An Introduction to the Busanga Plains

Andrew Beck Andrew 1 Comment

At 22 400 square kilometres (roughly the size of Wales or the state of Massachusetts) Zambia’s Kafue National Park is one of the largest parks in Africa. Tucked away in relative isolation to the North of the park lies the Busanga Plains. 720 square kilometers of ancient lake bed which is seasonally flooded by the Lufupa River and her tributaries. Mukambi Busanga Plains Map These plains are anything but plain as a variety of grasses which dominate them are interjected by large termitaria which provide an enriched foothold for trees, herbs, shrubs and palm thickets. Andrew Beck Busanga Plains Photo Safari Wild Eye-10 These termitaria, completely exposed and incorporated into the landscape of the plains during the dry season, become the sole refuges for herds of buffalo, puku, lechwe and of course, predators during the wet season as they become isolated islands surrounded by water and masses of floating grass. Zambia Busanga PLains Photo Safari Andrew Beck-6 I don’t think that I have been anywhere in Africa where changes between the wet and dry season are so extreme. The Okavango delta is probably the closest that I can recall but even that is different in that it is accessible year round. In contrast, the Busanaga plains are inaccessible for roughly 7 or 8 months of the year. Inaccessible. No tourists. No vehicles. No Boats. Just wildlife being wildlife. That in itself is rare and should hold massive appeal to any and all adventurous naturalists – yet alone wildlife photographers. My journey to the plains started in Lusaka and, after a 4.5 hour drive I arrived at Mukambi safari Lodge and the banks of the Kafue River. A short afternoon boat cruise helped me appreciate the sheer size and scale of the park and river as we cruised alongside the river banks, enjoying sightings of elephant, puku, impala and a variety of birds. Andrew Beck Busanga Plains Photo Safari Wild Eye Andrew Beck Busanga Plains Photo Safari Wild Eye-3 Andrew Beck Busanga Plains Photo Safari Wild Eye-2 The next morning I was booked on the transfer vehicle heading up to the plains. A 6 hour, 150km drive from the Hook Bridge Gate which took us through some of the most beautiful and pristine miombo woodlands. Andrew Beck Busanga Plains Photo Safari Wild Eye-31 Andrew Beck Busanga Plains Photo Safari Wild Eye-30 It was here that we met one of the saving graces of the Kafue National Park, the Tsetse fly. The presence of these large biting flies that inhabit much of mid-continental Africa have prevented humans and their livestock from residing in the park, keeping it free for wildlife. At the back of the vehicle, a tin can filled with elephant dung left a trail of smoke which helped keep the Tsetse flies at bay. Andrew Beck Busanga Plains Photo Safari Wild Eye-26 Whilst the drive up to the Busanga plains was long, it was enjoyable and in my opinion, crucial in understanding the size of the park and the remote location of the Busanga Plains. What awaited us at the end of the drive made it all worthwhile… Andrew Beck Busanga Plains Photo Safari Wild Eye-24 Andrew Beck Busanga Plains Photo Safari Wild Eye-28 Mukambi Plains camp. The base for this trip and for our 2015 Kafue & Busanga Plains Photo Safari. Over the next three nights we explored the plains and the wildlife which at this time of year concentrate along the main channels which run through the plains, carrying water south towards the Lufupa River. The massive herds of Puku and Lechwe coupled with the last remaining surface water in the area attract predators and we were treated to daily sightings of some beautiful and charismatic lions. Andrew Beck Busanga Plains Photo Safari Wild Eye-19 Andrew Beck Busanga Plains Photo Safari Wild Eye-8 Andrew Beck Busanga Plains Photo Safari Wild Eye-4 Andrew Beck Busanga Plains Photo Safari Wild Eye-16 One of the interesting behavioural traits that lions exhibit in this area is the fact that they are known to escape the heat and flys by climbing into the fig and sausage trees which are rooted in the termitaria that I mentioned earlier. October and November, being the hottest months in the plains, are obviously the best time to see this and, after some guidance from our incredibly knowledgeable guide Lexon, we were treated to what was believed to have been the first climb of the season. Andrew Beck Busanga Plains Photo Safari Wild Eye-11 Andrew Beck Busanga Plains Photo Safari Wild Eye-13 This was a truly special sighting. Not only were we witnessing unique and interesting behaviour but we were the only vehicle in the sighting for the full 2 hours that we sat with these lions. Coming from a South African background, that is something that really hit home for me. The only time that our guide used the radio was to call in our ETA to camp and confirm how many guests wanted nice hot bucket showers upon our return. Not once did we share a sighting with vehicles from the other camps in the plains – of which there are only 2! We were the only vehicle sitting with a herd of approximately 30 Roan antelope. Andrew Beck Busanga Plains Photo Safari Wild Eye-17 The only vehicle to have enjoyed a sighting of a rare and illusive leopard. Andrew Beck Busanga Plains Photo Safari Wild Eye-27 A leopard who at most will only see vehicles for 4 months of a year. Everything about this place is special and, whilst the sightings may not be as numerous as in some of the other areas, each and every sighting out here is special in its own way. Take the incredible morning sunrise which, during the peak of the dry season (September/October), is accentuated by low lying smoke from fires in the region. Andrew Beck Busanga Plains Photo Safari Wild Eye-6 Andrew Beck Busanga Plains Photo Safari Wild Eye-7 Or the apprehensive herd of elephants on the fringe of the Miombo woodland who are completely unaccustomed to human interaction. Andrew Beck Busanga Plains Photo Safari Wild Eye-25 The regular sightings of white-tailed mongoose and marsh/water mongoose. Andrew Beck Busanga Plains Photo Safari Wild Eye-14 An unusually coloured side-striped jackal in the middle of the plains. Andrew Beck Busanga Plains Photo Safari Wild Eye-9 A Lichtensteins Hartebeest which live only on Savvanna and floodplains. Andrew Beck Busanga Plains Photo Safari Wild Eye-29 It is these little jewels that will make this such a popular destination for the photographer that is just as passionate about experiencing Africa’s wilderness regions as they are about capturing that perfect image. The Busanga Plains are wild and remote and thats just one of the many reasons that I love this place so much. Even the road networks are somewhat of a suggestion as the numerous channels with make shift bridges dictate how far into the plains one can venture. Andrew Beck Busanga Plains Photo Safari Wild Eye-22

Chatting to a good friend and fellow guide who worked in this region for a long time, the plains are excellent for Cheetah, Wild Dog and Serval, especially during Sept/Oct. He was once sitting with a single lioness who had killed a Roan antelope and two cheetah brothers walked in from the right and a pack of Wild dogs came in from the left.
Serval were also always a highlight for him and he even had them catching barbel out of streams a couple of times!
Not far from Mukambi Plains camp is the Papyrus islands where, if one sits quietly and patiently, you may be treated to a sighting of the shy Sitatunga. This is definitely on the list of things to do in 2015.

So, like I said, the Busanga Plains are different to anything you’ve ever experienced before. Throw in some beautiful light, rare and unusual sightings, an incredible diverse landscape and you have an truly unique and special photographic safari destination. Andrew Beck Busanga Plains Photo Safari Wild Eye-5 Andrew Beck Busanga Plains Photo Safari Wild Eye-15 My love affair with the Busanga Plains has deepened and I cant wait to share this raw and remote part of Africa with guests in October 2015, the peak of the dry season and arguably one of the best times to be out on the plains. If you have travelled extensively and are looking for something completely different, this safari is for you!

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Since writing this post, Andrew has hosted our 2015 Kafue & Busanga Plains Photo Safari!

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About the Author

Andrew Beck

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Very few people can tell you what their passion in life is. Even fewer will be able to tell you that what they do for a living is in fact their passion. My love for the bush and conservation took me on journey which would not only allow me to explore the continent which fascinates me so much, but to share my passion for photography and conservation with others. Be sure to check out my my website and instagram account.

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  1. Pingback: Trip Report: Kafue & The Busanga Plains Photo Safari

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