2017 came to a joyful end at Abu Camp, with both the elephant and human members of the Abu Herd coming together to celebrate two very special events: Naledi’s fourth birthday in November and the coming of the summer rains in December.
Climate and Landscape
November was a time of watching and waiting. The annual Okavango inundation had almost completely receded, but by the end of the month we had still only experienced a couple of light showers. We frequently caught ourselves glancing up towards the heavens, where promising and beautiful cloud formations would appear and then fade away, while only the permanent pools still had water. We cannot currently offer boat or mokoro excursions, but the drying out of the Abu Concession meant that the wildlife became increasingly concentrated around the remaining waterholes.
Several fish traps formed from the remnants of the annual waters, where fish that were unable to retreat to the permanent channels in time must now run the gauntlet of dozens of stabbing beaks. They were soon all caught by egret, heron or stork – or scooped up by passing pelican.
The limited rain that we had during November was still enough for fresh green shoots to emerge, especially in areas that had previously been burnt by bushfires. This first green flush resulted in wonderful sightings of antelope and zebra picking their way through the ash and tree stumps.
December, however, was quite a different story – after a long wait, the rains arrived at last. A pattern emerged with rain falling every three or four days and each downpour contributing around 55 mm (2 inches).
Humans and animals alike were rejuvenated by the precipitation and the cooler temperatures, with impala giving birth on the very first day of heavier rainfall. Seeing the first baby impala – so fragile, yet still magnificent – is always one of the most joyful events of our year.
In 2017, the Abu Concession really delivered in terms of wildlife sightings with this area now truly living up to its promise.
We’ve worked hard to give our guides access to wildlife-rich islands and other areas previously blocked by deep channels, and November and December both provided perfect examples of the Abu Concession’s better-than-ever game viewing. In combination with the Abu Herd elephant interaction experience, Abu Camp is now able to offer an unbeatable combination of safari and conservation activities.
Throughout November, our guests enjoyed regular sightings of lion, leopard and wild dog, while large herds of buffalo and elephant have been moving into the Concession. Roan antelope sightings were also a highlight.
Twice during November, sundowners at Marabou Pan were considerably enlivened by the presence of a pack of wild dog. On the first occasion, the pack drank from the pan, and then relaxed just 20 metres from where our guests were also enjoying a drink. Only a few days later, a similarly peaceful scene was disturbed by the arrival of two hyaena. Their curiosity about the sundowners was rewarded by their being chased away by the wild dog, proving once again that it is generally best to let snoozing canids lie.
Closer to home, we currently have three Pel’s fishing-owls roosting and fishing from the Abu Camp treeline. They have become more relaxed about the nearby presence of humans, so we have been able to observe these impressive cinnamon-coloured owls at relatively close quarters. If you’re a birder, you’ll know that this piscivorous owl is a true ‘Okavango special’ and a ‘lifer’ for many twitchers.
The game viewing continued to be spectacular throughout December. The Abu Pride has been making its presence felt, including bringing a temporary halt to aircraft movements by spending one morning hanging out at the airstrip. Their diet has been quite varied, including both kudu and aardvark among others.
Bame proved to be the most visible of the Abu Concession leopards, taking advantage of the bonanza provided by the birth of so many antelope – although rapacious hyaena proved to be a constant menace.
The white-tailed wild dog spent much of December close to Abu Camp, perhaps in response to the arrival of a new pack of around 10 dogs that have made their way into the Abu Concession and have been hanging out close to Maphane Pool.
We’ve also had daily visits from vervet monkey, baboon and hyaena – each ensuring in their own way that even for those guests who choose to spend time in Camp rather than going on activities, there is never a dull moment.
At the end of November, the elephant and human members of the Abu Herd were united in celebrating Naledi’s fourth birthday. So much has happened in the 48 months since the starry (and possibly star-crossed) night that she was born!
Having lost her mother, Kiti, when she was just a few weeks old, Naledi was ultimately brought up by the elephant handlers at Abu Camp. She forged particularly strong bonds with them, and still seems to genuinely revel in human company.
Of course, she is much larger now, and her idea of rough-and-tumble play can be quite rumbustious now that she weighs several hundred kilograms! Naledi is still young enough to enjoy a slice of cake (a special elephant version, of course) although these days, her idea of a slice is pretty much the whole cake! Her big day was a wonderful end to November for all of us – and then the rains blessed our December.
With very best wishes for a wonderful 2018, from the entire Abu Herd!