Weather and Landscape
It was getting to the stage where we wondered if we might need to build an ark. The rain that we have been waiting and praying for finally arrived, in style, at the climax of 2013, bringing with it swathes of luscious green and hordes of bugs and insects, snakes and frogs. These were followed closely by gleeful storks, raptors, herons and cranes, quite literally flocking to the party, the newly-filled pans teeming with winged revellers in the days following the deluge.
The burned areas in the northern area of Mombo are unrecognisable: in the late afternoon light the fresh, vividly green grass that carpets the previously blackened ground appears to have been enhanced by some technical trick. It really is beautiful though, and for that we have nature (in both her fiery and her torrential glory) to thank.
Despite the persistent rain over Christmas and New Year, we were fortunate enough to have some truly spectacular sightings, as predators and prey alike went about their business unperturbed by the downpours. We were delighted to discover two new additions to one of the lion prides in the area known as the Aakuna Pride. A while ago we spotted a female with a kink in her tail keeping her distance from the group. One rainy afternoon in December we found her drinking at a small puddle before setting off at a determined pace into the bush – ostensibly alone. Intrigued, we followed her, taking note of her exposed and slightly swollen teats, a tell-tale sign of an expectant or active mother. We crept behind her in the vehicle for about half an hour, watching as she paused every now and then to make a very faint call before continuing along her path. Finally, as she approached a clump of bushes, I nearly fell off my seat as I glimpsed two very excited little bundles bounding out from the undergrowth towards their approaching mother. They leapt back into hiding once they noticed the vehicle, but over course of the next 20 minutes they became much more relaxed and one began playing with its mother and tumbling over her.
During the course of December we saw them reunited with the rest of the pride. They are both doing well and proving to be both bold and mischievous, bouncing around between the males and females of the pride with no fear of their older siblings or of the vehicles filled with excited guests.
Another dramatic incident during December was, of course, the adventure of the torn-eared female leopard Pula, and her remaining cub. At the beginning of the month we witnessed her tragic discovery of one of the cubs killed by a python. Rescuing the other cub from where it had fallen out of the previously safe tree, Pula traipsed through the bush to find another hiding place, eventually settling in a fallen tree-trunk. We watched the mother and cub for hours as they comforted each other after their traumatic morning, and later, Pula returned to the python and tried to chase it out of the tree. After it nearly struck her a few times she abandoned the effort. We have not seen the cub since, but have seen Pula occasionally: each time we have tried to ascertain whether she is still lactating, with no luck yet. As we wait to find out the fate of the plucky little cub, we all wonder if its gutsy mother is ever going to have any luck raising offspring successfully.
Meanwhile, Pula’s sister Maru has been having a better time of it. This female’s cub, now about nine months old, has been growing bolder and bolder both around other animals and around the vehicles. She is a very inquisitive young leopard, stalking towards the cars and leaping in and out of trees, hunting squirrels and demanding attention from her long-suffering mother. On one occasion, Callum had to dig his car out of a muddy hole when he was stuck, only to realise that he had a feline spectator. The cub had been up a tree but, overcome by curiosity, had clambered down to have a closer look at Callum who was busy jacking up his vehicle!
In camp we have had some exciting encounters between rival predators. One morning at breakfast, one of the guides suddenly called out and pointed at a speck approaching us across the floodplain. It turned out to be two specks: a pair of prowling male lions coming towards camp. They were intent on their direction and pace, and stopped frequently to sniff the air but left no doubt in our minds that they knew where they were headed. They marched right up to the main deck of the lodge before ducking under the boardwalk at Room 6, heading towards Little Mombo. Before long, great roars echoed around the entire camp, and absolute chaos ensued. The guests were clambering into vehicles and the managers were calling out to each other on the radios to find out where they could safely walk as we suddenly realised we were surrounded by lions – from two different prides! It transpired that during the night, a buffalo had been killed by the Western Pride in front of Little Mombo. The kill was behind a small island, and the lions had been hidden from sight, but the arrival of the Maporota Pride soon provoked an almighty row between the maned female, Mmamoriri, and the invading males. There was absolutely no doubt about the complete and utter fury of the maned female at the disturbance caused by the scavenging lions, and she saw them off with her trademark aggression. It was a fantastic morning in camp, albeit somewhat nerve-wracking as lions kept popping up and chasing each other left, right and centre.
There have been several sightings of a group of five wild dogs passing through the area more and more frequently. They are a real pleasure to watch, their boisterous and unabashed nature demonstrated in their hunting and in their play. They cover vast distances, appearing closer and closer to camp each time they are seen. They often come to blows with the local hyaena population, fighting over kills and generally scrapping with each other when their paths cross. We hope to see more of them as time goes on: the possibility of a resident pack of dogs at Mombo is very exciting, and although we are still holding out for signs of our beloved lone wild dog Solo, we have to wonder if the presence of these five males has pushed her away. Click here for video link.
As mentioned at the beginning of this update, the rain has really changed the face of Mombo and we have emerged from the dry hues of October and November into the full swing of summer. The ‘Place of Plenty’ rarely disappoints but it seems that over the course of December that ‘plenty’ has become even greater as the bush comes alive before our eyes. Great herds of zebra, giraffe, impala and lechwe cover the floodplains; the babies that were born in November are growing and in their adolescence they are even more noticeable as they add to the teeming numbers of general game. There are huge herds of buffalo passing through camp on a regular basis, and the elephant maintain their majestic presence as always.
It was a beautiful festive season on our island, and although we couldn’t quite stick to our original plans of open-air celebrations (our boma was pretty waterlogged throughout Christmas and New Year!) we managed to see in the new year in an appropriately wild manner, partying amongst the lion, elephant and wild dog with guests from all corners of the world. This year promises to be even more mind-blowing than the last, so at Mombo we welcome in 2014 with open arms!
Staff in Camp
Managers in camp: Jemima, Dani, Sean, Kirsty, Britt, Ditsaro, Cayley
Guides in camp: Doc, Callum, Sefo, Ona, Richard, Moss