Climate and Landscape
The Mana Pools area is now seeing the effects of the dry season. The water pans are drying out at a rapid rate, with very few still holding any water, which has brought many more animals closer to the Zambezi River, making the game viewing spectacular. The grass has now dried out in most of the area, leaving only the fairly green floodplains, which has attracted the attention of all the grazers, closely followed by the predators.
The albida trees are full of pods, many of which should ripen around the middle of June, which will bring more elephant to visit our camp. The Natal mahogany adds its evergreen colour along the river courses and provides good shade for a variety of animals. The fever bark trees, which occur along our dry riverbeds are starting to shed their leaves, which will help a great deal with animal sightings as they cover large areas.
The weather has been really pleasant up to now, but over the last few days, we are finally feeling the effects of the coming winter. There has been a chill in the air in the early part of the evening, and it is decidedly cool in the early mornings. We have now started putting water bottles in the guests’ beds which are really appreciated, especially during the early hours of the morning. Even though we are rapidly going into our dry season and losing the wonderful green lustre of our bush, we are benefitting from increased animal sightings – wonderful for our guests. Even with the lack of greenery, and our bush looking rather dry and inhospitable, there is still a certain aura surrounding us. No matter what time of year it is, the bush always has a special appeal.
This month has really produced some awesome sightings at Ruckomechi Camp, much to the delight of all our guests. With the inland water drying up, and the bush in general feeling the effects of the dry season, the animals have moved closer to river and the greener ‘pastures’ of the floodplains. The elephant as usual make several appearances in and through the camp, much to the delight and amazement of the guests. One can often see several species, such as waterbuck, impala, warthogs, zebra, baboons and elephant all in one area behind the camp. With the pods soon to be ripe on the albidas, we are all waiting expectantly for the numbers of elephant to increase in the camp area.
The impala rut is now just about over, with only a few males chasing each other around with various snorts, grunts and growls. The nights are therefore a lot quieter, giving us the chance to enjoy the calls of the hyaena and roaring of the lions mingled with the grunting sounds of the hippo. What more can we ask for?
The lions were seen often during the first two weeks of May after which they seemed to go on a long walkabout, finally appearing once again towards the latter part of the month. The wild dogs put on a really good display for our guests, and were seen on several occasions hunting and killing impala in front of the vehicles and guests. Two of the wild dogs have visibly large stomachs and are expected to have pups very soon. We just hope they don’t den too far from Ruckomechi as otherwise we won’t see them for a while. The leopards have also been seen often and have been seen stalking impala on a few occasions.
Not to be left out, on our evening drives back to camp we see civet, genet, hyaena and occasionally porcupine.
We have also been blessed with sightings of cheetah for two days in a row. All in all, another great month!
Wildlife percentages: Elephant 100%, buffalo 60%, lion 35%, hippo 100%, leopard 25%, wild dog 35%, cheetah 5%, spotted hyaena 25%
Birds and Birding
With the advantage of the river and wetland areas there have been excellent bird sightings – enough to keep birders busy and excited for any length of time. African openbills are seen in large flocks while sacred ibis, spoonbills and goliath heron are just a few of the birds seen near the river and wetland areas. Spur-winged geese, Egyptian geese and white-faced ducks are nesting, as are the saddle-billed storks.
The white-backed vultures come to an area close to camp daily where they are seen drinking and taking dust baths. They spend several hours basking in the sun with their wings spread to catch as much of the sun’s heat as possible
Climate and Landscape
The grass around the Hwange waterholes is only just starting to thin out, and it looks like it’s going to be a good year with just the right balance of vegetation around for game to feed on, as well as enough water in the pans. The wild flowers are diminishing though – only a handful of colourful pockets in the drying landscape. The grass is a pale green fading to a yellow gold at the tips; this with the dew in the gradually chillier mornings makes for some lovely photographs.
May has been getting progressively cooler with mornings averaging just 9 ? Celsius and once dipping down to 5 ? Celsius! Winter is around the corner, but with midday temperatures still reaching a comfortable 28 ? Celsius we think we’re having a relatively easy introduction to the cold months. On a few days, just before sunrise, there was a thick blanket of mist over the pan in front of camp, disappearing into the tree line so that only the tops of the palms could be seen. Then the days cleared up and we would have beautiful clear blue skies. With the late rains this year, maybe winter will be late too – but the chairs around the fireplace in the evenings are creeping ever closer and the hot water bottles on game drives are being clung to for even longer!
May continued in the same high fashion that April ended on – the resident pride of lion remained in front of camp for a few days, and from the smallest cubs to the biggest males, they made their presence felt, even attempting to hunt a group of buffalo – with a captive audience of guests and staff on our new viewing deck. The lion sightings were good at the beginning of the month, then quietened down and because their presence was no longer in the area, other exciting game came into the limelight.
We had a couple of days which surpassed anyone’s wildest imaginations – on one occasion, guests were very excited to come upon the two male cheetah that patrol the vlei line in front of the old Linkwasha Camp, all the way down to Scott’s Pan. The two cheetah were snoozing in the deep shade of a leadwood tree. They were unperturbed by the game drive vehicle and the click of cameras and guests had a good sighting – then suddenly the guide noticed some movement in the tree above the cheetah – the flick of a tail gave away the presence of a leopard, camouflaged so perfectly in the mottled light between the leaves! This was an awesome spectacle which had everyone buzzing, but then the following day the lucky streak continued as two separate leopards were seen over the course of the day – one reclining on a termite mound and the other walking along the road before disappearing into the long grass. Then guests also caught up with the two black-maned lions in the concession, the two brothers making a handsome pair for photographs in the evening light. After a day like this, the guests on these drives were in their element as they drove back to camp – only to come across a pack of wild dog which played and ran and darted on and off the road in front of their vehicle on their way back into camp!
May was a really superb month with other sightings such as honey badgers on a few occasions – a glimpse into the lives of these confident little creatures as they march long the roads and stare down a Land Rover is testament to their no-nonsense attitude. Sable sightings have also been very good – the highlight being a herd of 14 which tore out of the tree line in front of Ostrich Pan. Everyone had their eyes peeled for predators until we realised that they were all playing, from the beautiful ebony male, to the smaller terracotta calves, they all galloped and chased each other for about an hour in the afternoon light. The great herds of buffalo also came back towards the middle and end of the month and the sight of these massive creatures ambling along the grasslands always inspires awe.
Wildlife percentages for May: leopard 13%, eland 42%, elephant 100%, buffalo 61%, giraffe 77%, dwarf mongoose 52%, honey badger 3%, cheetah 16%.
Birds and Birding
The African fish-eagle calling in front of Davison’s has made many guests coming from Ruckomechi Camp (in Mana Pools National Park on the Zambezi River) do a double take – he has been seen often in front of camp, his iconic cry seemingly out of place next to our comparatively small pans. Good raptor sightings have been enjoyed all month; one delightful visit was from a juvenile little sparrowhawk at the birdbath – he was enjoying cooling off one warm afternoon until a little flock of southern white-crowned shrikes started dive-bombing him and disrupting his soak.
The shikra (little banded goshawk) is still bullying the Bradfield’s and yellow-billed hornbills in camp, their morning chorus occasionally changing to indignant shrieks as he swoops after them in the rosewoods. Little white-browed sparrowweavers are definitely the gutsiest birds for their size, and in a squabble for food amongst hornbills and starlings, these weavers give everyone a run for their money with their cream-coloured chest-feathers puffed out and dark brown masks making them look like little bandits.
A white-backed vulture has been seen sitting on her nest at the top of an ilala palm this month – no chicks have been seen yet but she has been seen there frequently, so hopefully a few new members of this species will be around soon.
After the completion of our main area in April, May was even more exciting with all the finishing touches being put in place in the lounge and dining areas. The camp really has had a facelift from Sharon and Sjani with lots of cosy seating areas, splashes of colour from bright beads, curl-up-on couches and a new bar – bring on the busy season!
Hwange National Park – Then and Now
Hwange National Park, on Zimbabwe’s western border with Botswana, is the country’s largest game reserve. Proclaimed as Wankie Game Reserve back in 1928, it was virtually devoid of any wildlife at that time due to decades of uncontrolled hunting by early colonists. The park was created simply because there was no other more lucrative land-use for it: it was seen as being totally unsuitable for agriculture. Ted Davison was appointed the first warden and, together with his team, over the next 30 years devoted most of his life to developing Hwange, as it is known today. The park was increased in size by the addition of several farms to ensure dry-season water sources and the safe passage between these for wildlife. Another colourful character in Hwange’s early history was HG Robins whose land was also later incorporated into Hwange. The first of Hwange’s boreholes were sunk in 1939. Before the modern boundaries of Hwange were demarcated, the land was roamed by nomadic San (who left some superb engravings in natural rock shelters as evidence of temporary inhabitants) as well as the Matebele.
In 1949, Hwange was declared a National Park and now comprises 1.4 million hectares supporting a wide mix of habitats and wildlife. The park is predominately Kalahari sandveld supporting teak and mopane woodlands, dry acacia scrub and is interspersed with saltpans, vast open palm-fringed plains and grasslands that support enormous species diversity.
Wilderness Safaris has been operating within Hwange for the past 18 years in two private concessions: Makalolo since the end of 1996 and Linkwasha in 1999. Makalolo Plains and Little Makalolo were built in 1997, Linkwasha in 1998 and Davison’s Camp in 2006. The private, ecologically diverse Makalolo and Linkwasha concessions, where Wilderness Safaris’ camps are located, are found in the south-eastern corner of Hwange – the best area of the national park. Collectively the Makalolo and Linkwasha Concessions only comprise 52 300 hectares (of Hwange National Park’s 1 465 100 hectares), but these two concessions combined attract the largest wildlife numbers.
These concession areas also have a network of productive waterholes which hold the highest recorded mammal densities in the Park as confirmed by annual 24-hour Waterhole Counts of large mammals held under Wilderness Safaris’ auspices since 2008. Together with these waterholes, a tapestry of savannah grasslands, teak woodlands and vleis further contribute to making these concessions so productive – as does the location away from all public areas in the park.
Wildlife frequently encountered in our concession areas includes lion, large herds of elephant, buffalo, leopard, spotted hyaena, giraffe, sable, blue wildebeest, impala, waterbuck and reedbuck. In summer, wildebeest, zebra and eland are found in abundance on the open plains, while in winter, elephant congregate in enormous numbers around the waterholes. Birdlife in the area is prolific (400+) and varied. Typical drier Kalahari birds include Kori bustard, crimson-breasted shrike, Kalahari scrub-robin, scaly-feathered finch, cut-throat finch, red-eyed bulbul, swallow-tailed bee-eater, black-cheeked waxbill and southern pied babbler. The Zambezi teak and false mopane woodlands harbour Arnot's chat, Bradfield's hornbill and racket-tailed roller. The plains (like Ngamo) are alive with pipits, larks, coursers and wheatears. Raptors are plentiful too, including red-necked falcon, Dickinson's kestrel, martial eagle, five vulture species and shikra. Summer migrants include southern carmine bee-eater, black kite, broad-billed roller, various cuckoo species, Abdim’s stork and European bee-eater.
The all-new Linkwasha Camp, showing Wilderness Safaris’ continued commitment to Hwange, will be completed in 2015.
Climate and Landscape
There is still plenty of water, and the bush is beautifully green. The albida trees are in bloom, and are dropping their flowers everywhere while the evergreen mopane trees and natal mahogany trees add a lush green beauty to the landscape.
April has had rather unusual weather characterised by a few storms that resulted in a total of about 12 mm of rain being recorded. The beginning of the month was really hot with temperatures recorded in the mid-30s Celsius; this was shifted by the storms however, as they marked the approaching winter season with temperatures gradually changing after the storms. By end of the month, the mornings and evenings were noticeably cooler, though daytime temperatures are still warm.
The month has been very productive. All activities, be it on water or land, have been most eventful. We had excellent lion sightings on a number of activities, as well as enjoying their presence in camp on several occasions. This has given our guests a truly “wild’’ experience, and combined with a touch of nervous tension; all in all, the sightings have made for really special memories.
Large herds of buffalo have also been sighted on several occasions. The Mana elephants have not disappointed our guests, and on a few occasions have wandered into camp where they have put on some exciting “performances,” leaving our guests completely in awe. The hippo continuously sing us lullabies as we sleep at night.
Leopards have also been sighted on a several drives. It seems as if we have a mating pair that is spending time around camp, and they have been seen on a few drives. We’ve also heard them calling during the night.
Wildlife percentages for April: Cape buffalo 70%, elephant 93%, eland 13%, hippo 100%, giraffe 100%, kudu 77%, wild dog 3.3%, lion 53%, warthog 93%.
Birds and birding
Amur falcons have started flying in their numbers making our skies beautiful. They are quite fascinating to watch as they feed on termites. The other migratory birds that have been very visible are white storks, adding a splash of colour to our vlei. But these species will be leaving us for warmer climes; we hope to welcome them back again in spring.
Climate and Landscape
Not many of us can remember an April that was as green as this year in Hwange – the vegetation is still thick and only now do the grasslands have a hint of soft gold as the tops of the grasses dry out. There are still little bursts of colour with the dwindling wild flowers – Pretty Lady, Witch Weed and Blue Comelina to name a few. The waterhole in front of camp is still thick with reeds, home to a little family of white-faced ducks, a lone grey heron and some very noisy Egyptian geese. The tiny cream-green flowers of the false mopane have been pollinated and fat shiny bean-like pods have taken their place, while the velvet chocolate brown pods of the teak trees are already well on their way. The remaining natural waterholes and puddles are becoming muddy spas for a multitude of game, much to the indignation of the resident terrapins.
And just when we thought the rains had moved on, the crisp blue April skies clouded over and we had a number of late showers – 83 mm in total! With Hwange winters renowned for their chill, these surprise downpours cooled things down much quicker and much earlier and guests were delighted to find a hot water bottle in their beds in the evenings once they had torn themselves away from the fire. Midday temperatures were still pleasant, even reaching 30 Celsius at the beginning and end of April, which meant sarongs and shorts by the pool during the hottest time of the day, and then beanies and scarves as night-time temperatures dipped as low as 10 Celsius. One evening while guests were still on their night drive back into camp, they saw the most incredible shooting star, a large pale green light falling to the south with a trail of white sparks following it.
Despite the rains lingering and the thick flora, sightings this month have been unbelievable and the lions certainly have taken centre stage. There are a number of prides around and within the Wilderness Safaris concessions in Hwange, and all have been seen on numerous occasions.
One lioness which seemed to have been separated from her pride was seen feasting off an adult zebra kill one morning – a testament to the strength of these cats that she managed to bring it down by herself. When the guides went out in the afternoon, the clouds were heavy with rain and it was drizzling as they got to the carcass – which was now dominated by six hyaena, with the lioness watching cautiously from the sidelines. When the rain came down in earnest the hyaena disappeared and the drenched lioness reclaimed her meal.
The two young black-maned males who took over the pride usually seen at Linkwasha have been exceptionally vocal in and around camp. Wake-up calls were a matter of form, not necessity, quite a few times as these two made their presence heard, with deep roars before the sun had even peeped over the horizon. Their pride of 18 consists of about five beautiful females, some sub-adults and cubs along with two tiny additions. Often guides would pick up the flick of an ear or tail in a blue bush and spot one of the pride hidden away. Then, after stopping the vehicle and allowing guests’ eyes to become accustomed to the mottled light, the shapes of lion after lion would emerge.
There hasn’t been much evidence of successful hunts and we were all concerned about the cubs getting nourishment, until one evening when two guests and their guide were coming back into camp and they heard a commotion in the thick teak woodland they were driving through. They couldn’t see what was happening but the cracking and rustle of small bushes, the loud bellows of a buffalo and the low growls of the lions painted a pretty clear picture of what was taking place. The following day the lions arrived with very round stomachs to drink from the waterhole right in front of camp.
We had a succession of amazing wild dog experiences over three days in April too. When first spotted they were attempting to bring down a waterbuck but they were unsuccessful; however the following day they were seen again with full bellies and in a heap of snoozing bodies in the shade of a leadwood tree. The next day we couldn’t believe it when one of the housekeepers came from the staff rooms at the back of camp saying that the dogs had sprinted past him in hot pursuit of a kudu – everyone ran to see if they were still close by or if anything could be heard but there was only spoor left. We went back to the office only to be called by one of the waiters saying the dogs were in front of camp and had made a kill! Guests and staff were lucky to see the dogs tucking in and then some running off with scraps of meat to enjoy on their own, until finally all eight went to lie in the shallows of the pan to cool off as the day heated up.
Plains game has been abundant with a small dazzle of zebra making its home right in front of camp. Good herds of eland were seen a few times at Ngamo vlei and lovely sable sightings were recorded too – once a herd of over 20, including small brown calves. Herds of buffalo have also been seen frequently, their great charcoal shapes plodding out of the treeline towards the pans. The elephant are all looking very round and healthy, clearly still enjoying the abundance of food and water available. Some guests were lucky enough to have had sightings of roan and gemsbok, as well as the smaller crowd-pleasers like bat-eared foxes, dwarf mongoose and genet.
Wildlife percentages for April: lion 63%, eland 37%, elephant 97%, buffalo 80%, giraffe 73%, sable 17%, side-striped jackal 53%, leopard 7%
Birds and Birding
As it starts to cool off the summer migrants are all starting to move north, but the birdlife in and around camp is still fantastic. The saddle-billed storks and spoonbills are still wading through the pans, stirring up something to eat, while the teals, white-faced ducks and Egyptian geese leave little wakes as they paddle across the water. A juvenile African harrier-hawk has been loitering around camp and has been seen a few times with his talons and beak reaching down into holes and fissures in the trees in search of insects and reptiles hidden away.
A pair of eastern black-headed orioles was seen perched on the top of a false mopane – the male a gorgeous, bright, daffodil yellow with a black mask. We’ve also seen racket-tailed rollers on a few occasions, the magnificent colour of these birds distracts from their not-so-melodious song, while the watery warbles of the Retz’s and white-crested helmet-shrikes are much softer on the ears as they’ve been seen flocking through the trees. The martial eagles this month have displayed their strength and size – one was seen swooping down on an unsuspecting francolin, there was a burst of feathers on impact and then off he flew with his prize. Another was seen in an act of sheer arrogance attacking a kori bustard, the heaviest flying bird – and the martial won!
April started in a frenzy to complete the new main lounge and dining areas, as well as a new front deck and upstairs viewing platform. The varnish had just dried and the last wood chips swept away as our first guest arrived and it’s been all systems go since! We welcomed another new member to the team, professional guide Elliot Nobula, who has vast experience in this industry and we are very happy to have him on board.
Climate and Landscape
The lush green grass still dominates the area, and natural waterholes are full as we received sporadic rains during the month and the natural pans looking very attractive in their green and red algae colouration. Despite this, some of our waterholes are now being pumped to maintain the high level of water, particularly those which have the highest concentration of animals during the dry season.
Flowers are embellishing the ground, encouraged by these rains. The bush is thick and, with the cold experienced lately, there is the possibility of frost burn which will make most of the trees drop their leaves.
The moment the sun vanishes, temperatures drop, typical of our Kalahari soil which does not retain heat. Daytime temperatures have been moderate, making it comfortable for the guests, although a jacket and fleece blanket are handy on activities and guests are advised to bring layers of clothing. Just a few clouds embellish the sky, soaring above while fuelling speculation that it may rain or become cold.
Lions have dominated the pyramid of predators and we have seen a number of different prides. Most of them are fully grown and so prey the size of a buffalo is what they all need to feed from. The Back Pans Pride is now divided into three prides, the biggest numbering up to 19.
The month was full of activities with the elephant herds starting to come in numbers around camp and into the concession. Sightings of gemsbok added spice to our sightings this month, and their symbiotic movement with other animals is interesting to observe.
Other cat sightings around camp were also good and on a number of mornings, guests have awoken to find the social cats playing. We saw a number of different male cheetah, one of which is skittish and not used to vehicles. The Ngamo Plains and Ngweshla areas are still active, making them the preferred spot among guests. With herds of wildebeest, eland, zebra, impala and towers of giraffe, this makes the long journey to Ngamo worthwhile.
Birds and Birding
A healthy population of birds is still to be seen, although the departure of the rains is causing the migrating and wading avifauna move on. Despite a recorded decline, great birding has been enjoyed by all. Goshawks have been tormenting the doves around waterholes in the mornings and afternoons. What a great game to watch as these little raptors get confused as to who to catch as the flock takes off all at the same time.
Wildlife percentages for April: lion 52%, eland 48%, Cape buffalo 45%, elephant 61%, giraffe 42%, zebra 52%, wildebeest 52%
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Weather and Landscape
First-time travellers to Hwange National Park in the summer might never imagine that this area is a semi-desert. The vegetation is vividly green now and all the open plains are covered in grass. In the forest, grass is competing for light as the trees have formed a dense canopy. Most of the open plains, which were deserted by game, are now a hive of activity and calving and foaling are a daily event, attracting the attention of scavengers.
The beginning of the month was very hot and dry though the temperatures started decreasing with the arrival of the rains in the last week. The minimum temperature recorded was 19° Celsius with a maximum of 33°. The highest rainfall recorded was 30 mm and the lowest 1 mm; total rainfall for the month was 74 mm.
The month started on a high, with guests watching huge buffalo herds drinking and calving in front of camp. Being the favourites of lions, the buffalo would cause a frantic commotion ending, in many cases, with successful kills for the big cats, right in camp.
The presence of other herds around camp has made Little Makalolo the home of lions and their calls are heard every night and morning.
A coalition of two male cheetahs is seen time and again chasing baby impala. They are so cunning now that they make their kills when it’s starting to get hot to avoid other super-predators, ruling Linkwasha Vlei. Guests have also been able to get great pictures as they are habituated to the vehicles.
Regardless of the summer season, elephants are still seen in big herds – along with sable, zebra, and wildebeest to name but a few.
Birds and Birding
Bird sightings in Hwange are outstanding and we were able to identify about 224 different species of birds this month. The resident crested francolin family is nesting; it took us some time to see where, as they are excellent at concealing their eggs. We were initially puzzled to see these little birds reducing in numbers but what we did not know is that some were now sitting on eggs! We cross our fingers that the plethora of predators overlooks them until they hatch and the guests don’t disturb them as one of the nests is at the swimming pool.
“Entertaining camp, staff are number one, special catering for our dietary needs vv good”
“Fantastic place, wakey wakey in the morning”
“Game viewing with Douglas, moonrises and the last outside dinner”
Staff in Camp
Managers: Themba and Buhle
Guides: Themba and Douglas
Housekeeping: Ernest, Last
Maintenance: Mpindi, Dumisani, Pious
Waiters: Manu, JB, Valanai
Kitchen: Shepard, Innocent, Zesa
Weather and Landscape
The rain creates a fresh, new side to Hwange, a lush and verdant landscape that differentiates it from other regions within the country. With the rains, Hwange has completely changed from a dusty, arid area to a vivid green forest with an aromatic scent permeating the air from all the brightly coloured flowers – a remarkable feature within our concession. All our waterholes are brimming too.
Our concession comprises a diverse variety of vegetation and habitats including teak forests, palm islands, Kalahari savannahs and acacia woodlands. Under the majestic thorny crowns of camelthorn acacias, with their broad, curved pods covered in velvety grey hairs, at this time of year we find several small creeping plants such as devil thorns with their beautiful flowers.
The average temperatures recorded this month were 20° Celsius in the morning and 28° in the afternoon with a total of 175 mm of rain. We received most of the rain in the first week, with a break mid-month and then more again towards the end of the month.
Hwange is a wildlife sanctuary known for its large herds of elephant, though it is unusual at this time of year to still encounter these big herds. The buffalo have split into smaller herds due to the abundance of pasture and water, and while lion sightings are still great, we hear them more than we see them. Unlike the buffalo, eland are seen in big herds in the summer season, as are wildebeest, impala and zebra, which are now foaling.
Birds and Birding
Hwange is a bird watcher’s paradise, particularly in summer with more than 400 species of birds resident in the various habitats. The concession is currently populated by a broad spectrum of water birds including numerous teals, ducks, geese and sandpipers. Bee-eaters have taken to following us through the grasslands to pick up insets flushed out by the passing vehicles. In the woodlands a special treat is the Arnot’s chat as well as large and small raptors of different species.
Some of the special birds sighted this month have been both the double-banded and bronze-winged courser, white-headed vulture and greater painted-snipe.
September was a very rewarding month in terms of weather and wildlife sightings. The temperatures were wonderful even though we did have some windy days causing a lot of mayhem in camp. Without a doubt, towards the end of October, we felt the temperatures heating up somewhat.
Landscape and Vegetation
The vegetation in the Zambezi Valley has been preparing for the coming rains this month. Many species such as the woolly caper bush, shaving bush combretum and the acacias are coming into flower. One species to note is the Natal mahogany that produces small and inconspicuous, but beautifully scented, flowers. Its aroma becomes stronger in the evening and sweetens the night air.
The sausage trees are now growing their amazing fruit, hanging just like huge sausages from the branches. Still green and ripening, the fruit are already being eaten by any animal that can get at them. Earlier in the month the beautiful deep red flowers of this tree provided a food source for everything from baboon to eland, as they dropped to the ground after being pollinated by bats.
Going further inland the mopane veld is barren, supporting very little life, as the trees are leafless and the ground bare. This area, while not great for game viewing, is beautiful, with amazing colours as the dead leaves create a mat of reds and yellows and rich browns.
Closer to the river, the large fever-berry crotons are now producing their leaves in anticipation for the coming wet season. Earlier on in the month, the Ruckomechi River floodplain, which is covered in a think forest of these trees, was bare, and leafless, with the fallen leaves covering the ground in a thick layer. This area has now transformed into a thick overgrown forest.
The dryness of September came with some good game sightings. We didn’t need to go far when looking for plains game; in fact just outside camp at Parachute Pan, large congregations of zebra, warthog and impala were a common sighting. It is always wonderful to watch the animals rolling in the dust and mud while elephant search out for albida pods and cross the Zambezi for the lush green grass on the island.
For four days we enjoyed the sight of two young cheetah on the Ruckomech River. It is amazing how an open savannah species has adapted to life within the croton trees. We believe it has to do with the lion presence, the robber baron that terrorises other predators. We often bump into 'our' particular lion pride, which consists of two females, two males and three cubs.
Guiding has never been better; imagine the thrill of bumping into mother leopard and three cubs, and seeing them come close to being discovered by a pack of 25 wild dogs including the 11 puppies. We really are enjoying better sightings of both cats and dogs at present.
September was an exciting month as far as birding was concerned. Some of the migratory species, already arrived, are now establishing themselves and some are well into their nest-building and egg-laying stages. One of these species is the beautiful carmine bee-eater.
The eastern nicator has stepped out and expanded its repertoire, moving from its single note out-of-breeding season call to its melodious liquid breeding call, only heard for the few months prior to and during the rains.
Red-throated twinspots, always shy, are starting to be seen more regularly - a stunning, small special for the area. A return visit, albeit brief, by eight great white pelicans, which were last seen two or three years ago, was a pleasant surprise, but the birds have since moved on.
We continue to have our eyes drawn skyward by the large flocks of open-billed storks as they perform their ever-graceful ‘ballet’, seemingly for the pleasure of it.
Landscape, Vegetation and Weather
Our ordeal trees which have been covered in yellow are now in the process of losing their leaves, aided by the winds that have picked up. We now have a carpet of leaves on the roads and in the bush which are still fairly fresh making for good walking safaris. The bush is also being cleared by the passing elephants. The main source of food for primates and the hungry hornbills are the fruit of the rose wood.
Our morning and evenings are chilly and our camp fires are a must to keep us warm. The skies are clear with not even a single cloud above us to disturb star gazing. Beautiful constellations like Scorpius are slowly drifting off allowing for Orion to appear in the mornings.
The population of animals is increasing around the waterhole in front of the camp. Herds of elephant, eland and sable as well as zebra are always close at hand. Davison’s is probably the only camp in the world where guests are almost guaranteed of sharing their meals alongside sable!
The lions that had moved out of our concession are back and guests had the best time watching them mating near camp. The female in estrous moved from one male to the other, possibly trying for the best gene of the coalition of brothers; which caused a fight in front of guests which was certainly something to write home about.
The herds of buffalo still remain close by, often coming to drink and grazing on the lush grass in the woodlands. With the full moon we had a chance to see the whole camp surrounded by a herd of about 200 buffalo. Their numbers are often in competition with the elephant at Ostrich Pan.
Our plains still hold a healthy population of game. The Ngamo Plains have been overgrazed and therefore the wildlife have moved closer to camp for better grazing.
As rare as it is, the pack of five wild dogs was spotted twice near the camp, hunting. Unfortunately our area has more elephant than impala and therefore the dogs are not often seen in these parts, as they move off to hunt in other areas.
Bird watchers are still in paradise here in Hwange National Park. Kori bustards are displaying once again to attract mates, always a great show to watch. The big canopies of false mopane are still the home of most birds around the camp. A pair of racket-tailed rollers are raising a single chick within the camp and it is always fantastic to see them feeding their young one.
Our ground hornbills are still struggling. In a day we were able to see three sets and only one set had a juvenile. Sadly, not a single guide has seen a nest this season. Other hornbill species are doing well in the area. Bradfield’s hornbills are very much at home at Davison’s. The yellow-billed hornbills are doing well too and are enjoying the availability of fruits and harvester termites. We seem to have received a new distribution of red-billed hornbills and a healthy population of these is often seen around the camp.
To park around the waterholes and have tea is always a great way of spotting birds. Raptors are seen flying around and swooping doves come to drink. At Back Pans more than two dozen hooded, white-backed, lappet-faced and white-headed vultures were seen one morning basking in the sun. That was a beautiful sight as they were all facing the same direction with their big wings spread.
To park around the waterholes and have tea is always a great way of spotting birds. Raptors are seen flying around and swooping doves come to drink. At Back Pans more than two dozen hooded, white-backed, lappet-faced and white-headed vultures were seen one morning basking in the sun. That was a beautiful sight as they were all facing the same direction with their big wings spread.
“Seeing the rare painted dogs, the lions eating and mating, the elephant herd chasing off the lions. The sable and Impala. Seeing a Leopard in the dark.” Anna
“Loved the walking safaris, seeing lion, cheetah, loved the openness of the vehicle.” Ashley & Sierra
“The food was absolutely delicious, the staff fantastic, the game amazing but my particular highlight was the quantity of elephants at the waterhole.” The Croton family
Landscape / Vegetation & Water
The bush continues to thin out as trees shake off their leaves and the grass, depending only on sparse nutrition from the ground, is dying out as well. This, coupled with the pressure from our herbivores, means that a desert is unveiling itself in Hwange.
July has been rather mild in terms of the cold compared to the previous years. Yes, it was cold with a minimum of 1.5 degrees Celsius being recorded, but we were happy that it didn’t go below freezing. The end of the month was rather strange with lots of cloud build-up, however we didn’t receive any rain.
July has been a great month in terms of animal sightings. Lion sightings have increased significantly and the magnificent creatures have been seen on numerous occasions looking healthy and in great shape. We have even seen them with cubs sometimes, with just the females on their own at other times.
A baby elephant died during the month which guides suspected was a natural death. In no time at all a pride of lion had spotted it and were seen for several days enjoying themselves with their cubs at this feast. It got more exciting when the hyaenas wanted to join in get a piece of the cake, if one may call it that! There was a lot of roaring and fighting over the poor elephant and it resulted in one female walking away with a limp.
Beautiful sable herds have been seen in front of the camp on several occasions. Eland have also been kind enough to pay us a few visits during the course of the month.
Special Animal Sightings
July had a few special animal sightings, one being five wild dogs chasing a kudu bull around camp. It was quite an intense chase but luckily for the kudu he survived to see another day in this beautiful paradise. An exquisite sighting was of cheetah on a termite mound as the sun was about to set.
Probability sightings for the month
Lion 74%, leopard 16%, roan 97%, giraffe 100%, hyaena 94%, Cape buffalo 97%, side-striped jackal 13%, black-backed jackal 100%, elephant 100%
The bushveld has been amply supplied with creatures that produce evocative sounds. The emerald-spotted dove has been seen and heard throughout the month making its persistent yet beautiful sound. The red-billed francolins, which we affectionately call our Little Makalolo chickens, have been offering wake-up calls to our guests consistently, though not always on time. They also realised that no one is ever going to invite them for breakfast so now they come and try and sneak in while no one is watching.
“The bush lunch with Charles was AMAZING! Definitely our favourite. We also loved our walk with him. We also love interacting with the staff and guides in a relaxed/jovial environment at the campfire. Everyone is so amazing!”
“The wonderful personal care and delicious food.”
“The camp is great – rooms are very well appointed (actually some of the best I’ve stayed in with regards to comfort – seat, shelves and hooks). Staff is excellent – great personalities and very high level of customer service yet relaxed.”
It quite interesting to watch the changes July brings to the Zambezi valley with regards to flora and fauna. July has definitely brought about the crisp chill to the early morning and there is a distinctive drop in the temperature as the sun sets. The average temperature in the morning is 12 degrees Celsius warming up throughout the day and becoming rather hot mid-afternoon. The wind whistles through the camp from mid-morning but luckily it dies down during the hot hours of the day making the afternoons splendid, whether spent on the river or on a game drive.
Mammal sightings this month have been excellent, with more and more plains game flocking towards the river to drink as inland water pans dry up and become rock hard mud supporting little life. Game including buffalo and eland, species that travel huge distances south towards the Zimbabwean escarpment in the rainy months, have now made the floodplains bordering the river their temporary home. As always with the increase of plains game the predators are never far off, with wild dog, lion and leopard making the most of the concentrated prey species.
The ana trees are producing thousands upon thousands of seed pods during this harsh and lean time of the year, making up the main food source for most of the game in the area. Waterbuck, impala, baboon, warthog and vervet monkeys are a daily sighting as they frequent the areas immediately around camp foraging for the much-prized pods of these trees.
Wild dog sightings this month have been fleeting and irregular as the dogs are denning at the moment. Our sightings of them are therefore in the early morning as they come into our concession to hunt and then leave to go back to their den before the day heats up. Earlier during the month guest were lucky enough to witness these amazing predators in action as we followed them hunt impala. They killed one impala and devoured it in a few short minutes before trying to hunt again as they clearly weren’t satisfied. Sadly they were unsuccessful and soon enough trotted back off to their unknown denning sight.
Lion sightings have been more regular. The cubs are growing older and are now being weaned. Feeding on solid meat as well as milk, their mother has become increasingly impatient with the cubs and pushes them away as they try to suckle. The cubs have been seen often feeding side by side with the adults at a carcass.
Leopard sightings have also been fantastic this month with a female with four cubs being the main highlight and seen on two occasions. Four cubs is a very large litter and almost unheard of with leopards. The cubs are roughly seven months old and are still very vulnerable to predation or disease. Hopefully they all survive.
Birding in July has been great with 152 species being recorded this month. Many Mana Pools 'specials' have made a regular appearance, delighting avid birders and mildly interested guests alike. The beautiful Lilian's lovebirds have been a frequent sighting on the floodplains, in pairs or small groups and later on in the month coming together at food sources and forming huge flocks - a great sighting with their brilliant green bodies and pinkish red heads bobbing away. Of course these beautiful flocks can never rival the multitudes of the red-billed quelea, flocking in their thousands. It is a real treat to see these birds twist and turn in unison and from a distance the flock looks like rolling smoke.
Other birds listed as uncommon include the African skimmer, grey-headed parrot, bat hawk, rufous-bellied heron and crested guineafowl. All of these have been seen a number of times except the crested guineafowl, which was seen moving with a flock of the common helmeted guineafowl. These slightly larger iridescent green birds are more common in the thick vegetation of Mozambique and South Africa's Zululand coastline forests.
African Skimmers have been seen slowly flying low to the water in late afternoon, 'skimming' their enlarged lower mandible over the surface of the water feeding on the smaller fish they scoop up. The grey-headed parrots are often heard before they are seen, with their high-pitched screeching call. Bat hawks have been seen on a few occasions darting across the sunset in pursuit of their prey. Rufous-bellied herons, usually very secretive and shy birds, have often been spotted on the open banks of the waterholes in the floodplains.
Of course all the regulars have been keeping the guests entertained with their beautiful plumage. Some to note are the lilac-breasted rollers, white-fronted, little and swallow-tailed bee-eaters, brown-hooded kingfishers, white-crowned lapwings and the Meve's starlings.
Staff in Camp
Solly Tevera, Evie Bwalya, Kevin and Sandy Van breda, Gadrick Nyamhondoro, Lloyd and Lindy Mushure, Bono Lunga, Champ Sadiere and Daniel Peel.
Landscape, Vegetation and Weather
The mornings have become very cold, with the lowest temperatures being five degrees Celsius three days in a row. Some of the mornings were foggy which is not common in Hwange National Park.
Our ordeal trees are yellow and ready to lose their leaves, however the winds have not picked up yet which is possibly why the leaves cling on. As we approach the windy month, we can imagine a future carpet on the roads. However most of the trees, especially in vleis, have lost their leaves forestalling the dry season approaching. The bush is becoming clear as the elephants walk on dry grasses and break through, making the game drives more of a success, especially with nocturnal animals.
Star gazing is at its best with the sky being so clear. It was so good to be able to identify more than three planets in one evening. The famous Scorpio still 'stings' most of the constellations just above our fire pit.
Wildlife viewing has been outstanding and we are starting to see game in big herds. Zebra and wildebeest, which for the past months were to be seen in large numbers on Ngamo Plains, have moved towards the camp - mowing the grass to the roots as they come through. Most of the natural wells are dry which has triggered the movement of these animals to the pumped pans around the camp - to our delight. Our mid-morning bliss is watching sable and elephant in front of camp day by day slaking their thirst. Ostrich Pan is now a hive of activity and more than well known to most species.
The big pride of lion that had moved out of our concession is back. They are elusive but we still get a chance to see them and they are as smart as ever. The females with cubs are very quiet and we hardly hear them call as they are trying to conceal their cubs from the two marauding males. Two other females are heavily pregnant and we are waiting to see if the cubs will survive. It is uncertain who their father is - either the previous male or the new guys on the block!
The resident leopard still pays us visits at night, giving the steenbok and duiker around the camp a hard time. The guests had a special treat when they watched and photographed him basking in the sun. His call, which sounds like somebody working on a dry log with a ripsaw, confused the guests the other night - and had them asking if there was a carpenter working overtime.
Hwange National Park, with over 400 species of birds, will never let you down. This reserve is home to the most beautiful birds. Birding experiences are still outstanding despite the absence of the migrating birds and the cold. Early mornings are embellished by the displays of korhaan. They whistle before making their displays and it has become a favourite of guests to watch them somersault. Kori burstards are also seen on termite mounds puffed up and drumming to attract mates.
To park around the waterholes and have tea is now a guest delight as raptors are seen flying around, and doves swoop down to drink. At Back Pans more than two dozen hooded, white-backed, lappet and white-headed vultures were seen in the morning basking in the sun. It was a beautiful sight as they were all facing the same direction with their big wings spread.
The capped wheatear is seen displaying everywhere in the open areas. Two tawny eagle nests that were seen last month at Ngamo Plains are still there. We suspect that one of them has a chick in it. Scott's Pan is still the home of a bateleur and many other species are seen in numbers there.
With francolin being so common we don’t often take time to observe them; however we spotted a Natal francolin with a male red-billed spurfowl the other day.
“Compliments to the chef! The meals were delicious, well prepared and presented. A good variety.” - Susan
“The staff was friendly kind and helpful. Seeing lion and cheetah and the variety of animals.” - Jennifer
“The guides and staff were excellent and welcoming and exceeded our expectation during our entire stay. Sundowners were fantastic. Thank you.” - Anne and Caitlin
|Weather and Landscape
There is no more denying, winter is here. The lowest temperature recorded was a chilly 5° C - all the beanies, jackets and gloves have surfaced again. The afternoons have been warm and pleas ant with the evenings being cold like the mornings.
The good rains which we received in the wet season have left the natural water sources in good stead for the drying conditions. Some of the smaller waterholes have dried up, but there are still a number of larger ones which are holding good amounts of precious water. In terms of vegetation, most of the grass species have dried up and turned brown, but there are still a good number of trees which have held on to their foliage, slowly showing signs of the impending approach of winter.
Elephant sightings are getting really good as masses of these pachyderms have started pouring into the area in preparation for the dry months ahead. We have even seen elephants drink from the camp pool on occasion.
The predatory highlight for the month was the cheetah kill which was witnessed at Ngamo Plains. The speedy feline managed to bring down a young sable, which provided it with a very good meal. Most guests in camp had the opportunity to view this incredible wildlife spectacle.
As the herds of elephant arrive in the area, so too have the herds of buffalo which are very water - dependent. Other great sightings for the month included a leopard drinking from the camp pool as well as great sightings of roan and sable.
Birds and Birding
A Verreaux's eagle-owl has taken up residence around camp, and was heard calling on most nights, adding to the bush ambience around camp.
“You have a unique ability to respond to each traveller with a tailored experience. It is the warmth and competence of each staff member that makes Little Makalolo work so effectively.”
Ngamo Plains is currently supporting large numbers of wildlife, owing to the palatable sources of food.
The excessive browsing and grazing is starting to show, as some animals have now resorted to digging up rhizomes and roots. As we edge further into the dry season, the wildlife will disperse in search of food and concentrate at the winter waterholes.
Buffalo herds have also been arriving at Ostrich Pan, and we have noted lots of lion activity in the area. The abundance of prey species will attract lots of opportunistic predator activity, so we are sure the action will go up a notch at this pan soon.
The plains behind camp have also been very productive, especially with grazing species. Large herds of wildebeest have settled along the plains and are often mixed amongst good numbers of zebra.
Other highlights for the month were a number of cheetah sightings.
Birds and Birding
With the increase in food as weak animals die, coupled with the onset of the breeding season, we have enjoyed some incredible vulture sightings.
“We loved the open plains and really enjoyed the lion and cheetah sightings! Overall a wonderful experience with a very professional and knowledgeable guide. The camp staff were incredible.”
Weather and Landscape
Hwange continues to live up to its reputation of unpredictable weather. A few mornings have been a bit chilly - we assume it's a warning that winter might be a bit harsh. On the other hand, the afternoons have been also rather hot for this time of the year.
They call it "survival of the fittest" in the bush for a reason. Those plants with long roots to tap into the fast-depleting water table are still standing high and tall and green but the grass that has short roots has already wilted dry and have turned brown, save for the grasses around the waterholes.
"Wow... unbelievable!" This was a remark from one guest as he and the others got off a vehicle from their morning activity. March has been amazing as far as game viewing was concerned. On one morning game drive, just as the guests were driving out of camp, they came across a leopard taking a stroll just outside camp. They watched her for about 20 minutes and then she went into the bushes. From there they drove for a few kilometres and came across a cheetah on a termite mound. She posed for a few minutes and then took off. As if this was not enough, a pride of 14 lions was also seen on the same game drive.
Around camp the lions have been keeping us awake as they were visiting almost nightly and calling very loudly - this is the best bush sound at night. One evening as we were restocking our bar, we heard a sound from the pool, kind of like splashing and we shone our torches in the direction of the pool - to everyone's amazement, there was a leopard drinking from our pool, just 10 metres away!
Some of the highlights for the month included sightings of African wild cat and a number of sightings of a cheetah mother with her three cubs. Side-striped jackal and roan were also seen.
Birds and Birding
This month the bird sightings were great, with a special sighting of an African crowned eagle, which is very uncommon for this area. We had a few sightings of raptors feasting on fr gs and insects. The Steppe eagles and lesser-spotted eagles have gone down in numbers and we suspect they have started their long flight back north.
Friendly, courteous staff. Every detail was thought of. Wonderful food served with an eye for detail and the client experience. Our guide was knowledgeable and helpful and fun as well. I thank you Dickson!
Thank you all so much.
"The little notes left in the room are a great addition and makes you feel loved."
"Great family atmosphere. The staff make you feel so at home. Great setting, great tents, keep up the good work. The quality of the staff and the service and especially the thought that went into our last night meal, it was fantastic"
Elephants Rely on Man -Made Waterholes in Hwange NP, Zimbabwe
An elephant approaches from the waterhole during afternoon tea at Davison's Camp
During the dry winter months, thousands of elephants roam the vast Kalahari savannah in search of water. The largest of earth's land animals have been known to walk hundreds of kilometres across the dry plains to quench their thirst at waterholes that are often few and far between. Named after a local Nhanzwa chief, Hwange National Par k is Zimbabwe's largest protected area and one of the greatest elephant sanctuaries in southern Africa.
Situated on the easternmost edge of the Kalahari, the absence of permanent surface water in Hwange means that animals rely heavily on man -made waterholes to survive. Over the years, a series of boreholes have been drilled deep into the ground, pumping life -sustaining water for the park's wildlife. Overlooking one of these pumped waterholes, Wilderness Safaris Davison's Camp is named after Ted Davison, the first warden in the park.
A family herds walk in single -file across the open grasslands towards a watering hole.
When Hwange was declared a protected reserve in 1928, wildlife numbers were low, partly due to the lack of water sources. Back then, the only drinking water available to animals was the water caught in natural depressions. Courteney Johnson, the Operations Director of Wilderness Safaris Zimbabwe, said: 'These shallow pans and waterholes were generally quite small and with use, evaporation and drainage, very few carried water to the next rainy season.'
When the waterholes shrank to muddy pools or dried up, animals had to cover huge distances to find water, often leaving the park boundaries. 'Recognising the need to create a permanent supply of drinking water throughout the year, Ted Davison began drilling boreholes in the early 1930s,' said Johnson. Since that time, elephant numbers have climbed steadily and it is estimated that there are now more than 35,000 of these massive mammals in Hwange.
This success is not without its challenges, as the current elephant population far exceeds the recommended carrying capacity of the 14,651 square kilometre park. Habitat, water and food resources are put under great pressure, Johnson told us, and the situation was exacerbated by Zimbabwe's economic crisis: 'During that difficult time, the park lacked the necessary funding and many of the animals moved into our concession from elsewhere in the park.'
Elephants rely on pumped waterholes to survive the dry season between June and October.
Despite these drawbacks, boreholes remain essential for the future of Hwange's wildlife. Within their private concession, Wilderness Safaris pumps 16 of the 57 boreholes in the park year -round, helping to create a sanctuary for elephants and other African animals. According to Johnson, 'removing the boreholes would have dire consequences for many animal species living in the park as most have become reliant on this pumped water.'
Game viewing is at its best in the dry season, when the scarcity of water attracts large numbers of elephants to the waterholes. The thirsty giants congregate at the water's edge, drinking and spraying themselves with their trunks while the calves play in the mud around their feet. 'It's special to see such big herds and to be totally surrounded by them,' Johnson said. 'It makes you realise and truly appreciate the huge wild space that we are so fortunate to be in.'
Pumped waterholes are maintained year -round to provide drinking water for wildlife.
A loo with a view at Davison's overlooks a herd of elephants at the camp's watering hole Hwange's range of habitats includes teak forests, Kalahari savannah and acacia woodlands.
The large concentrations of plains game at the waterholes attract predators such as these lions Calves play together at the water's edge but they always stay close to their family herd.
The natural waterholes in Hwange dry up so it is necessary to have artificial water sources.
Cheetahs scan the Kalahari savannah for prey that can be spotted more easily in the dry season.
Greater kudu are one of many antelope species in the park; others include impala, eland, sable and blue wildebeest.
Elephants cross the open plains to drink at the park's waterholes at least once a day.
Elephants no longer have to walk a long way to find water during the dry winter season.
With easy access to water elephants have no need to leave the park for the sake of survival.
Little Makalolo Camp
Weather and Landscape
Compared to last month the rains have reduced a bit, although we still had a total of 201 mm for the month. The temperatures have been fairly low with the maximums ranging between 20 - 30° C and the minimum for the month being 17° C.
As we started the month off with decent rainfall, the landscape is looking incredibly green and lush - the wild flowers are blooming and all the natural waterholes are filled to the brim. The ecosystem looks really healthy and rejuvenated.
It seems that the extensive herds of elephant that we are used to have moved deep into the thick woodlands. It is great to see the elephants thriving and looking healthy once again, especially after watching them struggle over the drier months.
The rains and resultant vegetation explosion has caused many species of wildlife to give birth, in turn creating a feeding frenzy for a number of predatory species. We have enjoyed some great sightings of lion and cheetah with their respective cubs, and wild dogs wit h their pups. The predatory highlight for the month was the cheetah kill that happened very close to camp: a female cheetah brought down an impala and then her three cubs were called in to feast on the carcass.
Two elephant bulls that were in musth stuck around the camp area and caused a bit of excitement, as well as adding the unmistakable scent of musth to the air. Buffalo have also not disappointed this month - we enjoyed some great sightings of these bulk grazers.
Ngamo and Ngweshla were game viewin g hotspots this month as two young male lions have been concentrating their movements around these areas, reminding some of us of the legendary Ngamo Boys that used to frequent the area.
Birds and Birding
Birding has been amazing with lesser -spotted eagles dominating the sightings on the migrants' side.
African and corncrakes have been sighted on Linkwasha Vlei.
Ngamo has been an area not to miss for birders as it has been so active - whiskered terns disp laying and courting, and lesser jacana and maccoa d uck being the highlights on the Ngamo floodplains.
"The whiskey by the fire, the game drives especially the two leopards and the warm welcome and
discussions with nice staff at dinner were my highlights!"
"The variety and quantity of animals, birds and the friendliness and skills of the staff and guide. It was all magic and special. You are a credit to your country."
Staff in Camp Managers: Charles Ndlovu, Cosam Milazi and Vimbai Mandaza . Guides: Dickson Dube, Brian Pangidzwa, Honest and Ro bert.
News article | Little Makalolo Camp
Weather and Landscape
At last we have entered the 'rainy season' which has been very warmly welcomed by all. The temperatures have been very comfortable with the maximum being 32° C for the month and a minimum of 17° C. We have enjoyed some pretty spectacular African thunderstorms, with lightning splitting up the sky, and the rains cleansing the air and the cooling the earth.
The vegetation has become thick and lush. Due to the rainfall, which is now a regular occurrence, the natural pans in the forest are filling up, resulting in less activity at the pan in front of camp. The rains have been quite consistent with recordings for the month surpassing 250 mm. The landscape around camp has changed dramatically in a matter of weeks, a sea of beautiful green grass and new growth all around. Little shrubs seemed to have popped up out of nowhere, stunningly beautiful flowers are blooming, natural water pans have formed all over the place - all is well and looking healthy again.
If we were to tell guests that came into camp now that just at the beginning of the month there were hundreds of animals crowded around the waterholes, who had walked for miles in desperate need of water, and that they were beginning to suffer from such low water levels and overgrazed surroundings, elephants were dying of dehydration, they would struggle to believe us. The change in the flourishing growth that occurred in just the space of a few weeks of rain is unb elievable. Now that the rains have come, there is a hive of activity in all ways possible as the many living organisms around us thrive in this new beginning.
There is an abundance of wildlife around, and it is a beautiful time of year to see them , the contrast of these incredible animals against the brilliant green surroundings is truly amazing.
Thousands of interesting insects have begun to hatch, these include the notorious flying termites which appear after the rain, and the dung beetles which have come out in substantial numbers and can be seen all around rolling their little balls of dung.
December means new life for many of the animals including zebra, wildebeest, impala and other antelope that have begun to give birth to their young.
The cat sightings this month have not been as much as the previous months due to the lush growth, but you can hear them calling often at night.
Other great sightings for the month include wild dog, cheetah, buffalo, many elephant and eland.
Birds and Birding
Amur falcons have started flying in their numbers, making for some good aerial activity as they hawk
insects on the wing. They are quite fascinating to watch as they feed on termites. The other migratory birds that have been very visible are the white s torks, giving some colour to the floodplains.
"Thank you for the most amazing holiday! We had such a special time. Thank you Rania and your team
for your incredible hospitality. Thank you Brian for all your hard work and amazing drives. I l oved seeing the lion, wild dog and cheetah kill. Will miss you all."
"It was the best trip of my life! I learnt so much about Africa and its lovely people. PS: Sorry about drinking all the beer."
"I really wish I could stay longer. It was super fun and a wesome! Great people and animals."
Staff in Camp Managers: Rania Mutumhe, Charles Ndlovu, Tracy Peacocke and Vimbai Mandaza. Guides: Dickson Dube, Brian Pangidzwa and Bulisani Mathe.
Our work with the Painted Dog Conservation group has finished its second year now. As mentioned in the newsletter, we have identified and named 6 packs of dogs in Mana Pools numbering abo t 120 dogs, pending pup survivorship. There are now 4 dogs collared. The Vundu pack has 3 collars presently, the Alpha male and female and a 2 year old. The collar is due to come off the alpha female so that the data accumulated over a 2 year period can be down loaded. The collar on Cochise, the 2 year old was placed as he is a possible candidate to disperse from the pack and join another or start his own. READ MORE'
Mike & Marian on Safari: What a Life - Davisson's Camp | Hwange National Park
It was on the evening drive when we found the pride of lions with the little cubs that we also found Nathan Pilcher and Carl Ruysenaar who have been in Hwange for nearly two months now filming lions. Mike knows Nathan well as they had spent time recording the release of the white -eye birds on North Island in the Seychelles in 2007. We wanted to catch up with the guys and find out what footage they had managed to collect during their stay here.
On one afternoon we all decided to get together to film and photograph elephants wallowing at the new mud wallow at Davisson's Camp. Great plan, the only problem is no -one bothered to tell the elephants. So we had tea instead and chatted about what these guys have been up to.
Nathan has been with Aquavision for over six years now so he has had a lot of exposure and experience in wildlife filming. Wilderness and Aquavision have enjoyed a wonderful working relationship for many, many years now. Nathan's brief was to film lion and elephant interaction during the dry season. This was based on the fact that there was a huge pride of lions in the concession last year, but now that pride has unbundled into smaller prides and they no longer are the monopoly of the area.
It is quite tricky to have a brief or plan in your mind as to what story you want to tell in terms of wildlife, because usually what happens is that another story develops instead of the one you want to tell. Just like animals and raising teenagers: the way you think it is going to work out doesn't always go that w ay. C'est la vie.
There is a pan to the south west of Davisson's called Ngamo. Mike absolutely loves this area. It is almost like a world of its own because it has different vegetation and in the dry season it looks flat and desolate. You can see the heat haze rising from the sandy earth off this flat moon -scape pan that stretches almost more than five km's from one side to the other. In the middle there is a windmill that looks like a single lonely tinsel decoration on a Christmas tree as it glistens in th e heat and reflection of the sun.
Apparently, this cheeky cheetah is not scared to take on kudu and scoffs at impala - a mere snack not worth the energy to take down! He is a big boy and Mike and I had the great pleasure of seeing him at Ngamo. We photographed him taking a sundowner at one of the pools there'¦it was pure magic to see.
And now back to the brief of the lions. The interaction that Nathan and Carl are hoping for is not apparent as yet, but there is another month of dry season so we will wait and see. In the meantime, the guys are up early and out late. Putting in a fourteen hour day in this magical office is what a lot of people dream about. It is hard work; physically and mentally. There is a lot of waiting and a lot of nothing. But when something magical happens -what a life!
Who is Marian Myers?
Mike and Marian Myers have embarked on an exciting new adventure! Follow this bushwhacker and city girl through news, views, videos and phot os posted weekly on their blog "Mike and Marian on Safari'.
Mike & Marian on Safari: Getting to Know the Roads - Davisson's Camp | Hwange National Park
When we first arrived, Ron Goatley, MD of Wilderness Zimbabwe, took us out and showed us the concession and the main roads. We all know that main roads in the bush look absolutely nothing like main roads at all. They look like bush roads that are bumpy and windy and look exactly the same as one another. In fact, I could just be driven round in a massive circle and probably wouldn't know my way back to camp.
But on Thursday, it was our turn to '˜fly solo'. As Mike has guided for many, many years, being in the bush is so natural for him and it didn't take long to get the feel for where we were heading. So we set off for Madison Pan which is on the way to the airstrip and then to the second pan past the airstrip, with the intention of landing up at Broken Rifle Tree.
Everything in the bush has a story behind it. So you can imagine the intrigue about Broken Rifle Tree. Whichever way you think about it, it doesn't sound good. Once upon a time, way back in the day when the concession was first secured by Wilderness; Ron Goatley, Brian Worsely and Duncan Edwards were scouting the area and took a rest under the tree to ponder. Duncan decided to get a better look around so he climbed up the tree. Although Brian told Duncan exactly where the riffle had been placed, Duncan managed to jump down from the tree, straight onto the rifle and break it. And that is how the pan got its name.
When we got to Broken Rifle Tree, there was nothing happening. It seems if you just settle down in the shade of one of the trees there, something will happen. And it did. Elephants started to file out from the bush across the pan. Two bulls: one old bull and one Askari. In elephant terms an Askari is a young elephant bull that hangs around with an older elephant bull to learn about life. The word is derived from Arabic and used in many ways, but most usually it means 'soldier' and was used in central African colonies where local soldiers served with European colonial troops.
It was like watching theatre: elephants enter stage left; elephants enter stage right. Baboons everywhere filling in the gaps and from front left came three beautiful sable antelope. Birds also came in to drink: lots of yellow-billed kites and an African hawk -eagle. It was a pantomime - which is always fun.
When the show was over for us and we had enough magical footage, we left to find the road to Davisson's Camp. Mike was delighted with his first video footage as it seemed to look good for a first attempt. Lots of exploring and learning ahead!
Mike & Marian on Safari: Getting Grounded - Hwange National Park | Little Makalolo
If you practice yoga, you will have heard instruction to keep yourself grounded in any of the poses that you go into. But even if you don't practice yoga, you will have heard the expression to keep your feet on the ground as a way to say that you need to be in touch with who you are, where you are and what you are intending to do. Little Makalolo in Hwange, Zimbabwe has five classic safari tents on the ground. One of the five tents is a family room which takes an additional two in twin beds in a second room adjoined to the main bedroom.
Little Makalolo is an uncomplicated experience. The main area is very comfortable. There is a lounge and bar to the right as you walk in; and to the left is the dining room. In front is the fire pit and to the right of that is the swimming pool. In front of the main area is the most glorious outlook over Little Makalolo Pan. Because of the time of the year, this pan is active just about all day long. Elephant stream in from all over in small breeding herds of between 10 and 20 at a time to come and que nch their thirst. They usually don't stay that long because they have to move great distances now to find browsing in between visits to water holes.
I find it so hard to see the baby elephants and the young elephants following their mothers and the matriar chs. Some of the babies are so little they easily fit under their mother's stomachs which means that they are under a year old. I worry about whether the mother has enough food and water and rest to be able to lactate to sustain her baby. The harsh truth is that she probably doesn't.
I know that, despite the fact that the elephants' hip bones are starting to show as an indication of the dry season stresses, I keep myself grounded in the knowledge that this time will pass. The rains will come. Most will survive, and some will not. I watch these elegant silent giants pad with languid steps until they smell and see the water; then they can't help themselves. Despite the tiredness and the sore bodies from covering such large distances, they run and they trumpet with delight for a drink of water.
As an experience to get in touch with Africa, Little Makalolo offers just that. The camp gives you comfort that you need and the area gives you the entertainment that wild Africa offers. At this time of the year, game i s aplenty in large herds. Despite the fact that it is the dry season, you have your feet on the ground and can reach for the stars!
Mike & Marian
Zimbabwe Camp News
1st May- 14 August 2012 - NEWSLETTER
It has been a wonderful and exciting start to the season at Vundu this year. Please enjoy reading updates on wildlife updates and camp updates
We were very happy to see Impi, Mudzi, Tusker, Hand Stand, Stompi, Harry and so many more of the amazingly friendly bull elephants from last year safe and sound! We are also happy to report they have got a few new young bulls with them. Hand stand obviously helping with the pulling down of t he yummy pods for everyone to eat!
The Vundu Pack of Wild Dogs have denned this year about 6km from camp the pack consists of 18 adults and 10 puppies including 7 of last years puppies meaning only 4 of a 11 pups did not make it from last years litter and 6 adults have dispersed. The pups should be leaving the den by September. In May working together with Peter Blinston from painted Dog Conservation we darted and collard the alpha male in addition to their study on this pack.
The Long Pool Pack this year started off with 7 adults 1 yearling and 7 puppies of which only 3 survived. These dogs have left the den and h ave been free ranging since the end of July making it a daily task to find them.
The Chikwenya Pack consists of 14 adults and 15 pups last seen Mid July at their den just a few kms from our ilala mobile tented camp.
The Chitake Pack consist of 12 adults. T heir den is still a mystery so we are unsure of the amount of pups in their litter.
The Nyakasanga pack has been seen by Ruckomechi river just upstream of our camp.
The Leopard sightings have been really amazing so far this year. We saw a beautiful female in a tree with her baboon kill, and while we watched with the Marshall's from the WCN, ANOTHER female came into sight about
400m away stalking and hunting some Impala close to the river!
We've also been privelaged enough to see a young male get chased by 2 hyena. The same young male was spotted mid July passing through camp by the staff.
The Vundu pair of mating leopards have been very active in camp but sightings of them have been hard to come by.
We have been spoilt this year with the amount of lion activity we have encountered there seems to be a number of prides within Mana a pride of 8 known as the Rukomechi/ Vundu Pride. Another pride of 14 well known by the Mucheni Pride they have had 2 cubs this year and the Nyamepi Pride of 10, The Nyamatusi Pride of +/ - 15 and the Chikwenya Pride of 8.
Futher inland of Mana pools the Chitake Pride killed a buffalo in camp and +/ -12 lions shredded, crunched and endulged in the feast keeping the minds of the campers in their tents running wildly.
We've also been lucky enough to have 2 big female lions that had had two cubs this year. U fortunately one has died, but the other is growing big and healthy. The other day they passed through camp yet again and we found them early the next morning a few kms on an eland kill at which they stayed on for 2 days.
Earlier this year we spotted the rare Secretary bird on our first drive into camp for the season start. And the illusive Pels Fishing Owl has been heard in the canopy of trees surrounding the camp.
These endangered mammals are very hard to find but surprisingly we have had a total of 4 sigtings this year SO FAR tracks of one have been seen zig sagging along the outskirts of the camp.
Upgrades to camp
We have made a few additions to camp, namely all rooms now have a fan and a charging station for cameras etc, next will be a few free standing reading lights. We have new linens in the form of pillows and pillow cases, duvets, sheets, head boards and bases. We have added another large 3 seater comfy couch to the lounge area.
2 months ago we broug ht in a new addition to our fleet of vehicles, another land rover which has been rebuilt and is as good as new.
We have installed a new 12kva generator which will charge a bank of 10 huge batteries and a 5kva inverter system so that the fans, charging sta tions and lights will run 24 hrs a day . We have installed a 40 cubic feet deep freezer which will really help out in the heat of Ssep and Oct together with 3 x 30lb ice making machines. We have enlarged the kitchen and renovated the bar area.
Natalies' Spa has taken off really well. Most guests have taken up the opportunity for a treatment of some kind or another. Really helps people to relax and work out any travel knots.
We have some new staff, starting with management. Nadine is runni ng the camp, and hostessing is by Nats the Spa lady. We have a new cook, waiter and bedroom hands, and a new mechanic .
We had our first clients Todd Densmore and Rebecca Dote who went on a 3 night Ruwezi Mobile trip after a 2 day stay at Vundu Camp, we stayed at Chessa the 1 st night, the stars were AMAZING! We then went onto Ilala and managed to do the Chikwenya channel on the last day which is living true to its nick name of Mana's 'Garden Trail to Eden'.
Vundu Tented Camp - Little Vundu - Ruwesi Canoe Trail
Mana Pools - Zimbabwe
Mana Pools Walking Trails is another 3 night venture, in which you are guided by foot along the mighty Zambezi River. A unique experience, each day is a 10km-20km trek past lions and wild dogs. This particular trip is exceptional as each day is conformed to our adventurers' abilities, the guide leading only at a convenient pace. During your walk a team is sent ahead, so that every night you are welcomed by a comfortable bed built in a mobile walk-in tent. Your walk concludes in the Nyamatusi Wildnerness, a most spectacular section of this wild park, in which buffalo and elephant abound.
The Bushlife Safaris portfolio includes three unique properties all based in beautiful Mana Pools.
Vundu Tented Camp features eight large tents (five doubles and three singles) with an en suite shower and toilet. The main lodge area is set in a canopy of riverine trees on the bank of the Zambezi River. Raised 10 feet off the ground, it is the ideal place to enjoy a cocktail and watch the elephants feed on the bushes below, or observe the monkeys climbing nearby trees. The thatched roof provides shade from the mid-day sun.
Little Vundu offers a personalized service for the discerning adventurer who wants a real bush experience. The five en suite tents are nestled in a grove of sausage and tall ebony trees overlooking an inlet of the Zambezi River. The bathrooms are open-air with flush toilets and bucket showers. The dining room is across a picturesque channel accessed by a foot bridge; it is shaded by the acacia trees that Mana Pools is famous for.
Ruwesi Canoe Trail is a 3 night adventure that allows you to travel the length of this magnificent park. Voyaging by canoe, you begin your paddle at the western edge of Mana Pools National Park, following your guide eastward. Whilst canoeing past sand banks and islands you may spot pods of hippo and elephants. Your mobile tented camp is set up ahead of your arrival as you cruise your way down river.
Vundu, Little Vundu and Ruwesi Canoe Trail are all located in Mana Pools National Park, which covers a section of the Middle Zambezi Valley. It extends from the Zambezi River in the north to the escarpment in the south. The Zambezi Valley is a western extension of the Great Rift Valley. Wildlife is excellent in the area. Kudu, zebra, impala and waterbuck can be seen on the surrounding plains, and elephant take advantage of the plentiful Albida (Ana) trees in the area. Predators including lion, wild dog, leopard, and cheetah are often sighted, and large concentrations of buffalo can also be found along the river's edges. Bird watching tends to be very good, as the river atttracts large numbers of waterbirds.
Vundu Tented Camp Little Vundu Ruwesi Canoe Trail
A stay at one of the Vundu camps is an invitation for adventure! Enjoy game drives in open 4x4 vehicles, game viewing by boat, nature walks with your professional guide, catch and release fishing, and canoeing past plenty of wildlife, such as hippo and elephants.
The professional safari guides in Zimbabwe are the finest on the continent of Africa! Their education and experience is second to none, which makes a safari to Zimbabwe a unique and thrilling venture. It takes an average of 5-7 years to qualify as a fully licensed guide, which ensures that those leading you on your adventure are the utmost professionals. This particular camp in Mana Pools National Park prides themselves on specialized and privately guided trips, allowing a rare freedom to adapt and enhance the enjoyment of each group.
The Bushlife Conservancy is directly funded by your contribution when staying at Vundu, Vundu Tented Camp and Ruwesi. This donation goes toward the animals and national park employees for the betterment of the park. Recently, there have been several examples of said contributions going to good use: A national park member's sick child was transported to the nearest hospital, which was several hundreds of miles away; the national park's anti-poaching team received new tents and backpacks, and several trees were planted to improve the national park's self-catering lodges, with the intent to help regenerate the forest.
NEWSLETTER“ DECEMBER 2011
2011 has been an amazing year for the wild dogs in Mana, spiked by the start of the wild dog research which started in nov 2010 , the last safari for that year , so it was all new this year .I am hoping to put the work on the dogs towards a Masters degree. I am signed up to do the refresher course for the Wildlife game capture course, so I can dart dogs for the research. I did the course last about 8 years ago, and I need to do the course again.
We have identified 75 dogs fr om 4 packs along he river .
Vundu pack started off with 26 dogs, which splintered when the pack denned 18 dogs stayed with Tait
and Jed the alpha pair and raised 11 pups, so the Vundu pack went up to 29 , 2 adults and a pup have been killed by lions, leaving 26 dogs, with one dog coming back into the pack from the splintered off group bringing them to 27, and there is an unconfirmed 3 more killed in the last week.
The long pool pack of 9 had 3 pups, still all alive to date =12 The Nyakasanga pack of 17 split at denning again, 11 of which stayed around little vundu for most of the season, the rest stayed with the alpha pair and raised 8 pups, plus the 7 adults, so 15 in that pack 26 in the nyakasanga pack but they are separated now.
The Ilala pack of 8 a dults had 12 pups, 20 dogs.
The pack at Chitake has a total of 16 dogs, Chitake is 40km inland from the river.
2011 has been an extremely dry year, with the rains ending effectively in February we have had quite a few animals dying off and the rains arrivi ng now in late Nov are none too soon. Let's hope we have a good long rainy season.
WILDLIFE RESEARCH PROJECT- UPDATE (May-June 2011)
Mana Pools, our new study region in the north of Zimbabwe, is providing equal excitement and with the help of Professional Guide, Nick Murray, we have the location of two dens. One belongs to alpha fe male Tait, of the Vundu Pack. Happily her GPS collar, which was fitted in November 2010, is still providing excellent information about her movements and made locating her den quite straightforward. Nick confirmed this on the ground. The secon d pack, now named the Long Pool Pack, are also denned. This is a smaller pack of nine dogs and yet to be collared. I will however be traveling up to Mana Pools at the beginning of July with the intention of collaring this pack as well.
Above: The alpha female of th e Long Pool Pack (yet to be named)
Above: Alpha female Tait, of the Vundu pack, very pregnant.
1st April 2011
The latest update on the Wild Dog Project is exciting. I met with Greg Rasmussen, who is the man behind the start of the project 20 years ago and we have been officially inducted into the Painted Dog Conservation Team. So the ball is rolling for the first ever wild dog research in the Lower Zambezi Valley and we will be using Little Vundu as its base of operations. If you are interested in this side of a safari with a difference contact the African Adventure Company for details.
For those of you who are coming, we will see you in Mana. Here are a few photos from this last season.
Newsletter - March 2011
As we get ready for the 2011 season the waters of the Zambezi are high, with exceptional rains in the region the headwaters of the river are high and Lake Kariba is filling at a rapid rate. The flood gates have been open for over a month, and at one stage there were 4 of the 6 gates opened, letting out a huge amount of water into the Lower Zambezi Valley. Ma ny camps along the Zambezi have been submerged, especially those closer to the Mozambique border where the water is backed up by the Cahbora Bassa Dam. Vundu is on relatively high ground and also far from the downstream dams and gorges in the rivers path. We did loose a couple of trees and a bit of bank, but so far that is all, so we are lucky. The gates are due to open again in late February. For us in Mana, when the water is high the inland channels are flooded which opens up a new world of canoeing, thro ugh the albida and croton forests, sometimes a kilometer or 2 inland from the river. With all this rain the bush is really thick and the elephants are in camp daily feeding on the lush vegetation, which helps us by thinning the bush out a bit so we can see where we are going. The pan behind camp is full and growing a thick stand of 8" tall grass which the hippos come out to feed on at night and will have it flattened by May.
Thanks to every one who make 2010 such a success for us at Bushlife, including Vundu, Little Vundu, Ruwesi Canoe Trails and Chitake Mobile Tented camp. We had great people and experienced fantastic wildlife encounters. Our old favorites have not let us down yet, the big elephant bulls which allow you to approach them catiously on foot , the wild dogs and their pups at the den site, the lions have exploded in numbers with new cubs in the prides and several sub - adults venturing out on their own. One of the great highlights was the darting of a wild dog for thee start of the first wild do g research project in the lower Zambezi Valley. I had the privilege of darting the alpha female and naming her, Tait after my 3 year old daughter. We fitted her with a gps collar so we can get an all year record of her movements. Peter Blinston was with me, he is the Managing Director of the Painted Dog Conservation project for the last 12 years, and the project is now 20 years on going, based out on Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe. I am hoping to be working closely with Painted Dog in the future and be t heir representative on the ground in Mana Pools, contributing to their project. I would also like to further my degree in the process and hopefully get my Masters sometime, through work on this project. With this in mind we are working with Africa Adventur e Company at including this kind of work into a safari experience, with extended stays at Little Vundu. This would include, finding dogs, gps recordings of sighting, age, sex, photograph and identify each dog. Still doing the activities we offer such as, c anoeing and walking etc.
We had the privilege of hosting Mark and Alison Nolting of the Africa Adventure Company, together with their sons Miles and Nicholas in July of the last season. We were together for a whole week, so were able to spend time in Vundu Camp, Little Vundu and also Ruwesi Canoe Trail, mobile camping down the river.
We had a great time walking and sitting with the elephants, doing extended walks looking for the wild dog den where the pups were hidden, they were hiding about
2 hour walk from the nearest road, so we got our exercise. On another occasion we crept up to wild dogs on our bums, this pack had been in a fight with somebody as there were many injured dogs, so it took a bit of time and patience,but after what seemed like a long time we were rewarded as the dogs relaxed to our presence and we got to spend time with them. I think this was tough on Miles who is about 7' tall and more used to sprinting down the basketball court and slam dunking rather than 'stealth moding' for hours up to dogs - but he survived. We also had a great time on the river canoeing between the camps, this is one of the highlights of Mana Pools and a truly unique wilderness experience.
Despite having such a great year, we ended sadly by saying goodbye to Mark McAdam, who has been working with Bushlife for the past 12 years. He is now in Canada setting up a new life with his family in Calgary. His 2 daughters will have great opportunities for education and for sport as they are world quality bmx riders. Maybe one day we will see him back in Mana, canoeing the Zambezi.
This year our professional guides shall be myself, Doug MacDonald, Andrew Dalzel and Rich Taylor, Steve Chinoyi and Tichaona will be helping with the canoeing.