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Geoff

Busanga Plains - Busanga Bush camp & Shumba camp

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Geoff

This is the second of three reports on different camps in Botswana & Zambia during September 2008.

 

Busanga Bush Camp - 4 nights 17th & 20th of September

Shumba Camp - 2 nights 21st to 22nd of September (due to lack of availability at Busanga)

 

General Information / Overall Impression.

 

Transfer to the camps is via an exhilarating helicopter flight from the airstrip. Helicopter transfers are used as camp access by road from the airstrip is extremely difficult for much of the season.

 

Busanga Bush Camp is another typical bush camp situated on a heavily treed island. The tents are on concrete slab. Beds face double doors which open out onto the veranda with a view overlooking the plain in front of camp. A wall behind the beds screens the bathroom area which has no roof. The main bar/dining tent faces east overlooking the plain and it would be rare not to have a lechwe or puku grazing in view of the camp. What I liked about the camp is that you have a feeling of being at one with the surroundings.

 

Shumba camp is built on raised platforms a necessity as where the camp is sited is flooded for perhaps half the year or more. From the plains the tents and main dining area looked like a row of boxes and I thought an eyesore. But once you look around inside the camp really is beautiful. The tents are huge with lovely furnishings but not completely over the top. Being shaded by a large tree my tent was cool during the hot part of the day but I suspect some tents would be uncomfortably warm during the early to mid afternoon period. There is a plunge pool and this came in handy to relieve the itch from tsetse fly bites.

 

There is a third WS camp in the area (Kapinga camp located on the island where it derives its name). All three camps use the same game viewing area and occasionally we also saw a vehicle from Mukambi bush camp which is located further to the north.

 

Even late in the season there was still water in the drainage lines and a large island which the Busanga pride often use was inaccessible to vehicles.

 

During the height of the dry season large grass fires can easily sweep across the open plains. Scars from a recent burn close to Shumba camp were evident. Upon returning from a drive in the north one evening we were confronted with a massive wall of flames from a defensive back burn. This burn was put in place to stop a fire burning close to Kapinga camp.

 

Game viewing - General information.

 

If there is no established sighting near the camps a typical days game viewing consisted of a morning spent in the southern areas of the plains close to the tree line or as an alternative travelling north as far as the papyrus swamps. Afternoon drives were around the vicinity of the camps usually waiting for the Busanga pride to get active or watching hippos and birdlife at the obviously named ‘Hippo pools’. One afternoon drive was an exception when there was an established sighting of the Papyrus pride lounging around after devouring two lechwe bulls.

 

During our stay the tsetse flies near the treeline in the south were diabolical. If the vehicle stopped the tsetses would arrive en mass and hitch a ride. One time I counted 50 flies on the guides cap! A comfort stop anywhere near the tree line was fraught with danger and a most uncomfortable affair.

 

I would call the game viewing during my time on the Busanga Plains as patchy at best. Many of the game drives were quiet and it was not the guides fault as they cannot show you what is not there.

 

Yes, there is large amount of puku and lechwe but I would not call these herds vast.

 

There are some interesting (and for me rarely seen) antelope such as Lichtenstein’s hartebeest and oribi but they kept their distance. Sitatunga are present in the papyrus swamp too but I did not see them.

 

Perhaps perversely the roan antelope are extremely relaxed. In fact I think this is the best place in Africa to view roan antelope. I did see two herds that had more than 25 members.

 

Amongst the usual suspects there were impala near the tree line, quite a few reedbuck and bushbuck and small herds of zebra. Warthogs were a common sight.

 

Elephant were extremely skittish probably due to poaching pressure. They would either run or walk away or charge an approaching vehicle.

 

I only saw 5 dagga boy buffalo in six days though I’m told a herd of +/- 300 buffalo was ‘somewhere about’

 

Birding is excellent with some interesting endemic species.

 

Predators.

 

Lion

 

The Busanga pride consisted of 2 pride males, 4 adult females, 1male cub and 1 female cub both approx 14 months of age. As the prides core territory encompasses both Busanga Bush & Shumba camps these lions get the most attention and are relaxed around vehicles. The pride had recently lost the lead female when she was killed during a buffalo hunt and with the exception of the pride males they were in poor condition. One afternoon we found the male cub by himself feeding on a water monitor. Perhaps an unpalatable meal but at least he did get some sustenance. Although I saw them daily I did not see the rest of the pride feed at all.

 

The Papyrus pride consisted of 6 members, a young pride male and 5 adult females. Their core territory was further to the north towards the papyrus swamps. In stark contrast to the Busanga pride they were all in superb condition. We saw them late one afternoon and the following morning. When viewing them in the afternoon I asked a guide could we get closer to them and he answered that they are not used to vehicles.

 

In the southern areas resided a lioness (known as the tree line female) with her two sub adult male offspring. I’m told that this lioness is an incredible huntress and has done a remarkable job raising her two offspring alone. These lions were the most skittish I’ve ever seen and would trot away as soon as the vehicle approached. Needless to say our two sightings of them were extremely poor.

 

Cheetah

 

We found cheetah in the south as well. Unfortunately they were poor sightings too. One male would not let us approach within 200 metres and we let him be. We found another male in the shade of a termite mound and I could tell by his mannerisms that he was nervous too. As the other vehicles were radioed in (due to the lack of anything else to see) and with four vehicles now at the sighting I requested that we move off with the hope of returning by ourselves later. But we were told that not long after we left the cheetah moved off into the tree line and the relative safety of the tsetse flies. Apparently there are two female cheetah with cubs in that area as well but I did not see them.

 

Wilddogs

 

Wilddogs were located but they moved 700 metres into the tree line. We did brave the tsetses for a look. As the day was heating up the pack of six were resting on a shaded termite mound. Not the most photographic of places. Another wilddog sighting for me and another occasion where I have seen two different packs on a trip.

 

Guests that arrived that morning were hoping to see wilddogs and to give Phil (Busanga camp manager & guide) credit he drove them to see the dogs immediately after brunch.

 

Other

 

I did not see leopard and you would not expect them to feel comfortable out on the plains but I did see fresh spoor on the road near the tree line on a few occasions.

 

I only saw one hyena which surprised me.

 

Highlights

 

An early morning wake-up call by the Busanga pride at Busanga bush camp. Awake at 4:30 I could hear bushbuck alarm calls. The pride chased the antelope around for awhile but then gave up and started investigating the camp before a chorus of roaring. I was lying in bed watching the door when I heard one of the big males pad down the path and stop next to the door. I could not see him but could hear his breathing before he unloaded a huge roar then padded away down the path with a series of grunts.

 

Once they had left the camp we joined the hunting females out on the plain. As usual the males were bringing up the rear and still roaring. Unfortunately they crossed over boggy terrain where we could not follow and they settled down next to a water filled channel with resident hippo and small crocs. We had to be content with viewing the pride from the other side of the water. Other vehicles from neighbouring camps came & went but we stayed put. After awhile a lone lechwe female wandered along towards the lions looking for a place to drink. All the lions were aware of the lechwe and slunk down into the grass. One lioness scurried along in a ditch to cut off the approaching lechwe and waited. The lechwe came closer and stopped almost directly opposite our vehicle and about 20 metres from the lions. She was just about to put her head down to drink when the lioness charged. I could not believe it when the lioness missed her and the lechwe bounded away without another lion moving to block the lechwe’s escape route.

 

Lowlights.

 

The tsetse flies were the worst they have ever been in many years of travel to Africa. I do not think for a minute that they are like that all of the time.

 

On our last morning we left for a game drive at 5:00 AM. We drove to the north and I thought our target was the papyrus pride. At 5:50 we located the pride which was mobile and I was biding my time waiting for better light when the guide in his wisdom drives off and headed to the papyrus swamp. For the next hour we were parked 100 metres from the papyrus staring directly into the rising sun in the vain hope of spotting a sitatunga. The only person in the vehicle with binoculars was the guide!

 

After a wasted 1 hour 45 minutes we returned to the lions and they were resting in the shade.

 

I was later informed that it was the guides intention to look for sitatunga all along. I let the camp management know my displeasure at his inflexible decision.

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madaboutcheetah

Thanks for a well written report, Geoff.

 

Sorry to hear - Tsetse flies and impassible boggy roads even this late in the season, aren't the ideal combination!

 

It also appears to me, that with skittish or low volume of animals - the game drives all swarm to a sighting from the various camps in the area when radioed? Not exactly, ideal is it?

 

Cheers

Hari

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Atravelynn
During the height of the dry season large grass fires can easily sweep across the open plains. Scars from a recent burn close to Shumba camp were evident. Upon returning from a drive in the north one evening we were confronted with a massive wall of flames from a defensive back burn. This burn was put in place to stop a fire burning close to Kapinga camp.

 

Did you have to drive through any wall of flame. The vehicle I was in drove through some short flames. Yikes!

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Atravelynn
An early morning wake-up call by the Busanga pride at Busanga bush camp. Awake at 4:30 I could hear bushbuck alarm calls. The pride chased the antelope around for awhile but then gave up and started investigating the camp before a chorus of roaring. I was lying in bed watching the door when I heard one of the big males pad down the path and stop next to the door. I could not see him but could hear his breathing before he unloaded a huge roar then padded away down the path with a series of grunts.

 

What a close encounter. Very exciting.

 

Great report covering all the important stuff. The hyena den would indeed be a nice find there.

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madaboutcheetah

Lynn,

 

Back in 2006 .......... the Big R was trying to organize a safari to Kafue and lucky me, the safari didn't work out. He said the Nanzhila plains area is good for cheetah and wild dogs ............. :rolleyes::lol::rolleyes::P;):o

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Geoff
Elephants (which I notice you did not mention) ran away if you got within 1000 yards.

 

Hi Ken,

 

I did mention elephant...

 

"Elephant were extremely skittish probably due to poaching pressure. They would either run or walk away or charge an approaching vehicle".

 

 

Seems they have calmed down a bit. We got within 900 metres :rolleyes:

 

Seriously we actually got within 100 metres on a few occasions but inevitiably the elies turned and walked away.

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Geoff
During the height of the dry season large grass fires can easily sweep across the open plains. Scars from a recent burn close to Shumba camp were evident. Upon returning from a drive in the north one evening we were confronted with a massive wall of flames from a defensive back burn. This burn was put in place to stop a fire burning close to Kapinga camp.

 

Did you have to drive through any wall of flame. The vehicle I was in drove through some short flames. Yikes!

 

We didn't have to drive through the flames but were within 10 metres of the fire at times. Where I live bushfires (wildfires) are a fact of life and I was not concerned. I told the guide if necessary drive straight through the flames onto the burnt ground behind the firefront. There were other guests from European countries and speaking with them later they said they were scared.

 

 

EDIT *** The scared people were elderly women.

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Atravelynn

So even though the vehicle contains a gas tank with combustible fuel, driving through flames is not a problem? I am preparing for my next Kafue visit when there may be flames and I may be an elderly woman.

 

Seriously, Geoff, from your experience, you feel that the vehicle has adequate protection for a short jaunt through small fires?

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Atravelynn

Hari,

 

I've just gone on your emotional roller coaster via the smileys. If you had gone, you would have some tales to tell that would have kept us entertained for years.

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madaboutcheetah

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ZaminOz

I have experienced a few bush/grass fires in Zambia. Although a fire is a fire, they don’t seem to me to burn as intensely as Australian eucalyptus fed bush fires. Anyway, sometimes accelerating through the fire line at speed is the only way the get to the safe side of the fire. Not a recommended daily practice mind you, but better than waiting for the flames to intensify and engulf you...

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Guest John Milbank

I reported on a few grass/bush fires in the Adelaide Hills. Often, the safest place to be-- especially in extreme weather conditions with shifting wind-- is ground already burnt. I've driven on to such ground a couple of times to be safe, though not through flames. Depending on the terrain, driving through a fire front can be safer than fleeing. Either way, your vehicle has to keep moving until safe ground is reached.

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Atravelynn

Thanks for the advice on driving through fire. I'll keep that in mind for Australia as well. By the time I am able to return to your lovely country I may well be elderly. Avoiding fires in Australia should be easier than avoiding them in Kafue, though.

 

On a side note there was recently a circus (in Germany I think but I could be wrong) that was in transit and their vehicles caught on fire. The vehicle with several Siberian tigers was in flames. The animal trainer gave the signal for the tigers to leap and they jumped through the flames to safety just as they jumped through flaming hoops for their circus performances. I'd prefer there not be captive performing wild animals, especially performances with fire, but thought it was interesting. The tigers all survived.

 

Having lions pad around your tent at night is almost as harrowing as jumping through a flaming hoop.

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Guest nyama

Nice report, Geoff.

 

You had more luck with cheetah and wild dogs, again I havn't seen them in the Plains. Otherwise, no tsetse during my stay - because of a refreshing breeze, the first sign of the rainy season. Unfortunately this made the evenings at the camp fire a little bit chilly, and there was no reason anymore for the lions to climb trees. I had a short sighting of sitatunga from the distance. Of course the roans were fantastic as usual, and I saw my first herd of elephants in the Plains.

 

 

Something from the Safari Myths Dept.:

 

Helicopter transfers are used as camp access by road from the airstrip is extremely difficult for much of the season...
For much of the season? Is this what they're telling you? Amazing that the Mukambi people (and Map Patel and Ed Smythe in earlier times) don't need such transfer option for their 4 month season...

 

Shumba camp is built on raised platforms a necessity as where the camp is sited is flooded for perhaps half the year or more.
Really? Sounds like another myth. Shumba is built on an island, exactly the same site as Old Shumba. Old Shumba didn't need raised platforms and was on the ground.

 

Here are two of the first Shumba promo shots by WS, showing Old Shumba during rainy season...

 

gallery_3403_88_44974.jpeg

© Wilderness Safaris

gallery_3403_88_6956.jpeg

© Wilderness Safaris

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