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Governors' Camp Collection News
January / February 2016

As we settle in to 2016 we have been busy welcoming clients from all over the world on safari with us across all our properties.

In the Masai Mara the Warburgia trees have begun to fruit drawing in big family herds of elephant to the forests around our camps. Out on the plains the savannah grasses have grown very long keeping the resident buffalo herds well fed, the lion are becoming increasingly difficult to spot sometimes just the tuft of a tail giving them away. Nevertheless our guests have been enjoying some wonderful big cat sightings.

In Rwanda, Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge has been a hive of activity with a nonstop stream of guests. Managers Thor and Alisa have also found time to check out some of the other regional activities and projects that our clients can visit and this month they update us on all the goings on.

Loldia Ranch has seen quite a lot of rain bringing the lake levels up and the water hyacinth to burst into a carpet of beautiful lilac blooms. Guests have been enjoying boat trips and night game drives and there is a new birds of prey rescue centre on the other side of the lake to visit.

Sincerely, 


Governors Camp Collection




January Wildlife report Masai Mara

2 February, 2016 

Weather and grasslands

Over the last month the Mara has seen cool mornings with warm days. Days begin overcast but before long the sun breaks through with beautiful pastel sunrises with early morning temperatures around 17°C and midday 24°C. Sunrise is at 6.46am and sunset is 7.00pm.


Photo courtesy of PatrickReynolds

The Musiara area has had more rain at this time of the year compared with the last three years, a total of 118mm. Grass levels within the Bila Shaka, Paradise Plains, Rhino Ridge are still long and green, some other low lying areas with higher levels of laterite have shorter grasses and these hold many different ungulates species. The Warburgia trees are fruiting as well as the Teclea nobilis. The Mara River was high at one stage due to the heavy rain which was widespread across this region and has now settled.


On the plains

This month we have seen large herds of Elephant and big solitary males either passing through or becoming residents. The grasses on the open plains are still long which supports these elephant herds and Buffalo. Among the breeding herds there are many young calves of varying age groups, as the midday sun starts to beat down Elephant love to wallow with mud and low lying water. A few large bull Elephants who are in Musth will be seen are wandering through these breeding herds sourcing cows in estrus. Since the Warburgia trees are fruiting this is bringing Elephant through the camps. Lots of Elephants again have been seen crossing the river and then spending much time in the woodlands where it is not uncommon to see a large bull Elephant rattle a warburgia tree to shake the fruit to the ground.


Photo courtesy of Patrick Reynolds 

There are large Cape buffalo breeding herds will be seen in Bila Shaka, East Rhino Ridge and Topi Plains, there are two large herds here of approximately 175 in one herd on Topi plains and East Rhino ridge and 200 in the other herd which reside more in the Bila Shaka and Musiara Plains. The resident Marsh Lion Pride has taken to date two buffalo calves in the Bila Shaka area.

Photo courtesy of Patrick Reynolds 

Topi males are rutting at the moment with large concentrations of them throughout the Topi Plains areas, grass levels here are not as long and perfect for Topi and Impala who are also in large herds. Since early this month the males have started rutting and fighting before selecting 'Leks', there is much strutting around and grunting as well as fighting. The Madomo lion pride that are resident on Topi plains have been feeding heavily off the Topi in this area. 

Photo courtesy of Patrick Reynolds

Thompson Gazelle males are also sparring with older males jostling for territorial rights, since Thompson Gazelle females have a short gestation of only 5 to 5 and a half months she is able to have two fawns a year.

Kori bustards are also displaying with the males standing rigid with feathers sticking out, they look like they have been posted to silence! Good numbers of lesser kestrels will still be seen in flocks across the open plains and wooded pockets abutting small streams. 

Photo courtesy of Patrick Reynolds

On the 14th a secretary bird that had left its roost of a balanites tree early that morning was then seen retching as soon as it had landed, after a few minutes it brought up a large brown pellet and deposited this on the ground. Looking later at the deposited pellet soon after the secretary bird continued its feeding foray, the pellet was found to be tightly packed with remains of grasshopper legs, soil particles, grass and bones from that of a snake. Many guides in this region have not seen this and perhaps these being parts of the anatomy of insects and reptiles that are unable to be digested are then deliberately coughed up.

Giraffe breeding herds and young male coalitions are being seen more frequently in the East Masai land where there are ample groves of acacia trees which they like to browse upon. Resident large breeding males will also be seen within the riverine woodlands of the Mara River and will walk as far as the eastern Masai land again like Elephant bulls looking for females in oestrus. In the same area of east Masai land there are many more common Zebra to be found on the short grass plains along with Thompson and Grants Gazelles. 

Photo courtesy of Patrick Reynolds

Defassa waterbuck in the west marsh grasslands are also being seen mating; the good rains since November have brought much activity. Females will be seen with a territorial male consort while male satellite herds are scattered. As soon as young males start developing horns at approximately seven to nine months of age, they are chased out of the herd by territorial bulls. These males then form bachelor or satellite herds and may roam in female home ranges.

Impala breeding herds and Olive baboons are also present within the riverine woodlands and west marsh grasslands. Between the camps there is a large troop of Olive baboons, they are very active with the warburgia fruit and seem to compete with Elephant for the fruit. Two porcupines were seen near to the main gate, a female and young were seen in the long grass, not many porcupines are seem here and this is the first sighting this month.


Photo courtesy of Partick Reynolds

Crowned cranes are now being seen with chicks; two couples have three chicks each in the East marsh reed beds. The large Verreaux's Eagle Owls seen in the riparian woodlands along the Mara River are mating with the males being seen hooting and grunting while females reply from afar. Verreaux's Eagle Owls live in monogamous pairs. White Backed Vultures are also being seen nesting with two nests within the grasslands of Topi Plains, both vultures using the tops of the Balanites trees for their nest sites. Two large flocks of Masai Ostriches with their older chicks will be seen in the east marsh grasslands and also in the south Bila Shaka region. Seeing Ostrich chicks in reasonable flocks is a good omen, last year two large nests were destroyed by Hyena. 



Spotted Hyena are still in large clans and are a constant threat to the resident lion prides, it is not uncommon to see over 50 Hyena at a lion kill sight, if the kill is mainly of lionesses there is a strong chance that the Hyena will run them off their kill and rob them of their prey. Black Backed Jackals will be seen in numerous numbers particularly at a kill and will steal and scavenge often beneath Lion and Hyena. They are a monogamous species of canid with the male while showing very little dimorphism will also partake in a strong role with the rearing of the pups. 


Photo courtesy of Moses Manduku

Butterflies being seen in the riverine woodlands: Citrus Butterfly, Green banded swallow tail, narrow green banded swallow tail, Mocker swallow tail and Noble swallow tail. There are also various species of whites Pieridae)


Lion

The Marsh pride with adult lioness Charm, four of Siena's sub-adult cubs a male and two females are 25 months old and one is Charm's 18 months old female who are spending much of their time in the south Bila Shaka grasslands and on the north east Musiara plains. They have been feeding off Buffalo calves, Topi, Warthog and Zebra. On the 24th a Zebra which they had killed and eaten whilst out in Masai land then later that evening in the south Bila Shaka a young Buffalo calf was eaten. On 29th Charm and Little Red (Sienna's son) were seen in the north Musiara grasslands where they had killed a Topi in the early hours of the morning, many Spotted Hyena then mobbed them of their kill later. 


Photo courtesy of Moses Manduku

The five marsh lioness are also spending much of their time in south Bila Shaka grasslands and also as far as the north Bila Shaka, Yaya with her two cubs who are two months old and Chemi Chemi with her three cubs who are a little over a month old are often together, the cubs have mixed in well. The two males Red and Tatu can often be seen as far as the east side of the marsh. On the 25th the two mother's Yaya and Chemi Chemi had both their cubs out on the south banks of the Bila Shaka riverbed. The cubs are boisterous and kept running off in different directions, Chemi Chemi spent much of her time gathering her cubs back to the long grass cover, there is also a Marshal Eagle on the Silanga riverbed and we hope that these two mothers keep an eye on their offspring. As you well know that in past times the Marshal Eagle has caused high mortality amongst lion cubs in this region of the Mara. Charm, the four sub-adults with males Red and Tatu were seen on the evening of the 30th as they were heading in a north easterly direction and into the Masai conservation areas, they were all seen at midday on the 31st deep into the croton thickets beneath Milima Tatu. 


Photo courtesy of Moses Manduku

The five marsh lionesses and five cubs were last seen on the 31st deep into the croton thickest of the Bila Shaka riverbed.

Pengu the 4 year old male of the Madomo Pride was beaten up by the black maned lion Lipstick on the 6th on Rhino ridge and left underneath a large fig tree, on the 14th he was looking alert yet had not moved very far. On the 15th he was found dead and was suspected of being severely bitten again by one of the two males who have now taken over the Madomo Pride. We are not sure what has happened to the two sub-adult cubs who are 18 months old that Madomo's sister had and perhaps when Pengu was beaten up on Rhino ridge these two sub-adults then ran off, these two sub-adult cubs are a little too young to be split away from their maternal mothers. All the lionesses of this 1st Breakaway pride are together with the two new black maned males. The Madomo Lion Pride of four females and four five month old cubs are still with the two black maned Lion Blackie and Lipstick are being seen on the west side of Topi Plains and Rhino Ridge, they had killed a female Eland yesterday and had fed well, all four cubs are looking well. The four cubs are the offspring of Lipstick he shows the strong altruistic behaviour. 


Photo courtesy of Patrick Reynolds

Sadly in the early hours of morning on the 14th the one youngest cub was killed by a herd of Buffalo while on Topi plains, the mother of the young cub was sister to Pengu; she then later that morning ate her cub.


Leopard

Romi the female Leopard who has two cubs that are six months old were being seen frequently within the riverine woodlands of the Mara River and also close to the BBC campsite area. In the last week of the month she was only seen twice near the north marsh woodlands, on the 29th there was a good sighting of them all in the woodlands upstream to the Little Governors crossing. 


Photo courtesy of Moses Manduku

Siri the female Leopard near the Serena pump house area with her 19 month old male cub have been seen often, they are both very active within the boundaries of the river. Impala, two Thomson gazelles, a Topi calf and two warthog sows have been recorded being seen eaten.

'Bahati' the female leopard on the Talek River area, she has two cubs that are approximately seven months old, sightings of her have been slim, she was seen on the 19th and on the morning of the 24th she sighted while hunting a female impala only to be missed by the arrival and noise from a troop of Olive baboons.

The female leopard Saba with two 13 months old cubs a male and female is being seen frequently on the Olare Orok River. She preys on Impala, Warthog and Thompson Gazelles; the grass levels here are short and with many Thompson and Grants Gazelles and are in a prime area.


Cheetah

Malaika the female with her two sub-adult cubs a male and a female who are 19 months old, she has been seen south of the double crossing and into the triangle side of the Mara, these two now sub-adult cubs will be dispersing shortly at this age.

Musiara (or Rani) the female cheetah with her three 7 month old cubs have been seen frequently at the double crossing area and also into the Ngiatiak and Olare Orok areas in Masai land. She has been feeding and hunting Impala and Thomson Gazelles again here there are short grasses which is very suitable habitat for cheetah. Cheetah unfortunately fall under predator aggression and are susceptible to stress in these conditions, with this they can travel large distances in locating suitable habit.


Photo courtesy of Nigel English

Amani is another female cheetah that had cubs in the masai areas north east of the Mara, she has been seen by guides as far west as in the Serengeti she has also been within the triangle, earlier on in January she was being seen briefly near the double crossing area, she has travelled extensively in the last two months.

January News Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge

4 February, 2016

Lodge news

January has been a great month at Sabyinyo for all of us. We have been running at full capacity most of the month through, and loved getting to meet so many wonderful guests from all corners of the Planet. The guest book is filled with warm words from guests who leave here truly touched by their experience with the mountain gorillas, the Sabyinyo staff and all of the other people that they met whilst here.

The weather has been fair as we are technically in our ''short dry season''. The sky is often hazy when it is dry here and this has been the case most days, so one must catch a glimpse of the Virunga volcanoes in the mornings, which is always possible if you are rising early to go gorilla trekking! Mt Karisimbi was capped by snow one morning, which made for a beautiful sight. There were occasional rain showers here and there; I got caught in two of them on my gorilla treks! 



Gorillas

This month I was very fortunate to visit two gorilla families that I had not yet seen before. On the 10th of January I visited the Amohoro group (17 members), the group's name means ''peaceful'' and we found them after an hour, not too far inside the park eating nettles and the occasional bamboo shoot. When we first encountered them the heavens opened and we all had to quickly put on our raincoats and waterproof trousers. The gorillas headed off under a bush for protection so we patiently waited for them to re- immerse. 


Once they did we were treated to the dominant silverback Ubumwe peacefully sitting nearby to us munching on his breakfast of vines and thistles, whilst two mothers kept their youngsters in check. One youngster however, was having none of it and insisted on posing for the cameras!

On the way out of the forest our brilliant guide Edward a creature that is almost never seen in the Volcanoes NationalPark; A great lakes bush viper (Atheris nitschei). This was the highlight of my day, as being a zoologist I am fascinated by creatures that I have never seen before! This was the first time in 15 years of guiding that Edward had ever seen a snake in the park, and judging by the reaction of the porters and trackers (scattered into 10 different directions) I think it was the first time they had seen or heard of one in there too! 



On the 28th of January I visited the Umubano family (11 members). Interestingly, Umubano were originally Amahoro members but broke off after Ubumwe was challenged by Charles, now the leader of Umubano. When a young silverback challenges the dominant silverback he must steal some females from the existing group in order to form his own family; thus Umubano was formed. 



Our guide for the morning was Ignatius, who, with the help of the trackers got us into great positions to view these wonderful creatures. 



After another spot of rain the gorillas were all in the mood for some wild celery and spent the hour ripping it up and devouring it like there was no tomorrow! The only problem with celery of course is that it gets stuck in your teeth, so they then had to to pull it out from between their teeth- a lengthily process indeed! 



Mothers too were enjoying the feast while their babies rode along on their backs. This was a brilliant trek, lots of gorillas, beautiful scenery and some great guests to enjoy it with- thanks to Joanne and Martin for having me along.


Why we love February in Masai Mara

6 February, 2015

February is marked by cool mornings, hot days and scattered rain showers. Mornings start around 14 degrees Celsius, moving to 30 degrees Celsius by midday. The grass on the open plains begins to dry out causing the red oat grass to turn golden brown.

In the forests around the Governors family of camps the Warburgia trees continue to fruit, drawing in elephants and baboons to feast. There are young calves amongst the elephant herds. Elephant families go back and forth between the grasslands and forests around our camps. There is much trumpeting as young males come of age and are pushed out of the maternal herds to live on their own, increased testosterone levels lead these young males to misbehave and be raucous, behaviour that the matriarchs do not tolerate.

One February we were incredibly privileged to witness an elephant give birth right next to the bar tent at Little Governors Camp, the mother elephant wandered into camp followed by a group of other elephants, the mother settled herself close to the bar tent and the other elephants disappeared, after much trumpeting and effort she gave birth right in front of a group of newly arrived guests! The other elephants reappeared, surrounded the mother and calf, there was much excitement in camp and throughout the month mother and calf were frequent visitors to camp. On windy days or after a storm elephants come into camp to pick up the Warburgia fruit that has dropped to the ground.

Photo courtesy of Will Fortescue

If the rain has been good we begin to see the arrival of the herds of wildebeest and zebra from the Loita plains and hills outside the Mara. They graze inside the reserve during the day and move out of the reserve at night where lions are scarcer and they feel safer. As the month progresses huge herds begin to move across the plains, coming to the Musiara marsh to drink during the day and moving up to the Mara River where they attempt to cross often put off by the numbers of waiting crocodiles. Sensing a change in the seasons the wildebeest begin to calve most of them moving outside the boundaries of the reserve where pressures from lion are less. 


Photo courtesy of Michael Poliza 

Families of giraffe are seen throughout the woodlands close to the Governors family of camps feeding on the leaves of Warburgia trees. Often these families will spend days within the Governors Camp grounds. Eland herds are scattered across the plains. Defassa waterbuck occupy the grasslands around the marsh feeding on grasses and herbs. The big Cape buffalo herd of around 500 individuals occupy the Bila Shaka grasslands and slopes of Rhino ridge where the coarse grasses they like to feed on grow. There are many claves amongst the herd and calving often happens in February. Topi and Cokes hartebeest are found in all areas of Musiara, the male Topis expend much energy protecting their Leks and get tired and often doze off during the day, lion and hyena have learnt to exploit this and often hunt Topi during February. Bushbucks are seen in the early mornings and at dusk in the fringes of the forest.

Crocodiles are seen basking on almost every bend of the Mara River. They are opportunistic waiting for an animal to come to the water to drink.

We have good sightings of Serval Cats with many seen on the grasslands and flats of Paradise Plain. Servals feed on mice and grass rats, often leaping into the air to catch ground birds and doves. Spotted Hyena with young cubs in their dens are seen where concentrations of plains game are good, they group together in large clans able to compete aggressively with lion over food, often chasing lionesses off a meal in large numbers. Male lions will kill hyena when they get the opportunity. 


Photo courtesy of Will Fortescue

Martial eagles, a large savannah bird of prey fly above the plains preying on banded mongooses and Thomson Gazelle fawns. Warthogs with young piglets are seen in many areas where there is open ground, they leave their burrows early to forage but remain cautiously close to boltholes for safety. Banded and Dwarf mongooses make their home in the Governors Camps grounds each family sleeps together in a communal underground den (in our camps they like the drainage pipes), they emerge from their dens at sunrise spending the days foraging together until sunset when they return to their dens. Females synchronise their births to the same day and families raise the young communally.

The Marsh Pride of lions often has cubs within the pride, who are often very playful. The pride feeds off waterbuck calves, buffalo and warthog.

Cheetah often climb on the game drive vehicles to get a better vantage of their surroundings, they stalk and catch Thomson Gazelles, mother cheetahs often teaching their sub-adult cubs to hunt. They move around large distances trying to avoid lion and hyena. We have good sightings of leopards close to our camps some guests even treated to sightings of leopard on arrival before checking in to camp. Leopard often have cubs at this time of year and they have to work hard not to lose their kills to hyena In February 2014 we had an amazing sighting of a leopard sharing its kill with a pack of hungry hyena. 


Photo courtesy of Mke Toone


Birds

The birding in February is fantastic; we have good sightings of Ground Hornbills travelling in trios they feed on large grasshoppers and scarab beetles. A lot of the European migrants are still around, the abundance of life in the Musiara Marsh draws a crowd of water birds; Storks, Herons and Hammerkops hunt frogs and catfish. With food a plenty many birds have nested and either have eggs or chicks. The weavers build their nests overhanging the riverbanks some are still building and some are looking after chicks. Plovers, Longclaws and other ground nesting birds have eggs and chicks hidden in their nests in the long grass. A white backed Vulture likes to nest close to the laundry in Governors Camp she often raises a scruffy single chick in this nest. 


Photo courtesy of Dave Richards 

The invasion of caterpillars we had in the forest in the last few months has turned into the most brilliant display of thousands of different kinds of butterflies and moths who flit from one wild flower to another. 


Africa Geographic Photographer of the Year 2016 


A lioness in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park 
İThomas Brühlmann 


A southern double-collared sunbird in Cape Town, South Africa 
İAndre Demblon 


An African wildcat in a camelthorn tree in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park 
İAndre Demblon 


A lone giraffe at Lake Manyara, Tanzania
İKirill Trubitsyn 


A close-up of a lion's eye in the Greater Kruger National Park, South Africa 
İTrevor McCall 


Trouble in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, South Africa 
İJonathan Webster 


A lioness in the Maasai Mara, Kenya, takes charge of her feisty cub
İRobyn E. Preston 


Pelicans compete for fish scraps at Walvis Bay Lagoon, Namibia
İAnna Mart-Kruger 


An African wildcat in Kruger National Park, South Africa
İArnoud Quainter 


A young male lion stares powerfully into the camera
İ Michael Dippenaar 


An elephant family crosses the dry Amboseli lake bed in Kitirua Conservancy, Kenya 
İSam Stogdale 


Lion brothers-in-arms in the Khutse Game Reserve, Botswana 
İLeon Emanuel 


Forest elephants in Dzanga Bai, Central African Republic 
İBarbara Ruda 


A juvenile Bateleur has a bad hair day in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park 
İAnthony Woodhouse 


Cheetah cubs perfect their hunting skills in the Maasai Mara, Kenya 
İSam Stogdale 


Elephants at Mashatu Game Reserve, Botswana 
İLeo van Vuuren 


It's lunchtime on the Chobe River, Botswana 
İSimon Beevers 

A wildebeest that never says die!

Written by: Jan Baumann and Gary Ray

It was a warm afternoon and we were out on a game drive in the Amakhosi Safari Lodge reserve. The afternoon had been quiet and we were making our way through an open area when suddenly we heard the anguished cries of a wildebeest.

Our guide, ranger Gary, quickly turned the car in the direction of the noise and pushed straight through the thick bush. The bush cleared and we saw the source of the commotion: a wildebeest bull had been caught by a large lioness - she had bitten into the shoulder of the animal and had a good grip.


The wildebeest was making loud, moaning bellows but was not prepared to give up. We sat in quiet awe, some guests were clearly moved and emotional, while others just closed their eyes.

The lioness attempted to drag the large bull but to no avail. She tried to get a better grip but was reluctant to let go as the wildebeest would surely escape. The fight for food and survival, for predator and prey, raged on for some time.
The lioness was clearly getting the upper hand and the wildebeest seemed to have accepted his fate. Suddenly she made a lunge for the throat of her hapless victim and managed to grab it just below the jaw. 



The usual way of death is suffocation as lions catch the prey by the neck and close off the windpipe. Death is usually quick and painless as the animal's system responds to the stress and pumps additional adrenaline, which annuls the pain.

I was secretly praying that the wildebeest would escape and live to fight another day. I realised then that I was not ready to stare death in the face in such a raw and brutal way. As this was the very first time I had witnessed a kill, my heart was pounding in my chest as if I were the prey. I felt the sweat in my clenched palms as I silently fought for the captured beast. I felt privileged and excited, yet sad to see what must be a regular happening in the wild of the African bush.

The wildebeest was on its back and kicking in the air. The lioness was breathing hard from the effort. Then suddenly the wildebeest managed to twist and get up onto all four legs. Wow, what a sight to see - the lioness was physically pulled up off the ground while still hanging onto the neck.



The wildebeest started to push and pull the lioness around. It felt like the earth was moving as the battle raged on in the dust. I felt an inkling of hope and muttered messages of encouragement under my breath, urging the wildebeest to find the strength to keep fighting. I wanted to focus on the experience but also wanted it to end without loss of life.

The wildebeest turned and forced the lioness under his flanks, he pushed her further towards the thicker bush and dragged her between his legs. She hung on but it was apparent that her position was compromised as her back could easily be broken if the prey decided to stomp on her. I grabbed the railing of the vehicle and could feel my grip tightening. I willed the wildebeest to give it one last shot.

The lioness lost her grip and dropped between his legs. He responded by lowering his horns and, in a reversed role, lunged forward to inflict pain on his oppressor. The lioness moved quickly and ran to the side to escape injury. The wildebeest ran off into the thick bush.

For a time, the earth stopped moving; there was no sound, only a quiet sense of solitude as if the previous tumult had been erased. I sat in admiration and disbelief. I felt the stress leave my body, leaving me emotionally drained. I had come to this part of the world to experience the bush, to see what a safari was like. I realised that the bush had invaded my soul, my being and lifted my spirit. I would be back... soon.