South Luangwa: Wildlife Paradise

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The road to South Luangwa from Lusaka is The Great East Road. What a name, conjuring up a bygone era of trade, exploration and adventure. In reality, it is heavily congested and intermittently potholed single lane highway so there you go. Good by Zambia standards it would seem.

South Luangwa National Park

Charcoal Deforestation
Bags and bags of charcoal line the road


The road is lined by bags of charcoal. They seem to be a standard size, extended above the bag by a network of sticks. The cost of a bag on the road side is 50 Kwatcha which is about R70.00. The trucks travelling towards Lusaka will often fill up on the bags as extra cargo.

They tell us they can sell a bag in Lusaka for 120 Kwatcha and then the people will split it into small bags for 5 Kwatcha each. Business in action! It does not bode well for the trees of Zambia however.


We  bowled along amongst hundreds of trucks and made slow  progress. It is the main highway to Malawi so I guess there is a lot of commercial traffic.

We skirted the borders of Moz and Malawi and were within a whisper of the Lower Zambezi NP but we were not to be distracted. South Luangwa here we come.

Charcoal Trucks Heading For Lusaka
Trucks stop and pick up charcoal to sell on in Lusaka.



South Luangwa has a well deserved reputation for outstanding game viewing. It is the diamond in Zambia’s wildlife crown. The park favours the upper end of wildlife tourism. There are multiple private and exclusive lodges in the park, Costs start around $500 ppn which may give you an idea (or a heart attack or both!).

There are 2 types of camps, there are permanent camps dotted along the river and then there are smaller more mobile satelite bush camps which are usually run by one of the main camps. The area floods in the summer and most of the bush camps close They are frequently flooded and destroyed and have to be rebuilt each new season. This may explain some issues around the high costs, you are paying for a new camp every year!

The park itself is open all year round but the best time for game viewing is in the dry season when the animals congregate around the river and also the roads are passable.



In rainy season, the so called Emerald season, many roads are muddy and impassable and the activities concentrate on water based tours like kayaking trips and walks.

The Luangwa valley is the home of the notorious black cotton soil. When dry it is a harmless looking dusty grey soil but when wet it becomes a black quagmire which sucks you in and holds on tight. According to experienced travellers nothing can pass through, 4x4, 6x6, double axel, possibly not even a tank. In this inhospitable Emerald season birding is the main attraction. The animals move away from the river and the mud, wary of slipping or getting stuck. They move to the highlands, which, because of the roads, are relatively inaccessible. Rains begin in November but reach their peak in Jan and Feb. We were travelling in late October, early November and the rains were already threatening. No time to lose.

Elephant Herd South Luangwa


Well seeing as how $500 ppn was clearly unaffordable for us we planned on the second option, a small group of lodges outside the park. 3 of these offer camping and we headed for Crocodile Valley Lodge just by the gate. Here the cost is $12 ppn but the daily park fee is still $30 each and $15 for the car bringing the total cost per day close to $100 for the 2 of us. Compare this to the equivalent $12 to spend a day in Kruger park or $35 with camping.


So it is expensive but, in the context, the most economical route. Initially the handing over of $75.00 every morning at the gate was a painful process but, in truth, the game viewing was so amazing and the park so generous in photographic and wildlife opportunities we became less and less resentful. Eventually I would have paid anything to be let in for another day. Its only Monopoly money anyway…..!

Buffalo And Oxpecker


All the parks in Zambia are prone to poaching and the bush meat trade is alive and well. It is rare to see wildlife outside the parks but here in South Luangwa they have been more successful than most to get the community on board with wildlife protection and antipoaching. The park uses 6% of the entry fee to give back to the community and every member of the community gets a cash sum each year from this. It is not a huge amount but enough to buy seed or a bicycle. If poaching is found to have occurred from a particular family, that family loses the stipend in the next financial period. If the community knew about this and did nothing to police it, then the whole community will lose their bonus. As a result the community is self policing and poachers are not welcome or tolerated.


Additionally many of the lodges offer bursaries and transport for the children to attend school and will likewise withdraw this if a family is implicated in poaching, even tangentially. School fees are low but with many children and the low income rate, this support for education is highly valued. In the schools the rangers go and give talks to emphasise the value of wildlife to the economy and viability of the area, ingraining conservation values in the next generation. There are a lot of mango crops around the park which, not surprisingly, are very popular with elephants but the local people shoot cartridges of pepper and chilli into the air and this is a powerful deterrent. The night air is often rent with booming gunshots, at first it sounds like there is mass poaching, (or a small war), going on until this is explained. The elephants get away with some mischief but the crop survives.

Crocodile Valley Lodge


All the camps seem similarly pleasant. We chose Crocodile Valley because it was close to the gate and recommended by friends of ours. It is on the banks of the South Luangwa river overlooking the park and the camp sites all have views of the river and a small shade lapa. The atmosphere is chilled with an open bar and verandah and, perhaps the biggest bonus, a huge sparkling pool. Very welcome on the hot afternoons.


Mind you they have put up signs to check the pool for hippos and elephants at night before swimming! This is believable as the game is prolific. The elephants regularly walk through the camp and bushbuck, giraffe, waterbuck, monkeys and warthog common visitors. Crocs and hippos are down below in the river. There are no fences around South Luangwa.

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The view was spectacular as the sun set. Sitting here in the evening with a glass of wine would be no effort at all! We were told we must lock all loose food in the kitchen because of the elephants. On the first evening we started the fire for food and a cold glass of wine. Just as we got started an elephant ran up the bank into the next camp and started looking around our place. The guide next door made a noise to try and scare him off. Dudley was running around the vehicle banging with his wine glass. Wine gone now!


He was resistant to the move and he tested the water in our bucket with his trunk. I thought he would take down the washing line and we ran around the car to keep something between him and us. The guide threw stones and he moved off to the safari tent area. We let them manage him! At least supper and the washing was in tact. The hippos honked through the night but we got no more visitors that night, at least that I saw.

Watrhogs


This set the scene for numerous visits, waking in the night with elephants right by the car. Indeed on one occasion I woke because his tail was hitting the side of the Beast with a rhythmic thump. There seems to be ample reason to lock up the food away from camp. On one evening we had some slightly rotten potatoes that I had been cleaning to try and salvage. I thought Dudley had taken them to lock up before we went to bed but, unbeknownst to me, he forgot and then hid them in the electrical box by the car. When the elephants visited that night Dudley was very agitated. He was clearly envisaging the elephant investigating the electrical box and running around maddened with hair on fire.


We did not make that mistake again. On another night the elephants came in and turned the dining area upside down before trying to break into an overlander truck who had kept their food inside. The stories include elephants overturning cars that had driven over mangoes in the road and embedded the fruit in the tyre tread. The surrounding area boasts a very healthy crop of mangoes!

Anyway suffice to say this was a very active and interesting camp with ample game viewing without even leaving your chair!

A Beastly Day


We were excited to get into the park for the first time and woke before first light to get ready. We didn’t know what time the gate opened but we rushed around getting tea and putting the cameras together so we could roll out just before 5.30. Of course the gate was closed and only opened at 6 but we waited, at least first in the queue.

Yesterday, on the road, there was a noise in the left front tyre and Dudley felt the bearings were going. As we rolled to the gate the noise was still there. Dudley chatted to the guard and was given a phone number for Vincent who may be able to help. We were not really concerned and would contact him later. For now we had a park to visit and animals to see. When the staff came we paid our $75 for the day. It is best not to do too many calculations in rand or you would have a heart attack. It’s a once in a lifetime and we intended to do it justice.


We crawled through the gate first. To be honest there was still no one else in the queue as yet. There were hippos and 2 fish eagles in the tree and impala grazing on the banks as we rolled over the river. The noise continued, almost continuously, as we turned down the river loop. 100 m in and Dudley was now agitated. Really! He felt maybe it would break today and we turned back for the gate. A startled giraffe and 3 elephants later and we made the quickest visit for $75 in history. The guy at the gate looked suitably concerned and phoned Vincent for us. I wanted to go back and ask at camp but Dudley was on a roll. He talked to Vincent on the phone and he assured us he could help and he would come and pick us up. We parked in the shade. The safari vehicles started to arrive. The self drivers were grumbling about the cost. There were still few vehicles, maybe 4 safari vehicles and a couple of private cars so no need to worry about the queue to get in at least. If we ever do get in that is. Crushing disappointment made me gloomy.

Vincent The Car Mechanic And His Car


We waited patiently and finally a Toyota cruiser rolled up. It had no bonnet, no back and no paint and was held together by string. Out popped a smiling Vincent. At least it was a Toyota I guess. We followed him to a dusty piece of ground between two small lakes with Sacred ibis, Egrets and Egyptian geese feeding. There was a broken down house and open garage. Dudley and Vincent got to work pulling off the wheel, removing the brake calipers and looking at the bearings. They seemed in good shape but were loose and maybe this was the problem. We did not have any spare front bearings as it happened so it was a relief. Dudley and Vincent speak the same language, Toyotese. Vincent was impressed with Dudley’s array of tools although recovered to claim superiority in his chisel. Clearly he was taken by the Beast. This was his kind of car. I was relieved to hear his car was a hobby project and a work in progress and not his normal transport.


I am not sure if Dudley was a help or a hindrance but his enjoyment was directly proportional to the amount of oil that got transferred to his person. Once the left front bearings were sorted the boys checked on the right and before you could shake a stick that wheel was on the ground as well. It seemed they were also loose but otherwise in good shape and they got tightened as well. Dudley was ecstatic and convinced the source of the noise was sorted. Vincent decided we needed a bracket for the exhaust to stop it rubbing and also promised to get us a spare set of front bearings and so we left with much hand shaking, a modest fee and an agreement he would come to the camp on Sunday with the spare parts and fix the clamp.

Toyota And The Bush Mechanic


This all sounds like a fairy tale happy ending but no such luck. As we bumped off down the track the noise was still there. Vincent jumped in to listen and announced it was the suspension. He declared it was not a major problem and patted our backs and sent us on our way with a beaming smile.


It was now just after 9 and as hot as hell. We returned to camp for fluids and a shower and headed into the park to make good on our $75. The noise was on and off and certainly seemed better than it was, especially if we did not turn corners (as if!).

Fishermen Luwangwa River


This was our first real glimpse. The park borders the river and river roads runs in both east and west directions with frequent view points over the river. The views are beautiful. Hippo croc and birds swarm the river bed where pools of water are dotted with large sandbanks. There are many small fishing shelters and beached mokoros and small groups of people walking along. At the first view point there was a nest of carmine bee eaters in the bank. Their little heads were sticking out waiting to be fed. This set the scene for a feast of bee eaters every day, swooping and soaring and nesting. We saw elephant, waterbuck, puku impala, giraffe and warthog.


The road wound across grassy plains and through small woodlands. Lots of sausage and ebony trees as well as apple leaf. The heat eventually became unbearable and we returned to camp for a rest.

This is where the swimming pool and bar come in very handy indeed. Also a good place for information gathering. Other guests had seen a lion kill and wild dog in the oppositve direction to our drive. Grr. I got as good a direction as I could from people who had no clue where they were. (Brits you know!) We now knew our afternoon route.

Waterbuck


We set off again in the late afternoon. This time we turned east and moved a bit faster. A bit more forest and the tsetses made an appearance but only 1 or 2 so it did not affect us too badly. We were looking for the vultures to guide us but there was nothing in the trees or the air. We met up with a couple of safari vehicles and they seemed to be on a mission. We reckoned they knew about the kill so we started to stalk them through the park. This set the scene for another masterful self drive tactic in this park. Watch the people who know what they are doing. Sometimes friendly and sometimes obtuse they were always a good source of information, even if unintentional.


Sure enough we found the kill. No lions but there were hyena and a real volt of vultures, white back and hooded as well as Maribous. Squabbling and posturing in good light.

Too soon we must head for home, the clouds were gathering and a storm brewing but en route we noticed another safari vehicle at a view spot. A quick check revealed a pack of wild dog sleeping in the river bed. Bonus. We raced for home uplifted and excited but tired and dehydrated. Even wine was too much effort tonight but we slept to the roar of the lions and the cackle of the hyena close by.

Hyena Scavenging

Lions

Lazy Lion



One of the amazing factors which makes South Luangwa such an amazing park is the density of predators and the frequency of predator and scavenger action and interraction. Lets face it, even though we love seeing all and any animal, from the smallest to the largest, the big cats still hold an added attraction and seeing animals in action, hunting, eating, mating is a cherry on the cake.



You feel like you actually are in the story and not just looking at a static picture, even if it is a beautiful picture.

So in our perambulations in South Luangwa we saw so many amazing animal encounters and interactions that it catapulted the park to one of our top destinations ever.

Lion Biting His Tail


Lions were prolific in the park with big prides occupying the river bank. It was rare for us to go a day without a lion sighting and although many of these were the usual snoozy groups we also saw lion kills, mating lions, lions on a kill and lion cubs playing to provide lots of photographic opportunity.


The lions obviously congregate on the river bank because of the prey distribution in the dry season and the large prides, boasting well fed and sleek cats, reflected this abundance.

Lion Cubs In the Tree


On one occasion we found a pride of 11 lions in which there were 3 small cubs, still suckling. We found the cubs by themselves one golden afternoon. They had been left by the adults who had gone hunting.


The cubs were playing on an old tree stump, tumbling and play fighting in carefree abandon. As the sun set the 6 adult females came walking back over the plain to reclaim their babies.

Leopards


Leopards for us have always been difficult to find. Even in Kruger Park, which is renowned for leopard signtings, we have seen them rarely and usually far away in the river beds. South Luangwa changed all this. This park must have one of the highest densities of leopard of any park.


They were seen every day, in different spots, so although some of the leopards were clearly being spotted repeatedly because they remained in known territories, these prolific sightings also represented many different animals.

Male Leopard


I made friends with Clement at the gate and every morning I would ask Clement where we should go to find leopard.

His predictions were almost uncanny. He would say, " well they often see leopard just before the river going West " and sure enough, 500 m later the leopard was strolling next to the car in that exact spot.


It is impossible he could have known, it was clearly a random encounter, but equally the leopards were out and about enough to make these sightings not uncommon, especially early morning. We roamed the plains, forests and river banks seeking them out. We stalked the safari vehicles and scanned the horizon because clearly what we really wanted to see was a leopard up a tree with its prey.

Stacks Image 1578


On the third to last day we finally found just that. Initially directed to the tree by a safari guide we strained and strained to find the cat. The fresh Puku carcass was in full view but it took 15 minutes of intense scruitiny to see the edge of a paw and a tail in the neighbouring sausage tree. We waited for a better view in vain. One of my friendly safari guides explained to me we would see nothing for some hours. Leopards cannot eat in the heat, it causes them to become short of breath and so we left to return in the cool of the late afternoon.


Anxious to get a good view we thundered back that afternoon and there he was, framed in the tree fork with the puku in his jaws. Absolutely amazing. We watched as he removed the hind gut with almost uncanny surgical precision. The ofell thudded to the ground under the tree. Apparently leopards are quite fastidious in their food and the gut, if left to ferment, will ruin the meat. He then dragged the carcass further up the tree, offended by the unwelcome attention and machine gun camera shutters of his growing fan club.

Stacks Image 1572


Daily we returned to find him posing on a branch in elegant disregard for his audience or snoozing high in the tree, oblivious of the wind rustling the leaves and precariously swaying branches.


By the fourth day the carcas was reduced to mere skin and bone but we felt really privileged to have witnessed this predator action in real time. One of the best experiences of our photographic careers.

Leopard Lazing

Clouds of Carmine

Carmine's In Flight WIth Insects


All bee-eaters are a joy to behold, striking in their colourful plumage and graceful flight but the Carmine Bee-eater holds a special place in this group for its incredible rich and striking colouration and gregarious congregations.

Carmine Bee  Eaters


Southern Carmine Bee eaters are migratory and they arrive in South Luangwa in Mid August for a 3 month period when they breed. The soft sand banks of the Luangwa river in the dry season offer a perfect environment for them to tunnel their individual nests but their swooping flights were fast and acrobatic and really dificult to capture. They come in great numbers, clouds of pink filling the air.


We were blown away by the first nest we saw in the bank, hundreds of little red heads guarding the small holes, and the flying and swooping flights bringing in food for the mom and chicks, but as we travelled the reserve the full extent of these colonies became apparent. They were there in their millions, mesmeric and challenging. They are voracious hunters and few on the wing did not return without an insect prey in their beaks.

Carmine Nest Site


The big lodges have identified banks to take their clients for a closer look on foot, accompanied by serious looking guards and guns. Independent wandering out of your vehicle is clearly prohibited but, not withstanding, Dudley would take his chance when he found a group and hop down the bank to lurk around on the periphery. It is hard to be subtle with a 500 mm lens. They did tend to leave him there, unprotected, when their groups were finished. So much for the need for a guy with a gun.


The difficulty remained getting to a view spot in good light as these little tours seemed not to take the lighting much into consideration. Considering the high cost you would have thought they had some clue about photographic light but we were actually surprised how few of the high end tourists had decent cameras. A lot of iphone photography was in evidence. Not that I have anything against iphone photography for photojournalism but for world class wildlife. Really?

Carmine In Flight

Wild Dog

Wild Dog Pacl SOuth Luangwa


Well I dont know about you but wild dog has always been a firm favourite of ours and, once again, a subject none too easily come by. After South Luangwa I can say with confidence this is the place to come for wild dog. You can be reliably guarenteed a sighting every second day and the packs are large, playful and active.

Wild Dog The Alpha Female


We had our first encounter with them on the first afternoon when we found them snoozing in the river bed. They had hunted and killed that morning and were clearly still in digestive mode so it was a great sighting but they were fairly far away and inactive at the time. Following this we were lucky to encounter big packs regularly, up to 20-24 dogs.


Some of the guests actually witnessed them hunting and killing puku in the river bed one morning. Not us sadly but we found them having a post prandial snooze and we saw a small pack hunting on another occasion. When resting they allow you close enough to frame beautiful group shots of their unique coats in dappled camouflage. They are playful and interactive so that they make wonderful photographic subjects.

Wild Dog


In general wild dog have had a precarious conservation staus in many countries. They are highly sucessful hunters and are persecuted by farmers for live stock loss. In many Central and North African countries they have been hunted to extinction. In Southern Africa they are better protected.


In Zambia they were once extensively persecuted but now enjoy total legal protection and are present in most conservation areas. In South Luangwa there were heavy losses from Anthrax recently but they seem to have recovered and are currently common sightings.

Wild Dog Pack


They are highly social pack animals. Their hunts are more often sucessful than any other large predator with a 60-90% kill rate. They often lose their kills to the other large predators, however, especially lion and hyena, and lions are their main predator. They appear to show voting and democratic behaviour.


The decision to go on the hunt is often presaged by sneezing. If the dominent dog sneezes 3 times the pack will leave to hunt. If a lesser ranked dog sneezes then approximaly 10 other dogs must also sneeze, presumably a group agreement, before a hunt is launched. Because of the large pack size they need to hunt every 1-3 days depending on the size of the prey animal.

Wild Dog

A River Feast

Hippos And Oxpecker
Nile Crocodiles
Hippo Close Up


South Luangwa must have one of the healthiest hippo and croc populations ever. The banks are lined with flat dogs and the dwindling pools of water often crowded with jostling hippos. The hippos looked thin, if a hippo ever looks thin, but in the right light there was a suggestion of rib cage peeking through. They were also often seen out of the water browsing under the trees, even in the day, very different behaviour than we are used to. They were generally seeking the sausage pods off the sausage tree.


Clearly these sausages are an important source of nutrition for the hippos when the dry season has led to the loss of most of the vegetation. Indeed they were sought after by more than hippos. Although we were told they are generally toxic to many animals we saw them being vacuumed up by impala, hippo, giraffe and monkeys with much gusto. No sausage stayed on the ground for long.

Sometimes when enjoying the benefits of viewing in the dry season you forget that it is a stressful time for many animals. Grazing is depleted and there is a period of anxious waiting for the rains.

Hippo And The Sausage Tree


One day we were driving by the river in the early morning and we saw a huge group of crocs in the water. We looked more closely and saw 4 hippo carcasses, bloated and floating in the water like lilos. 2 of these were opened and surrounded by some of the biggest crocs you have ever seen. The unopened carcasses were surrounded by small crocs looking hopeful.

We returned to this spectacle day after day. It took 4 days for the carcasses to disappear.


Sometimes the crocs were fighting and jostling for access and gripping and spinning in the water to grab their piece of the prize. It was a spectacle such as we have never seen before. Oh for an underwater camera. Not sure who would volunteer to man it though.

We were later told the hippos had died from Anthrax. Apparently when the hippos are stressed and hungry they are much more vulnerable to disease.

Crocodiles On A Hippo Carcass
Hippo Pod

Vultures for Dinner

Spotted Hyena


In any park with a healthy predator population then you will surely have food for the scavengers. We saw remarkably few hyenas except at the first lion kill but we found vultures galore. Kettles, Committees and Volts of them!


A healthy vulture population is always a sign of a healthy park. It means the use of poisoned bait is not common and in turn it speaks to the lack of poaching.

Dead Buffalo And A maribou Stork And A Hooded Vulture


Because we were at the end of the dry season, carcasses were not uncommon. Some of these were kills but many were likely to have died of other causes.


At one water hole we found 2 buffalo carcasses. The safari guide told us these buffalo had waded into the water and become stuck in the mud and died. It just emphasises the fact that the animals will move away from the area when the rains and mud arrive. It is a very hazzardous substance even for something as big as a buffalo.

Vultures On a Dead Buffalo


We arrived to find the carcass covered in vultures, white backed, lapet and hooded vultures with a few haughty Maribou storks for luck. There is a clear order. The lapet vultures are the boss. With their powerful hooked beaks they can open the carcass and they must be first on the scene to open the kill for everyone else. As a result they are shown deference whenever they arrive, the other vultures will stand off until they lose interest and leave.


Next up is the white backed vultures who are prolific and entertaining. They fight over the spoils with each other and any other scavengers that make an appearance. We have seen them go after jackals with no hint of fear or favour. The final clean up is the hooded vulture. Smaller and more timid they seem to wait until everyone has gone and then they clean up the last little morsels from the bones. If the carcass is skeletonised then the chances are only the hooded vulture will still be there.


Lappet Vulture
Hooded Vulture



In South Luangwa the vultures sitting in the trees (a committee of vultures) and the circling kettles were very useful to guide to a predator sighting or kill and we made full use of the directions.




White Backed Vultures A t  Dawn

Nsefu

Nsefu Sunset


In the South West of the park is a section, south of the South Luangwa river, called Nsefu. It is accessed by another gate further along and, after a week, we decided we would move on and look around. Some of this was driven by the fact that our lodge was due to host a big party for all the lodge staff in the area to celebrate end of season. At the beginning of November many lodges close. They build a big bonfire in the river and bring a DJ and spitbraai. Somehow it just did not feel right in the middle of our wildlife wilderness. We decided to leave them to it and head for quieter pastures.


There is only 1 lodge outside the Nsefu gate with camping and the cost is substantially more, $25 per person per night bringing the daily cost up to $125 a day. Still we were determined to see. This is a much less travelled area and is run by 2 Americans. The lodge is right on the river and the camp site again had views over the park and very beautiful. We were the only visitors. They told us the wildlife roamed the camp and we decided to put out the trailcam for the first time. Somehow we had never gotten around to doing it before. Surely if you are going to get a good capture rate it will be here on the edge of South Luangwa where the animals wander in and out all the time.


Elephant Reaching


The rain started the first night but we were warm and snug in our bed. We set off for the park the next day. Perhaps because it is more remote there was a clear deterioration in the quality of the roads and the tsetse flies had multiplied exponentially. The potholed road was dotted with puddles and the car wheels threw up fist sized chunks of mud as we drove along. A sign of things to come perhaps. Well indeed it was. We had our first experience with the black cotton soil. It looked so innocent but the mud had coated the tyres leaving the tread smooth. If you lose concentration and speed for just a moment you find yourself stuck up to the axles. Dudley got out to look at the problem and immediately sunk in to his calves and was swarmed by a black coat of tsetese flies.


I was keen to issue instruction from inside the car as he deployed the winch! A muddy sticky 20 minutes later and we think we have learnt our lesson but this was not to be the only mud experience. We were stuck again even worse about 1 hour later on the way to the hot springs in the centre of the park. This time there were no trees handy and we both had to get out and dig and collect sticks and rocks. We made progress meter by meter until we popped out the other side looking blacker than miners. Interestingly the park actually has a main road running through it, used by a lot of the local people to commute. We stumbled on this and were appalled to find a line of 2x4 cars slogging through the mud and gravel. Needless to say we pulled one or 2 out but I have to applaud the Zambian driving skills. I would have bet none of them would make it out and they all got through one way or another, with a smile and a wave.

Wild Dog On The Hunt


Possibly because of the weather, the game was a little sparce this side of the park. There were elephants reaching up to eat the sweet leaves at the top of the trees and a selection of buck including Eland.


We saw 5 wild dog hunting although when we followed they soon gave up and went to sleep. Losers! We had been promised herds of buffalo maybe 2000 strong but they never materialised. Just a few stragglers. Again, with the onset of rain they had moved off to higher ground.

Wild Or Painted Dog


In the centre of the park is a natural hot spring which creates little pools of steaming water, a haven for birds and a death trap for frogs it seems as they all appeared cooked.


With the absence of other guests it was isolated enough for us to use the drone once or twice to see if we could capture a new perspective. Neither the animals nor the birds seemed to mind but it is banned in the Zambian parks.

Stacks Image 1626


On our way home we chanced upon a flock of white fronted bee eaters dusting themselves on the road.

White Fronted Bee Eaters Dusr Bathing


Returning to the camp we downloaded the trailcam footage only to find an elephant, a leopard and a hippo less than a meter from our camp on the first night.


Truly a wild place this Nsefu. We stayed for 3 nights and toured the park but the mud and tsetse made it hard going. We will definitely be back, this time before the rain.

Leopard In Camp
Elephant In Camp

The Last Hurrah


Loath to leave South Luangwa we returned to the main gate at Mfume for a few more nights. We were at the time still waiting for the Toyota bushes to come by bus from Lusaka so we could not leave. The plus side of the mud was it had quieted the noise completely. Presumably because everything under the car was glued together with a thick coat of mud. I was trying to decide if Vincent would even be able to find the bushes when he came to replace them. We wandered back to our old campsite, still open and waiting for us, and, out of consideration for Vincent, stopped in at the local car wash.


It was a revelation. The Beast was washed to within an inch of its life. The owner and his helper took diligence to a new level. The power hose set up a terrible racket and Samson, who operated the pump, kept up a long conversation with me of which I heard not a word. I nodded and smiled politely as we girls from Manchester are taught to do. When the gleaming car was presented to us 30 minutes later he pulls me aside and asks what we are going to do about our business proposition. Apparently he had interpreted all my nodding and smiling as an agreement to start a pharmacy with him. It looked like a good time to beat a hasty retreat.

Car Wash At Msefu


We returned to our favourite haunts in the park while waiting for the bushes. The game was still prolific but you could see the numbers dwindling as they moved off to better grazing with the rains. We still saw the daily lions and wild dog and we caught 2 hippos fighting in a dam which was absolutely amazing. Still we knew it was time to move on. The issue was how. The preferred route out of South Luangwa is up over the escarpment and through North Luangwa but this means a trip through Nsefu and North Luangwa is even more famous for its black cotton soil than the south so clearly with our adventures in Nsefu, this was already not an option. A further route is straight through the park on the North South road, the 05.


We went to find Clement to get some expert advice and he phoned the park North gate. He gave us good news. As long as it did not rain that night we were good to go. Feeling cheered we set off to get the bushes replaced one last time.

As luck would have it the mother and father of all storms broke that night and closed the door. We had no choice but a long slow detour of 1400 km via Lusaka. Oh well, we hung around too long and we paid the price. It was worth it and we will be back any chance we get.

Hippo Fighting Over Territory