2019 certainly has had a busy start, so much so that I find myself typing away at this blog 10 days past due date.
Jao Camp has been a hive of activity; in fact, the concession as a whole has been very busy, from building to wildlife sightings, to the excitement of the camp’s approaching re-opening.
One of our other camps, Jacana, closed for its rebuild in January, and its grand re-opening will be 1st April 2019 – so the excitement of two camp rebuilds in our concession has added even more to the already growing anticipation. But more about Jacana in another blog, no thunder to be stolen from Jao!
The complete picture of the new Jao reveals itself more and more every day, and we all know that we will get to a stage where the outside does not change much as we focus on the interiors – but at the moment everyone is enjoying the daily changes.
All the villas are now up, and all in their final stages of roof-boarding and waterproofing, before the final outer layer is put down for the final look. The interiors are taking shape and on most villas the ducting, electrical wiring and plumbing is close to complete, and we are not far from starting to lay the flooring and decks.
Villas 4 to 7 from the floodplain
The main area structure is up and we are starting to “fill the shell”, you might say, before proceeding with the floorboarding, and on to waterproofing.
Our main area taking shape – view from the front
The main area from the back, and the satellite kitchen and store-room off to the side
Work on the much-anticipated museum, curio shop and wine cellar has started, and their structures are also close to completion. The giraffe skeleton does not have long to wait now!
The Jao curio shop and museum nestled between the trees, home for our giraffe
The structures for the spa and both treatment rooms are underway, and are a week or so away from catching up to the main area. They need to take a little more shape before the big surprise for the spa treatment rooms is added!
Also launched this week were the renderings of the Jao pool. It will be truly amazing and undoubtedly very popular; guests will feel like they are in their own den in the middle of the Delta. The gym, which will be just off the pool, is also getting into shape, no pun intended.
The Jao main area pool with impala on quality control duty
In addition to all of this, the walkways have been started, and the uprights went up this week. Even though it is early days, the walkway has acted like a drawstring, pulling everything together, and moulding the camp into one. The new Jao is starting to show itself, and how magnificently it will blend into its natural surrounds, a testament to the beauty of its design.
It has been exciting on site, but as mentioned, nature has accepted the new Jao quickly, as is clear from the wildlife activity in and around Jao Camp. Despite the activity of the build, one can not help but sit back in the evenings and imagine how amazing the new Jao is going to be, if the animals are already so tolerant now!
Four new male lions have taken over and can be heard roaring every night, announcing their coming of age, and the fact that they are the new rulers of this area. The Jao lionesses have also accepted them, and a second female from their pride was found mating with them this month. So in total, two of the four females could be expecting later in the year. The other females have sub-adult cubs of their own, which are not from these males. This resulted in a very action-filled encounter when one of the lionesses and her four sub-adults came across two of the new dominant brothers, and fighting started, followed by a long chase. One of the males chased a sub-adult almost 2km, and we actually thought he had caught and killed one of the young female sub-adults; however, to our relief, just a few days ago we saw the lioness with all four of her sub-adults, sitting on a termite mound waiting and watching as another Jao lioness was mating not far off. So it seems these sub-adults have been accepted, for now.
Mating pair of lions; the male looks determined
Adult lioness watching her sister, with her new boyfriend and all her sub-adults safe around her – including her daughter, who we thought had been killed a few weeks prior.
The four brothers also brought down an adult male buffalo right in front of new Villa 6, and spent two days feeding on it, and drinking from the water in front of camp. This made for some close encounters on the building site, and some nervous walks.
The pack of 12 wild dogs was seen a few times this last month, and a few days ago ran through camp and the building site, investigating and then moved off east in their constant search of food.
It has been a dry and hot start to 2019 with little to no rain and water levels have reached their lowest in 10 years. Most channels have dried up, and all but one section has stopped flowing. Hippos have given up fighting for territory, as there is just not enough water to warrant this type of energy wastage.
With so little water around who can blame the young elephants of taking full advantage of having a playful swim to cool off
Although water is low the birdlife remains amazing, and as channels dry and pools trap fish, we are blessed with truly amazing sightings of birds “herding” and catching these fish.
Pelicans taking a rest from fishing duties
Although these teals don’t eat fish, they too are taking advantage of the last of the flowing water
The low water channels have meant that zebra and wildebeest can cross over, and for the first time in six years we have a herd of zebra back on the Jao and Kwetsani floodplains; only a few wildebeest have arrived but we are sure more will follow.
We have had both male and female leopards in camp, and although they were only caught on the trails camera and their tracks seen in the morning, it is great to see that they are still around – especially as the four lion brothers continue to establish themselves.
However the sighting of the month for me was from none other than a black mamba. We heard birds alarm-calling, followed by squirrels chattering, and went out of the office to see what was going on – only to find a black mamba at the very top of a knobthorn tree.
It took most of the morning but eventually he made his way down. To all of our surprise he was actually on the hunt, and eventually found a dry piece of bark , slid behind it and caught and ate a bat. The snake finished its meal and then slithered into a bushy section of the tree where a creeper was growing and had a snooze, all right outside our office during mid-morning. Luck really was on our side.
Coming down the tree to start investigating behind a patch of bark
Who would have thought, a black mamba in middle of the morning, out in the open, and to all our surprise, catching and eating a bat
All in all a great month from both Jao Camp and the Jao Reserve. As the excitement continues to grow, I will keep you in the loop… chat soon.
Written and photographed by Antony Mulligan, Jao Reserve Manager
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