We are living in a state of contrasts at this time of year, one that defines the Okavango and that at this seasonal apex is at its most intriguing. The annual inundation is coming: there is no doubt about it, each day the slushy puddles in front of camp are growing and spreading from their previously neat lines. But while that occurs around us, Mombo is shrouded in a smokey haze emanating from a fire that has been blazing for almost two weeks, towards Chief’s Camp.
The mornings are growing chillier, and the Delta’s famous cold wind is starting to creep across the floodplains in the early hours. This is only fanning the fire and reminding us that whilst the water is coming, it is coming at the climax of a rather pathetic rainy season, which has left the bush parched and prone to catching alight. As little specks of ash flick across our decks, we are keeping an eye on the distant columns of smoke and hoping there is just enough water to keep it at bay. Meanwhile, the boisterous and testosterone-boosted lechwe chase each other around in front of Little Mombo: the young males have congregated in a charming bachelor herd, and unperturbed by distant fires they are flexing their muscles and watching one another locking horns and strutting (not very daintily) through the expanding marshy pools.
Conversely (I did say this newsletter would be a series of contrasts), the pans out in the bush are shrinking, leaving a myriad fish-traps which are pulling in birds of all shapes and sizes to gorge themselves on the very welcome buffet. Marabou storks, pelicans, egrets and herons fight for space in the muddy remains of what the rains brought us, vying for the fish that are stranded there. There are still flashes of colour that remind us of the not-so-distant summer: the woodland kingfishers are still here, sunning themselves by the pool or along the balustrades, but their whistling calls are no longer heard, their voices grown hoarse from the incessant songs of summer. The resident Pel’s fishing-owls, Mombo’s ginger teddies, are still gracing us with their presence: they seem to flit between Little Mombo, Tent 8 and the pool at main camp. Many a manager, guide and guest has trooped down the boardwalk to take in the sightings of these piscivorous (fish-eating) giants, which we are so grateful to host from time to time.
Away from the trees (or at least, from the feathered inhabitants of the trees), life has been as exciting as ever. The Maporota Pride parked itself right in the centre of camp recently, choosing to lie in the shade near the old curio shop, providing excellent viewing for guests but a logistical nightmare for the housekeepers and other staff. The lions, which had been seen making several doomed attempts to hunt during the previous couple of days, were clearly hungry and eyeing a bachelor herd of lechwe near Little Mombo. At one point, Liz was heard on the radio declaring that the lions were now “in Mombo lounge,” which conjured an interesting image of the felines reclining on the pool loungers and helping themselves to a few beers. They did not linger, however, and a few managers and guests piled into Little Mombo’s Tent 1 to see one lioness crouched near the outdoor shower and salivating at the sight of the nearby lechwe. Unfortunately, a typically over-exuberant young male from the pride popped his head up too soon and the antelope scattered. The lioness was seen giving the male a despairing nudge, while her lunch ran to safety.
The Western Pride, meanwhile, is still going strong: the two cubs are doing well and flourishing under the watchful eyes of their formidable elders. The pride killed a giraffe recently and could be seen gorging themselves for days. There have been other intriguing developments in the Mombo lion populations: there is a large male breaking up multiple prides and causing trouble (although he was seen last week nursing some vicious-looking wounds and looking very sorry for himself). A pair of lions was seen mating for a few days, whilst a lioness is visibly lactating, but no cubs have been spotted yet. We await their debut on the Mombo feline scene with anticipation!
On that note, the female leopard known as “Bird Island Female” was seen this month as well: a rare sighting, and all the more rewarding as she was also apparently lactating. “Blue-eyes,” the handsome male, is referred to affectionately as the leopard that thinks he is a cheetah. He doesn’t seem to care who sees him, as he marches through open floodplains nonchalantly, ignoring the alarm calls that follow him and refusing to seek cover in the islands or trees.
In general, it is getting harder for the leopards as the bush dries out and their shrouds of greenery disappear. The snorts of impala and the shouts of the baboons echo around the floodplains and forests now, as the predators have fewer and fewer places to hide. They are harassed increasingly by hyaena as well, and it is evermore crucial for them to secure their kills as high off the ground as possible.
Mmolai, Pula and Legadema stalked the concession as usual this month. Legadema teased us a few times, venturing near Tent 1 and glancing in the direction of the management houses nearby, but she has kept out of camp otherwise, sticking to her favoured perches in the trees above us. Guests are just as enamoured as ever with our celebrated spotted cat, particularly when they can leave her at the end of the day, the sun going down behind her, and return to camp to enjoy a screening of Eye of the Leopard with a bag of popcorn and a gin and tonic in hand. It is all the more poignant, having ‘met’ the star of the documentary.
Huge herds of elephant, buffalo and zebra have also been seen this month: the general game has not failed to impress. The elephants parade through camp regularly and one particularly naughty youngster has earned himself quite a reputation amongst guests and staff alike. He tends to hide behind a bush (unsuccessfully) before chasing unsuspecting housekeepers or managers along the boardwalks, and seems particularly to enjoy disturbing people whilst they are laden with trays of glasses, or piles of bed linen, so as to cause as much havoc as possible. One group of guests was given a proper Mombo welcome recently, arriving in the rotunda to see the managers bearing face towels but hiding behind a tree as the elephant in question had decided he would be a far more suitable welcoming committee, and was staking his claim at the camp’s entrance.
The top unusual sighting of the month has to go to Sefo, who found the animal in question during a morning drive. His guests arrived at a surprise bush brunch and when asked how their morning was, they replied with expected enthusiasm about sightings of elephants, the Maporota Pride, good general game ... and then referred casually to a lovely viewing of a bat-eared fox. Cue a big double-take and a loud “WHAAAT?” from their host, and it was confirmed: the secretive animals were spied in the long grass, their famous ears giving the game away, albeit for a brief few moments.
As I end this month’s update, attention must be paid to the Stalwart Team that is currently complementing our already massive Mombo family: the guys who are making our camp even more beautiful. The Mombo back-of-house is undergoing serious transformation at the moment, and there are shiny new boardwalks, laundry, kitchen, storage containers and offices taking shape each day. It’s a hugely exciting time for us and we’re very proud of what they are putting together for us (GM and exec chef have already tested one of the new boardwalks out and yes, you can make it down the whole thing on an office chair without using your feet).
Staff in Camp
Managers: Graham, Liz, Dittmar, Dani, Sean, Cheri and Jemima.
Guides: Tsile, Sefo, Tsepho, Moss, Callum and Cisco.