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Two weeks in SLNP - tales of leopards


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Hi Everyone


I´m just back after two weeks, 7 to 22 november, in South Luangwa National Park. It has been wonderful and I have now a treasure of pictures to go through and start processing. I will do it as I work my way through this trip report. I like to say that I am a serious amateur wildlife photographer, and my first priority on this trip is wildlife photography. By profession I am a clinical psychologist and manager of a primary care unit. This will be my third trip report on safari talk, and my fourth safari/wildlife photography trip.


After 6 months of waiting since i decided to go to SLNP, it was time. I worked all day, rushed home to pack up my things, and then my father and mother collected me. My thought was to go by myself, but my mother wanted to join, which is really nice. I sad goodbye to my wife and two boys (2 and 4 years old), and off to Arlanda airport.


Day 1 and 2, 7th and 8th of november


At check in the personel observed my a bit heavy hand luggage in a Thin Tank Airport securit v2.0 bag. I told her that it was camera equipment and that I can´t check it in. She told me I have to speak to Ethiopian airlines. So I did. He was really nice and asked how much it weigh. Uhh, about 20 kg (23 kg). He chocked a bit, but then sad it is ok. Next time, pleas tell us before you arrive at the airport. Of course, I sad..


After an uneventful flight via Addis Abeba we arrived at lunch in Lilongwe in Malawi. There we had booked a regular flight with Ulendo Air to Mfuwe in Zambia. I had told my mother, she didn´t have to worry about the plane. I have seen on their homepage that it will be turbo-prop airplane size of about 30 seats. Well, this was it :)




A very friendly pilot named Russel welcomed us. My mother didn´t seem to worried, though.




Actually, flying this 1971 Cessna was a great experience, and we loved it. Russel told us before take off, that it might be a bit turbulence. Well, it is nothing compared going in a car on african roads. This is much more of an experience than going with a airliner, you can see and enjoy the landscape so much more.




After landing in Mfuwe, our guide for the coming two weeks, Friday, collected us at the airport and 40 shaky minutes later we were at our lodge Track and Trail River Camp. The lodge is just att the bank of the Zambezi river. This time of the year, as those of you that have read other threads on ST know, water is low and the riverbank is a big sand beach. Very tired after the long trip we declined going on night driven and enyojed early dinner, watching the animals; crocs, elephants, buffalos, hippos, pukus, and lots of birds below us walking in the river bank.




It was like suddenly being in dreamland. Then the bid red African sun set down over the Zambezi river :)




Happily we went to sleep.

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Love the buff sunset. I presume you mean Luangwa River?

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Great start and your mother looks quite cheerful in the small plane. Love the sunset, gorgeous.

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Hi Geoff


You are right. I thought it was the Zambezi river, but the Zambezi is split up and here it is called Luangwa river.

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@@Gregor the sunset photo is a wonderful start to your Zambian adventure, and I liked your hand luggage story!


Your Mum looks very happy to be on safari in South Luangwa.

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Great start and beautiful sunset photo @@Gregor ! Looking forward to seeing the next installment...

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Super start; amazing sunset...looked like a great place to start your adventure.


Ready for more! Mom looked super happy :)

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Beautiful sunset with the silhouettes.

The Luangwa still looks very dry so I gather the rains haven't had any impact at least at the start of your safari.

Looking forward to more and learning whereabouts in the park the camp is.

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Day 3, 9th november


Rise and shine :) At 5 in the morning we are up for a new day. We have a early breakfast while the sun rise, looking out over the Luangwa river. Elepahants and hippos walking in the riverbed. Unfortunately the park opens first at 6. For me as a photographer, the first morning light usually is the best. The lodges owner Peter, tells me ha tried to ask if they could possibly consider to open the park earlier, but no. Track and Trail river camp is in the Mfuwe area, and is situated just a few hundred meters from the bridge.




(Sorry for the crappy photo. As you can see some self-drivers passing through.)


The national park is on the other side. I think think this is a very convenient and good place for a camp. Some people seems to favor remote camps, where they like to experience more wilderness feeling. I can appreciate that point of view and also like to go a bit of the beaten track. But my priority is photography, and I think it can be an advantage with animals that is used to cars and relax even if there is a car close by. I don´t like cars that runs upp just a meter or two from the animals. You see that all the time, but i think that is disturbing. I like to operate with long tele-lenses (70-200 mm and a 600 mm) and can get close ups from a distance if I so like, and for me distance to the object usually gives me a better angle.


We drive on the south side of the park, along the river. The nature is very beautiful. It is like a park, very changing with forest, bushes and meadows. It is very dry. It is towards the end of the dry season, and it shows. There is green leaves on trees, but on the ground most is burnt away. In large areas the black soil is open. But there is also green meadows, with very short (eaten) grass. I guess that this areas that still holds a bit of moisture in the soil, is the areas that will be flooded as soon as the rains comes. (From what I gather, there has not been much of rain even today, 4th of december, so rainy season is late this year.)




Everywhere there is animals, and herds of pukus and impalas. Density of animals is actually much higher then I have experienced in Masai Mara. But, I have not been there when there is migration. From photography side of thing this morning was pretty calm. Best photo this morning was of a oxpecker on the neck of a giraff.




In the evening we went to the north side, from the bridge. There we found a lion pride on the other side of the river. They came down in the river bed, and obviously had a interest in the animals that came down to drink. They slowly advanced in the sand. Exciting too see and follow :) A bit difficult to photograph, as the distance was quite large.




At a crossing point maybe a little bit more than hundred meters away, a warthog was drinking. And there was also impalas, pukus and monkeys. From the picture below, the lions are on the right side.




In the end the monkeys saw the lions and warned all other animals. So this time it was just to be a lick of water.




The sun went down. In SLNP we had a night drive every night. And it took not long time until we and some other cars found a leopard. On the pictures below you can se spotlights from several cars.




This leopard obviously is sniffing out scent marks on this tree and then left his own. And then some pictures as he walked away. I was excited to see a leopard. On previous trips I have mostly seen and been abel to photograph leopards up in trees. And here it was walking around on the ground :)






I think these night pictures of the leopard is quite nice. But most pictures taken in the night of animals will be useless, as the light from the spotlight reflects in the animals eyes in strange ways. And the variety in the picture is very small, an animal lit by spotlight surrounded by black. I also found it quite boring driving around and following the spotlight going left-right in the dark. The best thing with night drives is to be abel to stay out in the park all the time until the sun goes down. I also enjoyed when we stopped in a place, shut of the spotlights and just sat there listening on the sounds in the african night. The hippos moving in the water, and making the hippo noise, other animals going around. One time we had an encounter by a waterhole, between a hyena and a leopard. We saw them both before they saw each other, and observed as they came closer to easy other and reacted as they become aware of each other. The hyena actually was the one who took off. No pictures of that though.

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Day 4, 10th november


A new magical morning. Just as we are about to drive over the bridge to the national park we pass a fisherman on a bike. These fishermen works mainly during the night, with very basic and ancient methods. Spearing or using a small net from boats made out of a tree. There will be pictures of them later in this trip report. Friday tells us that this is very dangerous. He had a cousin that was a fisherman and earlier this year was killed by a crocodile. The fish is caught with his life at stake. Something we thought of every evening we had fish for dinner.




Out on the bridge there is a beautiful scene below us.









A bit later, still in the morning light, another elephant in a beautiful setting. There is elephants everywhere.




In the dry landscape there is short of nutritious food. We saw a lot of buffalos that looked thin, and later in the week we found several that was dying or already had died. Well, it was good times for the predators.




In SLNP there is beautiful carmine bee-eaters all around. We stopped by a colony and tried to gett photos of them. Easier said then done, they are pretty quick.




And from one of the dry lagoons. As you can se, there is lots of animals. Here a young elephant got annoyed and started to chase the warthogs. Tension in paradise?




Time for a break.




In the end of the day, Friday got a call from Peter (owner of T&T and guide himself) that he had found the dogs. Exciting. I have never before seen wild dogs. The light was fading quick, and I got a few half decent shots. I would love to get more chances to photograph wild dogs, but we never saw them again on this trip.








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Fabulous sunset shot of those buffaloes!

I used to work with Friday back in 2007 and 2008 when he was working in the workshop of Robin Pope Safaris. Nice smart, gentle guy, a bit shy at the time, but that often wears off quickly as a guide. Does he own a camera? That would be great!

About entering early...That's another reason why some people chose a lodge inside the park in a remoter area. You are a bit more flexible with the time to start your activities. I'm looking forward to the rest of the days, I'm sure you have some good sightings to share with us :)

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Hi Egilo


We liked Friday a lot, both as a person and as a guide. Smart and gentle.

Yes he has a camera and takes photos himself. I have encouraged him to start to post here and on some other sites like BPN, 500 px. He showed us some fantastic pictures he had. Not surprisingly, as a guide you are out there and encounter sightings all the time.

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Love the Bee Eater,


And, seeing the dogs for the first time. Always exciting. At least you saw, as they can be elusive little runners!


Very enjoyable read; and I love the story of the fishermen; had no idea it was a night job - and so dangerous.

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Just beautiful, Gregor. Love the sunset, the Bee-Eater and the last pic of the dog. :)

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@@Gregor...great start to your trip report and you have not even told us tales of the leopards. Wild dogs are pretty exciting though.

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You are a fine wildlife photographer. I particularly liked the close-up of the oxpecker on the giraffe; just detail of feathers and fur!

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Awesome sunset in your first post, and I also really like the nighttime leopard photos, but they are all a pleasure to look at. Camp ambience looks nice as well!

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Great start @@Gregor. I am really enjoying your pictures - the wider views are great for a trip report (and too see on their own).

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Day 5, 11th november


This morning was a morning filled with life. Impala babies is everywhere, and they are so cute and it is a joy to see them. Often we stay and just watch them. Here is a impala mother with twins. Friday say that they are just born as they are still unstable. We can only hope that they will make it.




Nearby we find the resident pride. Luckily they are doing what lions mostly do, during the day. This is how you typically find lions on a safari. Nowdays I usually don´t even bother to take one picture of them, when I find them this way.




In the afternoon we continued watching the small.




Here is one of our favorite lagoons on the southside, it is always full of animals.




This lagoon is just at the Luangwa river. And there we find the fishermen. Here you can se what kind of boat they use. Really dangerous. One bump from that hippo and he is in trouble.




Just before the sun was to set, through some threes, we see this young female leopard. Out in the open, resting in the sand. Wow!




As we try to maneuver the car to get a clean shot, she goes away and up in a tree.







After a while she comes down, and we go after, of course :)




She come out in to another sand river bed, there she lies down and start jabbing after flies. Isn´t that just wonderful? What a show.






We then follow after her. For me it is a dream come through to photograph a leopard moving around in the open.








After this she goes up in another tree where she has a kill, a baby impala. What else. The sun goes down quick, and shortly after in the dark a hyena comes around and circles under the three with her in it. A exciting experience, but it could not be captured.

Great finish of the day and we could happily drive back for dinner.

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@@Gregor your wide landscape views are gorgeous and brings back wonderful memories for me. we were in the northern part of SLNP in late September and even then some of the hippos were suffering inland. so it's awfully sad to hear that rains are late this year and the buffaloes are starving badly.


the impala babies are so cute. and your last leopard is stunning. such a poser!


and i'm very jealous of your wild dog sighting. it was one animal we didnt get to see although we kept hearing reports of them being seen in the southern part of the park, close to Mfuwe. they look like they are flourishing in the southern park.

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Great photos throughout, but the leopard is really beautiful.

The rains really are late.

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