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On Why Drought Is Not Always A Bad Thing


 

Around the world, our planet is experiencing the effects of El Nino, including drought in many countries. The first thought is always: what will happen to the wildlife in times of drought? And is it always a bad thing? Map Ives shares his thoughts on how this impacts on wildlife in seasonal weather patterns of a green or a dry season.

 

"I have heard quite a few reports recently that have painted this year in a rather negative light, mostly due to the relatively low rainfall throughout northern Botswana and indeed across southern Africa. There can be no doubt that this season’s rainfall so far is definitely within the bracket of ‘drought,’ which can be perceived as being very tough on wildlife and environments. However, one of the basic tenets of biodiversity is that all species have to be able to adapt to conditions that occur around them, and this is exactly what most, if not all, of the resident animals would have achieved over many thousands of years.

 

 

A lot of people may not have lived here for long enough to have experienced a previous dry spell, but there is enough data for us to know that there is a chance of such dry spells occurring about once every two decades and which can last anywhere between one and three years. I have lived in the northern Botswana region for the last 35 years and have experienced at least two other episodes of dry spells, such as we seem to be heading for, and I have noted some extraordinary movements of wildlife – which actually allows for a pattern of ‘use and recovery’ (if I can use that phrase).

 

 

The Okavango, for example, will still receive floodwaters from upstream in Angola, but the area that is inundated will probably vary considerably over the next few years. (In fact, in the dry spell of 1987/88, the flood that arrived in 1988 was actually quite large due to increased rain in Angola.) The grazing ‘lawns’ that occur around the floodplains of the Okavango and Linyanti systems become incredibly valuable and I have noticed an increase in buffalo, lechwe and other grazers as well as their attendant predators along the edges of the islands and land masses. I expect that there will be a return to the ‘buffalo days’ at Mombo and around Chitabe, as well as at Vumbura and the lower floodplains below Kwetsani. It was during these dry spells that sitatunga were common in the permanent swamp zones around Xigera and in the Jao Reserve.

 

 

 

This is repeated all along the Linyanti fault where the elephant numbers will actually make for some of the very best elephant viewing on the African continent, whilst it is well known amongst all of us who have spent time there that the Savute Channel attracts large congregations of wildlife. There are some wonderful Cynodon grazing areas along the drying channel flanks which makes for much better game viewing than when the channel is full.

 


 

In summary, the dry spells up here are as important to wildlife as are the so-called wet spells, with the animals utilising the environments in different ways. Many of the adaptations to wet and dry involve moving to different browsing and grazing areas. Much of this information is passed on from female to female, mother to daughter, in what I call “matriarchal memory” so that the young animals know where to go and what to do when the next wet or dry spell comes along, as it surely will.

 

They have adapted to this, and we should too. All it takes is an understanding of the subtleties of life in a completely natural and dynamic environment.

 

I am looking forward to a great year, and why not?"

 

Written by Map Ives, Wilderness Safaris Botswana Environmental Manager - Photographed by Dana Allen and Caroline Culbert

 



A Wild Dog takes to the air!


 

Months ago I was tickled to receive a request from Dora and Vaughan in Zambia for artwork, to transform their Britten Norman Islander into a flying wild dog!

 

Of course I said Yes! What else would I say…

 

I did rough artwork, which looked doggy enough!

 

 

 

This project ticks all my boxes:

 

*It is public and interactive art, (loving street art and graffiti as I do…)

 

*It is art that will stimulate discussion and promote tourism and conservation awareness in Southern Africa

 

*It is art that will indirectly but meaningfully support community development in a Zambian Game Management Area

 

*It is art in celebration of my favorite animal, the African Wild Dog!

 

The Islander will fly between Kantunta Lodge, a unique and beautiful spot on the great Kafue river, and Livingstone.


 

 

 

WILD DOG AIR CHARTERS

 

Kafue Wild Dogs….

 


So, a few months later, here we are on the runway at Executive Air, Charles Prince Airport, in Harare…..towing the unsuspecting Islander to her painting hanger…



Javinos, the master spray painter at Executive Air, has matched a beautiful semi-metallic gold for the first coat of the Britten Norman Islander..

 


We complete the first masking, using thin masking tape, torn brown paper and torn strips of wide masking tape, allowing for the wonderful semi-metallic golden coat colour, and saving for the striking white markings that so many of our Zimbabwean and Zambian dogs have…


 

Javinos and I have been high on a scaffold masking the tail, and I have been on my back on a mechanic’s trolley underneath the plane masking the tummy area. Quite a task. (I want her tummy to look as good from underneath as her sides do…)

 

 

Javi does all the bigger areas I have marked-the tail being a special challenge…eventually wrapping the plane totally in brown paper, like a little boy’s dream present! Hard work for the team!

 

 

Javinos starts spraying smoothly from tail to nose tip…two coats of deep dramatic gold on each side of our wild dog plane.

 

 

I can’t wait to eventually unwrap her, but we have to let her first colour dry for more than 24 hours to be sure the base colour is well set for the next masking session by Javi and I …Patience is a virtue…Hunter, the Hanger Cat, hangs out on a tractor seat and waits with us….

 

 

At last, I am able to mask for the black areas…This next masking is a two day marathon…

 

I have to do lots of CAREFUL planning of the black patches in our dogs coat, thinking about the lie of the fur- (and fondly remembering the gorgeous silky feel of a real wild dogs coat when I helped Clive and Graham remove a wire snare from the neck of our female dog‘Snare”.….)

 

I lay torn masking tape strip by strip to get the effects I want (hopefully), and the plane looks like a huge golden parcel – no detail to be seen under the gold spray and the masking!

 

 

The tail masking is very involved…

 

 

Then comes the jet black spray coat. Javi works on high, and Rob Demblon and I plan the flying flag of the dog’s tail!

 


Black spray painting done…

 

 

The masking comes off…a long and careful process

 

 

So exciting, as the dramatic black and white doggy shapes emerge out of the gold…

 

 

We have done a softer gold colour on dogs head and neck – looks perfect!

 

 

the tail looks magnificent!

 


 

I have allowed nice large eyes for our wild dog since she is a girl…!

 


 

Choosing a gorgeous deep red background for the eyes, I want them real, but DRAMATIC!

 


 

revealing the eye, very pleasing…

 

 

Thrilling….

 

 

and I am happy with the nose as well….

 

 

 

What a great effort by Javinos, spray painter par excellence!

 

 

 

Our wild dog exits the spray painting hanger, ready for her next adventure…

 

 

 

She’s off to the main hanger for her final fittings….

 

 

 

The plane is owned by four lodges: Kaingu, Kantunta, Konkamoya and Mukambi.

 

Check out SafariTalk for more on the lodges…

 

The main flying routes will be Lusaka – Chunga, and Livingstone – Ngoma/Chunga. But it will be available for other routes (Lufupa for J&M Safaris) and Busanga for the plains camps. On demand it will also be available for other routes on a charter basis.

 

The owners of “Wild Dog” are involved in the Kafue Conservation Hub , which seeks to develop the Kafue National Park through a sustainable development strategy that incorporates social and economic development with environmental sustainability. The greater Kafue National Park is one of Africa’s last remaining great wildlife wildernesses. So she is going to have many many adventures……



Treading Lightly - 10 Active Adventures


1. Biking the Backroads on safari; cycle at Mashatu in southern Botswana

 

 

 

2. Walking with Elephants in Mana Pools; a trunkful experience up close and personal

 


 
3. Gorilla trekking in the Mist; Uganda, Rwanda and even the Congo (combining with active volcano)

 


 
4. Teenagers, Caves, and Rhino; outdoor education as a volunteer in Matobo Hills

 


 
5. Water-water everywhere; boat game drives, shark diving, kayaking, white-water rafting or fishing is awesome fun

 


 
6. Golf Nine and Wine; we can organize you a tee off time and the best table in Cape Town

 


 
7. Dune Buggies ; get out on quad bikes and explore the Namibia deserts
 

 
8. Hike in the Highlands; enjoy the lower Kilimanjaro slopes or caldera views at Ngorongoro

 


 
9. Footsteps Adventure in Zambia; we will get you on the walking trail in Bushcamps

 

 

 

10. Canoeing in the Okavango Delta – explore the rivers from Jao to Mombo Island

 


 



Kalahari Plains Camp news


 

Nxai Pan

 

Rather shy, but always a delight to watch, sightings were reported of two bat eared fox parents ‘herding’ their five young at the old water-hole. The two male lions – part of the resident pride – were seen often near the main waterhole. The rest of the pride appeared to have moved off further away from the main game drive areas of the park – perhaps heading back down to Phuduhudu for another cow or two.. The males seem to be doing well for themselves, having been seen feeding on springbok close to the pan.

 

 

If the pride went in search of cows, they didn’t time it quite so well - in the middle of the month, eight buffalos (seven females and one male) arrived into the area. They spent a couple of days around one of the camping sites – enjoying the little grass that is there. This is the largest number of buffalos we have seen together in Nxai Pan in recent years as it is not an area that is suited to their feeding habits.

 

A week later, the pride with 9 sub-adult cubs had returned, and were seen in the company of the males again, feeding on a zebra by Baobab loop.

 

The sub-adult cheetahs appear to have finally left their mother – they were seen several times on their own, and attempted to hunt. They weren’t successful at the time, but it will take a lot of practice and failed attempts before they become as adept as their mother!

 

Tau Pan

 

A walk is always a nice gentle way to start a morning, and so began the day’s planned activity at Tau Pan. The tracker and guide began leading the guests down from the main deck and off on their stroll, when a large male lion suddenly appeared at the waterhole a few hundred metres below them. Whilst the guests were watching with binoculars, and the camp’s telescope, the car was quickly brought around for a change of activity, and the guests set off on the drive to see the lion.

 

 

Obviously hearing what was up, and feeling a little camera shy, the lion then decided to leave the waterhole and head through the edge of the camp, leading the guide on a bit of a wild goose chase as the lion cut through the bush. After some tracking, and a brief sighting of him heading off through the landscape, the guests returned to the original plan of a walk and set off again – a little later than the norm!

 

A trip to the Piper Pan provided two excellent sightings – 9 lions including six youngsters were resting in the shade of a tree. Not too far away from them, seven wild dogs were seen moving off into the distance. A day or so later, and the dogs paid a visit to Tau Pan, also where three lions were seen (one male mating with one of the two lionesses).

 

Things must be getting unseasonably dry, as one morning, down at the Tau Pan waterhole, a brown hyena was seen drinking. Normally, these super shy and elusive predators are rarely seen in the summer months, but thirst must have forced a change of habit. A few days later, we were lucky enough to see another brown hyena – this time hunting – a highly unusual sighting.


 

When Lions Roar and Bushmen Walk

 

I awake to a noisy dawn as a pride of lion, including five cubs, made our Kalahari Plains Camp tent the centre of their universe for the night with repetitive melodies of adjoining roars, echoed only by the response of distant lions. As I lie warm in my comfortable bed I wonder what must be rushing through the minds of the Bushman family who were undoubtedly starting to prepare for their morning activity: a bush walk to share and educate others on their ancient ‘hunter-gatherer' lifestyle.

 

Over my much-needed morning coffee I can hear the family chattering away, and the unmistakable clicking and animation of their morning tales. A sudden commotion and I knew they had spotted the lions who were now on the move and had already made their way to the opposite end of the pan.

 

 

I head out and introduce myself and they greet me as per ancient tradition, with a hand on the shoulder and their head bowed in respect. Their movements are slow and controlled, and I automatically adjust my ever-rushing mind into a pace commonly known as "African Time".

 


 
We set off on our walk and only metres from the camp the family is already chattering excitedly about every plant and shrub they see, and I quickly realise that this pristine area must be like a fully-stocked greengrocer for our family who are accustomed to living in more utilised areas, shared by cattle and other clans.

 

They are quick to identify species used not only for eating, but also for spices, "especially for cooking predatory animals such as small African wild cats and jackal”, they explain. Other plant species were demonstrated for their use in hunting; to create poisonous arrow tips and for medicinal purposes; placed into body incisions either as preventatives or cures.

 


 

The family proceeded to educate and humour us as they continued with their familial antics in this hostile and unforgiving world. After carefully collecting grass species along the way, Xayaha (1st son) demonstrated his hard-learned fire-making skills. Suddenly a brief loss of concentration saw his tiny little flame jump into the air and disappear in a pop. His actions and seemingly animated disappointment was met by a barrage of fast-paced comments from his family members, especially the ladies who could only have been cussing his failure, as they had probably taught him this vital life skill at a very young age.

 

 

Walking back towards camp we came across a beautiful oryx (gemsbok) antelope who had been successful in dodging the lions all night, but was now startled at our strange forms coming through the grass. It was then that the ladies instinctively disappeared to the ground and the men engaged in a tactical hunt formation. They crept to within metres of the antelope as it advanced on them to try and identify the threat the Bushmen posed. The men demonstrated their strategic hunting techniques on the obliging antelope before we set off once again to our camp where a delicious brunch was awaiting us.

 

 

This once-in-a-lifetime experience was deeply moving and brought me closer to a Bushman family whose roots lay deep in the sands of the Kalahari.

 

Written and Photographed by Deon De Villiers - Wilderness Safaris


 

 

Kalahari Plains Camp news


 

The desert sands of the Kalahari provide a good picture of the seasonal situation, whether we are in the wet or the dry season. The unpredictable rainfall this summer seems to have kick-started a diverse growth of palatable vegetation, creating huge concentrations of game within Big Pan and its surroundings. Our area’s landscapes take our guests’ breath away, as we traverse it from end to end.

 

 

 

Climate and Landscape

The desert sands of the Kalahari provide a good picture of the seasonal situation, whether we are in the wet or the dry season. The unpredictable rainfall this summer seems to have kick-started a diverse growth of palatable vegetation, creating huge concentrations of game within Big Pan and its surroundings. Our area’s landscapes take our guests’ breath away, as we traverse it from end to end.

 

Wildlife
The Owens Boys were seen moving back and forth, all the way from Deception Valley and in to Mr Lekhubu’s territory, which covers Big Pan and stretches all the way to Kalahari Plains’ East Lebala Pans. The two male lions had a number of interactions with their now-regular female and her daughter, mating towards end of last year. The lioness, who we have named Bushman House Female, dropped three cubs towards beginning of last month. Her name came after we spotted her with her young cubs close to the Bushman hut under a purple-pod terminalia tree, giving every indication that the cubs were born there.

 

The Plains Pride, which consists of two experienced adult sisters, two sub-adult sisters and five sub-adult brothers were seen coming in and out of camp, especially to drink from the camp waterhole. They appear to have survived the drama of a number of successful and well-planned hunts and appear in good shape, even in the absence of Mr Lekhubu’s presence.

 

The Deception Valley area, as well as Letiahau and Sunday Pans, delivered beyond our expectations on a number of occasions. Two male lions, known as the Lekhubu Boys, and three others known as the Letiahau Boys were sighted feeding on various kills of oryx and blue wildebeest within each other’s territory.

 

Multiple cheetah sightings provided great viewings of the Letiahau Brothers, the Plains Male as well as the Half Left Ear Female and two surviving cubs (from her original three).

 

Highly rated sightings of brown hyaena were also on the list of great viewings while leopard tortoise numbers added great value to sightings across our area – quite unexpectedly often just after soft rains.

 

Madala, our well known resident camp male leopard now in his prime, was spotted on a few occasions displaying typical leopard behaviour and catching our guests’ attention out on safari. Another previously unseen sub-adult male leopard named Shy Boy was sighted along Khudu Pan South feeding on his fresh springbok kill, making a huge contribution to our highlights list.

 

Other interesting sightings encountered within a short period of time included a very relaxed and rare caracal walking across New Track Road close to camp, two African wildcats on a hunt along Khudu Pan South, honey badgers foraging along Matlotse Pan while black-backed jackals and pale-chanting goshawks opportunistically waited for scraps.

 

But surely the highlight of the month was seeing two aardwolf running up and down along Korhaan Road after we had a few drops of rain one afternoon.

 

Our camp waterhole always delivers a massive contribution for us as guides as it attracts a lot of animals to come to drink during the course of a day. Elephant, particularly, provide great and memorable experiences for our guests’ safaris at Kalahari Plains.

 

This is the time of year when predators follow the game that is dropping its young. However, we have no solid answer to the question of when it will end. This annual animal interaction is part of a fully functioning ecosystem.

 

 

Birds and Birding
Birdlife is quite stunning in the Kalahari at this time of the year with seemingly endless numbers of summer migrants arriving while a lot of the birds are in their most beautiful plumage, as this is the breeding season for about 75 per cent of birds.

 

Male birds have a challenging lifestyle when it comes to mating, which calls for proper logistics and protocols to be implemented to impress the females and win the race to be a potential breeding partner. Thereafter the seasonal changes get them on the move, ready to start journeys of thousands and thousands of miles.

 

Newsletter and photos: Mwamo Poneso Mwamo

 

 


 


 

 



5 of Our Absolute Favorite Adventures on Foot


For travelers who want to feel connected to the earth under their feet, nothing compares to a walking safari or hiking adventure. With trained guides leading the way, you’ll experience sightings of wildlife in a whole new way. Being active is possible on safari and getting away from sitting in the vehicle. Here are 5 of our absolute favorite adventures on foot:

 

1. Wilds of Zambia River Trail - from $9995.00 per person

This itinerary combines the South Luangwa floodplain ecosystem, the Lower Zambezi and Kafue National Park, which is remote and rarely visited. Experience day and night game drives in open vehicles as well as participate in walking and canoeing safaris. Your accommodations are thatched chalets or rustic tented safari camps all with en suite bathrooms. The true thrill of any safari to Zambia is the adrenalin rush of a walking safari and canoeing down the Zambezi! End with a night in Livingstone and a tour of Victoria Falls and a sunset cruise.

 


2. Walking Adventurer’s to Tanzania Southern Circuit - from $4750.00 per person

If you’re looking to get out of the jeep and explore Tanzania on foot, there are options for this on our northern circuit Walking Adventure. The suggested activities include hiking near Arusha National Park, forest hike and mountain biking on the Lake Manyara escarpment, hikes near the spectacular Ngorongoro Crater, and game walks near Tarangire. The Value and Classic pricing options allow you to pick the adventure best suited for your style of travel and budget. Also consider a week safari in the south to Ruaha and Selous parks - a more remote destination.

 



 

3. Eyes on Elephant of the Pools and Pans, Zimbabwe - from $10,995 per person

Another National Geographic Traveler Magazine award winner, this AAC exclusive safari made it onto their penultimate "50 Tours of a Lifetime" list. The guides---Nic Polenakis, Dave Carsons, Nick Murray, and Paul Hubbard---are some of the best in Africa, and are the highlight of the trip. Spot the Big 5 on this safari that combines walking in Hwange; canoeing, walking, and game drives in Mana Pools; plus a cultural visit and chance to see rhino in Matobo Hills.

 


4. Our Point of View Active South Africa - from $4695.00 per person

This trip lets you experience South Africa on foot in a kaleidoscope of unique settings, including on safari in the Timbavati Reserve Area where activities include bush walks as well as the opportunity to sleep out under the stars in Tanda Tula’s “Star Beds.” Elsewhere, there’s hiking, and sea kayaking to see Cape Penguins in Cape Town, and hiking on the Garden Route’s stunning Tsitsikamma Trail, plus a dolphin and whale watching cruise.

 


5. Desert Dune Safari to Namibia -  from $4095.00 per person

On this adventurous journey, guests traverse the highlights of Namibia, visiting the iconic red dunes of Sossusvlei, tracking black rhino at Desert Rhino Camp, and exploring the dramatic Skeleton Coast Hoanib Camp with its historic shipwrecks, seal colonies, and incredible desert wonders, including animals such as elephant, lion, springbok, gemsbok and ostrich that have adapted to the harsh environment.

 

 



Vundu Camp, Mana Pools, Newsletter


 

March 2016 update

 

Parks have been very active, apart from daily patrols. Rangers have been reacting to shots fired in several areas and the Black Mambas have been very busy with various ongoing operations. The gathering of information is a continual process.

 

The wild dogs have been busy too. Black tip the alpha female in the Nyakasanga Pack is mating with Jiani. This pack is currently 14 strong. Wicket, Jemma and Tait junior from the Nyamatusi Pack are all in season and are being mated with by Twiza, Twilight and Tim. The Nyamatusi is a new pack formed by dogs from the Vundu and the Nyakasanga pack which dispersed from their home packs, this pack is 13 strong. The Vundu Pack seems to have disappeared as there were only four dogs left after this dispersal. So the prospect of pups is looking good. We have seen the Chiruwe Pack only once as they tend to live in the central part of the park where there are no roads. We have had reports of the Chikwenya pack.

 

 

The BBC film crew will be with us until the end of March. They have had a helicopter in the park for about 10 days filming the dogs from the air. The dogs pay no attention to the chopper and continue with their activities and they have been able to film some very interesting stuff. At one stage the Nyakasanga and Nyamatusi packs were only 150m apart on the ground but they did not meet, both packs went off chasing impala which took them in separate directions, it would have been amazing to get that meeting from the air. We filmed them hunting baboons and impala from the air also harassing zebra, buffalo and even a hippo still out grazing in the marshy floodplain.

 

 

We also did about 10 days with the aerial camera mounted to a vehicle, which gives a whole different perspective of being able to move with the dogs and film at the same time, as mostly these cameras are quite large and need to be static tripod mounted to shoot.


 

Most areas are fairly inaccessible at this time of year with lots of rain falling in late February and March which seems to have become a pattern over the last few years. As can be expected the bush is full of young from most of the other animals, lots of baby elephant. The pans are all full and I expect we will have more rain in April to keep them topped up.

 

We start with our first safari clients in April and look forward to giving you some more up dates.

 

Best regards

 

Nick Murray

 

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February 2016 update

 

February has been a busy month. So far during the off season for safaris we have done 16,500km on anti-poaching efforts, transporting 600 National Park Rangers on deployments with about 2500 ranger days of food provided. There have been several contacts between Park Rangers and poachers in the area and tusks have been recovered, it is a dangerous situation as the poachers shoot at the Rangers. We have reports of approximately 10 carcasses of poached elephant which shows that the pressure being put on the poachers by Rangers is having an effect.

 

On the under cover work with the Black Mambas things have also been active. There have been operations going on in many different places around the Zambezi Valley. This month three pangolin have been recovered alive and put back in the wild in National Parks Estate. The men doing this side also put themselves at risk; a short while ago a policeman was stabbed in an operation arresting some illegal ivory dealers. Thousands of kilometers need to be covered setting these ops into motion and maintaining until the arrests are made. We have put out flyers in certain areas in collaboration with National Parks Investigations Department and we are getting lots of calls. I am learning that intelligence gathering is the most effective way in combating the fight against poaching. We are trying to raise funds to keep this going for at least the rainy season but really it needs a long-term programme.

 

 


 

 

The BBC film crew is back, having started on 28 February and we have had some luck with the dogs. We have seen the Nyamatusi Pack, which formed in December last year with seven males from the Nyakasanga pack and seven females from the Vundu pack. I am yet to determine the alpha pair but there are two dominant females: Jemma and Tait Junior. The Nyakasanga Pack is now 14 dogs. Jiani has taken over the position of alpha male. We have seen him totally dominating Hornet who was the alpha male for the past three years. Black Tip the alpha female and Jiani are mating so hope to have pups by late May /June with this pack. Just this morning there was an amazing interaction between the dogs, lions and hyena. Great stuff to capture on film.

 

 

 

 

We have had several heavy showers so the bush is nice and green and the grass is now established, not very tall but at least it's there. I think we will get up to our average seasonal rainfall despite the rains arriving late again.

 

 

 

 

The leopards are much more active during the day at this time of year and we have seen several in day time in just a few days. They are taking advantage of the thick ground cover which is absent for the rest of the year. We have also seen a couple of prides of lion of five with two large black maned lions mating with the females.

 

The well known elephant bull Boswell who stands on his back legs is doing well, as are Impi and Jed and several other of the Mana Bulls.

 

I look forward to giving you an update of the shoot with the BBC soon.

 

Best regards
Nick Murray

 

 

January 2016 Vundu Camp – Romara Anti-Poaching Unit

 

Thank you to all of you who have taken time out of your day and contributed to our anti-poaching efforts. It literally would not happen without your donations! You are the ones paying for our antipoaching efforts for the protection of our elephant in the Zambezi Valley, it always amazes me that it is people who live thousands of miles away who are helping so much. I would like to thank The Africa Adventure Company for their help in contacting past guests and for all of their support, The Tashinga Initiative and Global World Conservation for all the help in getting tax deductable funds from donors in the USA to us in the Zambezi Valley, William and Beth and The Painted Dog Conservation both here in Zimbabwe and the Netherlands.

 

Starting on the 1st November 2015 our efforts are being channelled into transporting and feeding the Rangers who work for National Parks while on patrol and deploying them to areas where they patrol on foot. Each patrol is on average eight days. Each patrol has four men in it. We have deployed and uplifted 248 rangers to date on anti-poaching missions. We are operating on a very limited road system which is in a pretty rough state, and it takes its toll on the vehicles. We have travelled 5500km (2800 miles) in Mana Pools, the park itself is 2200sq.km (1400sq.miles). We have designated a land rover to the operation and have today added another which is undergoing a quick service and it will be in the valley next week.


 

In November the Rangers had a contact with poachers, shots were exchanged. Two poachers were wounded. The poachers ran off but left behind seven sets of elephant tusks. This group of Rangers will receive US$1000 as an incentive. It’s not a lot of money, but equivalent to their monthly salary, which they do not always get in a timely fashion. This week a concerted effort has been made by our National Parks Rangers and our RAPU vehicle in tracking down 11 poachers in the area west of Mana Pools in the Nyakasanga. In an ambush at midnight on Monday the poachers discarded their load of 22 tusks of elephant ivory and disappeared in the thick bush. Rangers have been after them now for days.

 

Bushlife Safaris - Vundu Camp has also been working on the start of the Ranger Anti-poaching Base at Nyakasikana in the middle of the valley. There is 50T of sand being transported to the site together with 50T of stone for the foundations of the buildings. The sand and stone is coming from 300km away and takes about eight hours to get it there. It will take us 14 trips on those roads in and out to get the materials in. A very good friend of mine, Dave England, has been instrumental in providing the transport of these bulky materials. Alaska Dolomite has offered us a really good price on the stone, and another friend, Steve Swanepoel, has a team of men collecting the sand and loading it for us all free of charge. It is great to see Zimbabweans pulling together for a great cause. We still need 300 bags of cement to get started.

 

 

This last weekend three poachers were arrested and more ivory recovered. There are just so many holes to try to close up, but we have to keep on trying. Please spread the word that we need funds to keep the pressure on to keep the poachers out and build our Park Rangers a good base to operate out of. We are making a difference and the Area Manager tells me levels have decreased. We have saved the lives of some elephant.

 

 

 
Thanks again
Regards Nick Murray

 

 

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We are thrilled to introduce two new faces in the management team at Vundu Camp for the 2015 season. No strangers to the bush, both Gadyy and Aimee's passion for wildlife and the pure enjoyment of being submersed in the thick of it, has already ensured a smooth introduction to camp life. Working alongside Nick, Desiree and our fabulous team, they will be on hand to oversee the smooth running of camp and to make sure our guests are taken care of during their stay with us.

 

Gadreck Nyamhondoro: Gadreck (Gaddy) was born in the small town of Karoi in Zimbabwe before moving to Harare for schooling.

 

Soon after leaving school he moved to Kariba where he started his guiding career with Spurwing Island Safari Lodge and qualified as a learner guide in 1997. Gadreck has gained valuable management experience working in safari camps within Zimbabwe and he is also qualified to conduct walking safaris and game drives.

 


 

Aimee van der Merwe: Born in 1991 in Harare, Zimbabwe, Aimee grew up in a small farming community in Tengwe and discovered her love and passion for nature at a young age.

 

She has been keen on fishing since she was a little girl and has fished Lake Kariba, the Zambezi River and various dams and rivers within South Africa. Aimee received a certificate in Photography in 2013 from Oakfields College in Pretoria, South Africa and is currently working on a personal photographic portfolio.

 

Whilst managing the camp she is excited to be working towards pursuing her Professional Guides License.

 


 

To all our 2015 guests, we look forward to welcoming you to Mana Pools over the next few months and helping you create memories to treasure.

 

 

Despite the rains commencing very late last year, with the first decent rain falling on Christmas Day, Mother Nature seems to be more than making up for it and in the last six weeks we have had a lot of rain. As a result the grass has grown very well where the concentration of animals in the dry season have left droppings to fertilize the new growth.

 


 

 

 

Game has concentrated once again on the Mana flood plain and in particular the elephant. There are several hundred elephant feeding on the belly high grasslands, rarely reaching up to feed on a tree. Many have come in from the surrounding areas, I don't recognize them and their behavior is very different from our regular residents. There is an abundance of newly born calves, and many bulls. It is the breeding and calving season for elephant and this year they have congregated in Mana.

 

 

 

The Mucheni pride of lions are doing well, the two new big males in the area are breeding with the females, so there is a promise of cubs to come. The Nyamatusi pride has also been spotted and are a group of 17 in total.

 

We are not often in the park at this time of year, so it is great to be here, as it is looking exceptionally beautiful. The reason we have started early is because we have a BBC film crew in camp. They have chosen Mana as the place to film a Wild Dog documentary, which is exciting news as they researched possibilities for the documentary across the whole of Africa and have chosen to stay with us. Expectations are high but this is an incredible opportunity for both us at Vundu Camp but most importantly Mana Pools National Park and Zimbabwe wildlife as a whole. They will be with us for five months this year and then again in 2016. The documentary is one part of a five part series, which will include tigers in India, lions in the Mara, penguins in the Antarctic and chimps in the Congo, and is following on from the Planet Earth series.

 

Talking of the Wild Dog, we have seen the Vundu, Nyakasanga and Long Pool packs already this year. The grass is long along the flood plain with limited visibility for the dogs and access for them is hard as there are many running channels which the dogs do not like to cross, as the crocs come out of the Zambezi into these rain filled channels. The dogs are hunting in the mopane away from the river where there aren't roads, so finding them is tough going. Despite the thick bush and limited access with the amount of rain we have had, but we have managed to film some good stuff so far.

 

The Vundu pack is now 11 dogs in total, the smallest it’s been in 20 years that I know of. Last year the pack was at 22 individuals, 10 dogs dispersed and the remaining 12 dogs denned and had seven pups. The loss of the alpha male in July last year was a huge blow to the pack, and the remaining dogs were young 1-2 years old with one 5 year old, this would have left them vulnerable to lions and hyenas. Of the seven pups four have survived which is an average survival rate. This year Tait has accepted a new alpha male into the pack, Ox. He is asserting his dominance and leads the hunts for the pack. He is distinguishable by his size and an all black tail. (see sunset photo above)

 

Janet is the alpha female of the Long Pool pack. She lost her mate last year early in the breeding season and subsequently did not have pups, her pack seemed to have fallen apart. Janet is Taits daughter from her 2009 litter. Three of the pups from the Vundu pack went missing in November last year and were presumed dead. They are however, with their big sister Janet in the Long Pool pack. She appears to have adopted them from Tait, at 4 months of age, which is quite unusual. Most of the dogs that dispersed from the Vundu pack back in April have also joined Janet, there are now nine in her pack. They have moved into the area previously occupied by the Chikwenya pack.

 

The Nyakasanga pack is 26 strong. Black tip (Taits daughter) and Amos, the alphas, have raised 10 puppies from last years litter, having started with 15 pups. These guys are doing very well and the pack is very stable. Five males dispersed from the pack in July last year, again not sure where they have gone to yet.

 

We had a report of 40 dogs, which we have seen today. It is the Nyakasanga Pack with possibly what I called the Little Vundu Pack. The Little Vundu pack split from the Nyakasanga pack a few years ago, and they seem to be back and occasionally hunting together. 40 dogs in one group is quite a sight.

 

The BBC crew will be here now in February, May, August, October and November/December staying at Vundu Camp. As you would expect the crew is very experienced, Nick (producer) and Warrick (camera man) have a combined 40 years of wildlife documentary filming and they are looking to produce something exceptional.

 

It is a very exciting time.

 

Best regards,

 

Nick Murray



10 Amazing Romantic Getaways


10 Amazing Romantic Getaways

 

Our resident experts at AAC tracked the most romantic properties in the African bush (it’s a tough job, but someone has to do it), and created this lovers list of the 10 dreamiest destinations in Africa.

 

Elephant Star Beds – Abu Camp, Botswana

The stars form the canopy over your bed and the rumbling snores of elephants are your lullaby when you overnight on this unique platform overlooking the boma where elephant slumber. Don’t worry about creature comforts out amongst the creatures, there’s a plush double bed and even an open shower with the same incredible views, says AAC senior consultant Kyle Witten. Don’t worry, the elephants won’t spy on you.

 

 

Elephant Camp, Zimbabwe

Located on a private concession on the Zambezi Gorge. Twelve luxury suites feature private viewing deck and plunge pool, air-conditioning, mini-bar and en suite bath with indoor/outdoor showers. Two complimentary transfers to Victoria Falls town are included daily. The main lounge area invites you to enjoy the views of Victoria Falls’ spray and the gorges which separate Zimbabwe and Zambia. Meals are served in the open-air dining room.

 

 

Angama Mara, Kenya

High above a game reserve where some of the most memorable scenes from "Out of Africa" were filmed, is the newest and most dramatic safari lodge in Kenya, Angama Mara. The camps name is Swahili for ‘suspended in mid air,” and couples will feel like they’re literally walking on air at this intimate tented camp with luxury comforts such as deep soaking tubs with views over the Great Rift Valley, on one of the most scenic locations on the entire continent. A short ride away from this serene perch is Governor’s Balloon Safaris, a flight of a lifetime that soars high above the Mara, then comes back to earth with a champagne picnic for two. This is Mark Nolting's most recent honeymoon choice.

 

  

 

Mombo Camp, Botswana

Located in a remote corner of Botswana’s Moremi Reserve, Mombo is world famous for combining 5-star luxury accommodations with epic “big cat” sightings. The camp is being completely rebuilt with eight decadent suites, private plunge pools and thatched salas, offering the most romantic place in Botswana. Arguably the best game viewing in Africa, explore the region with morning and afternoon game drives. Large prides of lions and majestic leopards complete the iconic safari experience.

 


Lion Sands Kingston Tree House, Sabi Sand, South Africa

Think tree houses are just for kids? AAC’s Kollin Buchholz and Cinthia Liza say this tree top aerie at Lion Sands' will easily change your mind. There are few more romantic ways to sleep out under the great African skies than in an elegant canopy bed up in the tree branches, a gourmet picnic full of delicacies tucked way for you to nibble as you the evening skies unfurl---Just the stars, you, and your loved one.


North Island, Seychelles

We can’t name all the famous couples who’ve honeymooned here (cough cough--- Prince William and Kate; George Clooney and Amal – cough cough), but let’s just say that this lush island might just be the most romantic, private, and sexy spot in the world with miles of pristine sand, unique sea life, and service that makes every couple feel like visiting royalty. Each of the 11 very secluded villas have interrupted vistas over the azure Indian Ocean and the silky sand. Meals can be served in your private dining room or a table for two can be set anywhere on the island--each one a decadent, and decidedly romantic, surprise. Alison Nolting, senior consultant, honeymooned in the Seychelles (does that make her famous too)!

 


Serengeti Explorer Shared Camp, Tanzania

A seasonal camp where unspoiled Africa exists; where the special privilege of absorbing the, majestic grandeur of the African landscapes and its wildlife is still possible. From the moment you are met by your host/guide he will make you feel that you are on a real wildlife experience. The philosophy is to help you experience the bush in addition to viewing wildlife in one of Africa's top wildlife reserves. The seasonal mobile camp may move about three to four times a year.

 

 

Azura Benguerra, Mozambique

Mozambique’s finest eco-boutique retreat is located on Benguerra Island. Azura was built entirely by hand in partnership with the local community and has just 16 luxury villas, providing you privacy and pampering.. Each beachfront villa has a private bathroom with an indoor/outdoor shower, pool, air-conditioning, private sun deck, mini-bar and butler service.

Dining at Azura is a feast for the senses. You have several options such as the main restaurant with magnificent views or a picnic in a secluded spot and the most romantic choice, a candlelight dinner on the beach. The chef’s signature dishes combine the finest of Mozambique’s natural produce and seafood with International flair.

 


The Palms, Zanzibar

A family owned luxury resort that provides personal service and a range of beautifully appointed facilities reflecting the warmth and character of the local architecture. The Palms is located along a pristine white beach on the east coast of the island and consists of 6 luxurious villas. Each of the elegant villas features a bedroom, living room, en suite bathroom, Jacuzzi and private terrace overlooking the Indian Ocean. There is a pool, dining room, evening bar and pool bar and massage facilities.

 


Manafiafy, Madagascar

Six chalets are nestled into the forest overlooking the beach.. The rooms are spacious with enormous windows and sliding doors at the front leading to a terrace with plenty of sun loungers, a shower and a hammock. The food at the lodge is superb – freshly caught fish and shellfish including crab, lobster and oysters are often served, along with a delicious selection of salads and excellent, freshly baked bread. Breakfasts are a treat with warm, fresh pastries and a large selection of fresh fruit.

 

 

10 Amazing Romantic Getaways

 



Incredible Stories of 2015 - Wilderness Safaris


Special Sightings and Creatures


2015 featured many highlights for us and some of these were shared on our blog. Because of this, we thought we’d take a look back at some of the stories that stood out for us, many chosen for their drama and the incredible photographs that accompanied them.


Each of the stories featured below are personal favourites, and by no means the general choice of the greater Wilderness team. There are a number of other stories that also deserve a spot on our list. We have only featured seven, a difficult task, considering how many wonderful safari tales we have.

 

Scroll on to see just a few of the incredible wild highlights of 2015:

 


 

Wild dogs move across large areas of land and sightings are always unpredictable. When the pack returned to Seba Camp with 10 four-month old pups in tow the excitement levels between camp staff escalated. Tim was quick to get his camera and follow the pack, resulting in some incredible interactions.

Read more.


 

Two of Africa’s iconic animals come head to head with one another. This sequence captured by Mike Myers remains one of our favourites.

Read more.


 

Deon de Villiers was having a scenic game drive with his guests when they happened to encounter two African wild dogs in an explosive fight… His story was one of our most thrilling of 2015, showcasing what it takes to be the ‘top dog’.

Read more.



Every now and again something remarkable happens and sometimes we are lucky enough to be at the right place when it does. This is what happened to Busanga Bush Camp guide Sam Simunji-Simunji when he came across a leopard playing with two baby monkeys. “I doubt I will ever see such incredible behaviour again in my life.” Click here to read his exciting take on what he witnessed.


 

We were amazed to hear Deon’s story and to see his photographs of an elephant herd protecting their newest family member from an aggressive elephant bull.

Read more.


 

Leopards keep their cubs hidden away in den sites and in rocky crevices. The flick of a leopard’s tail and a soft chirping sound alerted Hailey and Tim to the hollow of a log where two tiny blue eyes stared right back at them. Read their story here.


 

A story that left us all shocked - read Tim Gaunt’s encounter with the hyaena hunter...

Written by Kate Collins, Wilderness Safaris

 

 



Botswana - Kwando Sightings Report


Sightings

 

Recent Sightings Report

 

There’s an almost incessant hum in the air – ga gona pula ga gona pula…. There’s no rain! Temperatures soared, with many records beaten, regularly reaching over 40 degrees during the day, when 35 degrees is more the norm.

 

In and around Maun, the wildlife merges with the domestic… elephants move along with cows on the river banks, breaking fences to get to the juicier vegetation (with the cows and goats following in their trail…). A leopard is found in someone’s backyard, and crocodiles that are getting too big for their own good in the shrinking river, are relocated to areas more suitable, up to the top of the delta. Everyone, is waiting for the rain.

 

Other sightings

 

Kwara Concession

 

 

Lions were seen nearly every day, and cheetahs almost as regularly. The Tsum Tsum area was very productive, for both of these predators.

 

The cheetah with her three cubs was seen often, and once we saw them in the company of a male cheetah. They were all very relaxed together, and the male was interested to see if the female was ready to mate. It appears not, as after a while the male left them and headed north.

 

The pride of eight lions (3 females and 5 young) were seen most often, and regularly hunting. They were joined by the two black maned lions, and together they killed a buffalo. They spent several days together eating this. The female lion with two subadult males was also seen regularly – one of the young males has had an unfortunate interaction with a porcupine – several quills were stuck in around his neck!

 

We were also lucky enough to see leopards mating. They had a kill waiting for them in the branches of a nearby tree.

 

A hippo died - probably of natural causes – at Pelican Pan, so it became a feeding frenzy for the local carnivores. Three males lions and a lioness spent time feeding there, and several groups of hyenas joined in as well.

 

An unusual sighting of a large number of hyenas (over 10) feeding on a red lechwe as well as a female leopard!

 

Some of the summer migratory birds were a little slow to arrive this year, with the late rains. The call of the woodland kingfisher is so distinct, the first day you hear it, you realise how many months it has been since it was last here… Normally arriving in early November, they didn’t arrive in force until the end of the month. How they know the rain in Botswana is delayed, before they set off to travel here, is a mystery. It must be something like Heathrow airport grounding all flights on the first day of school holidays. Every kingfisher waiting at the departure point, fluttering their wings, frustrated, looking at the “departures board” (the sun? the moon? The stars?), and then a mad rush with everyone taking off when the all clear is announced. Well, at least they made it this year, if somewhat tardy.

 

Lagoon

 

 

The Northern pack of dogs seen regularly, with good sighting of hunts and feeding. One of their kills was a baby roan antelope – a rare kill for them.

 

Several male lions sighted in the area. This is creating problems for the females with cubs, as they face the danger of these intruder males killing their cubs if they get hold of them. On the 12th of the month, we found a female with four cubs, but within 10 days she had lost them all. On the 26th, she was seen mating again with one of the Chobe males. The resident males are still hanging around, and battling with the Chobe boys often.

 

Male lions, as big and impressive as they appear most of the time, can sometimes look a bit insecure and as if they are feeling sorry for themselves: following the sound of roaring, a male was found lying down, and calling to his colleagues (who weren’t answering…).

 

Again, good sightings of female leopards, including one that had killed a young tsessebe and was feeding on it, and another with an impala kill up a sausage tree. Male leopards are very shy and we seem to only be able to see them at a distance, or in the quiet of night.

 

The two male cheetahs made a quick visit to the area, staying for a day or so, before moving off again to the north west section of the concession, and then returned a week or so later to hunt. By the end of the month, they had disappeared again.

 

The big herds of buffalos have split up, and we currently remain with the bachelor herds and solitary males. The bulk of the numbers of buffalo have moved off in search, literally, of greener pastures: any where that there has been the possibility of rain, and new grass growth. There are, however, still lots of elephants in the area, including lots of breeding herds.

 

Good birding with the carmine bee eaters still at their breeding sites in the banks of Kwena Lagoon, and the other summer migratories having arrived.

 

Lebala

 

 

We came across the pack of 23 wild dogs at Half Way Pan, and followed the dogs for about half and hour as they moved quickly through the bush. All the dogs were on the hunt for prey, and senses were at their peak. Sadly for them, they did not manage to flush out any game, and they moved off still searching. A few days later we found them again hunting, this time managing to catch two impalas at the same time one morning. The very same day, the dogs arrived in camp in the afternoon, and killed a kudu, quickly demolishing it.

 

The pride of ten lions is very productive at the moment and has had great success with their hunts. One day we found them eating both a wildebeest, and a warthog as a side dish!

 

Even more lions are on the way, as we came across two couples mating for several days in the middle of the month. Hopefully, in another 90 days, there were more little cubs to add to the pride.

Little warthogs were not so lucky - a very newly born baby was being fed on by a female leopard and her cub. A few days later, we watched the whole hunt of another warthog by five lions – starting with the stalking process, the kill itself, and then the crunching of bones as everyone digs in..

 

Nxai Pan

 

 

It’s the right time of year for many to have their young – the springbok are grouping together, nearly ready to all give birth within days of each other. Ostriches already have lots of tiny fluffy chicks, following their parents around as fast as their little legs can carry them.

 

It was also a predator filled month: almost every day lions were seen, and often with the addition of either cheetah, or wild dogs – sometimes both, as well as hyenas! You would think with up to 19 lions roaming around, other predators would be in scarce supply, but there is plenty of space (and food) for everyone.

 

The normal pride of 16 lions (10 sub-adults and with six adults, was joined by the one female with her two young cubs. The main waterhole was their choice resting place. A giraffe carcass was particularly enticing for all of them, which made them move between the waterhole and the wildlife camp. With 19 lions feeding on a large, old giraffe, there was something for everyone! (including a few good photos for the guests!). Whenever they moved from the main waterhole, other animals would sneak in, including the cheetah mother and her two sub-adult cubs, finally able to quench their thirst.

 

The small pack of dogs – two males and three females - was also seen at the wildlife camp. They also came to the Nxai Pan camp waterhole several times to drink. They appeared for several days, just at sunrise, a perfect time for them to be able to get to the waterhole and get a drink without so many elephants.

 

The camp waterhole has also been attracting spotted hyenas, coming individually, and in groups of up to five at a time. It’s difficult to negotiate the way around the elephants to get a drink, so this required a lot of patience, and a long time of waiting for the right chance.

 

Following on from last month, the elephants continued to congregate. The pump for the park main waterhole failed for a short time, making the situation tougher still. With the camp pumping water as fast as it could, any overflow was quickly turned into a mudbath by the elephants. Still not happy with that, nor happy with the queuing system, their attention turned again to the camp. What an elephant wants, an elephant gets, and for this reason, we sadly had to close the camp to re-lay almost an entire camps-worth of water pipe, sewerage systems, and elephant-prevention systems. On the second day of closure, the rain arrived. Perhaps only a start, but it is enough of a signal that there will be water pools somewhere else, and the next morning, not an elephant was seen! They returned, of course, but not in the numbers that required a “damage to property” insurance form to be filled out.

 

Tau Pan

 

 

A very relaxed male leopard opened the month for us at Tau Pan waterhole, quenching his thirst.

 

The saga that began last month continued on, with the three young intruder male lions chasing the territorial male again. They were also seen along the eastern firebreak, marking territory in an attempt to claim it as their own. The two females with five cubs still venture down to the waterhole, but are very cautious – one was injured when they were harassed at the end of the last month by the same intruders.

 

Mid way through the month, things got even more confusing, when the three males were seen near the old borehole, with two lionesses. The males were mating with one of the lionesses. In the mean time, two “resident” male lions were resting not too far away at the waterhole – not looking very comfortable about the whole situation.

 

Several cheetah sightings, including two shy males in the Deception Valley Area, one relaxed male close to the old borehole near the camp, who was seen for several days.

 

A very unusual and lovely sighting of a family of spotted eagle owls… a mother owl with her two youngsters in the branch of a tree, and another adult – perhaps the father – high up in the top branches.

 

Lots of general game in the area, including the oryx – several of which look heavily pregnant – springboks, hartebeest and wildebeest. Green patches of land are starting to show, in spite of having hardly any rain at all. And for the first time in over five years, there has not been a fire in the area!

 

 



Photographic Exploration Safari to Botswana guided by Ona Basimane November 2015


Trip overview of our AAC Group Photographic Exploration Safari to Botswana 


In the words of Ona Basimane....

"Being the first for me photographic guiding, the trip was a major success. All AAC clients had been to East Africa, and Jim Kubalik had also been to Botswana before. They were all interested in photography and were willing to absorb and apply a few tricks and tips I shared as we went along. The camps complimented each other well in terms of game offering at each unique location.

 


 

Toka Leya Camp/Victoria Falls sightseeing

I met Mr. Edward Novotny Jr and Mrs. Cheryl White at Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula International Airport and we proceeded to cross the border to view the Falls from the more picturesque Zimbabwe side. Once on Zimbabwe side, our guide took us on a walking stroll along the Falls and both Edward and Cheryl were impressed and took a lot of pictures. We spent about two hours and then headed back to the Zambia side and back to Toka Leya Camp. We got to camp late in the afternoon and the guests were enthusiastic to head out straight away to track the resident herd of white rhinos. This worked out well, as it was possibly the only camp on the itinerary where we stood a chance to see these magnificent animals. The guests thoroughly enjoyed the experience of approaching the rhinos to about 150 meters on foot and took a lot of pictures. We were the only guests back at camp that night and the atmosphere was great. We flew to Kasane the following morning to do a boat cruise in the Chobe River.

 


A trio of white rhino at Mosi-oa-Thunya National Park, not far from Toka Leya Camp

  

Chobe River boat cruise

We arrived mid-morning in Chobe and we were picked up on time to do a boat excursion. Sightings included elephants, buffalo, hippo and numerous crocodiles along the river. We also had lunch in the boat; which was great as we were going to fly to Linyanti after the boat activity.

 


A Nile crocodile along the Chobe River


 

Kasane International airport to Linyanti

We arrived on time to pick up Jim from his international flight to join us from this leg of the trip and onwards. I quickly introduced him to the other guests who were looking forward to meeting him, and they got along well from this point onwards. We left the airport around noon and arrived at Chobe airstrip almost an hour later. The flight took us over a long stretch of the Linyanti fault line as well as the Linyanti River. This helped the guests to visualize the geography of the area before we landed.

 

Linyanti Tented Camp

As to be expected at this time of the year, the area boasted big herds of elephants. We were treated to spectacular numbers of elephants not only during the game drives, but around the camps as well. The three nights here certainly were one of the most intense wildlife viewing experience I have ever had as a guide. Besides the big herds of elephants, we had a leopard on an impala kill on the first morning. When we arrived at the leopard sighting, she was high up the tree and photography was a challenge. We watched her for a short while and then went off to have a coffee break. On coming back about half an hour later, we found her on a different branch, with a better view. Things improved even more when she decided to come down and lie on the shade, next to a termite mount. Our patience paid off as the leopard now provided us with ample opportunities for photography. This also provided me with the opportunity to interpret behavior and help guests anticipate and be ready to photograph her every move.




A female leopard watching a kite circling above his stashed impala kill at Linyanti Tented Camp

 

On our way back to camp, we had a big herd of Sable antelopes. We had numerous sightings of Roan antelopes here as well. The following day, we picked up two female wild dogs which appeared to have just dispersed from their natal pack and were searching for males to establish a pack. We picked them up again the following and they provided great photographic opportunities. On the last morning, we went out in search of a newly discovered brown hyena denning site. This mission was side swept when we found a small bachelor herd of buffaloes at the spot and then four young male lions also appeared out of the bushes and started stalking the buffalo. The small herd of buffaloes saw the lions and ran away. This ended the somehow full-bellied lions’ half-hearted attempt at hunting. This summed up a great stay at the camp. However the game viewing did not end here as we had a great Sable bull sighting on the way to the airstrip as well a newly born elephant calf with the mother as some of the highlights.

 



A very relaxed Sable antelope on the way to the airstrip in Linyanti

  

Gomoti Camp

The Acacia savanna that makes up the Gomoti area is usually dry at this time of the year, with the acacia woodlands providing great browse for the antelopes. Such conditions delivered unique sightings such as honey badgers, bat-eared foxes and black-backed jackals. We also had a few raptors as we went along. The resident wild dog pack came to camp’s waterhole everyday and guests had a treat of photographing young pups. On the last night, I offered guests a short night drive as a surprise and the one hour excursion was worthwhile as we spotted three different African civet cats, numerous Springhares, a white-faced owl as well as a young male lion. On the last morning, we tracked down a big male leopard, which had been sighted at the waterhole by staff members while they were setting up morning tea and coffee. We followed him for half an hour before he proceeded to lie down. Save for a few glowing eyes at night by the waterhole, we had not had a good sighting of hyena on the trip. However we were treated to a big female who we found lying by a pan next to the road. She was very relaxed and allowed close approach, which was good for photography.

 


An African wild dog pup watching his littermates playing at Gomoti Camp waterhole



Jacana Camp

We took a short flight from Gomoti Camp to the Jao concession to start the last leg of the safari. Besides the beautiful, classic Okavango delta landscape, Jacana offers great sightings of birds such as the Wattled cranes. At this time of the year, the Jao floodplains are dry which allows for extensive game drive routes. On our first morning drive, we encountered a pride of five lions that had been seen by other vehicles the previous evening. The lions must have been on a rampage the previous night, as they had four Red lechwe carcasses with them. In display of power and strength, we witnessed two lionesses dragging different carcasses to the shade.

 



A lioness dragging a lechwe carcass to the shade across the floodplain at Jacana

 

We watched them for about two hours and the guests came away with great photographs. The following morning, the scenario was a different one as we found three new males with the pride. To top it all up, one of the males had isolated a young female and was mating with her while the other two males kept a short distance away. This provided great photographic opportunities and we spend a great morning with them. The pair eventually disappeared into an Ivory palm thicket and we headed back to camp, loaded with great photographs.

 

We met for high tea that afternoon and the camp had organized for staff members who weave and sell baskets to come and demonstrate the art to guests. Cheryl particularly enjoyed this as she loved baskets and had been buying some at the previous camps. We then had a boat cruise and encountered some hippos in a lagoon. The ride back towards camp allowed for some great sunset images. 

 

On the last morning, we wrapped the trip up with a mokoro excursion. I had heard a Pel’s fishing owl calling through the night from an island opposite the camp. I asked the mokoro polers to take us there and see if we could find this Okavango special. We were lucky and found the bird roosting in a big Jackalberry tree. While photography was a challenge because of thick foliage, we had a great view and guests managed to squeeze a few shots. Besides the lion experience, it was another highlight of the trip to walk into the island with the guests and watch the Pel’s fishing owl, a rarity mainly found in the Okavango delta.

 



A mating pair along the Jao floodplains



Conclusion 

This trip was a major success and the guests enjoyed not only the comfort of the camps, the food offering, the warmth of the staff at each camp, but also the fact that they had a photography guide with them. They noted the difference such a set up made to their overall experience. I set up PowerPoint lectures on photographing various subjects on possible offer at each camp and this certainly helped improve their photography skills. While I carried a portable screen projector with me throughout the trip, I decided to use a laptop for such presentations, as we were a small group. This way, the presentations were more personalized, intimate and allowed for easier discussions back and forth. For a bigger group in the future, we will certainly use a projector. We also had monopods on offer and Jim used one throughout the trip to support his Canon 500mm lens. This helped for stability when taking pictures. While Edward and Cheryl had small compact cameras, compared to Jim who carried quite a big camera gear, they were not intimidated at all and I also ensured they also utilized their cameras maximally.


Going forward, it was great to see the appreciation of the guests about the trip. Like me, they felt it was a definite success and would do it again. Since all the guests had been to Africa before, they all felt there was something different about this kind of trip and that they would recommend it to others. There is nothing I would change about this trip. The camera gear the guests bring, their previous Africa experiences, and their knowledge on wildlife photography will always dictate any changes if need be. 

 


Sundowner tonic; An African Wild dog contemplates crossing the Linyanti river during our stay at Linyanti Tented Camp



 


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