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South Luangwa, Zambia 2022

South Luangwa, Zambia

I have already said that for your first and possibly only safari holiday, Tanzania must challenge for first place, but what about all the other African countries ?

For all wildlife enthusiasts, there is Namibia, Botswana, Kenya and of course the famous Kruger National Park in South Africa. What a choice!

Our latest trip, post Covid, was the beautiful South Luangwa National Park in Zambia.

It is not, as some would say, the forgotten African country for wildlife; simply it has not had the right marketing, the injection of money from tourism nor enough government support. That is changing now with lodges and camps expanding alongside the Luangwa River where hippos and crocodiles are in abundance. It is not uncommon to see herds of Cape buffalo of up to 100 strong going about their daily business. These majestic beasts can weigh up to a ton. And, wherever you go it is difficult to avoid a small family group of elephants; the young ones always enchanting.

The landscape is incredibly varied from savanna, open grasslands, to forest. Thus it gives shelter for the wide variety of carnivores and herbivores, the latter mainly being Crawshay’s Zebras and Thornicroft Giraffes that you will often see sharing the same patch. Both these subspecies are quite the most attractive in Africa. We stumbled across a small family of zebras one day; they seemed very lively and looking as if to fight as young males of all species will do, but then we realised that they were just having fun, leaping around, pushing and shoving each other gently. It was a joy to watch.

There are many aspects of South Luangwa which make it almost unique and very attractive to real enthusiasts. Wild or painted dogs and leopards are some of the stars.

The wild dogs run in small packs of 3-6 and up to 20 or more. They are like medium sized domestic dogs but that is where the similarity ends. Their coats look as though someone with 3 different brushes, and the equivalent in coloured paints, has randomly splodged them (yes, splodged!) with big spots all over their bodies. Also, they are vicious hunters and will bring down any of the wide variety of antelopes ….killing them first before eating is not a priority.

In the Southern Hemisphere, leopards are the most widely spread of all the big cats, from India, Sri Lanka, and all parts of Africa. They can be aggravated by the bigger cats and even hyenas will try to steal their kills, so they spend much of their time tucked away in trees. Thus they are difficult to photograph. Not so In South Luangwa, where the lions keep themselves to themselves and the hyenas tag alongside the wild dogs…. Now that is a sight; wild dogs fending off hyenas! Early morning and late afternoon are the best times to view most predators, either with a kill or returning to their territory after a night of hunting their potential prey.

Another fairly unique attraction are the hippos. There are many natural watering holes, called lagoons, filled with Nile Cabbage or water lettuce. It is an invasive species difficult to eradicate if it wasn’t for hippos. These hefty creatures spend most of the day standing in these lagoons, partly or fully submerged, chomping away at this vegetation. By the end of the dry season, it has all gone! Whilst a rarity elsewhere, it is not unusual to see hippos moving around on land during the day time.

Of course these watering holes are the natural habitat for Yellow Billed Storks, Great White Pelicans, Hadiba Ibises and all the egrets. Almost every country has a Grey Heron and the Black Headed Heron is almost as common here. The rare Goliath Heron was spotted once; eponymous as his name suggests. He grows to 1.5m height, rivalling the tallest storks in the world, i.e. the Marabou in Africa and the Jabiru in South America. Along with tree dwellers like the Lilac Breasted Roller, the Great Bee Eater, White Chested Bee Eater and a myriad of others, this park is a real treat for serious birders.

Getting to Zambia will take you via Dubai or Addis Ababa, and then there is a short flight to Mfuwe. Once there, the trials of seemingly endless airport security checks and passport controls, just pale into insignificance…..you are in the wild!

Where to stay? As experienced travellers, we always do extensive research. There are a number of quality lodges or camps and it is easy to book directly; certainly with Flatdogs Camp. This is located directly adjacent to the Luangwa River; and 5 minutes from the park entrance. Waking up to the sound of hippos grunting not far away is a delight. This camp is not in the luxurious price bracket, but for us and most people, it is just right. Run by a two English people who have devoted their lives to Zambia and animal conservation for over 20 years. All the staff are local people and clearly love the life. The overall service is impeccable in all respects, and the food….. what to say. It is 3/4 * cuisine and a la carte, which is almost unknown in such places, and caters for all dietary requests. Our own guide was Bwalya, a young man with an incredible mental map for a park of some 3500 sq. miles, and an encyclopaedic knowledge of the flora and fauna.

We learnt that there are 7 different languages in Zambia, and thus people from the North cannot understand their neighbours from the South. So to communicate they use the common language, English. It is taught as the first language and that is why everybody speaks it so well. It is a huge advantage for us Brits and another very good reason which should put South Luangwa and Zambia amongst your favourites.
 

GDB

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