CHITABE CAMP LATEST NEWS
Despite the fact that the rainfall in the month of March has been almost non-existent, which is rather unusual, the bush is still looking incredibly green. The temperatures have been fairly low with the maximums ranging between 35 and 38° C and the minimum for the month being around 18° C….
It seems that the extensive herds of elephant that had moved deep into the thick mopane woodlands far north of our concession, after the heavy rains in January, have returned to the Chitabe Concession. It is great to see the elephants thriving and looking healthy once again especially after watching them struggling through the drier times when palatable vegetation was sparse.
We have enjoyed some great sightings of lion with their respective cubs – as well as wild dogs. The predatory highlight for the month was when two wild dogs, members of the Chitabe Pack, killed an impala ram, which proved to be too much food for the two dogs to consume. Immediately after they fed, the dogs left the carcass and a female leopard approached, taking the remains and dragging them under the bush so she could feed. While all the guests were watching the leopard feed, another pack of nine wild dogs arrived at the scene and proceeded to take the carcass from the helpless and outnumbered leopard. The pack of nine wild dogs are new to the area, and have been sighted several times over the past two months and we certainly hope to see a lot more of them.
The lion hotspot viewing area this month seems to be around the airstrip as that is where the Chitabe Pride has been concentrating its movements. They have moved here due to pressure from another group, the Tsame Pride, which currently occupies most of the prime territory that the Chitabe Pride used to roam. The two prides seem to share the territory, yet carefully move around each other seeming to avoid direct contact. The Chitabe Pride is successfully raising a three-month-old cub at this stage and it is common behaviour for lions to avoid any territorial disputes in favour of their young and vulnerable cubs.
Leopard encounters, as usual, have continued to be regular on game drives, with the Acacia Male and several of the females in his territory providing some great sightings. This male is the dominant leopard that occupies our prime game drive area and so far there are at least five to six different females that are within his territory. His territory is vast and covers most of the concession and at the beginning of the month we were privileged to observe and photograph him proudly defending his territory and fiercely driving out another male that happened to intrude. As beautiful as it is to photograph a leopard in a tree, watching active behaviour is first prize! Currently we have also been observing a female leopard successfully raising her young cub.
Big towers of giraffe have been seen browsing on the wooded islands and impressive dazzles of zebra have congregated on the floodplains – adding a beautiful colour and texture to the bush.
Birds and Birding
Birding has been amazing with woodland kingfishers and southern-carmine bee-eaters dominating the sightings on the migrant side. It has also been disheartening to watch many waterholes and lagoons drying up at a dramatic pace leaving the fish to suffer intensively from less oxygen and exposure to the intense heat from the sun. However, this annual occurrence does lead to fascinating sightings of the avian feeding frenzy by species such as storks, pelicans, and herons. Commonly known as a “fish trap”, at one stage we were able to witness at least 40 pelicans and many black herons in one small shrinking pond, all gorging themselves.
Chitabe seems to be one of the few strongholds of an endangered and highly protected bird species – the wattled crane. These birds prefer isolated wetland areas hence the Okavango Delta having a high population. Here at Chitabe we have a large flock of over 40 which is frequently sighted on the shallow floodplains in the concession.
The month of September has been a predictably dry month, with a little bit of light afternoon rain at the end of the month, to tease us and a few welcome overcast days to take away the heat. The colder weather of winter has all but left us, except for a few cooler mornings here and there; we are well on our way into a Botswana summer.
One of the Chitabe lion prides, known as the Tshame Pride, graced us with their presence and spent a leisurely afternoon on the other side of the channel, just opposite Lediba Camp. Grant Atkinson kindly gave us a photo of the lions with Lediba in the background. It is quite a treat being able to watch lions from the comfort of one’s room and from the Chitabe Lediba main area.
On the 11th of September we had a rather sad incident when Ebs found a male lion digging next to a termite mound where the old female of the Chitabe Pride was hiding her cubs. Ebs spotted the lion digging and also noticed that there were some bones of a young cub on the ground close to the opening of the burrow. Ebs concluded that the nomadic male who had been seen moving in and out of the area was looking for the other cubs and hence was trying to dig them out to perform infanticide. The game drive vehicle spent most of the morning at the sighting as all the guests were waiting to see what the outcome would be. The male lion spent almost two days trying to dig out the “burrow” where the female had hidden her cubs, but the ground of the termite mound was extremely hard and the male lion, fortunately, was not having much success and eventually moved off. At one point we got a glimpse of one of the cubs who peered out of the burrow for a second or two and then quickly retreated back to the safety of the termite mound. On the third day the lioness came back from her hunting foray and we saw her moving around with one of her cubs. She kept calling for the other cub, but with no luck. A week later we again saw the lioness and this time she had two healthy looking cubs with her. Guides and guests all had a big sigh of relief to see the cubs safely back with their mother.
As usual we have had lots of general game around, with big herds of buffalo, impala and zebra throughout the concession. The leopards have also been sighted on a regular basis and we currently have seven different leopards which we are seeing. September has also given us a number of Cheetah sightings and Phinley was fortunate to see a female caracal with two kittens.
We ended the month celebrating Botswana’s Independence Day on the 30th of September. 44 years ago, on September 30, 1966, Bechuanaland became the independent Republic of Botswana. All Chitabe staff were wearing their Botswana flag bandanas, with the blue, black and white.
The month of June has been a very productive month as animals start to gather at permanent waterholes or channels, while the rest of the surrounds dry out. We did have the occasional cold front pushing through from the south, making for some very chilling mornings where some of our guests ended up asking for hot water bottles on both the afternoon and the morning game drives.
A good example of how to keep warm in the winter is depicted here by this family of dwarf mongoose that cuddle up close together in order to keep warm. It is a truly great experience watching a family of dwarf mongoose who normally run away before one gets a chance to take any photos, but on this occasion they posed beautifully basking in the rays of the warm morning sun. Game drives are not all about big game, but often it is the smaller animals and their behaviour that provide food for thought and entertainment.
During the month of June we’ve had some nomadic male lion come into the Concession and they have been seen a couple of times taking down buffalo. Cheetah sightings this month have been great, with cheetah being sighted almost every two days.
The water levels have gone down compared to the same time last year, due to lower water levels than the previous year. This is a welcome relief for us as we still have ample driving area in which to traverse and the game is plentiful.
“Thuso our guide was extraordinary! His patience & knowledge were unique. The staff seemed to be a family & have one mission, to make the visit the very best!” – Kevin & Wendy
“We left extremely well taken care of in any respect guiding, food and service and game of course! It was an extremely enjoyable stay with spectacular game viewing, good food, excellent service and exceptionally good and qualified guide!” – Birget & Werner
“It was my first safari and words can’t express how grateful and blessed I feel to have experienced this in my life. It has truly been the greatest adventure imaginable. BB our guide was magnificent, the hospitality of the staff was perfection and the animals were breath taking. It is difficult to verbalize the emotional and spiritual impact of this visit- I will be forever grateful! Thank you so much!” – Stacey
“A huge amount of wildlife to be seen and very well organized by our guide, Anthony was our guide and he not only possessed an expert knowledge but a good sense of humor and made or game drives, that much more enjoyable. The facilities were excellent and or stay was very comfortable. Sonny Boy, Lux and Ruth catered to our every needs and hospitality side, Cecilia kept our room immaculate, Lieana and Tiny ensured we were comfortable at all times. BB although not our guide, provided amusement and entertainment whenever we saw him. An excellent stay and a definite return & top recommendation. Alex also arranged a private dinner which came as a very good surprise and a fantastic way to end our stay at Chitabe. It was served by Chunda. Many thanks to both-brilliant!” – Brian & Kitty
“The game viewing was fantastic, but it was the fantastic staff that made the experience so special. Our guides EBS was an absolute pleasure to spend the day with.” – John
19 May 2012
Weather and Landscape
The month of April has been a dry month with no rain, but we did have the occasional cold front pushing in from the south, making for some very chilling mornings. However, these cooler conditions did not last long and after a few days we were back to warm and very pleasant weather.
Chitabe Concession is changing rapidly, from different shades of green to different shades of brown as the vegetation prepares for the winter months. We never really experienced autumn in the true sense of the word, but there is enough colour change about in the foliage for us to feel like summer is gone and the winter months are approaching. We’ve noticed that many of our water crossings are drying up, but it won’t be much longer before the annual inundation arrives and saturates the landscape. However, if we compare this year to last year, the landscape is most definitely drier than it was in 2011.
On the 7 April, we experienced a very sad incident when we found the alpha female (known as Majadi) of the Chitabe Pack dead. After investigating the carcass and the tracks in the surrounding area, we concluded that the canine was killed by lions. Majadi was pregnant and close to denning at the time.
Another reason why this is tragic is that the alpha female was collared for research purposes and was providing some excellent data on the movements of wild dog in the area. Fortunately we were able to recover the collar. We are now keeping our fingers crossed that the next ranking female will assume the role of alpha female and successfully lead the pack.
We first realised that all was not well within the pack, when we noticed the pack was very jumpy and agitated. The alpha male was calling and calling in that mournful “who” call that the dogs do when they are looking for a missing member of the pack. The male would face his muzzle towards the ground and emit a pitch-perfect “who”. Not seeing the alpha female anywhere around the pack, we knew something might have happened to her.
BB, one of our guides, went back in the afternoon to where he had left the dogs that morning. The pack started to move around five o’clock in the afternoon in a northerly direction. We followed them for a short while and then came upon the deceased alpha female’s carcass.
It seems that the Chitabe Pride of lions had it out for all the other predators this month, as we witnessed the pride chase a leopard and her cub into a tree. This provided great photographic opportunities for our guests. The aggressive lion pride was also seen stalking a hippo that had come on land during a cool afternoon. Two of the pride females stalked the hippo and then swiftly pounced onto the formidable herbivore. The hippo immediately burst into a panic and ran towards the water. It was quite comical as it looked like the two felines were rodeo riders. Instinctively, the hippo ran straight to the safety of deep water, shedding the felines as soon as they got wet.
On a brisk April morning, Thuso and his guests found three leopards all congregating on an impala kill. During this time, the subadult cub was seen practising mating with his mother, which was rather unusual.
Other great sightings for the month include serval and caracal.
“Thuso was a great guide. The camp staff are very helpful and attentive – our special needs were met in every way.”
“Gordon was a terrific guide and so helpful positioning us for wonderful photos. Your staff are wonderful and helped make our return to Chitabe very special. Great food, game viewing and accommodations. Thank you for a most special start to our Botswana Safari – and a very memorable Birthday.”
“The people here are just wonderful – really made our stay special. Loved the dancing and singing, food was fabulous! This was one of my top life experiences. Thank you all for making our visit so very special.”
“Molemi did a great job as guide. It was an honor to meet such a thorough professional, knowledgeable and likable person. He was indeed great. As a vegan, the staff were very accommodating – creating special dishes for me.”
Weather and Landscape
As is normal, the month of February was wetter than the previous months and we had in excess of 140mm of rain for the month, which mostly came down in brief, isolated thunder showers; but nonetheless spectacular, with vivid lightning displays and explosive rumbling thunder breaking around us.
The bush has become dense, lush and even greener than before, with waterholes and pans over flowing throughout the concession, creating an oasis for the abundance of water birds and wildlife. The various accumulations of cloud cover in the late afternoons have made for simply breathtaking sunsets, full of vivid colours and dramatic highlights across the horizon.
Wild dog sightings were great at the beginning of the month and became sparser towards the end of the month, as the dogs continued to traverse their home ranges in search of other dogs who might be bordering their territory. Even though the vegetation is quite thick, our guides have risen to the task and we’ve managed to have regular and good quality sightings of leopard, either perched beautifully in a tree with their cubs or with a kill.
The resident Chitabe Pride of lion has added a new addition to its numbers in January and we are now seeing the cub with the pride all the time, so she is being well looked after and even tagging along on hunts, just so mom can keep an eye on her at all times.
Towards the end of the month we were treated to a leopard kill – mother and son shared a large male impala and a mere 500 metres away was a male lion in his kill. The dominate male lion chased off not only his brother but also the Chitabe females and was adamant about keeping the meal all to himself, apart from a few jackals sneaking in for scraps each time he closed his eyes.
The general game viewing has been good and in large numbers, especially giraffe and zebra. Elephant sightings have been down, as they normally are this time of the year, but when we do see the elephants, they are often in large breeding herds ranging from 20 to over 80 individuals. The elephants often use Chitabe as a corridor to cross from the western side of the Okavango Delta towards the eastern areas of the Mababe.
Chitabe Main Camp was closed for the first two weeks of the month as we were finishing up the rebuild of our new kitchen and laundry, to the delight of our chefs and housekeepers, who are simply thrilled with their new working spaces.
“The game drive with Anthony to a pride of lions with a fresh kill was fantastic! The camp welcome with dance and music as well as the surprise bush dinner was a great highlight.” Minke and Rutger.
“Seeing all the wonderful wildlife so close up. The hippo, lion, leopard and all the other animals. Wonderful guide and all the staff were so friendly and welcoming.” Lindsy.
“Gordon is one of the most knowledgeable guides and kind and personable guides we have ever travelled with. All others involved were great too. We loved the kindness and enthusiasm of the staff, the dance at the last dinner was great.” Peter and Josephine.
Information courtesy of Wilderness Safaris
Chitabe Camp is situated in a private concession area on a beautiful island in the south-east of the Okavango Delta Botswana. While playing host to the diversity of wildlife, birds and habitats which only the Okavango Delta can offer, this area is a breathtaking mosaic of open floodplains, waterways, marshlands, dry acacia and mopane woodland, riverine forest and open grasslands which is notably in contrast to the areas further north.
Chitabe Camp’s eight spacious Meru-style tents are built on elevated wooden decks amongst the trees of the Okavango Delta. Each tent has twin beds, en-suite facilities and an indoor as well as an outdoor shower. The thatched dining area, pub and lounge area are built on raised decks to provide superb views across the Okavango Delta floodplain, and a pool allows guests to cool off in the heat of the day.
Luxury African Safaris at Chitabe Camp include day and night game drives in open 4×4 vehicles, nature walks and spectacular birdwatching. The multiplicity of habitats surrounding Chitabe Camp means there is an abundance of wildlife to be seen, including elephant, buffalo, lion, leopard, cheetah, giraffe, zebra, tsessebe, impala and, occasionally, wild dogs. Night drives also provide opportunities for guests to see nocturnal mammals such as civet, serval, genet, porcupine and aardwolf.
Chitabe Camp also has two elevated platforms located in the reserve, one of which is within walking distance from the camp. Guests can experience a “sleep out” in the Okavango Delta under the stars in full comfort and safety.
Camp Features / Activities:
Photos courtesy of Wilderness Safaris, Alain Schram, Dave Hamman, Gregg Hughes