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A Safari All Over Zambia - September 2013


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Lions do indeed climb trees in Ishasha - we saw them in 2005 - it seemed entirely natural to them. Our guide thought it was avoiding flies - but who knows?

I have put a photo in the "Show us your lions" thread http://safaritalk.net/topic/6299-show-us-your-lion-pictures/page-7 rather than putting it in @Safaridudes very fine report

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Kafue National Park (Nanzhila Plains) – What do we tell her?


I have expressed my unbridled enthusiasm for this southern part of Kafue National Park (http://safaritalk.net/topic/7753-little-kwara-kwando-lagoon-kwando-lebala-nanzhila-plains-september-2011/?p=59272). After my last trip here in 2011, I even wrote that the Nanzhila area of Kafue National Park was close to regaining its status as a prime game viewing area it once was. Well, it’s not quite there yet, but it will get there one day very soon. The confluence of so many different habitats seems to always produce special sightings, if not yet constant predator action most people care about.



Nanzhila Plains






Wattled cranes


The entire southern sector of Kafue would not be what it is today without Steve Smith, the owner of Nanzhila Plains Camp, really. He began conceptualizing the camp in 2003, in an area left to die by others before him. Since opening the camp in 2006, it has been a true “two steps forward, one step back”. There have been times when he paid the ZAWA scouts’ rations out of his own pocket, gave ZAWA fuel when it ran out, and chased poachers in his vehicle unarmed. But the overall progress has been remarkable – worth every drop of his blood, sweat and tears. Steve’s wife Cindy happens to be at camp, and we spend quality time discussing their achievements to date, hopes and fears.



Steve and Cindy Smith with Benson


Victor, Patricia and Charles of TNC join up with Bill and David at camp, and we all discuss the future conservation plans for this part of Kafue. Though there is a solid wall of human presence to the east of the park, some parts to the south and most parts to the west are still intact wilderness. The future of this magnificent area is dependent on the well-being, proper incentive structure, and goodwill of the people living in these Game Management Areas surrounding the park, and TNC is about to step up its community-based conservation work.


Despite the agonizingly dry year in Zambia, the Nanzhila area still has plenty of pools filled with water because they are fed by subterranean streams. The Chilenje Pools to the north produce sable, roan, kudu, zebra and reedbuck as well as a half-submerged spotted-necked otter tearing into a fresh fish kill. And wild dog tracks. The Mubi Pools to the south produce lion, as well as sable, kudu (a bachelor herd of 11!), Lichtenstein’s hartebeest and zebra. The western woodlands prove quieter than the last time but still produce sightings of sable, roan, Lichtenstein’s hartebeest and eland. And wild dog tracks. Out on the palm tree-dotted open plains near camp, big herds of zebras and wildebeests graze on the new green flush. More wild dog tracks. Impalas have grown in number ever since the camp opened, and they are recolonizing areas from which they have been absent. In all, the flight distances of animals in the vicinity of the main game viewing area have been shortened substantially since my first visit to the area in 2009.



Roan at Chilenje Pools



Spotted-necked otter



Southern (common) reedbucks



Impala welcoming party



A herd of sable near Chilenje Pools



Wildebeests enjoying the green flush



Greater kudus on the plains



An eland herd moving through the western woodlands



Lions at Mubi Pools



Greater kudu at Mubi Pools


Speaking of wild dog tracks, there always seems to be a wild dog pack in this part of Kafue. Fresh tracks are seen even near the camp staff housing area. The pack (comprised of 11 adults and their pups) is denning somewhere west of camp, and adult dogs make daily hunting forays to, among other places, the plains near camp for impala, reedbuck and oribi. Luck would have it that we would be chasing ghosts on this trip, however. Seven adult dogs stroll through camp one day while we are returning from our morning activity. We miss them by a few minutes.


Nanzhila always seems to produce special, unusual sightings. The large grey mongoose is a widespread but rarely seen species, and Benson claims that Nanzhila is the only place he has ever had clear sightings, and several times at that. Black-cheeked lovebirds are endemic only to a narrow vertical band stretching from Nanzhila to Livingstone, and a couple of flocks allow us a close approach at Chilenje. Racket-tailed rollers are rarely seen compared to their lilac-breasted cousins because the racket-tails prefer the solitude of the miombo or teak; but a fine specimen of Coracias spatulatus shows off its distinctive spatulae near Ngoma. Servals are not necessarily rare if you go to the right places, and Nanzhila is certainly one of those places. My best ever, very intimate serval sighting occurs just east of camp one early morning. Finally, a bushpig forages in complete oblivion in broad daylight out on the plains. We are able to approach on foot to about 40 meters before it runs off.



Large grey mongoose



Black-cheeked lovebirds



Racket-tailed roller sequence






Serval sequence









Bush pig approached on foot


Steve decides to take the wheel our last afternoon, and we end up having one fine game drive – one that Steve will certainly never forget. Not five minutes from camp, seven sable bachelors strut around as if they own the joint (in 2011, I saw a different bachelor herd of seven. Seven seems to be the magic number in Kafue.). We stay with them for half an hour as they provide interesting photo opportunities by continually bullying each other as is typical. But without any warning, they suddenly dash off into the far treeline. What the heck just happened? Steve drives the vehicle forward for a few seconds but before continuing on further, he stops and exits the vehicle to check on the front right tire that is making a strange noise (a branch caught?). There is a magnificent fish eagle perched on a tree in front of us, and to our left there is a shrinking pool where saddle-billed and marabou storks are hunting catfish. The sable bulls have stopped running away and can now be seen staring intently at us from the treeline. Both Benson and I immerse ourselves in our photography in glorious early evening light. Just then, the game scout in the back of the vehicle barks out something unintelligible, and Steve hurls himself back into the vehicle with the swiftness he surely hasn’t shown since his youth. Simultaneously, a clump of bush, not 10 meters away from where Steve was crouching to check on the tire, erupts with flashes of two lionesses bounding away. The crucial question is, what were the lionesses’ intentions? Most likely, they were just as frightened as Steve was and looking for a way out of the situation, conjectures Benson. On the other hand, wild lions are unpredictable. Had they been in a “hunt mode” for the sable, it might have been hard to switch out of it, and Steve had his back turned to them. After a moment of nervous laughter by everyone, an even more crucial question arises: “hey Steve, what do we tell Cindy when we get back to camp? Do we tell her the truth?” More nervous laughter follows.



Sable sequence









Fish eagle



Saddle-billed stork

Edited by Safaridude
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More photos from Nanzhila...



Pied kingfisher



Zebras at dusk



Greater kudu






Meyer's parrot



Sausage tree


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Great report as usual, reading it really makes me want to explore Zambia a bit more especially Bangweulu. :)


Is that really a Cape clawless otter it clearly has spots on its neck which would surely make it a spot-necked, perhaps I'm wrong but I don’t think they clawless otters ever have such spots on their necks do they?


Having questioned the identity of your otter I didn’t really want to contradict anything else you’ve said but I do have to say that Nyika NP in Malawi is certainly just as good a place to see roan as the Busanga Plains if not possibly even better. At least I saw bigger herds on the Nyika than at Busanga, though that was a good while ago. I wanted to say this just because I think Malawi gets left out just as much as Zambia does and I suspect a lot of people don’t realise there is more to the country than just the lake.


Very nice photos of the racket-tailed roller a beautiful bird that’s not always easy to find.

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Thanks. I think you are right on the otter being spotted-necked. Benson at first thought it was a spotted-necked otter but later dismissed it for some reason (of course, all he had to work with then was a pair of binoculars… diid not have the benefit of a processed photo after the fact).


I believe the diagnostic is that the cape clawless otter's face is creamy white underneath its nose, and this one's face is clearly dark everywhere.


Yes, Nyika is excellent for roan, I have heard.


At Busanga, breeding herds of roan routinely number 20 plus (which is quite big). On this trip, the biggest one I saw was a breeding herd of 31 (which is really pushing the limit for roan).


It's interesting that sable herds can achieve 40, 50, 60 in number, no problem. Roan don't like other animals, and they don't even seem to like each other… they don't bunch like sable. They need their private space.

Edited by Safaridude
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Thanks. Not the end yet… a post-script is being written now...

Edited by Safaridude
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Superb Seval photos - a really beautiful animal


Really interesting to read about this area of Zambia and to see your pictures

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I do not.

Edited by Safaridude
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Am I glad I discovered ST last year. Tripreports like yours have really tought me a lot. Wonderful pics.

By the way how is the elephant population in Kafue.


My deepest respect Safaridude


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GW was kind enough to change the written content and the photo caption to reflect the correct otter species.



The elephant situation in Kafue is not bad, not good. As you may know, Kafue's elephants have been poached for years. I understand ithe poaching was very bad in the '80s and '90s, calmed down, then subsequently picked up again. As a tourist, you can definitely expect to see them…just not a lot of them. And they can be very aggressive… I have found that the ones in the north tend to be aggressive, and the ones in the south timid. Good spots to see elephants are Busanga Plains in the north and the areas near the Kafue River from the north central part of the park to the central part of the park (many camps in these areas), around Lake Itazhi-tezhi, and near Ngoma in the south. On this trip, I had several sightings of bulls as well as a small breeding herd on the Busanga Plains and a big breeding herd of 50 or so just south of Ngoma.

Edited by Safaridude
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“Knowledge is a burden…” – Stephen Lawhead


There were numerous “life is good” moments on this trip, but I also saw signs of trouble for Zambia’s wildlife. As a volunteer for The Nature Conservancy’s Africa Program, I have been observing Africa through the lens of conservation, asking many pointed questions on the ground, trying to become a better “student of conservation”. And the knowledge gained over the years has indeed become a burden. These signs of trouble do not yet constitute an irreversible epidemic, they are not necessarily Zambia-specific, and they are not anything new. The list is long: bushmeat poaching; illegal logging; uncontrolled bush fires, etc., not to mention elephant and rhino poaching (wild rhinos were long gone in Zambia though a reintroduced population has been established in North Luangwa). There are certain parts in the interior of South Luangwa where bushmeat poaching is rampant. The number of snares being lifted in Kasanka has skyrocketed (in fact, I saw a reedbuck with a snare on its leg and a sable with a snare on it horn). On the periphery of certain parts of Kafue National Park, the landscape is empty… just scorched (literally) earth.


Again, these are not Zambia-specific problems. This is an African epidemic, a world epidemic. In the case of Zambia, these problems became exacerbated several months ago when ZAWA basically ran out of funding. Already thin patrols on the ground became almost non-existent, opening the door for poaching with impunity in certain spots. What does it say when the parks and reserves get pillaged in the absence of enforcement presence? I realize this is merely an epilogue to my trip report and not a suitable soapbox (I will have much more to say later, hopefully, in another forum). But it is clear to me that if we fail to address the food insecurity situation of the local people and if we fail to instill in them a sense of long-term ownership in their resources, attitudes will not change, enforcement efforts will be overcome by unrelenting pressure, and wildlife will give way. The West’s “educating” the Africans about wildlife is futile at best, if not inappropriate, amidst hunger pangs. Where government, not the local community, owns everything, there are zero incentives at the local level to act as caretakers of the environment. The basic needs of the locals must be addressed (not through handouts but through partnerships and tweaking of incentives) and “ownership” and decision-making must be devolved if sustainable conservation is to proceed.


Our last night at Nanzhila Plains Camp, we all sit by the fire and discuss the overwhelming challenges of conservation. What started out as a conversation about a local bush fire mushroomed into lamenting about illegal wildlife trafficking and even global climate change. The capper was the discussion of the illegal trade in shoebill chicks (have you heard about that? I hadn’t. Though shoebill poaching has quieted down recently in Bangweulu, shoebill chicks are sought after by exotic wildlife collectors.) Daunting indeed is conservation, and I must have appeared particularly deflated, as Benson expressed concern.


That night was a restless one for me. Not only was my mind racing, there was a damn honey badger making a racket outside my chalet all night. I shined my torch on him and got a good look. He, of course, couldn’t care less. Nothing was going to stop him from foraging all night right there.


When I told Benson the next morning about the honey badger, he looked at me with these intense, almost crazed eyes and said in an unusually quiet voice, almost whispering, “In my native Shona, the honey badger is called ‘chitsere’. But the word has other connotations. It also means perseverance – forward gear only. Now, you go be chitsere”. I just stared back at him, my mouth ajar. No other words were spoken.


Chitsere then.

Edited by Game Warden
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@@Safaridude - am in India at an airport as I write this and I can sense that there are people looking at me surreptitiously because you've had me laughing and exclaiming and frowning, and now finally almost in tears as I come to the end of this report.


Thank you for sharing your knowledge and insight and background and the beauty of your writing/photos with us, as always. So many special moments here that I'm at a loss to single anything out - especially since I've read this in one sitting. But I was struck that South Luangwa has the same magical dappled light that Mana does. And the call of Kafue grows stronger each time I read another one of your reports.


If you can, please do share some info about TNC's initiatives in Zambia.


Have been reading and learning a lot about Zam as I get ready for my own trip, but then just as I feel I know something, you lot throw out another bunch of new names and it's back to the drawing board for me :)


Chitsere is what you should have named this report - that is indeed what you have done and continue to do in Zambia.

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The Mike Myers? As in Austin Powers?

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Awesome trip, awesome trip report, fantastic photos! I was lucky enough to see Busangadude 3 days ago. Easily the biggest maned wild male lion I have ever seen by far, and I've seen a few!


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.




Lions: Not true, a subadult male lion we weighed was 207 kg, he grew quite a bit after that. Smaller mane? I doubt any lion in Africa could beat Busangadude, but on average the manes are not much smaller for prime age animals. Females we weighed are average compared to other sites.Some say Lady Liuwa is massive, not true either, she's an average sized adult lioness, maybe on the high side of average, but really not exceptional size-wise.

Elephants: In the 80s about 100,000 elephants were killed in the Luangwa Valley, and at the end about 6,000 were left. The vast majority of the current population has been born in the late 80s or after that, so they are young elephants. It has also been documented that, probably because of their young population structure, they breed at unusual young ages. I have seen massive elephants in Luangwa, but not many. I remember seeing a herd of about 20 bull elephants near Luwi Bush Camp in 2010 and at least over 5 of the biggest elephants I've seen in Luangwa were in that group. The biggest elephant in Luangwa I've seen was in the north of South Luangwa, very impressive tusks, for sure over 90 pounds, a very shy animal too.

Giraffes: True, they're smaller than other subspecies.

Leopards: Not true, I've seen a male leopard which I first thought was an adult lioness. I also know of a leopard hunted which was close to 100 kg...Leopards don't get much bigger than that!

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Thanks Egilio,


I am surprised about the female lions in Luangwa, as they looked very small to me. Even the guides commented on that…


Maybe they just look smaller in comparison to the female lions in Kafue...


In any case, thanks for the in-depth info.



Edited by Safaridude
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With wrapping up the mag project I missed reading your epitaph to this trip report and following an amazing trip it is quite sobering the points you raise. If it's not for horn or ivory or bushmeat or lion bones etc etc, its exotic pets. With this kind of trip report and way you are observing things not just as a casual tourist but conservationist as well, (which, I think we as Safaritalkers all do), you are helping to educate those who may well be oblivious to such problems. Thanks for such a great report and photos.

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Thank you kindly GW. And you have provided a forum in which these things can be discussed openly, whether we are scientists or regular travelers. It is our hope that ST can play its part in making a difference (I think it already is).

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What a brilliant report, wonderful photos and thoughtful, insightful ending with a little bit of magic thrown in. Thank you, very grateful to have the opportunity to travel to Zambia through your lens and pen.

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I echo Hilary's comments, wonderful writing and imagery of my favourite part of Africa. ;)


I live in hope the Zambian Govt doesn't adopt the 16% tourist tax from next year! :o

Edited by africaaddict
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Well, I loved this TR so much (and @@TonyQ 's also) that I've started obsessively looking at all the places you both stayed. This included signing up for Shenton Safaris' newsletter. Much to my delight, when I opened my first one today, I see a nice mention of Safaritalk and an excerpt and link to this report - wonderful!



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