Wildlife weekend!

It’s painful to be so limited in our travel ambitions by the covid-19 pandemic, especially being separated from friends and family. However, we have been fortunate in that we can enjoy some in-country travels. In our case, within Zambia. Last weekend we took advantage of a special offered by Wildlife Camp.

The weekend started with a flight from Lusaka to Mfuwe. Scheduled to take off at 10:15, this was delayed until 11:30, since the aircraft was unable to take-off on time from Ndola, due to “VVIP movements” there. If the president or someone else in the VVIP category passes through an airport, then all other air traffic is suspended until afterwards. Yes, this is Africa. We are already used to “blue-light convoys” when senior politicians or military leaders need to go somewhere, requiring lesser mortals like us to get out of the way, or to sit waiting in an airport. Anyway, the delay was much shorter than the one I wrote about in my previous post, so we just grumbled a bit and took it in our stride.

In-flight refreshment that could be enjoyed after taking off our masks.

Cloud cover over the route made the flight a slightly bumpy one, especially for such a relatively small aircraft. Proflight delivered us safely to Mfuwe, though.

On the tarmac at Mfuwe International Airport

Wildlife Camp had arranged our collection from the airport and we duly met Salim, who used one of the camp’s open Landrovers to drive us the 45 minutes or so northwards, through the hot countryside, towards Wildlife Camp. Salim (and the Landrover) would be our companion over the coming couple of days.

The road leading to the camp, going through a hot and dry Mopani forest, with all the new green leaves being stripped daily by elephants and giraffes.

Wildlife Camp, owned by the Wildlife and Environmental Conservation Society of Zambia (WECZ), is located on the banks of the Luangwa River, providing us with a view directly into the South Luangwa National Park. The parks are not fenced, but are surrounded by so-called Game Management Areas. Animals come and go between the Parks and the GMAs, so that we had to be a bit careful within our campsite, which is in one of those GMAs.

For instance, walking between the campsite and the central restaurant/bar area (some 400 metres) is not allowed at night. In the daytime, before strolling along the river bank towards lunch, one needs to find out if it is safe. The two parts of the property are connected by walkie-talkie and they then call each other and check out the area, before guests are allowed to start the short walk.

View over the Luangwa River from our tent

Our package at Wildlife Camp included two game drives per full day and so we managed to fit in 4 game drives in all.The afternoon drives included a sundowner drink and snack and the early morning drives included coffee and tea (and muffins!).

Relatively small sausage tree, no leopard in this one

Salim and his colleague George are excellent guides and they managed to show us all of the “big four” that inhabit the South Luangwa NP: Lions, leopards, buffalo and giraffe. And there is so much more! We were keen to see a leopard, they are such beautiful cats and apparently abundant in this park. However, they tend to hide in the shade or in a tree and you really need to search for them. Apparently their favourite places are in or near “sausage trees“, since the seeds and flowers from these trees are popular with antelopes while the branches provide good resting place for a leopard, and an ideal place to safely store their dinner. Leopards do need to keep their prey safe from other hungry predators like hyenas, who would otherwise steal their dinner.

Mrs. Leopard during a daytime snooze

At one point during the first drive, we spotted a leopard stalking toward a herd of impala, but it was soon joined by a couple of hyenas. As a result, the impala took off to a safe distance, and the leopard and one of the hyenas entered into a snarling and staring contest.

Face-off between this couple of predators left the leopard with the high ground, but no dinner for either of them.

On another occasion, we saw a leopard that had caught an impala ram and had dragged it under a bush for safety. It kept trying to drag it out towards a nearby tree, but the antelope’s legs were stuck under the branches and the cat couldn’t get its meal into a safer location. So it proceeded with its meal right there, all the while looking around nervously to see if there were hyenas nearby. Impala skin appears to be quite tough and even the leopard, with pretty serious dental equipment, had to work hard to get to the meat. It was interesting to see her pulling out the hairs from the impala’s butt, and then spitting these out. Apparently the hairs do not digest well (as any domestic cat owner will know!) and the leopards will rather spit them out than risk getting hairballs in their intestine.

“This one is mine!”

I did mention the guides. George’s eyesight is really spectacular. Even at night, in the light cone of a torch, from a moving vehicle, he can see a chameleon on a bush a couple of metres away. I don’t mean that metaphorically, he actually did that!

Impala are common but remain beautiful animals. This young ram put himself in the frame for me.

If at all possible, everybody wants to see a lion. We were no exception and we were not disappointed. Salim drove us towards an area where they might be found and we managed to see a few. It is very clear why these huge cats are deemed to be the king of the jungle – they slowly walk around or lie on the ground as if they own the place, without a care in the world. Leopards always look so beautiful and well-groomed, but lions, even though they may have a shaggy mane and various cuts about the face, are majestic and clearly in charge. They were not even perturbed by us in our vehicle. We, however, in an open Landrover within 10 metres, were somewhat nervous! Salim told us to stay calm, not make any sudden moves and then the animals would not recognise us as edible snacks. It’s probably the only occasion when I was happy to be considered as a Landrover part.

His Majesty, observing us from his shady throne overlooking the river, had been in a recent argument, evidenced by the bleeding cut under his left eye.
One of the excellent meals (along with my favourite drink)

For us humans, life in the camp itself was very good. We were the only guests for almost the entire weekend, experiencing the good food and great service provided by Potifar, the barman (and apparently, assistant chef), Jacholeen, the manager, as well as the already mentioned guides.

We saw this little snake sharing the pool with us, unable to get out. So we rescued it and it slid away without any sign of gratitude.

We saw a wide range of animal and bird species during our weekend and I will not try to show them all here, but here are a few examples:

Hmmm .. it’s not locked… But that saddle has seen better days. And my feet probably won’t reach the pedals, anyway.
Having a drink is a cumbersome affair for a giraffe. Looks like it’s hard on the knees. Also, since they haven’t got very long nostrils (like elephants do) they can’t suck up a lot of water. It appears they just fill their mouth and sling their head backwards, to let water run down that long throat. This picture was taken from the restaurant area (where I had less problems to drink my beer).
Saddle-billed Stork wading through the so-called nile cabbage
Mrs. Warthog, fresh from her mudbath at the local spa. Beauty treatment is a work in progress.
Nile crocodile basking in the sun. And oh, for those interested in geology: ripple marks forming in the shallow water over the sandbank.
Greater Kudu ram, thinking about something?
No stop streets or zebra crossings here, but we allowed this elephant to cross the road in front of us anyway.
The Luangwa River just after sunset
Google it, then go.

I hope you’ve enjoyed “sharing” this experience with us, and apologies if I am filling you with jealousy because you are one of many people who are currently unable to travel to places like this. If you are not the jealous type, and if you can handle my weird sense of humour, then please keep following this blog. And whenever you can, make a plan to visit Zambia, South Luangwa and Wildlife Camp.

8 thoughts on “Wildlife weekend!

  1. Ronnie, man, I am not jealous, man, I am INCREDIBLY JEALOUS man… Thanks for the great and truly beautiful pictures of our wild borythers!!! Even if I have to get inoculated against the bleeding Viro covidario before I am allowed to get onto an international plane, I will try and get to Zambia again one day…. Louis

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  2. Yeah, definitely jealous, especially when locked inside with quarantine (3 more days!). Iā€™m happy if I see a bird from my window, never mind multiple leopards!

    Like

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