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Safaridude

A Safari All Over Zambia - September 2013

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ZaminOz

... Sorry, it was Lusenga Plains National Park (near Lake Mweru), not Mweru Wantipa.

Not sure if this is still going ahead?

http://www.zambiatourism.com/destinations/national-parks/lusenga-plains-national-park

 

Edit... The park is managed by Lusenga Trust, they have a web page, but it does not seem particularly informative about the park..

Edited by ZaminOz

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Safaridude

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.

 

Yes, Ernst is a very experienced hand. He was with Remote Africa (Mwaleshi in North Luangwa and Tafika in South Luangwa), and he was also with a Kafue outfit that used to operate Lunga River Lodge and the old Busanga Bush Camp.

 

@@stokeygirl

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Safaridude

 

At Luwombwa Lodge, we saw a very nice bull elephant. There are elephants in the park. Not many but seen regularly.

 

I don't think it's Mweru Wantipa... the Trust manages Lavushi Manda (maybe that's what you are thinking of?) We flew over Lavushi... impressive miombo forest.

 

 

Edited by wilddog
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Safaridude

@@ZaminOz 

 

The subject of Mweru Wantipa did come up. By all measure, it is depleted. However, there is a G.M.A. nearby called Tondwa between Mweru Wantipa and Nsumbu National Park. Apparently, Tondwa is still very wild.

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Safaridude

Kafue National Park (Busanga Plains) – Lexon’s revenge; the Dude

 

There is a photo of a lion hanging on the wall of my living room at home. I try to resist anthropomorphism, but this is one handsome lion (and I, one satisfied photographer). I took the photograph in 2009 on the Busanga Plains of Kafue National Park, but I had seen and photographed him in 2008 as well. He and his less impressive brother took over the Busanga Pride in 2006. Collectively, the two have been known as “the Busanga Boys”, but remarkably, “my lion” has never been given a name that stuck: “Big Boy” and “the Big One” have been feeble attempts at it; and “Mr. Busanga” and “Leonard” of late still fall short of his magnificence. I take this opportunity to name him Busangadude. More remarkably, Busangadude and his brother were still in charge of the Busanga Pride as the countdown to this safari began. That’s seven years and counting… unheard of, really, for male lions to be in control of a pride that long.

 

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"Busangadude" - photo taken in September 2009

 

(By the way, in 2006, a male lion named “Big John” went missing, paving the way for the Busanga Boys to take control of the Busanga Pride. Big John was an utterly breathtaking jet black-maned lion worthy of his name. Some speculate that Big John ventured into a hunting concession, met his end, and now hangs on the wall, literally, of some satisfied marksman.)

 

I have written about the general ecology of the Busanga Plains (http://safaritalk.net/topic/4250-trip-report-kafue-national-park-and-other-places-in-zambia-sept-09/?p=29126), and much of it I won’t repeat here. Let me just simply say Busanga is a singular place and a wetland of extraordinary importance to Africa’s biodiversity. The loss of this great biome is not an option.

 

So my third trip to the Busanga Plains of Kafue National Park comes with two missions: hopefully re-connecting with “the Dude” and seeing sable antelope. Not that I haven’t seen sable elsewhere. I certainly have on many occasions. It’s just that I haven’t seen sable at Busanga. With Phil Jeffery at the wheel in 2008 and Lexon at the wheel with Benson tracking in 2009, we made several excursions to the tsetse-infested treeline in search of sable. It started out as an innocuous wish, but with each failed attempt, the quest for sable became a strange, creeping affliction – Phil’s, Lexon’s and Benson’s more so than mine. Just because it is there, Mallory might suggest. Lexon, especially… he took it personally… I think it ticked him off each time we failed.

 

When we arrive at Shumba Camp, I am disappointed to find out that Lexon has left to join Mukambi Safari’s Plains Camp but surprised and delighted to see Rob and Ingrid Baas, who were camp hosts in 2009. Rob is now the concession manager for Wilderness Safaris in Kafue National Park and Ingrid now runs the Children in the Wilderness program in Zambia, but serendipity would have it that they would be relief-managing during our stay. Many hosts/managers come and go, but these two have stayed on as committed conservationists. Shumba has matured nicely. Guiding is top notch. John D, with a graying goatee symbolic of his seniority and wisdom, would be our guide, and Stanley, a likeable young guide trainee, would tag along to soak up John D’s every word and movement. I am also joined by Bill and David of The Nature Conservancy (TNC) for the rest of the trip. TNC has a burgeoning conservation effort in the Game Management Areas surrounding Kafue National Park.

 

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Stanley (left) and John D

 

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Rob and Ingrid

 

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Morning coffee on the deck

 

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Crocodile at breakfast

 

The game is as prolific as I remember in my two previous trips. The difference this time being the extreme dryness in Zambia I mentioned. The characteristic thousands of red lechwes and pukus are more concentrated in the wetter north toward Plains Camp compared to the years past, as are the flocks of crowned and wattle cranes. Elephants are more conspicuous on the plains than I remember, perhaps as a result of the pans drying up in the surrounding woodlands. Zebras, wildebeests, buffalos, and the continent’s most visible roan antelopes dot the open landscape. The roan antelopes at Busanga are truly nutty stuff. So shy and alert elsewhere, they are tamer than zebras and wildebeests here, on occasion not even acknowledging our presence – this despite the fact that Busanga is surrounded by hunting concessions where they are prized.

 

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Puku near Shumba Camp

 

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Zebras on the plain

 

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A pair of elephant bulls in the late afternoon light

 

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Part of a 20+ herd of roan antelope watering mid-morning

 

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Roan bull

 

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Another indolent roan bull

 

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Side-striped jackal (I have never failed to see one at Busanga)

 

It would be embarrassing to suggest of “tracking” the Busanga Pride of lions, as most of the members would loiter right around Shumba Camp during our entire stay. Apparently, pride members sometimes even walk onto the wooden deck of the camp and act as if they are paid guests. We learn from John D that Busangadude’s brother went permanently missing recently, and Busangadude quickly adopted a young nomadic male as his confidant (again, not textbook lion behavior). In any case, the newly constituted Busanga Boys are out patrolling away from the pride at the moment, but John D is confident that they will return during our stay.

 

Our first couple of forays into the treeline yield no sable (now John D seems to be acquiring the strange affliction too) but a cheeky young bull elephant who mock charges our vehicle and some normally inconspicuous lions – females of the Treeline Pride (whose territory is immediately south to that of the Busanga Pride) with the two males of the Musanza Pride (whose territory is immediately south to that of the Treeline Pride). It is evident that the Musanza males are advancing north to take notice of the Treeline females, who have been without male companionship for a very long time, and they all happen to have infiltrated the edge of the Busanga Pride’s territory at the moment. The Musanza males are young, muscular and full of ambition. Benson notices a fresh bloody gash on the face of one of the males. Did these guys just have a territorial dispute with the Busanga Boys?

 

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A mock charging bull

 

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Musanza male #1

 

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Musanza male #2 - agitated at our approach

 

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Musanza male #2

 

Our last full day is spent marveling at the great expanse of wetlands covered by red lechwes and pukus near the papyrus swamps in the morning and addressing our sable affliction in the afternoon. As we traverse the western treeline in what is likely our last chance for sable, a vehicle carrying several people in street clothes advances behind us (Mukambi’s Plains Camp crew going to the nearby village, perhaps for some time off, John D tells us). Both vehicles stop. One man gets out of the other vehicle smiling and walks over. It’s Lexon! “Hi guys. How have you been? Great to see you again! Looking for sable? They can see you, but you can’t see them. Hahaha…” After a few moments of exchanging niceties and reminiscing, Lexon and the vehicle speed off to their destination, hoping to reach the village before dark. We search the treeline for a good while longer, but the light is fading now and perhaps predator activity is about to begin on the plains. We turn the vehicle around and try to forget about our affliction. Just then, the radio crackles. It’s Lexon, and guess what he has “got”? John D turns the vehicle around and surely surpasses what is a reasonable speed limit for normal guests. After 15 minutes of hard and fast driving, John D suddenly slams on the breaks. It’s a tree stump Lexon has put in the middle of the road to mark where he has found “it”. And there it is finally… a sable on the edge of Busanga. A majestic lone bull. No more majestic than any other sable I have seen elsewhere, but one that breaks the curse. Serendipity? In more ways than one. Lexon’s revenge? Absolutely. I am certain that somewhere in his village, Lexon is wearing a smile tonight.

 

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Red lechwes near the papyrus area

 

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Lexon

 

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Sable sequence

 

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Our final morning is a lazy one – just a relaxing look-see before our flight out. While we admire a pair of Lichtenstein’s hartebeests and some more indolent roan, the good old radio crackles once again. The Busanga Boys have returned and are only 15 minutes away. John D gets us there in 10 minutes. I draw my big lens to get a closer look at the two male lions sitting down in the tall grass. But wait, it’s not Busangadude and his companion! It’s the two Musanza males! When the radio crackled, the Busanga Boys were indeed here, but in the intervening minutes, the Musanza males apparently barged in and chased them out without a fight. The two supremely confident Musanza males are seen urinating all over the place, scent-marking now in the heart of Busanga Pride’s territory. Is this the end of Busangadude’s seven-year reign? Very possible. And to think that I missed him by a few minutes…

 

Lexon’s sweet revenge to the potential demise of Busangadude – only in Africa are we so privileged to routinely experience such highs and lows of what nature throws at us.

 

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Lichtenstein's hartebeests

 

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Musanza males scent-marking in the heart of the Busanga Pride's territory

 

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Musanza male #2

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Safaridude

More photos from Busanga...

 

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Part of a 300-strong buffalo herd

 

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"Roaning roan"

 

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Mess area of Shumba Camp at night

 

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View from the deck

 

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Young elephant crossing the plain

 

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Red lechwes

 

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The remnant

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twaffle

What a trip, but you did seem to rush around somewhat. You have more energy than I do. So I have to say that I love the croc skull, how well would that fit with my current project … I have never seen such a beautifully formed croc remnant.

Some of those antelope photos are particularly wonderful, the roans and sitatunga and that lovely Sable bull (having a quick 'wee' … no dignity in photography :rolleyes: ). Shame about Busangadude, but the Musanza males look good.

 

So where do the bats go?

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AKR1

@@Safaridude,

 

The Zambian's should make you an honorary ambassador in the U.S.

 

Your writing is superb, redolent is the term I'm looking for, in that I can sense the terroir of the Kafue in your descriptions. The pictures, as always, beautifully illustrate the narrative.

 

The picture of "Busangadude" looks more like a drawing, reminiscent of Kim Donaldson's work.

http://www.amazon.com/Africa-Artists-Journal-Kim-Donaldson/dp/0823001571/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1382573097&sr=8-1&keywords=africa+artists+journal

 

Look forward to more.

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TonyQ

Great writing and wonderful pictures of an area I have not seen before

I am pleased you (and we) got your sable!

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Safaridude

What a trip, but you did seem to rush around somewhat. You have more energy than I do. So I have to say that I love the croc skull, how well would that fit with my current project … I have never seen such a beautifully formed croc remnant.

Some of those antelope photos are particularly wonderful, the roans and sitatunga and that lovely Sable bull (having a quick 'wee' … no dignity in photography :rolleyes: ). Shame about Busangadude, but the Musanza males look good.

 

So where do the bats go?

 

@@twaffle

 

The latest on Busangadude is that he may not be finished just yet... stay tuned... I will have more on this shortly.

 

The bats should be arriving in Kasanka any day now. I must go back there in the future to check it out.

 

Ha, I didn't notice that the sable was having a quick "wee". I think it means he is relaxed.

 

I have a "having a quick wee" photo of a roan from Busanga (taken in August 2008). This one is more obvious... and I would like to call it "U-roanation" :D

 

gallery_6003_918_109835.jpg

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Safaridude

@@Safaridude,

 

The Zambian's should make you an honorary ambassador in the U.S.

 

Your writing is superb, redolent is the term I'm looking for, in that I can sense the terroir of the Kafue in your descriptions. The pictures, as always, beautifully illustrate the narrative.

 

The picture of "Busangadude" looks more like a drawing, reminiscent of Kim Donaldson's work.

http://www.amazon.com/Africa-Artists-Journal-Kim-Donaldson/dp/0823001571/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1382573097&sr=8-1&keywords=africa+artists+journal

 

Look forward to more.

 

Thank you A... "redolent" -- now them's fancy words...

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AKR1

 

 

@@Safaridude,

 

The Zambian's should make you an honorary ambassador in the U.S.

 

Your writing is superb, redolent is the term I'm looking for, in that I can sense the terroir of the Kafue in your descriptions. The pictures, as always, beautifully illustrate the narrative.

 

The picture of "Busangadude" looks more like a drawing, reminiscent of Kim Donaldson's work.

http://www.amazon.com/Africa-Artists-Journal-Kim-Donaldson/dp/0823001571/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1382573097&sr=8-1&keywords=africa+artists+journal

 

Look forward to more.

Thank you A... "redolent" -- now them's fancy words...

I was inspired by your use of anthropomorphism ?

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Safaridude

 

 

 

Yes, Lexon is a lovely guy. Damn, I should have asked him to sing... Did you see "Big John" by the way in 2002?

 

 

@@wulff

 

I am sure that "Lex" you refer to in the "Show us your Sable" thread is Lexon...

Edited by Safaridude
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SafariChick

Wonderful report, thanks so much - definitely has helped make me want to go to Zambia! One question: isn't Busanga known for it's tree-climbing lions? Did you actually see any in trees?

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Safaridude

@SafariChic 

 

Indeed the Busanga lions are known to occasionally climb trees. They tend to do more climbing later in the dry season (September - November) as the weather gets hotter.

 

There is a particular big fig tree near Busanga Bush Camp that they are apparently fond of climbing.

Edited by Safaridude
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Double Dare

Another wonderful trip report and another country I need to visit.

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SafariChick

@@Safaridude thanks, it'd be fun to see lions in trees. I am so torn on where to go next!

Edited by SafariChick

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Safaridude

There is a bit of an epilogue to the Busanga part of the trip report. Rob, the concession manager for Wilderness, tells me the following:

 

 

"The Busanga boys are still on the Plains with 'their' females but the Musanza brothers are here as well. The Busanga boys just move away when it gets too tricky for them and return when all is fine... Lots of lion activity."
So, it appears a classic "takeover" of the pride has not occurred.

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Safaridude

By the way, there is a National Geographic documentary that follows the Busanga Boys' becoming the ruling males of the Busanga Pride after Big John, the existing male, went missing in 2006. The documentary is called "Swamp Lions", and it's pretty good.

 

Incidentally, when I was in Italy two years ago for this event (http://safaritalk.net/topic/7624-africa-a-roma/) and visiting  , "Swamp Lions" came on TV. It was in Italian of course. What I remember is how the room went silent when the show came on. Three crazed safaristas drawn by a show on Africa.

 

 

Edited by Safaridude
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Kitsafari

thank you for sharing in your wonderful account. beautiful pictures, especially of the lions. I feel sadness on hearing about Busangadude and his teammate, but that's the nature of life. Hopefully they are able to carve out another territory and rule for another 7 years.

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Kitsafari

I've just realised I've got Swamp Lions in my list of taped shows while I was away the last week and a half.

 

I'm glad I've not watched it yet, since now I can relate to the Busanga lions and enjoy the story much better and take a closer look at Zambia, thanks to the wonderful stories in your TR @@Safaridude !

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africapurohit

Wonderful stuff @@Safaridude, thank you for bringing Kafue to a screen near me. A place I still have not visited, but I'll make sure I get there soon. What was the tsetse fly situation like when you were there?

 

Swamp Lions was a good documentary and included some fantastic footage filmed from a low flying helicopter.

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stokeygirl

Wonderful report, thanks so much - definitely has helped make me want to go to Zambia! One question: isn't Busanga known for it's tree-climbing lions? Did you actually see any in trees?

 

I've seen tree climbing lions in South Luangwa. Apparently they do it particularly towards the end of the season when it's very hot so I've heard guides speculate they do it just because it's cooler (breezier I guess) up in a tree. Also, they may get away from flies. If that's the case, then I reckon lions anywhere will do it if it's hot enough and there are suitable trees. I guess it also depends on the size of the lion. If the Luangwa lions are smaller as has been said, then I imagine getting up a tree is a bit more feasible. I'm not sure I could see some of the Ruaha lions managing it!

 

I've seen younger lions climbing trees in all sorts of places.

 

I remember stopping for a sun downer once in South Luangwa, and being just about to get out of the vehicle when our guide noticed there was a lion up the tree we were parked right under!!

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Safaridude

@@Kitsafari - Enjoy the show!

 

@@africapurohit - the tsetse situation was not bad at all this year in Busanga (the Nanzhila area, my next installment, was "normal"). We were all ready for battle with our bugsuits ready... but dare I say I was a bit disappointed? The Wilderness vehicles are now all fitted with a can at the back of the vehicle where you can burn elephant dung. Smoldering elephant dung keeps the tsetses away. (By the way, Benson and I learned this technique at Nanzhila Plains in 2009 and transferred our knowledge to the Busanga area. Benson actually jerryrigged the first device of its kind at Shumba Camp back in 2009 by using an empty can and some wires. We got laughed at at first, but nobody was laughing when it worked. Plenty of elephant dung out there... and honestly, it smells pleasant when it burns)

Edited by Safaridude

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africapurohit

Yes, the smoke does smell quite pleasant. That was our calming alternative to incense sticks during our 7 days in Katavi - and it works brilliantly!

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