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Botswana Safari, Okavango Delta Posts

Kwara March 2013

KWARA JMatheson-Mammals-Giraffes

A young male leopard has appeared recently that we think has chased out our resident male, who was getting very old. This young male is seen often between Kwara Island and Splash area, but is very shy with the cars. Recently he has begun calling – the deep throaty cough of an adult male leopard – around the camp – an indication that he feels unthreatened and has therefore ousted any potential competition. It is hoped in the long term, he will become more relaxed as he frequents the area and perceives no threat from the vehicles.

The three adult cheetahs were seen often in the areas around Splash, attempting hunts regularly. They were very photogenic as well, lying conveniently on top of a termite mound, basking in the sun.

The pack of eight dogs were seen regularly this month, on kills, resting and playing. On the 19th of March, two dogs were seen mating, so lets hope in early June they decide to den in the Kwara area where they have spent more than a year now.

The two sub-adult male lions have broken off from the Solo Pride for the time being and were seen on many occasions fighting some of the members of the “seven brothers”, who are probably their fathers and uncles. They moved around, dominating some of the kills which were made by their sisters. Three of the lionesses managed to kill a giraffe, which provided food for them and their brothers for several days. Taking a break from the exhausting business of stuffing as much meat in as possible, the lionesses took a drink at one of the nearby pans, and then played around the water.

Lots of general game in the area, including zebras, large journeys (groups) of giraffes, tsessebes and the ubiquitous impala. Elephants move through the groupings of animals, from tree island to tree island, feeding on the large variety of plantlife available. This will probably be the last month of such a variety, as many of the grasses are drying up as the rains have all but stopped. A different type of lushness will arrive as the flood waters arrive from Angola – the increasing waters will be here soon.

Rarest sighting this month: a Pel’s fishing owl whilst out on the boat.

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Tau Pan February 2013

TAU

Ten snoozing lions started the month – with a little nap by the waterhole. Lions are one of the few animals that can sleep with complete ease, as nothing (other than another lion, or an upset elephant) is a potential threat to them. It’s also a great way to conserve energy – important when you have to expend a lot of energy to catch your food. So, lions have a tendency to do just that: sleep. And then sleep a bit more. And then perhaps a short nap before the afternoon siesta? This, however, doesn’t impress a lot of people who have spent a lot of money and travelled many thousands of kilometres to see the Majestic King of the Jungle. Thankfully, they do tend to get up in the cooler part of the day, and move around, coming into their element as night falls, the acoustics are perfect for a roar to carry over 6km (particularly impressive if the lion happens to be standing next to your room) and the guests, safely tucked up in bed, then wonder how they dared scoff at the ‘lazy sleeping kitties’ earlier in the day…

Mid-February, the pack of eight wild dogs (five adults and three sub adults) spent a day relaxing in camp, behind the staff accommodation. Although wild dogs have a fierce reputation, due to them being the most successful hunter of any of the large predators in Africa, there is no record of them in the wild ever attacking a person. This is in spite of them being able to hunt as a pack much larger species. It’s still a little unnerving having them close, so everyone, including the dogs, was watchful! Interestingly, another wild dog couple (alpha male and female) were seen at passage water hole this month, so the wild dog sightings are doing remarkably well for an area that its normally highly unusual to see them!

The 22nd February was a lovely day for the cats, with three separate sightings of lions (including one female with three six-month old cubs) and two sightings of cheetah. All were found close to different pans, on a day trip through the Kalahari.

Although January had those three days of heavy, record-breaking rainfall, February has had hardly any days with anything but clear blue skies. This means many natural pools have already dried up, and more animals are coming to drink at the man-made pan in front of camp. One day had a parade of lions coming in one at a time, with cheetah sneaking in to drink as well.

Obviously, it’s not just the animals that need to drink in the Kalahari: birds do too. One can imagine a pleasant little birdbath in a nice garden setting, but the reality is somewhat different. Queleas come in flocks of thousands – probably even hundreds of thousands. These small birds – about the same size as sparrows – can decimate crops when they descend on a farm after the rains. In the Kalahari, they feed on what vegetation they can get that sprouts after the rains, but they still need to drink. Seeing a flock in flight is a truly beautiful sight, as they swarm and turn in waves, like a huge group of fish in the sea.

However, a call came from the Tau Pan camp manager one day to alert head office that he was going to have to empty the swimming pool – an irregular request when it’s a hot time of year and the camp is busy, with guests wanting a swim. However, it was a humane reason: the queleas were drowning en masse. They had been drinking at the camp waterhole, which is a flat pan, easy for birds to stand and drink at, but the large number of raptors were swooping down on them and hunting them. A few smart individuals – obviously followed by a huge flock of not-so clued-up hangers on – began drinking at the swimming pool at the camp, where the raptors were too wary of humans to follow. The flocks swarmed in and around the camp, but the sheer number combined with the high sides of the pool meant that many drowned when trying to drink. Having people in or around the pool made no difference. A form of net was laid over the pool, but this also didn’t help. And who really wants to swim when 10, 000 birds are whizzing round your head? Eventually a type of mesh was found that helped the situation somewhat, but nothing could really be done until the queleas themselves decide to move off in search of better feeding grounds.

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Lebala February 2013

A.Phillips.MammalsCat.Zebra LEBALA

Some lovely sightings this month of large herds of zebra, wildebeest and giraffe with young. These animals often group together, and help each other be ware of predators. They do not compete directly for food, (although both grazers, zebra and wildebeest feed off a different length of grass) so there is not a negative side to the relationship.

Four female lions and two young males were found feeding on wildebeest. A little later in the month, three lionesses also tried their luck stalking wildebeest, but they went hungry after an unsuccessful hunt.

Big herds of elephants are being seen on every game drive, particularly in the area between Twin Pools and the camp. They are pretty much on every corner you look!

A new pack of wild dogs moved briefly in from the southern part of the concession – not the so-called Southern Pack. There were four adults and nine sub adults, and the were seen for two days in the middle of the month, before disappearing.

Tsaro pan was very productive, with a male lion being seen along the Boundary road, heading west, shortly followed by a female leopard a few minutes later, seen heading east

A shy eland herd were found to the west of John’s Pan, but true to their nature, as soon as they were spotted, they took fright and fled!

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Lagoon February 2013

 

amills.big5_Leopard - LAGOON 

It was a very quiet time for cheetahs and lions, with only lion tracks being seen until towards the end of the month when the Island pride (two adult females with four sub-adults) were finally found at grass pan, looking fit, fat and healthy. They were feeding on a young giraffe at the time – a trick catch, that not all lions will attempt.

Leopards, however, were more prevalent than the lions and there were several sightings each week of males and females.

The wild dogs were seen often, the Lagoon pack of 21, and also a few sightings of the Southern pack. The Lagoon pack seems to have begun hunting a lot of warthog of late, and this is the kills that they have been most frequently seen with this month – a change to the normal diet of impala.

The breeding herds of elephants are now moving back into the area in large numbers, and this will continue to grow throughout the season. Its only for a month or two each year after the first rains have started that they move off to other areas to feed on the diverse vegetation. The attraction of plentiful water and abundant trees keeps them in our areas in large numbers during the winter months.

Lots of general game, and good sightings of roan and sable antelopes. Like last month, there was also a very lucky sighting of an aardvark on one night drive!

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Nxai Pan February 2013

Cullivan_Cat2_elephantwateringhole NXAI 

The zebras are still grazing around Nxai Pan, in their hundreds, with their young growing fast. Light rains early in the month will help encourage new growth of grass, and coax the animals to stay a little longer, before they move off to greener pastures.

Unlike the zebra, giraffes don’t migrate and stay in the park throughout the year. There was a lovely sighting of 17 adults and 10 young congregating together, and feeding on the leaves of the shrubs.

A shy, large male leopard was briefly seen on the Western Road – he quickly moved off as the car approached. Lions were seen several times, with two unknown males moving away quickly when the car approached, and another much more relaxed male with a female who were mating. The lioness made an attempt at hunting afterwards, but she was unsuccessful. The male looked on, exhausted!

Although there are plenty of places to drink at the moment, with the heavy rain that fell in January still collecting in larger pans, there is nothing elephants enjoy more than a good deep drink, with plenty of space for everyone to drink at once… Hence, the waterhole in front of camp is still popular with elephants, including a herd of 12 adults with a youngster that water levels were sufficient for a bath, as well as a drink!

Another day, it was thirsty work for everyone, as the two male cheetahs arrived at the camp waterhole to drink, whilst a group of elephants were also drinking. The bull elephant’s, in spite of never being in danger from a cheetah, decided that they did not want anyone else to drink at the same time, so began trumpeting and chasing the cheetahs around, in a bizarre twist to the ‘cat and mouse’ game.

A few days later, it was a female cheetah that had to suffer the same fate as a bull elephant took a dislike to sharing ‘his’ waterhole with such an animal! Two sub-adult cheetahs however, had more luck with their hunting skills, and managed to bring down an impala in a cloud of dust after some concentrated stalking.

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Kwara February 2013

DJSmith.mammalschettah - KWARA

The beginning of February brought a variety of predators, with the lions being seen every day in the first week, as well as cheetahs, jackals and hyenas being seen several times. The coalition of three male cheetahs spent the time in the area around Splash camp, alternately resting, and then trying to stalk impala, using the tall grass that has grown as result of last months rain, for cover.

Towards the end of the month, the cheetahs were seen moving back and forth in the Splash area, looking as though they wanted to move towards Tsum Tsum. This area is flooded however, and not a good environment for animals that depend largely on open grassy plains to hunt. There was an amazing sighting of them fighting with a leopard, three against one, forcing the leopard to retreat up a tree, in spite of being the heavier cat.  

Plenty of elephants were seen throughout the concession, feeding on a variety of vegetation, and having mud baths to relieve the heat from the hot sun and clear blue skies.

The four male lions – named ‘The Intruders’ – appear to have settled well into the territory previously occupied by the ‘Magnificent Seven’ male lions. Former members of the seven have been seen far into the eastern side of the concession.. However, the single nomadic female seen often near Splash has been spending a lot of time in the same area, so she will possibly be having a litter of cubs later in the year. She will need to defend these cubs well, if they are not fathered by one of the Intruders. The four males , make their presence felt, regularly being seen in and around the airstrip, and camp areas 

General game is looking in good condition, with water and abundant vegetation for everyone to browse on. Zebras and giraffes are found on many of the open plains, and red lechwes bound across the shallow waters, using it to their advantage to escape potential threats.

 

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Lagoon January 2013

MPAzevedoCat2Leopard LAGOON

Three female lions (two adults and one subadult) were found sleeping south of John’s Pan at the beginning of the month, but sightings of lions were sparse for the rest of January.

Leopard sightings were good, with relaxed females and males being seen – including one which was seen when the guide was walking guests back to room number 4 at night! A female leopard was also seen several times in the area around the BDF camp – she was very relaxed.

The cheetahs remained absent, not having been seen since the lions chased them nearly two months ago. However, right at the end of January, the three brothers suddenly reappeared in the mopane scrub area, looking fit and healthy

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Tau Pan January 2013

DElledgeBig5LionTeeth TAU

Tau Pan lion pride (currently just the two females and six young lions from the litters two years ago) had a good start to January, and killed an oryx on the southern side of the pan. They were seen feeding on it, after having taken it down during the night.

By the middle of the month, they had killed another oryx, which they seem to finally be developing a skill at catching!

A couple of days later, a cheetah was seen hunting to the west of the waterhole, and managed to catch a duiker. He was able to feed on the duiker for some time, before the jackals that had moved in on seeing him catch something, irritated him too much and he left.

A large number of white storks arrived in Tau Pan- 105 to be exact (!)… – and spent the days feeding on insects. The jackals – several families live on the Pan – tried their luck at catching them, but were unsuccessful. Jackals have an interesting family structure – the parents normally mate for life, and one or two pups from the first litter they have stay with the parents to help raise the next litter, before moving off and finding their own mate.

Our lovely visitors from last month – the wild dogs – also came back this month to the waterhole in front of camp. Numbering seven – two adults and five sub adults – spent time running through the waterhole and playing. All look healthy, though the alpha female does have some scars on her shoulder and back, but these seem not to be bothering her. Last month there were eight in number, so we are hoping that the missing one was busy out hunting at the time they were seen.

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Kwara, January 2013

amills.big5_LionCub  KWARA

January had lion sightings almost every day, including regular sightings of the Solo pride, (two males and four females). One of the females has two young cubs. We’ve also seen mating lions this month, so hopefully in a couple of months time, there will be even more cubs in the area!

Hyenas were also seen – both on drive and in camp! A pair of eyes glowing back at you as you are walked to your room, gives everyone a start, but they turn and move off with that easily-recognisable loping gait of a hyena. Out on drive, one car also came across four hyenas having an intense fight. After the fight, one of the hyenas had a broken leg, and the three other hyenas left him. It’s going to be a very harsh, short life too for that hyena, as it is essential that the hyena can hunt for him/herself, in order to survive.

Lots of general game throughout the concession, with large herds of zebra in the Splash area in particular, and many groups of giraffe dotted everywhere. One afternoon game drive found five giraffe sitting down together – an unusual sighting, and once they realised that we were watching, they clambered to their feet.

On the 7th January, three cheetahs were found to be hunting. The guests were lucky enough to see them chase and catch a tssesebe in front of the car. The cheetahs were seen several other times during the month.

The wild dogs were also fit and well, with the pack of eleven seen most often. They caught impala regularly, and with the odd variation in their diet of other young antelope. In addition, an adult female and two male dogs were found in the Splash area. They also had luck with their hunt, and were feasting on a young impala. Towards the end of the month, the pack numbered eight adults and five pups, so it’s likely the dogs are just hunting in different areas, separating for a little while before rejoining the main group.

Sometimes, a guest takes the time to write about what he or she has seen, rather than the guides filling out the sightings book. Here an extract from an anonymous guest, that sums up a couple of days at Kwara:

“We stayed for two days and had brilliant sightings. Day 1 – three cheetah brothers set up a fantastic and successful kill. Saw vultures attacking a baby zebra carcass. Caught three male intruder lions marking new territory. Saw a beautiful female lioness devouring a baby warthog. Had evening tea with more than 30 hippos basking in water with a beautiful sunset on one side and the rising moon on the other.”

Other great sightings this month included guests who recorded 95 bird species in the three days they were at Kwara, and a very rare sighting of a sitatunga antelope whilst out on the boat.

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Nxai Pan January 2013

NEarly.Cat7 Zebra Family NXAI

A phenomenal month at Nxai Pan with the zebra migration in full swing. The foals are already quite big, and all the herds look in great condition – apart from the odd one or two that show tell-tale signs of having a close shave with a lion.

Everywhere you look on the pan, hundreds and hundreds of springbok are milling around, with their young offspring bouncing and pronking (yes that is a real word, it describes the vertical springing jump with arched back that springbok make!) . Not exactly sure of the cars, the young sometimes approach closer than the adults out of curiosity, before moving off, with their out of proportion rabbit-like ears flicking to and fro.

With there being so many zebra around the park, the lions have dispersed, as there is no need to stay close to the waterholes, hoping that something will come down to drink. In addition, three days of heavy rain – the most rain northern Botswana has seen in 40 years! – meant that there are pans in many more spots, rather than the few isolated waterholes. Two male intruder lions were seen at the beginning of the month, but the young pride also saw them and moved out of the way quickly! Sadly, it’s thought that these male lions then moved out of the park and into the surrounding areas to the west, where they spent several weeks in January catching the much easier prey of domestic cows. There was a report at the end of the month of farmers shooting these ‘problem animals’.

The cheetahs, however, are still around, and we have had some lovely sightings. One of these included a young male who was seen close to the road, only a few minutes after heading out of the camp on morning game drive. He was posing elegantly, and was very photogenic. At one point, he decided that he needed to practice his hunting skills, and instead of focusing on one of the numerous springboks that were never far away, his attention was drawn to a very suspicious looking pile of elephant dung. He leapt and pounced on it, and created his own game of football with the dried dung, much to the amusement of the on-lookers!

The waterholes do still draw different species together, though perhaps not with as much angst as it can be during the dry season, it’s still important to be cautious when drinking. That must somehow explain the interesting meeting of a zebra and a leopard tortoise at one waterhole one afternoon. The tortoise had made it to the edge of the water, and was about to drink, when an approaching zebra startled him. He quickly withdrew his head and legs into the safety of his shell, but the sudden movement in turn startled the zebra. The two animals then proceeded into a ‘duet of startlement’ as each one alternately relaxed, then noticed the other one, made a quick withdrawal, in turn startling the other animal. Eventually, both animals realised they were not under immediate attack, and managed to get on with the business of drinking.

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