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Kafue, Zambia. August 18th-29th


douglaswise
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This will be a Trip Report without photographs.

 

My wife ® and I, in celebration of our golden wedding, decided to visit Zambia this year. We were joined by another couple of similar vintage, the husband of whom had been my best man. Our itinerary was as follows:

 

18th Pioneer Camp, Lusaka, 1 night.

19th-21st Musekese, Kafue, 3nights

22nd-26th Busanga Plains Camp, 5nights

27th-29th Return to Musekese, 2 nights

 

Why this itinerary? Indeed, why Africa at all?

 

Every time we visit Africa, we enjoy it. However, before planning a return trip, we always worry it will prove an anticlimax and question whether the expense and increasingly unpleasant travel needed to get there can be justified. I was at prep school in Nairobi in 1950 and 1951 while my father was stationed there and always longed to go back. As a veterinary student, I was lucky enough to spend two long vacations in East Africa. In 1964, I was sent to collect hearts and arteries from scavenging animals and, in 1965, I worked with an American research team involved in elephant studies in Uganda. It was not until 19 years later that I could afford to take my wife on her first trip to Kenya. We visited the Mara and then spent a week with the Craigs at Lewa. David Craig (Ian's father) and I got heavily involved in discussions on his livestock problems and he invited us to return at his expense the following year to delve into matters more deeply. The year after, he invited us to come as a family, bringing our two sons. We spent a week at Lewa, a week visiting Meru and Mara and a week staying at the Craigs' house on the coast. After this, I felt that I had imparted most of the knowledge likely to be useful to David and that it would be improper to sponge off him further. At the same time, we felt that returning as "mere" tourists might prove an anticlimax.

 

As we are both keen fly fishers, we decided to use this interest to take us to other wild places in the world (Alaska, Florida, Belize, Panama, Venezuela, Argentina, Chile, Eastern Transvaal, Mozambique, Zambia, Seychelles, Christmas Island, Mongolia, Iceland, Russia, Spain, Slovenia). We generally enjoyed these trips, but hardly ever caught anything approaching what the agents suggested should be possible (perhaps we're incompetent). Nevertheless, the fishing took us to wonderful wilderness areas that we would not necessarily have visited otherwise and we met like-minded people.

 

In 2008, we splashed out and spent 8 nights with Zwando safaris (Lebala, Lagoon and Kwara). We experienced superlative predator action and our cross country chases were similar to those one might experience in hunting to hounds. Although we went in the shoulder season, this trip stretched our budget and was deemed a one off. In 2011, we were tempted back to Africa and spent a week in Meru (Offbeat Safaris). Shortly after our previous trip there, the Park was closed due to shifta activity and most animals were poached out. However, we had read that it had reopened and animal numbers had increased. We enjoyed the trip and were impressed with the biodiversity as well as the large numbers of buffalo and plentiful elephant.

 

Because of our huge joint interest in working gundogs, we were very excited by our sightings of wild dogs in the Kruger and in Botswana and wanted more. In 2014, therefore, we returned to the Laikipia region of Kenya and, after having spent a couple of nights staying with Ian and Jane Craig at Lewa, we went to stay with Steve and Annabelle Carey at Laikipia Wildnerness Camp. We couldn't have wished for better wild dog action as well as dog/hyaena interaction. We also enjoyed excellent leopard sightings and good night drives on one of which we encountered a single lion attempting to move in on a Grevy. This whole trip had proved to be a great success. However, we might have been unusually lucky as far as the dogs were concerned - deserved after our usual fishing experiences! Even without the dog action, we would have enjoyed our time at the camp, not least for the friendly, relaxed atmosphere and Steve's superb knowledge of the bush.

 

As we are approaching lights out, my desire to travel increases - before it's too late. I'm a bit like an insect hit by a toxic spray which indulges in ever more frenetic activity before dropping dead. This and the visit to LWC were probably the factors that took us to the Bale Mountains in Ethiopia this spring to experience the wolves there.

 

Anyway, back to the original question. If returning to Africa, we felt we needed a new country and a different ecosystem so that novelty could balance out any anticlimax that we might (or might not) experience. I have tried very hard to understand what it is about the safari experience that never seems to disappoint me. In part, it is arriving at a camp and being entertained without any effort being required. In part, it is box ticking (train spotting, twitching come to mind). However, this is cynical and it is much more than that. I think it has to do with the euphoria that fills me when I encounter areas that haven't been screwed up by man and which are inhabited by wild animals and when I can escape people in masses. Thus, plunge pools and fancy tents or lodges seem to spoil things for me. Quality of guiding has grown ever more important to me. I really have no great wish to be stuck with a driver/guide who can spot and name birds, charming though he may be, if I don't feel comfortable probing him for more detailed knowledge of conservation issues.

 

Rightly or wrongly, I was not tempted to visit South Luangwa - too samey. However, Kafue drew me because of its lack of visitors. Like Meru, also relatively little visited, it appeared to be in recovery mode having been, in the recent past, badly poached. There would also be species there with which I was unfamiliar (box ticking, I know). It had been my original intention to spend all my time at Musekese of which I had received excellent reports. However, Tony McKeith of Busanga Safaris, despite being Tyrone's father, was insistent that we should also experience the Busanga Plains (I wonder whether he thought I'd be an awkward client and was sparing Tyrone from too much exposure!). In retrospect, I'm delighted that we did vist the Plains, not least because the outward and return journeys between the two camps made for very productive game drives. Nevertheless, also with the benefit of hindsight, we would have preferred 3 nights at Busanga Plains Camp and 7 at Musekese.

 

I will give details of our trip in the next posting. I realise that I have rambled thus far and will attempt to avoid introspection and stick to the subject hereafter. Suffice it say now that we gave the trip a very big plus.

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I've thoroughly enjoyed this fascinating prologue and being a Kafue addict I'm much looking forward to your trip report.

 

What amazing travels you've had over the years.

 

If you've already written them down or feel like doing so I for one, and I'm sure many others, would be fascinated to hear recollections of your experiences in East Africa as a veterinary student and other travels.

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"

 

This will be a Trip Report without photographs.

 

 

 

... Booo that man!

 

;)

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Great introduction @@douglaswise, so many of your thoughts & reasonings chime with me as well. Unfortunately I'm not going to be reading any more of this TR as we're leaving for Musekese on Monday :) & I want to approach it without any preconceptions. Good to read you gave it a big plus though.

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Thanks to those who made encouraging comments. I will now get down to the nitty gritty.

 

If one wishes, as we did, to plan for recovery time after escaping from the international flights, Pioneer Camp is a very convenient and comfortable place to do so and is reasonably priced. Here, we met with the other couple in our party who were flying in from Joburg. They arrived late and without a suitcase (which we were told was not atypical when flying from this destination). After much debate, we decided to go with the original plan, with or without the missing case, and leave for Musekese at 6.00 next morning in order to avoid the Lusaka rush hour(s). Fortunately, Phil Jeffery was planning to drive back from Lusaka later in the morning and was able to find the case, which had arrived on the next flight, and bring it with him.

 

We left for Musekese in a closed Pioneer vehicle and arrived at the camp by about 11.00. Having fought our way through Lusaka - a mini Nairobi experience- we drove west on a good metalled road and reached the Park gate, continuing on for some half hour before forking right on to dirt. Having passed the gate, land to the right was National Park (Southern edge of northern Kafue, which has greater girth than the southern part) and that to the left was buffer zone, much of it illegally settled, cleared and cropped. I will get ahead of myself and mention what we observed on our way back to Lusaka. There were somewhat pathetic knots of settlers, dotted along the road with meagre piles of possessions, some being loaded on to trucks. The huts we had seen on the way in had been flattened. We gathered that the evictions took place after the crops had been harvested. However, the land had been illegally settled at the connivance of a local chief and it had taken some years for the central authority to enforce the no-settlement arrangement that is supposed to prevail in buffer zones. However, it is difficult to believe that the dispossessed would not harbour resentment at measures designed to enhance wildlife welfare at the perceived expense of their own. The other side of the argument is that the settlers had poached out all game in the Park within a few miles of the road and regularly started uncontrolled fires at inappropriate times of year, causing long term habitat degradation deep into the Park itself.

 

Anyway, back to our right fork on to the dirt. This leads to Musekese on the eastern bank Kafue River and was built as a very long an access road through miombo woodland by Phil and Tyrone. As soon as we left the metalled road, our driver instructed us to close all windows to repel tsetse flies - a bit alarming as we had been told that they wouldn't be that much of a problem. However, after maybe 15 minutes, we noted copious numbers on the windscreen. These appeared to come and go in swarms, but as we got nearer the camp, they more or less disappeared. I will say here and now that tsetse flies were of no problem to us at either camp we visited, though we did experience multiple bites when journeying through thick woodland between the camps, despite burning elephant dung. Even these represented minor irritants relative to what one is sometimes led to expect. The last 20 minutes to the camp became an excellent game drive, starting with a very good sighting of a group of Hartebeest of mixed age, followed by an equally good show from a warthog with 9 small babies. We also saw several kudu, a duiker, impala and yellow baboons.

 

We were met and welcomed by Tyrone who was also to guide us on all our Musekese activities - except for our fishing when Tom looked after us while our more athletic companions went walking with Ty. Phil arrived later in the day (with case) and guided the two others who arrived from Busanga Plains the next day and spent the last two nights of our first stint in camp. They were a mother and daughter combo, travelling sans husbands, with deep green and animal rightist tendencies. We were like chalk and cheese, but it all worked amicably as we were able to laugh at each others views without rancour over shared mealtimes. However, it underlined the huge benefits derived from the quality of the personal guiding that Musekese can offer.

 

Anyway, our first lunch was excellent as were all meals - my aversion to salads was well compensated by excellent home made rolls and butter! After a siesta, we took the short walk to the river and boarded a very comfortable and spacious boat whereupon we motored very slowly upstream. The Kafue River is broad and shallow and replete with hippos. Ty hugged the east bank pointing out birds as we went. After a short time, he became ecstatic, having spotted a finfoot, a grebe-like, spotted, mid-sized affair with red legs. We were told that it was rare, a special sighting, and that we were privileged to see one. We accordingly followed instructions and felt privileged, attempting to record the sighting with multiple clicks of cameras (the outcome subsequently proved to be somewhat disappointing). However, this was our first example of Ty's endearing and deep-rooted enthusiasm for all things Kafue. We went on to see kingfishers of various types, cormorants (white fronted and normal) and darters as well as monitors, small crocs and a large serrated-hinged terrapin, basking on a branch well above the water. Having passed some baboons, Ty got excited when he spotted lions at the water's edge. Frustratingly for him, it took us ages to see said animals for ourselves. The harder he worked at trying to describe their precise whereabouts, the more difficult it became, even though they weren't that far away. After a couple of minutes of searching, I detected movement behind a tree on the bank and momentarily felt triumph. Ty, admirably suppressing any evidence of overt sarcasm from his voice, congratulated me for finding a bushbuck. However, this enabled him to direct our attention in the direction he wanted us to look, some 30m to the left. Thereafter, the lions stuck out like sore thumbs and he felt able to attempt to move much closer without risking spooking them before we were able to verify his sighting. We had an excellent view of the pride of two mature lionesses and 6 well-grown cubs of approximately matching size. Leaving the pride to its R and R, we continued upstream to the first island, seeing water buck in the distance on the far bank and sundry different water birds on the island (water dikkops, a pair of skimmers, fish eagle,green-backed heron etc etc). We anchored nearby and drank our sundowners before drifting back downstream, noting that the lions had gone and taking sundry and, for my wife, required sunset pictures. I have to say that some look quite pretty when one looks at them back home.

 

Next to the matter of showers, bucket showers in this instance. It always seems to be impressed on one that it is no problem to to provide water for multiple showers, one after each activity should one wish. The possibility of not showering at all is never discussed so one tends to be forced into hygienic compliance. I have always thought the time could better be spent by sitting round the fire, chatting and drinking, at least every other day. In my research days in the field, I can't recall that showers were an option - seems to be a modern thing.

 

We spent the next morning fishing in a different, somewhat smaller boat with no sun canopy, allowing casting. Tom took us and fished with spinning gear while we fly fished, using slow sinking or fast sinking tip lines. Tom, who had some experience of fly fishing while guiding Botswana told us that he would expect a catch ratio of 10 in favour of the spinner. He went on to prove the point by catching several 4 spot bream and a nembwe while we had one finger sized bream between us. I tried an enormous selection of flies of various sizes and eventually put on a huge red one that was a S.American peacock bass fly. I was beginning to think I was getting knocks but no definite takes. I wasn't sure whether I wasn't just catching the bottom occasionally while retrieving. I handed over to Tom and he quickly caught a fish. I did notice he was using a much faster retrieve, which would have kept the fly higher in the water - as would have been the case with his spinner. Anyway, we spent several hours on the water and enjoyed the birds, hippos and conversation. We also had a shorter fish on the subsequent morning, which was even less productive. On both occasions, our friends had gone off walking with Ty and reported that they thoroughly enjoyed themselves. We were all disappointed to have missed seeing the leopard that walked through the camp, more or less into the kitchen quarters, in the middle of the morning.

 

Our second main activity on our first full day was a game drive along the newly created loop roads that Phil and Ty have created on the east (camp) side of the river. Previously, before the construction of these loops, game drives required a boat run downriver to the Lufupa confluence to a vehicle parked there and then a west side drive. To be candid, I was a bit disappointed in the daylight part of the drive. We drove through a quite recently burned area and saw a good variety of animals, but at a considerable distance. Apparently, a severe fire had swept in about a month previously and ,although Phil and Ty used all their resources to contain it, they only succeeded after it had jumped across one leg of the loop before they stopped it on the return leg. In future, they say they are going to create more fire breaks by strategic back burning earlier in the season. The apex of the loop road ended overlooking an enormous dambo on the river edge at a place christened "Eden" It did, indeed, offer amazing views over a bird and animal-filled scene, keeping us happy as we sipped/gulped (according to inclination) our sundowners and waited for the light to fade for the return journey. The loops create a boundary, cutting off a large chunk of territory in a bend of the river where it kinks back on itself, enabling easier defence of said territory against fire and poaching. On the return leg, I was delighted to have an excellent, close sighting of a couple of porcupines - a first for me. Duikers were everywhere, but we didn't dwell on them.

 

Before the game drive, Ty had volunteered to take us to the hide that they have constructed downstream on the far side of the river. This was to be the first of three trips to the hide over our five, interrupted days and my first "hide experience". From my perspective, it represented a different and hugely enjoyable way off whiling away 90 minutes or so at a time. The first session involved mainly birds and puku. A hadada ibis landed within one metre of us and proceeded to deafen us. We saw goliath herons, egrets, jacana close up on the dambo edge and other perching birds which landed in a small bush just in front of us - a white fronted bee eater being the prettiest. Subsequent visits yielded a couple of male elephants coming for a mud bath, a pair of magnificent bushbuck, a yellow baboon suckling a tiny white baby, warthog and the ever present puku as well as a smallish crocodile and a large flock of helmeted guinea fowl that were so spooky that they spooked everything else (fortunately not into flight) with their imagined worries.

 

We took to the river again for the final activity of our first session at Musekese, ending at the second island beside the small skimmer colony (five pairs). We saw three male elephants swimming the entire width of the river from west to east, presumably working on the premise that the grass is greener on the other side. It was ironic to see the elephants in the water while a couple of hippos watched from the dry land of the bank. Ty found a python for us from an impressive distance. When we got closer, we could just see one of it coils through a hole in the cavity of a tree. Clearly, it was a less impressive spot than he had first led us to believe. Nevertheless, it was a feat just to find the right hole from the distance of his first claimed spot. When we reached the area where the lions had been two days previously, Ty was ready to dismount and retrieve a trail camera he had left there the day before. However, his enthusiasm waned when the trees behind started shaking and a group of four eles came down to drink. We saw bankside vervets and baboons and the usual large range of bird species on the way to our sundowner off skimmer island. Thus ended our last full day at our first camp.

 

Sorry if, again, I have been rambling and self indulgent. I had intended to finish the details of the trip report in this posting before finishing off in a third post with a discussion of the conservation issues that were raised by the journey. However, I'm ready to stop at this juncture and start again when my stamina recharges. It's amazing how the single finger I use for typing exhausts itself!

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Really enjoying this, and your dry sense of humour.☺

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I have to ask.... why no pictures?

 

Glad you enjoyed the time with J&M.

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@@douglaswise Glad you posted, Please ramble away! Plenty of time and space for everything you want.

 

@@ZaminOz and KaingU Lodge..... @@douglaswise asked in another thread if anyone would be interested in a report without pictures. I assured him that Safaritalk regulars could handle words without pictures... :D

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First, why no pictures? I suppose vanity, idleness and technical incompetence. Vanity because most posters here take better pictures and a good picture of an animal (take your pick) looks better than a poor one, but, from both, the species should be recognisable. The idleness and technical incompetence relate to the extreme difficulties I experienced when trying to post pictures in a previous report on Ethiopian wolves. Even my son, who eventually got them inserted, only managed to make them half-sized!

Question: I'm finding the TR hard to get on with because it doesn't show up as such in the Zambian section on my computer. Thus, I can only find it in the new content section. If, inadvertently, I open that and read someone's response, close it and then return to continue the report, I can't because it has disappeared, being no longer new content. How have I managed to screw up?

 

Back to the Report. We left Musekese after breakfast and boated slowly down to the Lufupa confluence with Tom where we were handed over to Ferrison who was to be our guide for the entirety of our time at Busanga Island Camp. Our drift downstream had been leisurely and involved some birding. Tom is very keen on his birds. I was a little shocked, therefore, by the disdain he showed for the two finfoots we passed, which he scarcely acknowledged. At the time, he was scanning the bankside trees for what, to him, was clearly a most exciting LBJ which he could hear but not see. In fact, Tom is so keen on birds that he took time off at the end of our trip, having dropped us at the airport. He was intending to spend his down time with like minded birders on an expedition to the Congo border to see vermiculated fishing owls, which had reportedly been heard but not seen in the area. (Birds and small boys are apparently opposite in the senses they should stimulate)

 

Our inward journey to the Plains Camp was non stop (except for occasional elephant dung refuelling). It was mainly through burnt miombo woodland with occasional glimpses of the Lufupa to our right. What was surprising was that, though the ground itself was often black with ash, many of the trees were clad in bright green fresh leaves. My understanding is that this wasn't necessarily a response to fire and that these types of trees grow new leaves in August even in fire's absence. We saw a surprising number of smallish groups of several species of herbivores, including roan, on the way north. As we took the return journey at a much more leisurely pace, I will give more information at that stage. When about 45 minutes from the camp, we emerged on to the the Plains proper and started seeing large concentrations of red lechwe along with multiple puku and hippo.

 

The camp was being managed at the time of our visit by Hercot (?), a Dutch TV film producer - very amusing and keen to stir up lively and contentious discussions over meals. There was one other guest, Willie (Schooten) (?), another Dutchman who ran his IT company for 10 months a year and morphed into wildlife photographer for the residue. Willie was a great boon to me. Having determined that my hands shook so much that I'd never take a reasonable picture with my existing settings, he disappeared into the guts of the machine and started making changes. I ended up having my average exposure time reduced by a factor of 40, with Willie muttering something about ISO and noise, which, in my case, he thought would be preferable to blur.

 

The camp had to be approached along a boardwalk over marshy ground. ( There and back twice a day amounted to one mile of distance - I felt proud to have achieved it, though the others, including my wife, were unimpressed at my prowess!). The communal area overlooks the lechwe-covered marsh and the camp itself is on an island, as the name suggests, with large trees growing upon it. It's a funny thing that the marsh looks fairly solid, barring a few watery crevices and some stretches of open water. One tends to be surprised, therefore, when a hippo pops out of what has just been walked over by a lechwe, particularly if it's 10m away when you're on the boardwalk. There's a lot more water down there than you think. Not even the lechwe always get things right. One of our most interesting sightings was of a lechwe, struggling as it was being dragged down by a crocodile. The sight was also of great interest to a lioness - we were looking for the pride in long grass from which this lioness emerged about 15m in front of us. Initially, I thought she was moving to avoid us, but it soon became apparent that she had been either listening to or watching the croc/lechwe carry on. Although this was taking place some 200m away, she set off with the clear intention of stealing the lechwe from the crocodile. We watched her cautious approach and then her smash and grab attempt, which ended with her leaping back from the water. We couldn't see the reptile, but it had obviously struck at her. The lioness continued to prowl up and down the creek edge, thrashing her tail and occasionally stopping to peer intently into the water. Meanwhile, the rest of the lechwe herd cautiously crept closer and closer in order to keep the lioness in sight.

 

Our activities consisted of morning and evening game drives. The plains comprise some 750 sq km. However, one is not going to see much of them with a two activity approach with lunch and a siesta intervening. We could drive north (to the papyrus area) or south along the edge of the swamp or cross it in an easterly direction, requiring passage over somewhat hairy assemblages of tree branches and trunks. On returning from our first venture in this direction, the vehicle slid off one of the timber mats and we had to be rescued. This took longer than anticipated because Hercot was stopped by a large breeding herd of elephants and had to take a detour. We were to see this herd (60 plus) in daylight on several subsequent occasions and it was taken as a very good sign of things improving. In past years, the breeding eles had only been emerging from the woodland at night, crossing the open area to reach water and then returning before daybreak. Our forays to the east were put off limits until time was found to improve the crossing points. Thus, we were confined to more or less linear north and south drives and, in consequence, kept repeating journeys. We could (and, in my view, should) have set out for full day trips with picnic lunches. However, there was no unanimity within our group so we settled for daily lunches in the camp.

 

Our first game drive on the afternoon of our arrival took us north to find the papyrus pride of lions and make an attempt to see sitatunga, which, apparently, can only be seen as dusk approaches. We made two attempts at sitatunga and failed both times. We did find the lions - four adult females (one with a non-functioning collar) and a single cub. In addition, there were two sub-adult females and a couple of attending young adult lions. They were sleeping and attended by a vehicle from another camp so we prevailed upon Ferrison to move on. In the north, we saw good sized flocks of open-billed storks and wattled cranes. In fact, storks and cranes at lower density were all over the place. Crowned cranes were prominent and saddled-billed storks quite common although I only recall seeing one marabou. One one of our evenings at the sitatunga , a high density of swamp owls got to work over the swamp as the light was falling. Fish eagles and coucals were also to be seen everywhere. I think the only two mammals we saw (other than lechwe, puku and hippos) on our northern trips were a marsh mongoose and a jackal. There seemed to be much more variety to the south - roan, oribi, reedbuck, duiker, wildebeest, buffalo, zebra, warthog, baboon and elephant, but, here, we were working ground between woodland edge and swamp, which was much drier, though mostly inundated in the wet season. We also had sightings of great grey mongoose and white-tailed. We saw a few eagles, mainly snake and tawny, but less than I had expected. However, lappet-faced, white headed, white backed and hooded vultures were frequent. We spent considerable time watching a scrum of squabbling white-backs on the carcase of a recently dead baby elephant. We also found the papyrus lion pride to the south and watched it as it set off to hunt. This, having first seen it to the north and, next, to the east of the camp. It also saw fit to pass straight through the camp one night and did so without waking anybody, the evidence coming from a camera trap. This also revealed hippos passing through on another night.

 

It would be wrong to describe the plains without mention of termites, which have enormous importance to the landscape and to other flora and fauna. They alone can make good use of over-mature, lignified grass, which they take to their underground fungal gardens where the material can be delignified and the resulting freed-up cellulose and hemicellose digested into simpler carbohydrates. Ruminants can certainly digest cellulose and hemicellulose in like manner by use of their gut microflora. However, when grasses lignify, ruminants become very much less efficient digesters. Worse, as they are unable to eat more until they have emptied what they have previously eaten (and emptying rate slows with digestion rate) they are able to consume less and less as food quality drops - a double whammy. This is why, in severe drought conditions, ruminants lose condition and die well before monogastric animals, such as zebras, the latter being capable of upping feed intake as quality drops. Anyway, termites confer other benefits. By clearing the vegetation around their mounds, they reduce the most adverse consequences of fire within their vicinity, allowing somewhat more fire-sensitive flora to establish. At the same time, their above-ground mounds contain much better soil, allowing the growth of trees (on the large mounds that are built by, I think, macrotermes) as well as other beneficial plant species which couldn't grow otherwise. There are also other species of termites which are found in scattered areas which throw up much smaller mounds such that they resemble tombstones in a graveyard. The termites, themselves, require reasonably free draining soil with a good content of clay in order to create their mounds. They are well suited, therefore, to the predominant black cotton soils, but can't cope with clay-free sands.

 

While termites put tree-covered bumps of various size on an otherwise flat treeless landscape on the macro level, something very peculiar seems to be doing so at the micro scale over quite wide areas. These are to be found away from the marsh, but on ground that is slightly lower lying than that to be found at the miombo woodland edge. One must assume that it remains inundated for longer just.after the wet season. The underfoot conditions of these areas is most shocking. No-one would ride a horse over it, let alone wish to walk it themselves. Even driving over it is a very slow and uncomfortable experience. However, this is where we saw most of the roan, zebra and wildebeest. The areas are mainly burnt and one can see green shoots of grass emerging - more than anywhere else so it's scarcely surprising. What's going on? We asked Ferrison for an explanation and I am sure that he was at least partly right. Imagine a carpet upon which has been deposited 10cm tall cones (sharp point up) at, perhaps, 15cm centres. Grass is sprouting from upper parts of cones, but between cones, ground is bare. Look closely at the cone tips and one will see a hole. Break off cone and find tunnel. The cones are, in fact, baked worm casts, presumably created in wetter conditions earlier in the year. I have never seen the like and was not surprised to note that grazers moved very carefully over it and that several were lame. I would have liked to have disced, harrowed and rolled it!

 

The only roan we saw were in a herd of about 50, which we visited on 3 occasions. Wildebeest were dotted about in small herds of up to two dozen along with scattered single territorial males. On our first visit to the roan, we saw wildebeest, zebra, warthog and baboon all together on the rough ground, but zebra were relatively few and far between thereafter.

 

Essentially, we saw the same herd of buffalo twice, numbering 400-500. I think we might have also have seen a pair of separate males on one occasion, but no sable at all (which, along with sitatunga, had been on my wishlist).

 

A little about predators. We only saw the one pride of lionesses. In addition to the two pride males, we did see a single old male hanging round the periphery of the pride when we crossed the marsh. In fact, he was lying exposed on a bare, burnt patch of ground about 300m from the resting pride males. He seemed in poor condition and his spinous processes were very prominent. I was informed that he had been named, Mr Busanga. I don't like naming wild animals because it can lead to anthropomorphic leanings. However, if you want an anthropomorphic comment, I would suggest that, had Mr Busanga been keeping abreast of the social media, he might have been wishing he was called Cecil and that he could have an appointment with a dentist. No leopards, cheetahs, wild dogs or hyaenas. As Ferrison said, what cheetah would wish to chase anything over that rough ground?

 

Our return journey to Musekese was leisurely and, along the woodland edge, we had quality sightings of oribi, a single juvenile hartebeest, reedbuck, impala, waterbuck and a single juvenile bushbuck. We stopped along the river for a picnic and saw large crocodiles, hippos, mixed waterbirds (including spoonbills, sacred ibis and Egyptian geese). Having got back to Musekese, I was able to bombard Ty with questions over lunch about our Busanga experiences and then we went to the hide and directly on for an upstream boat cruise and sundowners. On leaving for Busanga, I had left my trail camera about 30m below the camp on the track to the boat. In my absence, it had picked up a couple of antelope, an elephant (part thereof) and 3 leopard - certainly 2 separate individuals. We also learnt that, the day before, Tom had seen a pangolin swimming in the river. I can't recall whether he undertook salvage, but I imagine that a full traverse would have been quite testing for the creature.

 

Our last full day at Musekese was a highlight, particularly for me, as Ty had arranged for Caz, a manager/researcher in the Zambian Carnivore Programme, to come to stay. While our friends went walking with Ty, R and I went downstream with Tom to collect Caz from Lufupa. Having collected her and got her cornered in the boat, I submitted her to a inquisition over various carnivore-associated research techniques while R and Tom fished. They had a short, but very successful session during which the fly matched the spinner. Silver barbel were the principal catch, though Tom also captured a catfish. As previously, all fish were released. We returned to lunch and continued the discussion, branching out into other conservation issues. I will devote my final post to this subject. We set off for a game drive in the afternoon, taking the same loop road as previously, but in the opposite direction. This seemed to work much better because we passed through unburnt areas when there was good light. We had several quality sightings, possibly the most memorable being of a warthog family emerging forwards in line astern and at speed from a hole just beside the road. The return from "Eden" in the dark was also memorable. We had a superb and protracted spot of an African wildcat of which Caz took a good picture. We then repeated the experience with a lesser bushbaby, which showed itself semi-static for a bit at close quarters before treating us to a most impressive leap between trees. The odd nightjars also showed themselves as did a distant genet.

 

We left with Tom for Lusaka airport next morning. We were very fortunate to see a lot of wildlife on the way from the camp: a civet (quite close), a different pride of lions (at least 3 if not 4 adult females), several kudu and, finally, 7 sable.

 

I will finish off in the next post with thoughts and general impressions.

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@@douglaswise It should show up under Zambia now, I've only just noticed it was started in a different subforum.

 

Re pics, you can always upload directly from your HD. When replying, click on the Use Full Editor tab, which opens up the large editor.

 

Attach files tab and follow the prompts.

 

Matt

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I was wondering how I missed this, but as I read on, the mystery was revealed.

Your single finger is working overtime and doing an excellent job! The lechwe/croc/lion interaction must have been fascinating to see. The birding at the hide also sounds like a good time.

 

Very much enjoying this report!

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Great intro. Despite your aversion to salads, I look forward to the rest.

 

If technical issues make it just too much effort to post pics, I can understand. But please don't let vanity get in the way. For people interested in visiting where you've been, it's helpful to see what you saw, even if the images are not Nat Geo. You could even just make an album or albums with descriptive titles and tell readers to look through them.

 

I am noting, "we would have preferred 3 nights at Busanga Plains Camp and 7 at Musekese."

 

I am enjoying what your one typing finger has created.

Edited by Atravelynn
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Thank you to those who made favourable comments. I will now finish off the Report with general impressions of the two camps and the small areas of Kafue that I actually saw.

 

1) Musekese: I have already said how favourably impressed we were. For me, a camp that is occupied by the owners is a huge bonus. If the owners are guiding as well, it's gilt on the gingerbread. We were made to feel very welcome - I'd expect that. Owners have to put up with and be polite to a whole range of visitors, whether they like them or not. However, nowhere else have we ever been treated as if our presence was important, not just to the bottom line, but to the welfare of the very under-visited National Park itself. Phil and Ty seem genuinely to be grateful that visitor presence enables them to do want they want to do - to make practical benefits to conservation. Furthermore, they appear to be succeeding within their own area of influence, most obviously by reducing poaching pressure and by attempting to regulate uncontrolled burning. We were impressed with the numbers of animals/birds we saw - not in large groups (because they are well distributed and not forced to concentrate near a point source of water). What really impressed me even more was the biodiversity. The other huge plus about this camp is that it can provide walks, river trips (+/- fishing), hide visits and day and night game drives. The fact that our group of four could split and undertake two separately guided activities simultaneously was wonderful, but, I suppose, may not always be an option. We would not have exhausted the possibilities offered by this camp had we chosen to stay for longer than 5 nights.

 

Busanga Plains Camp: The camp was well and strategically placed with excellent views - the best setting of all the fairly adjacent camps we saw. It was comfortable and served excellent food. It was well hosted (non owner) and we were conventionally guided by a well-informed local African guide who was somewhat constrained as to where he could drive us due to a creek crossing collapse and to the group's lack of unanimity over the desirability of taking a picnic and spending all day in the truck. In consequence, we found ourselves going back and forth over the same territory and generally seeing the same things. The Plains are well worth a visit, being very different from the Musekese environment and the Camp is possibly the optimum one from which to see them. Ones' activities are confined to game drives and, in my view, one will have seen enough of the local area in a 3 night visit. This will provide two very fine game drives to get there and back and two and a half full days (5 drives) on the plains themselves. This judgement is entirely predicated upon the fact that we returned daily for lunch. Had we not done so, I might have drawn totally different conclusions.

 

In respect of both camps, tsetse flies were essentially a non issue (points between were different but, with burning elephant dung, quite tolerable). The climate/weather was pleasant - coolish early and late, but no more than 27 deg C max. I never saw a mosquito and didn't take anti-malarials. I did not use an insect repellent and nor did I use any sunblock except when fishing because all other land and water transport had sun canopies.

 

After discussions with Ty and Caz and having read a bit since returning home (Dr Lindsey, Dr Ellenbroek, etc) I would like to speculate a bit about conservation and management in the Kafue. I certainly can't do anything other than raise questions after the quick snapshot of my visit. This is not to imply that I would have many answers even after a year there.

 

Kafue, an area of 22000 sq km, is surrounded by buffer zone such that the area from which settlers are excluded is greater. Zambia has more land set aside exclusively for wildlife than any other nation (approx 40%). Notwithstanding, its tourist income is low and, in partial consequence, funding for wildlife protection is inadequate. Is this sensible?

Income/capita in Zambia is low. Is it surprising that poaching ( for bushmeat) is commonplace in and around underprotected, protected areas upon which local communities used to live and from which they have been evicted? Is an area the size of Wales, only a fraction of which is assessible to tourists or anti-poaching patrols, not cloud cuckoo land?

In Kenya, in the Laikipia region, wildlife has multiplied hugely without total removal of commercial ranches and local communities. Couldn't something similar happen to some of the Kafue NP?

 

Dr Lindsey has estimated that wildlife biomass in the Kafue is only at 29% of carrying capacity (he has excluded hippos - which are uncountable, but bloody big! - and this could lead to false conclusions). His figures for wildlife biomass were 0.79 tonnes/sq km in Zambian National Parks and 2.42 in unfenced wildlife ranches, the income from which came from sustainable harvesting and trophy hunting. In Laikipia, biomass is in the range 3.0- 4.0 tonnes, but soils might be better Could human intervention in National Parks, beyond poaching and fire control, improve wildlife density and welfare? In the mid 60s, I was in the Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda. A hippo slaughterhouse had been set up within the Park and meat was being sold cheaply to local communities. This followed research that demonstrated that the presence of too many hippos was causing overgrazing and degradation of habitat in areas contiguous to Lakes Edward and George. Obviously, the slaughter approach reduced hippo biomass but nevertheless increased total wildlife biomass. I am not suggesting that there are necessarily too many hippos in Kafue or even parts of it. I just don't know. I'm pretty sure, however, that, if Lindsey is correct, a wildlife biomass increase could readily be effected by a range of means, some of which would would legitimise human incursions and legalisation of sustainable cropping to set against uncontrolled poaching.

 

A word or two about fire and its importance: According to Caz, 90% of Kafue used to burn every year. The aim is to reduce this to 70% and to do the burns at the right time and in a controllable fashion. Burns late in the dry season are very hot and hard to stop. Burns earlier in the season are cooler, more controllable and preferred by wildlife biologists. Miombo woodland is made up mostly of trees from the pea family. However, these have unfortunately carelessly omitted to learn the trick of fixing nitrogen (genetic engineering anyone?) After that red herring, I'll go back to my main point, which is that miombo woodland represents fire climax vegetation, its bark being fire resistant. Well, only part true. A hot burn can destroy 75% of the tress - that's why hot burns are good for land clearance that suits farmers and may give satisfaction to disgruntled communities on the edge of NPs. Don't know when charcoal making takes place, nor its relevance.

 

A cool fire can usefully get rid of surplus grasses etc, not consumed the previous season. Persistent long grass suppresses growth of digestible new. The need for burning might indicate that an underused resource exists (surplus plant material from previous year). This is common with tropical grasses because they so quickly lignify. Might it be a good idea to introduce cattle and enable them to eat it off by provision of urea/molasses blocks, rather than burning? Almost certainly not in Kafue because tsetse and disease. At Lewa in Laikipia, I believe cattle will, in future, be trucked in for this very purpose. An alternative might be to cut the vegetation at a stage before it has deteriorated to the point of needing to be burnt. In theory, even if this were just left lying around unbaled, it might allow far more wild animals to maintain themselves. What about costs and trade offs with sustainable harvesting? It must be realised that over and undergrazing can both influence sward composition and palatability in complex manners that I don't understand. Generally, if animals graze an area and it is then burned, most soil minerals are returned to the soil. However, Zambia in general is said to be agriculturally unproductive, in part due to leached soils. What happens in wetland areas such as in the Busanga Plains? Is there more leaching or less - does the river put in more than it takes out? Certainly, hippos will take nutrients from land to water, aiding fish and harming other mammals.

 

I felt all the time that I was driving on the Busanga Plains (away from the immediate wetland and away from miombo woodland edge) that all was not right with the system. I could be absolutely wrong, but I expected to see more biomass. Were my expectations justifiable? On the basis of Lindsey's 29% of carrying capacity figure, yes. Is poaching, now apparently under better control in this area, responsible? Perhaps. Is fire also contributing? Who knows? What about seasonal weather changes - are patterns of drought/rainfall changing? If they can be excluded, the prospect of improvement seems good. I spoke to Ty about this. He has been visiting the Plains since boyhood (not that that's very long in the context of my own lengthy existence). He thinks that all is OK on the lechwe front. He disagreed with me over my statement that there didn't seem many roan, zebras or, for that matter, wildebeest. He thought our addiction to lunches in the camp was probably responsible for my mistaken opinion. He also said news on the elephant front was very encouraging. Where he did agree, was in the massive drop in buffalo numbers (from 4000+ to circa 450). He couldn't explain it convincingly. However, he did speculate that the buffalo decline might be a possible reason why we encountered the extraordinary area of rough, worm-cast created ground. He said it was less obvious in the past and could have been flattened out by buffalo hooves before the casts dried out. Why are the casts so proud of the ground? Does it imply erosion of soil that is not formed into casts? Ferrison blamed this ground for absence of cheetahs.

 

Finally, predators. It is clear that Musekese has plenty of lions and is lousy with leopards despite our not having bumped into any except on camera traps. Busanga Plains are different. There used to be 3 lion prides. About 8 years ago (and still much talked about as if yesterday) 3 lionesses from one pride were killed by buffalo. Anyway, this apparently resulted in the pride ceasing to exist. Another pride disappeared without trace and without any explanation. This left the originally named Papyrus Pride, its most recent generation being represented by one small cub. What's gone wrong? Ty thinks it might be ascribable to loss of buffalo. However, there's plenty of other goodies to go at. Are lechwe difficult because of boggy ground and crocs? Do the rough underfoot conditions on the drier areas protect prey from predators?

 

Caz was very interesting on the subject of cheetahs. Apparently, they are quite numerous in Kafue but don't tend to indulge in spectacular chases such as those seen in the Mara or in Botswana. Instead, they act as ambush predators in miombo woodland. I was very surprised not to have seen a hyaena in Zambia (did hear one at Musekese). Was told that wild dogs are flourishing, but one would be very lucky to see a pack in the absence of some sort of telemetry.

 

I like questions, but prefer answers. If any of you can enlighten me of any of the issues raised, I'd appreciate it.

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~ @@douglaswise

 

Thank you for asking the questions about fire.

I saw similar worm-cast rough soil in the central sector of Lake Nakuru National Park two months ago.

At the time it wasn't clear why that had happened.

I appreciate the types of questions you've raised.

Tom K.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Just starting to read this excellent report but it will take a while to finish. I for one would love photos, if only to break up the paragraphs, but I'm grateful for whatever I can get. :)

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Dr Lindsey has estimated that wildlife biomass in the Kafue is only at 29% of carrying capacity (he has excluded hippos - which are uncountable, but bloody big! - and this could lead to false conclusions). His figures for wildlife biomass were 0.79 tonnes/sq km in Zambian National Parks and 2.42 in unfenced wildlife ranches, the income from which came from sustainable harvesting and trophy hunting. In Laikipia, biomass is in the range 3.0- 4.0 tonnes, but soils might be better Could human intervention in National Parks, beyond poaching and fire control, improve wildlife density and welfare? In the mid 60s, I was in the Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda. A hippo slaughterhouse had been set up within the Park and meat was being sold cheaply to local communities. This followed research that demonstrated that the presence of too many hippos was causing overgrazing and degradation of habitat in areas contiguous to Lakes Edward and George. Obviously, the slaughter approach reduced hippo biomass but nevertheless increased total wildlife biomass. I am not suggesting that there are necessarily too many hippos in Kafue or even parts of it. I just don't know. I'm pretty sure, however, that, if Lindsey is correct, a wildlife biomass increase could readily be effected by a range of means, some of which would would legitimise human incursions and legalisation of sustainable cropping to set against uncontrolled poaching.

 

Finally, predators. It is clear that Musekese has plenty of lions and is lousy with leopards despite our not having bumped into any except on camera traps. Busanga Plains are different. There used to be 3 lion prides. About 8 years ago (and still much talked about as if yesterday) 3 lionesses from one pride were killed by buffalo. Anyway, this apparently resulted in the pride ceasing to exist. Another pride disappeared without trace and without any explanation. This left the originally named Papyrus Pride, its most recent generation being represented by one small cub. What's gone wrong? Ty thinks it might be ascribable to loss of buffalo. However, there's plenty of other goodies to go at. Are lechwe difficult because of boggy ground and crocs? Do the rough underfoot conditions on the drier areas protect prey from predators?

 

About hippos: There's evidence that hippos actually facilitate the likes of lechwe and puku (ie, other grazers). Hippos graze grass very short, making the newly grown shoots easily available to other grazers. Often you'll see lechwe and puku grazing on the hippo grazing lawns, and not outside of those in the longer grasses.

 

About the lions: Stochasticity. With only 3 prides and a short timespan (8 years = about 2 lion generations) chance can have a big influence on such a small population segment. One buffalo takes out 3 lionesses at once = one pride gone, a similar thing, or something like disease, could have happened to the other pride = 2 prides gone, the third pride not having good mothers could mean that all 3 prides are gone soon. I have no doubt that new prides will establish themselves given space, time and resources. The Busanga Plains aren't visited by researchers, tourists and their guides for 6-7 months a year, a lot of things happen their without being documented.

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@egilio:

 

Thanks for taking the trouble to reply.

 

Your comments about hippos' grazing habits being of advantage to short grass grazers is undoubtedly correct under certain circumstances. However, this is not inconsistent with the observation that a surplus of hippos can cause ecosystem damage that is detrimental to other species. I would be very keen to learn the preferred grass lengths of various grazers and would welcome education from you on this question. For example, buffalo, arguing by analogy from cattle, would probably prefer longish grass while it would seem that roan, wildebeest and lechwe may prefer lawns.

 

I agree, too, that the relative lack of lions on the Busanga Plains may be a chance observation. I also cannot but agree that observations of events are lacking for 6-7 months/annum. However, the area covers approximately 750 sq km and is relatively heavily stocked with lechwe and puku. Could you provide some estimate of lion numbers that one might anticipate in such an area? There would appear to be an abundance of lions just south of the Plains. Do you suspect that lions are being killed by incoming locals in the wet season? To what do you ascribe the reported order of magnitude decline in buffalo numbers? If you accept that it has occurred, would you think that it could be a possible reason for lack of predators?

 

Finally, as mentioned earlier, the large burnt areas of very rough ground attributable to baked worm casts greatly exercised me (mentally, not physically). Do you regard it as a normal phenomenon or is it an aberrant effect of atypical weather, bad burning times or absence of certain grazers?

 

I would be very interested to hear your thoughts.

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Douglas, in haste, I lived in Busanga for three seasons. Including a lot of time spent when the area is flooded.

I seriously doubt that the hippo population is large enough to be damaging the ecosystem. As a general observation we are talking about a few hundred animals in the 720 sq kms at most.

 

The lions - to successfully hunt and breed there is tough. The waterlogged nature of the plains between December and June or so is not an easy habitat to hunt in or for small cubs to keep up with the prides. I seriously doubt the lions are bing killed by poachers. It is simply an area that demands quite a degree of specialisation.

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Wonderful reporting @@douglaswise

Shame there are no photos - did you tell us why that is?

 

next time just give me a shout :P

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@@KaingU Lodge:

 

Thanks for answering some of my questions relating to lions and hippos. When you get more time, could you have a go at some others? I'm probably more trouble than I'm worth!

 

1) Do you accept that there has been a precipitate drop in buffalo numbers?

2) If so, to what do you ascribe it?

3) Does one see large numbers of elephants grazing the grass during the rainy season?

4) Are the large areas of very rough (worm cast-created) ground a normal feature of the ecosystem?

5) If so, do you think they are likely adversely to affect predators or grazers?

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@Soukous:

 

You are very polite. I've been given a certain amount of stick over lack of pix. I did try to explain it on vanity - if I set mine against yours from KaingU Lodge, given the overlap in subjects, you would appreciate my reluctance to upload (or download - I don't know the difference). However, the main reason is technical incompetence insofar as computers are concerned. I was well over 60 before getting one and I have never had instruction as to use. Thus, I spent about 3 hours on Sunday trying to check in online for a Ryan Air flight and failing. I already take pills for high blood pressure,but I was beginning to think they'd prove wanting where dealings with this airline are concerned.

 

If I can temporarily capture someone young and competent, I might be able to get them to do something with, at least, a few pix, but they'd come as a lump at the end of my TR. I might also learn how to cut and paste and than I could respond to @@Game Warden's request to provide Lodge reviews. Of course, the ability to learn new things at my age isn't a given. I'm still struggling, after more than 60 years, to become a competent fly caster!

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  • 2 months later...

Finally getting round to finishing off reading your account of your time at Musekese & Busanga - firstly, I can only agree with all your positive comments on Musekese, we loved it there and would gladly have stayed longer.

 

With regard to your questions, whilst I can't answer any of them, I can add that we didn't see any buffalo (either at Musekese or on the Busanga, not did we see a breeding herd of elephant up at Busanga). Given that we were only a month behind you makes me think that they tend to stay in relatively small numbers of large herds rather than dispersing which you might expect if there wasn't a big predator threat - or perhaps the large defensive herd is just too genetically entrenched?. One comment I do remember regarding the scarcity of predators on the Busanga was that after many years, the antelope population is currently booming and it will take a couple of years before the predator population starts to catch up so if you were to return in say 2018 then there may well be many more lion prides enjoying the "easier" pickings.

 

Finally, congratulations on persevering with your photos over on the "Who's been to Kafue" thread, great timing with the elephant "swimming" the river.

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Lump of pix is fine if you want to include them.

 

Thanks for the update on the lions. Interesting the prides are talked about as if it were yesterday, indicating were an integral and beloved part of the Busanga landscape. You comments on fires also were helpful. I've never seen so much fire activity as I did in Kafue in August.

 

Appreciate all your observations about your safari.

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