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Kwando sightings report April 2014

KWARA
Kwando sightings report April 2014

 The beginning of the month and it was lions every day, with adults feeding on an assortment of prey including zebra and tsessebe, whilst cubs played on the side. In fact, the ‘lions every day’ continued for the rest of the month, with only two days where lions were not found – or possibly no one wanted to look for them on those two days!

Cheetah sightings were also good, with a lovely sighting of a male walking in the Splash area, and then a couple of days later two males and a female in the same region. We also found a female early on in the month stalking impala with all the skill she could muster. Unfortunately, her hunting attempt was unsuccessful, and the impala escaped her grasp. Later in the month, the two male cheetahs were seen for several days at Splash, and we were lucky enough to witness them hunt a young impala.

A young group of lions had better luck when they stalked and managed to catch a fully grown zebra, as all in the game drive cars looked on in amazement. The next day, the two females and three cubs were found finishing off an ostrich kill – with a lot of feather dusters freely available in the surrounding area. Hippo also featured on the lion menu this month, with four males managing to kill a sub-adult hippo near Second Bridge. This provided food for the big males for several days – but the hunt is a very risky process, with the size of the animal involved.

The wild dogs made several appearances this month, with a pack of fifteen being found near Impala Pan in the middle of the month. All dogs participated in a fast-paced hunt, and successfully brought down two impalas – enough to divide amongst the big pack.

Elephants, zebras, giraffes, wildebeest, tsessebe all provided good sightings, feeding on the still luxurious grass. With the grass so high this year, walking was quite restricted, but even a walk through the camp could provide enough excitement for most people, with elephants making surprise appearances at inopportune times. Guests are never on their most alert status at 530 in the morning, as they stumble towards the first tea or coffee of the day at fireplace. Luckily, the guides and managers are, and noticing an elephant was approaching the rooms one  morning, the guides stationed themselves along the pathway between the rooms and shouted warnings to the guests to stay where they were for the moment. Either lost in translation, or lost in sleep, one guest stumbled out of their room and started along the pathway, oblivious of the rather large grey object next to his tent, nor the shouting and arm-waving guides. Luckily, the elephant was as surprised by this behaviour as the guides, and turned tail and left for more peaceful surrounds.

LAGOON

Kwando sightings report April 2014

 
The cubs are still going strong, and growing into three healthy bundles of energy. For most of the month they were still kept at the latest den, however on the 29th March they were moved to a new location, as the scent in the area becomes too strong, and harder to hide from intruding males. One lioness was also seen mating with the two resident males – although both males tried to win her over, she chose the large blonde maned lion, rather than the black maned one.

Other sightings in the first week of the month included a very relaxed female leopard, that was seen in the morning and afternoon drives relaxing up a tree in the Water Cut area. Later in the month she was seen again hunting a male warthog, without success. We also found a shy male on an ostrich carcass – a difficult kill for a leopard!

The Lagoon pack of dogs continue to move through the concession, favouring the area between Lebala and Lagoon. They managed to bring down two warthogs at once – an achievement for 8 dogs – and that provided a good meal for the whole place. One morning was spent tracking the dogs without success, but they were then located in the afternoon. The dogs came across a herd of roan antelope, and spent some time chasing them around, although these large antelope are quite a formidable prey! The Roan ended up with the last laugh, as the dogs gave up and moved on in search of an easier target.

The large herds of elephants that are in the Lebala area have not made as big an impact on the Lagoon area, but we are still seeing lots of small breeding herds.  Several huge herds of eland have been seen – numbering around 100 individuals – as well as the roan, and occasional sable sighting. Zebras, wildebeest, giraffes and kudus are continue to inhabit the areas where the grass is a little shorter – safer territory for them to see if someone is stalking them!

Hyenas benefitted from the lions this month, when the lionesses had eaten their  fill of wildebeest they had killed, and a single  hyena moved in to consume the rest of the carcass.  A little over excited to have so much to himself, the hyena crunched and attempted to swallow a large piece of bone, which was just too big. It took some time for the hyena to cough the bone back out, and having gone through such a traumatic experience, he gave up on the rest of the carcass and left.

We also had great raptor sightings, with Brown Snake eagles, Tawny eagles,  and lots of vultures (including white backed, and hooded) in the area due to the good number of kills that the lions have been bringing down.

LEBALA

Lebala dog

The beginning of the month at Lebala, and excellent predator sightings with wild dog, leopard, hyena and cheetah being spotted. Two leopards were seen in the Sebokoboko, in excellent condition, hunting warthog. Very unusual to see leopards together.  Another day we found a female leopard relaxing in the boughs of a sausage tree. She soon clambered down and began hunting the guinea fowl who were clucking around the nearby bushes. And it was not even necessary to leave the camp to see leopards – another relaxed female spent a day in the trees at the staff village, hunting the vervet monkeys that were around the camp.

We also had great wild dog sightings – the pack of eight managed to kill a warthog, which we witnessed from the beginning to the – very fast – end. All dogs fed together on the kill, free of the bickering that occurs when other species attempt hunt and then eat together. On the 21st March, we tracked and located the pack of 8 dogs resting at Twin Pools. Shortly after locating that pack, we found another pack of four males in the same area! Perhaps following the first pack in the hope of good hunting, or the chance of joining them? The good news is that the alpha pair of the pack of 8 have been seen mating several days during the month, so we are hoping for a successful litter of pups this year.

The second week of March had rain on most days, and all animals looked for drier spots, bringing their young ones with. It was a good bonding time, as well as play time, for the baby giraffes, wildebeest, zebra and even hippos.

In spite of the rains, we still had some lovely sightings, including that of a male leopard, who in the early evening was found in a tree, scanning and scenting the area. He then dropped to the ground to pose for pictures, leaving guests speechless with admiration.

We are lucky to have an active hyena den at the moment, and have had good views of a hyena with her two young cubs that are homed there until they become big and fast enough to elude predators themselves.

The breeding herds of elephants continue to dot the landscape, moving through the grasses which are as tall as their young in some areas. Junior rushes to keep up, occasionally losing sight of mum’s tail, and trumpeting in alarm as he quickens his pace. Even the roads to the camp are sometimes ‘covered’ in elephants, and before you know it, you are in the middle of a quiet elephant herd, that is spending the time feeding. Unbothered adults look on, as youngsters display their bravado and mock charge a vehicle that is four times as big as them.  In other groups, concerned aunts shoo the youngsters away from the vehicle, and herd the family off into the deeper grasses.

One thing that is noticeable with elephants, is their love of baobab trees. One particular tree – always referred to in capitals! – has been a landmark in the area for longer than can be remembered. In recent months, however, its large three-branched trunks have slowly been chewed away, and now only one main trunk remains. The trunk has been completely ring-barked – not necessarily a fatal problem in a baobab – but the elephants have chewed deep into the trunk – leaving it looking rather like a corn cob that has been gnawed by a giant mouse. It is now in danger of toppling over, probably in the next few months, if not weeks. And soon after that, there will be nothing to indicate that The Baobab that has stood for hundreds of years was ever in existence – just a road that takes an unusual bend around a seemingly open space.

Any visitor to Lebala will have seen the lesser striped swallow nests that line our thatched roofs in the main area. Even if they have not been in the right season to see the birds themselves making the nests, the mud nest usually remains. Even if the empty nests fall down during the year, the returning swallows will build them in exactly the same place a few months later, so the camp staff try to leave them where they are.  Perhaps word has got around in the avian world, that nest building is not interfered with at Lebala camp, for another species has recently decided to make the bar home for the next generation. Brown waxbills have made a lovely, if somewhat ‘sunny’ nest, in the lamp shade that overhangs the bar. Perhaps the extra hours of light act as an incubator for the eggs and encourage growth? It will be interesting to see if we end up with chicks twice the size of the parents….

NXAI PAN
Nxai zebra
 
The national animal of Botswana – the zebra – still abound in Nxai Pan. Every where you look, every which way you turn, the herds are there. Towards the end of the month, they began moving off, but there were such large numbers this year, that it will take some time for the majority to leave the area. In the meant time, they are providing a plentiful food supply to the lions in the area.

Early in the month, and the lions and their three cubs – now around 3.5 months old – were seen every other day. The cubs would always provide plenty of entertainment, chasing each other around, and when bored with that, chasing their mother’s tail. One morning, we came across the whole pride, feeding on a zebra they had killed during the night. One male was mating with one of the lionesses. The cubs continued to play on and the other male, obviously sick of all the fuss, chose to drag the heavy zebra carcass off under the shade of a bush, where he could feed more peacefully.

Lions sightings continued to be excellent throughout the month, with them being sighted for 24 days out of 31. The males continued to hunt for zebra – not always successful in spite of the large number of them. Vultures watched their every move, in the hope that they will be successful and provide a second hand meal for them as well.

Another wonderful visit by the uncommon predator – three wild dogs made an appearance on the 20th March. We found them near West road, chasing springboks out in the open. Unfortunately for them, they did not manage to catch one, and so they moved off across the plains.

A special trip to KgamaKgama – some distance from the main area of the park – was rewarded with a herd of eland – around 40 individuals. Very rare to see in Nxai Pan, it was with this specific intent that the car had set  off to KgamaKgama, so wonderful that it all paid off.

With so many lions around, the cheetahs were needing to be careful, so we did not see as many this month as hoped for. However, we did find a female that was stalking through the bushes, in the hope of catching her dinner.

Still great general game around, with lots of the smaller predators – the jackals that trot around the open areas constantly, and the wonderful bat eared foxes that hunker down under the shade of low bushes, and come out to play in the early morning or late afternoon.

TAU PAN

Tau lion
 
A lovely start to the month with a female cheetah found in Phukwe Pan with three cubs. They have been lucky to avoid the lions that have been frequenting the area, and the mother cheetah has her work cut out for her to raise all three offspring to adulthood.

Speaking of lions, it is likely that there are going to be even more on the way – the Tau Pan pride adults were seen mating early in the month, as well as the two male “intruders” who were seen mating with the younger females from the original pride. This could lead to a lot of offspring, and a lot of territorial disputes as to who controls which area, and which cubs get to survive. The mating continued on and off for around two weeks – an unusually long time!

One of the younger males of the pride has quite a reputation for being rather lazy. Not only is he not being permitted (or perhaps it is simply not being bothered?) to mate, but whenever a car arrives to admire his wonderful looks, he does not even raise his head or open an eye at the intrusion. Obviously, sleep is very important for conservation of energy for lions, yet other individuals seem a little more active than this one. He managed to stagger awake and over to feed on an oryx carcass when the rest of the pride pulled one down, however.

Beho Beho Bushmail – End of Season 2014

It is always a bittersweet time of year at close of season.

We say goodbye to the Beho Beho family, old friends and new, to the bush and all the animals, if only for a little while.

But we also look forward to the replenishing rainfall that will restore this paradise to an abundant Shangri-La, a place so verdurous and full of life it is hard to imagine that only a few months ago it looked like an arid desert.

The rains have gotten underway, and all the pans are overflowing, the tributaries and streams have all been washed clean and the big Beho Beho as well as Msini Rivers have started to flow. There is a downpour virtually every afternoon with the most beautiful clear light in the mornings that follow. All the myriad flowers have begun to bloom filling the air with aromas of jasmine from the Jasmine tree and Wild Jasmine, and then the smell of mashed potatoes, which comes from the flowers of the Potato Bush, accompanied by splashes of bright colour against the green.

Beho Beho Bushmail – End of Season 2014 Beho Beho Bushmail – End of Season 2014 IMG_5901

We have had some marvelous sightings this season. There has been loads of Elephant around our immediate area, often coming into the main area to splash around the waterhole and feed on the vegetation; excellent sightings of the Wild Dogs passing through camp and either playing or lazing about on our airstrip; and Lions aplenty – in fact, we’ve had so many Lion sightings in and around camp this year that we’ve dubbed it “The Season of the Lion”.

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The beautiful Carmine Bee-Eaters are still around, darting like red arrows in flocks of up to 30 around the vehicle, catching the grasshoppers and other bugs as they jump out of the way of the wheels.

And not to forget about the first record of the Selous and bringer of great laughter after hearing the foghorn-like call of the Buff Spotted Flufftail. Other interesting birds seen this season – for those twitchers out there – include the Ruvu Weaver which has caused a stir in the birding community as it is a species which was overlooked, and often just seen as a African Golden Weaver, so a great find. The Madagascar Heron was sighted again this season, and a Bartailed Godwit.

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Werner has decided to pursue his career back in South Africa as a walking guide, and we also say goodbye to Rika, who faces an exciting adventure with starting up her own business involving the myriad textiles and textures that Tanzania has to offer.

Next season we will welcome Phil Bennett and Tricia Piper to our team in the capacity of Assistant Managers – Phil also being a walking guide and Tricia focusing on the hospitality side.

Our employee of the season has unequivocally gone to Kessy Chuma.

Kessy has been with the company for 17 years, working his way up through the different departments and showing his strength in the maintenance area. He is like a machine and no task put in front of him is too big – you can rely on him to accomplish anything he sets his mind to.

We hope everyone has a blessed Easter period, time to spend with family and friends, and look forward to welcome all again to Beho Beho on the first of June.

Warm wishes from the Heart of the Selous,

Walter, Karin, Werner, Rika, Heribert, Salum, Godlisten & Saning’o

Africa safari holidays: first-timers’ guide to Kenya and Tanzania

An expert guide to African safari holidays, including information on where and when to go, what to pack, safety advice and recommended tour operators and packages

If all you know of wild Africa is David Attenborough or Big Cat Diary you are in for the surprise of your life. No matter how many wildlife documentaries you may have watched, nothing prepares you for the real thing.

I still remember my own first visit, flying by light aircraft from Nairobi down to the Maasai Mara. Below me lay a sea of grass in which elephants stood and shook their ears as we zoomed overhead. With mounting excitement I picked out more animals: graceful giraffes, lines of wildebeest strung out like beads across the savannah. “Look down there,” yelled the pilot, jabbing his finger at a flat-roofed thorn tree. In its shade lay five tawny cats: my first lions.

A safari holiday should be on everyone’s wish list of life’s greatest adventures. In Swahili, the melodious everyday language of East Africa, the word itself translates as “going on a journey”. In the age of Hemingway and Karen Blixen this meant going upcountry, setting off with a tent and a rifle into the back of beyond where the wild things are. Now the day of the hunter is done. Guns are out. Cameras are in and ecotourism is the buzzword in the bush, offering a gentler but no less thrilling introduction to the last place on earth where wildlife exists in its old abundance.

But the reasons for going on safari have not changed. The need to reach out and touch the wild, to spend time in the sun and under the stars and come face to face with Africa’s storybook animals, not behind bars but moving free as the wind across the savannah – these are what make this a holiday like no other.

So where should you go for your first taste of safari life? Africa is so vast, its horizons so wide. Some of its big-game strongholds are the size of small countries. Among the finest are Botswana’s Okavango Delta, Zambia’s Luangwa Valley and South Africa’s Kruger National Park. But if you are planning a once-in-a-lifetime sojourn in the bush it has to be East Africa. Nowhere are animals so visible as on the high plains of the Maasai Mara and Serengeti, and the land itself is quite something. To look down into the immense bowl of the Ngorongoro Crater is to stand at the gates of heaven.

Ease of access makes East Africa a natural favourite for first-timers. It takes only eight hours to fly from London to Nairobi. If you catch an overnight flight from Heathrow you can transfer to a light aircraft next morning and be in the bush in time for brunch. Such things are possible in Nairobi because Kenya’s safari industry is backed up by an efficient tourist infrastructure with a dazzling choice of camps and lodges to suit all budgets. This is, after all, where modern safaris were invented back in the Twenties.

Ways to go

On a budget
Travelling by road helps keep the cost down and is a good way of seeing more of Africa. Journeys between parks average around five hours and the usual mode of transport is the ubiquitous eight-seater VW Kombi minivan with raised roof hatches for better game viewing. You will have a local English-speaking driver-guide. Thomson Holidays offers an eight-day Kenya Classic Safari from £1,679 per person, visiting the Maasai Mara, Lake Nakuru and Amboseli and including return flight to Nairobi with Kenya Airways.

In style
Going upmarket opens up all kinds of possibilities, including direct flights into the bush by light aircraft that cut out long road journeys, game drives with expert local guides in open four-wheel-drive vehicles purpose-built for better viewing, and the opportunity to stay at Africa’s most exclusive luxury camps and lodges. Safari Consultants can arrange a 10-day Kenyan holiday with three nights at Elsa’s Kopje Lodge in Meru National Park and four nights at Mara Toto Camp in the Maasai Mara including return flight from London and all local flights and transfers from £4,765 per person. Alternatively, Tanzania Odyssey (020 7471 8780; tanzaniaodyssey.com) can put together an eight-day Tanzanian safari, including two nights at Ngorongoro Crater Lodge and four nights at Nomad’s Lamai Camp in the northern Serengeti, from £3,275 plus £850 for flights from London to Kilimanjaro with Kenya Airways.

Mobile camping
This is the most authentic way to see Africa at close hand without sacrificing too many creature comforts, and it gives you greater flexibility in the bush. Wild About Africa recommends a 10-day Tanzanian camping safari (seven nights in the bush) to Tarangire, Lake Manyara, Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti. This is a group trip designed for a maximum of 14 people travelling in two four-wheel-drive Land Cruisers). Prices start at £3,174 per person based on two people sharing and include return flight from London.

Walking
Here’s a real one-off adventure for anyone who is reasonably fit. You may not get such good wildlife photo opportunities as you would from a vehicle, but only on foot will you experience the full-on thrill of wild Africa.  Audley Travel does a five-night walking safari in northern Kenya’s spectacular Karisia Hills from £3,830 per person, including return flight to Nairobi and all transfers. The safari is supported by riding camels and accompanied by Samburu guides.

Beach-and-bush safaris
An irresistible combination: a sojourn in Big Five country followed by a chance to relax beside the Indian Ocean. The Ultimate Travel Company has a 10-day holiday with four nights on safari at Little Governor’s Camp in the Maasai Mara and five nights on Zanzibar’s east coast, staying at the Baraza Resort and Spa, part of the Zanzibar Collection.  The cost is from £3,750 per person, including meals, game drives and transfers, return flight from London with Kenya Airways, bush flights and connections to Zanzibar.

Tailor-made
Travelling with a professional guide can make a world of difference to your holiday. The elite few at the top of their game can charge up to £1,000 per day, but it doesn’t have to cost you the earth. Abercrombie & Kent can arrange a tailor-made Kenyan safari with experienced bush-wise guides such as Andrew Francombe at Ol Malo and Joseph Chege at Amboseli.  Seven days in Kenya with A&K, including two nights at Ol Malo in Laikipia, two nights at Tortilis Camp in Amboseli and two nights in the Maasai Mara, costs from £4,365 per person, including economy return flight and transfers.

Alternatively, Africa Travel Company is offering three nights at Elsa’s Kopje in Meru National Park and four nights in the Maasai Mara at Cottars 1920 Safari Camp with the services of a professional guide throughout. The cost is from £6,095 per person based on travelling in June and includes BA flights from London, local flights to Meru and the Mara, all transfers and one night at the Palacina Hotel in Nairobi.

Africa safari holidays: first timers guide to Kenya and Tanzania

The Maasai Mara and the Serengeti make for the ultimate safari experience

Where to go

Kenya’s most popular safari destination is the Maasai Mara National Reserve.  This is where the BBC’s Big Cat Diary was filmed, and there is nowhere better for close encounters with lions, cheetahs and leopards.  Travel between July and October to see the wildebeest migration, the greatest wildlife show on earth.  Very different are the dry country parks of northern Kenya.  Samburu is renowned for elephants, Meru was the home of Elsa, the Born Free lioness, and Lake Nakuru National Park is a showcase for flamingos and rhinos.  Tsavo is so big it is split into two parks, Tsavo East and Tsavo West, and combines well with a trip to Kenya’s glorious Indian Ocean coast.  Also well worth considering are Laikipia, Amboseli and the Chyulu Hills.

Tanzania welcomes visitors with wonderful views of Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain (19,000ft).  Kilimanjaro airport or nearby Arusha town are the main departure points serving the northern safari circuit by road and air.  Allow a full day to explore Lake Manyara National Park and at least another for the Ngorongoro Crater before setting foot in the Serengeti.  This park is huge (think of an area the size of Wales), so you need to plan carefully if you want to see the migration (see below).  Afterwards, where better to relax than Zanzibar with its coral-sand beaches and barefoot beach lodges?

When to go

The most popular time is in the dry season from June to October.  But be aware that our midsummer is the African winter and you will need warm clothes for dawn game drives. April and May are best avoided: this is the climax of East Africa’s rainy season, when bush roads become impassable and camps close down.

To be sure of seeing the annual wildebeest migration, head for Kenya’s Maasai Mara reserve between July and October when the herds spend the dry season crossing and recrossing the Mara River in their search for fresh grazing.  As a spectacle it is matched only when upwards of a million wildebeest and 250,000 zebras gather on the rain-soaked plains of the southern Serengeti to give birth in February.

Health

For online advice, consult Fit For Travel (fitfortravel.nhs.uk) or NATHNAC (nathnac.org), which is used by GPs to assess health risks abroad. Make sure your immunisations are up to date, specifically for hepatitis A, typhoid, diphtheria and tetanus.  Malaria is widespread, so antimalarial tablets are essential, and immunisation against yellow fever is recommended. An insect repellent containing DEET will help keep mosquitoes at bay.  Drink only bottled water, which is available at all camps and lodges.

For peace of mind you may wish to consider signing up to membership of AMREF (amref.org), the flying-doctor service that provides evacuation in medical emergencies. A month’s subscription costs $16 (about £10) and is valid from the day you arrive in east Africa.

Visas

A single-entry tourist visa for Kenya costs around £30 . It is valid for three months from the day of entry and can be obtained when going through customs at Jomo Kenyatta airport in Nairobi.  A 90-day single-entry tourist visa for Tanzania costs £40 and can be obtained when going through customs at Kilimanjaro airport or Dar es Salaam.

Alternatively, you can use a visa agent.  Trailfinders’ Visa and Passport Service (0845 050 5905; visas.trailfinders.com) charges £65 for a Kenyan visa and the same for a Tanzanian one (£45 if you have booked your trip with them), and the process takes about five working days.

Money matters

American dollars are the universal currency wherever you go, although notes printed before 1996 are sometimes not accepted and $100 bills can be difficult to change; better to take plenty of small ones. Nowadays most camps and lodges accept credit cards such as Visa and Mastercard, but expect a surcharge of up to five per cent.

How to dress

Always put comfort and practicality ahead of style. Never wear white, and avoid bright colours.  Instead, be a chameleon and blend into the landscape with animal-friendly greens and khakis.  Never dress in camouflage clothing (associated with the military) or anything black or blue (both colours are known to attract tsetse flies).

Go for lightweight cottons, long trousers and shirts with long sleeves to protect against thorns and insect bites. Eschew fancy stetsons with faux leopard-skin hatbands in favour of a simple baseball cap that keeps the sun out of your eyes and does not blow away in a strong wind.

Wear sensible footwear with thorn-proof soles: desert boots, trainers or lightweight walking boots. Don’t forget your swimwear (many camps and lodges have pools). And remember, Africa can be cold. The Maasai Mara may be within 100 miles of the Equator but is more than 5,000ft above sea level. On dawn game drives you’ll be glad of a jacket and sweater, even gloves. Most camps and lodges have a shop where you can buy a cotton kikoi, an African sarong that can double as a scarf, sling or turban.

What else to pack
Binoculars are a must. So is a camera. I always take P20 last-all-day sun cream, sunglasses and a head torch. Use a soft bag and travel light. Local flights in light aircraft often have a 15kg weight limit. Most camps and lodges offer same-day laundry (although washing ladies’ underwear is taboo).

Flights

British Airways (0844 493 0787; britishairways.com) and Kenya Airways (0871 989 1198; kenya-airways.com) both fly non-stop from Heathrow to Nairobi in about eight hours. Flying overnight avoids the expense of a hotel stopover in Nairobi. Instead you transfer across town from Jomo Kenyatta International Airport to Wilson Airport for a short internal flight by light aircraft and are in camp by late morning. To reach Tanzania’s northern safari circuit involves an hour’s onward flight from Nairobi to Kilimanjaro with Kenya Airways or Precision Air (0844 482 2313; precisionair.co.uk) to link up with light-aircraft flights into the game parks.

Safety in the bush

Follow these 10 rules and you’ll be safer in the bush than in any major city.

1.         Always listen to your guide.
2.         Zip up your tent and never take food into it.
3.         When out on a game drive remember that animals are used to vehicles; but don’t be      noisy or make sudden movements.
4.         Stay inside the vehicle (ask your driver or guide if you need to make a “bush stop”).
5.         Don’t sit on the roof. It’s not cool – it’s stupid.
6.         Watch out for thorns and overhanging branches when driving.
7.         If you’re on foot, don’t run. Only prey animals run!
8.         Don’t mess with baboons.
9.         Obey the safety rules in your camp or lodge.
10.       Don’t walk around at night and make sure you are escorted back to your tent or   room after dinner.

Creepy-crawlies

East Africa has lots of scorpions and snakes, including puff adders, cobras and mambas. Fortunately they are so keen to avoid you that you seldom see them. Just be aware and take simple precautions such as not walking at night without a torch. Mosquito nets are provided when needed, and you should find a spray can in your tent for zapping bugs.

A room with a view

The camps and lodges where you stay are set in the heart of the action, and all have been chosen for their idyllic locations. If you are new to Africa, you may feel happier staying in a lodge, although you’ll be every bit as safe zipped up in a tent. Lodges are permanent structures, bush hotels if you like, complete with swimming pools and ingeniously fashioned out of local stone and timber under a thatched roof.

But sleeping under canvas is the way to go if you want to enjoy the full-on safari experience. When it comes to tented camps, size matters. Large tented camps are more like canvas lodges. The smaller and more intimate the camp, the better the experience – and the more expensive it is likely to be. Your canvas room with a view could cost more than a suite in a five-star hotel.

Not that you’ll be exactly roughing it. Everything is provided, from en suite bathrooms to Persian rugs, even hot-water bottles for chilly nights. But the ultimate luxury comes from living closer to nature without compromising your safety.

Reading
Get in the mood with Karen Blixen’s classic Out of Africa, and I Dreamed of Africa by Kuki Gallmann. Other East African true‑life epics include My Pride and Joy by George Adamson, the Born Free lion man of Kenya, and Among the Elephants by Iain and Oria Douglas-Hamilton.

Guidebooks
The Safari Companion by Richard D Estes (Chelsea Green Publishing, $30/£18) is an invaluable guide to watching African mammals. If you are short of space, take the beautifully illustrated Kingdon Pocket Guide to African Mammals by Jonathan Kingdon (Christopher Helm, £16.99). For general guides, choose Bradt Travel’s Kenya and the companion volume on Northern Tanzania, both written by Philip Bragg.

Websites
The most comprehensive online resource available is Safaribookings.co.uk/experts. To find out about wildlife conservation go to tusk.org, the website of the Tusk Trust. Living with Lions (lionconservation.org) will update you on attempts to protect Kenya’s top cats, and Save the Elephants (savetheelephants.org) is for everyone who wants to put an end to ivory poaching.

The Big Five and other animals

It was the old-time trophy hunters who called Africa’s most dangerous game the Big Five: elephant, Cape buffalo, rhino, lion and leopard. Today, with other charismatic species such as cheetah and the endangered wild dog, they sit at the top of most must-see lists. The big cats can be elusive and half the fun is searching for them. Antelopes, zebras and giraffes are more abundant and just as beautiful. Don’t forget the birds, at least 1,000 species, or the “Small Five” (buffalo weaver, elephant shrew, ant lion, rhino beetle and leopard tortoise).

A typical day on safari

“Knock-knock,” says the man outside your tent with a tea tray in his hands. What kind of holiday is this, you might ask, being woken at 6am? But sunrise in Africa is not to be missed. Where else can you sit in bed and hear lions roar at the dawn?

In Africa, the first and last hours of the day are the best, and the early start is so you can be out in the bush while the big cats are still active. Later, when the day warms up, they will go flat in the shade, and so can you on returning to camp for brunch after your first game drive of the day.

There’ll be plenty of time for a swim or siesta before afternoon tea and cakes (no one goes hungry on safari), after which you drive out again, camera at the ready, in search of the Big Five. In the national parks you’ll be home by sunset, but on private reserves you can stay out for sundowners and drive home in the dark with a spotlight looking for nocturnal animals. Finally, to round off the day, a hot shower, drinks by the campfire and dinner under the stars. By 10pm you’ll be ready for bed – and a good night’s sleep before your next dawn wake-up call.

Article by Brian Jackman, published in Telegraph Travel on 21 March 2014

Mdonya Old River Camp – February 2014 Newsletter

Environment

February saw the continuance of the rains unabated with the even additional hailstorm – mid afternoon with hailstones the size of small marbles!

The foliage within the camp is now interspersed with a variety of colours provided by the small but vibrantly red witchweed (Striga asiatica) contrasted by more purple colour of the centemopsis family.

Mdonya Old River Camp   February 2014 NewsletterIn the areas of the camp where the ground is prone to dampness, you see will see Round white sedge (Kyllinga alba) in large clumps. The different varieties of Centmopsis clash with the bright pinks of the Pink Ink Flower (Cycnium cameronianum).

One can almost hear the grass growing on a daily basis within the camp perimeter as the Masai struggle to keep up with maintaining the grass cutting.

Sightings

Mdonya Old River Camp   February 2014 Newsletter

The biggest excitement for us this month was to learn that the injured female cheetah who had been in close vicinity to the camp, had been seen at Mwagusi and she had 3 young cubs with her – mother and cubs looking fit and healthy so she is obviously able to hunt quite happily and her wound is slowly getting smaller. A beautiful and elusive serval was sighted this month too!

We are no longer able to use some of our river crossings as the water has become just too deep and the flow too strong. We continue to hear the thundering of Mdonya Falls after a particularly heavy rainfall. On one recent expedition with staff members we had to approach the Falls by walking upstream against a very strong current. When we arrived there, the force of the water over the large rocks made it impossible to actually get to the base of the Falls but just a week later, it was a much easier approach and rewarded by a quick swim in the Falls. Check on Facebook for this adventure’s pictures.

Leopards

The month of February brought with it an increase of the smaller creatures e.g. mongoose, genet and even a wild cat.

This month we have had very few of our regular pachyderm visitors – there is too much good food further afield for them at the moment but we expect they will return at the start of the next Season. Slowly at first but then, as the grass becomes drier and drier, their numbers will increase again.

Fundi took up residence in a tree close to the staff quarters with the remains of an impala and very obligingly climbed up and down the tree for our guests to photograph him. We suspect it was also Fundi who successfully hunted another Impala between tents 3 & 4 but once again the hyenas moved in so we were not sure who eventually had the spoils.

mdonya news 3

 

Kwando sightings report March 2014

Kwara

A very busy month, and the long grass that is typical of February is not halting the sightings, though we may have to peer a little further through the green.

The pack of 18 wild dogs were seen several times, and we were lucky enough to witness them hunt an impala, from the beginning of the hunt to the very quick end.  Another day, we saw them catch a baby kudu, and two days later they were hunting impala again, this time, unsuccessfully.

Kwando sightings report March 2014

Witnessing great animal sightings sometimes combines knowledge and skill from the guide and tracking team, with a little bit of luck. Sundowners are a traditional time for taking a break from the safari, stretching your legs, and enjoying the wonderful scenery and sunset. Other than some general game or a few hippos lounging in a nearby pool, they are not normally intended to include great game viewing. However, sometimes, knowledge of animal movement patterns, and a lot of help from Lady Luck, and a sundowner becomes a game-stopper. Knowing wild dogs had been sighted in an area not too far away, the guide suggested they stop for a sundowner, in a picturesque open area, hoping that they would pass by.  As everything was set up, guests enjoying their snacks and drinks as the sun dipped in the sky, the dogs arrived, playing with each other sometimes only 10m from the onlookers, and then drinking at the pan. As is normally the case with wild dogs, they were completely unconcerned by the humans, and continued enjoying what they were doing, whilst several people stood, drinks in hand, looking on with mouths hanging open. Wild dogs seem to be the only animal that consider standing humans to be just part  of the background. Why this is, no one is quite sure, but on the rare occasions that they do happen upon us, it is a magical experience.

Lions were seen almost every day. We had great sightings, including the Shindi females with the two young cubs, aged about 3 months old, and providing great photo opportunities by playing with each other on a fallen log. We also had a lovely sighting of the four Marsh boys, who we watched for an hour or so, before they moved off into the shade of a nearby tree. Two young males spent one morning watching a group of zebra and wildebeest close to Wild Dog pan, in the hope that an individual made a bad move. Eventually, a female wildebeest panicked, and broke away from the herd – one male lion went after the female, whilst the second lion attacked a calf left behind.

It was interesting times on the 18th of February, when two lionesses and two sub-adult males were located between Little Kwara staff quarters and Kwara, feeding on a young male kudu. On that same evening, the lionesses, young males and two little cubs wanted to cross the channel to the marsh. Three crocodiles were waiting at the edge of the water, and this was sufficient to put the lions off the crossing, and they spent the night relaxing on Kwara island.

One morning, mid month, we came upon a cheetah who was contact calling to either a mate, or the brother that he is normally seen with. There was lots of general game in the area that we found the cheetah, but he did not attempt to hunt.

Plenty of kills amongst the smaller cats too, with an african wildcat being seen with a small rodent in it’s mouth, and on the same drive, a serval stalking frogs around one of the water holes.

Although it’s not so common to see buffalo at this time of the year, a solitary male buffalo was found in the Splash area. Another bit of fauna not so common to a wet area are ostriches. However, a male and a female ostrich pair have decided to bring up their rather extensive family in the Kwara concession. With a total of 15 youngsters, they make it somewhat easy to spot. Now several months old, they are about half the height of their parents, and seeing them move through the open areas is reminiscent of tour leaders guiding a bunch of gawky school kids on a days outing. 15 is an exceptionally large number of offspring to make it to this age, so full credit goes to the parenting – and defensive skills – of the adults.

With the long grass around, and plenty of water to go with it, it’s sometimes hard to find a nice comfy and dry place to rest up for the night. If you have a nice camp, where the grass tends to be shorter, or a deck to sit under, this is a much better option. And so, during most  nights, the herds of impala are setting up shop in the safety of the camps. Occasionally, their comfort and sleep (and that of the people that happen to be in the camp) is disturbed by the wanderings of the lions, who also prefer to stay dry and not have to walk through such long grass. Usually, there is enough time for everyone to move out of the way, as the lions use the still of the night to roar and claim their territory, but occasionally an unannounced ‘walk through’ causes mayhem as impalas scatter between rooms to get out of the way.

Lagoon

Early Feb and the lion cubs are about 5 or 6 weeks old. They still only go about a metre or so from their hiding place, as their legs are still wobbly and they spend a lot of time falling over each other, or just falling over their large milk-filled stomachs which do appear to get in the way a lot! A conveniently placed tree provides a good place to exercise their front legs, and they try to put their claws in the trunk and pull themselves off. They show signs of perhaps growing up vegetarian, by trying to chew on the trunk as well, as their teeth grow. They don’t really have the curiousness as yet that will soon be upon them, content with their own small play area. Another couple of weeks, and curiousity will kick in, making life for mother lion a little more tiring as everything becomes a plaything.

In mid Feb, the lioness moved the den, in order to safeguard her offspring from intruder males. She was located about 2km away from her original den, and was seen hunting zebra. By now, we were also able to make a clearer identification on the sexes of the cubs – one female and two males.

Leopards are normally hard to come by in the green season, with longer grass, it’s tricky to see them unless they are in a tree, or on the road. So it was a great afternoon drive when not one but two leopards were found in close proximity to each other. As luck would have it, each time a leopard has been found recently, some of the guests were out on the boat. The guides with the leopards always radio to see if the boating guests would like to return to see it, but the boat itself is such a wonderful activity, that the two times this occurred, the guests opted to stay and miss the sighting. However, returning to the camp, the boating guests managed to spot a third leopard of the evening, resting in a tree not far from room number 9! This was actually done due to a little bit of magic that one guest had brought with him: a thermal imaging camera. From 500m out, in the night, a large colourful blob could be seen on the camera screen, the guide quickly identified that this was in a tree, and by the size, would have to be a leopard. So the boat was full steam ahead, until the spotlight could pick up the leopard so that it could be seen by all! As the guest said, he doubts this is the way forward with safaris, as his equipment is highly specialised, and that the guides seem to know where everything is anyway! Still, I suspect we might be seeing some interesting entries this year in our Photo Competition – there are not many cameras that are able to photograph the chicks inside a weavers nest without getting anywhere near it!

Later in the month, leopards were still around, and we managed to see seven individuals in one week. This included two sub adults feeding on an impala carcass, and a shy adult male feeding on a zebra foal.

Storm clouds had been building up day after day, but it had been rain free for some time. Other camps were getting heavy falls, but Lagoon had received nothing other than a light shower. Then, one late afternoon, about 6pm, the rain started, and began to blow sideways… As the camp tried its best to batten down the hatches, (most camps are designed for vertical rain, and architects rarely consider horizontal rain for some reason), several thoughts were spared for the three vehicles that were out on game drive in the middle of this. They were surprisingly silent… no calls advising that they were three minutes out, and heading back to camp. An hour later, as night fell with a thump and the rain continued to pour down, three vehicles came streaming into the camp, with lots of hysterical laughter from all on board. It’s rare to see such happy and excited guests that are 100% soaked through, but they’d witnessed some great game with wild dogs hunting and killing an impala, and then a speed chase home as the rain came pelting down. A few warming sherries and hot showers, and dinner was a slightly drier affair.

Later in the month the pack of 20 dogs from the north of the concession came upon the Lagoon pack of 8 dogs, and suddenly there was a fight. In the process, all dogs scattered, and although the pack of 20 was not seen again, the Lagoon pack of 8 and the five dogs from the West were seen again several times.

The overcast conditions seemed to encourage the rarer antelope to get out and about, as game drives were regularly seeing sable, roan and eland, singly, and in small herds. Leopards also took advantage of the shady times, and some good tracking provided good sightings.

The three cheetah brothers made an appearance this month on the 13th Feb, along old Lebala Road. They were marking their territory and attempting to hunt – sadly not successfully. They remained in the area for the following week – good to see them after such a long absence.

Kwando sightings report March 2014Other interesting sightings this month included regular sightings of bat eared foxes (mostly of two families – one of four and one of three), hyenas finishing off a kudu carcass that lions had abandoned the day prior, and a porcupine wandering through the camp.

Lebala

A wildebeest carcass was discovered, still intact, near Normans Pan. The only predator at the sight was a single hyena, who was acting restlessly. It was assumed the predator that killed the wildebeest was pushed off the carcass by this big female, but no evidence was found relating to the hunter.

Yet another hyena proved that they are able to hunt for themselves, and with great success. She determinedly pushed the limits of a mother elephant until she was able to separate the baby elephant (aged about 3-4 weeks)  from the mother, and managed to kill it. The strength, and courage of the hyena to take on such an animal on its own, is mind-boggling.

Although the grass is twice as high as the magnificent wild dogs, sightings remained frequent. We did not see so many kills, but the interaction of the dogs was wonderful to witness. Both the pack of 8 (5 adult females and 3 adult males) and the pack of 5 (four males, one female) were seen with individuals mating – the promise of new life in a few months time. Last year, with the large Lagoon pack splitting, and the Southern pack losing it’s Alpha male and female, none of the packs had any offspring. This should be an interesting year for the new combination of dogs!

A relaxed female leopard was seen several times this month, once resting on a dead tree after we stopped for sundowners. She then began to hunt for prey along the marshes. Later in the month, leopards were making regular sightings, and one male was found feeding on an ostrich. One can only imagine the hunt and chase that must have occurred to bring down this unwieldy bird!

Huge numbers of elephants are now in the area – some herds which combine to form larger groupings are in their hundreds, moving through with their young, feasting on the wide variety of vegetation and plentiful water. The numbers will only increase as we move towards the drier winter section.

Lebala_160952

Speaking of water, at this stage, the plentiful rain fall has created pans and channels where none existed before. Going out on game drive one morning, the road passed a small pan which holds a variety of small wildlife such a frogs and water birds. The next day, heading along the same road, the pan had eased over the road itself, and the pan had enlarged so much, that the game drive vehicle had to drive along the road through nearly a metre of water, with 7 disgruntled hippos and a crocodile floating alongside!  Some of the water is collecting in areas our most experienced trackers and guides who have been in the area for over a decade, have never seen. Other areas remain obstinately dry, so there is always a good variety of routes to choose from.

Nxai Pan

We drove off from the camp to see what the day would bring – hoping to see a predator somewhere amongst the large number of preys species that are in the area at the moment. As we were driving on the western edge of the pan, we saw one cheetah that was hunting. We drove closer to see what it was stalking. The cheetah trotted slowly towards a group of three impalas when  something spooked the antelope and they bolted away, raising clouds of dust.  When the dust settled, we saw that there were now two cats in front of impala. The cheetahs wheeled around, running into the path of the impala. One of the cheetah picked his target and at full speed launched himself at the running animal, and with his right claws hooked into the shoulder. He struck its rump whit his other paw to try to bring it down, but the impala was not about to give up. The other cheetah now attacked it from behind, using both front paws on the impala’s rump in an effort to overpower it’s prey. Wrested to the ground, the finally managed to kill the impala by throttling it for about ten to fifteen minutes.

Tails, however, were literally turned on another morning drive, when we came upon a chase happening across the Middle Road Loop – a large male lion was chasing a cheetah!  With little hope of actually catching the cheetah, the lion was probably just hoping to chase him out of the immediate area, as he is viewed as a competitor for the same prey species.

The peak of the zebra migration in February, and they are surely exceeding the 10,000 mark. Far outnumbering the usually more prolific springbok, the zebras are at almost every corner you turn, moving too and fro from the open plains to the shelter of the trees, and the many watering holes that are collecting the rain water.  Soon, it will be time for them to move on, with still several hundred choosing to ‘winter-over’ in Nxai Pan, the vast majority moving closer to the Delta, or down into the Makgadigadi region.

NxaiPan_161030

If you have ever felt the need to get near enough to a some raptors to tell the difference between a Steppe buzzard and a yellow billed kite, this is the time of year! The yellow-billed kites, in their hundreds, far out number the buzzards, and both species are sharing the feast of insects and frogs with the Abdims storks. The kites again and again swoop close to the termite mounds to snatch a meal on the wing as the termites fly out of their homes on a once a year flight to try and find mates. The kites target a termite, make a few quick adjustments of ‘flaps and rudders’, seize the prey in its talons and the passes it to its beak. At these times, you hear only the occasional chirp of a cicada, and the constant swishing of wing beats through the air. Now and then there is a louder swish as two kites go for the same termite and their wings touch – but never a collision.

We also had a surprise visit at the end of the month, with three wild dogs being seen along Middle Road, chasing springbok. We were able to watch them for some time, but they did not make a kill, and eventually moved away.

Tau Pan

After the odd beginning to January of several days of rain, the rain in the Kalahari has returned to its more normal behaviour of large thunderclouds building up in the afternoon, and the hint of rain falling somewhere. The cloudbursts are extremely localised, so its very hit and miss as to whether any falls nearby, but they make for spectacular visual effects.

The odd rainfall continues to keep some of the pans with enough water to sustain animals in a variety of the areas, without them needing to come to the camp waterhole to drink. This has not cut down on the predator sightings, however, and our regular lion sightings still abound – with the Tau Pan pride members forming the core of the viewing. The pride ‘youngsters’ – the equivalent of rowdy teenagers – have been witnessed on attempted hunts several times, but have still not developed all the skill and strategy that comes with age. They are having some successes – they always look well-fed and healthy after all! – and were found one morning in early Feb feeding on an oryx.

Several leopard sightings were recorded this month, with a relaxed male that is known to frequent the area being found close to Tau Pan drinking water, and then resting on the road, providing excellent viewing to all in the car. A couple of days later the same leopard was found resting under a bush. Two Kori bustards were walking towards the leopard, and as he went to attack them, they took off as fast as they could, battling against their weight. The heaviest flying bird in Africa, they did well to escape the agile leopard!

With the lions around Tau Pan, the cheetahs that frequent the area have to keep a watchful eye out for them, to ensure that they keep a safe distance. One cheetah cub had to learn fast that its not just lions that he needs to look out for, when he and his mother were walking from the Pan through to the woodlands. The cub began chasing oryx that were standing watching them, perhaps for a bit of practice, probably for a bit of fun. The tables were quickly turned, when the oryx decided they had had enough of this cheeky upstart, and began chasing the cub. The cub was forced up a tree for safety, whilst the mother looked on!

Tau_161101Even with the rain fall, and the additional pans with water, Tau Pan water hole itself appears to be a popular choice for drinking, with one morning a lion, a cheetah and a leopard being seen in its close vicinity – naturally, not all a the same time!

 

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