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Luangwa, Chobe and Mana Pools


white stork
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I haven’t been on the site much due to laziness and moving back from Africa to Europe temporarily but thought I would commit some thoughts to paper regarding 3 trips I did earlier this year in Zambia, Botswana and Zimbabwe.

 

I spent 7 months working in Zambia this year and my parents wanted to come out to visit me and to combine this with a safari. They had already been to Livingstone and seen the Falls so the natural place to visit was the Luangwa Valley. Now my parents are getting on a bit and like their comfort and food in their retirement so we ended up going with one of the high end safari operators that runs camps in the valley. Good thing I wasn’t paying!

 

It was the middle of July when they flew into Lusaka from London and I met them at the airport. It was one of those rare, miserable, cold, grey southern African July days which when in Lusaka makes you think you may as well be back in London! My parents looked slightly apprehensive as they also enjoy the warmth and sunshine! Anyway we boarded the flight to Mfuwe and happily touched down in bright sunshine in the fabled Luangwa Valley.

 

We were picked up by our guide and took the short drive to Kapani Lodge where we would be based for 2 days. The lodge is right by the Main Gate, and by far the busiest part, of the park but there is also plenty of game around so game sighting were numerous. Some of the highlights included: a wild dog pack happily playing together on our first afternoon game drive, watching a lion pride hunting at night right next to our vehicles, having lions visit us for sundowners and steal some of the lodge’s equipment (a bowl and a lamp – photos of this episode have been previously posted on safaritalk), watching a beautiful leopard walk calmly past our car in broad daylight, sitting with a morning cup of tea and watching the puku herds grazing under the albidas by the river, getting my first look at Thronicroft’s giraffe (a Luangwa endemic), watching a flock of crowned crane taxi take off like small aeroplanes from less than 10 metres away, sitting on the edge of the river bank and listening to the snorts, bellows and fighting of the hundreds of hippos below, sitting in the lodge and watching a group of bushbuck clowning around and being amazed by the huge flocks of Lilian’s Lovebirds (I had seen these before but only in tiny numbers in Mana Pools).

 

So overall a lovely first two days spent in the valley. A couple of points. The night drives in the Luangwa are fantastic and good for seeing the various nocturnal animals – we saw genets, civets, elephant shrews (they have a new local name now right?), owls as well as the big cats in action. However, I do get slightly uneasy when there are lots of vehicles and hence lots of spotlights shining everywhere. After the lions interrupted our sundowners we went to watch them hunting (the pride was at least 12 strong) but we were soon joined by 4-5 other vehicles and it was impossible for the lions to stay concealed, even with sensible use of red-light. Luckily most of the guides realise this and called time on the sighting reasonably quickly. The next morning the lions were fat and lazy having killed a zebra so it didn’t hurt them too much! I can see why many parks do not allow night drives although for selfish reasons they are wonderful.

 

The lions and the sundowners was quite incredible. We approached our sundowner spot – on the banks of the Luangwa- and as we drove towards it (where some of the staff from the lodge had set up a table with the obligatory G+Ts etc) we also noticed a group of 4 lions, all juveniles between 1 and 3 years old, no more than 25 metres from the table. The staff setting up the table, chairs etc had been completely oblivious to their presence! Anyway after about 5 mins of watching the cats they got up and made straight for the table. One stole a bowl and another a lamp. It was rather amusing but I and the guide were temporarily quite concerned as the lion with the lamp seemed to get it stuck in its jaws. Eventually it dropped it and we were able to retrieve it – it was thoroughly broken. The bowl was subjected to about 5 minutes of lion play with at least 3 of the cats taking it in turns to bite it. Amazingly it didn’t break (it was a metal bowl for hand-washing I think) and after we retrieved it they still use it today! Anyway that was Kapani. Our next destination was Nsolo Lodge on the banks of the Luwi River. For those interested the rooms, food, service etc at Kapani were great. (At the price I would hope so!) Our guide was also good and knew everything you would expect of someone guiding in Luangwa. He had been doing it for many years – evidenced by the size of his belly – far too many 3 course meals entertaining tourists over the years as is often the case with guides in the luxury camps!!

 

If Kapani was busy Nsolo was the complete opposite. Out in the wilderness with no other camps in the vicinity. It is placed on a bend on the Luwi River which is dry by this time of year (July). Consequently the game was more sparse. The focus of Nsolo is mainly on walking safaris and this is what we did for our 2 days here. I was happy to see that our ZAWA scout was armed with a proper rifle rather than the AKs that I was used to them using in Livingstone – what an AK will do against a charging elephant, buffalo, hippo other than make it much angrier I don’t know.

The walks were very pleasant and game sightings included – disturbing a hyena den by accident and watching them all scarper, running into a pride of 10 lions in the river bed, walking up to a herd of 50+ Crawshay’s zebra (another Luangwa endemic), watching a puku ram chase a female for 200 metres through the dry river-bed, getting mock-charged by a young elephant bull (he had become separated from the rest of his herd and was most agitated), watching the many scarlet-chested and white-bellied sunbirds feeding from the trees above our camp and finally seeing 2 eland bulls on our final walk – as eland do they got the fright of their life when we came round the corner and they took off at a considerable rate!

 

The elephant charge was nothing too serious, a young bull – must have been at about the age when it’s nearly time to leave the herd, around 17 or 18 years I’d guesstimate, was quite agitated and came hurtling towards us ears out and trumpeting in classic mock charge behaviour. The guide and scout handled it well and took it seriously although I was chuckling away to myself seeing the fright my dad got! At least he had a good story to tell when he went home – good stories are what safari is about after all! Again Nsolo food and camp was wonderful, very rustic and peaceful. As mentioned above though the game here is much sparser than down by the Luangwa River. After that it was back to the Luangwa for 3 nights in Mchenja camp.

 

Mchenja is the local name for the jackalberry or ebony tree and the camp is so named for a beautiful mchenja grove where it is located. After 2 full days of walking we spent most of our time in the vehicle here and again saw some wonderful game including: a shikra hunting chongololos (those millipede type things) in camp no more than 5 metres from us, a herd of cookson’s wildebeest (again another Luangwa endemic), a scops owl sitting happily in a tree no more than 5 metres from us asleep during the day, a hyena half hunting impala by trotting through the group looking for sick ones (it’s amazing how nonchalant the impala were with they hyena – they barely gave it a second glance), a lion pair mating in front of us, a leopard hunting puku, a martial eagle carrying off a monitor lizard it had just killed, a sundowner spent with a herd of 150+ buffalo, a lone wild-dog who seemed to have lost his pack and most amazingly a tiny leopard cub walking with its mother (we saw 4 leopard that evening in the space of 15 minutes) – as most are aware Luangwa is famous for its leopard sightings due to their high density and the night drives.

 

So that was Luangwa. A great place I will definitely be back. We actually stayed at Pumulani on Lake Malawi for 6 days after the trip – mum wanted some sun time! I spent my days scuba diving in the lake as there was very little else to do! The stereotype holds true through, Malawians (hope that’s right!?) are very friendly people. Just behind Zimbabweans in my personal opinion!

Will write up Chobe when I get a chance.

 

Here is a link to some of the photos from Luangwa :

http://safaritalk.net/index.php?autocom=ga...m&album=242

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Thanks, Whitestork. I do remember your lovely Sundowner stop with the Lion pride!!!

 

Cheers,

Hari

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Great report White Stork, thanks for posting: hope all is well with your resettlement in Europe... I hope that the opposite happens to me one day!

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Great account of South Luangwa! Maritial Eagle with a monitor is something a little unusual. Walks, swims, and drives, plus some sun at least for mom and an ele fright for dad. You did it all!

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Some great photos in the gallery, thanks for uploading. The Zebra's butt would make the perfect photographic end to your report :)

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Thanks White Stork, you brought the Luangwa alive. Look forward to the rest of the report.

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Nice report.

Which day did you exactly see that dog? Near Mchenja? And why did you think he was looking for his pack?

I recognize the dog. It's a male who dispersed from the main game area in 2006 and went up to the Mupamadzi, the others of his dispersal group were seen in a pack of 16 this year from Lion Plain (South Luangwa) to Buffalo Camp (Nort Luangwa). We did see this dog once this year (for the first time since 2007!) with 2 females. He wouldn't know these females since they were born in 2008, but they had the same mother and thus were half brother/sisters. We were interested to see if they would stick together. Wouldn't be a good idea, considering their family ties, but they had never seen each other before. Soon after he was seen alone again near the Manzi river, seemed to just cross the area.

 

Looking forward to the rest of your trip report!

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And so on to Chobe. I had a few spare days in Livingstone so thought I would take the opportunity to visit the park. I was self-driving but didn’t have the equipment needed for camping so just did some day trips into the park and stayed in Kasane. It was quite pleasant really, I brought breakfast and lunch for myself and my friend and spent the whole day in the park and then spent the evening in Kasane.

 

Unfortunately just doing day trips meant we were subject to the worst of what Chobe has to offer – the huge crowds but there are still some wonderful game sightings in the park. The first animal we saw was a lioness lounging by the Chobe River and amazingly there were no vehicles around her. We watched her for about 5 minutes and then she got up, followed the river for about 100 metres and began to stalk a sable bull. She got to within 30 metres of the sable before he realised there was something untoward going on – a couple of barking kudu in the thicket probably saved him. Unfortunately every lion we saw after this was behind a traffic jam of at least 10 cars. On one occasion we got stuck just past Serondela – the first picnic site from the gate so a very busy place- in a huge queue of at least 30 vehicles. I got on top of the vehicle to try and work out how far the queue was (I realise this is against the rules but we were stuck completely with vehicles piled up around us on all sides! – could see nothing but a long line of cars and turned round to see one of the Botswanan guides taking a picture of me – so I’ll probably be in some Botswana National Parks offenders book!). It took us 20 minutes to extricate ourselves from this mess - we didn’t even see the lions in the end! - and that in a nutshell is the problem with Chobe. Far too many vehicles in far too small an area around the main gate.

 

However, on the whole, once you get past Serondela and on the way towards Ihaha you have this stunning park to yourself. We had some great sightings out there including watching a huge flock of great white pelicans fishing in the shallows, watching a herd of 500 + zebra grazing on the floodplains and then crossing the river, some great sable sightings, the usual amazing elephant numbers, big buffalo herds, hyenas clearing up an old elephant carcass and every evening some amazing sunsets with giraffe, elephant and buffalo in succession (photos in the gallery). We also did a boat cruise one evening and saw lechwe, great birdlife and elephants swimming. The lesson here is that if you do a boat cruise in Chobe make sure you take a small boat rather than the huge 60 person things as you can go and see so much more.

 

Photos from the gallery:

http://safaritalk.net/index.php?autocom=ga...m&album=243

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oh and egilio the date of the dog sighting was 15th July, right by Mchenja.

that's all the information I have for you though. he appeared to be in good condition although a bit on the miserable side, not surprising for such a social animal.

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Thanks for the Chobe good and bad. That lion was very, very interested in the sable by the looks of your photos. Swiming zebra are cool.

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oh and egilio the date of the dog sighting was 15th July, right by Mchenja.

that's all the information I have for you though. he appeared to be in good condition although a bit on the miserable side, not surprising for such a social animal.

 

Thanks a lot! I'll add it to our database. Date + place + picture, can't be much better :(

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  • 2 months later...

I am waiting for your report of Mana Pools! Last year I spent a very nice week at Lower Zambezi National Park in Zambia and would like very much to visit Mana Pools across the river.

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  • 2 weeks later...

apologies for this I have been horrendously busy at work with a new job let me give you a brief trip report on Mana Pools.

I travelled there for the end of August 2009 (self-drive) and spent 7 days camping at Mucheni 2 one of the best campsites in the park. from there we had wonderful views of the Zambezi and daily had elephants and buffalo swimming across the river in front of us to go and graze on the islands in the middle.

 

we had huge elephant bulls walking through our camp as well as bull eland regularly doing the same. we were all snoozing on deckchairs at one point at midday and were awoken by a huge elephant bull eating the fallen figs from the tree around our tent. this was a regular occurrence over the week. the walk to the toilet (a lon drop) was also interesting as there were 4 daga boys who didn't move more than 50 metres from it for the whole week.

 

one night we were awoken by footsteps on the fallen leaves around our tent - we looked up and could see through the grill in our tent - it was too hot to have the cover on - a lioness walking past us, her head not more than 2 metres from us. it was an incredible experience.

 

other night time visitors inluded rummaging honey badgers and a hyena who stole a saucepan - it took us 25 minutes to find it the next morning it had dragged it for 80 metres and almos chewed off the handle.

 

we saw the rest of the Mucheni pride - 2 big males and 3-4 females on our last day and we also saw a pack of wild dogs on a kill by Ndungu who we approached on foot but coldn't get too close as there was already some people there - a guide with some clients - who were most unfriendly and made it clear we couldn't come any closer - it wasn't Stretch Ferreira for those whoare interested but some other company that I hadn't heard of before.

 

this is a very brief report but Mana remains a magical as place as ever. there is loads of game there - impala, waterbuck, zebra, eland, buffalo are all present in their hundreds - we regularly saw eland herds of 50+ - and it is not skittish or terrified of vehicles which suggests that poaching is under control. the albidas are still stunning and to go and be able to take a walk beneath them, past the watching elephants, buffalo and eland and sit by the Zambezi and watch it go past without a guide, weapon or any other impediment at all remains my favourite hobby. Norman Monks remains as the warden and whilst he is around the park is in good hands - hopefully he lives to be older than Mugabe.

 

if you have any doubts about visiting this park you need't worry. it is well worth seeing.

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White Stork, you've made Mana Pools sound vibrant and alive … well worth a visit.

 

A bit sad about the wild dogs and that they other group couldn't/wouldn't share but would have loved to have seen the elephants swimming. Makes for some great photo opportunities.

 

Hope your new job is working out well.

 

twaff

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Thank you for this report. I will be in Mana Pools in May - my first safari ever. And I can't wait! It sounds simply amazing.

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kglo,

 

What a way to start! Glad to learn Mana Pools is doing so well.

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