Tau Pan, January 2017

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It is a privilege to witness a thunderstorm in the desert. The dark, heavy thunderclouds roll over the pans dramatically. The streaks of lightening are followed by deep rumblings of thunder that somehow bring serenity to the open plains. The rains have brought an abundance of green grass and foliage. The general game has been spectacular; which means plenty to eat for the predators; and eat they did!

In one of the more unusual sightings of the month a female oryx stood distressed as black-backed jackals and vultures tussled over the remains of her new-born calf, even engaging in tug of war at one stage. In the end the mother seem to resign herself to the fate of her baby and gave way to the scavengers. She then proceeded to eat the placenta; this behaviour, known as placentophagy, might seem unusual in a herbivore but is common in the animal world. The placenta contains high levels of hormones which help the female’s uterus to contract and also stimulate milk production. It is also thought that removing the placenta in this way hides the smell of the birth from predators, though sadly on this occasion it was too late.

Another interesting sighting was of a mother cheetah providing an opportunity for her cubs to learn how to hunt. The adult female caught a baby springbok but purposefully did not kill the fawn. She left her cubs to practice catching their prey and releasing it and catching it again. This is a ritual that these young predators will be practicing over and over until they have mastered the hunting technique.

The cheetah in the area have been very active and several different groups were seen during January. A single male who is new to the area was seen as he attempted a hunt but was unsuccessful; it is unclear whether he will take up residence or will just be passing through. A coalition of 3 cheetahs was seen resting at San Pan. A springbok unknowingly walked not far from them, however the cheetahs were caught unawares and the springbok escaped.

The two males who had previously been dubbed as intruders have now been accepted by the Tau Pan Pride and are now being referred to as being part of the resident pride. Having been absent from the area for some time, the pride has returned to the Pan area and has had numerous successful hunts. The five males seemed to have formed a fairly large coalition and it will be interesting to see how their relationship develops.

Birds were also in hunting mode. Tawny eagles were seen ominously perched in tall trees near the springbok herds, looking out for the opportunity to steal a new born lamb. The heavy rains means that the pans are filling and attracting wetland species that would not usually be seen in this desert environment including cormorants, teal and even the prized sighting of a rare slaty egret!

Nxai Pan, January 2017

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There were stirrings of excitement in Nxai pan this month as wild dogs have once again graced the pans with their presence. Sightings of these creatures have been fairly rare in the past few years – at one point they had not been seen for almost six months – however they have been making more regular visits not only to the main pan but also to the waterhole in front of camp. This month they were seen in the middle of the larger pan area feeding on what appeared to be a young springbok. Needless to say, we hope that the wild dog visits will become more frequent.
 
With the Nxai Pan area dotted with thousands of zebras, springbok; wildebeest and a wide variety of other mammals, the menu for the resident carnivores has been plentiful. Lions have dominated with an almost arrogant disposition. Two male lions in particular were seen regularly both with and without the females and their sub-adult cubs. These regal, large maned beasts were often seen resting elevated on termite mounds or striding boldly across the pans.
 
Two lionesses were spotted heading north, both heavily pregnant. Later in the month the same females were seen again apparently having given birth and with evidence that they were nursing young. These lionesses will now need to feed more regularly as they have more mouths to feed, however they will need to be cautious as they cannot afford to be injured and will need to keep a low profile till their cubs are a little older and more mobile.
 
A frequently-seen female cheetah and her two cubs are healthy and have been successful this season, the cubs are still very reliant on their mother and now that they are growing bigger she will need to make more regular kills. Sometimes these hunts can become unsuccessful as the cubs become anxious and impatient during a hunt and more often than not give away their position and advantage. But these are all skills that these cubs will need to learn in order to survive by themselves.
 
The zebras have started dropping their foals and these new babies are able to stand up on their own within fifteen minutes of being born. During the first two days of a foal’s life the mother will keep her baby close and limit his interaction with other zebra so that he can learn to identify her by sight, smell and sound.
 
A stay at the desert camps is always rewarding for birders as the variation in species is quite different from the wetland areas further north. Raptors including Yellow-billed Kite, Steppe Buzzard and Pale Chanting Goshawk perch on dead trees scanning the open plains for prey whilst the Southern Black Korhaan males were seen vociferously competing for territory, giving raucous calls as they flew up to guard their ground.

Lebala, January 2017

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Predators dominated the scene at Lebala in January and amazing sightings of hunts and kills were seen regularly.

An adult eland bull, the largest of all the antelopes, can weigh in at almost one ton. A smaller pride of two females and four cubs were observed gorging on this feast for the best part of a day. This large kill attracted different species of vultures; all of the Southern African vulture species are increasingly endangered so it is exciting to see them being so successful in the Kwando area.

The following day it was the hyenas’ turn to strip the carcass of all that was left. A clan had plenty to eat despite the crowds that had filled their bellies the previous day and night. The alpha female hyena clearly had her own mouths to feed and continually chased her subordinates off the carcass to ensure that she could provide for her young.

Two sub-adult cheetah were seen trying to stalk an impala, although on that occasion their prey got wind of their scent and bounded away.

A female leopard posed beautifully on a tree for some time before clambering down to start her evening hunting mission. The guides were able to follow her for a good while before she disappeared into the thicket.

The resident lion prides have cubs and need to feed their young regularly.  The larger the kill the more food it provides and the less the adults need to hunt.

Towards the end of the month the two large males from the Southern (Wapoka) Pride were seen following the 5 lionesses and 10 cubs from the Northern Pride. This was potentially a very dangerous situation for the cubs as male lions have been known to practice infanticide, killing cubs sired by other males. The lionesses reacted instinctively to protect their young. As the three larger females defended their positions, the other two females started to lead the cubs away from the scene. As this was happening the three large lionesses ran in a different direction leading the two males away from the cubs. This was a simple yet effective strategy.

Wild dogs were located in the area and guests were able to enjoy seeing them finish off an impala carcass. The general game this month was great as the rains brought an abundance of leafy growth. There were lots of giraffes, kudus, impalas, wildebeest and zebras. Particularly special antelope sightings included eland, roan and sable.

The water birds were noticeably more abundant with many storks, herons, egrets and plovers seen wading through the wet lands in search of food. Guests were delighted when their guide spotted a Verreaux’s Eagle Owl hidden in plain sight as it was well camouflaged against the bark of a tree. This beautiful bird (and largest species of owl on the African continent) lazily batted its pink eyelids for the cameras.

Lagoon, January 2017

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January brought dramatic storms dousing the region with much needed relief from the previous year’s dry spell. The resulting verdant green growth contrasted with dark thunder clouds on the horizon and was highlighted by sunbeams to provide some of the most extraordinary light for photography.

Pairs of lions were seen mating on several occasions. Monogamy is out of the window here – females will mate with more than one suitor and, since there’s no specific breeding period, lions mate several times a year. A mating marathon can involve twenty to forty romps a day. At most of these sightings there were 2 male lions present along with one female. One of the lions seemed fairly bored as he waited for his turn. The resident male lions known as Old Gun and Sebastian have been found feeding on large game species including giraffe and eland. The pride of 15 lions (7 adults and 8 cubs) were tracked successfully on a number of occasions. The adults have to kill often to support their big family and seem to be successful, with zebra apparently being the menu of choice at the moment.

Wild dogs were spotted hunting several times however very few kills were witnessed. Their prey seemed to outwit them on numerous occasions. However the dogs were not completely unsuccessful and after some persistent tracking we were able to locate the pack feeding on an impala.

Leopard sightings were less frequent during January, but one morning was particularly prolific with two separate females found hunting and then later one up in a tree.

The cheetah in the region experienced some change as two young males have now separated from their mother. Male cheetahs are social, usually living in small coalitions and often with their brothers. Now that these two are old enough to fend for themselves they have left their mother and gone out into the world as a team. So far they seem to have hunting successfully and were seen frequently looking in great condition.

Unusually large herds of eland were seen on a regular basis as well as relaxed sightings of the usually shy roan antelope. Other general game sightings included zebra, tsessebe, giraffes, red lechwe and impala. Elephant numbers appear to be on the increase.

Guests were also thrilled to see some close-up sightings of bat-eared foxes, including a large group of 13

Birding is fantastic at the moment with many summer migrants in the area. Guests have been particularly pleased with sightings of endangered species such as Slaty Egret, Ground Hornbill and Wattled Crane.

Kwara, January 2017

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Although the general game sightings were spectacular; the predators once again stole the limelight at Kwara. Carnivores were seen every day during January with lions in particular being sighted very regularly.

The greatest excitement of the month came when a male lion and three females appeared in front of Little Kwara camp during high tea.  Camp was abuzz as the guides quickly gathered their guests into the game viewers and followed the three females and a single male.  The beasts walked towards the main Kwara camp where they surprised a warthog with three piglets. The lions chased the piglets through the camp, finally one was taken down between the kitchen and room three and the other two were caught in front of the Kwara main area. An incredible sighting!

The wild dogs also made several appearances around camps. Firstly, they killed an impala fawn in front of Kwara camp, this scene was not quite as dramatic as the lions though.  On the second occasion the dogs passed by the front of both camps and were clearly hunting as they were moving very quickly.  Thirdly, the dogs managed to kill an impala behind the Kwara staff village.  On yet another occasion the dogs killed an impala fawn behind the staff village; proof that sometimes the action comes to you.

Leopards mark territory by scent-marking and calling, especially after a significant rainfall as has been the case.  Two male leopards were found in fierce a clash over territory. This altercation resulted in one of the leopards being badly injured.  Aggressive encounters have been observed on many occasions between male leopards, with death being the ultimate outcome for some; thankfully this time they parted ways, licking their wounds.

The cheetahs were all fat-bellied and clearly successful in their quests for food, except one male cheetah who had successfully killed a large reedbuck only to have his entire meal stolen by the lions. On another occasion a large male cheetah killed a female reedbuck right in front of the game drive vehicle; it was a spectacular chase and successful capture this time as there were no lazy lions around to steal his meal.

The hyenas have successfully bred cubs and it is a treat to be able to see them playing around their den area.

Keen birders were happy to see summer migrants in abundance. The trilling call of the Woodland Kingfisher was an integral part of the camp ambience during January.  Other migrants seen during January in Kwara included Ruffs, Abdim’s Storks, Carmine bee-eaters and Steppe Buzzards.

Tau Pan, December 2016

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2016 was a fairly unusual year for the magnificent black-maned lions of Tau Pan. Late rains in March provided grass for the herds of antelope and zebra through much of the dry season which meant that they were not forced to migrate to greener pastures. In turn, because their food source remained stable the lions did not need to move to other parts of their territory and importantly this allowed the pride to reproduce successfully. Towards mid-December a pair could be seen from the main deck of the camp for several days as they performed their mating rituals in full view. Other pairs were seen mating at San Pan. By this time next year this pride will be fairly large and our guides are already predicting that in the future the Tau Pan lions are likely to extend their territory or even split up to form new prides.

One of the most unusual sightings was of a young lion that was seen whilst our guests were on a day trip to Deception Valley. The lion stalked and caught a new born springbok, but instead of killing and eating his prey he started playing with it. This is not something that is seen very often although other sightings of this behavior have been recorded.

Usually one of the more elusive creatures in Tau Pan is the leopard, but December yielded some incredible sightings. One large male in particular was completely relaxed with the presence of the game drive vehicle. He approached the vehicle out of curiosity and then moved off as though the vehicle was part of his afternoon stroll. This male moved into the territory in 2015; he and a female produced their first litter and so hopefully we will see more leopards in the future.

The cheetahs in the area also seemed to have a very successful breeding season, a female and three young cubs were seen whilst we were on a day trip to Deception Valley. Another mother with cubs was seen at Phukwi Pan and yet another family with three cubs was seen at Passage Valley.

All in all the Tau Pan predators had a great year and we will enjoy following the progress of the new arrivals.

Nxai Pan, December 2016

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At the beginning of the month huge numbers of elephants occupied the waterhole as they took aggressive turns quenching their thirst. As the heavy showers increased mid-month the herds around the waterhole decreased to the point where it was no longer necessary to fight for a drink. Then towards the end of the month after ample rainfall there wasn’t an elephant in sight. They had temporarily moved off to areas where they knew they could get food and water without competition.

December is an interesting month at Nxai Pan. As elephants move out of the area large herds of browsers and grazers move in. In the open plains journeys of giraffe could be seen as they arrived to strip the acacia trees of their vibrant green new growth.

Two large male lions are still dominating the area. Lions were seen nearly every day and a pair was found mating at the wildlife water hole. Five of the seven lionesses are expecting cubs and we hope they will give birth by about mid-January.

Cheetah have also been spotted on nearly every game drive. A mother and her two cubs were regularly spotted hunting and feeding near the wildlife waterhole. A new young male cheetah has also been appeared in the area. These agile cats have taken full advantage of the large herds of springbok that have arrived with the zebra migration.

The annual zebra migration brings thousands of animals into the area. While some zebras have migrated with their small foals, others are being born on the Nxai Pan plains. One of the most incredible things about a new born foal is the gangly length of their legs. A foals is born with such long legs that when it stands next to its mother its under belly is just about the same height as its mothers under belly. This, coupled with the disruptive colouration of the zebra stripes makes it incredibly difficult for a predator to target the young during an attack. It is easy to see why a group of zebras is sometimes called a ‘dazzle’.

The birdlife at Nxai Pan has also been very rewarding with plentiful sightings of Adbim’s Stork, Pale Chanting Goshawks, Yellow-billed Kites, Carmine Bee-eaters and Open-billed Storks. Nxai Pan is also home to the Kori Bustard, the largest flying bird in the world and the national bird of Botswana.

Lebala, December 2016

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It was a sad start to the month for the Southern Pride. The lions were seen hunting and stalking Red Letchwe, but after a while we realized there was a cub missing. A few days later we came across two male lions from the Northern Pride, Old Gun and Sebastian; it transpired that the missing cub was injured and subsequently killed by these two dominant males. Infanticide is well-documented in lions with males often killing the young of others to try and ensure that only their genes are passed on. The rest of the Southern Pride had at this point moved on with one less family member.

The pack of 8 adults wild dogs and 14 puppies were fairly elusive this month, but when they were seen they delivered incredible sightings. On one occasion the guide and tracker team did brilliantly to track the wild dogs for a thrill packed hour and found them resting in the thick bush. While we were still watching them a young impala came running towards the dogs. After a moment’s hesitation the adult dogs pounced into action, caught and devoured the impala as we watched in awe. After the adults had stripped the carcass they then fed their puppies by regurgitating the meat. Yes, all the gory details do come along with the whole safari experience.

One of the more interesting sightings at Lebala this month started after a tssesebe made several alarm calls. We moved in to take a closer look and found a stunning pair of wild cats digging something out of a hole. Wild cats are nocturnal and spend most nights hunting small prey such as field mice, squirrels and birds. It is very unusual to see them during the day, let alone witness them hunting.

Leopards were seen fairly regularly; on one particular occasion we found fresh track of an adult leopard and two cubs. After tracking the leopard for a short while through the thickets we came across her and two sub-adult cubs feeding on a large male impala.

Cheetah were seen on rare occasions this month, a female and her two cubs were spotted near Halfway Pan with their bellies full. The two sub-adults were playing and chasing each other around a termite mound. This playtime is essential for the young adults as they dart around tripping and chasing each other, developing the skills they will need to hunt and kill on their own in the future.

The seasonal rain has arrived filling the pans and natural waterholes. The summer migrants have arrived, birds are nesting and the excitement of new life is contagious. There will be plenty to eat this year and we are expecting great sightings all round. The grasslands are lush and the grazers are content, as are the browsers as they trim the trees of verdant new foliage. It’s astounding how the rains bring new energy to the wilderness.

Lagoon, December 2016

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When young carnivores play with their parents and siblings they pounce, tackle, bite and claw. This appears very cute and is an absolute treat to photograph, but in fact these are predators in training. Whilst playing these games, the cubs and pups are developing the skills that they will need one day to hunt and kill their own prey. For most these skills come naturally and quickly, but some need a little more training. In the natural world only the fit survives, and as with everything in life, practice makes perfect.

This was exactly the case for a young female leopard who we tracked on a lovely, cool cloudy day. The scenery was breathtaking with dark stormy clouds as the back drop to the beautiful bright greenery in the foreground. Having seen the young leopard earlier in the month with her mother the guides had become familiar with her and she was comfortable with the vehicle. We watched for about an hour as she over and over again stalked and missed opportunities to kill impala. It was evident that she still lacked the patience required to be successful. She was persistent however, gaining valuable experience for her future hunts.

Training seemed to be the order of the month as the carnivore puppies and cubs were all playing hard and some even participating in hunts. A cheetah female with two sub adults, one male and one female, seemed a little frustrated as they spent the morning chasing red letchwe around the Halfway Pan area. These two young cheetahs also lacked the patience they needed to make a successful kill. It is during these hunts that the mother will allow the younger ones to participate, develop skills, gain experience and then learn from their mistakes.

The wild dogs, a pack of 10 adults and 9 puppies; were seen a couple of times close to camp. They were very relaxed and spent their time playing with their young. They were then seen on the old Lebala road where they demonstrated their hunting strategy. At Halfway Pan they were busy chasing impalas but unfortunately they were unsuccessful and the impala managed to escape. They had better luck at John’s Pan where we found them just after they had killed and devoured an impala. Afterwards they became very social. They interacted with each other and played with the puppies before they lay down to rest in the shade of a large tree.

Lion sightings were also good this month, the pride of 7 adults and 10 cubs were seen numerous times, often lying in the shade and playing with each other. This pride has been very successful in raising their cubs and they were usually found full bellied and looking healthy. The other pride consisting of two females, two males and 10 cubs was also seen. These two females have many mouths to feed and were not always as successful as the larger pride. We also went out in search of the pride of two male, 2 females and 3 cubs that prefer the Kwena area. This pride looked happy and healthy as they played. We enjoyed a wonderful sighting next to the water with perfect late afternoon light to capture the moment on camera. Watching how this family interacted was an absolute treat.

Kwara, December 2016

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When booking an African safari, more often than not you imagine driving across vast open plains teeming with game or sitting in a vehicle beside a waterhole surrounded by numerous different species. This is not always the case. Sometimes the action occurs right in camp without setting foot on a game drive vehicle. This is pretty much how December started at Kwara. Two nomadic male lions spent the night in camp roaring almost until dawn. For those who have experienced the roar of a lion at close range; the vibrations penetrate the walls of any room and can be felt deep within your chest. It is a distinct and unmistakable feeling of power that stirs our primeval instincts. The following morning these regal beasts were found resting on the road to the airstrip.

Despite the action in and around camp the sightings from the vehicles did not disappoint, on one occasion as the Mma Leitho Pride was enjoying the early morning sunshine a wildebeest appeared seemingly out of nowhere and walked right towards the resting pride. Being opportunistic by nature the lionesses stalked, ambushed and killed the wildebeest. Kwara’s three vehicles (the maximum permitted) were lucky enough to witness the experience. One other incredible sighting was when a lioness who had been away from the pride for more than a month was seen introducing her 6 week old cub to her home land. The cub was shy at first and scrambled into an aardvark hole afraid of the vehicle, but the lioness gently nudged the cub out with her front paw, carefully picked it up with a neck bite and carried her off. Such a tender and special moment for our guests to experience.

Two different packs of wild dog had a slight altercation. After the smaller pack had killed 2 baby impala and were busy regurgitating for their pups a larger pack came and chased them off; it was sad to see the adults abandon their pups as they ran for their lives but it all ended well and the smaller pack all managed to escape unharmed.

A female leopard was found earlier in the month as she moved from one island to another. Hunting, she climbed up trees for a better view. Excitement mounted as she spotted a bushbuck. She stalked and managed to get really close but just as she was about to pounce, the bushbuck managed to escape.

There were many other incredible sightings of carnivores such as lion, leopard, cheetah, hyena and wild dog, but possibly the most unusual predator sighting of December involved reptiles. A crocodile and a monitor lizard were found fighting just east of the airstrip, the left front leg of the monitor lizard was locked in the jaws of the crocodile. The monitor lizard had his entire body wrapped around the head of the crocodile as they both toughed it out. Eventually the crocodile surrendered and the two went their separate ways. Once again Kwara delivers an incredible and most unusual sighting.