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South Luangwa and Lower Zambezi in June


Swazicar
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The itinerary, nights of:

 

June 4:  Seattle

June 5:  Flight to Dubai

June 6:  Dubai

June 7:  Lusaka

June 8, 9, 10:  Chamilandu

June 11, 12:  Nkwali

June 13, 14, 15:  Mwamba

June 16:  Tafika

June 17, 18: Crocodile

June 19, 20: Chikoko Tree

June 21, 22, 23:  Tafika

June 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30:  Old Mondoro

July 1: Flight to Dubai

July 2:  My bed in Portland.

Edited by Swazicar
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I first started thinking seriously about a trip to Zambia about two years ago.  I knew that getting my wife to tag along would be a struggle, but I started investigating nonetheless, even inquiring here about people’s experience with dedicated photo trips (as a logical option for a solo traveler), like those that typically run through a couple of Robin Pope properties in the green season.  Ultimately, I bagged that idea in favor of a winter trip (in February 2017) to Yellowstone with my wife and sister.

 

Subsequently, in July 2017, while my wife and I were sitting in lawn chairs at McNeil River, Alaska with big (REALLY big) brown bears strolling and fishing just meters away from us, I decided that I would, in fact, go to Zambia in 2018.  While convincing the wife to come was somewhat a secondary consideration, the reason for selecting Zambia was in part due to our experience in Botswana a few years earlier.  We loved that trip, but we felt like prisoners in vehicle-only camps in which we were fed six times daily but not allowed to walk more than the 20 meters between our hut and the dining tent.  I gained 10 pounds in two weeks, and I’m not allowed to report statistics for the missus.  So, a destination that allowed walking became a necessity.

 

In the planning phase, I focused on an itinerary that--including airfare from the west coast of the U.S.--would cost not more than about $10,000 per person, thinking that would be a level at which I could convince Mrs. Swazicar to come.  That meant shoulder season (June) with an itinerary of something like a week split between Tafika and RAS’s Chikoko Trails camps plus perhaps 5-7 nights at some combination of either Puku Ridge and/or several Kafunta properties.  Keeping the lodging below $8,000 would ensure the airfare wouldn’t put us over $10,000.

 

When it came time for Mrs. Swazicar to make her decision, however, she abandoned me, although with her blessing that I was still allowed to go, either alone or with a new recruit.

 

I first visited Zambia in 1985, while on a brief vacation from my volunteer teaching position in Swaziland.  At that time, the typical route out of Swaziland for money-challenged volunteers was to get oneself to a western border post and hitchhike to Johannesburg.  Once in Joburg, the next step was to catch a night train in whatever direction one was headed, then get off the train the next morning and again start hitching.

 

Thirty-plus years on, my memory is a bit fried, but while hitchhiking north through Zimbabwe toward Zambia, I for some reason wanted to cross the border at Kariba Dam rather than at Chirundu.  I distinctly recall being asked by the farmer who dropped me late one afternoon at what my map tells me is called Makuti, “But what will you do if no one picks you up before dark?”

 

“Well, I have a tent,” I replied, “I”ll camp.”  “But,” said the farmer, “Aren’t you afraid of hyenas?”  And I, in my best dumb, young tourist voice replied, “I don’t know; should I be?”

 

My recollections of Zambia from that trip are few:  hitchhiking into Lusaka and making my way to the YWCA (yes, the Y-W-C-A) to spend the night before leaving on the train the next day for Livingstone, on my way to Victoria Falls.

 

My next trip to Zambia was 10 years later, in 1995 (while I did refugee policy work for a U.S-based NGO), when I visited Angola and Angolan refugee camps in Zaire and in Zambia, at Meheba and Mayukwayukwa.  My major non-work recollection of that Zambia trip was taking a bus from (I think) Chingola to Lusaka, with “Zulu” (of all films) playing on the bus’s video system.  By the end of the film, the Zulu and the English had reached a hard-won mutual respect, and I had arrived in Lusaka.

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madaboutcheetah

OMG - we missed each other by a couple of days? At Tafika?

 

i think I arrived Tafika on the 24th.

 

i suppose you were one of the lucky ones with the wild dog/ hyena / impala experience that I heard a lot about? 

 

Look forward to your report .... Thank You

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Fast forward 23 years, during which nothing much happened, other than my wife opting out of the 2018 Zambia trip. That bit of bad news, however, allowed me to expand the trip (budgets be damned!) while recruiting a replacement; enter Megan.  Megan and I have known each other nearly 30 years; we met in 1989 when we were part of the same volunteer group in Central African Republic.  While living in CAR, we visited Dzangha-Sangha together; a few years later, when Megan and her partner were living in Cote d'Ivoire, I visited them and we then spent a few weeks traveling in Dogon country and elsewhere in Mali.  So, with that track record of past travel together, Megan accepted my offer of a trip to Zambia, a country she had not yet visited.

 

That's the background.  This won't be a blow-by-blow account of the trip, but I'll try to include a few comments/observations/opinions amongst the images. That said, the fewer words I use, the more quickly this will get done!

 

 

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8 hours ago, madaboutcheetah said:

i suppose you were one of the lucky ones with the wild dog/ hyena / impala experience that I heard a lot about? 

 

 

I was there for the dog/leopard/impala event, which perhaps after so many retellings has morphed into the dog/hyena/impala event!

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ForWildlife

Very cool itinary, and love the background bits. Looking forward to the story and pictures!

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After I tore up the budget and threw it away, I knew I wanted to include at least one camp in the southern section of South Luangwa.  That camp turned out to be Chamilandu, which I selected in large part due to the camp's small size (three chalets).  I'm glad I did.  I enjoyed the camp, the staff, and the setting.  I knew going in that the southern section of the park isn't thought of as being as wildlife-rich as the central portion of the park, but if it lacked anything in wildlife density, that lack was more than compensated for by particularly low vehicles densities, at least based on the time we spent there.

 

The regular routine at The Bushcamp Company properties is a morning walk and an evening drive.  If one prefers not to walk, one can request   (preferably in advance) a morning drive instead.  There's typically only one guide at Chamilandu, so arrangements have to be made to bring in another guide for anyone who opts out of the morning walk.  During our stay, the camp had a total of four guests the first night, then three guests for each of the final two nights; all wanted to walk, so there was no need for special arrangements.

 

A few shots from the Chamilandu portion of the trip:

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This one isn't a particularly good shot, but we were impressed that this fellow was still interested in the ladies so soon after obviously encountering lions:

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Little bee-eaters:

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Scops owl:

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While at Chamilandu, we saw five different leopards in our first 48 hours, then a sixth while walking on our final morning. Although we saw lots of evidence of lions, we didn't see lions themselves.  We did see dogs while driving from Chamilandu to Mfuwe Lodge (the first step of the transfer to Nkwali), about five kilometers south of the turn-off for Kuyenda.  We saw two small/moderate-sized herds of buffalo (one a little less than 100 head, the other a little more), giraffe and elephants crossing the Luangwa River, the usual night-time critters (genets, while-tailed mongoose), plus all those usual things one expects to see (banded and slender mongoose, impala, puku, and kudu, waterbuck and bushbuck, etc.).

 

So, all in all, I didn't find the sightings at Chamilandu to be significantly different (in number or frequency) than what we saw in other sections of the park.  I hesitate to draw conclusions, however, as our guide at Chamilandu noted than even though we had seen five leopards in less than 48 hours, others might not see even a single leopard in the better part of a week.

 

Next:  On to Nkwali.

 

 

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My impression is that because The Bushcamp Company has so many camps in the southern portion of the park, they often have vehicles coming and going to Mfuwe Lodge (their base), making transfers (whether north- or southbound) relatively easy and convenient for the visitor.  In our case, we got our full morning activity (which included tracking--but not finding--lions, but stumbling onto a leopard instead), brunch, and a pack of dogs on the road.  By the time we got to Nwkali, we felt as though we'd already had a full day's activities.

 

Nkwali was the last camp I added to the itinerary.  Initially, I omitted the central portion of park because I wanted to avoid crowds. Subsequently, I was assured by seasoned visitors that June wouldn't be that busy, so I decided to break up the travel between Chamilandu and Mwamba by adding two nights at Nkwali.

 

A few shots taken while at Nkwali:

 

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Look closely, as this one seems a bit painful:

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Nkwali is, of course, outside the park and east of the river, requiring either a short boat ride (from the Nkwali dock) or the longer trip via the pontoon.  That additional step of crossing into the park gave the stay at Nkwali a different "feel."

 

That said, within five minutes of crossing the river back into the park on our first evening drive from Nkwali, we saw three leopards:  a mother with cub, plus the presumed father.  An hour or so later we were watching four lions feeding on a  buffalo carcass, while three hyenas waited in the wings.

 

At times that evening, we could see lights from five or six other vehicles, which was the most "crowded" feel we had the entire trip.  (The second evening drive seemed less busy, however.)  Likewise, queuing for the boat crossing contributed to that same feeling.  It wasn't "bad," but of the camps we visited, Nkwali definitely had the busiest feel.  (In fairness, however, a camp with six chalets likely always will feel busier than a camp with just three.)   We found the staff to be outgoing, fun, and helpful.  

 

Next stop:  Mwamba

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The transfer from Nkwali to Mwamba was of the "game-drive transfer" variety.  We left Nkwali at about 6:30 a.m. and got to Mwamba at (I think) about 10:30 a.m., following a leisurely drive.  After having had a full-morning activity on the day of the transfer from Chamilandu, I was a little bit disappointed that we wouldn't be on a similar schedule for the transfer to Mwamba.  In fairness, however, the distance was greater and this was a one-off trip.  On the way we saw the only (what I'd call) "large" herd of buffalo of the trip, which seemed to me to be more than 300 head (I'm guessing, however).

 

As with Chamilandu, I chose Mwamba in part because of its size (just four huts), but also because of its reputation as one of the better "bush" camps in the park.  I also hoped that the "Last Waterhole" hide adjacent to the camp would help occupy what is typically for me wasted time in the middle of the day.  As the Last Waterhole was not yet the last waterhole, however (it being only June), I still found myself with mid-day time to kill.

 

Looking back through my images, it's clear that I processed more "keepers" from Mwamba than from any of the other stops.  That's just luck, in part, but it's also (I think) the result of conscious and specific choices made by our guide, who on just about every drive would at some point simply pull over at a setting that had good light, leaving it to us (his captive passengers) to figure out what we might photograph in that setting.  He also liked to periodically pull over for two or three minutes at a time and listen, not to a specific warning call he'd heard, but just to turn off the engine and listen.

 

Some shots from Mwamba:

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This may be my only hand-held 1/8 second shot of the trip:

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One point that may be of use to people:  Of all the camps we visited in South Luangwa, Mwamba was the only camp that actively tried to get people on the road by 6:00 a.m.  (6:30 seemed to be the norm elsewhere at that time of year).  I'm sure all the others would have accommodated requests for an early start (if everyone in the vehicle agreed), but I appreciated that Mwamba didn't make one ask.  (I assume--but don't know--that Kaingo is on a similar schedule.) 

 

Although not reflected in the images above, we did see both dogs (5) and leopards (3) at Mwamba to go along with the 10 lions we saw there. We also saw the usual night creatures:  civets, genets, and bushy-talied and white-tailed mongoose.  

 

Next stop:  A brief visit to Tafika

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Mwamba and Tafika are only about 7 km apart, as the crow flies, but are separated by the river.  The transfer to Tafika was a shortened morning drive (of two to three hours), followed by a rendezvous at Tafika Crossing, a subsequent canoe trip across, and then a brief drive to Tafika itself.  This stop at Tafika (the first of two!) was for one night only, in advance of four nights at Remote Africa Safaris' South Luangwa walking camps, Crocodile and Chikoko Tree.  But that first night was so eventful that I thought I'd make it a separate post.

 

Up to this point, we had seen 13 different leopards across a stay of eight nights:  6 at Chamilandu, 4 at Nkwali, and 3 at Mwamba.  On our first evening drive from Tafika, we would see 4 more.  The evening's haul also included 2 honey badgers, 2 porcupines, bushy-tailed and white-tailed mongoose, civets, genets, and a thick-tailed bushbaby.

 

A few shots from that first night:

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I include the crocodile above only because it first seemed so out of place to me.  A leopard (which you'll see later) had killed an impala (I think it was) and carried it up a tree earlier in the day.  By the time we got there in the evening, however, the kill had fallen or otherwise been knocked out of the tree (perhaps by the leopard's cub), and the best the leopard could do was drag the carcass into a bush before a waiting hyena could get to it.  When we arrived, the mother leopard and carcass were in the bush, the hyena was immediately under the bush, and the cub was 20-30 meters away, sitting out the game.  Before we headed back to camp at the end of the drive, we again swung by the bush and saw that the above crocodile had gotten word (or wind?) of the kill and had decided to pay a courtesy call.

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Great report so far!  And suspenseful, I’m anxious to read what comes next!

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offshorebirder

Wow - what a charming Honey Badger!  Lucky Leopard encounters as well.   

 

Thanks so much for this TR @Swazicar - I am in the initial planning stages of a Zambia safari, so it is useful indeed.

 

 

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The following morning we made the short drive to Chikoko Crossing, boarded a canoe, and crossed back into the park west of the river.  (I neglected to mention above that drives in the park from Tafika are conducted in the Nsefu sector, to the east of the river.)  This was the beginning of our four nights at Remote Africa Safaris' South Luangwa walking camps:  Crocodile and Chikoko Tree.  While I have relatively few usable images from this portion of the trip, our walking encounters probably were the highlight of the trip for both Megan and me.  We walked for portions of five days (starting with the morning before the first night and ending with the morning following the fourth night), seeing a leopard the first day and lions on three others.  Our first two nights were at Crocodile Camp, with the final two at Chikoko Tree Camp.  The first and last nights we shared the camp with two other guests, but the second and third nights we were the only guests.

 

One of the things we both liked about the walking camps was the down time in the evening.  Returning to camp by 6:00 p.m. made for a much more relaxing evening than returning at 8:00.  Likewise, having fewer people in camp contributed to the sense of quiet and peace.

 

Nearing the end of the afternoon walk the first day at Crocodile, the guide and scout heard a bushbuck's warning call, so we altered course to investigate.  Sure enough, as we stood looking around, a leopard jumped down from a tree and scampered away.  I'd have to think about this a little more, but I believe that of the guides we spent at least a full day with in South Luangwa, each and every one of them successfully found either a leopard or lion after hearing an alarm call from an impala, a puku, a bushbuck, or a baboon.

 

Here are a couple of shots from Crocodile
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And our hut:

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The second night at Crocodile Camp (when we were the only guests), lions serenaded us through the night.  By morning, the lions clearly were quite close.  We made an early departure from camp hoping to catch up with them, initially heading south (away from Chikoko Tree Camp, where we would spend the night).  Sure enough, just 10 minutes south of camp, we came upon three youngish male lions on the edge of a clearing.  We saw them before they saw us, but as they (individually, not collectively) became aware of our presence, they sequentially trotted away.

 

Here's a not-very-good shot of the second lion to see us, as it started to move away:

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I'll guess that this was 40-50 meters away, so not super close, but close enough to get the adrenaline flowing.

 

The remainder of the day, at Chikoko, when we were again the only guests, was again a quiet, peaceful time.  When we weren't seeing lions or leopards, we saw the things one more typically expects to see while walking:  elephants, buffalo, giraffe, impala, puku, waterbuck, bushbuck,  kudu, the occasional lone eland, a slender mongoose, etc..  The second morning at Chikoko, we also had a visit in camp from a Mozambican spitting cobra.

 

Here's the back of our two-story hut at Chikoko Tree Camp:

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The second afternoon at Chikoko, when we were joined by a German couple, the walk was even a bit more exhilarating than was the walk the morning before.  I was bringing up the rear, and I consciously decided at the start of the walk that I wasn't going to worry about what was immediately in front of us (as the guide and scout would see that), but that I would instead scan the trees and the middle distance.  Imagine my surprise, then, when I found myself saying, "Stop, stop, stop!  Lions!"  Sure enough, less than 20 meters in front of us, a group of five lions in tall grass was crossing our path at more or less a right angle to us, from right to left.  When I saw the first one, my initial thought was "impala"; when I saw the second and third, however, I found myself saying, "Stop, stop, stop!  Lions!"

 

Later, the guide and scout joked that I had seen the lions first only because they were scanning the ground for tracks.  While I didn't doubt them, I did declare that I would, for the remainder of the day, be known as "Bwana."

 

The reaction of this group of lions was quite different than that of the earlier group.  While the three males had immediately scampered off upon seeing us, this group lingered and, although taking cover in the grass, essentially held its ground.  When I later asked the guide about the differing reactions of the two groups of lions, he suggested that the first group, numbering only three and on open ground, likely felt vulnerable, while the second group, numbering five and concealed in tall grass, felt itself in a stronger position and significantly less vulnerable.

 

Because the second group did not retreat upon seeing us, the scout (or perhaps it was the guide) suggested that we give them a little space by moving to the other side of a ravine abutting the position they'd taken up.  We weren't really any farther away from them than we'd been initially, but there was now a physical break--the ravine--between them and us.  That said, at least one of the lions, a collared female, clearly was not pleased, explaining her displeasure via a measured but insistent growl.  To a person, the four guests (myself included) initiated a step backward, until the guide reassured us that no, we should just stand still, and that everything was fine.  As later explained by the guide, the lion was saying "We are here and we are strong," and we, by NOT stepping back, were saying the same thing.

 

My only decent shot of the encounter is of the collared lion, which of course doesn't fit the narrative, so here's a not-good shot of one of the lions in the grass:

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During the night, we heard what we thought must have been the cries of a zebra being killed by the lions.  Just as we were starting out on the morning walk, we heard alarm calls from an impala just outside camp, so we headed in that direction, soon coming across two lions (that we could see) in the grass near camp.  As with the previous afternoon, the lions didn't initially retreat.  After a minute or two, however, they walked off, away from us.

 

We then looked for what we expected to be the remains of a zebra.  Although we found evidence that a group pf hyenas had been nearby, we never found either a carcass, an individual bone, or any other indication that something large had actually been killed during the night.

 

The remainder of the morning was uneventful and, after our walk, we made the additional short walk to Chikoko Crossing for the brief canoe ride across the river, then the pick-up and drive back to Tafika.

 

For me (and for us, I believe), the multiple on-foot lion encounters were the highlight of he trip.  Throw in a leopard sighting, as well as all the other usual sightings, and it's fair to say we enjoyed our walking-only experience at Chikoko Trails.  That said, seeing lions and a leopard on foot, as I understand it, isn't the norm and shouldn't be expected.  If we hadn't had those cat sightings, how would we have viewed the four nights?  For my part, I still would have given them an enthusiastic thumbs up.  The only slight criticism I'd have, which is more just an observation, is that the "Trails" portion of the experience really has nothing to do with trails, as there aren't any (beyond whatever the critters make), so one essentially spends hours walking around in circles.  I knew that going in, however, so it was by no means a "let down" for me.  The staff were fantastic, the size and low-key vibe of the two camps fit our style, and the schedule, with activities ending before full darkness set in, made for good change.

 

Next step: Back to Tafika

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I may have erred earlier when I said I got more "keepers" at Mwamba that at any other camp.  Glancing back through my Tafika images, I seem to have at least a few that are okay.  That's in part because we stayed there for four nights, but also because of a couple of specific sightings that were fairly photogenic.

 

The incident @madaboutcheetah referred to above in post #3 of took place that first night after returning from Chikoko.  Unfortunately, given the specifics of the incident, no one in the vehicle (or in the two other nearby vehicles) got any decent shots, as far as I know; I certainly didn't, as I was too busy watching.

 

Up to this point, we had seen dogs during the transfer from Chamilandu to Nkwali and then again while staying at Mwamba.  My notes aren't clear on this, but I believe it had been a few weeks since anyone at Tafika had seen dogs.  Late that first afternoon, we stumbled upon a group of 11 just off the road, amusing themselves by sniffing all the wonderful smells of an old buffalo skull.  After a while, we moved  off, to a sighting of a leopard and cub with a freshly killed impala; there were two other Tafika vehicles already there, so we moved to the far side of the tree under which the impala lay.  (According to the guides, these were the same mother and cub we had seen five nights earlier, on our first stop in Tafika.)  I believe the leopards had been feeding on the impala and either the mother had not yet tried to carry it up the nearby tree, or she had tried, but was unsuccessful.  In any case, the impala was still on the ground, the cub also was on the ground, but about 20 meters away, a hyena had come onto the scene and was lurking (as hyenas do), while the mother leopard--still with the impala on the ground--was trying to decide what to do.

 

I'm not a huge fan of night drives to begin with, and that's especially the case when multiple vehicles, each shining a very bright light, are at a sighting.  In that situation, if it were up to me alone, I'd suggest we just move along.  In this particular case, nothing much was happening, and I do believe one of the two other vehicles (which were on the other side of the tree) had started to move off.  Suddenly, two impala came racing toward us out of the dark,  apparently passing between the two other vehicles.  They zipped by us behind our vehicle, seemingly at about the height at which we were sitting.  I remember thinking, "Boy, I'd hate to be hit by an impala trying to leap over the vehicle."

 

At this point, the mother leopard was still on the ground, between us and the tree, either with or near the impala carcass.  She looked up (as did we) and presumably was surprised (as were we) to see yet another impala headed straight toward her.

 

My take is that all she was aware of was that an impala was headed straight for her, and so she instinctively lunged for it with her mouth and front claws.  Little did she know that on the other end of the impala were the gaping jaws of a dog, apparently in the vanguard of the pack we had seen earlier, which was now hunting.  All three animals--impala, leopard, and dog--were in contact in sort of a hurling, tumbling ball of flesh,  which was headed directly for the driver's side of our vehicle.  The impala actually hit the vehicle, very close to were the guide was sitting.  (I'm sure this story has grown a bit throughout the various retellings, but the guide said he actually stuck out his hand to ward off the impala.)  In any case, the thud we heard made it clear that now a fourth beast (Toyota Land Cruiser) was involved in the fray.  The impala apparently was the first to react, quickly popping up after the "crash" and continuing on its hurried way; as far as we know, it survived.  The leopard, I believe, once she realized she was among dogs, simply abandoned her kill and ran for the safety of the nearest tree.

 

The next phase was the dogs taking over the leopard's kill, which is the subject of the few usable shots I have of the entire encounter; here's one:

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We noticed that one of the dogs had an injured front leg and wasn't putting any weight at all on it; we assumed the injury was the result of this specific fracas, but one of the guides later told us that it was, in fact, a long-term injury and that the dog had been getting along just fine for quite a while; one of the benefits of living in a society, I suppose.

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With the past few posts being a bit word-heavy, and as I believe in an economy of words, we'll make the remainder of my posts, save for the summary section, a bit image-heavy.

 

A few more shots from the Tafika portion of the trip:

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This is the same female leopard (with cub) from the incident with the impala and dog of the previous night.  This is the third day we'd seen her, and she had successfully killed each of those days.  She was, however, not as successful getting her kill up a tree.  First two shots are on the way up:

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While this one is of her and the inyama headed for the ground:

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I stopped shooting in order to watch, but of course I now sort of wish I'd kept shooting.  In any case, both she and the impala fell in a heap; she was unhurt, and the impala was still dead.  She then decided to eat a little (presumably to lighten the load), but subsequently moved the kill to a nearby bush.  By the time we returned in the evening, she (and her cub?) apparently had eaten enough that she was able to get it up the tree, as that's where we found it.

 

Crossing the Luangwa:

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And this is the cub (perhaps 1 1/2 years old?) of the female leopard above:

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This is the day after the leopard fell from the tree, and this is a different leopard.  The mother and cub, both of whom were still at the tree in the morning, had just moved off and this interloper had moved in, to see what remained of the kill (which is minimally visible in the branches, to the right of the leopard's head):

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And a few carmines that either had returned early, or had never left:

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madaboutcheetah

Lovely narration of that episode @Swazicar - lovely light on the Leopard too! 

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Towlersonsafari

what a wonderful trip so far-and  such a sereies of  exciting encounters! I also love the picture of the reflection of the ground hornbills     @Swazicar

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Great report so far @Swazicar really enjoying it.

 

Dont hold back on the narrative too much, I love your style of writing!

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Thank you @madaboutcheetah, @Towlersonsafari, and @mopsy.  I'm not a terrible writer, but I don't particularly enjoy writing (I much prefer editing).

 

So at this point I guess a summary/critique of the places we visited in South Luangwa is in order.  I hesitate to throw opinions around, however, without a little more background on my frame of reference.

 

First, I'm relatively new to the safari game.  Although I lived in Africa for five years, I never heard anyone use the word "safari" during the entire time I lived there.  I lived in villages, I drank water from the local water hole, and, although I was "rich" on the relative (local) scale, I certainly couldn't have afforded the trip from which I just returned.  I traveled by hitchhiking, paying for rides on lorries, and jumping into minibuses with 19 other people who had no alternative (assuming they didn't want to walk).  I think the point to take away from that is that, although I'm not opposed to comfort (or even luxury), I'm not that impressed by it.

 

Prior to this trip, the only "up-scale" travel I'd done in Africa was to Botswana (Kwando Lagoon, Lebala, and Kwara, and Selinda Explorers) and a few almost-swanky spots in Namibia (Camp Kipwe, Sossus Dune Lodge, Grootberg Lodge) that were part of a self-drive trip there.  Otherwise, my visits to what are now high-end (or at least expensive) places (to see mountain gorillas in what is now DRC, Dzangha-Sangha Reserve in CAR) were done on the cheap; if I remember correctly, the first time I saw mountain gorillas in Zaire we had to walk 30 km to get there, as nothing came along the road that day.  So, please take my opinions with a grain of salt.

 

If I had it to do over, what would I change about the South Luangwa portion of the trip?  Frankly, not that much.  The one specific thing I might change would be either:  a) to split the four nights at Tafika as two nights before Chikoko Trails and two nights after, or b) limit the total stay at Tafika to three nights (one before Chikoko and two after).

 

That said, having been to the places I visited, I don't imagine I would go back to Nkwali, not that there was anything "wrong" with it; it was just the least quiet and busiest stop on the trip.  Or, if I were to include it in the future, I likely would do so at the start of the trip, so as to get "wilder" as the trip went along.

 

I have (intentionally) not mentioned the names of any guides, other staff, or camp owners.  I don't want any comment I make that includes someone's name to be taken out of context, so I've opted not to mention names.  That said, I would gladly be guided by any of the folks who guided us on this trip.  My favorites, however, were probably our guides (for three days) at Mwamba and (four days) at Crocodile/Chikoko Tree.  (I'm happy to mention names in private, if anyone wants to ask.)

 

With respect to the start time of the morning activity, only Mwamba specifically tried to get people "out the door" by 6:00 a.m.; the norm for other camps was more like 6:30, at least at that time of year.  As I noted earlier, I'm sure all the camps would be willing to help get vehicles on the road earlier, provided everyone in the group wanted that.

 

I don't think I've mentioned the quality of food at all; if that's correct, it's because food isn't that important to me (I mean, other than needing food to survive).  That said, I know it's important to some people, so I'll give my two cents.  Essentially, I thought all meals at Chamilandu, Tafika, Crocodile, and Chikoko Tree Camps were quite good.  Likewise, I thought the brunches at Mwamba were quite good but, in my opinion, the suppers didn't always hit the mark they (seemed to be) shooting for.  Nkwali had what I would call the most basic food, but frankly, I prefer "basic" suppers to "fancy-but-didn't-quite-come-off" suppers.  That said, I would never base my choice of camps on the food (and you shouldn't read too much into my opinions about food).

 

For what it's worth, if I were to plan a second trip to South Luangwa, where would I go?  Off the top of my head, I think I'd be most likely to do something like:

  • seven nights split between Chamilandu and Kuyenda
  • seven nights split between Kaingo and Mwamba, and (if I had the time and money)
  • RPS's mobile walking safari

Clearly, I liked something about Chamilandu and Mwamba, so I've added camps owned by the same folks,  I'd feel bad about leaving Remote Africa Safaris off the itinerary, so perhaps I'd try to rectify that, if I could.

 

Next stop:  Old Mondoro, in Lower Zambezi NP.

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an incredible sighting of the leopard-dog-impala incident! that's what I love about SLNP - there is always something major happening. we were unlucky not being able to catch the dogs at Tafika, indeed at all of SLNP when we were there a few years ago, but more dog sightings are being seen now so that should be a big draw for us to return to one of my favourite parks in Africa. 

 

Thank you for sharing your stories (may be brief but very to the point), photos and thoughts!

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@Swazicar Thank you for a great trip recap of the South Luangwa. You had a few things in common with my trip coming up at the end of August--including Chamilandu, Mwamba, and flying from the west coast via Emirates (we'll be leaving from SFO). Just curious how your experience was flying on Emirates, layover in Dubai, etc. Any tips as far as that is concerned?

Looking forward to the Lower Zambezi portion of the recap.

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@bluebird...do you know that with the long layover Emirates will put you up for the night?

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@marg yes! But thank you for checking. We have our hotel confirmed and everything. It's a very nice perk. :)

 

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