Weather and Landscape
The first week of the month was sunny and hot. And then, just as we became accustomed to the hot weather, the rain set in. The day would start out hot and humid and by late afternoon, the skies would have filled with massive cloud formations, and the rain would come down all around us. With the rain, evenings prove to be the ‘happy hour’ for many a six-legged flying insect. Night lights confuse the poor things as they rely on the sun for their ‘GPS’ so any light at night would confuse them. The month of December received a total of 207 mm of rain.
The hyaenas have not been seen for quite a while. However, just yesterday their tracks were spotted on the island – that of a typically inquisitive hyaena sniffing around the Jao office back-of-house. Meanwhile the local gang of mongoose (The Jao Mafia) are still a regular sighting. The first litter for the season has been born and already moving and foraging with the adults. They are well accustomed to the daily life and duties of people here at Jao and will move along the walkways, along the rooms and across the lower deck of the main area as if they own the place, making squeaks, grunts and growls as they rumble through. They will even stick an inquisitive nose into the Jao office and into the curio shop when the fancy takes them. Ringo is the boldest, and the oldest, being the sentinel of the gang and a charmer with the ladies, especially at the Jao office. If guests want to learn more and spend some ‘quality’ with them, they have the option of taking a ‘mongoose tour’ with either a manager or with their guide.
At the beginning of November, two adult bull elephants made their presence known, providing many a delighted guest with sightings throughout the day. On one particular morning when the guests arrived for breakfast, one of the elephants was sleeping by the termite mound in front of the camp! Some guests calmly sipped their coffee while others excitedly reached for their cameras to capture the moment.
On another occasion, a breeding herd of elephants with a very young calf was seen across the channel in front of the camp. When breeding herds are on the move, they can pick up quite a pace, with the calves straining to keep up with the massive stride of the adults. This herd did exactly that and the matriarch decided to head straight for the camp pool! Before getting there though, they had to cross the channel. A unanimous sigh was heard as the calf safely made its way across. As soon as they reached the pool, a prompt ‘about turn’ put them in the direction of the guest rooms on the north of the camp and slowly but surely, one by one, they moved out of sight.
The notorious hippo wails can be heard on some nights while they fight (or mate!) on the island. Two monitor lizards also appeared to be having a territorial dispute under the walkway leading to the jetty. One of the monitors, on a separate occasion, crossed paths with the mongoose. Being that there are pups in their group, the adults alarm-called and were most agitated. An adult monitor lizard would not pass on the opportunity to make a meal of a baby mongoose. Luckily for us (and the mongoose), the monitor moved on. He obviously wasn’t hungry enough!
One of the highlights this month has been the lion pride parading its cubs. We have established there are now six and we are hoping that they all survive. Some of our guests caught sight of one of the lionesses protecting her cubs from the male. The resident male was found sniffing the bushes where the lioness had stashed the cubs. Out she came, baring her teeth and promptly put the male in his place. Even though he is in most likelihood the father, a female will still instinctively protect her cubs from anyone or anything that she may perceive as a threat. Click here for more images.
Exceptional sightings of vast numbers of red lechwe have been taking place on the Jao floodplains this month. The guides speculate that with the water being quite low this season it has provided the opportunity for them to cover more distance. One of the rarest antelope in these parts is the sitatunga. A relative of the kudu, some people refer to it as a ‘marsh buck’ due to its choice of habitat. Four of these shy and mysterious antelope were seen by guests while on a mokoro excursion!
The Verreaux's eagle-owl chick, raised in a well-disguised nest near the bridge leading onto the island, has been seen exploring the immediate vicinity. Still very much a youngster, he (or she, it is difficult at this young age to tell) calls incessantly, begging for food from the adults. They will often leave him to his own devices and on one of these occasions he was seen to be attempting to hunt a woodpecker!
A rare marsh owl was seen on the Jao floodplains, also trying to hunt. A small gathering of southern ground-hornbills have been heard calling close to the camp. A western banded snake-eagle and two martial eagles were also seen while juvenile golden-tailed woodpeckers were spotted in the manager’s village.
The Jao hippo pool – aptly named due to the constant presence of hippos – is a popular spot for saddle-billed storks as well as wattled cranes. These birds are listed as Vulnerable so a sighting of a wattled crane is always appreciated. Other birds that can regularly be found in the varying habitat of the Jao floodplains are cattle egrets, black-bellied bustards, blacksmith lapwings, collared pratincole and the elusive rosy-throated longclaw. Back at the camp, a pair of woodland kingfishers is a regular sighting in a large sycamore tree.
Our surprise Christmas dinner was a candlelit bush dinner looking out over the flood plains, which was greatly enjoyed by all guests.
A young couple from Japan were on honeymoon and had only been married for five days. A couple from the USA was celebrating their fifth wedding anniversary and the most ‘experienced’ couple was a South African couple married for 50 years. For each of these occasions, we gave the couples a romantic evening, filled with candlelight and bubbly! On one of the more overcast days, our guests who had just departed on game drive had a hot chocolate ambush, with a manager handing them a warm cuppa of hot chocolate…and a dash of Amarula if they chose!
For a few adventurous souls seeking a different experience, we had requests for a ‘sleep out’. For some, a mosquito net draped over a sala bed is thrilling enough, for others, sleeping on an elevated deck in the treeline of the floodplains is what satisfies their thirst for adventure.
Managers: William Whiteman, Angie Whiteman, Cindy Swart, Charl Bergh, Gloria Amos, Kamogelo Mapila, Andre Van Rensburg, Estie Van Rensburg, Retha Prinsloo, Marina Lunga, Retha Prinsloo and finally, Philistus Ngisi returned from maternity leave.
Guides: Alberto Munduu, Johnny Mowanji, July Mogomotse and Salani Tibalili