowhere.

The so-called tented accommodation was like a 5 star penthouse with Chippendale desks, sofa, huge double bed, inside shower, huge veranda and best of all a huge outside shower and plunge pool. As you looked out of a huge veranda overlooking a flood plain you could see every sort of animal imaginable (well within reason) crossing or drinking from the water hole, that includes lions, elephants etc.

Each morning I would shower outside and watch these animals pass by 40 meters away. On the first night I had just fallen asleep in luxury when I heard a lot of rustling going on outside. With my no fear army training (having also dealt with a shark) I crept up (commando role to be precise) to the mosquito netted window and had a look out. Nothing could prepare me for what I saw........ In front of me about a foot outside my window a bull elephant (these things are big) was bending over and looking straight at me. I stood there motionless, as did the elephant after what seemed an eternity he turned and carried on eating the vegetation above the tent. The next morning I left by the back door since my front veranda had the same elephant snoring on it. We sort of became friends as he returned every night sometimes with his family.

Although the camp could take 12 there were only 6 of us. 2 retired Germans and 2 South Africans (always good for a laugh) and an American lady. All these guys were safari addicts who had done everything possible and invested their life savings in the pursuit of safari and Kodak or Fuji (I have never seen such camera equipment more like a bazooka than a camera).

We would do two game drives a day 6AM to 10AM and 4PM to 8M since at midday the heat would be too much. I won't labor on (much anyway) but we saw everything - quantity and quality - and a lot of ACTION. We saw 48 lions and more impressively two lion kills, lion warfare, hyena kills, cheetah kills, charging hippos and elephants you name we saw it. On average the guests with me had had 200 days on safari during their life and they all agreed they had never seen anything quite like it (lucky for once it makes up for the missed Marlin in Mauritius). A quick example: We followed a lion pride from 7AM (5 lionesses and two males). We were about ten meters behind them but when they were stalking the buffalo we were right there with the action with them around us. It was absolutely breathtaking we had left flanking right flanking one decoy lioness - all brilliant army maneuvers - they went in for the kill and the first three buffalo got away. The male buffaloes formed a line protecting their females and young ones. The lions charged the line. One of the lions got speared (he went off whining) meanwhile the other male had broken the line and had got a female buffalo the others moved in (we were already there) and that was it. The next bit is pretty gross as you see the lions tear this buffalo to pieces (unbelievable teamwork) the hyenas and vultures were next to come and the lions had to defend their prey.

If you ever have the opportunity go to Botswana it is an absolutely stunning country with amazing wildlife. If not watch out for the National Geographic show on the Discovery Channel on the lions of Duba Plains.

If you ever get the chance between jobs go traveling; there are no excuses and you will be amazed how complete strangers or people you hardly know can be so kind. Anyway enough of the wise words. Ciao, Bill"

Robin Pope's Weekly Zambia Update, October 27 2002

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

A wonderful thing about this time of year (our hottest!) is the sudden reminder that the rains are not too far away! A long hot day with bright sun and little breeze can sometimes end with exciting stormy cloud build-ups. At this time of year they lead to little more than a few large drops of water and a lot of strong wind. These little bursts certainly cool things right down at night. The river is dropping dramatically now with much of it turning into bare sand and diminishing pools of water. One way to enjoy this time of year is to head over the pontoon and settle on Chichele Hill for sundowners - the sunset is bright bright red these days and watching it from altitude is breathtaking! Jo said that with all the leafless mopane woodlands this dry landscape would have made the perfect set location for the filming of Lord of the Rings (I've not seen it but I am under the assumption that this is correct). After a few drinks and before all the light had gone we came back to Nkwali...but not by conventional means! Simon had us driving towards camp from the OTHER side of the river...then suddenly he drove down the bank, onto the sand and headed directly into the river itself!! The water level is low enough to make this a very quick option of getting into (or out of) the Park! We drove past the camp, past Matthew & Sara's house on the far west side and then came out of the river bank and onto the private loop roads that we can use in the dry season for private gameviewing. An excellent way to end a Sunday afternoon!!

Gameviewing has been of the unusual kind this past week. Nkwali guests have enjoyed the sight of baby warthogs on the other side of the river..their little tails bobbing high in the air! We haven't seen baby impala yet - it shouldn't be too long now! A very interesting sight from the bar at lunchtime were two male kudu fighting across the bank. The repeated sounds of their horns knocking together got everyone's attention. And for a second time in a week Simon spotted the long tailed barred cuckoo that has located itself, for the time being, at Nkwali camp...this time it was seen in the staff housing area. Robin has missed both of these recent sightings (and he is yet to see one). I was fortunate to see this bird which is very rarely seen around here - it sat on a low branch watching us all with much interest! It certainly wasn't shy and had beautiful markings.

Tena Tena guests had a visit from a steppe eagle...a migrant to this area and great to see it back again!! And many hours later, at 4 AM to be precise, everybody woke suddenly to the roar of several lion particularly close to camp!

Nsefu punters, on their way to sundowners, came across an amazing sight - between 70 to 100 crocodile feeding on a hippo carcass in shallow water! The crocs go into a feeding frenzy when this opportunity arises by grabbing hold of the carcass with their teeth and spinning around in the water to prize the flesh away. This is followed by throwing chunks of flesh into the air before catching and swallowing the lot! Anyway, suddenly a young adult male lion strode into the water and pulled the carcass onto dry ground! It braved the crocs and only had a few of them snapping at him as he took their dinner away from them!! Not long up the track the same punters came to the scene of another hippo carcass with a pride of lion feeding on it. They looked for a while, went for sundowners and came back later to find only one female lion on one side of the hippo and one croc on the other...they were barely one meter apart from each other!

UPDATES FOR WEEK ENDING SUNDAY 20TH OCTOBER 2002:

Orient Express Botswana Update, October 20 2002

It is now summer in Botswana! Temperatures are up in anticipation of the rains. The maximum temperature at their camps was 41 degrees Celsius (at Eagle Island Camp) and the lowest was 8 degrees Celsius (at Khwai River Lodge and at Savute).

The sharp increase in temperature, accompanied by wind has seen the water levels throughout the delta decrease rapidly. This is largely attributed to an increase in the evaporation rate associated with these conditions.

At Eagle Island Camp the water dropped 15cm in three weeks and now stands at 110cm. The channel is still flowing strongly and motor boat activities are still being conducted. It is anticipated that these boat activities will continue to be conducted well into October and possibly even November. The Khwai River has also seen a marked drop in water levels over the past few weeks.

The increase in temperature has seen the vegetation in the region undergo some dramatic changes. At Eagle Island the Jackal Berry trees literally rained down their leaves only to have new ones replacing them in no time. Throughout the region numerous plants are flowering resulting are picturesque surroundings.

With the few millimeters of rainfall some new grass shoots have started to grow.

There has been a massive number of wildlife sightings throughout the camps with the dry climatic conditions largely contributing to this.

At Eagle Island Camp large buffalo herds of as many as 1,000 continue to graze the sodden floodplains lining the Boro channel. In so doing the predators are never very far away. Good sightings of lion, cheetah and leopard have been recorded as well side striped jackal. Elephant and other plains game species have also been very prominent. The resident camp bushbuck population is now up to 14 individuals, making for great sightings within the camp area.

Khwai River Lodge has been the pick of the camps with the action along the river being almost as hot as the heat itself. Predators have been nothing but exceptional as the huge variety of plains game species are forced to take a drink at the river, the only permanent source of water for miles. One particular morning drive produced "Predators a Plenty" - guests arrived back at camp ecstatic after seeing 5 different leopard, 3 cheetah and 13 lion.

Savute, despite being very dry, has produced some very dramatic sightings. The competition around the pumped water pans has been fierce. Whilst elephant almost always dominate these sources of sustenance by day other animals like lion, leopard, impala and wildebeest sneak in for a drink at night and early in the mornings. Particularly exciting has been the "Lion vs. Elephant" scenario that has been played out on no fewer than five occasions now. The lion pride at Savute numbers around 26 members and on these occasions has killed at least five elephant that we know off. Most of the victims have been young males of up to 3 or 4 years of age. It must however be said that this conflict between two great beasts results in a battle to the bitter end and can last several hours.

At Eagle Island Camp the catfish run is attracting a huge variety of water birds to the banks of the Boro channel in search of a bite to eat. Every year at around this time as water levels in the Okavango drop millions of minnows are forced into the deeper channels resulting in a feeding frenzy both above and below the waters surface. As many as thirty species of birds can be seen with ease in a 100 meter stretch of waterway. Species include pelicans, skimmers, herons, egrets, eagles, harriers, storks, stilts, snipes, cormorants and kingfishers.

The crocodile are enjoying the catfish run. As catfish form the primary food source for the crocodile, they are everywhere enjoying the feast. A few snakes have also been seen, this most likely because of the increase in temperature.

Migrant species continue to flock into the region. First to be sited were the carmine bee-eaters and yellowbilled kites and now guests are seeing paradise flycatchers. Everyone is on the look out for woodland kingfishers.

After the great disappointment last month when the wattled cranes at Khwai River Lodge had their clutch of eggs eaten by a hungry python, they are once again are all systems go as the birds have mated and laid for a second time. Members of the Botswana crane working group have set the ball in motion to try and successfully monitor the hatching of the single egg. Obviously due to the threatened status of the species great caution will be taken not to disturb the birds and egg.

Botswana Report from Beks Ndlovu, October 20 2002

Professional Zimbabwean guide Beks Ndlovu recently toured Botswana and noted the following:

When we arrived at Kasane airport, our pilot was waiting for us to board his Islander Twin engine aircraft.It didn't take very long before we were flying over the wide, open spaces of Botswana. Vast tracks of land, purely wild and uninhabited by man. We were on our way to the Linyanti area.

We landed at the Duma Tau airstrip where our driver with ice-cold refreshments met us. The temperature was at least a hundred and the air was very hazy. This time of the year there are bush fires everywhere and the combination of the smoke and the dust paints a smokey horizon that filters the harsh sun but not enough to stop the drying out of most of the surface water. The Linyanti has at this time become almost like a desert and with very little grass cover in most areas, the woodlands looked bare, as all it's trees were naked having lost all their leaves. As we approached Duma Tau camp, we could see the only greenery spread along the riverbed of the lagoon. The camp however is surrounded by African Mangosteins, which were green and flourishing full of flower. Elephants evidently love this creamy, white flower of this peculiar-shaped tree. As we arrived into the camp, we had to negotiate our way through two herds of elephant. On the front of every tent, the elephants frequently vacuumed the decking, sweeping with their trucks and gathering all the fallen flowers. If you sat still on your decking you would have the elephant feeding right by your feet. I was very fortunate and had the pleasure of three bulls visiting my tent and proceed to eat their fill. This was after giving the grove of leaves above me a good shake until my patio was carpeted with the white flowers that looked like confetti.

For our first morning we did a three hour walk, where we spent time looking at some of the smaller but fascinating things that one never takes note of from the within a vehicle. We must have spent about half an hour next to a termite mound discussing it's intricate and complex system that has been referred to as one of the most efficient forms of life that exists. We talked about tracks, droppings from different animals and even stopped to learn about how one could make rope from the bark of certain trees. We also managed to sneak close to a young elephant bull that was fast asleep on the slope of the termite mound. We could hear his heavy breathing and stomach rumbles as he snoozed, he was totally unaware of our presence, and so we kept it that way. We came across some old carcasses of hippo and buffalo that had been picked clean, by various wildlife. We only saw a hooded vulture that sat in a near by camel thorn acacia.

At noon, we opted to sit up on a platform overlooking the Linyanti lagoon. We were entertained by a troop of baboons that visited the water for an afternoon drink. As soon as they drank they would run across the sand escaping the blistering midday heat under their thick-callused feet. We watched baby crocodiles swim and sun bath on the banks, a herd of kudu, impala and a sleeping pod of hippos. That afternoon we took a drive down the famous Savuti channel which is a recent river system that has ceased to flow. This was a result of a shift in the earth from underlying tectonic movements causing the river to be diverted and change its course. This dry channel has become savannah grassland, giving rise to a wide variety of antelope, and big herds of zebra. Where there is an abundance of wildlife, the predator awaits and seizes the opportunity. It is on this stolen river, that numerous wild life documentaries have been captured, particularly that of predators. Once a pride of thirty-six lions were recorded in this area! After being told of a leopard that had killed an Impala ram, we went out in search of the shy and elusive cat. We found it resting under a rain tree, having dragged its kill about a hundred yards from where it had killed it. The cat was a youngster and would have been vulnerable to other predators out in the open plains. He took no notice of us even though we were a few meters away from him, as he was pre-occupied with grooming..

As we drove down the channel past a dried water hole we noticed some movement in a clump of tall dry grass. We went round to have a better look in the direction of the movement and waited - a male cheetah walked out. When he came out into the open, the first thing he did was have a stretch and then arch his back like a typical cat waking from his sleep. That was a good find. He was a very shy cheetah because he did not let us get any closer. Soon he moved off and disappeared into the woodland. In the mean time, there were wildebeest and warthog not too far from there. So we waited to see if anything would come of it, but to no avail. We sipped on gin and tonics, nibbling on delicious well-prepared snacks, as the daylight hours drew to an end with a magnificent sunset filtering through the dust, thrown up by a herd of dust bathing elephants. As we drove home in the semi-dark we could see the waking of another life. Under our spotlight we could see bat-eared foxes, spring hares and bush babies moving restlessly as they started their day. The nocturnal birds such as night jars and coursers suddenly appeared in the front of the headlights of our Land Rover. As we were about to drive off into the woodland we could see pairs of eyes of the same height, walking, seemingly with a purpose. We went closer, and we could not believe our luck, we had three male cheetahs right in front of us. These were apparently the dominant cheetah of the area. They were in good condition and walked so elegantly as though they were on show, long legged and tall. We followed them for a while until they got to the tree line where they stopped and with sprays of urine spread their scent all over the bushes and tree trunks. We finished our evening drive with a pair of giant eagle owls and an African wild cat. In one afternoon we had clocked three of the cats.

Our last afternoon at Duma Tau, was spent on the water on a small powerboat. We saw two herds of elephants swimming across the lagoon. We could see a cloud of dust hanging above the trees in the distance where a big herd of buffalo was walking. The late afternoon in these true wilderness areas are truly magic just before sunset. That last golden hour of sunlight falling on the earth, all the sounds are amplified, whether it is elephants trumpeting, baboons chirping as they prepare to roost, Egyptian geese hissing and squawking as they take off from the water - it is a special time of the day.

The nights are always great fun especially after dinner retiring to the campfire where so many stories of past experiences in the wild are told by guides and visitors who also tell of their travel experiences. The stories are occasionally interrupted by lions calling in the back round, the screech of a barn owl, or by the hooping call of a hyena in the campgrounds.

It was our last morning that we finally found a pride of three lionesses and five very young cubs of about six months old. They had only recently started to venture out in the open, but they were still timid. The big lionesses lay spread out under the Combretum bush getting away from the warming sun. Two of the lionesses were the mothers. When the cubs eventually relaxed, they would play with each other and walk up to the mothers and try to force the mothers to join in by biting on their tails or jumping on the head of one of them. They were full and it looked that they had eaten not so long ago. When a herd of Zebra walked by not too far, the most they would do was lift their heads up and drop them down again and drift back to sleep.

The next aircraft was a small Cessna 206, which took us to the Okavango Delta. We landed at Jao airstrip and made our way to Kwetsani Tree Camp where we stayed for the next three days. On our first afternoon, on a game drive we sat under a Marula Tree watching a leopard silhouetted against an orange-lit sky at sunset. That female leopard had been seen that morning in the area with two cubs, which it had obviously hidden in a palm grove just below the tree. The next morning we saw the tracks of the leopard with her cubs having walked down the sandy road.

Our favorite day was waking up to two big male lions walking right past the front of the camp as we had our continental breakfast. They walked past with great confidence and occasionally they would stop to look at us because they could see movement from the camp. The two boys showed a great respect for the camp especially during the day, because their natural fear for man as their predator still existed. We left that morning for Hunda Island, taking with us a picnic basket and a box of cold refreshments. We saw buffalo, lechwe, warthogs, wildebeest, herds of zebra and a number of elephants. It was interesting to see the contrast between the wetlands of the Delta in the Jao concession and the dryness of the Island within such close distance. As we drove past the back of Tubu Tree Camp, a large male leopard dashed into the grove of a palm forest. He was one of the biggest males I have ever seen, and I distinctly remember that he was a very dark chocolate color. He was very shy and obviously not accustomed to seeing any vehicles. That night we saw the two big male lions again feeding on a lechwe antelope that they had robbed from the leopard we had seen the night before.

On our last morning we experienced the peace and tranquil of the Delta from a mekoro. These fiberglass vessels styled on the concept of the traditional dug out, that the locals used as their mode of transport and fishing, move graciously through the growths of bull rush and beautiful water lilies in the marshes. We were intrigued by the skills of the polers keeping the vessel stable as they negotiated their way through water only inches deep. Because of the natural filtering system through sand and various thickly woven grass and weeds, the waters were crystal clear - so clear that it was tempting to reach out for a drink.

After brunch, we bid farewell to our hosts at Kwetsani and left for the airstrip where we took our last light aircraft to Maun, where we connected for our flight back home. As we took off we flew very low for a while taking photographs of the palm islands completely surrounded by water. The intricate details of animal paths weaving in and out of the delta, elephants on the move from island to island, herds of lechwe antelope running, sending splashes of water up in the air. It was the perfect Garden of Eden.

Robin Pope's Weekly Zambia Update, October 20 2002

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

It has been HOT but not quite like one would expect during the middle of October. It feels like September with lovely breezes, lots of sun and warm nights! A tell-tale sign of the time of year is the sudden bright flash of green that can be seen across the mopane woodlands! Much of it still resembles the Valley of the Dead but in a very short time (and before the rains commence) it will be a bright green wilderness once more. And then the rains will bring more and more green again. As you know we have had some unexpected showers recently with the result being that the wildlife has scattered a bit...thinking that the rains had come and there was water-a-plenty in far-flung areas of the Park. Within a short time they realized it was a trick played by mother nature and then back to the river they all came. And how!!

I'm told that this morning guests at Nsefu enjoyed breakfast whilst in front of them a pride of lion crossed the river. What a way to start the day and what a beautiful sighting. All of our camps have had excellent all-round game viewing lately. Nsefu continues with its great season of leopard all over the place. Guests and staff at Nsefu have been spotting baby porcupine (quite a treat) and aardvark! Jason is quite excited about the baby porcupines and is extremely chuffed about the aardvark! Not to be outdone, our last mobile walking safari for the season had two leopard sightings and an aardvark during one of the last activities on the trip!

Tena Tena have had a good run on honeybadger sightings and also eland up at the salt pan. Nkwali has had cats all over too, along with the more unusual spottings...only this morning Simon saw a long tailed barred cuckoo by the bar! This cuckoo is very uncommon around here and Simon thinks he has never seen one before - very exciting! On the cuckoo front...they are all returning at the moment to feed and breed in preparation for the rains. I always think I should start thinking about booking in for therapy treatment as the first annoying calls of the Emerald Cuckoo are heard...and yes, the all-too-familiar broken record sound of "hello Georgie" was first heard by Jo the other day. Here we go again!!

The bird sighting of the week (and quite possibly of the year) involved the African fish eagle. On the river bank not far from Nkwali a crocodile was trying to swallow a brown squeaker (a fish to the rest of us). It was too large for the croc to throw the head back and gulp down in one stroke so required a bit of mastical maneuvering first! In the meantime Zambia's national bird swooped down and sat next to the croc. The game viewers stopped to watch. The eagle decided it wanted that fish, as you can imagine, and suddenly swooped in to grab it from the croc's jaws but missed and came to rest again next to the large reptile. The croc all the while trying to get this fish into its gullet quickly!! Another try - the eagle swooped in again and succeeded! It actually prized the fish out of the croc's mouth and flew victoriously away. The croc, quite understandably peeved at losing its lunch, turned to a piece of wood and started biting into it!

The area around Nkwali has also shown evidence that the wild dogs are back WITH pups! They have been spotted lately which is great news and Simon is just itching to see them again - hopefully we shall be able to report on this soon! And finally the baby warthogs are out there and have been seen by everyone (except Jo!!!) which brings many "oooh's" and "aaaah's" from the vehicles these days!

Wendy led one of the last walking safaris of the season whose guests included Robert and Glenese from Australia. It became quickly apparent that Robert (Rob), in particular, is a very good drummer. On the first of five nights at our mobile tented camps along the Mupamadzi River, Rob asked if he could be taken 'out the back' to the kitchen/camp staff area. Issy took him out there and Wendy thought nothing more of it until the sounds of some seriously good drumming could be heard. What a great background sound under the bright stars!

On night two Rob told everyone to come to the kitchen and grab anything they could use to create some sound. Wendy used a roasting pan and a wooden spoon! I'm told this was extremely good fun indeed - very interactive and a great way to digest one's dinner before bed! Night three and just when everyone thought they been given the night off from bush music lessons out came Rob with all the camp staff and the "musical instruments" to do it all again but this time by the fire! Anything and everything was used - wine glasses (one met its end after a forceful bang from a spoon!), winterthorn seed pods, pans, bottles and sticks. The seed pods were collected during the daytime walks specifically in preparation for the nighttime outdoor concerts! Rob made a didgereedoo (if spelling is incorrect many apologies!) out of a tent pole and a copper water jug (but it didn't work that well). It was a lot of fun! Night four was a reprieve and night five was the big finale. It was, in fact, a surprise provided by the staff. They prepared it in secret and alone without any help from Rob. Wendy, Issy and guests were reclining around the fire when out came the campstaff with their own kit - buckets, containers, pots, pans and Mosi bottles with stones inside held up by sticks! They prepared face masks and became 'ladies' by wrapping table cloths around their waists!! One of our guys re-invented himself as a heavily pregnant woman with a large bottom and big stomach - they thought this was hilarious! And did they dance!!! The music instruments and natural talent resulted in some excellent dancing performed for the guests, as individuals or in small groups, then everybody was up and dancing around the fire. It was a very special night and overall certainly a safari they will never forget. A big thank you to Rob for getting everyone going! I'll never look at a Mosi bottle the same way again!!!

Tim Trench Safaris Update, October 20 2002

This winter - your summer if you are in the northern hemisphere (June - September), has been a great four months for us. We have been busy, with 9 successful safaris run, and one still to go. Between these we managed to squeeze in a couple of trips to Zanzibar (all work of course), and a fair number of mountain biking adventures closer to home. All in all a very satisfying few months!

Winter is always an extraordinary time for wildlife in Kenya, and nowhere more so than in the Masai Mara, which has had a vintage year. Fortunately all the safaris I have guided this season have included the Mara in their itinerary, and I have been lucky enough to drop in to the area every two weeks or so. I could happily stay in the Mara for the entire season, so rich is its appeal and so numerous its fascinations, but equally intriguing are the time-lapse snap shots that those of us who are lucky enough to "pop in and out" witness. Watching the season change, as the tall green savannah grasslands turn to cropped gold in the wake of the relentless tide of the wildebeest migration is awe inspiring. And to follow the fortunes of the other residents of the Masai Mara ecosystem fluctuate with the changing season offers endless fascination.

Perhaps the stars of this year's Mara visits have been the "Musiara" Lions. This Pride holds a territory at the northern end of the Masai Mara National Reserve, on the lands surrounding the Musiara Swamp. It is not a huge territory, but make no mistake, during the winter months the Musiara area is truly prime lion real estate. For as the savannah dries out and the great migratory herds seek sources of permanent water and good grazing, both Musiara and its lions are literally bursting with wildebeest. Through the heart of this territory runs a seasonal stream or "Lugga" which has become known as the "Bila Shaka Lugga", for in Swahili Bila Shaka means "without fail". Without fail the Musiara Pride, or a good representation of them, are to be found most days either resting in its erosion channels and ravines, in the ribbon of woodland that follows its winding path towards Paradise Plain, or on the open grasslands that border it on both sides.

Over the last few years the pride dynamics of the Musiara area have been somewhat complicated, with new males crossing the river to challenge for territory, the females of the pride fragmenting to start new prides, and tough times as a result of several years of poor rains leading to a scarcity of dinner options. However, with good rains earlier this year and the arrival of the great migration in impressive numbers, we were set for exciting times.

At the start of year the Musiara pride, by my reckoning anyway, consisted of two males, eight females, one sub-adult male of around two years and a couple of cubs. However, as the vanguard of the two million strong migration (around one million wildebeest, half a million zebra and another half million Grant's and Thompson's gazelles) arrived, so too did a very welcome addition to the savannas, 10 lion cubs.

The cubs were born to three mothers, all within a few weeks of each other, and all in the Bila Shaka Lugga, which became their crèche and playground. They were born at the perfect time, just as the wildebeest and zebra herds approached their peak. This meant that rather than having to forage far for their prey, their mothers were able to feed close to home, with ease, and in the prodigious amounts required to produce a plentiful supply of milk. Mortality of lion cubs can be very high, especially in lean times when competition for milk is fierce and when the mothers must leave the cubs for extended periods to forage further a field, exposing the cubs to threat from other opportunistic predators. So it was fortuitous that after a 100-day gestation these cubs were all delivered simultaneously (which is not unusual) and during a time of feast.

Lions are co-operative creatures, and as females are usually closely related they are tolerant of each other's offspring, as they share a common genetic heritage (known as "Kin Selection"). So though the mothers separated from the pride to give birth to their blind and helpless cubs, and kept them hidden for the first few weeks of their lives, the babies were soon introduced to their fascinated and doting extended family. Baby-sitting duties were volunteered by most of the females (and even the sub-adult male), and the lionesses in milk allowed cross suckling - it was merely survival of the fittest that determined which cub got the lion's share of the milk!

Cubs can develop at a variable rate, depending on conditions, and these just thrived! Whenever I found myself in the Mara, at least once during our stay we would arise in the dark to the first song of the white-browed robin chat, and as dawn crept across the sky we would wind our way down to Bila Shaka, with high hopes and a box full of coffee and breakfast. As we crossed the Musiara plains and approached the Lugga we would often spot the adults of the pride, either still feasting on last nights catch, or walking heavy bellied through the red oat grass glistening with dew, back to where the cubs had been secreted. As the parents arrived home and rubbed faces with the babysitters, the cubs would come barreling out, leaping and yipping, excited to see both the return of their mothers and their breakfast.

So we would settle down to watch, as the mothers, trailed by persistent and noisy cubs, would find a spot in the sun to lay, distended stomach in the air, and allow them to feed. Perched on the roof of the car, with coffee and a bacon sandwich, we could easily pass an hour or two watching, as the cubs fed and wrestled, explored and caused havoc amongst, and usually over the top of the tolerant resting adults until, as the sun climbed higher, both we and the pride sought into thicker shade.

So the "wildebeest season" went for the Musiara pride, and for a while they didn't seem to have a care in the world. However, as August moved into September and the migrating herds began to drift south again towards their birthing grounds in the Serengeti, a potential disaster loomed; one of the three mothers abandoned her cubs and began mating with one of the pride males. This was worrying but not inexplicable behavior, as it was representative of females whose cubs had died or been killed - such as in pride takeovers when new males kill infants that are not their offspring. In such cases the bereaved females are back in oestrus within a few days and mating with the killers of their progeny, such is the overriding desire to breed. In this case we could only assume this females behavior was caused by her confusion, as she was young and it was her first pregnancy.

The real concern was that though the two remaining mothers would happily allow the abandoned cubs to suckle, there were now only eight nipples between ten cubs. With the wildebeest receding into the distance and lean times ahead for the lions, would there be enough meat, and therefore milk for all? Happily I am pleased to report that it is now three weeks since the cubs were abandoned, and though feeding times are more noisy and competitive than ever, all the cubs seen to be in excellent condition, and none the worse for their loss. Soon they will be eating meat and out of danger, so fingers crossed they will all make it.

All through this season we have had the "BIG CAT DIARY" team filming the fortunes of the Musiara pride, as well as the other big cats in the area and their hapless prey. The series began on UK BBC television on the 5th of October, and should be on every week for the next couple of months. It should also be showing in the Americas by mid October on Discovery Channel, so why not take a look and see for your selves.

In a couple of days time I'm off on my last safari of the season, to Botswana, Zambia and South Africa, which will be a very exciting change. After that Caroline and I hope to buy another Land Rover in South Africa, fill it with goodies and drive back to Kenya in time for the beginning of the Christmas season. We will keep you posted. Cheers…Tim Trench

UPDATES FOR WEEK ENDING SUNDAY 13TH OCTOBER 2002:

Robin Pope's Weekly Zambia Update, October 13 2002

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

As you know we are able to host weddings in the South Luangwa and one took place last Wednesday. I just have to write about it - an experience our newly and very happily married guests won't ever forget!

Colin and Sue arrived from the UK to get married on the banks of the Luangwa . It was a wonderful wedding - a very special day - but not without a few incidents on the way! I have full permission to relate the whole story to you.

Colin and Sue had never been to Africa . So we thought it was quite brave of Colin to arrange for Sue, as a surprise, to stay at Kawaza Village the night before the wedding. We all hoped that he knew her very well. They had just completed their 3 day walk (Nsefu Walking Trail) and while Colin stayed at Nsefu his wife-to-be was delivered to the "secret destination", Kawaza. I met her there and I have to say, she was a little surprised. I offered her the alternative of staying at Nkwali but Sue is amazing - very relaxed and took it all in her stride. After an hour, the distant clouds had become the blackest, darkest horizon.

I asked our village host, Obi, "will it rain?" "No" he says with confidence.

Within a few minutes we are now in the most amazing sand storm as the wind rushes through the villages. And did it rain! Sue and I sat in a mud hut watching a tropical storm through the door and an hour later the village was awash.

There was now no alternative bed at Nkwali. We would not get out of the Village in the mud. We were happy; chatting away - watching the most incredible lightening show. And after a delicious local dinner we went to bed early.

The next morning the sky was clear and we visited the school. On the radio I told Kim at Tena Tena that we were fine and leaving soon to come up to camp to get ready for the wedding.

"Jo, there is a problem with tent 4".

"I'm with Sue" I quickly said. [Tent 4 is the honeymoon tent.

"That must be my tent" Sue guessed.

"Yup - go and meet the kids, I will catch up".

In the storm a "flying" sausage  (from the Sausage Tree), had smashed into the toilet in the open air bathroom - there was no spare tent until the evening.

"Do you think that Colin and Sue would mind staying at Nsefu." Kim asked.

"Make a plan" I say, "they will not want to change plans at this late stage".  

So off we go. The roads were wet and VERY muddy. The drive to Tena Tena was a slipping and sliding adventure and we arrive having had a mobile mud pack. Robin promptly gave us a gin and tonic (yes, at 8:30 in the morning).

Robin quietly said that we needed to check out the wedding location. I am surprised but off we go...there is a problem. There is a 2 week old lion carcass 20 meters from the "alter". And it stinks. We throw the remains into the river and spend an hour clearing up the very smelly soil and throwing disinfectant down. The smell abates. The day is becoming a little surreal...

Back at camp we make the bouquet, the alter decorations and generally prepare for the afternoon wedding. All is going well. Sue is getting emotional - it is really happening!

Father George and his lovely wife, Gloria, arrive. But Miss Lungu - the registrar - did not come! Ouch - her form makes the wedding legal. I do not see the funny side of this - we have reconfirmed her six times - but all of her bosses decided to go out and so she had to stay. Never mind - we will make a plan tomorrow and get her up (which we do). On on...

I leave to set up the "church" but had forgotten to leave a scout at the site. The site has feeding elephants. I start to feel the strain! I encourage them to move on and now we are late. We set up fast, keeping an eye open for the eles, and the most beautiful "church" is created. The alter is right against the edge of the bank and we all look across the river and the sweeping view.

It was the most wonderful wedding. The bride looked beautiful, the setting was superb, the choir sang well and the cake was delicious. And the champagne was French!

The only moment..."Will you, Colin, take Carol to be your” ...Pause "The name is Sue, Father"…We all laugh!

On this romantic note...have a lovely week!

Jo Pope

UPDATES FOR WEEK ENDING SUNDAY 6TH OCTOBER 2002:

Mombo Camp Update , October 6 2002

Mombo Camp is located in Botswana ’s Moremi Reserve. Mombo is renowned for Africa ’s best wildlife viewing. Here is a recent update from Mombo Camp:

Along with higher temperatures we had our first thunderstorm! As Murphy’s Law would have it the storm sneaked up to camp during a magnificent boma evening with everyone dining under a canopy of stars. With very little warning all hell broke loose! Forgetting just how intense some of our thunderstorms can be everyone was caught flatfooted. Dinner was forgotten as staff and guests alike were frantically trying to get storm flaps down and secured!

Apart from that one quick storm though it has been hot and dry - the air literally sponging up the remaining flood waters. Large herds of zebra, impala, wildebeest and lechwe are moving onto the floodplains as the water recedes - followed of course by the plentiful lions here! Both the Moporota and Matata prides are doing well - the young 4 year old males in both prides are starting to feel the pressure from the dominant males to pack their bags and move on. The cubs are however thriving.

The cheetah cubs are also doing well - wisely preferring to stay in the drier areas well away from the lions! Leopard sightings have been incredible - on one particular occasion guests witnessed the dominant male (burned ebony male) catch a young warthog by sneaking under the vehicle and dashing out to grab it!!  Wild dogs were also seen on 3 occasions - sadly still not showing any signs of settling down in the area.

The rhinos have also been seen regularly - often on the open green floodplains surrounded by herds of zebra and other plains game - a truly amazing sight!

Mana Pools Canoeing Update, October 6 2002

Colin Bell of Wilderness Safaris recently spent a week canoeing on the Lower Zambezi River in Zimbabwe. He noted “I had an incredible time in Zimbabwe's Mana Pools last week, with some of the best wildlife sightings I have ever had.  The game viewing was superb and the northern parks are still islands of peace and tranquillity. Zimbabwe still offers one of the best safari experiences around!

Linyanti Report, October 6 2002

Professional Zimbabwean guide Garth Thompson recently visited Botswana’s Linyanti / Savute area and noted the following during a 24 hour period:

I arrived at Kings Pool exactly 24 hours ago from River Club. We were welcomed into the airstrip by giraffe, hippos, eles and then 4 adult and 4 young wild dogs three minutes from the strip. After a quick tea we then went out to see the dogs again, followed by a herd of about 200 buffalo, giraffe, kudu, impala, lechwe etc. then a young male leopard well before sunset. While enjoying him on a termite mound we spotted his mother feeding of a large dog baboon. She then displayed to us well in this massive leadwood, before draping herself across a large bough. He then joined her and fed for us at every angle, with her in close attendance. Two and a half hours later we left, around 8:00 pm, we then moved on to a large male lion, followed by a wild cat, then a spectacular serval, genet, another wild cat, two different families of bat eared foxes before returning to camp for dinner at 9:30.

Ryan and crew were most accommodating with us being late for dinner, another vehicle came in after us who had also had a mind blowing afternoon.

Unfortunately we had to sleep and then off to inspect Linyanti Tented Camp. We have just returned from there having seen at least a thousand elephant driving there and back. Two lion sightings of a pride of nine, 9 roan, 12 sable, 10 tsessebe, brilliant birds and all the other general game.  At LTC we had about 100 eles come down to drink, so we took a canoe and went off to pay them a visit.  Not only did they reward us handsomely but it was so good to get into a canoe again, something I wasn’t expecting.

So here I am 24 hours later, mind blown, not to mention blowing the 8 rolls of film that you gave me, only 10 days to go! Sorry must go out again, am off to Savuti tomorrow. Cheers Garth

UPDATES FOR WEEK ENDING SUNDAY 29TH SEPTEMBER 2002:

Robin Pope's Weekly Zambia Update, September 29 2002

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

You guessed it - last week's cold snap didn't last for long! Weather patterns are now firmly back to normal with long hazy hot days - great for animal viewing! All the action is taking place along the Luangwa River as all the smaller rivers and lagoons have now dried up. The animals have been coming down to the river to drink which has been great for those watching from Nkwali.

The other afternoon about three hundred buffalo wandered down to the water's edge, right in front of camp. They hung around for quite some time before going back to dry land. They then walked along the edge of the bank eating grasses along the way - they were well spread across the length of the camp on the other side and it looked very interesting with their funny helmets peeping out of the bushes!

On Friday at sunset we were lucky enough to see 9 elephant cross the river to Robin and Jo's house and they tried to climb out of the river at this point but the slope was too much for them. So they walked along the river edge and continued trying to get up the bank in front of chalet 6, then chalet 4...and then in front of the bar! We were all standing above them (at a great - and safe height!) watching. Suddenly they noticed us and turned quickly, walking back across the river. By this time it was dark with a glorious full moon so the silhouette and accompanying sound was spectacular!

Enjoying the water near the pontoon were a pride of 7 adult lion (six lioness and one male) and 8 cubs - frolicking on the sandbank. The pride provided lots of entertainment for viewers. On the other side of the river a young male giraffe had died from natural causes - quite an unexpected surprise for gameviewers to suddenly come across this untouched carcass! We all went for a look at the end of the day and by then only the vultures had made a start on it by eating the eyes (no, not a pretty picture!). It was fascinating for us animal enthusiasts to get a very close-up look at a giraffe. It's coat was quite smooth and felt like that of a dog.

Up in the Nsefu sector the cat viewing has been exceptional this week. Jacob came across a pair of mating leopard, other guests saw a dead male lion which was possibly killed by the horn of a buffalo and on one night all three night drives came back with interesting feline tales.

Firstly Mr. Gifford and guests sat for forty minutes at sunset and watched as a female leopard went about her business. She was climbing up trees, down trees, sniffing inside bushes & generally wandering about. A classic leopard sighting. Meanwhile Jacob and his troops came across two male lion hunting a hippo on the edge of a riverbank. One lion went for the hippo, missed, and sailed over the riverbank, landing on the sand below - ouch!! The other lion leapt onto the back of the hippo and went for a rodeo ride! The hippo shook the lion off then it chased him to try to take a bite out of it - very entertaining stuff! It was only after another 10 minutes that the lion who flew over the edge staggered back up! The hippo lived.

And finally Mr. Alfonsi's group were up near the stork colony when a lioness crossed their vehicle ahead of them. Jason decided to follow the lion and this trail lead to a leopard eating its kill. A hyena moved in and took the kill, leaving a very unimpressed leopard with no option but to sit and watch its meal disappear. The lioness then decided it was her turn so she chased the hyena off the kill and settled in. The leopard decided to try and stalk the lioness! After a few nail-biting moments the leopard abandoned this attempt and started to walk away. The result saw a role reversal with the lioness stalking the leopard! What bizarre table manners these wild animals have!

Tena Tena also reported great wildlife viewing with huge herds of buffalo in the area and lots of cats - at one point guests saw a few lion swimming across the river!

UPDATES FOR WEEK ENDING SUNDAY 22ND SEPTEMBER 2002:

Makalolo Plains August Report, September 22 2002

Makalolo Plains Tented Camp is located on a private concession deep within Zimbabwe ’s largest national park, Hwange. Here is the camp’s August report:

We had a lot of very windy and hazy days with some overcast mornings, but generally we are happy with summer definitely here and nice warm days again. The bush is exceedingly dry this year and the eles are trashing the area. Fantastic sightings and huge herds about.

The end of August saw all our acacia eriolobas coming into flower and new leaf, along with the combretums and purple pan weed, so fantastic scent sensations on those warm summer days. Just the most fantastic time of the year here. The teak and many other trees are now bare, with, as one of our old trackers used to say, the wind having come to undress the trees.

We had another bush fire come in from outside the park, but luckily, with early warning and a nice cool, still night we managed to put this out before it had got too far.

The lions continue to amaze us. Mr. Pamwe (a lion) has returned to the fold, and is happily back in power for the time being. We suspect that one of our lionesses has had his cubs and eagerly await their coming out of hiding. We have also seen him mating with another of the lionesses recently. The 3 prides here have given us some great kill sightings including buffalo, eland, zebra, wildebeest and baboon kills. One pride had 3 witnessed attempts on buffalo one evening in front of camp. They eventually, after a 15 minute struggle, killed an old dagga boy buffalo, and fed on him for 2 days here in front of camp. We have had 25 lion sightings this month.

Leopard been a bit elusive this month only being seen 4 times. But one of the leopards killed 2 baboons and ate them by tent #5. We have had several sightings  of 2 different packs of wild dogs and had them drinking right in front of camp twice in the mornings. Great sightings of some of the smaller chaps like aardwolf, wild cat, caracal, civit, genet, 5 species of mongoose, and 2 species of jackal. An interesting honey badger sighting, whilst on a morning walk, where 2 badgers had killed a spring hare and were making off with it, 2 jackals and 4 vultures in hot pursuit. They made the safety of a burrow just in the nick of time.

Regular sightings of sable and roan, and gemsbok were seen 3 times this month. An albino steenbok was also seen. White rhino sighted 5 times and enjoyed on the morning walks. Another male hippo walked in and joined our resident 2 after a bit of a dispute. They are all carrying scars to prove it.

We have had 2 elephant die of natural causes, as the dry season gets tougher, affording us superb hyena and vulture viewing. Have seen as many as 14 of our hyenas there at any one time and over 238 vultures in a sitting. Also had 12 hyenas, including 4 of the cubs, hunt and kill a young baboon, who had roosted too low in a tree in front of camp. The hyena research team in Hwange are very interested, as we have now witnessed the killing of baboon by hyena 3 times here, and this is a first for them, having never recorded baboon as a prey species before. Hyena were seen on 19 days this month.

There have been a lot of musth ele bulls and some huge tuskers in the area as well as many tiny ele calves. Often see more than 400 elephant an evening, needless to say our swimming pool is half emptied by the eles daily! We have several huge herds of buffalo in residence at present, one over 1,000 animals strong. On one particular evening this month we were treated to the most awesome sunset where we had 12 species of mammals in a 360 degree scan from our sundowner position. These included 1,400 buffalo and 234 elephant.  Fabulous photographs with the sunbeams diffused through all the dust, all went down well over a glass of wine. Several groups of guests have left having seen the big five here and wild dogs on top of that.

Bush breakfasts have been a pleasure, with one at Broken Rifle Pan platform, having 3 herds of ele, zebra, warthog, sable, buffalo, vervet monkeys and baboon come in to join us. The bunker, hides, and the wood pile at Little Mak continue to give grand close encounters of the elephant kind. We also had another successful marriage proposal from the sleep out in the Little Mak tree hide. This is becoming a popular place to pop the question. Very romantic spot.  This couple had wild dog amongst many other animals come down to drink in the moonlight whilst they celebrated their commitment with a bottle of champagne. Can't beat that! Also at Little Mak we had 2 lions stampede 500 buffalo through the front of camp not 5 minutes after returning from the evening drive. The dust, noise and excitement – it was electric. Some of the Californians in the group thought that it was the start of an earthquake!

127 bird species seen this month. Interesting ones were 2 yellow billed ducks on August 11 in front of camp, black egret, crowned plover with chick and early yellowbilled kites arriving on August 15. The lappet faced vultures nest is still doing well and the chick is big now. Super to see all the sunbirds back and the huge numbers of turtle doves flighting to water in the early morning pastel shades.  With all the doves, great raptor hunting sightings too.

Beks Ndlovu Mana Pools Safari Report, September 22 2002

Professional guide Beks Ndlovu sent through the following report from a recent canoe safari he guided on the Lower Zambezi River :

We set off by light aircraft to the Zambezi Valley from Victoria Falls . Flying over Lake Kariba was breathtaking, seeing all the small islands and beautiful shoreline dotted with old buffalo bulls and herds of elephant drinking or mud wallowing.

We arrived at Ruckomechi Camp and were welcomed by friendly faces, old and new. After a quick introduction and a light snack we did not waste anytime and set off for a short afternoon drive to see the sunset on the banks of this amazing river, as mighty as it is, the river we would get familiar with for the next six nights. We could hear the laughter of hippos all the way down stream and see clouds of mist from the sudden breaths of hippos as they snorted out aloud. That familiar smell of the running water mixed with the scent of many animals having come and gone to drink, to bath and to cool off escaping the usual oppressive temperatures of the valley. That afternoon we saw a big herd of about two hundred buffalo, a number of small groups of elephant, water buck and impala. At night we weaved through the acacia trees to get to our rooms to stay clear off the grazing hippos within the camp area. Around dinnertime, we could hear lions calling in three different places. The camp had briefed us that there had been a total take over of the area by some new dominant male lions that had kicked out the resident boys.

We enjoyed the walking in the mornings and took time to appreciate the site of some of the impressive tall termite mounds, which are so fascinating, and being one of the most sophisticated forms of life, there was a lot to discuss about them. We could have talked about them for hours. We found a lone elephant bull who was half asleep under a grove of Tamarind trees, so we snuck up close enough to him that we could hear him taking deep breaths, we could hear him sound low stomach rumblings as his eyes dipped shut and partially opened. He was clearly at rest. The big elephants such as this bull spend a good part of their mornings or in the heat of the day half sleeping half dozing standing up under the shade of the trees away from any disturbances. Occasionally they will find a gently sloping hill or termite mound and use it as a pillow, so as to be able to stand up with great haste should the need arise. Whilst crossing the deep sands the Ruckomechi River , we spotted a male leopard walking across the river stalking a herd of impala. We followed, whilst watching it for a while. By the time we got to the herd of impala, it had disappeared, leaving no trace of it having been there.

After our late breakfast we went off to our rooms and waited for the highlight of Ruckomechi Camp, having the herds of elephant wander into camp and take over the grounds.It was about midday when they all arrived, we counted a total of sixteen of them, including all the babies. Some scratched their backs against the thatch of the rooms, some against the polls that held the main beams of our rooms. We just managed to see two young ones drinking the fresh water from the camp splash pool. The camp constantly has to fill up and empty the pool as the elephants have frequently drunk from there. This herd of elephants has changed in it’s numbers and even family members, every year in the winter when the Acacia tree bare fruits, they come into camp and pick up the fruits which are very rich in protein. They have become very much aware of the camp  and seem to show very little concern for the movement of people. They have remained wild and are still regarded as dangerous animals but are very relaxed around humans but only within camp as long as they are treated with respect and rather they approach you than the other way round. This has got to be the best wild elephant experience one can ever get in any safari camp I know.

We soon bid farewell to Ruckomechi and started our three-day canoe safari on the Zambezi River . It had been windy that morning but it soon settled and by afternoon we were able to casually drift down the river and enjoy the beautiful late afternoon light. We canoed past a number of elephant drinking, buffalo, impala and water buck grazing on the flood plains. As we arrived at our first nights campsite at Vundu, the camp was full of elephants browsing on the rain trees above our tents. They soon moved and we retired to our campfire where we enjoyed a few drinks and later the delicious spreads of our bush chef.

For the next two days we canoed and walked along the entire shore line of Mana pools seeing several herds of buffalo, eland, impala, zebra and kudu. Other animals we saw were bushbuck and grysbok. We saw countless numbers of hippo with their young. The experience of being in a steady moving vessel without the sound of a motor, but only the splashes and sounds of water from beneath, supported by the calls of screaming fish eagles and egrets, was overwhelming but most enjoyable. Walking up to a number of elephant bulls and spending time amongst the herds made us feel a part of them.

Our crew that went ahead with all the equipment and set up our next campsite were amazing at setting up our tents as though they were in the same place so they became familiar to us irrespective of the fact that they were several miles down stream of each other. On our last afternoon, we walked the top end of Chikwenya Island were we came across elephant, buffalo, bushbuck, kudu, impala and troops of baboons. Our greatest sighting was that of a Pel’s fishing owl that flew low past our path from one Natal mahogany to the next under a Mahogany Cathedral forest. It was beautiful in there, unspoiled and serene with big vines draped to the ground from the tall tress, large fig trees standing tall, Capris bushes in full flower releasing sweet aromatic smells.

Our final stop over was Chikwenya Camp were we spent two nights. For our first afternoon, we had sundowners at Grasshopper Creek where we watched a whole colony of carmine bee-eaters form silhouettes against the magical, orange-lit sky. Every night in camp we had hyenas, elephant and a number of honey badgers. The camp staff told us some amazing stories of the forceful take over of the staff kitchen by the honey badgers. They are extremely brave and confident animals that especially for their size and always seem ready to take on the rest f the world. We drove the entire flood plains of Chikwenya, which were rich with game. There was not one time that you looked up and were not watching anything, whether it was a warthog, elephant, zebra or eland. We were fortunate to see a family group of nyala in the back of camp near the platform. We were lucky again and had a brief sighting of a leopard on our night drive on our last evening. The beauty and romance of Chikwenya and it’s staff have never failed to leave an impression in our hearts, so much that we were saddened to bid farewell, but I am sure it will not be too long until we return to what I have always known as a special place, nature’s very own wild and remote corner, full of great charm and mystery that is irresistible.

Robin Pope’s Weekly Zambia Update, September 22 2002

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

As many of you know Jo Pope has produced a book called "Safari Dreaming". Last year, Paul Joynson-Hicks, a British photographer living in Tanzania , came to us for a ten day photoshoot. We were producing a new brochure. Paul was so bowled over by the South Luangwa and Jo was so bowled over by his photos that they decided to produce a book. Paul returned for a three week period in October 2002 and had a wonderful time in the bush taking amazing photos. The book is now out! It is a wonderful - humorous, moody, arty, and classy.

To order a copy of Safari Dreaming please visit Robin Pope’s website at http://www.robinpopesafaris.net

Now onto news from the bush - On Tuesday last week Jo told somebody that "it never rains in September". Now I have to say that this is not necessarily the case! The mercury was rising rapidly (typical of this time of year) and then suddenly there was humidity in the air rapidly followed by thick black clouds!! The wind picked up and cooled everything down beautifully and I thought that that was going to be the extent of it. But no...suddenly a great gust of wind blew all the cushions off the Nkwali chairs at the bar and then it started to RAIN!! It rained steadily for a couple of hours. This freak of nature wasn't over yet  - it remained overcast, cool and windy until yesterday! We had three nights of light rain with many more featuring lovely thunder and lightening displays far off in the distance. We therefore enjoyed temperatures normally reserved for June/July - cool at about 30 degrees maximum with lovely breezes and no piercing sun! Great for walking activities...and cooling off... and sleeping soundly through the night!

And looking out towards the Muchinja Escarpment from Nkwali there have been some large bushfires, despite the rain. The air is as clear as a spring day now that the dust and haze has settled...except for where the fires are burning with the air resembling thick storm clouds! At night we are treated to a lovely red glow over the horizon! Overall it has been a very interesting week that mother nature has brought us!!

I joined some Australian friends at Nsefu during the week. It was brilliant to be able to witness the carmine bee-eater nesting colony and the queleas as mentioned in the last newsletter. The carmines provided a spectacular performance of color, movement and sound. We parked our vehicle above the colony (which is opposite the second ebony grove) and watched for a while.

These beautiful birds sat in large groups on the tops of every tree and bush surrounding the vehicle. The color was striking! Much noise came from their nesting site - embedded into the walls of the riverbank below us.

Every few minutes a great flock of carmines would fly out of the wall to the center of the river then pirouette back to their nests again - my friend Amanda said it was like watching a ballet! The following morning, before dawn, we drove with Jason Alfonsi out to Chris' Tree where the enormous flocks of quelea were nesting. The drive from Nsefu to the viewing spot took about 15 minutes and I took the opportunity to do some night spotting along the way! In those fifteen minutes darkness turned into bright light with the moment of sunrise not far off! We parked on a small rise, with coffee and cake, to watch what promised to be another natural performance-spectacular!

All we could hear was the dull hum of these little birds waking up! They nest in the combretum & capparis bush, of which there were hundreds dotted along the otherwise sparse plain. Suddenly the first glow of the sun peeked over the horizon and the hum notched up a couple of octaves. Far off in the distance a huge sheet of black suddenly rose from the bushes and flew low along the horizon towards the river, passing in front of an extremely large and bright red sun. A picture perfect sight! On some moments you could actually see individual birds flying across the sun! These black sheets appeared to get closer until the quelea nearest to our vehicle finally took flight in massive waves. The sound is incredible and there must have been several hundred thousand quelea flying past.

We also managed to spot several eland not far from Tena Tena - very exciting and the only time I have seen them this year!

At Nkwali it has been all about the elephant. They have provided some marvelous family displays for guests this week! During a casual bar lunch on Tuesday, before the cold snap arrived, a group of 22 eles appeared, walking along the middle of the sandbank in the river. There were lots of young of various ages, including a very small one of about two years. They drank and swam and washed and rolled about before heading off into the bush, disappearing altogether from view. The little one was obviously having a ball in the water - when it followed its mother out of the water it stopped & turned around looking at another youngster still rolling around in the river. It suddenly started running back to the water to have some more fun then reluctantly stopped and turned back to its mother - it really DID look like the baby was saying 'I want to play some more' before grudgingly walking back to her! The youngster then had difficulty getting out of the riverbank - providing much entertainment! The following lunch proved even more entertaining. This time guests were lunching next to the lagoon when the same herd of 22 eles appeared from the bushes and came down to drink and cool off! We all moved inside the dining room to watch from safety as the eles came down in family groups to drink, bath and roll about before having a mud bath and a sand wash. Watching them from close proximity was so exciting - and hilarious! - watching the little ones playfully falling onto the muddy rise and sliding back down to the water again! They really do possess so many human-like characteristics!

Other interesting sightings this week include the first baby warthogs for the season. Jason Gifford spotted five of them south of Tena Tena the other day - all of them very tiny! And whilst Simon was doing a midday transfer they quite unexpectedly came across a serval pouncing on a mouse!! And this was right next to the Mfuwe main gate!!! Never a dull moment!

UPDATES FOR WEEK ENDING SUNDAY 15TH SEPTEMBER 2002:

Star of Africa Zambia Update, September 13 2002

Star of Africa is a Zambian tour operator with a circuit of top quality safari lodges and tented camps. Here is their latest update:

The President of Zambia, Levi Mwanawaza, booked out the whole of Chichele Presidential Lodge in South Luangwa National Park for a week of rest and relaxation with his family. On his first wildlife viewing drive he was delighted to find a pride of lionesses not far from the lodge. The President's question “What are our chances of finding a big male lion?” was answered another 5 minutes into the drive when a magnificent Luangwa  lion sauntered in front of the vehicle! Many buffalo, elephant and Thornycroft's giraffe later, whilst making his way back to the lodge, a magnificent leopardess was spotted on the horizontal branches of a sausage tree. That evening over dinner and fine wine, the President's party remarked, “I'm happy we chose this lodge”. Apparently a scouting team from the State House had visited every lodge, camp and hotel in Zambia to find the perfect retreat for a President!

At Sussi and Chuma Lodge at Victoria Falls the WWF have released funds to the Zambian Wildlife Authority to extend the boundary of the Mosi-au Tunya National Park , thus increasing the park substantially and putting Sussi and Chuma right in the middle of the park. In addition to the resident buffalo, elephant and hippo, the white rhino will also be free to roam around the camp.

Preparations are in store at Sussi and Chuma for an American wedding which is scheduled for early January. This venue will no doubt be one of the most romantic settings to be found. Just picture a beautiful white tent with champagne in crystal glasses, crisp white table clothes and then the trumpeter hornbills chorusing in the ebony trees above and the hippos in the Zambezi River during the wedding vows. Perfect African wedding!

At Lechwe Plains Tented Camp in the Lochinvar National Park work has begun on the new road system and a record herd of 700-800 zebra were spotted on the open plain behind the camp. Bird numbers are beginning to swell with the arrival of some of the migrants.

At Moshi Tented Camp in the Kafue National Park - Kafue North receives up to 1.5 m of rain during the summer months (November through May). As a result Star of Africa take the complete camp down during this period and rebuild every year. Unfortunately the logistics involved with setting up an elaborate tented camp does not warrant the short 5 month safari season. However the true wilderness experience and exceptional wildlife viewing in this, Africa 's second largest park, will ensure that Star of Africa will remain committed to Kafue . So although the public areas will remain the same, the bedroom tents will no longer be the large elaborate ones like the Lechwe Plains tents. Star of Africa have settled on the traditional meru tents with en suite bathrooms.

There are now three prides of lions around Moshi Camp and cheetah sightings on the Busanga plains have been plentiful. Spot, the resident hyena, is making his way through the camp’s skull collection with his latest victim being a huge crocodile skull!

Lower Zambezi Camp is spectacular – this new tented camp now completes the Star of Africa portfolio. Situated in a wilderness area 45 minutes from Jeki airstrip on the Lower Zambezi River guests can partake in wildlife viewing drives, walking safaris, boating, fishing and canoeing excursions.

With the addition of Lower Zambezi to the Star of Africa circuit, Migration Air will now be offering seat rates on many of the flights connecting the camps.

Robin Pope’s Weekly Zambia Update, September 15 2002

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

I have a very interesting tale from our mobile camps up along the Mupamadzi River . Perhaps a group of scientific minds might like to put together a safari group and come along to confirm or deny! Jason Alfonsi, our jovial and mostly-respectable senior walking guide, led a walking safari this week and Issy, our mobiles caterer, decided that she wanted to test the theory of finding water with divining rods. She wanted to see if these rods could be used to find animals too!  Jason would like to point out here and now that it was HER idea and not his - he has a serious guiding reputation to uphold after all (those were his words)!

Divining rods are two little bent pieces of wire (for example two metal clothing hangers unfolded).  Zambians have traditionally used them to find water by holding one rod outstretched from each hand. They are held lightly by each hand so not strong enough to grip and not loose enough to drop. The holder of the rods would then ask out loud if there was any water nearby. If water was close the rods would move in the direction it is likely to be located and if they were literally standing on top of water, the rods would cross over each other without any effort at all!  And apparently it works!

So the other day Issy suggested that they use this method on a morning walk to see if they could locate certain animal species. The guest was keen so Jason led them out from Camp 3 to “The Garden” with Peyela the armed scout.

“The Garden” is a big open floodplain with the river crossing through and a ridge on the other side of the river. The divining rods were asked if there were lion about and they promptly pointed to a thicket of reeds by the river. On the other side of the river there were some buffalo feeding on more reeds - about 10 old bulls. Jason led the walking party over to the thicket of reeds and, when asked where the lion were now, the rods bent right across each other...which means they were right there! A swift look around and there was no sign of any pride but it was difficult to tell through the thickness of the reeds. Jason thought he would lead the group away for a while, keeping the buffalo on the other side of the river within sight. Half an hour later the group had come around the floodplain and were standing at their original spot away from the reeds.  Suddenly they heard the mournful bellowing sound of a buffalo under attack. The buffalo ran out across the ridge with a pride of lion chasing behind them! In the short time Jason had led the walking group away the lion would have left the thicket, crossed the river and did their best to capture a buffalo...without success!

A new day followed and out at the Chifungwe Plain Jason's walking group came across a lone male oribi, an uncommonly seen antelope in the South Luangwa . Jason has not seen one of these in the Valley before and Robin saw one years ago. It took them a while to confirm what type of antelope it was - it is smaller than a puku, about the size of an impala, with a reddish brown coat and a black tail. They then moved away for morning tea and once more those rods were brought out for another test!  When asked where the oribi was the rods then pointed in the completely opposite direction and towards where the oribi was seen - spooky! Apparently the divining rod is also a useful measure of distance. When asked how far away the oribi was (if it was 100 or 200 meters away no movement but on 500 meters they moved closer together) its answer was correct! The oribi was spotted about 500 meters away.

Peyela then bemoaned that they might as well do away with an armed scout in the bush and rely on those rods! Somehow I doubt that this will become company policy but certainly an interesting findings nevertheless!

On the last day of the walking safari Jason brought the rods out one last time and asked it where the cheetah were...and the rods pointed in the direction of Camp 2! Cheetah haven't been seen in the Valley for many, many years - just imagine....?

On another topic - The carmine bee-eater colony on the riverbank in front of the ebony grove is in full swing at Nsefu! It is such a large nesting colony and an incredibly colorful spectacle.   Nsefu guests are also enjoying the immense quelea flocks taking off from the salt pan at sunrise.  These flocks resemble a moving wall - WHAT a sight!!

Until next week.....cheers to the power of the divining rod!

Mombo Camp Rhino Update, September 15 2002 

The Mombo rhino story is heating up and. The program is going smoothly and all the rhinos have settled in well and have evaded being eaten by lions. There are another 11 white rhinos in bomas in South Africa that are being readied for their trip to Botswana...So Mombo will shortly have 16 white rhino running free and wild in Botswana!

During August the new white rhinos at Mombo Camp were sighted as follows: 56 reported sightings - an average of 1.81 rhino sighting per day. This compares well with July when they had 43 recorded sightings. Notes on each rhino...

Kgosi – Kgosi wasn’t seen in the second half of August until Gregg & Corle saw him on the road to Moremi Hippo Pools. We went up there the next day and found him very close to the channel. Presumably he has been pushed into this area by Serondela's expansionism. He was in good condition and quite relaxed. Water features seem to be functioning as natural territorial boundaries in this area.

Serondela - He is actively patrolling a huge area - an elipse from the old bomas down to Treeline to Simbira and possibly beyond. He's not paying much attention to Kabelo anymore, so perhaps he knows that she is pregnant?

Sergeant & Mmamatimpani - they are both still in the area they have occupied for some time now, just to the west of the old (riverine) Maun Road, and just south of the old tsetse camp. Sometimes together; sometimes not. Both are in excellent condition, but no evidence of (attempted) mating as yet. Sergeant is marking very actively along the road. Excellent grass and water in this area for them.

Kabelo - she is still very much centered on the area of dry acacia southeast of Suzi's Duck Pond, between there and Treeline to Simbira. She rarely moves far, unless she is with another rhino.

Orient Express Safaris Botswana August Update, September 15 2002

It would appear that winter is now a thing of the past in Botswana, and that spring has sprung slightly earlier than expected. Hot day time temperatures combined with some moisture have resulted in some very unexpected rainfall which has started to change the landscapes. These are the temperature and rainfall breakdowns for the camps. Maxim temperature recorded during August was 37C and the minimum was 8C.

The water levels at both Eagle Island Camp and Khwai River Lodge have remained constant, possibly only dropping a centimeter in the latter half of the month. At Eagle Island Camp the water level now stands at 123cm. We expect that towards the end of September we will start to see a more rapid drop in level. At Khwai the 12mm of rainfall has definitely influenced the river’s level. Sable Alley has progressed even further on its journey to rejoin the Khwai, whilst I believe the Khwai River it's self has gone past Mababe.

With a splash of rain and the early arrival of warm summer days the bush is a picture of varying colors. This dramatic change of face from the drab winter grays and browns is currently most spectacular at Savute. Here the Kalahari Apple Leaf and Knobbly Combretum are bursting into pinks and whites respectively. Most of the Acacia species are also in bloom, ranging from cream to bright yellow.

Throughout the region there are also touches of green to the dry landscape as new grass shoots start to make their appearance. This is especially evident at Khwai River Lodge and hence has created quite a stir amongst the plains game species.

All of the camps have enjoyed fantastic wildlife viewing. As can be expected, Khwai has been especially good, although this should not discredit the quality of viewing at both Eagle Island and Savute.

At Eagle Island the walks and motor boat activities have produced the best experiences. Large herds of buffalo have been seen on a regular basis to the north of the camp, and it most probably due to this ever present source of food that the lion sightings are also up on last year. Within the camp itself, as predicted, the palm nuts have attracted five seemingly gentle giants (elephants) that simply cruise around in search of the delectable fruit. Because of the elephants love for palm nuts it is not unlikely that one could experience a "long nose road block" during a stay.

Savute Elephant Camp has once again made a point on the origin of it's name. Elephants are everywhere especially during the heat of the day and late afternoon, when they congregate around the pumped water points. Lion and leopard sightings have also been good. The resident lion pride of 23 members has been spending a lot of time in the vicinity of pump pan near the camp and have, on several occasions, ventured past the front of the camp whilst guests are having dinner.

It would be almost impossible to attempt mentioning all the fantastic sightings that our guests at Khwai River Lodge have experienced during the month, with great sightings being recorded day after day. Just when you think you have seen it all, you haven't, as the bush sets up one jackpot after the other. Some of the truly great sightings recorded have included; lion, leopard, cheetah and wild dog all in a morning, an eland sighting, a buffalo kill (the stalk, the take down, the retaliation by the remaining 300 strong herd and finally dinner) and the roan antelope in front of camp. This fantastic viewing should continue well into October, and may get better as the heat of summer increases.

The birdlife throughout all of the areas has been absolutely superb with a fantastic variety. From the dry Savute through Khwai to the wetlands of Eagle Island Camp, sightings have included; Crimson breasted bubu, helmet shrikes, pels fishing owl, slaty egret and purple gallinule. Of particular interest however is that certain of the migrants have started their return journeys. I was lucky enough to see the first Carmine bee eaters since April at Khwai on the 26th of the month. Reports have also indicated the presence of paradise fly catchers at Savute.

With the exception of some very large Nile crocodiles at both Eagle Island and Khwai all appears quiet on the reptile front. This is bound to change however as the days get hotter and just prior to the rains.

And a short story "When Good Buffalo, Go Bad"

Recently I was fortunate enough to watch a buffalo kill along the Khwai River from beginning to end. It was incredible to see how the three majestic male lions monitored the 300 strong herd from the nearby tree line as the bovid's drank from the river. As the herd moved of a single cow and her weak calf were isolated. At this stage the lead buffalo in the herd were approximately one kilometer from the now totally lone cow and calf. With the lion not wasting an opportunity like this the action that followed was simply unbelievable, an image I will not forget for a very long time to come.

With the lion going in for the kill, they soon were to discover what it is like "when good buffalo, go bad". The cow in the last moments of her life let out a bellow, that soon saw 300 members of her herd charging down on the lions and in the confusion that followed it was difficult to tell what was going on. I managed to get a glimpse of the so called "king of beasts" cowering behind the buffalo cows carcass, trying desperately to evade the horns and hooves of 300 two thousand pound buffalo.

Later when calm was restored and we could see what was happening, the lions reappeared at the scene to claim their dinner. It seems that when the action got too hot to handle the lions opted to take refuge in some small bushes, where they literally weathered the storm. 

For September we would expect the start of the catfish runs at Eagle Island Camp. This run sees hundreds of catfish cram the channels as they hunt a variety of small fish. The catfish themselves fall prey to birds and reptiles as they to come under attack from both above and bellow the water. At Khwai wildlife viewing is bound to get even better as we prepare for the hottest time of the year, with little rain expected. That makes the waters of the Khwai river the only permanent water source in this area for miles to both the north and south, and hence attracts large amounts of animals. More migrant bird species will start their return leg to the region, one such species to look out for will be the yellow billed kite.

Bek’s Ndlovu Safari Update, September 15 2002

Professional guide Beks Ndlovu sent through the following report from a recent safari he guided in Zambia:

I met my visitors in Lusaka at the airport as they flew in from Johannesburg following a seven-day Gorilla Trekking safari, that I had sent them on. I could see the excitement written all over their faces, the anticipation and the thrill of an adventure in the unspoilt true wilderness areas of South Luangwa in Zambia to begin with, and ending up with an experience of the upper Zambezi, The Victoria Falls in Livingstone.

We were flying about 9,000 feet in altitude, and we could hardly notice any form of existence of man or any development. We were flying over the Luangwa River alongside the rolling rugged mountains of the valley. Wild meandering rivers came in from every direction flowing into the main channel. Lush green havens could be seen from miles away as they stood out from the dry, arid and broken terrain, the land was heavily scarred from the continual annual bush fires.

By the middle of the afternoon we were driving in the deep northern parts of South Luangwa National Park . The savannah was dotted with large herds of antelope such as Red Lechwe and Impala; there were Warthogs, Giraffe, Buffalo bulls and Zebra. On arrival to our area we walked about three miles before arriving at our first night’s camp called Mumbulu. It was our first day of our three-day walking safari. The loud grunts and dirty laughter of pods of hippos bid farewell to the blood red setting sun, whilst the whooping calls of hyenas and owls gave introduction to a beautiful night sky lit up with trillions of stars, visible planets and constellations. The day smells soon disappeared as it cooled off and soon the smell of our campfire took over. We could hear a Pel's fishing owl in a nearby Ebony, scops owls calling to each other from different directions and the melodies of nightjars echoed through the night. Every now and again, the loud and impressive roar of a pride of lions not too far off would drown all the other sounds of the night.

The next morning we set off in the direction of where we heard the lions calling from, hoping to come across them and discover what it was they were sounding so content about. We came across Zebra, Waterbuck, Red Lechwe, Warthogs and different troops of baboons. In some places we walked beneath large Ebony forests, and sausage trees, which were in full flower. The ground was carpeted in velvet red flowers, which we used to walk on to stoke the impala resting under the trees. We noticed vultures flying, taking off from the distant trees as they were taking advantage of the thermals starting to rise as it started to warm up. As we arrived at the site where they had been roosting, we noticed that the grass had been trampled and the smell of their choking urine still lurked in the air, but we did not see a sign of them. We walked for another five hundred yards and came to a dry riverbed with steep gullies. Suddenly we heard small grunts and sounds of big paws hitting the ground as the lions took off, away from us. They had heard us coming and ran off without knowing where we were exactly. We were thankful that they ran off the opposite direction. We found a safe position on top of a termite mound under a tall shady Jackal Berry tree where we sat and watched the pride walk staring at us from a thicket about fifty yards away. From no where a small cub of about six months old got totally disoriented and started to walk in our direction yelping and calling looking for it’s mother. It walked within thirty feet of us before it realized what we were and turned a complete ninety degrees after giving us a snarl and a growl. In the mean time we were keeping an eye at the mother who by now had her eyes firmly fixed at her cub. After watching them for about half an hour we left the site and you could see the pride looking at us and making sure that we were definitely leaving. It was a pride of three lionesses, two cubs and one sub-adult male. That evening we went for a small walk along the Kasansanya River watching the pods of hippos sleeping in the water and some spread out along the beaches. There was one hippo who was almost completely pink and stood out from the rest. So we named him Pink Floyd.

On our next two days we saw plenty more antelope, walked into hippos inland, more giraffe that we walked very close to, and walked into another pride of lionesses. On our last night we could hear a leopard calling and the sound of a stressed troop of baboons gave him away.

Our last night in South Luangwa we spent at Chichele lodge, which is set on a hill overlooking the Luangwa river and it’s flood plains rich with herds of Puku antelope, zebra and elephant. We went out for an afternoon walk and ended up driving and using the spotlight on our way back in the dark. We saw a number of white tailed mongoose, genets, bush babies, jackals and elephant shrews. That night the roars of lions just below the hill sounded through the night. As we sat at our table on the veranda the next morning, we had the perfect sighting of a mating pair of lions that sat under a mopane tree in full view of us. Every time they finished mating, they would move to a different spot. “Not many people have this sort of view during their breakfast,” my guests commented.

We arrived in Livingstone at Sussi and Chuma, the romantic teak lodge built up on stilts overlooking the fast flowing waters of the upper Zambezi River . That afternoon we potted around the calm backwaters of the river in a small pontoon, and just enjoyed the sounds of the flowing waters and the grunts of the hippos all around us. As the sun was setting and casting mirror images of it’s golden light on the clouds and sky, a pride of lions called from the Zambezi national park on the Zimbabwean side. From hear, you could hear the thundering sound of the water as it plummeted over three hundred feet of ancient rock at Victoria Falls . On our last morning we visited Mosi O Tunya national park in search of the resident White Rhino. We managed to get within twenty yards of one of them and eventually saw the other four resting, basking in the early morning sun. We also saw a big herd of buffalo, numerous warthog, giraffe, zebra and impala on that drive.

Overall – a great safari!

UPDATES FOR WEEK ENDING SUNDAY 8TH SEPTEMBER 2002:

Duba Plains Tented Camp August Report, September 8 2002

Duba Plains Tented Camp, located in Botswana ’s Okavango Delta, is reputed to have the highest density of lion in Africa . Here is the camp’s August report:

August had an average minimum temperature of 15°C and an average maximum of 30°C. A very surprising 2mm of rain was recorded towards the end of the month, along with exceptionally strong winds. As expected, the floodwaters have dried up considerably and we are now able to access the spectacular Paradise area to the northwest of our concession. This has enabled us to reach the eastern, more wooded section of the Duba concession. The highlights of this longer game drive route are to see the zebra, impala, giraffe and sable not normally associated with the Duba area in the wetter months. With this increase in game drive area we are now finding lions we were unsure of, but knew must be there. August also saw the return of our first migratory bird, the beautiful Carmine bee-eater. Lots of African Skimmers are being sighted, but the birding highlight has to be the start of "fish traps" developing. This is caused by the receding waters and the fish being isolated in the drying up pools, making easy pickings for a host of delightful waterbirds.

One usually expects the lions to be the stars at Duba, and they are - but the hyenas are putting in a terrific performance. Many wonderful hours have been spent watching the young pups at the den, with as many as seven pups being seen at any one time. Unfortunately it appears the mother of two of the pups has died, as they are fast losing condition. Time will tell if she returns, if not it is only the natural control of a key predator’s numbers. As it is, the hyenas are competing very well with the lions and have even been seen catching their own prey. The month began with an exceptional sighting of three hyenas pursuing a troop of baboons across an open floodplain. Without any trees for the baboons to escape into, the hyenas successfully isolated an adult female baboon. She was soon dispatched, even with the valiant rescue efforts of the troop males. On two separate occasions an adult hyena was seen killing a buffalo calf lagging behind the herd. More impressive however was a pack of seven hyenas pulling down an adult female buffalo from a herd of many hundred buffalo. Even the returning buffalo bulls could not deter the persistent hyenas. It is presently not an unusual sight to witness a pride of lions, alongside a pack of hyenas, hunting the buffalo. Future months should reveal some fascinating interactions between both predators and their prey.

Our lion research is continuing extremely successfully, with several major developments taking place. Lions were seen on all bar two days of the month, averaging 18 lions per day, with 68 pride sightings during the month. In total, 18 buffalo kills were witnessed, with no evidence found of lions preying on any other species. Duba's lion dynamics are certainly in the process of change, with a major shift of all the pride territories and some very interesting interactions. Most of the changes can be attributed to the coming of age of the two Skimmer pride Males. These two brothers are now about five and a half years old and reaching their prime. They regularly set out on territorial patrols, well into their father's (Duba Boys) domain. The Duba Boys still manage to chase their offspring away, but one feels their reign is coming to an end. A sure sign of this was the sighting of both Skimmer Males fighting over the mating rights of a Tsaro pride female. In the end both males "successfully" mated with the Tsaro female, before the Duba Boys saw them off. There appeared to be no mating by the Duba Boys. The Skimmer pride has had the luxury of following their two young males into previously unexplored territories, where plenty of buffalo are present. All ten members of the pride are looking in superb condition and rarely seen in a state of hunger. The Skimmer prides best performance came towards the end of the month, where they isolated an adult male buffalo from the herd and coxed it into the open. This gave the impressive Skimmer Males the opportunity to launch themselves onto the buffalos back and over power it.

The Tsaro pride are experiencing mixed fortunes at present. Most of their time is spent evading the Skimmer Males, while the rest is spent chasing the buffalo into the wetter territories belonging to the Pantry pride. They seem to be in good enough condition, even though the five subadult males are being sort out by the Duba Boys. The young males occasionally stand up to their much bigger fathers and subsequently pay the price. One of the young males received a bad bite to one of his hind legs and now struggles to keep up with the continually roaming pride. Fortunately the pride has killed many buffalo, giving the injured youngster the opportunity to reach the kills in time to gorge himself, before they set off again. A rather humorous sighting was that of the Tsaro pride coming across a foraging pangolin. Much to the frustration of the inexperienced subadults, the pangolin rolled into a tight ball, leaving the youngsters taking turns in attempting to pry it open. Eventually the lions moved on and set off after an unsuspecting troop of baboons. The baboons wisely retreated to the safety of the trees, adding to the lion's frustrations. With the Tsaro pride shifting into parts of the Pantry pride's territory, they have found themselves coming through the camp on regular basis. It was comical to see the lions playing with the fireplace chairs and trying to pull the pathway lights from the trees. They were really curious, once even attempting to climb the steps into the lounge. This we had to prevent by firing a bear banger towards them, which saw them scatter from the camp. The Tsaro prides crowning performance for the month saw them catch five buffalo at one time. First they caught and consumed a buffalo calf, before chasing the herd into a flooded channel. Here they pulled down two subadults and a calf. All these were killed, but not before the mother of the calf returned to rescue her young one. This proved to be a fatal mistake. The lions, ever opportunists, proceeded to pounce on the female and kill their fifth buffalo of the morning. Quite a feat considering lions are only meant to have a 15-30% hunting success rate.

The majority of the Pantry pride viewing consisted of watching the eight surviving cubs at play. All eight seem to be fairing extremely well. A surprising development in the pride, was the brief return of the sixth adult female of the pride, last seen 18 months ago. We incorrectly presumed she had died, but now realize she may be part of another pride bordering the Pantry pride's territory. This suggests a larger Pantry pride may have split up into two prides some years ago. Interestingly, the nine-month-old cubs readily accepted the sixth female, who may never have seen her before. The Pantry pride are currently confined to a relatively small area between the Tsaro pride to the west and an as yet unknown pride to the east. Fortunately many buffalo have moved into the area, which was burnt several months ago. There is never a shortage of food now that the Duba Boys are concentrating their efforts on the Skimmer Males and the other lions their east. As far as the lions to the east go, it can be confirmed that there are at least two adult males and two adult females in the pride. Tracks show there are more members to this pride. As we spend more time exploring the ever more accessible, drier east, we should be able to put together a bigger picture of what lions exist outside our usual game drive routes. This will result in a better understanding of what makes our regular prides behave as they do and will hopefully answer the question of, "Where the Pantry pride's sixth female has been all these months?"

Robin Pope’s Weekly Zambia Update, September 8 2002

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

Here in the Valley things are HOTTING UP! I can hardly believe we are already at the beginning of September - where does the year go, I ask you?! Yes, the days are getting warmer, the nights are no longer cold and there is much haze and dust in the air. Soon we will be able to watch the Carmine Bee-eaters nesting in great colonies in the walls of the riverbanks - always something to look forward to!

There has been excellent all-round wildlife sightings many of which are quite rare. Quite unexpectedly, on a recent moonlit night, Issy spotted a Pel's Fishing Owl perched on a branch in the Nkwali lagoon! Simon was very excited....we don't very often see them around Nkwali. It sat on the branch and stared at us for quite a long time. Another Nkwali sighting -  a 'baby' bush baby was seen suckling with its mother up a tree at night...it looked very cute according to Shanie.

Robin saw Palmnut Vultures on his most recent mobile walking safari - another rarity. Following Robin, Jason Alfonsi and Simon Cousins took separate groups on mobile walking safaris within days of each other along the Mupamadzi River . In that time Jason's group spotted a Lesser Jacana and Simon's found a Fiscal Shrike...both at Zebra Pans! Both birds are uncommonly seen in the Valley. On their way out of the walking camps, Simon also saw a large bushpig in daylight - it was "running like hell" away from the vehicle! This was Simon's third bushpig sighting in the South Luangwa National Park . They are more common in the North Luangwa as it has a slightly different habitat. Overall, excellent plains game up at the Mupamadzi area...large numbers of eland, kudu, waterbuck and zebra. They also had good lion sightings (around 8 - 10 of them hiding in the grasses) and whilst walking from Camp 2 to Camp 3, five roan antelope were spotted in the kopje on the Chifungwe Plain. And along the river bed, the area is now bursting with bright new green leaves from the sausage trees - so much colour and fantastic gameviewing!

Simon's guests on this four night Lundu walking safari were three American brothers. A great rapport quickly developed and one night there was much laughter around the campfire as certain characteristics of the honeybadger were discussed. Founded or unfounded, honeybadgers can be quite aggressive creatures and have a reputation for attacking the private parts of many male animal species. It sounds like a very clever method of defense - OOUCH!!!

And so, during the following morning's walking activity, Simon and the brothers came across a honeybadger popping out of a hole at the base of a tree. In fright and in unison, the three brothers grasped their nether regions - prompting what must have been howls of laughter and later, relief that they had all survived the morning completely intact!

And finally...Shanie's just rushed in to tell me that there are moths everywhere outside. I concluded that she had finally lost the plot and ignored her, but on looking outside I see that she is correct! They are EVERYWHERE!! Very interesting - apparently they are attracted to the sausage tree flowers which are now blooming in large numbers. They will quickly disappear again when the flowers are finished.