Jao Camp – February 2014

Feb 28, 2014 Jao Camp
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Climate and Landscape
It’s summer – and with that, one can imagine the heavy clouds that rumble towards us late in the afternoons. This month, total rainfall has been 84 mm. The mornings are darker as the sun is rising later and there is a coolness in the air to welcome you to the day. We are still waiting patiently for the first waters to come in and the levels to rise – but thankfully, it is imminent and soon enough the vast open plains where you may now find yourself on a game drive will very soon become the floodplains where you will find yourself on a mokoro.

Everyone is deep into maintenance mode this month. If we’re not sanding, varnishing or sugar-soaping one of the various arrays of woods we have that have built this camp, we’re recovering from sanding, varnishing or sugar-soaping one of the various arrays of woods we have that have built this camp.

One morning, heading to work up the walkway, I detected a slight movement in Tent 1. Initially, my first thought was a loose piece of canvas but when I looked again, I saw the outstretched arm of a mongoose clearly trying to get out of the room. A slight squeak also flittered through the canvas and I could pick up the urgency in the furry ‘arm’ and the squeak. I headed slowly inside to help the distressed mongoose out of his luxurious ‘jail.’ There he was, with his long, pointed face pushed up against the canvas, looking determined – an expression that changed to sheer panic when he saw me and darted under the bed. I left the entrance door open and then went to the far end of the tent to open the door to the outdoor shower…and that is when I saw several striped little heads sticking out from an old termite mound. They sat there watching me as if they had been waiting for their mate the whole night. With that, I heard the clicking of nails clawing across a freshly varnished saligna wooden floor, and I saw a mongoose heading straight for where I was standing. I stood still… and as he neared the door, he took a sharp left. I mean a sharp left, on a freshly varnished floor. He slid, nails clicking and he almost met my ankles. Eye level with human ankle, he made up his mind and swiftly flung himself for the termite mound. He landed unscathed, I breathed and the others squeaked. Life was almost back to normal for mongoose and human alike.

One evening, we had a fascinating sighting of a grumpy hippo, who had clearly had a fight with another male, and was sitting on his wounded rump, having a rest from his hectic day. Up behind him snuck a precocious hyaena, trying to get at his wounds. The scent of the blood had drawn him and being a natural opportunist, he was probably looking at the best angle to get in a nibble. As guests and staff stood on tiptoes peering through a gap in the boma fence, we could see the hyaena leaping up and placing his front paws up on the hippo’s back! This proved to be too much for the big beast as he heaved his weary body up and spun around to face the spotted menace with his ivories bared. But the hyaena eventually grabbed the hippo’s tail and with a painful tug, made off with a piece of it, before trying again to get to his rump. The hippo had had enough of this ambush and he cleverly backed up into a thick bush, sheltering his wounds and now half-bitten tail from the hyaena’s jaws. A standoff ensued but the hippo stood his ground. The hyaena eventually realised that his ‘snack-platter’ was no longer available and slowly turned and sulked away toward the boma. We all left not too long after that, leaving a very sad looking hippo with his buttocks in a bush, clutching our cameras in the hopes that we had some great shots of a once-in-a-lifetime event!

Camp manager: “I think our impalas are pregnant.”
Chef: “Nah, I think they’re just fat.”
Camp manager: “Fat? Why do you think that?”
Chef: “Look at the good life they have in camp, with all this good food!”
Camp manager: “Everything is about food for you, isn’t it?”

The argument has been settled. We had four tenacious impala on our little island, a small herd that has decided to call Jao its home. As of the 19th of February, we have five. Before this, we had three ewes and a ram, who we all thought was still too young to mate. Well, he proved us all wrong. The new-born impala has won us all over and as each manager makes his or her way around the camp in the morning, we are all on the lookout to see if he made it through the evening. As each day passes, we all watch him grow and discover what it means to be in an impala in this world. Day 1 was a confusion of new sights, scents and sounds. His legs were wobbly and his mother was very attentive. Day 2 showed how he discovered these fantastic long appendages that keep him mobile and he ran rings around his mother and the other impalas. Despite his small size, he is easy to spot as proportionately, he has the biggest ears and the longest legs. He is growing exceptionally fast – impala ewe milk has a high percentage of fat, one of nature’s tricks to increase the survival and growth rate of one of the most heavily predated antelope in the African bush. As we watch him grow, we wait patiently for the other females to give birth and watch more wonders unfold.

Birds and Birding
While waiting for guests to arrive at a bush brunch that we had spread out at Ebony Junction, the managers noticed three black-headed orioles chasing each other through the trees. The blur of yellow and black moved through the jackalberry tree, which cast its shade over the brunch table. It was noticed that two were chasing the third. Despite this relentless attack, the third oriole would just not leave. After much deliberation, the managers came to the conclusion that it must be the parents chasing off their chick. At this time of year, as summer draws to an end and the mornings begin to cool, many a young bird that has been successfully raised to adulthood reaches a stage of its development where it has learnt to feed and fend for itself and is now drawing too much from the parents that raised it. In actual fact, this chick is now becoming competition for the parents and they must chase their child away before the harsh winter hits, so that they have a better chance of surviving. Nature may sound harsh, especially when hearing this kind of thing, but nature is also very balanced (when humans don’t interfere too much) – because next summer, this chick that was kicked out of its home will be searching for a mate of its own, building a nest with its newfound mate and eventually chasing off its own chick in the hopes of surviving its second winter in the Delta.

Staff in Camp
William Whiteman, Angie Whiteman, Alejandra Pablo Roa, Charl Bergh, Retha Prinsloo, Phillistus Ngisi and Jade Frost Holt.  

Guides present
Johnny Mowanji, July Monomotsi
Salani Tibabili and a warm welcome to two new guides to Jao, Tutalife Manyuka and Christopher Hange.


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