South Luangwa is the kind of destination that hardly needs any introduction.
It’s the jewel of Zambia and provides a natural refuge for an incredible array of fauna & flora.
I would like to showcase this African Paradise to you in imagery & video captured on a recent safari I hosted with 4 incredible awesome & lucky Wild Eye clients.
We could have never prepared ourselves for all that we got too see, experience & photograph. There’s no doubt a little bit of expectation when embarking on a safari to a destination as highly regarded as South Luangwa, but this safari surpassed even what I thought it would be capable of producing!
I met my guests on the evening before the start of the safari at a hotel in Lusaka. The conversation at dinner was filled with child-like excitement about what we would encounter in the 8 days lying ahead of us.
We left for Mfuwe Airport early in the morning and arrived to our first camp in South Luangwa’s Nsefu Sector in the late morning. We were thrilled to be there and were greeted by Puku, baboons & warthog just outside the bar & lounge.
Elephants soon appeared & some of the herds, as they so often do, crossed the great Luangwa River right infront of camp itself.
After a hearty lunch & quick siesta we boarded our safari vehicle with local safari guide Chilumba Lungu. Chilumba & I have a great connection and have worked together many times before. His enthusiasm shines through and he works hard to ensure that all our needs are met, both in camp & out in the field.
Not 30 minutes into our first afternoon game drive Chilumba spotted a puku antelope behaving in a suspicious manner. Seconds later we found out why – a leopardess was not more than 40 meters from it, relaxing on the edge of the tree-line. What a way to start our safari!
When we reached her we noticed that she was limping, her front-right leg seemed in pain as she was hesitant to place any weight on it when walking at normal pace. She was however able to move swiftly between open areas, something that leopards often do.
Predators are resilient animals and very often overcome injuries that would cripple any one of us. We spent time with her following as good as we could.
Chilumba mentioned that she had a young cub, perhaps only 3 months of age. No sooner had he said that when she came to an abrupt halt and stared intently into the distance.
There it was!
Her cub came running out towards her and they greeted affectionately. She immediately lay down and allowed the cub to suckle – in light dripping with gold I might add! We were blown away, what an experience and what a way for my guests to start a safari in South Luangwa!
It’s rare enough to see a leopard out in the open, let alone a mother and her tiny cub in breathtaking golden light!
We could hardly believe what South Luangwa provided for us on our very first outing. As mother & cub lay out infront of us, there were no doubt moments where the whole vehicle went silent, just enjoying the moment & taking it all in. Any movement from either mom or cub though would release a load of camera shutters, absolute music to any photo guide!
The two then started moving and we continued to follow along.
We kept a healthy distance – mostly using our telephoto lenses and giving mother and cub the space they needed to freely move as the wanted. She would often walk right part the front or side of the car, as you’ll soon see in a video below.
“WHAAAA-HOOOO” – An ear-piercing bark rang out up ahead! A troop of baboons had spotted the two leopards out in the open, and were not happy at all with their presence!
Baboons – especially in large numbers – pose a serious threat to leopards. This is especially so for young cubs. The baboons immediately advanced towards the 2 cats in a very threatening manner, and all of us kept our breaths as tension filled the air.
I then noticed the mothers reaction. Never before have I seen a female leopard this calm and confident in the presence of menacing baboons. I had no doubt that her attitude made the baboons uneasy, as if they were not sure of how far they could push their advance without getting a serious reaction from this bold leopardess.
The barks were incredible loud and at one stage the leopard cub ran out ahead of its mother. Immediately a baboon spotted the opportunity to inflict damage upon the cub, and rushed past the mother leopard in an attempt to grab hold of the cub.
The mother would have none of that and charged at the baboon, sending him off in the opposite direction! It was all thrilling to play witness to, but the concerns were still there for the safety of the young cub!
It was nerve-wrecking stuff for my guests! The absolute last thing we wanted to see was this young cub or its mother injured or even worse – killed. We would however never interfere, it’s nature and we should always remember our place within it. We are here to observe, to capture and to share.
The leopard cub eventually took cover and it’s mother lay down in the open. The baboons soon lost interest and when all calmed down, we left them heading into some thick brush, a perfect ending!
That is how our first day in South Luangwa started, absolutely mind blowing! Chilumba and I wondered how on earth we would top this experience, but little did we know what else South Luangwa had in store for us!
Every day would start with an incredible sunrise, and end with spectacular sunsets. This park has a special x-factor to it, it’s almost tangible, you can feel it in the air. Each safari brings with it another surprise, something special that you’ve very likely never encountered before!
If it was not before, it certainly now cemented itself as my top safari destination in Africa this time round!
Instead of running through the safari day by day, I will break it up into highlights & special sightings. There were so many amazing moments on this 8 day safari!
Something that always stands out for me about South Luangwa is not only the wildlife you tend to encounter, but also the environments you find yourself within! We stay at two different camps on this particular safari, and both have very unique environmental features.
Both camps are located on the banks of the Luangwa River. It’s when you start to venture more in-land that you see the incredible scenery!
Nsefu is surrounded by alot of open terrain. We spend a large portion of our time amongst a dense thicket of Leadwood trees – Combretum imberbe. These trees are well known for the incredible strength & weight of the wood. I have never seen so many of them together and it certainly allows for magnificent scenery as you enjoy your time in the field.
The second camp, Tena Tena, looks a whole lot different.
It’s a little more wooded and contains several ox-bow lagoons such as the one pictured above. These lagoons once formed part of the Luangwa River but over several centuries have become cut-off from the main river system. They still hold water and is a haven for many animals during the dry-season. Water-birds also abound within these lagoons!
I personally love forested environments. It makes photography interesting and allows for fantastic scenes and environment photography. It also creates habitat for a wide range of mammals and birds, and adds great excitement to your guided safari experience.
Without doubt, lions are at the top of the list for many wildlife photographers. I too love spending time with these big cats, and South Luangwa’s lions are often out and about during daytime hours.
I also choose to host this safari during the months of July & August – the coolest time of the year. Thanks to the cooler morning & late afternoon temperatures, predators stay active and often present you with opportunities to photograph them in gorgeous light!
I have come to know the area over the last couple of years, and Chilumba and I were able to find the resident pride on many occasions. They really love spending time within a large drainage system that has it’s beginning & end in the Luangwa River. There’s almost always water to be found within, and the sand is cool and the perfect place to spend the afternoon lazing about – something lions seem to be experts at!
The scene above greeted us on our first afternoon with the lions. They were all active & waiting for our arrival.
Young cubs within the pride always created great photographic opportunities. The cubs on this particular day were hungry and keen to suckle, yet the mother carrying the most milk and the center of their attention wanted nothing of it. Have a look at the video below for some of this footage, as well as some other highlights from our lion encounters.
The cubs were annoyingly persistent and eventually were given access to the lionesses milk-supply. It was a special sight to see and something my guests thoroughly enjoyed photographing!
As mentioned previously, the cooler weather really meant that the cats stayed active throughout the day. Lions so often laze about during daytime hours and offer guests no opportunity at all to photograph them actively moving about in good light.
We also enjoyed having these lion sightings all to ourselves with no other vehicles in sight. It’s a special thing and hard to come by these days.
To enjoy the company of lions with no other humans around is a special thing indeed.
The timing of this safari also occurs just as the dry season starts to firm up its grip on the landscape.
Grazers & browsers find it increasingly difficult to find nourishing food supplies, and the distances between water & food becomes greater with each passing day. Naturally, this is something the predators capitalize upon – weaker animals mean easier prey.
Th effects of the dry season can’t be more obvious than within the hippo population.
The Luangwa River boasts the largest hippo population in Africa. They can be seen in just about any body of water, no only the main river.
On many occasions the conditions for hippos outside of the main river are less than ideal.
These waterholes are mostly made up of mud with a little surface water for animals to quench their thirst with. Large groups of hippo reside within these muddy refuges – they simply have no other choice.
If they were to wander over to the main river, they would be confronted by other groups of hippo, most of whom are fiercely territorial. It’s not just as easy as arriving at a stretch of the river and diving in. The territories within the river become smaller and smaller with each passing day, and as the rivers level drops during the continued dry-season, aggressive encounters between hippos – especially males – become a constant feature.
Hippos can’t be found outside of water for too long for fear of damaging their skin. Water is essential for their survival.
On one morning we enjoyed coffee at one such lagoon, and the sight of so many hippos all squashed into the muddy waters was indeed a sight to behold!
Whilst enjoying coffee at this particular muddy lagoon, we once again noticed a very suspicious Puku antelope. He started alarming and after a few minutes tried to cross the muddy lagoon to the other side. We instinctually knew that a leopard had to be hiding in there and kept looking for it.
Then, all of a sudden the Puku got firmly trapped within the mud it tried to pass through! Only a few seconds passed before a male leopard came dashing out from the other side – headed straight for the Puku! Adrenaline rushed through the Puku upon sighting the leopard, and he incredible powered his way out of the muddy death-trap! We could hardly believe our eyes!
The leopard stood in the open for a few seconds before swiftly retreating to the thickets!
We were left speechless at how quickly everything happened – all whilst enjoying a morning cup of coffee!
On one evening we got news of a leopard that stole a kill from a pack of 15 African Wild Dogs. The dogs had killed 3 times in close vicinity, and as they left an impala carcass to feed on a Puku, a male leopard took the opportunity and claimed a largely intact carcass.
He immediately hoisted the carcass and left a few confused dogs to wonder what had happened when they returned to the scene to find their kill missing.
We visited the area the following morning and in incredible light found the male leopard heading up into the tree.
We also spotted a second leopard – a beautiful female – at the base of the tree. She must have been drawn in by the smell of the carcass. Leopards will scavenge readily, ultimate opportunists.
The male leopard would have none of her presence and reacted aggressively towards her, sending her on a hasty retreat.
Even though they may very well know one another, they do not interact in a sociable manner. Leopards are highly solitary and avoid contact with other leopards as much as possible. They will join together mostly for mating, stealing kills or perhaps territorial disputes. Other than that, they move largely by themselves.
We could hardly believe our timing! Once again, to see 2 leopards in the same location and interacting with one another was very special! South Luangwa really provided for us in a big way!
Something I always aim to do, is to introduce my guests to birding!
South Luangwa has a massive array of birdlife and there are always a few special birds to see along the way! We had more than enough time on this safari, and the fact that we had seen so much meant that we could spend some time not only viewing birds, but also photograph them.
A particular species of bird that captivated everyone, was the strikingly Lillian’s Lovebirds.
How could they not? They were gorgeous! Their colours were vibrant against the largely dull winter landscape, making for inviting photography. They were however incredible tough ti photograph. They grouped together in flocks of 20 – 50 birds and instinctively would fly away from anything suspicious – most notably our safari vehicle.
On one afternoon we did get the opportunity to photograph a massive flock taking off from the ground. They feed mostly on grass seeds and can so be spotted hopping around on the ground.
The White-fronted Bee-eaters were also loved by my guests, and we were treated to some great sightings of them. They tend to hang around a little longer than the lovebirds and made for easier photography.
We enjoyed several sightings of Martial Eagles. They are extremely territorial so it may have been very possible that we had sightings of the same 2 birds – male & female. These birds are monogamous and typically occupy large territories!
Chilumba brilliantly spotted a Martial Eagle under a shrub, defending it’s guinea-fowl kill from an eager Tawny Eagle. The Tawny Eagle is well known to scavenge from other birds of prey, but the much larger and extremely aggressive Martial Eagle presents an ambitious target.
The Martial Eagle took off from the ground with its prey firmly grasped in its massive talons. It flew up to a nearby dead Leadwood with the Tawny Eagle not far behind.
A Martial Eagle is without doubt my favorite bird species! They demand such respect – just look at those piercing eyes, as if filled with fire!
Polemaetus bellicosus – The eagle of war!
Elephants were everywhere!
I have yet to meet a person that does not enjoy the company of elephants, most notably in its smallest form. Yes, I understand some people have a natural fear of these giants, perhaps driven by bad past experiences (mostly the guides fault), but I do love them and enjoy spending time with them. They are just incredible creatures and if treated with respect, will in turn treat you to amazing, intimate moments in their company.
Elephants were drawn daily to the Luangwa River as soon as temperatures started to warm up. A drink and a bath would be the order of the day. They would often cross over to the other side to feed and move within their home range.
Elephants are true wanderers and can’t be contained.
We enjoyed the company of a group of bulls with these exact intentions in mind. We noticed that they were headed directly towards a shallow section of the Luangwa River, and positioned ourselves as best we could to see them crossing over.
After checking with Chilumba, we got our guests to lie down right next to the vehicle on the soft river sand, perfectly positioned to view the giants as the march past our vehicle.
To experience Africa from ground level is a thing of beauty. If you only ever sit on the back of the game viewer, you never get to connect with nature on a deeper level. There’s something magical to getting down onto the ground, as if you are connected to a source of energy direct from the earth itself. It’s incredible and makes the safari experience just that much more special!
Elephants are known to shape the environments they live with in on a major scale. I always love seeing these animals with their natural environments, and we had many occasions where we could do so.
I absolutely love the scene above. It really feels as if the elephant bull and this fallen tree are molded into one being, intricately linked and connected. It shows the deep connections these giants have with the large tree species around them.
Another brilliant moment we had was when a baby elephant bolted to the comfort of his mother at high pace! I am sure that this video below will put a big smile on your face!
Have you ever heard a lion roaring? The sound can’t be likened to anything else, the experience of sitting next to one as its booming roars echo across the woodland is indescribable.
I thought I would then show you…
This lioness somehow managed to lose contact with her pride members the night before, and in the early evening hours called long and hard into the evening sky. We stayed with her as she called time and time again. We knew the others could not be far off and decided to stay with her.
The great thing about this safari and predator viewing, is that there’s no need to rush back to camp. We are free to spend quality time with these cats, even well into the dark evening!
Her booming calls went un-answered but we sensed, just by looking at her behaviour, that the other pride members were not far off.
Our patience was well rewarded went she eventually did meet up them. As always, the meeting is incredible to see!
They greeted and played for several minutes, 5 lions in total.
This was not the entire pride, but a group of young lions that included 3 young males. They occasionally split from the main pride in order to hunt on their own. Soon these young males will attract the unwanted attention of their two fathers. Once they grow too large they will be considered a possible threat and extremely aggressive reactions from not only the pride males but often also the females, will send them into a nomadic existence until they are strong enough to take over a territory of their own.
The following we followed up on the calls of Vervet Monkeys alarming next to one of the lagoons. Vervet Monkeys have incredible eye-sight and you can be sure that they have either a leopard or lion in their sight. We responded swiftly and found a large female leopard on the banks of the lagoon.
Her belly was full and it was clear that she had a kill somewhere in the vicinity. We tried as best we could but failed in finding the well-hidden carcass.
Under the cover of darkness we returned and found not only the same female, but also her sub-adult male cub feeding on the remains of an impala, not too far from where we had found her in the morning.
It was a vivid sight indeed! The carcass was hoisted and secured in such a way that the head was clearly visible whilst the leopards would feed. Pictured above was the male cub looking at his mother below. It’s a striking scene and a reminder of how real life & death can be in nature.
I captured a scene of the male cub feeding, and I am sure you’ll enjoy the experience as much as what we did!
A particular animal I was hoping for my guests to see, were the African Wild Dogs!
These carnivores are extremely rare and never easy to find. South Luangwa is considered to be one of the best viewing areas for these dogs, and contains one of the largest free-ranging wild dog populations.
Wild dogs tend to den & raise pups during the months of June to September, and unless you have a good idea of where this densite is located, it can prove to be a tough job to find them.
We were extremely fortunate to cross paths with the dogs on the last two evenings on safari, and boy were we treated to an incredible show!
Wild dogs tend to be largely crepuscular – meaning their peak activity periods are at dawn & dusk. They are also very active on moonlit evenings, often hunting successfully under the cover of darkness.
They tend to remain rather inactive during the hotter parts of the day, but with a little patience and time, you’ll be treated to a brilliant sighting as they interact, typically early evening!
They become to vocal and active that you would think they have not seen each other for weeks! It’s a beautiful sight to witness and photograph!
I managed to capture some of the interaction on video!
To see dogs in the wild is special enough, but to see them interacting with one another is very special indeed!
On the first evening we were with them as the hunted impala & puku in the last light of day. In fact, one impala ran past our vehicle, close enough to feel its thundering hooves dig into the earth as it leaped over a waiting wild dog, right next to our vehicle.
On the last evening spent with the dogs, they chased a few baboons up a fig tree, much to the entertainment of my guests.
To spend time with 15 wild dogs like this is just so special, and to have the sighting all to ourselves is absolutely priceless!
I can honestly say that South Luangwa presented my guests with one of my best guided safaris to date!
The sheer variety we were treated to, and also the quality of these sightings was something I have not yet experienced! The park boasts an incredible reputation but I do believe that it exceeded that on this safari.
We worked hard! We woke early every morning and on some days started the morning safari searching for predators way before sunrise, making use of the spotlight. This was successful as we found leopard every time.
I would go as far as to say that there’s no other destination that could rival this park for lion & leopard viewing. It does in fact boast the densest leopard population in Africa, and we saw no less than 11 different leopards on this 8 day safari.
The sheer beauty that you find yourself within should be enough to keep you happy, but the fact that the land is inhabited by such an abundance of wildlife makes the experience extraordinary!
Rivers, forests, grasslands, lagoons, waterholes and more create a setting that can’t be found elsewhere!
This is an African paradise, a Garden of Eden if ever there was one.
The sheer volume of encounters, images & experiences spoken about above should account for that!
That camps used on this safari also add tremendously to the experience as a whole! You can have the greatest time out in the field but if you come home to a place you are not satisfied with, it ruins the experience overall.
I can justly say that we are extremely well looked after and taken care of whilst in camp, and it truly becomes your “home away from home”.
On one morning we were even treated to a breakfast out in the bush, under the shade of a stunning Fig Tree.
It’s small little thing like this that takes the experience that extra mile! It’s these things that you’ll never forget!
That’s about as accurate as I can portray our safari experience to the African Paradise that is South Luangwa National Park. At the end of the day words, images & videos just don’t do it justice (but it does come close)!
These kind of places are far better experienced for yourself!
I want to thank the 4 incredible guests that joined me on this safari, for making it as special as it was! Soon I will be sharing some of their images & memories in another blog, so do keep an eye out for that!
Thanks so much for your time – I do hope you’ll consider joining me on safari to South Luangwa in 2017. The groups are small and safari space limited, so don’t waist time.
To find more details on this life-changing safari experience, visit the safari page by CLICKING HERE.
Thanks once again and until next time,