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Botswana Safari, Okavango Delta Posts

Nxai Pan June 2013

A leopard arrived at the camp waterhole, looking for a drink of water, and found a group of unhappy elephants not keen to let him do so. Luckily for us, he stayed around long enough for everyone to get good photos of him, before he moved off into the bush to the south of the camp.

Lions were seen two days in a row, approaching the main water hole with more interest in the animals around the area than the water it self. With such little shade available, its hard to hide, and they were easily seen by the zebras and antelope, so did not have a chance to catch anything on these times. They must have got lucky somewhere, as the next day a lioness was seen approaching the waterhole with blood on her fur, so they were presumably feeding on a kill in a more secluded area.

Although the weather in June is turning cold, the days are still warm (mid to high 20s) and in the open area around the Main waterhole, there is not a lot of shade. What better then, than after a nice cooling drink of water, to rest up a little in the shade cast by the game drive vehicle? This was the decision reached by three lionesses, who provided a great photo opportunity for the guests on board the car – as long as they had a camera that didn’t have a zoom lens on it…

Two honey badgers were seen digging in the hard ground, obviously intent on getting something out of the ground. Apparently successful, one picked something up in its mouth, and then trotted down the track towards the car. It was carrying a perfectly rolled dung ball, made by a dung beetle. This is probably the honey badger equivalent of a Kinder egg, as when he breaks open the ball of hardened dung, in the center he will find the larvae of the dung beetle, growing fat and supposedly safe, in its protective food casing.

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Lebala June 2013

Kretterath.cat7leopard1 - LEBALA

 

Most of our camps have outdoor showers, so that guests can experience showering under the sky, and if lucky, perhaps enjoy an animal sighting at the same time. At Lebala, one couple got a little more viewing, and a lot less shower than anyone had anticipated… Early evening in the mid June, attempting to shower before dinner, the guests noticed an elephant near the back of their room. For some reason, the elephant got a little “tangled up” in the solar panel and geyser, and totally dismantled it. I mean, completely: geyser, timber frame, solar panel and all the fittings. This was not because the elephant wanted water to drink – the Lebala rooms are located on an island with permanent water surrounding – but simply because he was a little clumsy, or curious. So, the guests got a great view of elephant activity up close and personal, but didn’t get a full length shower. And the insurance assessors received an interesting claim….

A leopard and her sub adult daughter were seen every day from the 27th – 30th June, not far from camp. The mother had killed a reedbuck, and she and her daughter stuck close to the kill until it was completely finished.

At the end of May both the Southern pack and the Northern (aka Lagoon) Pack of wild dogs were seen in Lebala area. The southern pack currently comprises of six adults and three yearlings. They were seen on several days, and hunted successfully, but have had to fend off both hyenas and lions at their kill – successful when it came to the hyenas, but not so lucky when the lion arrived and claimed the young kudu they had killed. In early June, they spent a couple of days close to – or in – the camp and scuffled with the hyenas there as well.

There is another pack of five dogs, that have also been seen several times in this area – possibly a splinter group of the Lagoon pack. Interestingly, a male and a female were seen mating in mid June, so if the female becomes pregnant, there could be another denning season in September/October!

Lovely sighting of a herd of elephants crossing the marsh in front of camp, with lots of baby elephants. The babies were too short to cross without the help of the adults, who kept them supported with their heads and trunk above the water. It was a nicer scene than early on in the month where five hyenas had been found to have attacked a baby elephant and killed it. The hyenas were soon thrown off by a lion, who managed to secure the kill for himself. Not to be outdone, the hyenas moved off and then scuffled with a pack of wild dogs, and successfully forced the dogs off their kill and ate everything.

An interesting late afternoon in camp as the staff noticed a male lion resting up in the open area next to the camp. Soon, the pack of five wild dogs arrived in the same place, looking pretty shocked to see a large cat lying around. The gave a sharp alarm bark, and kept a safe distance, whilst the lion ignored them completely.

The next day, both the lion and the pack of dogs were still in close proximity to the camp: the lion probably having picked up the scent of a few individual buffalo. A male lion was also found feeding on a dead elephant close to Steve’s Pan.

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Lagoon June 2013

davidlloyd-cat1-elephants1 LAGOON

 

June started off to a nice beginning for the pride of six lions, who managed to kill a buffalo. However, in an unusual twist, the hyenas rose dramatically in number to around 30 individuals and converged on the spot, daringly stealing the kill from the lions. A day or so later, the lions had more success with a tsessebe, which they killed and managed to keep this time around.

In the middle of the month, it was lions all around, with two males feeding on a buffalo carcass in the mopane area. Further off, a male and female lion were found on an elephant carcass, and the pride of six was also seen attempting to hunt on several occasions.

Excellent sightings of the male and female leopard cubs that have been seen over the last few months – they are continuing to grow well, and were regularly seen both on their own, and playing with their mother. Another male leopard took on a thorny prey, but successfully managed to kill a porcupine, without getting too many of the quills impaled in his skin. Overall, leopard sightings in Lagoon in June were numerous, with them being sighted on 21 different days.

With both lions and leopards making their presence felt, little has been seen of cheetahs in June other than tracks.

The Lagoon pack of wild dogs in now presided over by the new alpha male – one of the four intruders that fought with the pack in the preceding months. The timing of this takeover, has upset the whole denning season… The Alpha female was obviously not pregnant from the original Alpha male and if she only mates with the new male now, she will only begin denning in two months or so. It has been known for dogs to have dens much later than the normal June breeding season, but all depends now on when or if, the new Alpha male mates with the female.

The Lagoon pack size is now 14 in total, 12 adults (including four of the new males) and 2 yearlings. The other individuals have either dispersed (something that commonly happens, to prevent a pack size from becoming to big, and to ensure that the gene pool is diversified), or died.

Lots of breeding herds of elephants are moving in and around the concession – feeding, mud bathing, and coming down to the river to drink. Two bull elephants have pretty much set up home in the camp, sleeping behind the bathrooms located just off the main area.

The buffalo breeding herds are also increasing in number and size. Unusually, there have been several male buffalos seen around the staff village area – they normally avoid human presence – so everyone is keeping a watchful eye when moving to and fro. The breeding herds out in the open areas now have quite a number of new-born calves as well.

General game has also been great, with good viewings of sable, roan and eland herds.

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Kwara June 2013

CSelchau.7newlife.huntingdogpups - KWARA

 

Luckily, after last month’s incident of a lion eating an aardvark, the aardvark numbers still seem to be survivable, as there was another sighting this month, this time of two together!

The end of May saw three male lions close to our boundary with Shindi, feeding on a hippo. A large kill (unclear whether the lions killed it, or it died of other natural causes), this provided good sightings of lions feeding into early June. A fourth male also joined them after a day.

On the first of June, three cheetah cubs were found near Bat Eared Fox Den, hunkered down under a small bush. The mother could not be seen anywhere, but she had probably gone hunting and left her cubs, instinctively knowing they must not move around, and to hide at any sign of danger. Later the same day, and the next, the three adult cheetah were found in the Tsum Tsum area, hunting – unsuccessfully as far as we could see. In fact, cheetahs were seen almost every day from the middle of the month.

The wild dogs decided to den in roughly the same area as last year, and in the last few days of June, we were able to count a total of 11 puppies. The puppies are only coming out briefly from the den when the alpha female calls them to suckle, but they will become more and more adventurous as time progresses and they learn about their environment. The adult dogs decided to use their environment and ease with humans to their advantage one day, and continued a hunt right through the Kwara camps!

Viewing from the boat was excellent this month, with one boat trip having sightings of sitatunga and two otters – both rare events!

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Tau Pan May 2013

 

Towards the end of April, the two intruder male lions successfully caught and killed a young adult male giraffe – an exceptionally risky but very profitable catch. This provided food for the two male lions for the next ten days – and guaranteed entertaining sightings of not just lions, but all the associated scavengers that came in to try and get a piece of the action, including the jackals and vultures. You can imagine, even by day number 3… – the smell was not that attractive, but with plenty of meat still to get through, the lions persevered. By day 10, it was very tough biltong… At the end of May, the same male lions spent several days – and nights- patrolling the area around Tau Pan, roaring, with the sound reverberating through the air.

Another lion group – three lionesses – also had good hunting luck when they caught a blue wildebeest at the junction of San Pan and Phukwe Pan road. They were found feeding on the carcass, which they appear to have killed the previous night.

One thing that is quite commonly seen in the open area around Tau Pan are giraffe. In particular this month, a lovely grouping of 19 adults and 4 young were seen often. This month, the males were continually checking on the sexual status of the females, so it appears that at least one of the females will be coming in to heat soon.

Late May we had a lovely early morning encounter with a male cheetah, close to Tau Pan airstrip. He was squatting down, scanning the surroundings, and saw a big herd of springboks and kudu in the distance, with their calves. He burst out at lightening speed, and gave the kudus chase. From the onset, the cat had miscalculated the distance between him and his prey, and they managed to escape.

A family of bat eared foxes – two adults and four young- were finding the weather a little cool one morning when they were found at Tau Pan. They were all lying down with their bushy tails curled tightly around their heads, cuddling up against the chill.

A pale chanting goshawk was observed flying very low in and around some bushes. When we approached, we saw that the goshawk was chasing a guinea fowl chick, which he eventually succeeded in catching.

And what is it with May and aardvarks??? Another camp, another aardvark sighting: bizarrely, seen in the late afternoon, around 5pm, this aardvark had not read the book on “nocturnal and extremely shy aardvarks” and happily stood about 15 meters from the vehicle, digging away for termites and ants.

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Nxai Pan May 2013

 

In the beginning of May, it’s hard to get out of bed. It’s the beginning of the change in weather, as the temperature at night begins to drop, and the idea of getting up at 5.30 a.m. means getting out of the snug warm duvet in the darkness, getting dressed quickly, and moving as fast as possible to the fireplace, for a welcome cup of coffee. For those that were a little slow to get started one morning, it meant an enforced delay in getting their cup of coffee…. For those first around the camp fire, most were staring into the warming flames, though one of the eagle-eyed guides was looking out towards the waterhole, still barely visible at such distance in only half-light. A moving shape alerted his interest, with his initial reaction being that it was a brown hyena (rumours of a company-wide scheme of rapid promotion for the first person to show a brown hyena to the writer of this report may have had something to do with it). A little closer look, and the brown hyena turned out to be a lioness, with another lioness following close behind. As they moved away from the water hole, towards the camp, a quick count of guests at the fire place (now much more awake) and the realization that two guests were taking a few extra minutes getting out from under the duvet. To complicate matters, the lionesses were now making a bee-line for the gap between rooms 5 & 6. Very quickly, the sleepy guests had a vehicle not far from their bedroom with the guide telling them not to go outside till the cats had moved off. Luckily, the vegetation between the rooms is not very lion friendly. The lions soon moved back out into the open to warm up in the sun, enabling the guests to finally secure a good cup of coffee! Later in the morning, the lionesses moved off to the east of the camp, to lie up under the scrubby acacias, in the hope of catching something a little later.

Although the nights are cooler, the days are still warm, and wildebeest, oryx and other general game are seen resting in the shade of the small trees that dot the edge of the pan, and the tracks to Baines Baobabs. Moving to the main waterhole to drink, there is relief there for the thirsty animals, but right of way still belongs to the elephants, who shove the wildebeest away from the waters edge. Ostriches also move in to drink from time to time, and a pair were seen with a flotilla of knee-height chicks following along the way.

The 9th of May was a lucky day for two kudus who almost fell upon two lionesses as they approached the waterhole. The lionesses ignored them, focusing more intently on the other game that was drinking at the water hole. Perhaps they were just whiling the day away, as the lionesses didn’t make a move on any individual. The next day wasn’t such a lucky one for a zebra, as a herd of zebras was seen fleeing from Baobab Loop, and we made the discovery of one lioness having just caught one.

Lions were seen several days in a row in mid-May, with the Main Waterhole being the key area. Of a group of six lions, one male and female were mating for several days, ignoring the presence of the others, and pretty much any other animal nearby.

Cheetahs were seen several times as well this month, and we were able to follow them for two days in a row whilst they desperately searched for something to hunt. They travelled a distance of roughly ten kilometers over the two days, without seeming to have any success.

It’s not just the big predators that get to make the kills out here – raptors often take one of the many thousands of guinea fowl that roam around the ground. One raptor, a martial eagle (the biggest raptor we have) did well to catch his meal of a guinea fowl, but then lost it immediately to a brave black backed jackal!

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Lebala May 2013

 

 

In early May, the Lagoon pack of wild dogs paid a visit to Lebala, hunting impala in the area around Water Cut. They weren’t successful when we saw them, and they then sat down to relax.

The 10th of May was a great day for predator sightings, with a pack of six dogs chasing and managing to kill an impala. Unfortunately, they weren’t to have their kill for long, as a male lion soon approached and took it from them! Although they outnumbered him vastly, with his huge size and power, it is too big a risk for the dogs to try and face him down. They left quickly. Later that day, the southern pack of 11 dogs were seen in the area where the six had been seen that morning! The lion was seen again the next day – full bellied, and fast asleep in the middle of the road.

Following wild dogs (a rare sighting in many parts of Africa, but thankfully not in the Kwando concession) led to another exceptionally rare sighting: pangolin! All thoughts of following the dogs were temporarily suspended, as this very weird creature was observed. Normally nocturnal and very shy, these scaly anteaters often disappear down their burrows before being seen.

The lack of rain this year (we have not had any rain since February, though often the rainy season pushes through April) has meant that animals are congregating along the floodplains, to drink and in the hope of getting fresher vegetation.

Leopards were the order of the day on the 15th May, with three different individuals being sighted in the one morning – one male, and two females. Later that night, a smaller cat – the caracal – was also seen.

Any animal passing away is a ‘free lunch’ for predators and scavengers, but an elephant provides a meal for many. With so many elephants moving into the area, the odd one will succumb to old age or illness. One such elephant carcass was found to be providing a very large banquet for twenty or thirty hyenas – if you have ever seen this many hyenas feeding at once, you will understand why the number is uncertain. They have a tendency to ‘grab and run’ and scuffle with one another for the choicest cut. Although they are excellent hunters in their own right, an elephant would be too big a size for even a big clan to bring down, so that night the hyenas were simply being opportunists.

The other big opportunist – and great scavenger in their very own right, contrary to whatever Disney says – is the lion. Sure enough, a male lion was also seen next to carcass, probably having consumed his fill. The pride of six were also in the area – much easier to have a ready-made meal than to have to do all the hard work yourself…

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Lagoon May 2013

 

The end of last month saw the return of three cheetahs – but not the brothers that we used to see, instead it is a mother with two sub-adult cubs. They were seen several times at the end of April, and in May….

A pride of six lions – two lionesses, three sub-adult males and one sub-adult female were also seen during the month of May. On one occasion they spent some time following one of the buffalo herds that are in the area, but they did not attempt to hunt whilst we were watching. Later in the month, a solitary sub-adult male (possibly a member of the above pride) was seen in the area several times. Young males do have to leave their natal group, and find their own territory, but it is a harrowing business for them, as they have to hunt on their own, and are always at threat of bumping into a larger male, and having to fight or flee.

Being solitary by nature, leopards are not often seen together, but a male and a female were seen this month on an impala kill. Although the female was very relaxed, the male was very nervous. It is likely that they are mating, as leopards will not normally share kills, or each others company. A different female was also seen early on in the month, and it was noted that she was lactating. We were lucky enough to see two leopard cubs as well, sunbathing and waiting for mum to return with some food. Overall, leopards were seen on a number of days and were often very relaxed.

The elephant bulls are hanging around the camp, hovering up fruits from the marulas. The females are not as confident in areas of human habitation, and hang around the periphery, only venturing through on rare occasions.

The buffalo herds are also beginning to move in, with seven different breeding herds being seen in the area. These herd sizes will increase over the next few months, with smaller groupings joining the large herds, and moving together between the best areas for grazing and then trekking to the water.

A tough time for the wild dogs – so used to being in charge in the area, the pack was caught by surprise by four intruder dogs, who obviously felt they had no alternative but to stand and fight. Although the four dogs left, it was not before one of the yearlings from the Lagoon pack badly injured his leg, breaking it – possibly in two places. As sad as it is, as this is a natural event, we and the Wildlife Department are not permitted to intervene and assist the dog. It is not actually a death knell for a wild dog, as it might be for some other predator: the wild dog social structure is so strong, that the pack will look after weak or injured individuals. One of the members of a pack in the southern part of the Okavango Delta had an individual with a broken leg who continued to travel with the pack for more than two years.

A few days after this incident, the pack of four dogs were back, and successfully chased off the alpha male of the pack – he’s been the alpha for several years now and is obviously past his prime, unable to chase off the intruders. Now, it’s a race to the finish line, as the intruders court the alpha female – all with a hope of becoming the next alpha male, and fathering a litter of puppies… Although nothing has been seen of the former alpha male since, the four intruders are settling in to pack life. It is possible that the alpha male will be accepted back in to the pack at a later stage, but as a subordinate.

A relaxing sundowner by a waterhole was interrupted to a small extent when the wild dogs ran past the people. African wild dogs have never been known to attack people in the wild – their reaction to us is very much a slight curiosity.

Some foam nest frogs decided to rest up on the Lagoon boat, (it certainly saves having to jump or swim if you want to move along the channel …) but met an unhappy end when a very pretty spotted bush snake (harmless to humans) saw an opportunity and ventured onto the boat to devour them. She left the boat again, not keen on an afternoon river cruise, but with rather un-shapely lumps along her body.

A new den of hyenas has been found in the Lagoon area, with some brand new baby cubs. Hyena cubs look quite different to their elder siblings and adults – almost completely dark brown in color, they look reminiscent of a bear cub. The spots and lighter fur only begin to be seen after a couple of months. The rest of the clan were seen out and about, following the wild dogs in case they have a chance of taking a kill off them.

Night drives this month produced porcupine, aardwolf, civets, African wild cats and honey badgers, to name but a few.

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Kwara May 2013

amills.Mammal_Pangolin KWARA

 

It’s the magical hour – the hour before dawn, when animals that made it the night start to feel a little at ease, and when the predators seem to find the air at its coolest and it’s the best time to move. Guests are sleeping peacefully, the early morning call from their guide still a few minutes away. Perhaps a few of them are awake already, listening to the early morning sounds: the rustle of the impala moving next to the rooms, the alarm call snort of one impala that has spotted something that is making a move at this early hour, the pandemonium of rushing hoofs as the herd begins to move at pace to escape, and the metallic “thunk” of the… actually, what WAS that? In a scene reminiscent of a Tom and Jerry cartoon, the speeding impala, rushing away from the lions that had decided to take a stroll through camp, dashed through the workshop. One impala was unable to hit the brakes in time and slammed into a parked car. Leaving a few tufts of hair, and some fancy footwork in the sand (skidding hooves…) The impala managed to live another day.

One of the rarest animal sightings a visitor can have is of an aardvark. Sadly, these sightings are now even rarer, as an early morning game drive discovered a male lion breakfasting on one. It was probably a fairly easy catch for a lion, if the aardvark didn’t make it to his hole in time. On a protein-rich diet solely of termites, it was obviously tasty for the lion. Three cheetahs, later the same morning, had a rather more conventional choice of diet, and managed to catch an impala for brunch, with the hunt witnessed from beginning to end.

There was definitely something missing from the lions diet this month, as they ventured into the odder delicacies – three lionesses were found fighting with a pangolin, trying to kill it. Luckily for the pangolin, they couldn’t quite figure out how to make this particular kill, and they ended by giving up and walking away in search of something that was a little more accessible, and didn’t require a can opener.

It is jackalberry season, and it’s a race as to who can eat them all before they disappear. It’s a pretty strong competition, with entrants including elephants, baboons, monkeys, squirrels and humans. The huge jackalberry trees that dot the camps don’t all give fruit, but the ones that do are checked daily to see if the ripened fruit has fallen. The small, yellow-beige fruits taste a little like raisins. Of course, if you are an elephant you want to eat a LOT more of them than a squirrel, so there is some sense of priority. It’s when those tricky people have built their camp – and decks – around the trees, and the smell is just too tantalising… well what is an elephant to do but lean and stretch as far as he can? I am sure those people can just hammer that pole back in to the deck tomorrow…

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Tau Pan April 2013

DJSmithBig5lion Tau

Some good sightings of cheetah this month, with a female that was found at Lekhubu area, having just killed a baby springbok. The cheetah was still panting from the exhaustion of the chase. The next day, a healthy male cheetah was seen close to Tau Pan, relaxing in the shade. In the middle of the month, a male cheetah spent a couple of days around Tau Pan, and was calling through the area, looking for any females.

The Tau Pan are itself attracts lots of game, with over 250 springbok being seen, giraffes and kudus moving across. 20 of the kudus came to drink at the waterhole, a nervous business as they are vulnerable when bending their head down to drink, in an area that they know lions and other predators come to drink often.

At San Pan, a male leopard was found stalking bat eared foxes – the cover was not very good, with the grass very low, and the foxes soon saw his plan and escaped. A few days later, a leopard (possibly the same one) was found relaxing in a tree at San Pan.

One day at Phukwe Pan a pride of seven lions were located, to be followed the next day by 8 lions not far from the lodge – the Tau Pan pride of two females and their adult off spring. Although they were relaxed at this stage, times are tough for them, and later in the month they were seen fighting with the two intruder males that moved into the Tau area about three months ago. The young adult males of the pride are still not big enough to overpower two fully grown males, and need the help of their sisters and mothers. Even with eight lions against two, the sheer aggression of the male intruders was enough to make the pride extremely nervous, and they now come in to drink at the waterhole very shyly. On the 22nd of the month, the two males were found on a giraffe kill – a big meal for just the two of them, but they are unlikely to share it with the pride of eight, unless the pride can force them off the kill themselves….

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