Nov-Feb 2004

 

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UPDATES FOR WEEK ENDING SUNDAY 15TH FEBRUARY 2004:

Muchenje Lodge Update, February 15 2004

Muchenje Lodge is located on the western boundary of Botswana's Chobe National Park. Here is Sandi's latest update on the lodge:

We have had good rain, but none over the last week. The grass is taller than me (not very tall you might say) so lions are rather scarce. We have gone up to 3 days without seeing them although yesterday we saw 9. Elephants are still in abundance as is all plains game. Morning drives can be rather quiet but over all, still good game viewing. Neo saw a leopard last week but only once. We have also had wild dog but again only once - good to know they are around.

Okavango Delta Floods, February 15 2004

Each year Botswana's Okavango Delta floods - it is in fact the world's largest inland river delta.

The flood figures of February 10, 2004 were 690 cusecs as measured at Mohembo on the Okavango River just as it enters Botswana. This is a figure last reached on February 20, 1984. In other words the amount of water in the system is higher than on the same date in that benchmark year. This is incredibly exciting and the ecological implications are great.

Suffice to say one of the worlds great freshwater habitats is going to be resplendant this year. In fact, this will just mean some grand opportunities for safari goers.

We are expecting a total flood input to peak above 1,000 cusecs sometime in April or May, as we are receiving reports and data from Namwater that Rundu is at it's highest level for two decades and rising. Further is the report from the chief hydrologist Department of Water Affairs, Botswana from his colleague in Angola that "in excess of 1,000 mm (1 meter) of rain fell at Huambo (catchment Cubango river) during the month of January, 2004. This water has not yet been measured at Rundu.

The input from the Cuito River is not measured, but will usually only manifest itself on the Mohembo flood figure during April of any year. However, it appears that rainfall on the Bihe section of the highlands was very similar to that of Huambo and so the Cuito, Kwando and upper Zambezi rivers will rise rapidly over the next few weeks.

Orient Express Safaris Update, February 15 2004

Orient Express is one of Botswana's leading luxury tour operators. Here is their latest update on their 3 properties - Eagle Island, Khwai River Lodge and Savute Elephant Camp:

Temperatures during the past month were very mild due to some very good rainfall we had. The highest temperatures recorded for January were at Savute on the 27th and 28th and were 38 C and 41 C.

Savute also had some extreme weather, with a severe windstorm hitting the camp on the 3rd of January. Many of the large camel thorn trees were severely damaged during the storm. Standing water in the bush is more than abundant, with all natural pans filling up and even overflowing in some areas after the good rains. At Savute hippos can be seen in these natural pans of water, like at Disaster Pan for instance. The abundance of standing pans of water in the bush also attracts many species of frogs and other aquatic biota. One of the greatest experiences this time of year is approaching one of the rainwater pans on a night drive and then listening to the cacophony of the frogs' mating calls around the water pan. These amphibians include the giant bullfrog, bubbling- and red-legged cassina, and the banded rubber frog.

As mentioned, the good rains triggered a bloom in the vegetation, and northern Botswana has turned into a green paradise. The grass sward at especially Khwai and Savute is extremely tall, in some places up to 1.8 meters tall. The most dominant species are Bushveld Signal Grass (Urochloa mosambicencis) and Fan Grass (Eustachys paspaloides). Both species are extremely palatable and suitable for grazing. Especially the Savute marsh has undergone a spectacular metamorphosis, and where it used to be bare open plains in October and November, it is now so densely overgrown with grass that even the larger animals like zebra are hard to spot.

The Jackal Berry trees are presently coming into flower, and these trees are literally buzzing with activity, from both birds and insects alike.

At Savute a pack of 12 wild dogs were frequently seen around the camp, and were quite often seen at the waterhole where they came to drink. The arrival of two hippos that took up residence first in Disaster Pan and then later in Harvey's Pans caused some excitement, as these are not animals commonly seen in Savute. The cats were rather hard to see in general, since they were quite spread out and difficult to see in the tall grass. In the beginning of January two male lions killed a buffalo about 200 meters from Savute Elephant Camp, and the lions around Khwai were quite active around the camp and near the airstrip.

Savute proved itself to be aptly named "Elephant Camp", as literally thousands of elephants concentrated in the area. Breeding herds consisting of more than 100 individuals were not an uncommon sight, especially late afternoon on the Marsh.

Khwai River Lodge also had some luck with wild dogs with a pack of 10 dogs frequently spotted inside the Moremi Game Reserve. Eagle Island also produced a few sightings of cheetah and lion, but at all three camps leopards were particularly scarce. Only one good sighting was recorded at Savute of a leopard that stole an impala killed by lions at Presidents' Camp. Guests at Khwai River Lodge were often treated to a good sighting of a large female hyena. She was often seen lying on the pathway in front of Tent # 7.

At both Eagle Island and Khwai large groups of giraffe were seen; some groups numbering into the thirties. All game appears to be in terrific condition, this being a time of plenty for herbivores in particular.

January was a very interesting birding month indeed. Savute delivered some of the most exciting sightings as waders and water birds flocked to the rainwater pans. Red-billed teal, Hottentot Teal, Knob-billed Duck, Egyptian Geese and Pygmy Geese are very abundant. Some of the interesting water birds in the Savute area include Black-Winged Stilt, Painted Snipe, African Crake, Common Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper, Curlew Sandpiper, Greenshank and Three Banded Plover. The Carmine Bee-Eaters also make a game drive across the Savute Marsh a delightful experience. Not only can they be seen riding on the backs of the Kori Bustards, a symbiotic relationship peculiar to this area, but they also converge in large flocks around any moving vehicle, catching all the insects disturbed by the vehicle as it passes through the tall grass. Sightings that would make any birders' heart throb faster include Lesser Jacana (Xaxanaxa near Khwai), Grey Headed Kingfisher (Khwai), numerous sightings of Arnot's Chat in the Moremi as well as Pels' Fishing Owl and African Skimmer (Eagle Island).

Peculiar to this time of year is especially the abundance of butterflies. The brown veined whites are starting to pick-up in numbers, and we did see some migrations taking place in January. These butterflies were moving in a northeasterly direction, as is the habit of this species. The common grass yellows were also very abundant in the Savute area, where they could be seen in large numbers on fresh elephant dung. Another beautiful species of butterfly that was quite abundant in January was the koppie charaxes. These butterflies were especially abundant in Savute, in the vicinity of the Gubatsaa hills, as these rocky outcrops are ideal habitat for them.

With the widespread good rains in January, came many standing pools of water - ideal breeding grounds for frogs. After the heavy rains Khwai River Lodge had around the 21st, the bush came alive at night with frog calls. Some of the species we could identify were bubbling kassina, painted reed frog, banded rubber frog, broad-banded grass frog and then the huge giant bullfrogs as well.

Guests to Eagle Island Camp had a special New-Years' treat. On the afternoon of the 1st, some of the guests together with Ruth, the bar lady, had the fantastic opportunity to witness a hippo giving birth in the lagoon in front of the Fish Eagle Bar. Even the guides could not believe this, as this is very rare to witness, and none of them had ever seen it happen. Being human, we expected the baby to enter the world quite helpless. This is definitely not the case with hippos, the baby hippo was already twitching its ears as soon as its' head appeared, and could swim very soon after birth already. Several days later the baby was seen again playing in the water, with his feet in the air. Unfortunately the baby was under threat from some of the big males, and the mother had to move away to a safer area.

UPDATES FOR WEEK ENDING SUNDAY 8TH FEBRUARY 2004:

Wilderness Safaris Rhino Update, February 8 2004

In 2003 Wilderness Safaris of Southern Africa was the world's first recipient of the newly introduced World Legacy Awards, in the Nature Travel Category, as created by National Geographic Traveler and Conservation International. This unique award system is set to recognize and profile leading examples of sustainable tourism and nature conservation efforts around the world, where environmentally and socially responsible tourism practices are helping protect and nurture our planet's precious natural and cultural resource-base.

Wilderness Safaris has expended great energy in re-introducing wild black and white rhino in Botswana and here is an update:

The last few months have seen incredible progress towards our goal of re-establishing both African rhino species in the wild in Botswana's Okavango Delta. At the beginning of 2003, there were 15 wild rhinos in Botswana, all white rhinos - now there are 31, including the first four black rhinos. The black rhino has been classified as "locally extinct" in Botswana for over a decade, a classification which has been made redundant with the arrival of two males and two females at Mombo in late October.

Two of these black rhinos were a gift from Namibia, and the other two were part of a wildlife exchange programmed between the two governments. We actually exchanged the original animals with South Africa to get the exact right subspecies (Diceros bicornis minor) for Botswana. At the same time another ten white rhinos were brought in from South Africa, the final consignment under the "roan antelope for rhino" exchange program. These white rhinos were all females, and with their release the target sex ratio of approximately 2/3 females to 1/3 males - the optimum ratio for breeding - has been achieved.

As yet we are still awaiting the first birth of a rhino calf - this will be a huge event as it will be the first wild rhino birth in Botswana for perhaps 15 years or more. We are confident that we will see births during 2004, and very possibly during the first half of the year.

Now that we have had rhinos in the Okavango Delta for two complete years (the first white rhinos were re-introduced here in November 2001) we have a much better idea of their movements through the seasons. The Delta is a wonderfully dynamic ecosystem and it has been fascinating (through our intensive security and research monitoring program) to observe and try and understand the rhinos' seasonal movements.

All the social and territorial behavior we would expect has been taking place, and we can be fairly confident that several of our female white rhinos are now expecting…

Caring for the black rhinos in the bomas prior to their release was a fascinating experience. They are very different from the white rhino, of course, being a browsing animal rather than a grazer, and despite their reputation for aggression, they very quickly adapted to their temporary homes in the bomas. We experimented with a wide range of Delta plants to find out which the rhinos would prefer. They showed a definite preference for blue bush (Diospyros lycoides) and - surprisingly, as it has very tannic leaves - the magic gwarry bush (Euclea divinorum). They also happily ate large fever berry (Croton megalobotrys), jackalberry (Diospyros mespiliformis), and some acacia species. Each afternoon we would set out to collect fresh browse for the four rhinos and it was very interesting to see their quite different feeding technique, using their prehensile upper lip to pull leaves and twigs into their mouths.

The black rhinos were quite selective as to which plants they would eat, but once they had found one they enjoyed, they would eat branches up to the thickness of your thumb! During the rhinos' short stay in the bomas, we had a great opportunity to study these very different rhinos and couldn't wait to release them and see them out in the bush.

The Vice President of Botswana, Lt Gen Ian Khama, who released the first white rhinos for us back in 2001, again opened the gates to release the first black rhino. A huge moment for rhino conservation in Botswana. However the rhino had other ideas (or perhaps he was just suffering from stage fright!). He emerged briefly from the bomas three times, each time to return, before finally moving off into freedom after dark.

Over the next two days, two females and the second male were released - the return of the black rhino to the wild in Botswana! Since their release, we have had some great moments tracking these rhinos in the bush. As we had predicted, none of them moved too far from Mombo - an indication of just how good the habitat is here for rhinos. And getting better - the rains, late this year, have finally started - and Mombo is getting greener by the day, with new grass growth and new leaves on the trees and bushes, also many of the smaller pans are filling up with rain now.

So at the end of 2003 there were over twice as many rhinos in the Okavango Delta as at the beginning of the year. However, along with all the achievements and good news, there have been a few setbacks… At the same time as the black rhinos and more white rhinos were being released, several white rhinos mortalities were experienced.

One subadult male was tragically killed by a bush fire (probably started by lightning) on Chief's Island - rhinos have been recorded as having been killed by fires several time in South Africa, and seem to be quite vulnerable to this natural phenomenon. We also lost two rhinos during necessary capture and transport operations. These are always risky, especially in the summer heat. Despite every precaution, one rhino died of stress as we were trying to return her from an area close to the Caprivi Strip which is a poaching blackspot, and we had to euthanize a second rhino which incurred a leg injury during transport. Given the road conditions in remote parts of Botswana, the stress on the rhinos can be considerable.

The worst news came in October, when two of our rhinos were shot and killed by poachers. This is always the biggest danger for any rhino population and our worst fear became a reality when local men from a transient settlement tracked two of the rhinos and shot them, hoping to sell the horns in Maun.

It seems that this was an opportunistic crime, rather than an organized poaching gang. However, it meant two dead rhinos and prompted a massive upgrade to our (already stringent) security measures. The crime backfired as the poachers were easily tracked by following the signals in the transmitters in the horns, and are now facing trial. If convicted they face up to 15 years in prison.

Hopefully the publicity surrounding this crime and its consequences will act as a powerful deterrent to any other potential poachers. The vigorous response of the police, anti-poaching unit, and Botswana Defense Force illustrated how seriously Botswana takes this sort of crime, and underlines the government's commitment both to this project and to conservation in the Okavango Delta and beyond.

Only a week after this crime, three white rhinos were released, reversing the loss that had been suffered and sending out a powerful message that the project team would not be dispirited or discouraged by this incident.

Building on our successes of the last two years, we have very ambitious plans for 2004, focusing on increasing our black rhino population. In a US$1 million project, we are looking to reintroduce a further 14 black rhinos during this year. We are hoping to bring in seven wild female black rhinos from Zimbabwe, and to rehabilitate seven black rhino males from zoos in the USA and Australia. This has been done before, and it should take about six months to "teach" these bulls to be wild rhinos again.

To "buy" the rhinos from Zimbabwe, the national parks department there is being given training and assistance to the value of the rhinos, rather than cash. At Wilderness Safaris we have pledged to raise US$60,000 - the auction value of one black rhino.

If this goal is achieved, breeding populations of both African rhino species will have been re-established in the Okavango Delta, and all being well there will be celebrations for the birth of one or more rhino calves in the wild in Botswana - the ultimate seal of approval on this project, from the rhinos themselves.

Several of the rhinos released in November have not moved very far at all from Mombo, probably due to the excellence of the habitat in this area now that the rains have at last begun. This means that Mombo guests on game drives are now quite regularly seeing rhinos - both black and white - on game drives. Some guests have even been lucky enough to see both species in the same afternoon. One of the female black rhinos, Mmabontsho, has indeed become a game drive star!

Joint monitoring patrols with the Anti-Poaching Unit from the Department of Wildlife & National Parks are continuing to achieve good results, and we are having good successes in tracking some of the newly-released rhinos, also some of our more established rhinos who have been moving to new areas to find the very best grazing. Also we have been enjoying the ongoing "rhino soap opera" as the territorial bulls try to detach females from their groups, and are busy marking their territories against incursions by other males.

The Delta is now certainly marked again as rhino territory, with more rhinos due to arrive this year to underline this major achievement.

UPDATES FOR WEEK ENDING SUNDAY 1ST FEBRUARY 2004:

Okavango Flood Update, February 1 2004

The waters within Botswana's Okavango this year appear that they are going to be VERY high indeed! The latest readings from the Delta's panhandle (where the river enters Botswana from Namibia) are already higher than readings before the infamous 1984 floods!

Ol Donyo Wuas Update, February 1 2004

Ol Donyo Wuas is located in the Chyulu Hills, a range of volcanoes running between Kenya's Amboseli and Tsavo National Parks. Here is their latest update:

Tara and Richard Bonham have decided that it is time to move back to the lodge and host guests again. They are looking forward to this as it has been nearly 7 years since they were actively hands on running the lodge.

While Richard and Tara have been away from the lodge most of their energy has been put into the Maasailand Preservation Trust which works on community conservation projects mainly within the Mbirikani Group Ranch. This Trust has really taken off, and so as not to bore you here is a short list of some of their projects:

* A mobile health care unit manned by a doctor, nurse and lab technician provides free health care to Group Ranch members.

*A predator compensation plan that pays for any killing of domestic stock by lion, cheetah, leopard or hyena.

* We formed a Community Game Scout Association that has 86 game scouts in the field and in uniform covering Mbirikani and neighboring group ranches.

*A lion monitoring program on the Ranch.

*An environmental education program for the Ranch

* Providing wildlife scholarships for Ranch member's children who cannot afford to go to school and paying for qualified teachers in the Group Ranch schools.

*A security team to monitor the black rhino which somehow still survive on the ranch.

In the meantime Richard and Tara will somehow have to keep these balls in the air whilst running the lodge!!

The lodge itself remains more or less unchanged, with 7 double cottages, two of which have an extra bedroom to accommodate guests traveling with children. The crew is still the same, many of whom have been with us since we started 17 years ago. The horses are doing well with a mixture of old plodders for novice riders and a few ex race horses for those who enjoy a breakneck gallop on the plains. Walking is still very popular, and since the elephant have become resident, can be very exciting.

We also still have exclusive use of the 300,000 acre ranch which means approx. 17,000 acres per guest, so no worries about crowds.

Over the next few months we want to develop horse safaris between the Chyulus and Amboseli taking a week and also walking safaris in the Chyulu Hills.

All else at Ol Donyo Wuas is fine. The Amboseli migration is with us now and we must have at least 2,000 head of zebra and wildebeest on the plains in front of the lodge and two nights ago we had lion, cheetah and elephant at the lodge water hole all at the same time - an occurrence which does not happen often enough, but getting better all the time.

Wilderness Safaris South Africa Update, February 1 2004

Wilderness Safaris is a southern Africa tour operator which manages lodge and tented camp properties in Botswana, Malawi, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Here is their latest South Africa update:

The Makuleke Concession, set in northern Kruger National Park, is the first of our developments to get underway this year. This concession has resulted from a land claim brought by the Makuleke people who were removed from the area in the late 1960's. We will be working with the community in developing and managing the lodges, and doing the sales and marketing for them. In addition they will also find employment in the lodges and concession management.

To give you an idea of how beautiful the area is here is an account sent by our guys already up there:

"Well, this is definitely the most beautiful part of the northern Kruger Park. There is just color and life everywhere, all the trees are in full bloom, the migratory birds are back and doing their mating displays and animals are abundant. The temperatures are relatively high, and we await the rains. The Luvuvhu River is still flowing and this is drawing plenty of game.

Daily drives to and from the Premier site (Royal Makuleke Lodge) offer the most amazing elephant sightings, as the breeding herds are all sticking to the riverine bush. Usually they are very big herds, with as many as 12 tiny babies. They also seem to be pretty relaxed to have vehicles stopped in their midst, which makes viewing a pleasure. The bulls seem to prefer the area of the vintage camp (Pafuri Lodge site), and every afternoon if you keep an eye out, you will see a few eles silently moving out of the thick bush and into the river bed for a drink and a splash in the water.

Both the Royal Makuleke and the Parfuri sites have resident leopards, which traverse the game tracks through the camps every night. They are getting quite used to the human presence in their territories, and it is now only a matter of time until we start seeing them regularly. One beautiful male leopard has graced us with sightings.

At the end of each day, as the sky pinkens at sunset, our background music is the call of both the Pel's fishing owl, and giant eagle owl. If one looks carefully at the trees lining the opposite bank, the eagle owl can be seen silhouetted against the sky bobbing his head with curiosity. A Pel's fishing owl swoops out of a tree to catch a fish, and then her chick can be heard complaining about his dinner, what a life!

There are a lot of huge herds of buffalo that move through the concession, many of the cows with calves. Prides of lions are usually not far behind, just waiting for a meal opportunity. We came across a pride of lionesses on the hunt, but being on the hunt often makes them jumpy, and unfortunately they moved off as the vehicle came into sight. The area is so unspoiled, and there has never been a constant human presence in the area. The result is that the animals are still wild, which makes seeing them all the more exciting.

Driving along, one can always tell that there is a predator in the area, as the bush alarm goes off. The crested and helmeted guinea fowl are very useful to other animals, as they always seem to find the trouble, and warn everyone. It was these calls that alerted us to the presence of wild dogs who were on their way to drink in front of the Royal Makuleke.

The area is so diverse, and every corner is beautiful. From dry areas with huge baobabs, one drives into floodplain areas surrounded by the lime green fever trees. Then into mopane veld and on into the riverine forest, with its big shady cool trees. With all the biodiversity, the area attracts a very unusual mix of fauna and flora. We are fortunate to have a very healthy bird list. Some of the specials seen recently include spinetails, red headed weavers, nesting sites for the white fronted bee-eaters, wire-tailed swallows, crowned eagles, and so many more.

On returning to camp we walk into three old buffalo bulls who seem to have realized that there is relative safety close to human habitation. For the past 3 weeks they have not moved from the front of our campsite - they know we are there, and they let us know when they are around.

The civet pops around in the early hours of the morning, every day, just to check out if any morsels have been dropped around the site. When he heads off, the large spotted genet follows his footprints, but he is a little shyer, and moves away if the light comes on. A hyena calls from not far away, and then the night is still.

At Crooks Corner, there is a very deep hippo pool, with a pod of about 20 hippos in it. If one waits long enough, you will see some eyes and a long nose appear out of the water, as the crocodiles watch our every move.

On the rocky outcrops on the way up to heaven (Lanner Gorge), you should keep your eyes open for the klipspringer, jumping on their tiptoes over the rocks. The Sharpe's grysbok can be seen peeping out of the bushes lining the road. From the gorge one can see huge fish swimming in the pools far below, and the ever present croc lounging in the sun. One cannot describe the beauty of the gorge - you have to see it to believe it.

Through the fever trees, the herds of zebra, waterbuck and nyala move through the forest towards the river. The eland have returned to the area, and big herds can be seen moving around the water..."

Guests staying at Ndumo in Kwa Zulu Natal can now easily visit Tembe with its elephant and lion populations, using Wilderness's newly constructed pontoon to travel between the two reserves. This cuts out the drive from Ndumo onto the main road and into Tembe. Elephants are definitely now on the "menu" for guests staying at Ndumo.

Rocktail Bay's latest dive report is absolutely awesome. The first of hopefully many ragged tooth sharks was sighted. From late November we tend to find pregnant females in the popular dive area just off shore called Elusive. Other summer visitors that are arriving are the honeycomb rays, brown stingrays and guitarfish. Also seen were a couple of spotted eagle rays & approximately 40 devil rays in one outing.

Turtle tracks are everywhere and in December alone we had a total of 105 sightings of Loggerhead Turtles. Leatherback sightings were slow at the beginning of the season with a last count of 56 sightings and nests. The smallest Leatherback ever sighted at Rocktail Bay was a favorite this month. She measured a mere 1405 cm long, so it is safe to assume that this is her first nesting season after spending 15 to 20 years maturing out at sea. January is especially exciting with the baby hatchlings arriving this month.

2004 is the tenth anniversary of South Africa's democracy. We have a new and unique tour that is sure to inspire people from around the world. This tour, lead by Robin Binckes, shows how all our history is inter-related and how certain events led to the molding of attitudes that resulted in actions which we find hard to believe in today's society. It also shows how history is repeated and how, despite the injustices, a peaceful transition to democracy occurred. This tour highlights the four main chapters in our history namely: A visit to Alexandra Township where one will learn about Nelson Mandela's first home in Johannesburg and his early years in the Transkei. Next a visit to the notorious hostels and a chance to see how local people are attempting to uplift themselves through craftwork. The tour moves on to Lilliesleaf, home of the ANC high command in the late 1960's. This is where the entire high command was arrested, laying the basis for the infamous Rivonia Trial. After lunch, guests head for Vlakplaas - secret headquarters of the of the Apartheid Police "Death Squads". Most of the original buildings have been removed but the tales of horror and the lifestyles of the death squad members still amaze and shock. The final stop is the Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria - explained with a twist.

Robin Pope Zambia Update, February 1 2004

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

Well a new week is upon us. We have had some spectacular storms of late. The thunder and lightening are really quite incredible and the river is up and down like a yo-yo. Sundowners drifting gently downstream in the boat is definitely a favorite at this time of year. Last week Simon and Shanie took a spin in the park - a slightly late start due to the fact that none of us had managed to sleep through the loud thunder overhead and beating rain on our houses the night before. However, on arriving in the park it seemed that even the animals were feeling the same. Warthogs could hardly be bothered to move as the gameviewer approached. Looking decidedly shell shocked they finally ambled off into the bush but a lion which they came across was so tired he just continued to sleep right next to the vehicle having no energy to look fierce or even sloop off.

UPDATES FOR WEEK ENDING SUNDAY 25TH JANUARY 2004:

Jacana Safari Guide Report, January 25 2004

The Jacana Safari is an 11 day group safari in Botswana with departures throughout the year. Here is guide Russell Crossey's report on a recent Jacana departure:

At Kaporota, on our drive into camp, we came across a pride of lion on a buffalo kill - one big male (Big Red), two adult females and two sub-adult males. A great first sighting! On our second day as we were driving to Kaporota Lagoon, we saw wild dogs in the distance! We were the first to see the 8 new puppies, accompanied by 9 adults. We managed to follow them for a while and then they disappeared into thick Mopane forests. Everyone was quite amazed at the abundance of general game in the area. We had roughly 6 sightings of sable antelope too. There were not as many elephants as expected, as the rains had started but we saw a few breeding herds none the less. The group was extremely excited when a bull elephant visited their tents on the last night. Russell did three slide shows on each night at Kaporota that gave everyone a better overview of the Delta, Linyanti and Chobe. It was a highlight!

At Jacana Camp - Jack the Elephant visited us 3 times which was a highlight for everyone. The bird sightings were phenomenal and lechwes abundant. Everyone enjoyed brunch in the water and one guest tried mokoro lessons. On the last morning mokoro, nobody said a word for an hour and just soaked the wonders of the Delta in. With a little luck they managed to find a Pel's Fishing owl.

Linyanti Camp was definitely the highlight of the safari. It was really hot, but we all managed through it. On the first full day, we came across a pack of wild dogs with their 6 puppies. We followed them and watched as they hunted impala but failed to follow through. Thereafter, we watched the adults take off after three tsessebe. They disappeared into the bush and we watched the puppies follow. They were running after the adults when they suddenly took off and then ran back to a spot in the floodplain and looked like they were eating something. When we approached them, we discovered that a python had caught one of the puppies! Emotions flowed as we watched breathless while the python constricted and killed the puppy. The next day we went back to see the python. It was in a springhare hole and had obviously swallowed the puppy. Not an every day occurrence. The next day, we found a leopard who was playing with a juvenile Bateleur Eagle that had broken its wing. We followed and watched the leopard hunting springhares without any luck. Two really awesome sightings!

At Chobe all of the guests loved the boat trip and we saw a baby elephant just after it had been born. The camping was better than anyone had expected and we were also able to find some shade!

Robin Pope's Weekly Zambia Update, January 25 2004

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

With Nkwali now closed and packed up for another season we are down to a skeleton crew. The staff has been on their annual end of season gamedrive in the park. Loaded up with sundowners and popcorn they enjoyed a lovely drive. It is great for them to get into the park as, like most of us who work behind the scenes, it is easy to be in camp and "forget" that there is a national park across the river. The end of season theme continued on Saturday evening when the staff party was held at Daudi's (Tena Tena Manger) bar, aptly named Cool Runnings. We headed up for a few drinks to get the ball rolling, intending to stay for 30 minutes and then leave the camp staff to enjoy themselves. This however, took a little more time than expected as we first had a speech from Daudi, then Keyala and then Simon. Following this it took sometime for everyone to find a seat, drinks to be passed around and then Simon was asked to officially open the party which consisted of all present taking a swig from their Mosi and then saying cheers - all very ceremonial. Mwila, one of our mechanics, took over the microphone and displayed a hereto hidden DJ'ing talent - we arrived at the bar to his voice booming over the microphone "OK Simon, Shanie and Kim are in the house". The patter was interspersed with traditional music and various members of staff showing off their dance moves - they have such rhythm that Shanie and I were not persuaded to join in being much to ashamed of our English shuffling from one foot to the other. Both of us have done so in the past to the accompaniment of howling laughter and "so you call that dancing"!! Finally about an hour after arriving the party was in full swing and we left the guys to get on with it. I think there would have been a few sore heads the next days.

Yesterday we had 50mm of rain. However, earlier this week we had a radio call from the watchmen at Nsefu to say that the bore hole was not working and so they were unable to draw drinking water. After the usual questions about checking the engine, wiring etc it was decided that Keyala should take a couple of mechanics and head off. However, this was no easy mission. We understood that the Mwangazi River was too high to cross with the Land Cruisers and so the intrepid 3 said that they were prepared to take bicycles, wade across the river, then pack their tools onto the bikes and cycle through the park to get up to Nsefu. We then arranged for an armed scout to accompany them - on his bicycle for protection and so our brave heroes set of on their adventure. However, on reaching the river they found it to be low enough to cross by vehicle and so the bikes and scouts where surplus to requirement. Oh well better safe than sorry - on they pressed to the camp, moist underfoot but they made in without any mishaps. On arrival the watchmen were clearly pleased to see them. The mechanics went through the generator and found all in order and so decided that there must be a problem with the underground wiring. They began digging up the wires and eventually found that one had been cut completely through - hence no power. Keyala then took over and after some "discussion" the truth emerged. The watchmen spend their days fishing and use worms as bait. Worms need to be dug, and sorry for that if wires are in the way. This particular shovel full of dirt and worms had prompted the planning of an epic journey and proved more expensive than if we had flown some fish in from Kariba!! One very embarrassed Philipo!

Talking of flying, Adam, our workshop manager flew back to the Valley yesterday. Arriving mid afternoon like a whirlwind, armed with stories of his travels. We expect to have days of amusing anecdotes to come. He is now wandering around in his new long shorts and wellies looking very much at home again and ready to take over our ongoing building projects as Robin, Jo, Simon and Shanie all head off next weekend. The bar is being pulled down and rethatched ready for next season. The only decision made so far is that it will be in the same place and everyone has been attempting to sketch there ideas on the back of an envelope - should be interesting.

We have been having a large visitor in camp in the shape of a bull elephant called Gilbert - he is a magnificent specimen and strolls around as if he owns the place. The other day he ambled past the office and went down the bank into the river just in front of Marcus's house. Obviously in playful mood he started splashing around and thoroughly enjoying himself - culminating in taking a huge sideways drive into the river - totally submerging himself several times. Simon ran for the camera but he had finished playing by the time the digital appeared. Stay well and have a great week, Kim

UPDATES FOR WEEK ENDING SUNDAY 18TH JANUARY 2004:

Rekoro Camp Update, January 18 2004

Rekoro Camp is a wonderful tented camp in Kenya's Masai Mara Reserve. Here is their latest update: The Mara is very dry - totally the opposite to last year when we were under water in December. It is hopefully building up for some rain in January to produce grazing for the Mara herbivores and see them through to the April long rains.

This is our warm time of the year with temperatures soaring to 29 degrees Celsius during the days but still cool at night 18 degrees Celsius. At 1800 meters above sea level temperatures do not vary tremendously at Rekero which is 3 degrees south of the Equator.

The lion prides around the tented camp have all had cubs which vary in age from 4 weeks to 4 months. Marauding nomadic males have killed some of the cubs - natures way of giving these nomads a chance to implant their genes on prides that are not adequately protected by resident dominant pride males.

A few light showers that fell over the full moon locally around camp have brought in most of the herbivores from the conservation area into the reserve and the resident Loita herds of Wildebeest are still very much in evidence, crossing and recrossing the Mara and Talek rivers, whilst the main migration is back in the Serengeti.

Warthogs all have piglets growing rapidly and providing tasty hors d'oeuvre for the big cats.

A pregnant zebra was killed by the resident lion pride close to camp yesterday and a big herd of over 400 buffalo are grazing the glades along the Talek river. The female leopard and her two 5 month old cubs are doing well upriver.

The majority of our guests on at least one of the mornings in camp go out to walk in the area of Oltekitek Gorge. These walks have produced some interesting sightings on foot including an ardwolf, klipspringers, lion, plenty of other large mammals and raptors. An early dawn departure to walk or game drive followed by a picnic breakfast in the bush is very popular.

The Gorge is also a good area to see the double toothed barbet and stone chat. In camp we now have two pairs of blue fly catchers most active around the breakfast table.

Recently a local Masai killed a large python close to Rekero Cottages. Inside it was a partly digested goat. Rarely does one see these big constricters and I felt saddened by the snakes demise.

It has also been very dry at the cottages and the area around the cottage water holes is beginning to resemble a battlefield with the large groups of elephant coming to the water on their daily pilgrimage. This morning we watched a day old elephant calf at the water hole that seemed to have an injured foot and under the protective care of two females was hobbling around pathetically.If it is to survive, being an elephant it probably has a better chance than other species. We thought of trying to rescue it and send it in to Daphne Sheldricks Orphanage but decided that if an attempt was made we would probably have to tranquilize both females and could end up losing one of them.

Loisaba Wilderness Update, January 18 2004

Here is an update from the spectacular Loisaba Wilderness in Kenya:

Our wildlife sightings have been tremendous, which is always frustrating since many of you have missed out by remaining on your foreign shores, although several have braved the "travel warnings" and have had it all to themselves! Can you imagine watching lions, leopards, wild dogs, cheetah, elephants, elephant up a tree (yes - you read that right too), owls with genet cat, honey badgers, perhaps not all at the same time, but we can envisage your reaction already, a load of poppy or words to that effect - well read on!

June this year, we had the pleasure of welcoming back for their second stay (and third in December!), Alison and John who braved the travel warnings, arrived from the UK, much to the horror of friends who inquired where they were taking their holiday - KENYA, "you'll be right in the middle of al-kidyounothotdangercountry or Al-kidalikeyourcountry full of marauding terrorists that's what the 'Travel advisory' says.

Did we find any? Well, yes, actually we did in the middle of the Aberdare forest, it came in the shape of two huge bull buffalos, obviously with headaches after their little battle, loud explosions echoing throughout the forest as they clashed together, large grunts and groans!

May and June brought some well-deserved rain to the dry parched earth, turning the land into a delicious assortment of greens. However, what really caught our eyes was the raging torrent in the month of May that surged down the Ewaso Ngiro River below the Lodge, rising approximately 16 feet, a spectacle to watch the force of nature roaring down the river, tearing at tree roots, rocks, banks with deafening crescendo, not good for river rafting at all! Luckily the suspension bridge to Koija Starbeds survived the flash flood measuring only 5 feet from the middle of the bridge!

Tom on his cattle 'Boma' run one evening after a particular heavy down pour managed to get well and truly stuck on the plains in his Land Cruiser, calling for assistance, Jo (Tom's wife) bravely agreed to help, she too slid into a ditch and remained there! Coated in mud and much hilarity they managed to get both vehicles to safety, this is all in a days work!

Terrific sightings of wild dog, appearing when you least expect it, have been thrilling, a tremendous bonus to us all! There were reports from our guides that dogs were seen on our western boundary; perhaps a den was in the making? Being cautious we left them alone in the hope that pups would grace our presence, they did in style and inspected the vehicle to make sure the wheels were fully inflated, properly marked and passengers were enjoying their game drive, this fulfilled, they departed! All that can be said is - WOW! More sightings have been recorded of packs of 8,10, 11, 12 and 20 dogs respectively, this is extremely encouraging, but typical dogs, they cover vast territories and sadly not around for long, unless of course they den down again. We have extended a generous offer and hope they will accept.

Mike Robinson, a vivacious personality and famous Chef from the BBC Food Program, turned on the charm and delighted the viewers with his creations at Loisaba. We too had a terrific time throwing caution to wind, created some of Loisaba delicacies in-front of Mike who was enthralled and while the camera was rolling, he masterfully gesticulated how easily many of his dishes could be duplicated at home, this was filmed on the deck off Loisaba sitting room. One of our favorite recipes was also filmed, "Filet steak kati kati ya mbau" - literally translated fillet steak between two wooden boards. Delicious fillet steak, sealed in a hot frying pan, in the meantime crush garlic cloves and fresh herbs between the boards, place the fillet steak between the boards, pipe pureed potato around the sides, place in a hot oven for a few minutes - according to Mike, "A delicious combination of delightful flavors, a simple, yet delicious dish!" The series was a great success.

Elephant up a tree - A tall story you may say, but as ridiculous as it seems, this was the scene when two of our guides spotted a strange shape in a tree near a dry riverbed, on closer inspection an elephant calf no more than a few hours old was draped over a branch, half eaten. At the base of the tree there were leopard tracks and great tears in the bark where he had struggled to heave his heavy prize up and out of the way from scavengers. This huge male leopard was seen two days prior and was first mistakenly identified as a lioness, until it moved; you can imagine the delight, a truly magnificent specimen. The questions were many - where was the mother elephant? (As normally, they keep vigil even if the calf was still born) Did the leopard actually kill it? Did the elephant abandon it? Nature is mysterious and that's the way it should be, leaving us all guessing, that's what keeps us all so enthralled.

With 61,000 acres to "play in", it is always a thrill to set out on foot through wild country never knowing what's out there and without going into too much detail it must be said that there is a certain adrenaline rush when one knows there is a chance of an unexpected close encounter of one of the big five! This happened one morning as we strolled down the valley below the lodge inspecting a busy highway of hoof prints, hyena and lion spoor, fresh elephant dung and many more interesting patterns of various beasts that had left their signs, hard-working colorful spiders re-constructing their webs, noisy baboons barking warnings as we approached and melodious birdsong, orchestrating their own symphony, another beautiful day in Africa!

Nearing an Acacia Tortilis, our largest owl a verreaux's eagle owl was perched deep in the shade blinking it's pink eyelids at us with breakfast clutched in its claws, a genet cat, remarkable to say the least, we walk on and a mere 100 yards from the tree, having deciphered from the very fresh elephant dung and tracks that they were close by. With gentle gesticulation to our guests we slowly stalked a heard of elephant, testing the wind, we cautiously made our way closer, at times bent double, freezing so no movement was detected, we crouched in the dry river bed and observed them at close quarters browsing on an Acacia Mellifera. With hearts in their mouths as one elephant turned and strolled towards us, we scuttling across the 'lugga' (dry river bed) and stood our ground, a small movement had the elephant raising its head spreading its ears and trunk outstretched, we waited, there were nervous glances at us and the expressions easily deciphered - 'shall we run? Is it going to charge?' It was amusing thereafter as the elephant thought better and with an ungainly gait, tail in the air and bottom wobbling, beat a hasty retreat!

Another walk had hearts beating faster and knees wobbling like jelly, better than a visit to the good Doctor awaiting results! On our way down to the Kiboko starbeds a beautiful walk was in process with giraffe, shy dik dik, large herd of elephants lazily browsing on the hill, a minor detour before the wind changed, beautiful impala, greater kudu, and birds galore we neared the starbeds only to stop dead in our tracks when we came face to face with 6 young huge male lions, called the "useless youths!" - These are only some of the exciting expeditions in our wilderness.

We have been extremely lucky to have had several Samburu ceremonies witnessed by many of our guests, from circumcision, wedding and naming ceremonies - extremely colorful, powerful and very festive. Some guests were invited to join in with the festivities were royally decorated, with red okra, Samburu blankets and adorned with jewelry. These marvelous occasions, of course, were a highlight of many who witnessed them. We are happy to share these wonderful true traditional moments and of course look forward to many more next year.

Horse rides throughout the ranch have been littered with wonderful wildlife sightings, including three cheetah at close quarters, elephants galore (at a safe distance of course!), braying zebra, oryx, eland and graceful giraffe who are more interested in what unusual creature are on top of this strange smelling beasts.

Horseback fly-camping safaris are also an intrepid way to explore our wonderful ranch, visiting areas that vehicles cannot go and camels lopping ahead to set up camp for your arrival late in the afternoon, with roaring camp fire, cocktails and a traditional bush dinner, brings to an end a perfect day. A three or four nights safari can be arranged in advance, interspersed with Kiboko or Koija starbeds make an unusual and fun safari, many more itineraries can be arranged too!

As mentioned in our last newsletter we sadly we bid farewell to the Squirrel helicopter 5Y-JIM and welcome the new arrival 5Y-GYM, Euro copter - EC 130 multi colored machine. Humphrey once again has charmed many guests with his magical flying and beautiful excursions to some of the most gorgeous parts of Northern Kenya. To Mount Kenya's peaks and clear lake waters where some of the largest rainbow trout lurk, Humphrey settled the helicopter close to the shores and with trout rods in hand managed to acquire some fine-looking trout, what a magnificent way to spend a day or a morning, it goes without saying that this, is one of the helicopter safaris that must not go amiss!

4th proposal at the star beds! Our hearty congratulations to Frank and Bianca! Frank, we believe waited a year to come back to Loisaba to propose to Bianca at the starbeds, a delighted Frank said, "A fantastic place to get engaged to your girlfriend it is the most romantic setting, thank you!" We wish you both many happy days and look forward to welcoming you back - perhaps on your honeymoon?

UPDATES FOR WEEK ENDING SUNDAY 11TH JANUARY 2004:

Orient Express Safaris Update, January 11 2004

Orient Express Safaris are one of Botswana's leading luxury tour operators. Here is their latest update:

December was a good month. Wildlife sightings at all the camps have been very good and the bush is looking great after all the rain.

Khwai River Lodge and its' surrounding area is looking very good. Sightings have been on average good, although the high amount of dense foliage has made viewing some wildlife a little tricky.

Savute Elephant Camp has had a very good month, both from a weather point of view and from game sightings'. Out of all the camps, Savute experienced the most rain and temperatures have been fairly moderate.Sightings from the area have been outstanding, with predators being seen on a daily basis. Of specific interest in Savute was a sighting of a hippo at Buffalo Pan. Hippo spoor is seen on occasion in the Savute area, however actual sightings are very rare. This hippo spent two days in the area and then disappeared again.

At Eagle Island Camp water activities have been replaced by game viewing from vehicles which resulted in wonderful sightings.

Vegetation wise in Savute is looking extremely lush. Most of the trees in the area have now come into flower, with the yellows and whites of the Acacia species dominating the views. The Savute marsh is now totally covered in grass and is a magnificent green. The characteristic dry and barren Savute has now been transformed into a paradise with amazing beauty.

In both the other camps the vegetation is looking lush and the grass layer has developed very well, with a high level of "sweet" grasses now coming though and attracting a variety of grazers.

Mammal wise Savute Elephant Camp has as usual for the time of the year had some very interesting and spectacular sightings. One that deserves particular mention was a lion that attacked and killed an adult wild dog in close proximity to the camp. Although the two species do not necessarily compete directly for prey and other resources, there is an inherent dislike for each other - to the extent that both species will take every opportunity that presents itself to attack and kill the other. Interestingly, the large migrating herds that are common at this time of year have not yet appeared in the Savute area.

Khwai River Lodge has had increased leopard sightings in comparison to the past month and has also enjoyed some regular sightings of large buffalo and elephant herds. Lion have also been fairly active in the vicinity of the camp, with one kill being in front of tent 14.

Eagle Island Camp has had an increase in lion sightings - several of these involving buffalo being attacked and killed. Large buffalo herds have been common in the vicinity of the camp and this has possibly been the reason why lions are preying on them on a regular basis (buffalo are possibly the most common food source at present).

On the birding front with the low water levels and the restriction of activities at Eagle Island Camp, fewer reports of water-based birds have been reported over the past month. Non-the less, there have been some fantastic sighting at all camps. At Khwai River Lodge guides have identified a pair of breeding ground hornbills and have also tracked down their nest and have been monitoring the development of the young chicks.

Eagle Island Camp has had good sightings of Green pigeon, Wattled Cranes, swamp bou-bou's, paradise flycatchers and Pels' fishing owl. African skimmers are still in the area - nesting on the ever-increasing sandbanks.

Reptile wise tortoises have been regularly sighted in all the camps with the rain continuing to fall. As for other reptiles, the only other regular sightings have been of skinks and lizards. Snakes have been almost non-existent.One of these sightings was of a leopard that had caught a large python and was busy eating it.

Temperatures this past month have been averaging around the high twenties and low thirties in the whole area. Some good rains have fallen, however they have on average been very isolated. Maun (and immediate surrounds) experienced some very good rains, with the most significant rainfall being on January 1, 2004, where 100+ millimeters of rain fell in a seven-hour period.

Rocktail Bay Update, January 11 2004

Rocktail Bay is located on South Africa's eastern coast just south of Mozambique. Rocktail Bay offers South Africa's best scuba diving (also some of the world's finest). Here is an update from the only lodge in the area - Rocktail Bay Lodge:

Rocktail Bay - wonderful corals, warm water, lots of underwater activity and a great dive team. But most important of all, we have an area of about 40km of pristine coastline and ours is the only boat along this entire stretch! The reefs are all pristine and immaculate. December was a wonderful end to a fantastic year. Sunny skies, warm water, flat seas - who could ask for more?

Gogo's has been the site to dive this month. Over and above the normal breathtaking corals and fish life we had three special sightings this month. The first sighting was a leatherback turtle seen by divers whilst on the dive, rather than at the surface where we occasionally see them. The next exciting moment was when we encountered a 2.5meter brindle bass in Tyson's (the resident potato bass) territory. This fish was golden brown in color and very inquisitive, coming right in to the divers with Tyson in close attendance. Funny enough he did not seem to be too worried about the intrusion into his territory. The very next dive Darryl and Leza stayed down and low and behold a beautiful sailfish swam by. It was approximately 25kg and it displayed its sail and brilliant colors before moving off into the distance. Just proves, the dive is never finished until you get back on the boat!

The bottlenose dolphins have certainly been in a festive mood this month, we have seen them on 10 different occasions, often chasing garfish on the surface. Whilst on a dive at Elusive we could hear a consistent buzzing which Darryl told us was a pod of approximately 200 spinner dolphins that were a bit further out to sea. The dolphins have been exceptionally playful this month.

Hang Ten has a lovely little cave area where 2 cave bass hang out, each weighing approximately 6kg. Every time we dive there we notice them, that is until Darryl noticed the resident potato bass with an enormous stomach and a tail protruding from his mouth! There were 2 cave bass and now there is only 1! Other sightings of great interest on Hang Ten have been big schools of squid. It is normally hard to get close to squid as they are very quick and normally jet off the moment you get too close, these however do not move away and we have discovered why. Clive saw a couple of squid close to a rock on the sand and spotted one moving in and out of the ledge. On investigation he found white egg sacs attached to the bottom of the ledge. In summer this little reef also attracts a large number of rays, marbled electric, brown stingrays, black marbled ribbon-tail ray and the beautiful honeycomb rays. There is also a sand shark, which is often seen out across the sand.

Towards the end of the month we had a wonderfully exciting dive at Elusive. We were just over half way through our dive time as we made our way through the gully that leads out to the seaward section of the reef. As we rounded the corner we saw a couple of cobia, then more and more. They were all playing around the sand, circling and coming in close to look at us. There were approximately 20 in total. Down on the sand we saw their traveling companion, a huge ray. We spent the remainder of our dive watching this spectacle until the ray darted off, followed by his entourage. The reason they are always together is that as the ray forages in the sand he disturbs crabs and other morsels for the cobia to feed on.

A new find this month - Aerial reef! This little reef is situated slightly north of Pantry and we decided to check it out. Darryl told us the shape of the reef and where to head and off we went. As we descended we were amazed, the reef started on a built up area with goldies milling around above the reef and sprats in the mid water with some lovely black tip kingfish waiting to pounce on them. More potato bass - another three! Just as curious as all the others we have encountered. Life all around - big rays, eels, turtles. It's going to be exciting to explore this reef thoroughly.

This time of year we expect to start seeing the female ragged tooth sharks, last season they arrived on December 18. We have been checking the cave area behind Island Rock where they gather during their pregnancy to rest. They have not yet arrived but have been sighted south of us at Quarter Mile Reef in Sodwana. They could arrive any day now - something else to look forward to in January. Hoping that the later they arrive the longer they will stay.

A final farewell to the year on December 31 when we saw a humpback whale sailing, with it's tail out of the water - a fitting end to a wonderful year! Wishing you and your families all the best for 2004.

Darryl, Clive and Michelle The Rocktail Bay Dive Team

UPDATES FOR WEEK ENDING SUNDAY 4TH JANUARY 2004:

Star of Africa Zambia Update, January 4 2004

Star of Africa is one of Zambia's leading tour operators with an wonderful circuit of high end safari properties. Here is their latest update:

With the arrival of the rains in Zambia, the grounds around Sussi and Chuma Lodge at Victoria Falls have exploded into a kaleidoscope of colors, with animals, birds and insects enjoying the refreshing change.

At Lochinvar Park the migrant birds are now back and should stay through to the end of the rainy season. Bird sightings have been incredible with huge flocks of 100's and 1,000's of birds at a time.

On the Lower Zambezi at Kulefu here is a wonderful diary excerpt written by Andrew and the team as they left the camp and the Lower Zambezi area early November - "Down and around "Sandy Hairpin bend" through "Small Croc Dambo" and up and under the vast canopy of winter and umbrella thorns, into and then out of the river crossing, along the dry river bed and through the clear shallow channel for the last time this season! As the sun rose up through the Mpata Gorge, slowly stretching out its fingertips across the Chikwenya Plains mixed emotions were shared amongst us at as we said goodbye to our "home" and looked forward to time with our loved ones. A familiar female leopard draped over a low lying branch of a sausage tree at "Tree T Junction" gazed over at us, and we bid our farewells. Through the Chikwenya River and up out of the flood plains we continued, and then……. a loud cheer!!! Up ahead, on the road, surveying the Jeki Plains lay our 3 resident male lions, "Casanova", "Blackie" and "Scar". We met for the final time this season and found it difficult to say goodbye to the lions whom we had grown to know so well. For six months the animals of this magnificent "Far Away Place" will have it all to themselves, undisturbed. What a wonderful season it has been, filled with life long memories. We look forward to what surprises the lower Zambezi has in store for us next year. Tizaonana!!"

At Chichele Presidential Lodge in South Luangwa Mark reports: "We have had a good November - the first month of rains in the Valley with the green season setting in. Whilst it has been very hot during the day game viewing has been very good in the early morning and after dark - one amazing sighting was twenty two wild dogs spotted by clients earlier on in the month. Guests having dinner at Chichele have been treated to great game viewing, including lions chasing impala across the lawn and elephants drinking from the swimming pool!

At nearby Puku Ridge, also in South Luangwa, the team reported: "As the rains of the green season begin Puku Ridge is being transformed. The trees that began to show signs of life in the October heat are now green and full. The flood plain is also coming alive with the new grass growing rapidly. This has attracted impala and puku during the day and hippo at night. The Luangwa River is still very low and over dinner one can hear the hippos, often fighting over their shrinking territory. The river will not be in full flood until late February after the waters have flowed down from the Nyika Plateau and beyond and by March the flood water will flow into the Puku Ridge plain, creating a very different scene. Hyena, lion and leopard can also be heard after dark and their stealthy approach is often given away by the shrill whistle of a puku or the bark of a baboon. The larger predators are often spotted by guests on the night drives, as well as the smaller characters such as the white tailed mongoose, civet and genet. During the day the wildlife seen around Puku Ridge has included Thornicrofts giraffe, elephant, lion, magnificent kudu bulls and small groups of buffalo bulls beyond breeding age, known in the local language as Kakuli."

UPDATES FOR WEEK ENDING SUNDAY 28TH DECEMBER 2003:

Robin Pope Safaris Weekly Update, December 28 2003

Robin and Jo Pope are one of Zambia's most respected tour operators. Here is their latest update:

Shanie has been putting up the decorations in the bar, including the Christmas tree. This is no tree - a thin branch from a bush that Marcus spent an afternoon spaying gold and silver. And voila! We have a Christmas tree.

The kitchen is in full swing making brandy butter, mince pies and other goodies. It is hot hot hot today and the sky is blue and the bush very green. So really quite hard to get the feel of Christmas despite all the activities. The carols on the bridge usually start it off for me.

Yesterday morning we said goodbye to an English family that had spent a week at Robin's House.It had been a organized by the father and was a total surprise for the rest of the family. There had been a few rather anxious emails about whether there would be enough to do for a week. They loved it all and when I asked how much they had used the swimming pool - the response was "when are we supposed to have the time!" During the rains, with only Nkwali open, our guests do spend more time here and so we are able to get past the traditional drives and walks and do some different activities. They spent a morning walking in the Chendeni Hills. It was to be followed by fishing at Tundwe Lagoon but a huge storm was approaching and so it was decided to dash back to camp. But not in time! They were soaked. The morning at Kawaza was a huge success - as always. And Robin and I took them to the salt pans 40 minutes behind Nkwali - through lovely cathedral mopane trees. We found a group of 6 Arnot's Chats - unusual to see them together like that and a forked tailed drongo dive bombing a flustered pearl spotted owlet. The all day drive with a picnic ended up being 14 hours! It included lots of time spent at a lagoon painting, chatting, playing games. The cats had been thin on the ground for a few days and we were getting concerned. Well on the drive they saw a pride of lions and 2 leopards - including a daytime view of a leopard stalking impala. Wonderful. The final sundowners with us all on the sandbank island infront of camp was a great ending to the safari.

Finally....the red chested cuckoo continues to call, night and day and we wonder if he will ever find a mate!

Have a wonderful Christmas, with your friends and family. All the best - Jo

UPDATES FOR WEEK ENDING SUNDAY 21ST DECEMBER 2003:

Chitabe Camp November Report, December 21 2003

Chitabe Camp is located on the border of Botswana's famed Moremi Reserve. Here is the camp's latest update:

Although cooler than last month, November remained hot with increased humidity due to impending rain clouds. The camp was engulfed by a few large sand storms during the last four weeks. These tended to be followed by large lightening storms. Of the rainfall there were two heavy periods where over 15 mm were recorded in a short space of time. Sporadic evening showers were responsible for the rest of the rain.

Average Maximum Temperature: 42

Average Minimum Temperature: 22

Total Rainfall: 32 mm

Following on from last month's wonderful sightings (which included rhino), November has been just as exciting for guides and guests. A highlight in the past at Chitabe has been the big herds of buffalo. More than a few times this month we were blessed with an awe inspiring sight of a herd of over 1,500 strong making their way in front of the main camp. This enabled us to watch some interesting interactions between the buffalo and the Chitabe lion pride right on our doorstep!

The four male lions in the coalition have been exerting their claim over the pride as they settle in to their role as leaders. Two of them have been mating with a number of different females to the extent that even the most prude of guests could not resist a peek at the action. We are keeping our fingers crossed that lionesses have gained some experience from their previous and largely unsuccessful attempts at rearing young. Its not only main camp which has been seeing all of the action. Two females pulled down a young zebra at the waterhole just in front of Chitabe Trails and continued to fight over the carcass. The lions share of the kill was not decided by the dominate female but a much larger species. An elephant bull arrived out of no where and noisily charged straight at the lions causing them to drop the zebra and take cover in the long grass. Releasing the kill for a trio of lionesses waiting on the sidelines. We watched the pair continue to cower in the reeds until the bull moved away proceeding with his journey leaving all of us gazing on to ponder both incredible displays of power.

Elephants have always been a big part of everyday life at Chitabe and elephant are often found feeding on the island in between the tents. Such regular exposure to these animals did not make the following sighting any less magical, in fact maybe even more the opposite? A breeding herd of approximately 300 moved silently from the forest up the channel which runs parallel to both camps. Guides, guests and managers watched from the dining room over their breakfast as the elephants proceeded past. They continued on to the top of the island where they were suddenly spooked (the wind changed, we believe picking up the sent of the lions sleeping in the reeds). Lost for words we watched the incredible transformation from gentle giants to a formidable force as the elephants, trumpeting loudly, ran back in to the cover of the trees. Although the whole episode probably lasted just 20 minutes it was definitely one of those memories that will stay with those that observed it for a long time.

Wild dogs (our logo species at Chitabe) continued to keep a high profile this month. Since leaving their dens, the pups from both the Mogogelo and Moonstone packs have provided endless entertainment for all as they continue to run circles around and over the adults during play. This has proved beneficial in developing their stamina as the pups whilst heading out on hunts have been able to keep up with the pack with seemingly little effort. But as life goes in the bush, every up has a down. Sadly, a female from the smaller Sandibe pack which frequents this area was killed by some of the other dogs right on the edge of our concession. The exact reasons behind this behavior are currently being explored by the Wild Dog Researchers.

Back to the big cats, both cheetah and leopards have been spotted regularly (no pun intended). A close up sighting was provided by a very relaxed young leopard who chose to get comfy in the sausage tree above Main Camp's tent number one. Other predators such as hyenas and jackals often remind us of their presence, when they stop to return the gaze of guests having bush sundowners.

General game has been very concentrated around the immediate vicinity of the camp as the water has been visibly drying up every day - only to be topped up by the rainfall. Good sightings of relaxed groups of giraffe and zebra have been had. The first species to drop young were the tsessebe followed a week later by the impala.

Since the first rains many more species have been reappearing after keeping a low profile. As no creature should really be left out of this update: the reptiles, amphibians and insects have held many guests who came to this continent primarily for the "Big Five" equally as captivated. One such incident was played out this morning in the lounge entrance way when two skinks were so engrossed in a territorial dispute they carried on oblivious to the arrivals and departures going on around them

Its that time of year again when one of the dominant sounds is the call of the woodlands kingfisher. The call is later surpassed by the night sounds of the many Scops owls we have roosting in camp. One species which seems to be getting most of the attention from other seasonal visitors to the island is a pair of paradise flycatchers who are busy building its nest in one of the trees which burnt down last year.

Robin Pope Safaris Weekly Update, December 21 2003

Robin and Jo Pope are one of Zambia's most respected tour operators. Here is their latest update:

Well, we can now confirm that the rains have definitely arrived! Our quiet and peaceful Sunday afternoon turned into soggy chaos when the heavens opened and proceeded to dump 60 millimeters (just over 2 inches for those non-metricated) of rain on us in a period of 25-30 minutes. All in all we had 75 millimeters yesterday afternoon, evening and into the night.

Although the rain may have caused chaos in camp, it brought all creatures great and small to life. The nuptial flight of the winged termites, or 'flying ants' as they are known here, took place after the heavy downpour and the place was soon overrun with the termites. A large variety of frogs and toads came out of their hiding places to enjoy the rain and the pre-Christmas feast that was laid on by the termites!! I even saw a Vervet monkey sitting above one of the lights in camp, way past it's bedtime, catching the flying ants that were congregating around the light. Our guests were quite amazed by this African thunderstorm even if it did cancel their afternoon drive. One of the guests who is with us right now is an old friend of Robin's and was the person who actually sold Robin his first vehicle when he opened Tena Tena 18 years ago.

I'm afraid our Christmas tree hunt failed. Shanie and I had planned to go out yesterday afternoon but our trip was ruined by the downpour - tomorrow is the day!

As I sit here and write this we are being driven crazy by the constant calling of the red-chested cuckoo. Last year it was the emerald cuckoo that was calling constantly above the office, looking for a mate. I hope the red-chested cuckoo finds a mate.......SOON!! Have a good week. Cheers, Simon

P.S. Paul has just returned from game drive having just seen 15 wild dogs - very happy guests.

UPDATES FOR WEEK ENDING SUNDAY 14TH DECEMBER 2003:

Jao Camp Update, December 14 2003

Jao Camp is located in Botswana's Okavango Delta. It is renowned for tremendous accommodations, incredibly kind staff and wonderful wildlife viewing. Here is the camp's November update:

The average maximum temperature was 34 degrees and the average minimum 21. Rainfall for the month was 37.25 ml.

With the very late rains to this part of the world, the general game viewing on the Jao flood plains has been spectacular with large herds of zebra, wildebeest and approximately 1,000 buffalo moving in from the west to take advantage of the permanent water within the concession. The lion sightings have been frequent and covering the whole concession with the prides alternatively heading east for the lechwe on the floodplains and then west after the herds of plains game. Jao is proud to announce that they have also had three new additions to the floodplain pride in the form of approximately 6 weeks old cubs which were first spotted in the middle of the month.

Leopard have been sighted regularly and they suspect that the Jao female has cubs in a palm thicket just off the island. A big male has also been frequenting the island and has become accustomed to the vehicles. A large female cheetah has taken up residence north of Kwetsani and has been sighted often by guests.

Guests have been doing a lot of mekoring around the floodplains east of Jacana and over the last 2 weeks a female sitatunga and her lamb were seen just after sunrise on an island close to the mekoro station. The highlight of the month must go to the two pangolin seen on the western floodplain road to Hunda island!

The migrants have all arrived and the camp resounds with the sounds of summer in particular the woodland kingfisher and redchested cukoos. The birdlife in the area continues to astound guests both in quantity and quality and all of them depart Jao with a new appreciation for the avian world.

Guests have had a lot of dinners under the stars, with the weather being very kind in this regard. The staff singing has once again been a favorite with guests and hardly any questionnaire fails to mention the impact the friendly and caring attitude of the Jao staff.

Orient Express Safaris November Update, December 14 2003

Orient Express Safaris (used to be named Gametrackers) are one of Botswana's most luxurious tour operators. Here is their latest update:

November has seen the continuance of the rains and this has in turn produced several changes in the vegetation and the animal behavior. Many areas throughout the Delta are now greening up and are attracting a wide diversity of wildlife. This greening process brings about the effect of attracting game away from the dry season (winter) feeding areas. With this process now happening, the areas that were heavily grazed and browsed during the dry season are getting a chance to recover.

Eagle Island Camp has had some spectacular sightings in the immediate vicinity of the lodge. One of these sightings includes a lion kill on the floodplain in front of tent one. Eagle Island Camp has also had high numbers of Peters' Epauletted fruit bats roosting in the rafters of the main public areas as well as the trees surrounding these areas. Additionally there have been very good cheetah and lion sightings with the occasional sighting of herds of roan antelope.

Savute Elephant Camp has been impressive with repeated sightings over the month of the larger predators, in particular lions and leopards.

Khwai River Lodge has had some fantastic sighting of elephant over the past couple of weeks. Herds that range in size up to around 150 individuals have been coming down to drink at the Khwai River. There are also fairly large numbers of hippo congregating in the deeper pools in the vicinity of the lodge (as many as 25 in some areas).

With the dry season now gone, the phenomenon where lions prey on elephant in Savute has come to an end. During the dry season it was determined that the Savute lions preyed upon a minimum of 31 individual elephant. This has now become an annual event and is likely to continue in the years ahead.

"Birdlife" has been conducting surveys in the Eagle Island Camp area on the wattled cranes. Part of the survey involved night catching of individual birds - something that has not been done in the past. The aim of catching the birds was simply to see if it could be done. Now that they know it is possible, "Birdlife" will be seeking sponsorship from the USA for satellite tracking equipment, which will aid in long distance and long-term tracking.

Bird sightings have been especially good as Eagle Island Camp this month. Some of the highlighted species include large flocks of terns, large numbers of squaco herons, slaty egrets and wattled cranes.

From a weather point of view, all our camps have continued to receive the characteristic high temperatures associated with this time of year. The rains have continued to fall, although from a regional average, we are still below for this time of year.

Chiawa Camp Newsletter, December 14 2003

Chiawa Camp is located on the banks of the lower Zambezi River in Zambia. It is one of Zambia's most popular safari camps offering great wildlife, comfort and endless good times. Here is their latest update:

And so ends another safari season in the Lower Zambezi - and what a season it has been - Chiawa's busiest ever!

The last few weeks of the season at Chiawa were most interesting - with some great sightings that included two separate aardvark sightings, one at the waterhole right next to camp. The other which Andy found, was particularly noteworthy - whilst he and his blessed guests were watching the aardvark busy snuffling about and seemingly oblivious to the vehicle, an inquisitive lioness heard the potentially tasty meal and started moving cautiously in for a closer look. At this point the aardvark realized what was going on and it dug an unbelievably quick burrow and disappeared completely from view in a matter of seconds. Has anyone else out there heard of aardvarks digging a burrow to escape in such a manner?

Another spectacular evening drive turned up 4 leopards in close proximity to each other. However it was the manner in which the leopards were discovered which is even more unusual. Having seen a pair of mating leopards a few kilometer's back, one of our drives was perplexed to find a 6 month old lion cub totally on its own, mewing for the rest of the pride which were nowhere to be seen. It was this mewing which attracted a large female leopard which then commenced a "leopard crawl" stalk towards the cub. Of course everyone in the vehicle was tempted to intervene and rescue the cub however, as is standard practice at Chiawa, the vehicle kept its distance and waited for nature to run its course without any interference. The cub must have smelt or sensed it was in danger as it suddenly charged at full tilt across the lagoon with the leopard in hot pursuit. For a few moments it looked like the cub was done for but it ran into a large stand of adrenaline grass which was hiding its rescuers - the missing 12 lions! So the leopardess turned around and led us to another male leopard which she promptly started flirting with. Would it be boring if all night drives were like that?

Whilst on the subject of game viewing, the resident wild dog population had a somewhat traumatic season, losing the first litter or pups and subsequently the Alpha female to disease. Fortunately another female took on the Alpha role and shortly thereafter was heavily pregnant and denning. She gave birth to about 8 pups in July however as a first time mother, lost most of them once they got mobile. At the time of writing only three of this season's pups have survived, about the same number from last year's litter. The good news is that the population is still healthy and viable - indeed - we had about 27 wild dog sightings this season which is a large increase from the phenomenal doggie year of 2002. Unfortunately Kellie Leigh is staying in Australia for most of 2004 to complete her thesis however it is hoped that Conservation Lower Zambezi will be able to continue monitoring the wild dog population for the benefit of the species, and for you!

For the anglers, the heaviest tiger (a portly 19lbs) was caught by Barney from England, who was also treated to a spectacular lions-feeding-on-buffalo scene, on the last day that Chiawa was open! Quite a few were also caught in the 14-17lb range however higher than usual water levels this year prevented the fishing from being as frantic as we are used to. The ladies fared very well, usually out-fishing the men, and indeed the largest fish caught at Chiawa this year was a 50lb vundu - well done Anna from Austria! For those of you who don't know, the best fishing months are September-November and all fish are released unharmed! James and Isaac, our ever-smiling and ever-patient fishing guides know all the spots and all the tricks, for expert and novice alike.

Robin Pope Safaris Weekly Update, December 14 2003

Robin and Jo Pope are one of Zambia's most respected tour operators. Here is their latest update:

Things are green with lots of new leaf growth on the Mopane trees and new shoots of grass but as there has been little rain the river levels have not altered significantly and the ground is still dry. There are plenty of looming rain clouds and thunder rumbling around so I am sure it will not be long until the rains arrive properly. We witnessed an amazing double rainbow yesterday with really strong colors and two complete arches. As yet no pot of gold though!

Meanwhile guests have been enjoying game drive opportunities to the full and last week Jacob even managed a day drive and picnic up to the Nsefu sector with lovely sightings including a large herd of eland and painted snipe. This will probably be the last visit this year, as the roads will soon become impassable.

Drives around the Nkwali area continue to produce some excellent sightings particularly of prides of lion and large herds of elephants. Two magnificent large maned male lions conveniently killed a waterbuck right next the road, which provided exciting viewing. The wild dogs are "back in town" but as yet we have not seen them. However, 22 were reported to have been at Lupunga Spur this weekend and Simon is gnashing at the bit to go out and find them, so hopefully we might be able to report further details on the pack soon.

On the birding front the most exciting sighting recently has been the arrival of the ever-elusive Angola Pitta (now known as the African Pitta). It was spotted by Ruben, our famous "projects manager", a couple of hundred meters outside camp but as yet I have not been lucky enough to see it.

Simon, Keyala and myself went out on Saturday night to do surprise sundowners for guests who were leaving the next day. We watched the most spectacular sunset - a beautiful range of colors from fuchsia pink through to burnt orange, sipped our chilled champagne and were serenaded by hippos - not a bad way to spend an evening!

Preparations for Christmas are underway. Starting with a hunt for suitable Christmas tree - not an easy task in the middle of the Zambian bush!

Have a good week - Shanie

UPDATES FOR WEEK ENDING SUNDAY 7TH DECEMBER 2003:

Robin Pope's Weekly Zambia Update, December 7 2003

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

We have seen an aardvark. I use the term "we" loosely as I did not see it unfortunately. Paul was driving back from an evening game drive and came to Robin's Bridge. Being close to camp the guests had already packed up their camera equipment and were anticipating drinks at the bar. Just after crossing there was the aardvark wandering down the road. The guests had a really good view of this rare sight but unfortunately there will be no photographic evidence. Rule no. 1 - keep your camera at the ready until you get to the bar!

Another all day picnic this week and Paul took guests to the Nsefu sector. Fortunately they have not had too much rain and so it is great for the guests to be able to visit this part of the park. Highlights of an excellent days game viewing included lion on a buffalo kill and hyena on a dead hippo so quite a productive day for those who are not too squeamish.

At one point during the trip Paul stopped and discussed the laying of Jacana eggs - one guest commented that they laid in a very higgledy-piggledy fashion. As you can imagine not a comment that comes up everyday and great hilarity followed when Paul tried to master the phrase. Keyala and Daudi have now joined in and fits of giggles ensue every time one of them attempts to use the saying.

We have a pod of hippos in front of camp - not moving much as they have obviously found a good spot and are sticking to it. However, the close proximity has resulted in some spectacular fights with us egging on our favorites from the bar.

Whilst watching the hippo the other evening we happened to turn around in time to see two vervet monkeys racing across the grass. One of them obviously upset with the other. However, the one in the lead got the last laugh as the little tearaway chasing him ran headlong into a tree, bounced off stunned and looked rather embarrassed before heading off in the opposite direction.

Again in camp we left the office one afternoon to take a look at a family of elephant coming down to drink on the opposite bank. A small crocodile was then spotted and also a monitor lizard. The little croc obviously had eyes bigger than his stomach and made a grab for the lizard only to find that, although he had caught him, he was unable to maneuver him into a position where he could eat him. A larger crocodile who happened to be passing by soon retrieved the lizard in question and showed his friend how it was done. Cheers, Kim

 

UPDATES FOR WEEK ENDING SUNDAY 30TH NOVEMBER 2003:

Wilderness Safaris November Update, November 30 2003

Ultimate Africa staff have just returned from a 32 day inspection trip in southern Africa. Here is the latest news and updates from Wilderness Safaris, one of our favorite southern Africa tour operators:

In February 2004, Wilderness Safaris is organizing a 700km charity bicycle ride from Johannesburg to Durban, South Africa. The proceeds of this ride will go to the Children in the Wilderness program they run. The program enables Wilderness to host groups of up to 24 rural children in safari camps for a week at a time, free of charge, with the aim of giving them an incredible and uplifting wildlife and environmental experience. Too few rural children in Africa are voluntarily entering the conservation and wildlife world once they leave school because they have little or no interest in wildlife. Many of the people who do work in wildlife / conservation have drifted into the profession as "it is a job" that pays a salary and as a result there is no real passion for the profession in many conservation officials. The Children in the Wilderness program has as one of its aims to change this by stimulating rural children to become interested in wildlife and conservation. Wilderness has seen real success in the program over the past few years. But the program is costly to operate as Wilderness has to close their camps to guests and open them to the kids - and then pay for all their costs. The bike ride (which will take place over 4 days with approximately 60 riders) should raise around US $150,000 through sponsorships.

In Botswana 2003 has been the best wildlife viewing year in memory. The combination of a) lower water levels (that helped concentrate the game), b) lower hunting quotas throughout the country (and no lion hunting anywhere at all) combined with c) Wilderness's own "no hunting" policy has meant that guests have enjoyed the best game viewing that we can ever remember. Just about each and every camp has had great game viewing all year. At Mombo we have never seen so many different species and concentrations of animals anywhere in one place - ever. There were huge herds of zebra, elephant, buffalo - and all the plains game at every point on the compass. Leopards were everywhere as were lions. We just missed out on cheetah for some reason (as there are plenty around) and wild dog. The game experiences at Mombo were truly amazing. In addition at Mombo a whole lot of new white and black rhino that have just been released into the wild. The first black rhino, 4 of them, have now been released and an additional 10 female white rhino are running wild. In total, 32 white rhinos have been released at Mombo as well as 4 black rhinos over the past two years. It's been a huge success story for all and a wonderful conservation initiative.

Wilderness's guide training program in Botswana is really starting to bear fruit - and this year we have had the most positive feedback on our local guides ever. Wilderness cloned the Zimbabwe guide training system and imported it into Botswana about three years ago and we have seen the standards appreciate remarkably over this period.

Namibia too has had an outstanding year. Serra Cafema, Palmwag Rhino and Little Ongava have added a dimension of quality and privacy that was often lacking throughout much of the country. For 2004 Sossusvlei Wilderness Camp will have enlarged decks out front of each bedroom where guests can sleep under the stars if they so wish.

We have just been told that there is a new park fee coming into effect on the January 1, 2004. This will cost 80 Rand per entry into the Sossusvlei and Etosha. Generally guests who stay at Sossusvlei and Ongava enter the parks only on one day - so there will be an 80 Rand surcharge. If guests stay three nights they will generally enter the park on two days and they will be charged an extra 160 Rand

In the Seychelles Wilderness is enormously proud of what has been achieved under very trying circumstances. In the Seychelles there is at least a two to three month waiting time from the moment you order an item, till it arrives on the island. There have to be few places on this planet that are this difficult to run an operation. The guest reviews that we are now getting are out of this world. Many guests have said that there is nowhere more beautiful than North Island. We have had many guests already rebook their second holidays on the island.

Wilderness is moving to an all-inclusive tariff including scuba diving courses and all scuba dives, activities, wines, beers and drinks and an arrival massage. The only exclusions are expensive wines on the "reserve wine" list, spa treatments and full PADI dive courses. The de-ratting and alien species eradication program took place some months back. It was an extraordinarily complex and expensive exercise. But this has resulted in a totally rat / cat free island. We are now already seeing an increase in the number of birds on the island, directly as a result of this program.

In South Africa Wilderness Safaris has made large strides in developing their new South African properties in several truly breathtaking areas. The northern part of Kruger Park (in the Pafuri / Makuleke area), Mkambati (in the Eastern Cape along the "Wild Coast") and their very special site on the coast at Plettenberg Bay are truly mouth-watering and so different from anything that is currently available in South Africa. They are aiming at opening their Kruger and Mkambati lodges and camps somewhere in the middle to late part of 2004 - and Plettenberg Bay will probably open in 2005.

Their northern Kruger property (The Makuleke / Pafuri area) is so different in scenery, vegetation and wildlife from any of the existing reserves and lodges in and around Kruger. The trees in the Pafuri / Makuleke are up to 50% taller than an average baobab! One feels as though one is walking in Mana Pools or somewhere in central Africa when one walks along the banks of the Luvuvhu River in the Pafuri. Activities will include day and night wildlife viewing drives both on and off road, walks and even mountain biking - all within Kruger.

In Zimbabwe things are just the same as they have been for the past 3 years. The living conditions for the average Zimbabwean have continued dropping. The food situation in the country (especially the rural areas) is not good and in many areas people are starving. There are fuel shortages and there is no foreign currency. In many areas, the local people have had to resort to poaching to survive and keep their families alive. The economic and political situation is a mess. There are however, four shining areas in the quagmire and these areas are Victoria Falls, the south-eastern sector of Hwange, Matusadona and Mana Pools National Parks. People often ask us why Wilderness Safaris are keeping their properties in Zimbabwe going. Sure it would be easy to just to quit but the ramifications of quitting are just too awful to contemplate - for the wildlife and for our staff. If we had to move out of Hwange in particular, poaching would escalate and the animals would be decimated very quickly for the cooking pot. There are only 27 waterholes that are functioning throughout the whole of Hwange and Wilderness are maintaining and running 22 of them, entirely at their cost. So this is where the wildlife is and why Wilderness guests are witnessing incredible game concentrations around Makalolo and Linkwasha. Wilderness are also doing a lot of the vet work in the areas and maintaining the wildlife status quo through anti-poaching efforts in collaboration with the Parks' authorities. Without these efforts Hwange could potentially collapse. Wilderness are currently supporting seven rural schools around Makalolo and Linkwasha's eastern boundary and between Wilderness and contributions from guests they are supplying cash and goods to these schools that works out to about 3 times the schools annual budget. Without this support these schools would not be able to provide a decent education to the kids. All in all when one weighs up the wildlife, the staff (and their families' livelihoods) and the schools, Wilderness has no option but to keep on going in Zimbabwe - hoping that change happens quickly.

On the positive side of things, the wildlife experience has been superb all year and Zimbabwe still offers one of the best wildlife experiences anywhere in Africa - and at great value too. Wilderness hosted the travel editor of the New York Times (unbeknown to Wilderness) on a safari earlier this year. She traveled as a full paying guest and wrote the most incredible article on southern Africa that was the front page on their travel supplement. She painted a glowing picture of her Mana Pools / Chikwenya experience. The reason I mention all of this is that people are traveling to Zimbabwe and they are getting an excellent wildlife experience, despite the negative publicity in the newspapers.

Lastly Wilderness Safaris has been recently recognized internationally by a number of prestigious organizations and publications.

North Island: The Sunday Times in the UK voted this as the best resort in the world for style! In fact they stated that: "North Island has set a towering new standard in the art of barefoot style, and has leapt to the top of the world's honeymoon hot list".

Jack's Camp: The Sunday Times readers voted this camp as having the best service in the world and said: "The staff are experts at making you feel like an individual in a very special environment"

Rocktail Bay: Harpers and Queen in the UK voted Rocktail Bay as the joint best dive experience in the world

The River Club was voted as one of the 20 best hotels' in the world by Fodors and was also voted by Harper's and Queen as one of the World "Most Luxurious" Action Spots.

Wilderness Safaris was voted as the best eco-tourism company in the world by ASTA - the American Society of Travel Agents

And to top everything off -.Wilderness Safaris is enormously proud to have received the World Legacy Award for the World's Number One Wildlife Travel Company from Conservation International and National Geographic.

Robin Pope's Weekly Safari Update, November 30 2003

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

A few days ago I was walking back from the bar just after dark and saw a hippo in the lagoon in front of the dining room. It was not moving and Adam who was with me thought it might be dead. Kate and Daudi hastily arrived for further inspection and the men started to discuss how they would remove it - involving winches, ropes and hooks. Obviously disturbed by the ideas being expressed the hippo lifted its head and put an end to the recovery mission - thankfully.

Yesterday a tiny baby vervet monkey fell out of a tree just opposite the office. The poor thing looked quite bewildered, looking up at us with it big head and huge eyes. The mother remained in the tree bobbing up and down, trying to frighten us off. We retreated to allow the mother to come down and collect the baby. She shot down the tree, raced across the ground and without missing a step scooped up her offspring with one hand and headed off to safety.

Definitely the sight of the week was again at Nkwali camp. Looking out of my office window - yes daydreaming again - I saw a huge flock of birds flying along the river. Rushing out to find a group of over 500 (we estimate - although guesses varied from 300 to 1000!) Abdim's storks - or as Keyala and Daudi call them Abdomen storks. They were accompanied by 2 white storks who stood out in contrast in the middle of the group. These migratory birds first appeared about 3 weeks ago in the Nsefu sector. They stayed opposite the camp for a hour or so before flying off again which produced an amazing noise as they flew overhead.

Nkwali has been a great spot this week for viewing game. In addition to the birds, we have had guests being treated to both lions and hyenas on the opposite bank during breakfasts and as I write a huge male elephant is parading along the river. We often have giraffe coming to join us for sundowners and it is fascinating to watch them drinking from the river. The other day we also had the spectacle of 3 puku trying to decide whether or not it was safe to cross from one sandbank to another. There were several hungry looking crocodiles around and the first 2 bravely went for it, taking enormous leaps as they shot across. The 3rd puku was not so sure of the sense of it and after much deliberation decide to stay put.

Meanwhile game viewing proper has been fabulous too. 4 pels fishing owls were seen by Jacob - he certainly is doing well on his count of these amazing birds. Later on the same walk they came across a pride of 5 lions. They then heard long tailed starlings making a racket and went to investigate. Walking in cautiously Jacob came face to face with a 3 meter long python. Stay well and have a great week - Kim