It’s July 2001 and …

It’s Monday 2nd and Zero Zero Lives

Zero Zero ??

Good news this week – Zero Zero has been spotted! This popular leopard, who has been observed by Robin and guests over many years, was feared to have perished a while ago as sightings moved from frequent to none at all. Zero Zero would be approximately 16 years old now. Such a relief to all to finally see her again!

There have been many more excellent wildlife sightings this week. Two Bateleur Eagles have been seen nesting in the ebony grove near Tena Tena. There is a hive of nesting activity going on… It will be some time before the chicks might be seen but it’s very exciting nevertheless. A pair of Giant eagle Owl have also been spotted regularly around Tena Tena. Robin saw lion chasing hyena off a buffalo kill recently – it was a spirited standoff from what I understand. Taking another look about three hours later only one leg remained of the kill!

Or is this Zero Zero?

Not to be undermined, Wendy from Nsefu was first to notice a pair of Pels Fishing Owl at Buca Buca lagoon. They have since been spotted quite regularly on drives past. They are not seen very often so it is hoped that they might be nesting. Leopard sightings for Nsefu guests continue to be outstanding! One group of guests enjoyed seven sightings over three days!! It has not been uncommon this week to see leopard twice in one night. One spotting included one male, one female and a little cub! Another incredible sighting included two leopard up a stork colony tree, undoubtedly up to no good! Noodles was very excited midmorning when she looked across the river from Nsefu and noticed one leopard being chased by FIFTY baboon!! Wendy has not seen anything like it! And finally, during a civilised starlit dinner near the bar, Nsefu guests noticed that the calling of a male lion was getting closer and closer… It was soon decided to abandon dinner, wait inside the bar until a gameviewing vehicle pulled up and relocate for a little while until the lion was encouraged to depart the area! Exciting stuff!

Kutandala Camp, a new walking bush camp in the North Luangwa, opened a couple of weeks ago. Camp managers were delighted that their first guests were exceptionally keen and widely travelled birders, providing an excellent opportunity to seek out some of the North Luangwa ‘specials’ – they did not find them all but were pleased to spot Black-backed Barbet, Pale-billed Hornbill, Half-collared Kingfisher, Narina’s Trogon, Black-bellied Koorhan and Racket Tailed Roller along with a myriad of other species. Like many birders they were not adverse to seeing a bit of game along the way and had great sightings of lion (in the company of Lappet-faced vulture), elephant (being mobbed by Crowned Plover), kudu (with yellow-billed oxpeckers) and wildebeest (with wattled starlings at their feet).

Crossing to Kutandala last year

Building Kutandala proved more difficult than had been anticipated as both the Luangwa and Mwaleshi Rivers are unseasonably high so fording them was not easy. However, by making frequent use of a hi-lift jack and with the sterling work of the building crew, everything was finished on time. Three guest houses have been built with open fronts so that one can watch the Mwaleshi River, and game on the floodplain, while resting during the heat of the day – at night reed blinds are rolled down for security. The en-suite bathrooms are all open air. Breakfast and lunch are taken in the shade of an acacia tree on the river bank with stunning views of Chinchendu Hill and the escarpment beyond, while dinner is served in the main sitting area which is under a huge Natal Mahogany where (amongst other things) an extensive collection of natural history books have been placed. A wonderful camp to include in a Luangwa itinerary!

[more about Kutandala on the Kutandala web site]

Next week we hope to bring gameviewing tales from Simon and Jason when they return from a Mupamadzi Walking Safari plus a verification on word from Tena Tena… Corinna has decided that a health and fitness regime is in order for the guides!! Apparently waistlines have been expanding far too early in the season!

Until next week, take care!

It’s Monday 9th and Who Let the Vulture Out?

Yes it’s true… it is only the beginning of July and certain Tena Tena staff members have been finding it hard to fit into the same pair of pants that they started the season with only six weeks ago! Corinna has taken Chris and Henry, in particular, to task with a tightening-of-the belt regime. One serving of each meal ONLY, absolutely no desert is allowed to sit in front of them and, which surely must be the most difficult of all, ONE BEER only per day!! Also, Nathan was amused when returning to camp one afternoon to find the boys in a yoga-stretching position. Nathan should not laugh too soon…he might be next! I hope to report soon that wardrobe selections will once again have variety up at Tena Tena!

Others in the Nsefu sector have been having a field day with their what-to-wear decisions. RPS has seen a week of lights, cameras and pose-striking with the arrival of photographers to build up a suitable portfolio for our new brochure and HELLO! magazine for one of their upcoming issues. All staff have become involved with what I am sure will be some exceptional candid moments – bush breakfasts, game drives, walking, sundowners in the Park, sundowners in camp, bush dining scenes and relaxing in camp. Nsefu and Tena Tena staff have been thoroughly enjoying having UK rising-celeb Ben Fogle and photographer Ken Lennox in residence for a forthcoming issue of HELLO!. It is all about Ben Fogle on a game drive, Ben Fogle walking through the bush, Ben Fogle at sundowners, Ben Fogle entertaining the children at Kawaza Village….and it has all been a huge amount of fun for everybody. We cannot wait to see the end results in print.

Lions on a kill, at night

Jo has been busy co-ordinating both photo-shoot groups and is extremely pleased with the way it has all worked out. As I write, our brochure photographers have taken Simon and some Nkwali staff out to a hippo kill for some walking safari action shots – reportedly there are 10 lion surrounding this kill!

It has not all been happening in front of the cameras mind you! Keyala was taking guests on a morning activity not far from Nkwali when they noticed some vultures circling not far ahead. They were lucky to quickly come across a recent hippo kill but what they found at the scene was truly a sight. A very hungry vulture had managed to get half its body stuck inside the smelly carcass…presumably whilst trying to tear off some food to eat! It was not able to free itself! Keyala had to resort to cutting away at the hippo with his knife in order to free the poor bird from what must have been a most unpleasant situation. Once free Keyala encouraged the vulture to fly away. It managed a short flutter then came to a stop a few feet away from sheer exhaustion. As a result much laughter was had back in camp!

The baboons have been barking and fighting all week at Nkwali. I have taken to ignoring it, much like one would ignore the sound of traffic in the city.

Walking near Nkwali

To my regret I slept through a serious amount of barking on Wednesday night when at about 3am four or five lion plus cub walked the length of the camp and out into the bush. They had walked right past my house (which was verified by Keyala and Marcus who did awake to see and hear them) after feasting on a kill not far from camp. The sight of their prints by my door was exciting but it would have been incredible to watch them wandering past!

On a sad note this morning an elephant has been found dead at the back of Nkwali. It had been shot in the leg but must have walked a long way before collapsing. It is so very sad to see this happen. The ivory was still intact. We were beginning to be able to smell something and the vultures were circling so it did not take long to find the elephant. With many lion in the area at present we are certain that they will soon come across it.

Wouldn’t you think that when you asked for a new saucepan you would receive that standard piece of kitchen equipment with a handle at the top which sits on the stove for boiling things in? Not necessarily, no! To much amusement our goods order this week included a rather small plastic pot with wrapping proclaiming it to be a ‘sauce pan’!! I’m sure it will have some usage! Perhaps a special award at the end of season!!

I hope that you all have a fantastic week ahead….

It’s Monday 16th and Two Fingers!

I hope that everybody has had a great week! Here in the Valley the nights are still chilly, the mornings are cold but the days turn out to be clear, warm and sunny – perfect! You can certainly see that the dry season is well underway…most of the ground is rock-hard dry now, the grass has died off and the bush is thinning out. Excellent conditions for walking!! Gameviewing opportunities improve rapidly when the water holes dry up and will continue to do so as we move into the warmer months ahead.

This past week has seen some exciting and rare sightings. We have had two separate reports of aardvark and also two cerval sightings, both close to the Nkwali area. Marcus was quite excited by one of the cerval spottings – this was the first for the year! Nkwali has also just opened up some loop roads on Robin’s land so guests can enjoy shorter gamedrives or nightspotting if they don’t wish to take a longer venture into the Park. These loops roads are wonderful – no other vehicles around, excellent gameviewing and all very close to camp! Shanie is now preparing some lovely bush lunches and offering relaxing sundowners in secluded, peaceful locations. The timing is perfect as we are always hearing lions roar and baboons bark in the direction of these new roads!

The winter sunshine bounced off the coat of a leopard metres from Sara and Matthew’s house the other day! They were quietly sitting at home one afternoon with some friends when suddenly the monkeys started chattering and the bushbuck were sending out alarm calls! Those inside the house went to the windows to see a beautiful female leopard appear from behind the bushes and she walked right up to the house! Without any fuss or hesitation she proceeded to take a lap of honour right around the house!! Sara, Matthew and friends went with it, from room to room and then outside into their open-air bathroom to take a better look. The cat turned back and looked at them all peering at her from over the wall, the sun shining bright on her coat, before she went back to the same bushes and wandered casually off!!

Last week I mentioned that our brochure photographers had just gone out to take walking safari shots near a hippo kill. Well, it turned out to be one of those hair raising events that required a few quick drinks to calm the nerves after! Jo had co-ordinated the whole thing. She drove one vehicle with her mother Judy and photographers in one vehicle while Simon, Nathan and a few other ‘walkers’ arrived in another vehicle. They arrived at the sight of the kill and the scene looked perfect – there were more than 10 lion devouring the hippo!! It was a moment of precision planning for safety and optimal photography reasons! Jo had her photography vehicle in position directly across from Simon’s vehicle with the kill in the middle.

The lion were in quite a state over the kill and the walkers had to step out of the vehicle and walk toward them!! When Jo sent a radio message to Simon that everything was ready he drove forward into camera position….quite a lot closer than Jo had thought. Jo felt a knot in her stomach! The walkers lept out of the vehicle and started for the lion. The lion didn’t notice a thing – the photographers could not believe their luck – priceless photos were being snapped to the dozen! Suddenly the lion heads turned and they all stood up in fright. The walkers quickly returned to their vehicles. Amidst much tension lion flew in all different directions away from the scene, scattering into bush…some heading straight for Jo who was fumbling with the ignition switch in anxiety to get away! She only had one way to go….forward toward the kill and beyond, with baby cub on one side of the vehicle and distressed mother lion on the other!! Adrenalin flew and so did the vehicles all the way back to the bar for a few glasses of wine to calm down! We cannot WAIT to see the photos – they should be brilliant!

The lovely Judy stole the show however! When they arrived, another gameviewing vehicle with guests enjoying the scene were taking far too long to move away. The RPS crew did not want to ruin their moment for as soon as the walkers stepped out of the vehicle the lion would have scattered in all directions!! So they had to wait…and wait….and wait. Judy was not amused. Jo turned around to see her own mother gesturing with an outstretched thumb toward the other gameviewers to ‘move along’!

“Judy you can’t do that! You must be patient and wait for them to leave when they are ready”, cried Jo. Judy reluctantly put her gesturing thumb down. Thankfully after not too much further time had passed the non-RPS vehicle started its motor and it appeared as though it was about to depart.

“Look Judy, they are about to go now” said Jo.

“Good. This time I’ve got two fingers ready for them” replied Judy!!


It’s Monday 23rd and the maurauding honey badger

Jeffery is away for four days – supposedly on a familiarization trip – but I suspect he is having a wonderful relaxing holiday in the Lower Zambezi. He deserves it. So it is back to me this week and it has been a long time……..

Last week Jeffery told you about our photographing “lions with walkers” experience. I have to say that it sounded a little more dramatic than it in fact was but I suppose that is Jeffer’s talent. The photographer, Paul Joynson-Hicks, lives in Dar es Salaam – so not too far away. He emailed to say the pics were stunning (modest guy!) and so we arranged for him to deliver them in person. Well, he is here and he was not exaggerating. He has produced some truly amazing work. And the shot we were all so excited to see – the now famous lion and walkers shot – is more than excellent.

So I have been designing the brochure with Paul over the last couple of days – it was an easy job as the photos say it all. And you will all get to see the “lions with walkers” as we have, of course, included it.

We did realise that we needed a mobile tent shot after all and so yesterday, got up early in the dark (and I have to say cold!) and drove up to the mobile camp on the Mupamadzi River. Robin was in the area with a walking group so we sneaked in, took the shots and drove out before he returned from the walk. The fabulously stunning and wacky, Miss Sally Gordon (her quote) was in the back of the truck stock-taking when we arrived. Her head popped up from between the Mosi crates – “what on earth are you doing here? Do you want some coffee?”. She thought it very funny to have us drop in – it is a 7 hour round trip. We saw five roan, three very wild lions and ellys on the drive.

Jason and Noodles have also done a long days drive this week – taking two guests who acted as willing guinea pigs. They set off at 0430, again in the cold morning air, and headed off into the eastern hills. There is a clear water river there, hills and a massive granite rock. Apparently a wonderful area. They took a picnic, swam in the river, decided not to climb the hill and arrived back in camp at seven in the evening. Quite a day. Noodles is so excited about the place that she has asked me to organise a fly camp so that they can do overnight trips there.

Up at Tena Tena on a morning drive, Chris saw a female puku thrashing her head around in the grass. Having never seen behavior like it he moved in for a closer look. The puku was defending her new born calf from a marauding honey badger! Quite a fight. And much to the relief of all watching, the mother won and the new born was safe.

The ebony trees are fruiting and it is the time of year when the elephants daily come into Nkwali Camp to feed. The dining room is under ebony trees and yesterday a group of five came in to feed. Shanie and Derek, the waiter, were there and soon realised that they needed to sneak through and make a hasty retreat. Lucky, as the baby elly decided to investigate the structure and walked up the steps to look around. The ellys returned during the night and smashed all the large clay pots – the decoration at the dinning room – much to Shanie’s annoyance. Between the baboons, vervet monkeys and now the ellys – she says she is going to give up trying to control the game in camp!

An unusual bird siting this week – 2 adults and a juvenile Palm Nut Vultures seen on the Mupamadazi River. They were overlooking a lion kill in the phragmites reeds. For birders, that is a very exciting “tick”. These vultures are not residents in the Luangwa Valley.

Finally, in a thank you email from a guest, Jenna summed up exactly what we are trying to do.

It truly was one of the most life changing experiences of my life. I have never had the opportunity of the total immersion into the natural world. And to have had the privilege to have been introduced to it by you Robin!
Thank you

Have a wonderful week and remember to pick some daisies.
Take care

It’s Monday 30th and the distressed buffalo

Jo was correct…I did have a lovely relaxing stay in the Lower Zambezi last week. However I worked very hard (of course) learning a lot about why guests often combine a stay at RPS camps with either Chiawa Camp or Sausage Tree Camp on the great Zambezi River. Fishing enthusiasts can snare a tiger fish or two – the fishing is brilliant and fortunately the strict catch-and-release policy ensures the survival of these and other varieties of fish caught along the river. After three days of tearing up and down the waterways I returned to the Valley revitalised and refreshed!

Early last week Jo and Robin took off for Nyika for a few days of relaxation with Jo’s sister Martha and her fiancée Frank. Jo told me that it was so very beautiful to be back at Nyika – it was very COLD at the higher altitude so lots of sleeping, keeping warm, picnics along the escarpment, walking along the bush tracks, and whilst Martha and Frank enjoyed some horseriding, Jo spent some creative time on our new brochure. No sooner had they returned to Mfuwe than Jo was off to Dar es Salaam to meet up with Paul “the photographer” and his creative team to put it all together. We cannot wait to see the end results!!

Guests at Tena Tena are currently enjoying some muddy scenes at a recent buffalo kill near camp! Mr. Holt said that it was all rather gruesome. They could hear the buffalo’s distress calls from camp which apparently continued for quite a few hours. The buffalo was being eaten alive by about six lion! It was a slow demise for the beast as it was stuck in a deep mud patch and the pride could only get to the legs and body first. I drove past a day later to find lion caked in mud and vultures unable to fly – they looked like they had all been dipped in chocolate!

Simon is currently leading one of our Walking Mobile Safaris and the reports coming in on the radio are very exciting. Amongst other things nine lion spotted during one of the walks! Nsefu continues to have outstanding leopard sightings – there were five sightings on one night drive alone! Shanie tells me that Nkwali guests have been enjoying almost daily leopard and lion this week plus, as Jo mentioned, elephant wandering into camp every day. Elephants provided the perfect backdrop to the Horn of Sorrow, performed in camp by a local theatre group. And as I write Shanie is busy setting up a bush lunch for Nkwali guests and she has just sent in a radio message to tell me that things have ground to a halt. She is currently sitting in her vehicle waiting for 21 elephants to pass through!!! Should be an interesting lunch – full report next week!

Late yesterday afternoon I joined a few others from Nkwali to mark the first anniversary of Johnny’s accident. We piled into a vehicle and drove (via pontoon) over to the site to sit quietly with a few beers. In true RPS style a glass or two was raised to Johnny and we laughed and reflected over some his many fine qualities. He is vividly remembered and much loved by us all.

Have a lovely week ahead.

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