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A Safari All Over Zambia - September 2013


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Awesome report Safaridude! It's fantastic that you saw so much leopard activity. Did the guides know how the male leopard lost an eye? Also, I love the picture of the guinea fowl walking down the road with the lurking leopard in the brush!




My guide Sly one day saw Elliott with his eyeball dangling (!) -- most likely as a result of a fight with another leopard or some other predator. Sly said it was dangling for a few days and then at some point fell off.


Interestingly, in Mike Coppinger and Jumbo Williams' Luangwa, Zambia's Treaure, there is a photo of a male leopard with a missing left eye. There was a copy of the book at Mwamba Camp, and I showed the photo to Sly. Sly did a double-take... but the book was printed in 1998, so it's a different leopard.


This stuff happens a lot. It's tough out there.

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Dear Safaridude,


I love your photos and brilliant and amusing text. Yes, I remember seeing the lions eating a zebra at night. And the hide at Mwamba and carmine bee-eaters were also incredible. I can't wait to see the rest of your report.



Best regards always,Owen


Forgot to mention that I met ST's own Owen at Mwamba. He was in the passenger seat of the vehicle and looked very professional... I at first thought he was a guide. @@owenshaffer

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A mini ST GTG in the bush. Most excellent!

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Oh my. Saw 2 pages and thought woohoo after reading the first snippet - its just you lot gassing again! :lol:

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Purely casual. I knew it had to be done, but it took longer than anticipated.

Edited by Safaridude
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Great to see another South Luangwa report. I'm also rather surprised this is only your first visit!

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Thanks for posting this review of the Shenton's Camps as I've not heard too much about them from recently from experienced safaristas. I enjoyed all of your photos, particularly the ebony grove and the carmine bee-eaters. Looking forward to more...

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Thanks for posting this review of the Shenton's Camps as I've not heard too much about them from recently from experienced safaristas. I enjoyed all of your photos, particularly the ebony grove and the carmine bee-eaters. Looking forward to more...



For me, what sets good camps apart at the end of the day is the culture... a passionate, dedicated team working together to deliver the best product possible. I don't think you can fake it.


You can read about them here...http://www.kaingo.com/about/


Shenton Safaris offers 3 activities a day: morning and afternoon of course but also a mid-day optional activity (like going to the hippo hide)


Also, they do clever things like having extra bean bags strewn all over the vehicle and having canvas dust covers for your camera/lens -- not to mention the hides.


South Luangwa is in no shortage of high-quality camps, but Shenton is upping the game, and ultimately, it will be to the benefit of everyone.


Unfortunately, Derek himself was leaving camp the day I arrived. I met him briefly inside the park. Here is the photo of the boss...



Edited by Safaridude
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Now here is something interesting...


Some animals in the Luangwa Valley are small:


- The lions are smaller bodied... the ones in Kafue make the Luangwa lions look like kittens.

- The elephants are tiny... some say it is because of the vast culling operation that went on 40+ years ago. But they look so small I doubt the culling is the only factor.

- The Thornicroft giraffe, another endemic, is shorter than the regular southern giraffe.

- Some say the leopards in the Valley are smaller.



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Bangweulu Wetlands – What is it?


You know those HSBC ads? The one, for instance, that shows three identical photographs of a cow individually titled, “leather”, “deity”, and “dinner”? Bangweulu is a lot like those brilliant/odd/annoying ads. It is one of the wildest places in Africa, or one of the tamest, or something entirely different, depending on your view. Bangweulu being a Game Management Area where human habitation is permitted stirs this ambiguity. People truly living amongst the wildlife – is it wild or tame?


The locals at Bangweulu depend on the fishing, which is most productive at the end of the rainy season (April – June) when the floods recede, for their livelihoods. Though now in September the fishing is scant and many of the fishermen have left the immediate area, human presence at Bangweulu is still palpable. Abandoned seasonal huts are strewn across the land, and a network of two-foot tall levees (designed for fish trapping) stretches out to the horizon.



Approaching Bangweulu



Black lechwes near the airstrip



Endless horizon


Bangweulu is definitely not a “first-timer” destination. It is for people specifically looking for shoebill and the two species endemic only to the Bangweulu wetlands, the black lechwe and the Bangweulu tsessebe (a newly classified subspecies). The best time for shoebills at Bangweulu is May to July when they can be seen from a mokoro very close to Shoebill Island Camp. Later in the dry season when the water level drops, they retreat deeper into the swamps in which case wading through the water may be necessary to find them. The exceptionally low water level at the moment renders searching for shoebills impractical. (They are deep, deep into the swamps at the moment. It can be done, but I have seen shoebills twice before, and I know of instances in which people have lost their camera gear with one false step/face plant in the swamps.) Benson and I decide to stick to the black lechwes and the Bangweulu tsessebes as well as some undemanding birding.


What is it about black and white markings in fauna that we humans find so attractive? Zebra, panda, killer whale, sable, etc. I guess it is nature’s gaudiest expression. And the black lechwe (more like dark brown and white at the moment… the males get darker, almost black, during the mating season) does not take a back seat to the said species in attractiveness. Viewed head on, the black lechwe betrays a vertical white stripe running down from the muzzle down to its chest, appearing as if wearing a tuxedo, the stripe widening out as it reaches the belly. So fecund and resilient are they, despite the constant poaching pressure, black lechwes may be at their high-water mark of about 100,000 in number. This is no reason to be complacent, since lechwes are very sensitive to environmental changes and are very easily poached. (Red lechwes in Kafue National Park were nearly wiped out by poaching before the park was gazetted in 1950. The Robert’s lechwe, Kobus leche robertsi, which occurred around Kawambwa, Zambia, became extinct in the middle of the 20th century.)



Black lechwe herd by an abandoned seasonal fishing hut



Villagers walking past a herd of black lechwes



Black lechwe ram sequence










Several herds of anywhere from 20 to 400 black lechwes graze on dry land during the day and retreat into the swamps in the evening. The first night at Shoebill Island Camp as we are finishing dinner, Benson and I hear what sounds like a malfunctioning toilet. A quick-look see with a torch reveals hundreds of black lechwes, eyes gleaming prominently, entering the shallow water about 50 meters from where we are standing. The “running toilet” episodes would play out all night, with some episodes being louder and more intense as the black lechwes in the swamps are pursued by spotted hyenas. The various chases can only be heard, but they occur close enough to camp to allow your imagination to take over.



Part of a herd 400 strong



Males fighting



When spooked, they take to the water



Gliding through the swamp at night



The pursuer


“They”, the antelope gods, have declared the Bangweulu tsessebe a new subspecies –Damaliscus lunatus superstes. So, photograph them I must. Unfortunately, finding them requires a soul-jarring ride over a seemingly never-ending black cotton soil plain. A quick breather once in awhile is necessary to ensure that all my body parts are still intact (“wonder if I might now need a facelift?”). A lightly wooded savannah dotted with waterberry and termite mounds, where the tsessebes occur, is finally reached, but the bloody black cotton soil continues on. A pair of tsessebe bulls allows us a relatively close approach, but a big breeding herd of 50 does not readily. The approach becomes a cat and mouse game – one of patience, cunning, angles and timing, all orchestrated by Benson. Complicating the approach is the fact that the vehicle must negotiate the aforementioned two-foot tall levees. Just when the herd appears to have relaxed and might allow us to get closer, there would be a levee in our path and an opening in the levee 100 meters away to the side. This is all great fun, actually, and we do pretty well in the end in capturing the Bangweulu tsessebe on camera. They are definitely darker than the regular tsessebes. Other than that, they apparently have a different cranial structure according to the antelope gods. I am not convinced yet, but apparently there is a paper coming out on this subject.



Waterberry and termite mound-dotted savannah



Bangweulu Tsessebe sequence













The conservation of Bangweulu is not overseen by ZAWA (the Zambia Wildlife Authority), but rather outsourced to African Parks. African Parks has a tremendous challenge given the population pressure in the region. “The human population that depends on the productivity of the Bangweulu ecosystem is estimated at about 50,000 individuals”, is a direct quote from African Parks’ website. Sustainable fishing is among the most pressing issues here, and African Parks is working with the various communities in Bangweulu to establish sustainable practices and rules. That despite the immense human pressure there are still thousands of fish-eating birds and tens of thousands of black lechwes here is mind-boggling and for the moment stands as a testament that this conservation model can actually work. Bangweulu is a living poster child for co-habitation of wildlife and people, and there is no ambiguity in that.






More black lechwes



Sunset over the levees



Edited by Safaridude
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For those shoebill fans, so as to not disappoint, I attach a photo of a shoebill I saw in Murchison Falls, Uganda here...



Edited by Safaridude
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More photos from Bangweulu...



More seasonal huts



More black lechwes



Black lechwe



More guess what?



Webby, our local guide



Benson studying up for our next game drive?

Edited by Safaridude
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Phew....Safaridue, thanks for turning my annoying Monday morning to a happy one :)


Love you framing - both of words and pictures. Excellent photography as always - the Leopard with Impala and the Lions' "all you can eat buffet" will be stuck in my mind.


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It continues to be great!

The black lechwe are beautiful )I didn't know about them) and you have superb photos of them

I look forward to the next chapter....

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I am speechless! The experience, quality of writing and photos are so good, that I almost would not even dare to comment...

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Great trip report Safari@dude. good news of predators come back to the reserve. Congratulations for the report!

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Thanks everyone.




Hey Shreyas, it's been awhile. Hope you are well. We are all still waiting for more of your Etosha TR!!! :)

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SD, this is really good stuff! I'm in bed sick, thanks for keeping me company.

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SD, this is really good stuff! I'm in bed sick, thanks for keeping me company.




Glad to be of service. Hope you get better soon.

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Kasanka National Park – Swamp ghosts


Known primarily for the migration of several million straw-colored fruit bats from late October to December as well as Africa’s most obliging sitatungas, Kasanka, like Bangweulu, is yet another obscure protected area in Zambia sought out by hardcore nature lovers. And Kasanka, like Bangweulu, is managed by an outside organization – in this case, the Kasanka Trust.


Bastiaan Boon, arms crossed and smiling, picks us up at the Mulembo airstrip on a particularly hazy afternoon. Bastiaan works for the Kasanka Trust but periodically guides guests, and he turns out to be a wealth of knowledge for all of Kasanka’s small things as well as the obvious. Wasa Lodge is only a very short drive away, and it is tastefully designed and surprisingly well heeled for being in such an obscure place. Lake Wasa spreads out before the open dining area, and in the mid-day heat, a female sitatunga reveals herself from the reeds for a nanosecond.



A typical termite mound-dominated dambo at Kasanka


If Hemingway thought of the greater kudu as “the Grey Ghost of Africa”, I wonder what he thought of the sitatunga – that is, if he saw any. Quite numerous in suitable habitats, sitatungas are nevertheless seldom seen. And the window of opportunity of seeing them is normally very small, as you have a chance in hell very early in the morning and very late in the afternoon. For whatever reason, Kasanka’s sitatungas are the most visible on the continent. Out of season for the bats, Benson and I agree to focus on the sitatungas (by the way aptly and comically named “waterkoedoe” in Afrikaans) for the next two days.


There is the obligatory Fibwe Hide built for sitatunga viewing not far from Wasa Lodge. Climbing the 14-meter hide with heavy camera gear is a feat in itself, but the far away sightings of sitatungas prove to be a bit disappointing. Bastiaan has a better idea: the Pontoon Camp. The Pontoon Camp is comprised of two public campsites on a marshy tributary of the Kasanka River, and the sitatungas there are somewhat accustomed to the presence of humans. An executive decision is made for a 5 a.m. wake-up call. Of course, the vehicle, otherwise in fine condition, won’t start and needs to be jumped, costing us some valuable minutes. We do get there in time just as ambient light begins to permeate. We walk over to the edge of the papyrus at one of the two campsites, and we startle a female sitatunga and young who were out in the open feeding. Though they run off, Bastiaan puts the chairs down in not such an inconspicuous area. “They’ll be back”, says he, so confidently. It turns out we might as well have had eggs and bacon frying and coffee brewing right there. About a dozen sitatungas, much like in a scene from Field of Dreams, come and go from one reed bed to another, often stopping to graze out in the open, acknowledging our presence yet losing interest quickly. Just when the light is getting magical, the occupants of the other campsite rouse and stir, and the sitatungas retreat into the reeds. The window is closed for the day. The mosquitos, which were held back by the cool temperature rouse and stir too. It’s back to the lodge for breakfast.



View from the Fibwe Hide



Sitatunga behind some pukus on the Kasanka River



Mother and young at the Pontoon Camp



Young male at the Pontoon Camp


Our time at Kasanka is constricted. After only one night at Wasa Lodge, we are taken to the western side of the park by Ernst Jacobs, yet another committed conservationist working for the Kasanka Trust, to our destination for again only one night, Luwombwa Lodge. Along the way we skirt a mushitu forest (a swamp forest that is a specialty of the park and where the bats roost in season) and the Luwombwa River. A mid-day boat trip on the Luwombwa River is organized. A clear flowing, narrow river enclosed by thick canopies on both sides provides outstanding birding, including close encounters with Bohm’s bee-eaters and giant kingfishers. Good-sized fish are clearly visible in the water. A troop of blue monkeys performs in the trees. We spend the afternoon on a huge dambo called the Chikufwe Plain where we encounter some common reedbucks and a nice herd of sable.



Bohm's bee-eater



Giant kingfisher



Sable herd at Chikufwe



Same herd at Chikufwe



Early evening at Chikufwe



Last light at Chikufwe


The lure of the sitatungas at the Pontoon Camp is too strong, and we do a repeat our last morning – this time the wake-up call proposed for 4:30 (that Benson has boundless energy!). A huge spiral-horned sitatunga male staring confidently into the camera never materializes, but these swamp ghosts of Africa are more confiding than I could have ask for. Like clockwork, the campers next door rouse shortly after sunrise, and the window again closes for the day.


So small “on paper”, Kasanka does not feel so on the ground. Having only allowed for a two night stay was the mistake of the trip. There are so many mini-biomes in Kasanka to explore. And the Ross’s turaco and the narina trogon, two absolutely spectacular birds on my wish list frequently encountered at Kasanka, did not show themselves in time. Oh yeah, and the bats! A return to Kasanka is a must.






Bastiaan (left) and Ernst

Edited by Safaridude
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I remember Ernst- he used to guide at Mwaleshi in North Luangwa. Lovely guy. I remember him saying at the time he wanted to get into something more in the conservation field rather than tourism. It seems like he's found his perfect job up there in Kasanka.

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I was under the impression that African Parks had a plan to manage Mweru Wantipa that included translocating about 500 elephants from Kruger National Park... in about 2006 or 2007? But nothing seems to have come of that that I am aware of... No mention of it on their website either. (Unless it was not African Parks but another organisation?)

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