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Kwando January 2016 Sightings

Kwara 

The first day of January and we began with a great sighting of the four big lions – the “Zulu Boys” – resting under a candle pod acacia. About five km away from there were another two males, also resting up. On the same day, we also saw three cheetah hunting and killing a baby reedbuck.  common reedbuck. A hyena was watching the events unfold from nearby, and stole the kill from the cheetah.

The same lions and cheetahs were seen over the next few days, as well as a leopardess with her very young cub – last month she had a den site close to the boat station, and this month she moved the den a little further to the west. The mother and the cub are extremely relaxed, and we were able to have wonderful sightings of them, with the cub often playing about near his mum.

The Kwara concession is known for its good sightings of predators, including lions, wild dogs, leopards and cheetahs. However, on the 7th of January, one type of predator ruled the day: cheetahs. There were three separate sightings of cheetahs on the same day: A female with a sub adult male, another female with her two sub-adult cubs, and a solitary male. The two small families were resting up in an area fairly close to each other, whilst the male, in a different area, was feeding on a warthog.

Not so many sightings of wild dogs this month – but our most regular pack has had some individual members disperse, leaving a total of eight in the pack. They were seen a few times, including near Bat Eared Fox den.

A youngish elephant was killed by five lions, along the Machaba East road. Quite an amazing sighting. The lions fed on it for two days, and then moved off, allowing the many vultures that had been waiting fairly patiently in the background, quickly arriving to squabble and hiss over what remained.
Unusually for this time of year, it is quite dry… this means a lot of game is attracted to the remaining water ways and lagoons, and with hardly any long grass, predators are still easy to see. The elephant herds are still around, and there are big groups of water birds feeding at the ‘fish pools’ – the waterholes that are slowly drying out.

Lagoon

Early January, and the lions were on the move: apart from a single female that was seen a few times throughout the week, the other lions had headed west, following the large herd of buffalo that moved in that direction. In their absence, the intruder males came into the Lagoon area, and started to make themselves at home. The male lions were seen several times, and seem to have focussed on killing warthogs at the moment. Towards the end of the month, the lions were on the move again – walking as much as 32km in one night!

The wild dogs still frequent the area, but the pack of 23 has split. This is a normal part of the social system of wild dogs, and allows for more junior dogs to start their own packs, becoming alpha male and female, or joining up with other dogs and diversifying the gene pool. The remaining pack began with 14 (9 adults and 5 puppies) and then reduced again to 11. They could hunt more than enough on their own, with their main prey being warthogs and young impalas.

At the beginning of the month, there were lots of breeding herds of elephants in the area, with young babies. As we finally started to get some rain during this month, the herds began to move off though the woodlands to the mopane scrub. Solitary bulls and bachelor herds remain, but the breeding herds will come back soon. Although the buffalo herds have dispersed from the main drive area, a large group remain in the valley to the west.
General game very good, with giraffes, wildebest, impala, eland, and lots and lots of zebras. Bat eared foxes, jackals, and several types of mongoose were seen as well as caracals, african wildcats and porcupines on night game drive.

And a great sighting one morning of a young honey badger, proudly scurrying along the road with a leopard tortoise in his mouth!

Lebala

Nature is harsh. And sometimes we don’t realise how harsh it is until we witness the events ourselves. As part of their safari, most guests are keen to see a kill. The guides know that for many, when confronted with the reality, seeing a kill will actually be very very traumatic.  Predator kills are rarely quick and clean cut.

Wild dogs, which have a reputation for being ‘cruel’ killers, as they don’t kill their prey by suffocation, but by tearing it to pieces. However, they are very very fast, and the warthog was dead within a minute. Within 7 minutes, there is normally nothing left of the animal. Something to bear in mind when considering the larger predators hunting techniques…

Just a few days before, two males lions had cleverly managed to stalk an adult warthog, using a tree as cover to come up on it unawares. One male grabbed the neck and held it to suffocate it, but a warthog neck is very thick, and it takes a long time to suffocate… the other male could not wait, and begin eating from the back. Soon after, the first male couldn’t hold his hunger any longer, released the neck and began eating as well.  For seven minutes, all that could be heard was the screaming warthog, until it finally succumbed. Its one of the most distressing sounds that you can hear in the animal kingdom, and it chills you to the bone. Sadly, in nature, there’s not often happy endings…

The month continued to produce plenty of lion sightings including a male and female mating at the beginning of the month. Hopefully, more cubs are  on the way! We did happen upon two lion cubs along the BDF turnoff – no mother in sight, but lots of tracks around, so she must have hidden the cubs and gone off to hunt. We also regularly saw the four lionesses in the area, working together in their attempts to hunt.

The lionesses and the wild dogs met up at one point, when we were following the dogs hunting. They had not had any luck flushing game, but suddenly stopped and stared in one direction. Not too far away, were the four lionesses staring back at them. Both parties decided that it was easier to do nothing on this occasion, and they moved off without a confrontation.

General game was great, with big herds of elephants, lechwe, a herd of wildebeest almost permanently stationed in front of the camp, giraffe, lots of zebra, and of course the common impala

Nxai Pan

Elephants still abound, with the lack of consistent rain, they are frequenting the pumped waterholes to drink. One week in January produced the hottest temperatures that we have ever experienced in Botswana – reaching up to 46 degrees in the shade! (It’s exceptionally rare for us to reach 40…) Water pumps were running 24 hours a day to try and ensure that the game had access to sufficient water, as both four legged and two legged mammals took strain.

And sadly this year, due to the drought, the zebra migration has not yet arrived in Nxai Pan. January is usually the peak of the numbers for zebras, but this year, they have failed to arrive. Whether they will arrive in February or March is solely dependent on whether good rains arrive.

The big pride of fourteen lions was found along West Road, hunting giraffe. They were unsuccessful on this occasion. Whilst the ladies were out hunting, two male lions rested up near one of the camp sites (luckily unoccupied at the time), looking pretty hungry. Had the pride managed to bring down a giraffe, no doubt the two males would have made a dash for a share of the meal. A few days later, the whole gang of sixteen was seen together.

We also came across the two sub-adult cheetahs – away from their mum for a change – attempting to hunt close to the South camping grounds. They hadn’t quite honed their skills well enough for a successful hunt however, practice makes perfect.  The next day, the mother cheetah was found on her own near the Wildlife Camp.

Tau Pan

Tau Pan area is looking beautiful and green at the moment, after having some reasonable rains in January – more than other areas. This has attracted lots of general game to the area, to enjoy the good life. However, the taller grass and availability of water is making it harder to see the predators.

After more than six years of the Tau Pan pride of lions being firmly established in the area, they are becoming harder and harder to see as the intruders from the Passarge area attempt to take over the area. As a result, the Tau Pan Pride have changed the times that they visit the camp waterhole, sneaking down at night to drink and not vocalising, in order to not attract any unwanted attendiont from the intruders.

A lioness was seen with five cubs about 8km from Tau Pan camp. They were attempting to hunt, but were not successful whilst we were watching, though there was plenty of game in the area. All the lions’ stomachs looked very empty….

A leopard was seen at the aptly named Leopard Pan in the middle of the month. Two cheetahs were lying down at the pan on the edge. The male cheetah then crossed the pan and headed north, before lying down again under the large trees at the edge.

On an afternoon game drive back to camp one day, an aardwolf was also spotted, coming out for its night-time feed of termites.

Safaris for photographers in the famous South Luangwa

We started out with a nicely lit situation with a croc and an egret. Balancing the exposure for the dark croc and bright white egret takes care.

Safaris for photographers in the famous South Luangwa

A quick drive up north to where I’d left a pride in the morning gave us beautiful lion cubs with golden evening light. They were moving around while the females were out hunting, so we sat quietly with them, moving the vehicle occasionally to give us new angles. As always, the plan was to show the cubs as part of a pride, conveying their social aspect as cooperative cats.

Safaris for photographers in the famous South Luangwa

After a beautiful hour with the cats, we headed back towards camp and found ourselves following another vehicle. I hate that, as you are guaranteed to share your sightings with another group, and you end up with grit between your teeth. I took a side road into an area of riverine forest and quickly rooted out a Pel’s Fishing Owl, one of the more special of our owl species.

Feeling chuffed that my gamble had paid off, we set off again for camp, and almost immediately we found another owl. But this time, it was not a Pel’s, but a Barn Owl! Not necessarily rare by African standards, but not commonly seen in Luangwa, I was very happy to see my first one here! Using the spotlight to achieve focus, my flash illuminated the bird and kept the ‘exposure’ short to avoid wing blur.

The following morning, we set out early and found hyaenas all over the place. We worked hard to ascertain the source of all their interest and eventually narrowed it down to a thick band of scrub where we had little access. Luckily, one of the hyaenas broke free from the rest and appeared carrying the head and neck of aCape buffalo, struggling under the weight. The vultures were hot on his heels and he soon shot off into the bushes once more.

The light was beginning to get bright, so we focused on some of the nearby subjects before heading back to camp.

That afternoon, we found something new, even for me! Passing a warthog, I spotted two porcupine quills sticking out of its rump. We guessed that the pig had reversed down a burrow the previous night (they reverse to keep the tusks pointed towards danger) and found that a porcupine was still using the burrow that day! They looked deeply embedded, but the pig didn’t seem bothered by them1 [Update: we passed a couple of days later and saw the warthog in exactly the same situation.]

Heading to check on a spring in the late evening, we found elephants drinking at the river, side lit by a ray of sunshine. A camera will tend to over expose a scene such as this, so adjustments are required.

We hit the jackpot at the spring, finding a gorgeous little leopard drinking in the early evening. She heard sounds in the distance and led us to a scene where two other leopards were feeding in adjacent trees. 3 leopards and 3 hyaenas were visible in one place, although there were very limited photo opportunities. In cases such as this, we just sit back and watch!

Heading back in the morning to see if we could track any of the spotty cats, we found lots of elephants in the same area, but no cats!!!

We did however, locate a different female in a tree nearby and enjoyed 2 hours with her as she moved in her tree and watched nearby impalas. Impalas did approach her tree to eat the fallen flowers, but never came close enough for an attack!

In the afternoon, we set out with no plan except to photograph some of the antelope. First we played with pukus under trees in the distance – so called long-lens-landscapes – one of my favourite techniques.

We moved on to kudu bulls…..

…..and ended with an impala on a bluff.

After dark, we began to see hyaenas moving in one particular direction. I remember saying “I don’t know where they’re going, but I want to be there when they arrive!”. Lucky we did, because we got there just in time to find a leopard throttling his prey, and to take some shots before the inevitable hyaena take-over of the carcass.

The bloodbath that followed will stay with me for some time. The noise, hot, flowing blood and red faces was almost too much to observe. At one stage, a wind change carried the smell of the kill towards us – fresh blood, stomach contents and adrenaline were all apparent.

Wondering how we could top that, we moved on to small things again, and had a lot of fun with this genet who posed helpfully for a long period.


And returning to camp, we found a familiar lion pride rousing from its slumbers and going through the daily greetings.

We tracked them down the next morning to the river bank and enjoyed them observing elephants crossing the river…….

…….before they settled down to rest in the morning sunshine!

If you like the look of this trip, and would like to see Luangwa for yourself, please get in touch. Even individuals are welcome and might find that it’s more affordable than they think!

Record-breaking turtle nesting seasons on North Island

Record-breaking turtle nesting seasons on North Island 2014 and 2015 have been record-breaking years for nesting turtles on North Island. The turtle monitoring programme recorded a total of 216 emergences by Endangered green turtles in 2014. In 2015, some 205 emergences by Critically Endangered hawksbill turtles were recorded. An ‘emergence’ is recorded when a female turtle comes ashore to make a nesting attempt. The actual number of turtles involved would be much fewer, as each female lays between three and five clutches of eggs in a season, and may also make unsuccessful emergences where no eggs are laid. Therefore, the North Island environmental team estimates that these emergence figures translate to approximately 35 green turtles and 30 hawksbills.

The Ultimate African Gap Year

This is the Ultimate Gap Year – especially for those who have just sold their business, come into money, or generally want to see Africa in style and is about as far removed from a usual Gap Year as it gets!

We’ve put together an itinerary which takes in the very best of this incredible continent, spanned over 365 days and at a cost of £114,000 per person. This truly is a once in a lifetime trip and will allow you to get to know Africa like no other.

The graphic below shows the amazing route you will follow from Marrakech to Cairo, along with some of the many highlights you’ll come across en route.  This incredible trip takes in the highlights of this amazing continent, and would cost about £114,000 per person !

The Ultimate African Gap Year

PERFECT PLACES

As you can imagine, in 365 days you stop off in a fair few stunning spots, but we’ve highlighted a few particularly special spots below:

The Okavango Delta

 

Mount Kilimanjaro

 

Marrakech

 

Madagascar

 

Sossussvlei Dunes

 

Cape Town

 

Chobe National Park

 

Victoria Falls

 

Lake Malawi

 

Cairo

 

The Serengeti

 

Zanzibar

 

The Sahara Desert

 

AMAZING ACTIVITIES

Whilst on the trip as well as seeing some breathtaking places you’ll also get to experience some once in a lifetime experiences, including those below:

Microlight over Victoria Falls

 

Meet Gorillas in Rwanda and Congo

 

Cruise along the River Nile

 

Trek up Mount Kilimanjaro

 

Canoe Safari in Zimbabwe

 

Go diving in Lake Malawi

 

Quad biking across the Kalahari

 

Wine Tasting along the Garden Route in South Africa

 

Watch the Great Migration, one of the world’s most incredible sights

 

The Tides of change

As United States president Barack Obama visits Kenya, a month after the lifting of travel restrictions, one of our favourite stretches of African coastline is filled with new hope, finds Gill Charlton

Elton Munyore has been selling safari excursions to tourists on Bamburi beach, north of Mombasa, for 19 years. “The last year has been very difficult,” he says. “My family shamba [smallholding] gave us enough to eat, but nothing more. Fortunately I had some savings, but that’s all gone now.”

Along with every hotelier, boat captain and beach trader on Kenya’s coast, Munyore – known to everyone as Elton John, a nickname bestowed by British tourists years ago – breathed a huge sigh of relief when Britain last month lifted its ban on travel to Mombasa and the adjacent coast, from Watamu southward to the border with Tanzania.

“Before the advisory, six out of 10 of our guests were from Britain,” says Mohammed Hersi, CEO of Heritage Hotels, which runs Voyager, a popular all-inclusive resort on Nyali beach. “The entire community’s livelihood has been affected. It’s been a big wake-up call; now everyone knows what’s at stake. We need to make sure that what happened in Tunisia could never happen here.”
This weekend’s visit by Barack Obama to open the Global Entrepreneurship Summit is much talked-about on the beaches. For small-time salesmen such as Elton John, the arrival of the American president to promote young entrepreneurs can only be a good thing, a sign that there is international confidence in Kenya and its future in spite of the security issues.
• Why you should travel to Kenya now

The Old Town of Mombasa
The British have visited the Kenyan coast in large numbers since the Eighties, drawn by the dazzling white sandy beaches, the friendly hotel staff, and the chance to spend a thrilling night or two on safari in the national parks of Tsavo and Amboseli.
Sharing a border with Somalia has always been problematic, however. In the past couple of years, extremists linked to the militant group Al Shabaab have carried out a number of attacks in Lamu and Tana River counties on the border with Somalia. As a result, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office still warns against all but essential travel to these areas and to within 60km (37 miles) of the Kenya-Somalia border.
• Kenya’s coast reopens
In the wake of the sectarian violence, Britain and the United States have been providing military hardware and training as part of a raft of measures put in place by the Kenyan government to help secure the region. In coastal communities where the travel ban has been lifted, there is a renewed vigilance and a determination to preserve the open-minded tolerance for which the Swahili culture has long been known.
In his role as chairman of the Kenya Coast Tourism Association (KCTA), Mohammed Hersi has set up customer service and security training courses for beach traders all along the coast. “There’s no more ‘them’ and ‘us’,” says Hersi. “The curio sellers, masseurs and safari sellers are valuable extra eyes and ears on the beach and in the local community.” The KCTA has so far trained more than 500 of these beach operators (the term “beach boy” is no longer used) and it seems to be paying off in many ways.

As a single white female, I would normally have been mobbed walking alone on Bamburi beach. But after a gentle rebuttal to a man who tried to sell me a boat trip, and another who wanted to be my “friend”, I walked down the beach unmolested. Occasionally a curio seller called out, but there was a level of politeness on the beach that wasn’t there before. And the beach itself was a lot cleaner: the flotsam and jetsam dumped on Kenya’s beaches in summer by the Indian Ocean monsoon had been cleared up, even on stretches where there are no hotels.
Despite the big drop in revenues, the coast’s large resort hotels have been keeping up their maintenance programmes. The buildings are freshly whitewashed and the lawns and flower beds have been clipped and weeded to perfection. Necessary upgrading work has also continued, creating the more spacious bedrooms demanded by today’s holidaymakers.
• Is it safe to travel to Kenya?
Whitesands, a collection of handsome low-rise buildings set in 22 acres, has undergone a major renovation to increase the size of its rooms and install swish contemporary bathrooms. On Saturday mornings the hotel allows the beach traders to set out their wares on its lawns. “It’s a new initiative,” says Joy Morai, the hotel’s sales manager. “It’s our thank you to them for making sure the beach is safe and clean.”
Like all hotels along the coast, Whitesands has visible, but unarmed, G4S security staff at its entrances from the road and the beach. This is nothing new, but now there are plain-clothes officers, too. Even so, the beach operators are the front-line troops. “We know everyone on this beach,” said Elton John. “We’re alert for intruders and we know what to do. The police have told us that it’s better to report something suspicious and get it wrong rather than let it go.”

It is hoped Obama’s visit will give an air of security to the country Photo: Getty
This was a mantra I heard from people up and down the coast. In Watamu, 70 miles north-east of Mombasa, they have tested the reporting system three times so far. “It worked really well,” said Damian Davies, manager of the Turtle Bay Beach Club, a popular budget choice with British families. “The police response was swift and efficient and, of course, they were all false alarms.”
Kenya’s most beautiful beach – in my view, one of the world’s best – is Diani, a long strand of soft white sand running south of Mombasa. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office advisory never included this area, as visitors could fly from Nairobi to Ukunda, the local airstrip, but it has suffered badly all the same.
• A beginner’s guide to safari in Africa
This area was once a popular retreat for Britons living in Kenya, and many of their beach houses have been turned into smart boutique hotels. The Sands at Nomad, run by Richard Glaser, is something of an institution, serving up delicious fish and seafood fresh from the boats in its open-air beach dining room. He is optimistic about prospects for filling his 18 rooms over the winter season. “I’ve already signed contracts with Somak and Thomas Cook,” he said. “Thomson has come knocking too. It’s such a relief.”
Down on the beach, I was beckoned over by the curio sellers. They’d had their customer service training, but had it worked? “Please welcome. What is your name?” asked an older man wearing a big smile. “I will carve it on this wooden key-ring. It is a free gift and you can collect it tomorrow.”
It was a clever ruse, meaning I had to pay a second visit. The sellers speak good English; lengthy bargaining is required for the simplest purchase. It’s the custom, they told me. A discount of 50 per cent is usual.

I enjoyed talking to the beach operators, and finding out about their lives, but it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. For greater privacy, though, head south to where the metalled road runs out and the rural Africa of old reappears. The village of Msambweni is a delight. Traditional coral-stone houses line its grid of mud streets, which are also home to mango stalls and a great many hairdressers. Beyond the village lies Saruni Ocean, a new boutique hotel built in an attractive cuboid Swahili style. It is run by Luca De Marchis, a Roman chef, and his wife, Guilia, a marine biologist.
Over a lunch of carpaccio octopus and crab linguine, they told me that they had made a conscious decision to hire all the staff from the village. “It has taken a lot of training but we were determined to do it,” said De Marchis. “We need the villagers to see the benefits of helping us keep the beach clean and safe.”
Walking the beach here was an unfettered pleasure. An old lady watched a group of teenagers play football on the sand. In the shallows, younger boys were gutting eels and searching rock pools for more. At the reef’s edge, their fathers loaded nets into square-rigged dhows for the night’s fishing ahead. Occasionally I exchanged greetings: “Jambo”. “Habari”. “Nzuri sana asante”. I didn’t realise that beaches this unspoilt still existed in Kenya.
Back in Diani, I collected my key-ring. As I turned to leave, a man quietly asked if I would buy one of his bead necklaces. “Choose any one and just pay me KSh100,” he said. They’re worth more than 70p, but he was clearly desperate to make a sale.
“Why the bargain?” I asked.
“I just need to sell something. To feel good. To believe that things are going to get better again.”

Where to stay
All package prices quoted below are per person for one week including flights from Britain, unless otherwise stated. Most hotels have extensive spas, watersports facilities plus diving and snorkelling on protected reefs.

South of Mombasa
● The Sands at Nomad
Thirty-seven rooms, including two-bedroom suites and beach cottages, on the loveliest stretch of Diani. Superb restaurant and sociable bar popular with expats. From £770 b & b; child sharing £539 (thesandskenya.com).
● Leopard Beach Resort
Set in 37 acres on a small bluff above two small coves north of Diani. Bright spacious rooms and new villas (the Residences) with a choice of places to eat. Adults-only pool and beach as well as family entertainment and pool areas. From £835 half-board; child sharing £699
A room at the Saruni Ocean Resort
● Kinondo Kwetu
A family home turned boutique retreat run by the Andersson family from Sweden. The 15 rooms are arranged in villas filled with antique pieces beside a private beach. Horse-riding and tennis on site with tuition. From £2,819 all inclusive; child sharing £1,899 (kinondo-kwetu.com).
● Saruni Ocean
A stylish contemporary hideaway with 10 suites, a large infinity pool and fine dining under the stars. Charming Italian hosts speak English. From £2,055 full-board; child sharing £1,179 (saruni.com).
North of Mombasa
● Whitesands Beach Resort
Stylish sea view rooms and suites renovated over the past three years. Well run by a very friendly, efficient team. From £845 half-board; child sharing £765 (sarovahotels.com).
● Voyager Beach Resort
The best family-oriented resort on the coast and a big favourite with Brits: spotless rooms, professional kids club, beautiful gardens, themed buffets and entertainment. From £900 all inclusive; child sharing £599 (heritage-eastafrica.com).
● Serena Beach Resort
Set in beautiful grounds by a quiet 1.2-mile beach bounded by cliffs. Intimate despite its 164 rooms: many recently enlarged with new bathrooms to create more space. Its Elemis spa is the best on the coast. From £1,025 half-board; child sharing £699 (serenahotels.com).
● Travellers Beach Hotel
A great three-star option with a particularly welcoming atmosphere. Good air-conditioned gym. From £690 half-board; child sharing £599 (travellersbeach.com).

Watamu
● Medina Palms
While Watamu’s leading hotel, Hemingways, remains closed the neighbouring Medina Palms is the luxury alternative: one-bedroom apartment sleeping two from £210 per night half-board (medinapalms.com).
● Turtle Bay Beach Club
The oldest all-inclusive on the coast, it has loyal repeat customers and good food, though rooms are looking a little tired. From £975 all-inclusive; child sharing £599 (turtlebaykenya.com).
● Shwari House
Fully staffed beachfront villa with six en suite bedrooms and infinity pool. Rents for £700 per night

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