Mombo Trails is now in full swing! Opened on 25 April, May was our first fully functioning month and we are absolutely delighted to report on what a success and joy it has been for all involved. A unique opportunity to be on the ground in one of the most exciting areas of the Okavango, Mombo Trails is living up to the reputation of her older sister in more ways than one. This is evident in the passion, not only the managers, guides and staff have for our camp – adjusting well to the frequent commute back and forth – but in the sheer delight and first impressions presented by our fortunate guests. To quote John Levy, the first-ever guest at Mombo Trails, who with his wife Celia, has over one hundred bed nights in all three Mombo camps, “It’s my favourite”. Well, John, some of us would say it is ours too.
Climate and Landscape
It is also safe to say that winter is on its way here on Chief’s Island and May saw a change in temperature, with the chill in the air certainly evident. Whilst from mid-month we had seen lows of around the 12° Celsius mark, there was a week or so when 14° was recorded, making for a considerably milder overnight and early morning experience. Comfortably warm highs averaging around 25° C meant guests were frequently seen returning back into camp with large mounds of shed layers piled high on the back of their game viewers. The ever-popular hot water bottles were a very pleasant surprise to those few still unaware of their use in the beds and on the vehicles, an absolute must.
Another constant reminder that we are still Mombo is of course the endlessly amazing game viewing – and we had a spectacular month yet again. The biggest treat of all we would have to say was the return of a female cheetah, now with three of the most adorable cubs, who spent their time close to Suzie’s Duck Pond; a large male was also seen in the area between Old Mombo and Vulture’s Baobab. One evening he was resting on the airstrip, only to be rudely interrupted by a flock of over 40 guineafowl squawking at him. Clearly having enough of the racket, and seemingly no appetite, he moved away into the night to find some peace and quiet.
The rare sight of a caracal was a big treat to those fortunate enough to have seen the small cat. Not common to our terrain, he was ducking and diving behind tall grasses and shrubs, determined to keep the guides on their toes!
We also had plentiful sightings of our lion prides, as is the Mombo standard. The Western Pride was seen sporadically between Bird Island and Old Mombo whilst five of the older cubs in the Mathata Pride have begun to develop their tell-tale manes and have graduated to sub-adulthood. The Moporota Breakaway Pride and Moporota Boys were also regularly seen. Lebankgara can often be found with the Moporota Breakaway and has been mating with one of their females.
One early evening, as cheerful guests returned to camp full of tales from their afternoon adventure, offloading large cameras and arms full of goodies, there was a sudden pause as a large growl was heard, bringing the nattering to an immediate end. We all stopped and looked into the darkness of the night – suddenly a young male lion came rushing into the main area, just on the edge of the sand past the fire pit. Looking around, he gazed up towards his silent and motionless onlookers, before trotting past without concern. Meanwhile unbeknown to those of us watching him, an altercation was unfolding between our then-resident hyaena pack and two more lions. Fiercely protecting their young from the large and hungry predators, the hyaenas sent the three lions in our direction, driving them off and onto the floodplains. We watched in the light of the lanterns as they went back and forth, attempting another ambush, and then sulking off, unsuccessful in their attempts. As we finally all drew breath, remarking on what an experience this was to encounter, we were all very happy in the knowledge that our guides were with us!
The pack of 17 wild dogs made for very welcome visitors to our area of the island this month. With a heavily pregnant female in the group, we are expecting them to den soon. One morning the pack made a kill – the usual unsuspecting impala – very close to the entrance of the staff village. For a reason we are still uncertain of, they left this kill, perhaps due to the movement in the village, and took down a second unknowing impala just 200 metres away on the other side of the solar farm. Squeaks and chatter among the delighted dogs were heard by amazed onlookers, as they feasted in a frenzy (the dogs, not the onlookers). Spending most of the day in the same spot, playing in the last of the water in the gravel pit, they eventually gave in and rested, bellies full, beneath the trees.
Our leopards too were seen a great deal this month. Very happy guests enjoyed quite regular sightings of Blue Eyes and Pula. Currently pregnant with Blue Eyes’ progeny, we suspect Pula has a set of young cubs hidden around Far Eastern Pan. Sargent was seen once near Matsweri Pan, Phefo was seen with her cub and Pula’s adolescent cub Marothodi was also seen a couple of times, the last-mentioned appearing to be quite shy now that she has broken away from her mother.
Often described as a difficult time of year to spot rhinos, mostly due to the foliage and water, we have had some great sightings. Our number one highlight this month was certainly the exciting sighting of a brand new black rhino calf, a sure sign that they are flourishing here.
In 2015 a female black rhino and her young calf, amongst others, were relocated to Chief’s Island. These two quite clearly have a taste for adventure and moved much farther than we would have expected – or is safe for them. They were found recently over 200 km from their new home. For their wellbeing it was necessary to return them to where they were originally brought. Touching down on the dusty Mombo Airstrip, the colossal C130 Hercules landed as if the strip was built for it. With rows of game viewers waiting for it, eyes locked onto this giant of the sky and the two items of precious cargo were safely offloaded. They were then transported in their individual crates to the rhino boma where they were housed and looked after by our dedicated team. After being monitored and habituated to our local browse again, the two spirited black rhinos were ready to be released and off they went. Let’s hope they remain a little more local this time!
“The staff and our guide, this was a dream come true. Your welcoming smiles, your ability to anticipate our every need before we knew it. The staff, the game viewing, the food. It was more than we could have known or expected. Thank you for an experience of a lifetime. ”
“The best place we have ever been.”
“We loved everything and everyone at Mombo. Even as a temporary camp it was wonderful. And the meals were food for the Gods. Thank you for a journey that changed our life.”
Staff in Camp
Managers: Annabel, Dineo, Baz, Jennifer, Kessy & Nash Guides: Doc, Moss, Sefo, Tebla, Ollie
Photo credits Sebastian Sandenbergh Annabel Ellis George Cameron (guest)