Office Africa October 2013
Only a few more days, and it will be the end of our 2013 season. So hard to believe, it feels like yesterday when I was writing the June newsletter with a roll of drum!
It seems that it has become a tradition to start the newsletter with a comment on the weather. So let’s keep it that way. Last month I was mentioning how hot it had been in September and how some were predicting heavy rains. On September 30th, we had a very strange storm, the skies became dark grey and the wind went ferocious carrying loads of sand across the plains. That evening, the game drives came back early to escape the dust and sand. It may have rained locally but not in our area.
The next day we must have lost about 15 or more degrees (centigrade), it was overcast and cold enough to wear a fleece all day! Very strange. And since then, the weather pattern has changed, with clear mornings, wind starting in the afternoons and cloud accumulation with risk of showers in the evening. But the rains haven’t come. Yet.
It’s not entirely true, because some of our guests happened to be in an unlucky spot one evening, where it showered for a bit and one evening the Mwamba guests also experienced a short shower. And several times we could see lightning, hear thunder and smell that distinctive smell of wet earth.
The lions have continued to be at the forefront of our daily activities. We are almost losing track of how many cubs we have had this season, and still counting. We already knew about the 7 cubs of the Mwamba-Kapanda pride, we can add 6 for the Mwamba-Kaingo pride and now 9 for the Hollywood pride. That’s 22 new cubs over the season. The Hollywood pride has doubled in size over the past few weeks!
We’ll all be very anxious to see how the rains will treat all these cubs, and see who we can find next May!
By the way, on October 15 – 45 days after the last sightings, our guests caught up with the Mwamba-Kapanda pride, and were delighted to see that the little surviving cub is doing very well, healthy and no longer limping! What a trooper that one! The only sad thing is that she only has her aunties’ tails to play with.
Those who truly delighted us this month are certainly those from the Hollywood pride. Fairly easy to locate, we have been able to stay for long periods of time with the new cubs. Here are some pictures of them, 7 of them at the moment, because the last 2 have only been seen once and are still too young to be with the pride.
All 7 cubs can be seen above, and the moms and one of the dad below.
As for the Mwamba-Kaingo pride, we have seen them on a regular basis with the three little cubs, however the three newer cubs have not been seen with the pride yet.
Meyam was lucky to witness this “tentative” hunt by young sub-adult lions going after a few giraffes. You can see on the first picture below the lions lying under the shade of the bush, in front of the giraffe. Meyam relates that only the youngsters actually tried to chase them, the adult ones remained in the shade knowing better than to waste energy for nothing.
We’ve continued to have great leopard sightings as well, with a new young male being identified in the Acacia loop area, as well as Elliott returning to his home range of Mwamba area.
Very exciting sightings included the birth of a baby puku witnessed by Patrick and his guests. Pukus give birth all year round, but it is fairly rare to actually witness a birth, as they usually hide in very tall grass. It took less than 30 minutes between the time the baby was dropped until it took its first steps and suckle the mother.
Another thrilling sighting was this mother hyena carrying one of her pups. Pat found the den just in the grove near Kaingo, and was able to capture a couple of shots. Although the hyenas have been seen around the den several times, the opportunity to see the pups has not presented itself again.
We’ve had many hyena sightings however, such as this lot feeding on a dead hippo, also in the grove area.
I also like these 2 pictures of hyenas and the lion. On the first one, the hyenas seem to be chasing the lion, but things quickly changed when the lion turned around (second picture). Quite funny.
One of the most memorable recent sighting was of course the aardvark who chose a den just behind Kaingo camp. Pat reckons it was his best sighting ever as the aardvark was not shy and they were able to watch it for a while. Thank you to Annette Volfing and David Thomas for sending us a couple of pictures!
We have placed a couple of camera traps near the den for two consecutive nights, and were well rewarded with many clips of the aardvark. He basically stood outside his hole for 2 hours or more, just sniffing around. Here are a couple of photos taken from the videos. I will work on creating a short sequence and place it on YouTube soon.
Some other interesting sightings were those of a day time honey badger with a young one, as shown on Peter Smart’s picture below.
And rare birds such as this Pel’s Fishing owl photographed by guest Geoff Gamble (October), and the White-Faced Scops Owl photographed by our guest Eleanore Avery (August).
I thought I would add a few pictures of the Lillian’s Lovebirds. Not exactly a rare sighting here in South Luangwa as they are very common, but I was quite happy with these shots taken from below while the birds were perching near the birdbath at Mwamba.
Some of you are probably familiar with the website SAFARI TALK.
It is a very interesting website created in 2006 and dedicated to wildlife, environment and communities. It offers various forums, photo and video galleries, and also trip reports. A guest at Kaingo and Mwamba recently posted his trip report, and I’d like to share some extracts of it here, but I suggest you read the entire report as it extremely well written and fun to read. There are also more photographs on the page.
Trip Report – South Luangwa September 2013 by Safaridude:
Take some of the greatest game parks and reserves of Africa. Take Serengeti for example: Michael Grzimek’s and Myles Turner’s association with Serengeti fades with each wildebeest calving season. What is written today of Paul Kruger and his connection to Kruger National Park?
Frederick Selous hunted everywhere in Africa, not just the Selous. It is far from certain that he spent significantly more time in his eponymous reserve than anywhere else.
Not so, “the Valley”. The late Norman Carr and his band of self-described social outcasts, who founded park conservation as well as a certain safari subculture, are still firmly tethered to the Luangwa Valley. This inseparable bond has been continually romanticized and immortalized in writings such as Vic Guhrs’ poignant The Trouble with Africa, Simon Barnes’ deliciously mischievous Rogue Lion Safaris, Mike Coppinger and Jumbo Williams’ comprehensive Luangwa, Zambia’s Treasure, Craig Doria’s Following the Dust, not to mention Norman Carr’s own Kakuli, as well as numerous guidebooks and news articles written by others.
So, as I cross the bridge into South Luangwa National Park for the first time, it is as if I already know it. There are ghosts here. That lagoon over there could be where Arthur, unarmed, tried to rescue a drugged (darted), drowning lion by trying to lift the beast out of the water with a bear hug. That’s Luwi River over there… that must be where Rice Time (born Maqaba Tembo), the famous problem animal control officer and “the scariest guy in the Valley” lead walking safaris, screaming and telling off the charging lions, “f— off!” The ridge over there could be where Jake and Craig while on anti-poaching duty accidentally set their mate’s hair on fire by mishandling cheap tequila. Kapani is that direction… where Norman Carr once put his hard-earned cash in a hideaway safe, only to later find the safe submerged in mud and the bills inside turned into worthless crumbs.
What has changed since the “back in the day” days is the amount of traffic in the Mfuwe Lodge area. The lodge now sports 40+ beds and is closely flanked by other properties. Supposedly, a night drive in this part of Luangwa is like attending a Hollywood premier (Kakuli must be turning in his grave). To escape the madding crowd now, a long two-hour drive to Shenton Safaris’ Kaingo Camp and its sister bush camp Mwamba is desired (…).
While the hippo hide provides an excellent close-up, water level view of the often-comic giants, it is overshadowed by the brilliant carmine bee-eater hide. Each late August, thousands of carmine bee-eaters migrate into the Valley to nest on the sides of riverbank walls, forming giant colonies. A floating metal boat has been turned into a hide near one of the colonies and is reached via a light wooden boat. Having arrived at the hide at sun-up, Sly and I wait patiently for over an hour for the bee-eaters to come. Just when we thought they would never turn up, they do – in full force and at once, like a World War II bombing squad. A deafening noise accompanies the utterly chaotic jostling and nesting. I am not sure I have ever seen so many calories being burned. As is the case with a wildebeest river crossing, the essence of a carmine bee-eater colony is impossible to adequately capture on camera. And I will go out on a limb here: I find the carmine bee-eater action nearly as compelling as a wildebeest crossing. The bee-eater hide is not to be missed.
Onto Mwamba now… If Kaingo is of generous but not superfluous luxury in the bush, Mwamba Bush Camp is of bare essential luxury in the bush. Mwamba is a place where you can wash away civilization’s silt by stargazing through the see-through ceiling of your thatched hut at night. If there is indeed some “greater truth” out there, it would most certainly be found while stargazing at Mwamba. Translation: perfection.
Predator action at Mwamba is also immediate. We begin our first afternoon game drive with a few guinea fowls running ahead of the vehicle, and Sly begins to explain that there is a female leopard around who has learned to hunt guinea fowls by ambushing them on the road. Since I am fussing with my camera settings, Sly’s words barely register (“Yeah, ok. Something about leopard and guinea fowl…”). Merely seconds later, just in front of our vehicle, a large, spotted cat explodes eight feet in the air, her front paws extended and claws bared, barely missing a guinea fowl in flight. She lands softly and silently, and she glances at us (sheepishly?) as if she is embarrassed to have missed her prey in public. We soon lose her in the thickets but find her again (betrayed by her tail) in an ambush position next to the road, exactly at her previous ambush location. We back the vehicle up to give the theatre some room and wait. Lo and behold, a few minutes later, five guinea fowls (these pea-brains will never learn!) stroll down the road toward her. Tension begins to mount in the vehicle: Sly draws his camcorder ready; I reach for my smaller zoom lens for what could be a “career shot”; my right eye is firmly affixed to the camera’s viewfinder; and with my left eye, I can see a rivulet of perspiration coming down the side of Sly’s face. The lead fowl gets to within 20 feet of the her, then 15 feet and then 10 feet, but inexplicably, the leopard does not make her move. The lead fowl detects the leopard’s presence at the last minute and flies off, effectively calling off the ambush. Sly and I exhale in disappointment. No harm, no fowl.
That evening, the spotlight picks up the Mwamba-Kapamba pride hunting zebra. While negotiating the black cotton soil in our vehicle, the kill is heard, not seen. The noise of the kill is quickly replaced by the noise of several lions growling and jockeying for position at the kill. At least now we have a straight line of black cotton soil to our destination. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a spotted cat runs toward the kill! It is a leopard, not a lion. Why the heck is a leopard running toward several lions just about to feast on a zebra? Sly recognizes this leopard as Elliott, the one-eyed leopard. Perhaps due to his handicap, Elliott tends to steal kills from other predators, including those of his own mother (the guinea fowl-hunting leopard is believed to be Elliott’s mother). Sly speculates that Elliott may have thought the zebra kill may have been that of a lesser predator. At any rate, Elliott soon comes to his senses, makes a U-turn, and disappears into the night. (…).
To read the full trip report and see all the great photos, click here.
As for travel notes you may have heard of the recent Kenyan government’s decision to apply VAT (Value Added Tax) to tourism package. Well, that didn’t go unnoticed, and the Zambian government is looking to pass a similar resolution for the 2014 budget. If this resolution passes, it will take effect on January 1st, 2014 – adding a 16% tax to all tourism packages (accommodations, activities, etc) booked after that date. The reservations confirmed prior to December 31st, should remain tax exempt. The tourism organizations and various safari associations are currently lobbying against such initiative, so at the moment it is not possible to say whether or not this VAT will be applicable. We strongly suggest that if you are considering booking a safari in Zambia in 2014, to do so quickly to avoid this possible increase.
And now is the time to congratulate the winners of the October Picture of the Month competition. The theme was GORY and the winners are David Tickner, Alex Berger and Ken Coe.
OCTOBER 2013 WINNER
By David Tickner, September 2012
Settings Canon EOS 5D Mark II (settings unknown)
OCTOBER 2013RUNNER UP
By Alex Berger, July 2012
Settings. Canon REBEL T3i. 1/50 sec at f/5.6. Focal 250mm. ISO 6400.
OCTOBER 2013 RUNNER UP
By Ken Coe, September 2013
Settings: Canon EOS-1D X. 1/250 sec at f/5.6. Focal 600mm. ISO 4000
Our next themes are Expression (pictures depicting an emotion or eye contact with the animal – closing Nov 20th) and Night (nighttime photos – closing Dec 20th). Email your pictures (under 500kb please) to firstname.lastname@example.org. Remember that they must have been taken while being a guest at Kaingo or Mwamba.
2013 has been an excellent season, the 20th for Kaingo, and we are looking forward to a fun celebration with the people of the Luangwa Valley. Then it will be time to pack up and store furniture, vehicles and supplies away – until next April. But let’s not think of that yet, there’s still more to see before we close.
And looking forward to the November newsletter.