ULTIMATE AFRICA SAFARIS
Ultimate Africa travel and wildlife news archive
Wilderness Safaris Modifies Cancellation Policy in Response to Possible Iraq War, February 2 2003
In response to a possible war with Iraq, Wilderness Safaris of southern Africa will not charge cancellation fees if the cancellation is due to war being declared in Iraq. Wilderness Safaris will allow guests to transfer their travel dates to any date in the future on the same itinerary, for up to one year at no extra cost - no matter the time of year chosen.
Wilderness Safaris' normal cancellation fees will continue to apply if the war does not break out, when the war is termed over, or if travelers wish to cancel without booking new dates.
Zimbabwe / Botswana Update, February 2 2003
Here is the latest from Zimbabwe and Botswana. Colin Bell of Wilderness Safaris has just returned from a two week trip to Botswana and Zimbabwe and specialist guide Garth Thompson is in Botswana at present.
Colin notes: I have just returned from nearly two weeks in Zimbabwe and Botswana, including a night in Vic Falls. As it's my favorite time of year to be in the bush, I always take a break at this time to visit the camps and enjoy the wildlife. This year did not disappoint. The weather was prefect...not too hot and not too cold and the countryside was looking immaculate with a carpet of short green grass everywhere. The game did not disappoint either as we had wonderful viewing everywhere and over 70 different lion sightings in our short stay.
Zimbabwe in particular was very interesting for me...and not surprisingly again provided the best game viewing as it has consistently done over the past two years. When one travels within Zimbabwe's northern parks, one has to pinch oneself that this is the same country that we hear about in the news all the time. I witnessed nothing but total peace and quiet with incredible game viewing. With the political problems in Zimbabwe, we are picking up two issues going forward that we have to deal with (a) the quality of Zimbabwe wine now is horrible and we may will have to start importing South African wine for the camps. Zimbabwe wine has never been great - but it was palatable. Now its not! (b) There are fuel queues in the towns and cities including Victoria Falls. This does not affect us - but it makes for amusing viewing if you are on outsider - but can't be fun if you have to be in the queue.
Other than that Victoria Falls was very full. Our flight to Victoria Falls was just about chock-a-block full and the hotels were doing good trade.
We have an interesting development happening in the Linyanti that we were fortunate to witness. A coalition of 5 youngish males have pitched up in the reserve and look like settling in for the long term and have started to flex their muscles. If they can claim the territory, they will / should provide an incredibly strong brotherhood that should dominate this area and in time control the interpride rivalry and produce many, many cubs. We look forward to a wonderful new lion dynasty arising from these five brothers
Garth writes the following: Namibia was incredible, three different sightings of desert elephant in the Horasib Canyon of the Skeleton Coast in under two hours, a pair of male lions in the same area, gemsbok on the beach with massive plankton rich waves breaking behind. Same setting for a black backed jackal. At the seal colony I had an 8 week old pup slide across my legs while sitting on the beach, a number of the pups came up and sniffed my camera lens, there must have been a minimum of 1,000 pups in each nursery group. One of the highlights was at least seven different sightings of gemsbok that were dune climbing, while we were in the canyon. One of the herds was 13 strong, all climbing the 300 foot sand dune while we were parked at the base. What a sight to see their black shadows reflected on the white sand dune.
Bots has been amazing, if this is the "quiet" period for game viewing, I can't imagine some of these areas in "peak" season. While at Duba we had a herd of about 800 buffalo herding a pride of 14 lion, it was quite a sight to see the pride retreating as this massive black regiment advanced at a deliberate walk, all this framed by about a thousand wheeling cattle egrets, all set against the lush green grass and stormy sky.
At Mombo we seldom had animals out of sight for most of our stay. Lions and leopard daily. A lovely female leopard drinking in front of us which filled the camera frame, then 14 lions on a zebra kill and that afternoon a leopard feeding off a young kudu. Little Vumbura is a gem, again lions daily and large concentrations of zebra and giraffe in that big sky country.
Duma Tau produced all the general wildlife of kudu, impala, lechwe, warthog, baboons etc. Then while watching a pack of 21 wild dogs, including 11 pups, a male cheetah and a lone hyeana were in sight. This was all in the Savuti channel which is emerald green and home to herds of about 80 zebra, wildebeest and impala. We went on to see a medium sized herd of buffalo and an elephant bull who was a real gent, he walked right up to the vehicle and welcomed us with a massive head shake! The bird life has been phenomenal with all the migrants still here in full force. While driving down the Savuti Channel today we were escorted by a small flock of carmine bee eaters who were feeding off the insects that our vehicle disturbed.
Ndumo Camp Report, February 2 2003
Ndumo is located in South Africa's KwaZulu Natal province and provides some of the world's finest bird viewing. Here is the latest report from the camp:
At last summer is here, after a year with no rain, Ndumo was starting to look a bit drab, but after quite a bit of rain we are lush and beautiful again, not to mention our animals have once again got sustenance.
The rains have also put passion in the air, and everything is busy procreating. There are mating birds, nesting birds and birds feeding nestlings everywhere. In the camp alone we have a bar throated apalis feeding (her second brood for the season). The blue-grey flycatcher is on eggs, and not far from her the yellow white eye is also incubating eggs. The paradise flycatcher's long russet tail can be seen sticking out of it's cup-shaped nest over a busy walkway. The Natal, Heuglins, and eastern bearded robins have all got chicks, and are flying themselves ragged trying to satisfy the young appetites.
Our wire tailed swallows suffered a setback when a pair of greater striped swallows tried to steal their nest, but they fended off the threat very well, and everything is back on track in the honeymoon suite. The greater striped swallows have also recovered and have made their home in reception. Room 7 has the perfect view of a grey sunbirds nest.
One sighting that got us all moving was an African Skimmer on Nyamithi that made his home on the mud flats, however back flooding from the Pongola into Nyamithi covered the mud flats and Skimmer has not come back.
A 5.5 meter python has made her nest in an termite mound not far from our driveway, she seldom moves further than a few meters from the nest, and should danger threaten, she glides noiselessly back into the hole to lie on top of her eggs. An awe inspiring sight, as few can picture such a huge creature.
Our camp warthogs have put on a great show for us, as one mommy has 4 babies and two other mommies have joined together to look after their combined brood of 3. One baby, had a bad deal when her front leg was broken in a rough play, but the whole family pulled together to help her live, and has she ever survived - the leg has healed - mother nature at her best!
Our resident camp nyala herd has grown quite a bit, and as clock work, they come in for a visit every morning and evening. Our first born of the herd has grown up, and now the dominant male is not too happy about the other's presence in the camp.
Oscar the crocodile has finally returned after a long absence, and boy is he a fat and slightly larger croc now - the fishing must be good. Our local genet is also up to his dirty tricks again, he has taken a liking to used earl grey teabags, especially if he can scatter the insides all over the deck in time for the guests early morning tea and coffee call.
White rhino sightings have also been good as most of the females have got young calves, which is always great to see. Herds of buffalo have also been spotted fairly frequently, with a few single fellas to boot.
The hippo are also giving us great sightings, as they have been seen out of the water on a lot of drives, which is always gives you a better idea of how big they really are.
The Pel's fishing owl has also been spotted on a drive along the inlet to Banzi pan, and three were heard calling at Red Cliffs (our border with Mozambique).
Robin Pope's Weekly Zambia Update, February 2 2003
Robin and Jo Pope runs several very successful safari camps in Zambia. Here is their weekly update:
I hope a great week was had by all! I was correct in last week's newsletter - a new weather pattern including rain was indeed around the corner and we enjoyed about 30mm on Friday afternoon! It was not before time - it was getting very dry around here with the river getting lower and small ponds drying up. The lead up to the downpour included some truly deafening thundercracks and lively lightening shows. Since then we've had very little rain though 85% plus humidity and lots of cloud! It's all very bizarre and the river is still quite low! One thing remains constant - the spectacular sunsets!
With Nkwali closed for the rains we still manage to see and hear a lot of wildlife activity. As I went to sleep last night what sounded like a lot of shouting way off in the distance became a group of baboon barking very loudly. It would have been across the river and upstream - a very faint sound but it did make me wonder what was out there. Early in the morning we heard lion calling from a similar direction - that might have answered the question! It's been a while since we heard lion calling near Nkwali. Around camp we've seen lots of impala, bushbuck and warthog rambling through the thickets. And just after sending last week's newsletter we were visited by a small herd of elephant feeding around the camp. It was WONDERFUL to see them from the office window again - it's been a while! Over the last couple of days from my house I've sat and watched a pair of African Goshawk with much interest. I think they have been quite interested in looking at me as well!! They are obviously nesting nearby as they fly about together everywhere looking for food, following each other from branch to branch. Quite often they just sit on the fence or a low-lying perch staring at me, stretching their wings or attempting to catch lizards climbing up the side of the house! I hear lots of squawking in the distance when they fly off to their nest.
On a drive to the Chichele area during the week I saw good concentrations of wildlife including zebra, puku, impala, giraffe, elephant and baboons. With all the green grassy plains it is great to see the animals enjoying a season of plenty!
The baboons have also taken to ripping the thatch off the roof from chalet 3! So the Nkwali staff have been taking it in turns to sit and read near the bar, warding off those naughty baboons as they try to take more thatch! It was quite a surprise at first....when trying to find Lameck (the chef) to be told he was "at the bar" and it wasn't even afternoon yet!
I (Jeffrey) am now entering my last month with Robin Pope Safaris - after three nearly three years with this wonderful company it is time to seek new challenges! I have loved every moment of living and working with the RPS team but it was always part of "the plan" to spend about 3 years working for Robin and Jo. At the end of February my work permit expires and off I will trot into the big wide world!! I'm pleased to announce that Kim Brake, who joined us as catering manager at Tena Tena last year, will be taking over my position.
Zimbabwe Update, February 9 2003
Maureen Vincent at Wilderness Safaris Victoria Falls office writes the following: I live in Victoria Falls, with my husband and young children. Our town revolves around tourism and has always been a haven of tranquility. There is no doubt that our country has problems however, this really only affects the people living in the larger cities of Harare & Bulawayo as well as the farming areas. Life is going on as usual here. When I see the CNN reports about Zimbabwe, I wonder which country they are talking about! I feel safe here and I have never thought of taking my family out of Victoria Falls. Concerns have been expressed about food and gas shortages that sadly plague the country. As the tourism industry earns hard currency, the hotels and other tourism suppliers are able to import all the commodities they require to maintain a good operation. So the tourist definitely does not feel the pinch of food shortages, and the lack of fuel, as we are able to import all these products.
Wilderness Safaris February 2003 Update, February 9 2003
Wilderness Safaris is one of southern Africa's most highly regarded tour operators. Here is their February 2003 update:
The Bushman San village at Gudigwa is on track to open April 1, 2003. This is the culmination of four years of hard work for Conservation International, the Washington based conservation NGO. The community owns Gudigwa 100%, from funds raised by CI. All revenue goes directly to the community. It's a one-night cultural experience and all the guests arrive at Gudiga together at about 4 PM and leave the next day at about 11 AM.
Kings Pool is being completely rebuilt to the same standards as Mombo and Jao. The rebuilding is on track and King's Pool will reopen at the end of April. Each room will be brand new and much larger, with its own pool and sala. Kings Pool will also decrease in size to a 9 roomed camp, the same size as Jao and Mombo.
The new flood has arrived up in the far north of the Okavango - and at this stage, if current trends continue, it is set to be a smallish flood. News from Angola seems to hint that there is possibly a large pulse of water on its way from heavy rains up there this past month but we are not seeing this on the graph as yet.
Jacana Camp in the Jao Reserve is getting new and bigger tents that will be installed in the camp by the end March. We have completed a complete interior upgrade at Mombo and the camp looks stunning.
Namibia's remotest camp opens on March 14, 2003. Serra Cafema up on the Kunene River is an incredible camp - in some ways is a bit like being on the banks of the Nile as the Kunene River meanders through the desert. It is closer from Windhoek to the center of the Okavango than it is from Windhoek to Serra Cafema camp - but the trip up there is certainly worth it. Personally I rate Serra Cafema alongside the Skeleton Coast in terms of quality and how remote it is. It is a wonderful location with the most incredible activities. Boating, the Himba cultural experience, walks, drives are all part of the plan up there. One of the new activities we are planning is a quad bike route through the sand dunes. Guests will travel out in formation with a guide and head for the dunes. The excursions will be carefully controlled to ensure that there is no environmental damage - and will get guests into some wonderful areas while having a lot of fun.
All is on track to open Palmwag Rhino Camp on April 2, 2003. Palmwag Rhino Camp promises to be one of the most exciting and unique camps in Namibia. It will be run with some of the "Save the Rhino Trust" trackers. This ensures that guests enjoy a great experience, and at the same time the "conservation through tourism" program will reduce the Trust's overheads by paying the trackers salaries etc. For those who want to add something even more special to Palmwag Rhino Camp, Blythe Loutit, who started the "Save the Rhino Trust" and who probably knows more about Namibian rhinos than anyone, can host your group at additional cost.
Little Ongava, a new "premier" styled camp is being built on top of the hills in the 30,000 hectare Ongava Game Reserve (just south of Etosha). It will open in April. Ongava will now have three different camps offering three different camp styles and experiences. The main camp has 10 rooms with brick and thatch; Ongava Tented Camp with 6 rooms has tents on the ground - and the new Little Ongava, will only be 3 rooms and will match the quality and service of camps such as Jao, Mombo and Kings Pool.
A huge plus to a visit to the incredible Skeleton Coast Camp has been the increasingly regular sightings over the past few months of lions in the Skeleton Coast Park. A pride wandered into the Park over a year ago. They were very elusive at first as no doubt they were harassed as they made their way to the coast. They are just starting to become habituated to the Land Rovers. They have now set up their territory in the Hoarusub Canyon, not far from the camp - between the Clay Castles and the coast. Initially they were surviving on Himba cattle and donkeys, and we were continually reimbursing the Himba for their losses. Now they have got to like the taste of gemsbok and have stayed put in the park, closer to the coast. The last time lion were seen on the coast was over ten years ago and their tracks are now within sight of the sea. It is certainly a possibility that we may once again have the sight of a huge male lion feeding on seals which will be a huge relief to the gemsbok! There are currently three males, one female and three small cubs - all of which look healthy and well settled.
South Africa News
Wilderness Safaris has been awarded the tender for the Makuleke concession within Kruger National Park. This is an interesting and incredibly beautiful area in the extreme north of the Kruger National Park. The Makuleke's northern boundary is the Limpopo River and its southern boundary is the Luvuvhu River. The area in total is a fraction under 25,000 hectares, so by Kruger / Sabi Sands standards it's large. Prior to the 1960s, this area was inhabited by a few Shangaan villagers - the Makuleke people - and was outside of the Kruger National Park. "Crooks Corner" on the junction of the Limpopo River and the Luvuvhu is where all the old time ivory traders and other mavericks used to hang out on their travels to and from central Africa. The area has such important habitats, so in the 1960's the Kruger Park authorities decided to move the Makuleke people out and incorporate this area into the Kruger Park. In the new South Africa, the Makuleke's won this area back in a land claim - as long as it remained a conservation area and part of Kruger - i.e. the Makuleke's get all the commercial benefits. There is one camp in this area that is about to open up - called Outposts. This is in the extreme west of the area. Wilderness are planning two 18 bedded camps in the east - one of Mombo / Jao quality and the other of what we call our "Classic camp" quality like Duba Plains etc. These will open in 2004 with the Mombo styled camp opening first. We anticipate excellent wildlife viewing in the stunning habitat and recommend complementary Kruger circuits that the new Wilderness camps with the Kruger / Sabi Sands camps in the south as the vegetation and scenery are so different. The wide open Limpopo River; the little "koppies" that are infested with huge baobabs; the fever tree forests; the lush riverine forests along the Limpopo and Luvuvhu Rivers; the incredible wetlands that are proclaimed Ramsar sites all combine to make this an incredible area for wildlife and scenery. The Thulamela ruins, just south of the Luvuvhu River, are close to the proposed camps, are a mini "Great Zimbabwe" with all sorts of wonderful gold and other artifacts having been found there. I believe that this Makuleke area will be a wonderful addition to the whole Kruger Park / Sabi Sands experience.
The Grace Hotel in Johannesburg is now being connected directly to the Rosebank Mall Shopping Centre via a new foot bridge. The Mall of Rosebank is one of South Africa's premier shopping malls with great shops, restaurants and a wonderful craft market. Access to the Mall is now a breeze as the Grace is a mere 15 meters away from the Mall. Now guests can walk from the Grace directly into the Mall. There is now talk of a new spa opening up at The Grace.
I have consistently "put my money where my mouth is" and spent my vacation time in Zimbabwe as the park and wildlife experience has been so good these past few years. My last four safaris have visited Zimbabwe and I have been up there three times since October 2002. I don't think anyone likes to see how the economy is spiraling downward out of control but the reality is that Zimbabwe offers incredible wildlife, great camps and great guides at bargain prices. I saw in the New Year at Makalolo and had one of the most breathtaking starts to any year that I can remember. Our New Years morning game drive saw huge amounts of wildlife and must have rattled off close to 700 photos in ONE game drive - which included two kills and lots of everything else.
I realize that there is now a travel advisory from the US State department and agree that warning is possibly accurate for the farming areas and the cities However the northern parks are still havens of peace and tranquility offering a superb Zimbabwe safari experience
Malawi's drought has broken and they have had lots of rain. The country is back on track and local people are able to plant and grow their crops.
World Legacy Award
We were incredibly fortunate, humbled and proud to have been selected and awarded the "World Legacy Award" in the nature tourism category by National Geographic Traveler and Conservation International. What makes these awards all the more special for us is that they narrowed the field down to 100 companies in 40 countries and then they came in conducted a thorough audit on all aspects of our operation. They sent an environmental scientist to us for a week and we were thoroughly checked over from top to bottom, even checking our bank statements to make sure that the moneys had been paid to the communities. They did a similar audit on the communities and checked that had received all the revenues they were supposed to
Rocktail Bay January Report, February 9 2003
Rocktail Bay is located on South Africa's coast and offers some of the world's finest scuba diving. Here is the camps January report:
On average, January has provided awesome weather and diving conditions. The good old wind has behaved, but the sun has been fierce, with bright humid days. Our average visibility has been 20 meters (60 feet) and our current water temperature has risen to a stunning 26 degrees C - yippee!
On January 2, whilst diving Solitude, we could hear the clicking of the dolphins very clearly and kept looking around, expecting to see them at any minute. Just when the sounds became almost ear deafening, one appeared, rushing down to the reef and then darting away again. For those that were in tune with what was going on, it was a truly beautiful sight to see.
January 18 proved to be an awesome day of shark sightings. We found 10 raggies at Island Rock and became so involved in spending time with them with snorkels that everyone almost forgot about the dive that we were on our way to! All the raggies were jammed inside the cave area, socializing and resting. We spotted 2 with tags, the one's tag is not easily identifiable and the other has a growth of sorts on the tag area. There were sharks all over the place - just as you watched the cave area from above, some would leave the cave and swim directly below you and others would return into the cave. It's such an eerie feeling to know that your presence has been noted but that it is not any problem. On this same day we also managed to spend time with two pods of dolphins, at different intervals of our outing.
So on the first trip out to sea we saw dolphins around the boat, snorkeled with sharks, then did the actual dive!!! And on the return trip we again saw a large pod of dolphins around the boat. This last pod actually came right in to the boat including a mother who had a small calf with her. The pod milled around, filled with curiosity and excitement. They just would not leave us alone and kept coming in and out to the boat to investigate us. When Darryl eventually signaled that it was time to leave, I looked down to find the dolphins looking up at everyone in the boat, almost saying "where are you going to?" - for anyone remotely interested in nature, this was a heartwarming vision. That something other than man could be so fascinated by us.
The 20th provided not 1 but 2 zebra sharks on Yellow Fin Drop. The first was spotted as we descended and the 2nd right at the end of the dive. It was resting lazily just off the reef, totally unaware of our presence and enjoying the cleaning station that it had found.
The 21st was potato bass day. Homer on Elusive has become quite the celebrity, on good mood days that is, and now rests on the sand and allows everyone to approach to within about a meter of him. Smaller Bart is becoming a touch jealous and tries to chase Homer away from us, but doesn't seem to have much success. Needless to say, everyone that is privileged to be a part of the encounter forgets about everything else that is seen on the dive and this encounter becomes the highlight.
On the 22nd we again spent a considerable amount of time with our ladies, the raggies. Snorkelers that have visited the site cannot believe that they are actually snorkeling above around 10 - 15 sharks. This is a big highlight in the memory bank.
January 23rd was also a special day - we took divers and snorkelers out to visit the ladies once again. We found 7 inside the cave and a further 3 moving around outside the cave area. Darryl did some free diving with the camera and managed to get some superb identification shots.
We also encountered a rather cheeky blacktip reef shark whilst snorkeling who tried to sneak up on everyone for a closer look and then once spotted, sheepishly swam away. On this particular outing, Island Rock produced a green turtle, spotted eagle ray, brown rays and honeycomb rays, in addition to the sharks. One of our snorkelers mentioned that he had seen more life here in 15 minutes than spending hours on the Great Barrier Reef!! He could not believe his shark encounters too. Neptune provided us with stunning conditions and exceptional visibility. Absolutely idyllic.
The 25th also produced spectacular diving and shark sightings. It's become a regular event that if conditions allow it, we visit the raggies first before going to the dive site. This way we get to do our research before the tides change and the area becomes too sanded up. Excellent photos were taken again on this day.
From a research angle then, we have visited the raggies now for most of this month. We have seen, in total, around 15 raggies, in larger numbers in the cave area and others were spilling out at other spots. We have managed to identify 4 individual animals from special features that they have. 1 female we have named "Jaws" - I think we've told you about her. She is the one with the protruding upper jaw - the Sharks Board is very excited about this one, as this is definitely an unusual feature. We have not sighted her now as regularly as the 2nd one, a female with a torn in half dorsal fin. We have photographed this shark and this is also a fantastic identifying feature for future years to come, as this will not heal. The 3rd and 4th sharks both have tags but they are unreadable, as we cannot get close enough to the shark to read the tag numbers. The 4th shark's tag appears to have some type of growth on it. What we have also noted is that the shark with the torn in half dorsal fin seems to spend most of her time near the cave area. To date we have still got the sharks here and will need to document their departure dates, which we expect could be late February or early March.
We are truly thrilled at the shark sightings this raggie season. They have provided us with much valuable data and have evoked incredible enthusiasm and delight with our guests this past month. There are not too many places in the world where you can snorkel safely above pregnant sharks, whether you are experienced in the ocean or not, and without having to think about the music to the Jaws movie.
In summary then, a superb month has been experienced by many, not to mention the actual dive team and all the rewards that we have experienced.
Thank you Mother Nature for all your splendors and thanks to Jacque Cousteau for trying and testing scuba gear. We are forever in your debt.
Ongava Tented Camp Report, February 9 2003
Ongava is a private reserve adjoining Namibia's famed Etosha National Parl in southwest Africa. Here is Ongava Tented Camp's latest update:
December was a very hot month with some days being overcast and slightly humid, the rest was blue skies and sunny days. Some days the weather looked promising for rain but strong winds in the afternoon caused the clouds to disappear. During January we had a few thundershowers and breath taking sunsets - some of them with white rhino's in sight.
Within Etosha elephant sightings were good with breeding herds and lonesome bulls sighted at the waterholes. We saw lion on a regular basis. We had regular black rhino sightings at Ombika waterhole. The migratory birds have arrived. The Cape fox and its puppies were regularly sighted.
Drives within the Ongava Game Reserve were excellent with white rhino, black rhino, lion, cheetah, mountain zebra and aardwolf. Lion, porcupine and spotted eagle owls were seen on night drives. The camp waterhole was very busy as usual with lion at the waterhole for 8 days in a row, mornings and evenings. Black rhino came during the nights. Tracking white rhino on foot is still the highlight at Ongava. White rhino sightings are excellent with the two cows and their calves in particular. Two cheetahs were spotted on a morning walk in the Sonop area. The aardwolf den with two puppies provided us daily sightings on the late afternoons and on night drives. I did an afternoon walk in the Allendam area with 6 guests. We walked into a lioness, she warned us, and half an hour later a black rhino charged us. Wonderful experience for the guests. Morning walks were very popular too.
Duba Plains Tented Camp January Report, February 9 2003
Duba Plains is located in Botswana's Okavango Delta and is reputed to have the highest density of lion in all of Africa. Here is the camp's January report:
The true rainy season hit us towards the middle of January. We thought we were in for a dry season, but were wrong. A total of 154mm of rain fell during January, re-vitalizing the entire area. Many people think of the rainy season as a bad time to visit, however, one should remember it does not rain all day and certainly not everyday. Usually it rains heavily, for short bursts, mostly in the afternoons or evenings. January saw only nine days with rain falling, with most of the storms occurring at night. The Duba area is looking in superb condition, with several channels flowing and all the pans topped up to capacity. The average temperatures experienced were very comfortable at a minimum of 22°C and a maximum was 34°C.
2003 started off extremely well, with the first few minutes of the first game drive producing a beautiful, relaxed young male leopard and the two Duba Boys (lion) near the airstrip. Bird watching was certainly one of the highlights of the month. The "fish traps" on the plains have continued, never failing to impress even those less keen on watching our feathered friends. If one had to select a bird sighting of the month, it would have to be of a juvenile Bat Hawk circling in perfect view above the vehicle at midday. We have been keeping bird-sighting records for the immediate Duba area, reaching a total of 275 different species. No doubt we have many more to record, but a great beginning all the same.
January has also revealed several good reptile sightings, including Leopard Tortoise, Water Monitor Lizard, Flap-neck Chameleon, African Rock Python and Nile Crocodile. Some smaller animals encountered were springhares, honey badgers, genets, civets, wild cats and regular sightings of bat-eared foxes. The fox family of eight has faired well, only loosing one pup. Exciting news is the dominant hyaena pack is denning again. They are utilizing the same den as in previous years, meaning perfectly clear viewing for our guests. So far three little, black pups have shown themselves. We will be following their development closely.
The buffalo are doing well, however they have only dropped one or two calves so far. This is as we expected, with last seasons calves dropping in March 2002. Somehow they continue to escape the lions, for the most part. They rarely venture into the Pantry prides territory, spending most of their time within the boundaries of the Skimmer and Tsaro prides. Both of these prides have temporarily split up to deliver new cubs, resulting in them not being quite the hunting force we are used to.
The Duba lions were tracked down on every day of the month, with 73 different pride sightings, averaging 13 lions per day. In total, 49 individual lions were identified. We did not venture to far to the north or east, so did not encounter any new lions on the concession. Kills witnessed in January was well down on previous months and were 4 buffalo, 1 lechwe calf, 1 adult male wildebeest and 2 warthogs.
The Tsaro pride continues to be fragmented, however, on several occasions they were all seen together. More often than not, this was when the buffalo herd was in the immediate locality. The lionesses are moving about a relatively small area, where we suspect one of the lionesses has her cubs safely hidden from sight. So far only one female has given birth, with a couple of others well on their way. It appears none of the young females have conceived, but only time will confirm this. The five young males are still seen regularly, but do tend to wander further in search of the buffalo herd. All the lions are in perfect physical condition, so they must be succeeding in catching sufficient prey in the form of lechwe and warthog. No doubt far easier quarry to subdue than the more formidable buffalo.
The Pantry pride has settled around the camp island. They ventured some way into the Tsaro pride's territory, with no sign of any resistance. December sadly saw the disappearance of a single male cub, while January saw its incredible reappearance after an absence of at least two weeks. He was extremely thin and in desperate need of a meal. The lionesses seemed to oblige him, with two buffalo kills that very night. A couple of days later, the pride managed to successfully pull down a solitary bull wildebeest. This was the first wildebeest kill we have witnessed this pride make, but no doubt not the first.
Once again, the Skimmer pride was not seen as a complete unit. All ten members were accounted for, but never more than four together at any one time. Two of the adult lionesses have moved north of the Paradise water, hopefully having cubs. They gave us one distant sighting of a perfect lechwe hunt. Through binoculars we watched three females chase a large herd of lechwe backwards and forwards, until eventually they managed to isolate a calf and capture it in the mud. It's not too often one gets to witness a successful daytime lechwe hunt, right out in the open. The four male siblings of the pride appear to have banded together, even though there is a three-year difference in age. It's unlikely this will continue for too much longer, especially if any Tsaro females come into season again.
The Duba Boys remain as the dominant males over most of the concession, surprisingly pushing further and further into their old haunts. The challenge from the two new males seems to have fizzled out for the time being. Perhaps they will be back? The Old Vumbura pride showed themselves over a five day period, at times several kilometers outside of their territory. They spent these few days on the trail of the buffalo herd, until they bumped into members of both the Skimmer and Tsaro prides. This minor altercation sent them on their way and they have not been seen since. The missing 28-month-old lioness was again back with the pride.
Duma Tau January Report, February 9 2003
Duma Tau Tented Camp is located in Botswana's Savute/Linyanti area. Here is the camps January update:
Shoowee..what a great green season so far and finally it really is the lush and wet summer bush that we have been yearning for. We have had regular rain showers followed by days of sweet smelling soil.
The Savuti Channel is resplendent in her new bright green coat and the riverine forests are a tangle of croton leaves and thick bush. Once again Duma Tau is the jungle home of migratory birds, zinging cicadas and curious herds of kudu and impala intermingling with our resident baboons. The troupe seem to have taken a liking to retail therapy and regularly make forays into our shop. They are not big spenders however and appear to ignore the "you break it you pay for it" policy of most outlets. We are in the process of fortifying structures (again) against the mischievous critters.
Wildlife viewing has been brilliant! The rains have sent most of the elephants into the mopane where the pans are brimming with water, birds and hippos. There are still a surprising number of breeding herds around, enjoying the muddy holes in the channel and the long 'elephant spaghetti' that grows there. The odd herd of buffalo can be seen further up the channel typically surrounded by hundreds of bright white egrets. This makes for a beautiful scene with black, white and green stark against each other and stormy skies. General game is fantastic with lots of zebra with bucking foals, and wildebeest herds turning circles and generally acting in the crazy way they do. Also hundreds of impala, nice herds of lechwe along the river and on the 31st a large herd (about 20) of roan antelope close to the airstrip! Wild dogs have been regular stars in the repertoire - still at 21, the whole pack is looking healthy and strong. The alpha male, never a beauty anyway, is really beginning to look old and tatty so it will be interesting to see what develops in the hierarchy in the next year or so. The Savuti lion Pride, also at 21, is back to weaving between the channel and the mopane although sightings have been very regular especially considering the one lioness has separated from them while her cubs are still young. Strangely enough one of the older cubs(about ten months) has stuck with them and she is allowing him to suckle to the detriment of her own cubs. They are not getting enough milk and are looking a bit waifish. Cheetah sightings have been great with the three brothers performing at their peak on their hunts. They can be seen causing havoc with the wildebeest and impala in the channel all the way from Zib to Manchwe Pan east of Savuti. A female and subadult have also been hanging around in the old 'Hunting Sign' area. Leopard has been better than expected for this time of year. Despite the lush bush the guides have surpassed themselves - one lot of guests saw three different leopard on one drive, after having seen the Savuti Pride bring down an impala. Interestingly, the presence of hyena has increased dramatically since last year this time. There appear to be larger clans around, with groups of 5 or more regularly seen in the last hours of daylight.
Once again Duma Tau has attracted drama in the form of an elephant calf who was found in a panic in the generator room. Clearly attracted by the low humming coming from the machine, the poor thing was head butting the big green box it felt drawn to...many hours were then spent leading it away from camp with the Land Rover (another machine with a low throbbing sound) until it ran off into the bush on its own. Despite leaving it far from camp twice, it returned to Duma Tau screaming indignantly for its mother. Sad to say a breeding herd did come through the camp, only to reject it into the waiting jaws of a clan of hyena meters from the camp. It was all very sad, but an inevitable outcome for a lost calf in the wild.
Lex Hess brought a group here for photography and were heard to say that Duma Tau was without doubt the best camp they had been to in Botswana, in terms of game and atmosphere. Well done to a great team here who never fail to make us proud and put smiles on our faces and on those of the guests.
Xigera Tented Camp January Update, February 9 2003
Xigera Tented Camp is located in Botswana's famed Okavango Delta. Here is the latest camp report:
We had an excellent month in terms of wildlife and bird sightings. The Pel's fishing owls are availing themselves for tremendous viewing and we even had the pleasure of watching a Pel's fishing from the bridge whilst having pre-dinner drinks. The rainfall has not been as much as expected, with 65ml being the sum total for January. This has not stopped Xigera from exploding into a green paradise.
Guests were treated to an uncommonly good month wildlife wise. Wild dogs and cheetah have been sighted - and we have had great leopard, lion and hyena interactions. We have a heavily pregnant lioness near camp so we are expecting a couple of cubs in the near future. I have detailed an interesting leopard vs lion vs hyena interaction below.
The Queen of the Jungle?
We were about 1 km from Xigera Camp on a thick sandy section of the road in the middle of the floodplains surrounded by dry savannah grassland and the occasional wild date palm thicket. I slammed on the brakes. "Smells like something's dead" said Cheryl. The unmistakable scent of a decaying carcass was being carried from somewhere upwind. I turned and headed into the strong breeze. The grass was high with some really thick scrub in sections, and I was hoping that I wouldn't ride over 'whatever we were looking for's' tail.
We had traveled about a 100 meters when I looked up into the only tree in the area. Something moved in the gloomy light...leopard. A large male leopard glared down at us with those big eyes protecting his rotting kill. I wasn't sure how relaxed he was so we cut the engine and sat very still. After staring at us for about 15 seconds he lithely climbed down the tree, moved about 10 meters away from the tree and sat at the edge of a palm thicket and started to groom himself. The kill was a large male red lechwe and there wasn't much left. Judging by the stench, he had made the kill about 36 hours before. Just as we were enjoying being in the presence of this magnificent cat, he got up walked 3 paces and vanished into the thicket. Silence. Only the wind and a few raindrops stirred. Then the soft pads of another cat moving through the grass behind us. I looked behind the vehicle. Lioness.
A solitary lioness was honing in on the scent of the leopards kill. She walked right past us toward the palm thicket, stopped at the edge, sniffed, gave a low growl and walked toward the base of the tree. I wondered what she sniffed at as the leopard was on the other side of the thicket. "Hyena" cried Cheryl. As the lioness was judging the difficulty of the climb to the carcass, an old grizzled female hyena with one blind milky gray eye stalked out of the thicket. She had been lying in the heart of the thicket the whole time unable to get at the carcass, waiting for her opportunity. It was about to come.
The lioness was solely focused on the meal in the tree. She bunched her muscles and leaped. In one lightning movement she had the kill in her mouth and jumped out of the tree. The leopard had underestimated the climbing abilities of this lioness. As she settled to begin feeding all hell broke loose. The hyena ran straight at the lioness and met her head on in cacophony of growls and snarls. Then as fast as it started, it stopped. The two carnivores stared at each other and then started to feed side by side on the same carcass. I sat there stunned I had never seen this before. They were feeding more co-operatively than 2 lionesses would have. Every few seconds the lioness would begin her low growl and the hyena would answer her with a high-pitched chatter, and then silence and the feeding would begin again. The male leopard was not seen again.
Any minute, I thought, the lioness's patience must run out. I was wrong; the hyena's patience ran out. Her tail curled up, the hyena's chatter increased to a frenzy and she dived at the main part of the carcass. The lioness responded and she attacked the hyena with her fore paws and her growls grew ferocious. The hyena didn't back down. She absorbed the best the lioness could give and started the tug of war. This is when the hyena's superior strength in her neck and jaws came into play, and she started to win ground. One last bit of resistance from the lioness and then the hyena tore free with the carcass in her jaws. With her head held high and her tail raised in a show of defiance she trotted off a few paces and remarkably stopped, dropped the carcass and began to feed in plain site of the lioness. The lioness's spirit was beaten. Rain began to fall. She started to feed on the scraps that were left on the ground. The hyena remembering that she had a clan to feed picked up the remains of the carcass and ran off into the grass. Today was a good day for her.
With nothing left to eat the lioness moved out into the open and for the first time I could confirm that she was lactating heavily and appeared very pregnant. Was it maternal instinct for self-preservation on the part of the lioness that allowed the hyena to win this confrontation? Or was the hyena simply the queen of the jungle today? Just to remind us who has the title presently, the lioness let off a ground shattering series of roars that burst the silence of the night.
Zanzibar Tourism Hard Hit By 'Terrorism Alert', February 9 2003
In the wake of the "alerts" issued by the US and British governments on the possibility of terrorist attacks on Zanzibar, the Isles' tourism industry has suffered enormously. The warning, issued on January 15, has caused panic among both tourists who had arrived in and those planning to travel to the Spice Islands. Hundreds of tourists have left the Isles prematurely and arrivals, mostly from Europe, have dwindled to a trickle. Most tourist hotels are now empty, leading to the laying off of over 600 employees.
Government officials say Zanzibar has suffered losses estimated at millions of dollars. Although it is peak tourism season, most hotels remain empty. Tourism is the second highest revenue earner for Zanzibar after cloves. With the lost earnings from tourism, the government is likely to suffer a deficit in its budget for 2002/03.
Zanzibar President Amani Abeid Karume has reassured people wishing to visit Zanzibar that they need not fear terrorist strikes in the Isles. He said security forces were on the alert to ensure safety of visitors and Zanzibaris.
The chairman of the Zanzibar Tourism Commission, Issa Mohammed said "It will be difficult to recover from these losses. Our image abroad is not an easy task to rebuild. Our two decade-long effort to build tourism as an industry here, to attract investors and build trust and confidence, has been blown to pieces in just a few days." The "terrorism alert" is believed to have been initiated by a European doctor resident in Zanzibar who treated a "Gulf" visitor at a local hotel. For some reason, the doctor appears to have suspected his patient of being linked to the wanted terrorist Osama bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda terror network and reported the matter to the police, leading to the arrest of several Middle Eastern visitors. Although initially the police denied having arrested anybody in connection with terrorism, Regional Police Commander Ramadhan Kizungu to, finally conceded without any description of the suspects, that "A few people are in police hands" for investigation. A source at the hotel said that six people carrying Yemeni passports were picked up by police shortly after they checked in. However, the Yemeni Embassy in Dar es Salaam disputed the report, saying, "The six do not belong to Yemen." The immigration department declined to reveal the suspects' identities.
British High Commissioner to Tanzania Richard Clarke visited Zanzibar two weeks ago and reassured foreigners that Zanzibar was safe. He disputed reports that Zanzibar harbored terrorists.
Ndutu Safari Lodge January Update, February 16 2003
Ndutu Lodge is located on the boundary of Tanzania's famed Serengeti National Park. Here is the camp's January update:
After a very wet December (194mm of rain - the wettest for sixteen years), the stage was set for a very exciting January. With all the new vegetation the huge herds of wildebeest and zebra poured into the area, passing right through the Lodge grounds on many occasions. At one point just after Christmas there were 3 pairs of mating lions on the road at the causeway, which was a great welcome for arriving guests. The elephants are back in numbers and have been visiting the lodge water hole most days, with up to fifty elephants at a time. As I write this I can actually see some from my window. DT the cantankerous bull elephant has arrived to drink daily since the 2nd of January. One day he took exception to Augustine, the barman putting out the camp chairs in preparation for the evening campfire, and he was quite persuasive, with his repeated trumpets and mock charges, he did not want too see the camp chairs that day. Augustine just takes these things in his stride and left a heap of chairs on the ground muttering under his breath just let the elephant get on with it. The elephant soon forgot and carried peacefully on his way, providing us with some great photographic opportunities.
Guests are getting the chance to take some great pictures this month. There has been no rain for the past two weeks and the seasonal water holes on the plains are temporarily drying up. The herds are coming to drink at the Big Marsh and Long Gulley, where hundreds on thousands of animals can be seen throughout the day. It's not just the sheer numbers of animals that is special but the noise of thundering hoofs, barking zebra and of course the sound of the wildebeest. Add to this all the dust kicked up by their hoofs and it's an unforgettable experience. The rain clouds are building up again and once we get a shower of rain they'll move out to the plains again and this situation will be over.
Guests who went out on early morning game drives this morning are already reporting long lines of wildebeest heading out in the direction of the Makao plains and it hasn't actually rained yet, so it should be action packed these next few days.
One of the most dramatic events of the year started this month, the annual wildebeest calving. With thousands of tiny tan colored calves being born daily, it must be one of the most spectacular sights in nature. Sadly in all the confusion of moving from the plains into the woodlands, many calves have become separated from their mothers. It's a truly heart retching sight to see these little calves desperately trying to follow anything which they hope could be their mother, including vehicles. They will happily follow any wildebeest but only their mothers will allow them to suckle, they even follow the males or zebra and sadly sometimes even lions. Although the experts tell me that many calves do actually meet up with their mothers, so you can never interfere as there must sometimes be happy endings.
Other interesting sightings this month include the crocodile at Lake Masek. The lake completely dried out in October and only filled up again at the end of December. So naturally we were a little concerned about the croc, but no worries, because after the first rain he/she was seen basking on the little sandbar in the middle of the lake. People have also seen lions up trees, including some big males. Leopards were seen mating this week by some eagle eyed guests and somebody witnessed a secretary bird chasing a honey badger, which is very odd behavior.
Last night, while we were enjoying the campfire and a fabulous star filled night dominated by the planet Jupiter, which is unmistakable at the moment we heard lions calling from the causeway, which is about a kilometer from here. It was then followed by another group on the Lakeshore, which were a little closer. Suddenly, there was a roar from about 100 meters away from a male and a female lion. We watched them move even closer in our torch light as they plonked themselves down under an acacia tree, not more than 60 meters away from where we sat, by the fire. We were then treated to a great display as the lions roared every 20 minutes or so throughout the night. The lions at the causeway started to call first, followed by the ones on the lakeshore, and after a while we learned to brace ourselves for the thunderous roar from the pair under the tree. It was so loud you could feel it vibrate on your chest as we watched them in our torch light. I think for guests lucky enough to have been here last night it must have been a highlight of their safari and something they will never forget.
Fair numbers of European and Abdims storks can be seen on the plains this month. The storks are roosting on the Lake at Ndutu, and it's the most wonderful sight as they fly over each evening.
One of the most interesting things to happen last month was something that we saw ourselves. It was two impala males, which had locked horns together in a test of strength, only they couldn't part themselves, as their horns truly had locked together. When we first saw them they were already joined and we watched them struggle, pushing and shoving trying to release themselves as the horns dug into their faces. It was only when one collapsed from exhaustion after about fifty minutes, that the other in desperation summoned all his strength threw the other right over his back, which released the pressure and they parted. I'm not sure whose heart was beating faster theirs or ours. They both stood around, while getting their strength back before moving off.
Paul, Ndutu Safari Lodge, 7th Feb 2003.
Italian Tourism Executives Impressed by Zimbabwe, February 16 2003
A group of top Italian travel and tourism executives recently sampled Zimbabwe's premier tourism sites. The six-member delegation, led by Mr. Davide Bendinelli was impressed when he visited Hwange National Park, the Victoria Falls and Kariba. "This is my first time to come to Zimbabwe and I was extremely impressed by what I saw. I saw elephants, lions, zebra and a whole host of different game. We thought there was war but we traveled freely across the country and at no stage were we threatened" he said.
Makalolo Plains December Update, February 16 2003
Makalolo Plains Tented Camp is located within Zimbabwe's largest National Park, Hwange. Here is the camp's December update.
A definite highlight at the end of the year was the total solar eclipse on the 4th of December. We all drove to the western boundary of the park on the 3rd and camped under a large Acacia Eriloba for the night in preparation for the eclipse on the 4th. The 4th turned out to be a perfect day for the event - hot and cloudless. For some of us it was our second total solar eclipse in Zimbabwe in two years!
We received the first rainfall of the month on the 5th. This was a huge relief and an answer to prayer, as the grass was scorched by the sun and water holes were drying up fast. Even pumped waterholes were not coping with the demand put on them by thirsty animals. The first good rain we had was on December 10 when we received 29mm. The wildlife dispersed for a few days as the animals went exploring for water elsewhere, but awesome game viewing returned quickly.
Mammal species seen included - Genet, Bat-eared fox, Hyaena, Lion, Wild dog, Leopard, Cheetah, Side-striped and black-backed Jackal, Polecat, Porcupine, Caracal, African wildcat, White Rhino, Cape Buffalo, Elephant, Sable and Roan Antelope, Reedbuck, Impala, Kudu, Eland, Southern waterbuck, Steenbuck, Common Duiker, Warthog, Wildebeest, Zebra, Vervet Monkey, Chacma Baboon, Scrub Hare, Spring hare and several species of Mongoose. Highlights included - Lions Mating, Lions on kills, a caracal with a spring hare kill behind tent no 1. Three sightings of Wild dog, White Rhino and an increased no of sightings of Reedbuck and Large Eland herds. "Baby animals abound" Elephant with babies, Buffalo with babies, Jackals with pups, Wildebeest with calves, Zebra with foals and Sable with calves.
What an awesome birding month with 200 species seen. Guests on a 4 day stay not only had wonderful game but also 175 species of bird. Sightings included - Twenty three species of Bird of prey (nine eagle species), five species of Vulture, five species of Owl, eight species of Cuckoo, nine species of Stork (Including Hammerkop), eleven species of Shrike (including Lesser grey and Red backed shrikes), five species of Nightjar (including Pennant Winged Nightjar). Highlights included - Cape Vulture, Black Stork, Huge Flocks of White Storks (about 1500 birds), Black Egret, Green backed Heron, Quail Finch, Bronze Winged Courser, Palid Harrier, Eurasian Hobby and large flocks of Eastern Red footed Falcons. Each open grassy area with a pan is adorned with a pair of Crowned Cranes.
The year ended with lions pulling warthogs out of their burrows!!!
Kwando Safaris Adjusts Cancellation Policy with Regards to War, February 16 2003
Kwando Safaris is a tour operator with several tented camps in wildlife rich northern Botswana. With the threat of a war with Iraq Kwando Safaris has made the following adjustment to their cancellation policy.
Kwando will treat the period from now until May 31, 2003 as the high risk of war period. They will treat the period of 12 months from the accepted end of the war or May 31, 2003 as a grace period during which the following will apply:
Any booking between now and May 31, 2003 will be treated as a confirmed booking and normal deposits and payment will be required. Should war break out or the client feel that the possibility of war - is very likely and therefore want to postpone their safari, they will hold the deposit or payment valid for travel up to and including May 31, 2004. The booking would be valid for any season within that time at the rate used for the booking but subject to availability a premium may be required for August and September though. Clients may need to be flexible on the sequence of their planned itinerary to suit available space.
Mombo Camp Update, February 16 2003
Mombo Camp in Botswana's Moremi Reserve is considered by many to be the top wildlife viewing destination in Africa. Here is an update from Mombo:
We were starting to get really worried at Mombo as the rains kept on missing the area. We could see the late afternoon thundershowers falling all around us every second or third afternoon or so - but Mombo was dry and our new grasses were looking bleak. However all that changed with one recent big rainburst. We had 52 mm one night with a total of 148mm for the month of January. The vegetation seems to have changed overnight, and the bush is now lush and green. Mid January was hot, with the average midday temperatures reaching into the high thirties, but the evenings were cool and pleasant.
The two new wildlife viewing hides are a hit and make the midday siesta time options that more varied! One hide is at the "Hippo Pools" and the other to the west of camp. They have already produced wonderful game and bird watching opportunities including 2 sightings of Purple Gallinule, a pair of Crimson breasted shrikes and much more. Sightings of Painted Snipes have also been regular after the rains. On another trip to the hide, a python was seen eating a baby impala.
Kgosi "the rhino" has been the celeb of the month, allowing us to view him on 7 different occasions, including one sighting with him and one of the new females together. Poster, the head tracker in the rhino monitoring team, came back from a days worth of "hunting", and was very proud to announce that they managed to find 14 of the rhinos that day. In general the new rhino arrivals seem to have settled down, and are doing very well in their new environment, making it easier to find them and monitor them on a regular basis. One of the "new arrivals" did stray down towards the western side of the Okavango, but has been brought back home to Chief's Island by the Wildlife Department.
The lions have stolen the show, with roughly 60 different sightings this month! The "Maparota pride" and the "Wheatfield boys" seen the most regularly. Other prides seen: The Woody Boys, Phandani Pride, Boro Pride, Mathatha Pride, Pieja Pride, Martina's Pride, as well as a few nomadics traveling through the area. Mombo is going through a lion phase!
Other sightings include: lots of sightings of Cheetah, 2 sightings of Wild Dog, a breeding herd of about 400 buffalo and lots and lots of sightings of smaller buffalo herds and the more solitary "dagga boys", 2 small breeding herds of elephant - but lots of smaller bachelor herds and single males, and 14 different sightings of leopard. Despite the slightly wetter weather, we have had another month of "Mombo Magic"!
Conserving Botswana's Rhinos, February 16 2003
What you first notice about Danny and his friend is their size. They are huge, and surprisingly nimble and graceful in movement. No, not sumo wrestlers, but rhinos. Danny and Hector are white rhinoceroses at Botswana's Khama Rhino Sanctuary, a community conservation project, near Serowe in central Botswana. They are two of a herd of 21 rhinos currently in residence at the reserve, alongside a range of other animals imported onto the land. These include hartebeest, wildebeest, zebra, ostrich, eland, gemsbock and springbok, to name but a few. Named after Khama the Great, a wildlife enthusiast and revered one-time ruler of the Batswana back in the 1880s (whose grandson, Sir Seretse Khama, became independent Botswana's first leader), the rhino sanctuary is partly funded by the UN Global Environment Facility's (GEF) Small Grants Program.
Kicking up a little dust, and stamping gently, to show the visitors just who is in charge, Danny and his playmate then proceed to ignore binoculars, whirring cameras, oohs and ahs and gasps of admiration. Both the young bulls, like most male rhinos, are instinctively territorial, says Bathusi Letlhare, the chief warden at Khama,. To mark their patch of ground, the rhinos repeatedly defecate in a specific area and spray urine and scrape with their horns to warn off would be intruders, namely other bull rhinos. "They can mark territory every hundred yards up to 5 kilometers," says Letlhare, but the rhinos only allow other males of their species to transit through their stamping ground if they need access to a watering hole.
Over at the 'boma' (a Swahili word borrowed from Kenya, meaning animal kraal or homestead) is Chinga, also nervously staking out some space. She is the new girl on the block and is about seven years old. Chinga takes her name from the area of Botswana where she was found and is the latest arrival and addition to the crew at Khama Rhino Sanctuary. Chinga is also the exception at the reserve, indeed in the country. Unlike Danny and Hector, she is a prized black rhino and the only one of her kind currently in Botswana, said Letlhare, the head ranger at the sanctuary. He reckoned Chinga probably came from across the border from South Africa or from Hwange National Park.
The reserve's original batch of five white rhinos arrived at Khama sanctuary in 1995. South Africa provided another five and another 3 joined the breeding herd in 1998. 11 rhino calves born in the next five years made Khama home to the largest white rhino population in Botswana.
They may technically be black or white, but to the casual observer, Danny, Horace and Chinga all look grey. "They take the color of their last wallow or the color of the soil they are in," Letlhare said laughing. It depends on whether they have wallowed in black mud or white sand or red earth! But white rhinos are bigger than their black counterparts and weigh more, between 1600 to 2000 kg. And in the rhino world, your color matters. If you are black, you fetch more money, Letlhare noted. He said each white rhino sold for up to 100,000 pula (over US$18,000) in the local currency. People pay up to double that figure for a black rhino, and anywhere up to 300,000 pula.
White rhinos are 'grazers', eating grass. Black rhinos are 'browsers', consuming tree leaves and they have what Letlhare described as "narrow, prehensile lips for nibbling shoots of trees."
Clearly suspicious of a bus full of tourists, and warily watching developments beyond the confines of her 'boma', Chinga makes as if to charge the gate which is fashioned from solid tree trunks and bolted down with hefty nails. Ominously dipping and raising her mighty head and curved horn, as if poised for a 50 meter dash, she suddenly changed her mind and posed for the clicking cameras instead. Letlhare is hoping they will soon get a black rhino mate for her from South Africa or Zimbabwe.
Were it not for Khama Rhino Sanctuary, these giant herbivores might have become a thing of the past in Botswana and relegated to the natural history books. Years ago, as a boy, the warden reminisced, he spotted a black rhino about 20km west of Serowe. He put the population of rhinoceros back in the 1960s at "probably 500". By 1990, a wildlife census found only six rhinos in the wild, in the Chobe area of Botswana. "This country used to have lots of both black and white rhinos, particularly in the northern part of the country, in the Chobe area, in the Delta and even in the eastern part," said the head ranger. "But due to over-hunting and poaching, the rhinos came close to extinction. The communities here decided to put up this project and the main participating communities are from Paje, Mabelapudi and Serowe. We felt that it would be a good thing to set up a safe place for rhinos here. That is why we have this project."
Letlhare said it was worth noting that, "of the five rhinos originally captured in Chobe and brought here, one of them came [wounded] with poachers' bullets! When the Wildlife Department was tracking it to catch it, poachers were actually tracking it from the other end. It didn't survive and died a few weeks after its arrival here."
The attraction and reported medicinal properties of rhino horn make it a much desired commodity, especially in the Far East. Powdered horn is popular to combat "asthma and other ailments," said Letlhare. In parts of Yemen, he remarked, rhino horn is prized for use in the elaborate dagger handles.
Letlhare was keen to stress that "an important thing about this project is that we don't only conserve rhinos. Newer additions to the sanctuary include giraffe, eland, gemsbok, wildebeest and impala. Waterbuck have recently been reintroduced. There are also predators such as leopards and wild dogs at Khama. We have other smaller predators like jackals and caracal and African wild cats." In the next five years, Khama Sanctuary should reach its maximum carrying capacity of 30 white rhinos and hopes then to begin reintroducing them into the wild.
The reserve has another string to its bow. Khama is currently running an environmental educational program and is busy constructing an instruction facility, funded by the European Union. Letlhare underscored the importance of education at the sanctuary. This, he said, offered great opportunities to local and international groups of school children and created environmental awareness, while contributing to biodiversity in Botswana. Sixteen local people are employed at the sanctuary from neighboring villages. There is also a market for handicrafts produced in the area as well as other parts of Botswana, which Letlhare called a "bonus for communities in this country".
Tourism is also encouraged. About 8,000 visitors pass through Khama Rhino Sanctuary each year, generating enough continuing income to cover staff salaries, maintenance, vehicle repairs, borehole construction etc. And security is tight. An electric fence and security towers, as well as motorized patrols and patrols on foot and on horseback are an essential part of the running of the reserve. Staff are expected to be alert and, so far, there has been no successful poaching at the sanctuary.
All this may be lost on Chinga, Danny and Horace as they continue to enjoy the benefits of a privileged life at Khama, wallowing in mud and showing off their magnificent horns, unaware that their presence in Botswana now seems secure, thanks to projects like the Khama rhino sanctuary.
Ultimate Africa Safaris would like to note that travelers to Botswana may view wild white rhinos in the Moremi Reserve. White rhino were reintroduced to Moremi over the past few years by Wilderness Safaris, a local tour operator.
Botswana, Namibia Disagree Over Power Plant, February 16 2003
The proposed Popa Falls hydro power plant has been rejected by Botswana participants at a consultation meeting convened by high ranking Namibian officials. The opponents of the project expressed fears that the plant would destroy Botswana's Okavango Delta.
Namibian officials tried in vain to allay the fears stressing that the Delta would not be ruined by the construction of the project. The general manager of Nampower and leader of the project John Langford told the participants that, "If there are some concerns that we cannot mitigate, we will not continue with the project. We will be transparent and if this project is not feasible we will look at other options". Although Namibia is not keen on the use of solar power and wind-power, he said they will consider such sources of energy as alternatives if the project is environmentally unacceptable.
The Namibian officials briefed the meeting about the preliminary assessment study, which was meant to make recommendations on whether the proposed project is technically, economically and environmentally feasible. In his presentation, Langford said that the proposed project would benefit northwestern Botswana with affordable electricity and employment for about 500 people during construction. He added that it would also open a window of opportunity for investment by Namibians and foreign investors in renewable energy. Further, he said previous studies undertaken by the Botswana department of Water Affairs in 1969 and the Ministry of Mines and Energy in 2000 indicated that a 20-30 Mega Watts (MW) output was possible at Popa Falls.
Participants raised a number of concerns among others, the sediment transport which result in channel formation with ecological implication and the time frame which they argue is too short for further consultations. They asserted that the huge amount of money to be injected in the project indicate the determination of Namibia to go ahead with construction of the power plant at all costs. Construction of the dam is scheduled to begin in June next year.
The Namibian officials maintained that the final decision on this project will be made by their government. The decision will be based on the technical information from a consultancy engaged by the government. One senior Namibian official responding to the skepticism and reservations about the project said if Botswana can prove scientifically that the Okavango Delta is threatened, then the project will be abandoned. "I don't think the Namibian government will continue with the project if it is environmentally unacceptable," he said.
Another Namibian official Kai Lund assured the participants that things are still at the drawing board. "It is still early. A lot of information is still required before anything can be done," he said. Some potential impacts identified in the preliminary environmental assessment (PEA) include employment, displacement of people, flooding, altered flow regime and aesthetic impacts. PEA also called for a public participation process, consultation with authorities and written submissions.
The basic design of the hydro power plant will be a run-of-the river scheme - Water impoundment will be kept at a minimum, a portion of the river flow will be diverted through turbines for power generation, and water flow over the falls will be maintained to match seasonal flows.
ECOSURV has been contracted to conduct public meetings in Botswana and introduce the project proposal and environmental study and hear public concerns. These concerns will be incorporated into the preliminary EIA. In Namibia, ECOPLAN has been appointed to undertake a PEA as part of the pre-feasibility study by the consortium of Water Transfer Consultants.
Hydroelectric Scheme in Congo Could Power Africa, February 16 2003
Eskom, a South African parastatal, has had a long-standing vision of harnessing the hydroelectric potential of the Congo River. This is now a step closer to reality with the pending formation of the Western Power Corridor (Westcor) company.
The Democratic Republic of Congo has substantial untapped electricity potential, and a site on the Congo River called Inga Grand could generate 39000MW of power if harnessed. This would meet the demand for electricity throughout Africa. Eskom Enterprises has already signalled its intention to implement five key projects falling under the New Partnership for Africa's Development (Nepad) program, located largely in sub-Saharan Africa. Together with several other parastatals, Eskom was expected to be the driving force behind several infrastructure development projects around the continent.
This past week representatives from Eskom and the power utilities in Botswana, Namibia, Angola and the Congo held private meetings to find ways of establishing a company responsible for transmitting power from the Congo to Nepad members in sub-Saharan Africa. Westcor would be a joint venture initiative launched by Eskom, Botswana Power Corporation, Nampower of Namibia, Empresa Nacional de Eletricidade of Angola and Société Nationale D'Électricité of the Congo, as well as all the members of the Southern African Power Pool of the Southern African Development Community. The venture was aimed at establishing a major power system across the five countries and incorporated power generation, transmission and telecommunications.
Once established next month, the University of Durban-Westville would be responsible for the research into human resources, manpower and infrastructure. The university's dean of engineering Nelson Ijumba said yesterday that harnessing the hydro-electric power on the Inga Dam would be developed in phases. Initially the Inga project would harness 3000MW-5000MW, or 10% of the total potential, over 3000km to the member countries. Later phases would develop and grow the project towards the 39000MW potential. "The technical challenge will be to engineer a power system that employs large-scale run of river generation and the associated long distance power transmission scheme incorporating the latest technology," Ijumba said. He said the overall power system must be capable of integrating with existing and planned power systems in each of the five nations; receive local generation and distribute energy to local customers.
The pool was created in 1995 when 12 countries in the southern half of Africa elected to pool their electricity supply resources. These included SA, Tanzania, Angola, Zambia, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and the Congo. Their goal was co-ordinating the electricity activities across the countries with the benefits of reducing fuel costs and allowing members to help each other should they run short of power. The power pool also runs a short-term energy market, which allows for the exchange of surplus power at a low price.
More Flights Needed to South Africa, February 16 2003
The Cape Town Chamber of Commerce and Industry has appealed to government to allow more flights into SA by British and other airlines. Chamber director Albert Schuitmaker said tourism had increased to such an extent that more flights were needed. The call comes as bilateral talks between South Africa (SA) and the UK on the subject are taking place, and as South African Airways (SAA), according to Schuitmaker, is lobbying government to limit foreign competition.
British Airways (BA) is already using larger aircraft on the route to SA and were given permission for four extra flights a week from October. However, this concession will come to an end at the end of April. In spite of the extra and larger flights, they have had to turn away hundreds of passengers. Glenda Ferguson, BA sales manager in Cape Town, says the carrier could have increased passenger numbers by a further 30% if it had extra landing slots in SA. Virgin Atlantic also reports a "considerable increase" in demand, and is also applying for additional landing slots.
Schuitmaker said in SA these decisions were made at government level, and bilateral talks between SA and the UK were taking place. "Unfortunately SAA seems to want government to limit foreign competition to preserve their own market. They don't seem to understand that the whole market has grown and there is more business for everyone," he said. "It's a bigger pie and all the slices should be bigger. This should be good for the entire (SA) economy." A possible explanation, he said, was that SAA feared that it would not be able to compete successfully. Schuitmaker said the economy of the country, and particularly that of Western Cape, should not be held to ransom by the commercial insecurities of SAA. "I have every confidence they will be able to compete successfully and they should also have confidence in their own service," he said.
Rich Mkhondo, SAA's executive manager of corporate communications, dismissed Schuitmaker's remarks. Mkhondo said SAA's stance had been explained time and again by CEO Andre Viljoen. Viljoen has said: "We believe that the new routes and partnerships with other carriers are critical to integrating Africa, tying individual nations together and helping sell African goods and services around the world. SAA does not have a problem with additional frequency being granted to BA and Virgin Atlantic provided we also get reciprocal landing rights and frequency at Heathrow in London."
"The simple fact," Schuitmaker said, "is that there is more than enough (foreign airline) demand to justify extra flights. I can only hope that government will see the big picture and ensure that all the airlines have the opportunity to increase the number of flights to SA."
Lufthansa to Continue Extra SA Flights, February 16 2003
The German airline Lufthansa will retain some of its peak season services into the South African winter. The business and marketing manager of the Airports Company SA Siva Pillay says he expects other airlines to follow this trend, which will mean a major boost to the SA economy. Pillay believes the pull of Cape Town, which is now ranked as one of the world's top 10 tourism destinations, was boosting the demand. The relatively weak South African Rand and the perception of SA as a safe destination, were contributing factors. "It shows the popularity of SA has grown as they wouldn't keep on the extra flights if they were empty. It confirms there is a sentiment in the market that we are among the top destinations in the world" says Mr. Pillay. He predicts that other airlines which may include Virgin, British Airways, SA Airways and KLM will respond to the Lufthansa lead and will also run more services.
Star of Africa Zambia Update, February 16 2003
Star of Africa are a Zambian tour operator who also manage several lodge and tented camp properties in the country. Here is their early 2003 update:
We were fortunate to host Zambia's President, Mr. Levy Mwanawaza, at one of our properties over the Christmas period. He was very pleased with his time at Sussi and Chuma (at Victoria Falls) and thoroughly enjoyed watching the elephants swimming from his riverbank hideaway room. In addition to the abundant wildlife already within the Mosi Oa Tunya National Park there is a new development. Elephants from Camp Amalinda in Zimbabwe will soon be the newest residents at Sussi and Chuma.
At Chichele Presidential Lodge in South Luangwa the bush surrounding the camp has grown thick and dense, resulting in a temporary suspension of all guided walks as you are never sure of what is lurking behind the next bush. Being the time when most births occur, clients at the lodge have seen endangered wild dogs and even the very rarely sighted aardvark. Sightings of leopard, elephants and lion are still frequent both on game drives and from the new sun downer deck!
Star of Africa have received a pledge from the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) to upgrade the road network within Lochinvar National Park to the value of US $70,000. This will greatly enhance the wildlife viewing opportunities.
Beks Ndlovu, one of Zimbabwe's top professional guides will be running a series of canoe trails out of Kalefu on the lower Zambezi this season. The spectacular channels and waterways of the Zambezi teem with bird and wildlife.
4 Poachers Killed in Ugandan Park, February 23 2003
Rangers in Uganda's Queen Elizabeth National Park last Monday shot and killed four poachers. The Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) said in a statement that the four poachers were shot near River Nyamugasani in Kasese after a long chase.
The UWA Public Relations Officer, Barbara Musoke, said park rangers encountered a group of about 13 poachers who had killed a hippopotamus 2km from Mweya Safari Lodge. "They chopped the hippo meat and packed it in sacks. In a rapid response, UWA Park rangers pursued them for about 11 hours and eventually caught up with them at their camp on River Nyamugasani," Ms Musoke said. "When they saw that they were surrounded they opened fire. The UWA rangers were forced to return fire," she added.
Ms Musoke said UWA recovered the sacks of hippo meat, considered a delicacy among the Bakonzo and a remedy for female infertility among the Banyaruguru. An empty magazine and military uniform were also recovered.
UWA Director of Field Operations Simon Mapesa said the poachers used automatic rifles. "It is not our intention to kill anyone, but we were forced to do this in self-defence after we had been attacked," Mr. Mapesa said by telephone last evening. Mr. Mapesa said it seems the poachers get arms from the area security personnel. He said a mature hippopotamus fetches about Shs 600,000.
South African Tourism Headed for Further Growth, February 23 2003
Further successes are expected in the South African tourism industry this year, says South African Environmental Affairs and Tourism minister Mohammed Valli Moosa. Addressing a media briefing in Parliament, Cape Town, Mr. Moosa said during the first ten months of 2002, the industry recorded a 10.1% increase in foreign tourist arrivals in the country, compared with the same period in 2001. During October last year, the industry recorded the highest monthly foreign tourist arrivals for 2002 - a total of 579,355 foreign tourists visited the country as compared to 480,464 in October 2001.
'This is great news as more tourists visit our shores, the more job opportunities are created for the county's poor and the bigger contribution tourism makes to the local economy,' says minister Moosa.
Meanwhile, in a bid to protect South Africa's biodiversity and environment, the department will implement four bills this year. The Protected Areas Bill is aimed at among others, to ensure the continued existence of the SA National Parks and make it possible for the minister to acquire private land by purchasing land rights for the formation of protected areas. The bill is set to protect nature reserves, National Parks and protected environments.
The Biodiversity Bill will ensure the management and conservation of the biodiversity of South Africa, the sustainable use of biological resources and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits from the use and application of genetic resources and materials.
The Air Quality Management Bill seeks to give effect to the Integrated Pollution and Waste Management policy to ensure that all South Africans have access to clean air. In addition, the department is engaged in Vehicle Emission strategy and Ambient Air Standards that seek to ensure better air quality.
The Coastal Management Bill sets out a new approach to manage the country's national coastal resources to promote social equity and make best economic use of the country's coastal resources while protecting the environment. Other initiatives that the department is involved in include the establishment of environmental courts, plastic bag regulation laws, the cleanest town campaign, the diversification of existing fisheries and establishment of new ones as well as poverty relief programs.
Demand for Cape Winelands Increasing, February 23 2003
Increasing demand for both corporate and tourist accommodation in South Africa's Cape winelands has been a major fillip to the region's tourism industry. "There has been a dramatic increase in inquiries from foreign travelers and companies" says Zevenwacht wine farm director Harold Johnson. "A visit to the winelands was once a single-day add-on to a holiday in Cape Town, but now it has become a destination in its own right" he said.
International Airport Set to Boost Mpumalanga's Appeal, February 23 2003
A new international airport in South Africa's Mpumalanga province is set to boost tourism. The Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport is expected to begin full operations on October 21 this year. The other two airports in the region, Skukuza and Nelspruit, will be downgraded to private airstrips. All commercial traffic will land at Kruger, with international flights from Europe, the US and the East scheduled to begin in December.
The opening of the airport is expected to bring more visitors to Lowveld attractions such as the Kruger National Park, Sudwala Caves, Blyde River Canyon and Pilgrim's Rest.
Zimbabwe's Elephant Hills Hotel to Reopen Next Month, February 23 2003 Zimbabwe Sun's (ZimSun) elegant hotel, Elephant Hills, which was guttered by fire last year, is set to be reopened next month. Shingi Munyeza, ZimSun's chief executive officer, said the hotel at the Victoria Falls resort town would be officially opened to the public early next month. He said "We are busy putting in the final touches, otherwise everything else is on schedule."
Munyeza said the fire that guttered the Elephant Hills last year was a blessing in disguise as it afforded his group an opportunity to expand the hotel's facilities.
Robin Pope's Weekly Zambia Update, February 23 2003
Robin and Jo Pope runs several very successful safari camps in Zambia. Here is their weekly update:
The area north of the South Luangwa National Park the Luangwa River has broken its banks and had flooded a campsite! There has been so much rain these past weeks that the river is now full. The river at Nkwali is now about 3 feet from the top! Tena Tena is partially under water with the river currently flowing through the kitchen!! Nsefu is not likely to flood. Tena is not such a problem because it is a tented campsite that has been packed away for the off season but Nkwali is a permanent camp! Fortunately Robin moved all the vehicles to higher ground and anything stored at floor level was moved higher up where possible. While the area behind Nkwali is full of low lying water there is no water passing under Robin's Bridge yet. It is only when water flows here that the Luangwa has reached its capacity. So fingers crossed!!
This morning at Nkwali the staff saw a leopard on the opposite bank. The baboons were barking madly and it didn't take long to see the female sauntering along the edge of the bank. Every night they have heard lion calling across from camp. Four big bull buffalo moved through Nkwali early this morning! The buffalo this morning circled Matthew and Sara's old house to the east then moved along the riverbank past the staff accommodation and through to the main camp, around the bar and out through the car park! What a sight! There was plenty of evidence left behind with all the steaming paddies on the ground! Every night giraffe move into Nkwali and there is plenty of evidence left behind of this as well! Abdims stork have been flying overhead and the emerald cuckoo has not stopped singing.
Keyala has been supervising general maintenance at Nkwali. Five local ladies have been living in camp to undertake the grass planting (they do a much better job than the men!). One of them indicated to Keyala that they have never been on a motor boat before so he took that as a hint and off they went up and down the river and across to what remained of the sandbank opposite Nkwali at sunset. There was much laughter and their eyes were like golfballs! The ladies were completely blown away by the idea of charging up and down the river on a boat with a motor! Apparently they want Keyala to take them out again!! All in a day's work I'm sure!
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