Kwando Sightings Report - January

 

Kwara Concession

Lions in Kwara Concession

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

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

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

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

A youngish elephant was killed by five lions along the Machaba East road. Quite an amazing sighting. The lions fed on it for two days and then moved off, allowing the many vultures that had been waiting fairly patiently in the background, quickly arriving to squabble and hiss over what remained.

Unusually for this time of year, it is quite dry… this means a lot of game is attracted to the remaining waterways and lagoons, and with hardly any long grass, predators are still easy to see. The elephant herds are still around, and there are big groups of water birds feeding at the ‘fish pools’ – the waterholes that are slowly drying out.

 

Lagoon Camp

Lagoon Elephants

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

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

At the beginning of the month, there were lots of breeding herds of elephants in the area, with young babies. As we finally started to get some rain during this month, the herds began to move off though the woodlands to the mopane scrub. Solitary bulls and bachelor herds remain, but the breeding herds will come back soon. Although the buffalo herds have dispersed from the main drive area, a large group remain in the valley to the west.

General game was very good, with giraffes, wildebest, impala, eland, and lots and lots of zebras. Bat eared foxes, jackals, and several types of mongoose were seen as well as caracals, african wildcats and porcupines on night game drive. 

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

Lebala Camp

Wild Dogs at Lebala

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

Wild dogs, which have a reputation for being ‘cruel’ killers, as they don’tzkill their prey by suffocation, but by tearing it to pieces. However, they are very very fast, and the warthog was dead within a minute. Within 7 minutes, there is normally nothing left of the animal. Something to bear in mind when considering the larger predators hunting techniques…

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

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

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

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

Nxai Pan Camp

Nxai Pan Elephants

Elephants still abound, with the lack of consistent rain, they are frequenting the pumped waterholes to drink. One week in January produced the hottest temperatures that we have ever experienced in Botswana – reaching up to 46 degrees C (114.8 degrees F) in the shade! (It’s exceptionally rare for us to reach 40 degrees C (104 degrees F)…) Water pumps were running 24 hours a day to try and ensure that the game had access to sufficient water, as both four legged and two legged mammals took strain.

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

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

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

Tau Pan Camp

Giraffe at Tau Pan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Conservation in Action Series: Soul of the Elephant

Conservation in Action is the multi-part blog series highlighting various projects in Africa, blending responsible tourism with community development and environmental conservation. Stay tuned as we travel across the continent to spotlight incredible tourism companies who are working to preserve some of the world's most treasured ecosystems and produce the future generations of environmental stewards. 

Part 1: Soul of the Elephant - A Film by Derek and Beverly Joubert

CampMoremiEle

How can documentary films, such as Soul of the Elephant, be used as instruments of change? This was the topic of discussion that filmmakers, Derek and Beverly Joubert, addressed during their discussion panel at the Sundance Film Festival held in January. 

As honorary Botswana citizens and National Geographic Explorers-in-residence, they have spent decades using the medium of filmmaking and photography as a podium to speak about conservation. With the escalating level of emergency, they have focused on Africa's elephants and rhinos (every 9 hours a rhino is killed in South Africa and 45 elephants across Africa Source: Great Plains Foundation). Their safari company, Great Plains Conservation, in partnership with fellow safari company &Beyond and Africa Foundation, have translocated nearly 100 rhinos through Rhinos Without Borders into the safekeeping of Botswana from South Africa where tumultuous poaching and corruption have resulted in a massacre of rhinos in recent years. All through the month of November, they were sharing video footage on their Facebook page of what it takes to move a rhino. 

Their overall goal is to eliminate demand entirely. Similar to the campaign slogan of Wild Aid: "When the buying stops, the killing can too." This is no small feat when killing demand requires changing perceptions of billions of people in a market as strong as the illegal drug and weapon trades. 

“'With this platform, we can have real and important conversations,' they said of the power of the visual medium, calling their films 'campaigns without pause...[If you] deliver a message with dignity, you can get there,' they said with hope, noting that young people specifically do not desire to be part of the problem, but rather the solution. Currently at a tipping point in history, the Jouberts assert that 'things can go very bad OR we can change things.'" Source: Fusion.net

The film, Soul of the Elephant, journeys through Kenya and Botswana, featuring stunning footage of their private concession areas as viewers bear witness to the incredible social behaviors and connections of elephants. If viewers can gain a new appreciation for elephants, if they can feel more connected to some distant land, if a compassion for these magnificent creatures emerges, then perhaps we have a shot at saving this keystone species and the ecosystems that it helps to balance. 

The for-profit Great Plains Conservation has the separate Great Plains Foundation, which was established for the sole purpose of working towards conserving Africa's fragile ecosystems. With over 1 million acres of private land, the tourism approach ensures a sustainable stewardship where wildlife can be monitored and visitor volume can be managed. This is not a new or unique concept, but a powerful one nonetheless. It is a concept that embodies so much of what the safari industry must do. Whether we support conservation for our love of nature and passion for Africa or out of a self-serving interest to secure the future of the industry, the end result is the same when we support companies that go to such lengths to fight for the wildlife. And, of course, as we have seen from years when tourism volume was low, the presence of the tourism industry is one of the greatest weapons to protect Africa's wildlife. 

Don't miss the Joubert's interview with Ellen Degeneres on the Ellen Show Monday, February 1, 2016, discussing their latest film, Soul of the Elephant. Watch the full program from PBS Nature Below:

Great Plains Conservation Camps

Botswana

Duba Plains Camp

Zarafa Camp

Selinda Camp

Selinda Explorers Camp

Selinda Canoe Trail (This Year it's a walking safari due to low water levels)

 

Kenya

Ol Donyo

Mara Plains Camp

Mara Toto Camp (closed until further notice due to flash flooding)

 

Stay tuned to learn more about featured projects and conservation initiatives that you can support on your next trip to Africa!

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Kwando Sightings Report - November

There’s an almost incessant hum in the air – ga gona pula ga gona pula…. There’s no rain! Temperatures soared, with many records beaten, regularly reaching over 40 degrees during the day, when 35 degrees is more the norm.

In and around Maun, the wildlife merges with the domestic… elephants move along with cows on the river banks, breaking fences to get to the juicier vegetation (with the cows and goats following in their trail…). A leopard is found in someone’s backyard, and crocodiles that are getting too big for their own good in the shrinking river, are relocated to areas more suitable, up to the top of the delta. Everyone, is waiting for the rain.

Kwara Camp

Leopard in a tree at Kwara Camp

Lions were seen nearly every day, and cheetahs almost as regularly. The Tsum Tsum area was very productive, for both of these predators. The cheetah with her three cubs was seen often, and once we saw them in the company of a male cheetah. They were all very relaxed together, and the male was interested to see if the female was ready to mate. It appears not, as after a while the male left them and headed north.

The pride of eight lions (3 females and 5 young) were seen most often, and regularly hunting. They were joined by the two black maned lions, and together they killed a buffalo. They spent several days together eating this. The female lion with two subadult males was also seen regularly – one of the young males has had an unfortunate interaction with a porcupine – several quills were stuck in around his neck! We were also lucky enough to see leopards mating. They had a kill waiting for them in the branches of a nearby tree.

A hippo died - probably of natural causes – at Pelican Pan, so it became a feeding frenzy for the local carnivores. Three males lions and a lioness spent time feeding there, and several groups of hyenas joined in as well.

An unusual sighting of a large number of hyenas (over 10) feeding on a red lechwe as well as a female leopard!

Some of the summer migratory birds were a little slow to arrive this year, with the late rains. The call of the woodland kingfisher is so distinct, the first day you hear it, you realise how many months it has been since it was last here… Normally arriving in early November, they didn’t arrive in force until the end of the month. How they know the rain in Botswana is delayed, before they set off to travel here, is a mystery. It must be something like Heathrow airport grounding all flights on the first day of school holidays. Every kingfisher waiting at the departure point, fluttering their wings, frustrated, looking at the “departures board” (the sun? the moon? The stars?), and then a mad rush with everyone taking off when the all clear is announced. Well, at least they made it this year, if somewhat tardy.

Lagoon Camp

Wild dogs hunting at Lagoon Camp

The Northern pack of dogs was seen regularly, with good sighting of hunts and feeding. One of their kills was a baby roan antelope – a rare kill for them.

Several male lions were sighted in the area. This is creating problems for the females with cubs, as they face the danger of these intruder males killing their cubs if they get hold of them. On the 12th of the month, we found a female with four cubs, but within 10 days she had lost them all. On the 26th, she was seen mating again with one of the Chobe males. The resident males are still hanging around, and battling with the Chobe boys often. Male lions, as big and impressive as they appear most of the time, can sometimes look a bit insecure and as if they are feeling sorry for themselves: following the sound of roaring, a male was found lying down, and calling to his colleagues (who weren’t answering…).

Again, good sightings of female leopards, including one that had killed a young tsessebe and was feeding on it, and another with an impala kill up a sausage tree. Male leopards are very shy and we seem to only be able to see them at a distance, or in the quiet of night. The two male cheetahs made a quick visit to the area, staying for a day or so, before moving off again to the north west section of the concession, and then returned a week or so later to hunt. By the end of the month, they had disappeared again.

The big herds of buffalo have split up, and we currently remain with the bachelor herds and solitary males. The bulk of the numbers of buffalo have moved off in search, literally, of greener pastures: any where that there has been the possibility of rain, and new grass growth. There are, however, still lots of elephants in the area, including lots of breeding herds.

Good birding with the carmine bee eaters still at their breeding sites in the banks of Kwena Lagoon, and the other summer migratories having arrived.

Lebala Camp

2015 Nov Lebala

We came across the pack of 23 wild dogs at Half Way Pan, and followed the dogs for about half and hour as they moved quickly through the bush. All the dogs were on the hunt for prey, and senses were at their peak. Sadly for them, they did not manage to flush out any game, and they moved off still searching. A few days later we found them again hunting, this time managing to catch two impalas at the same time one morning. The very same day, the dogs arrived in camp in the afternoon, and killed a kudu, quickly demolishing it.

The pride of ten lions is very productive at the moment and has had great success with their hunts. One day we found them eating both a wildebeest, and a warthog as a side dish! Even more lions are on the way, as we came across two couples mating for several days in the middle of the month. Hopefully, in another 90 days, there were more little cubs to add to the pride.

Little warthogs were not so lucky - a very newly born baby was being fed on by a female leopard and her cub. A few days later, we watched the whole hunt of another warthog by five lions – starting with the stalking process, the kill itself, and then the crunching of bones as everyone digs in.

Nxai Pan Camp

Ostriches with their babies at Nxai Pan Camp

It’s the right time of year for many to have their young – the springbok are grouping together, nearly ready to all give birth within days of each other. Ostriches already have lots of tiny fluffy chicks, following their parents around as fast as their little legs can carry them.

It was also a predator filled month: almost every day lions were seen, and often with the addition of either cheetah, or wild dogs – sometimes both, as well as hyenas! You would think with up to 19 lions roaming around, other predators would be in scarce supply, but there is plenty of space (and food) for everyone. The normal pride of 16 lions (10 sub-adults and with six adults, was joined by the one female with her two young cubs. The main waterhole was their choice resting place. A giraffe carcass was particularly enticing for all of them, which made them move between the waterhole and the wildlife camp. With 19 lions feeding on a large, old giraffe, there was something for everyone! (including a few good photos for the guests!). Whenever they moved from the main waterhole, other animals would sneak in, including the cheetah mother and her two sub-adult cubs, finally able to quench their thirst.

The small pack of dogs – two males and three females - was also seen at the wildlife camp. They also came to the Nxai Pan camp waterhole several times to drink. They appeared for several days, just at sunrise, a perfect time for them to be able to get to the waterhole and get a drink without so many elephants.

The camp waterhole has also been attracting spotted hyenas, coming individually, and in groups of up to five at a time. It’s difficult to negotiate the way around the elephants to get a drink, so this required a lot of patience, and a long time of waiting for the right chance.

Following on from last month, the elephants continued to congregate. The pump for the park main waterhole failed for a short time, making the situation tougher still. With the camp pumping water as fast as it could, any overflow was quickly turned into a mudbath by the elephants. Still not happy with that, nor happy with the queuing system, their attention turned again to the camp. What an elephant wants, an elephant gets, and for this reason, we sadly had to close the camp to re-lay almost an entire camps-worth of water pipe, sewerage systems, and elephant-prevention systems. On the second day of closure, the rain arrived. Perhaps only a start, but it is enough of a signal that there will be water pools somewhere else, and the next morning, not an elephant was seen! They returned, of course, but not in the numbers that required a “damage to property” insurance form to be filled out.

Tau Pan Camp

Lions at Tau Pan Camp

A very relaxed male leopard opened the month for us at Tau Pan waterhole, quenching his thirst.

The saga that began last month continued on, with the three young intruder male lions chasing the territorial male again. They were also seen along the eastern firebreak, marking territory in an attempt to claim it as their own. The two females with five cubs still venture down to the waterhole, but are very cautious – one was injured when they were harassed at the end of the last month by the same intruders. Mid way through the month, things got even more confusing, when the three males were seen near the old borehole, with two lionesses. The males were mating with one of the lionesses. In the meantime, two “resident” male lions were resting not too far away at the waterhole – not looking very comfortable about the whole situation.

Several cheetah sightings, including two shy males in the Deception Valley Area, one relaxed male close to the old borehole near the camp, who was seen for several days.

A very unusual and lovely sighting of a family of spotted eagle owls… a mother owl with her two youngsters in the branch of a tree, and another adult – perhaps the father – high up in the top branches.

Lots of general game in the area, including the oryx – several of which look heavily pregnant – springboks, hartebeest and wildebeest. Green patches of land are starting to show, in spite of having hardly any rain at all. And for the first time in over five years, there has not been a fire in the area!

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Secrets of Botswana's Green Season

Secrets of Botswana's Green Season