Elephants of all sizes were splashing in the mud, rolling in the goop, lying in it from side to side, splashing with their trunks. A less than one year-old calf was the only one who didn’t go in. She just ran about, ears flapping, trunk lolling, without a clue how to use it. — Allen Bechky
In June Allen Bechky led a couple on an extensive, privately guided safari to Zambia’s finest wildlife viewing destinations. Read Allen’s trip report below to see why he keeps returning to Zambia! All photos by Kili McGowan.
Another fantastic trip in Zambia. June is the start of winter down there, so the weather was Goldilocks-good. Not too hot, not too cold. Travel was easy as we flew from park to park. Guides, vehicles, accommodation and food were all exemplary.
After a night at Latitude 15 in Lusaka, we started at lovely Chiawa Camp on the Zambezi River. This year is drier than normal, so we were constantly dodging elephants in camp– something that is an every-day occurrence from September through October. My clients, Missy and Clint, are very serious photographers so we focused on game drives, with a few boat cruises on the river. We did not avail ourselves of the opportunity to walk or canoe, or to go fishing.
No worries, we had marvelous wildlife experiences daily, especially elephants. The best came when we were on a boat cruise and parked ourselves on the riverbank right next to a mud hole where a big family group of eles were enjoying a spa. Elephants of all sizes were splashing in the mud, rolling in the goop, lying in it from side to side, splashing with their trunks. A less than one year-old calf was the only one who didn’t go in. She just ran about, ears flapping, trunk lolling, without a clue how to use it. After the mud bath came scratching on trees as only elephants can do: straddle a fallen tree trunk and rub the belly, back up to a tree for the bum. Then the inevitable dust bath. Two young males tangled trunks in a perpetual sparring contest. All this was happening at once. Sure, I’ve seen it all before, but it is always fun to watch. A privilege, really.
On the Busanga Plain in Kafue National Park, we were at the higher altitude of Zambia’s central plateau. Nights were chilly here, but nothing that hot water bottles and cozy duvets couldn’t cure. I expected top notch lion watching here, but, alas, the resident Busanga pride– for years a large and reliable group– had fallen on hard times. The old males died or got pushed out by new guys, and a succession of litters were casualties in the war for territory. It’s a rich one at the marshy center of the seasonally flooded plain. There are always abundant lechwe and puku– both large enough antelopes to make a meal for a couple of lions. A buffalo kill is a feast for an entire pride, but the big herds of black bovines are highly mobile. Many mouths to feed necessitates changing pastures. This time the buffalo were away. Busanga is one of those places where lions regularly climb trees, but we missed it this year, and we could not find the resident cheetah. Not to fret, we had incredible up close (like under the boat) hippo experiences on the swampy little river at the center of the plain and got plenty of cats at our last park, South Luangwa, where we spent a week.
At Shumba Camp, we found two male lions who were resting. There were vultures on a nearby tree… but we didn’t investigate. When we went back to checkup on the lions in the afternoon, we found they had eaten a male puku. We conjectured that a leopard had killed it and had been there when we first arrived (hence the vultures were off the ground) but had left because of the lions. Of course, we could have been wrong, or the leopard may have left before we arrived. Unsolved mysteries… and who does’t like a good bush who-done-it?
Yup, we were short on kitty shots by the time we got to Luangwa Valley, but we made up for that every day. Between Tena Tena and Kaingo, I think we saw 8 different leopards, with multiple sightings of Malaika, a resident female, and her almost grown daughter. Malaika is a relentless hunter. We watched her stalking, then trying to grab low-flying Guinea fowl from the air. She also attacked an adult male bushbuck. We followed the local lion pride as they began an evening hunt. We could have stayed with them, but we opted to return to camp rather than continue into a night safari. We caught up with the lions again the next morning as they were devouring a buffalo bull.
One of the safari highlights was provided by an unfortunate hippo who had died in the Luangwa River. Its swollen carcass was continually gnawed on by a cauldron of crocodiles (my own collective noun). Hundreds of crocodiles fed on that hippo. They were much more polite to each other than the lions, which growl and fight for their place at the table. With crocs it was more simple. The big guys took turns using a spiraling roll to tear off chunks of meat. Then it was time for a sunbath on a convenient sandy beach, allowing the females and smaller crocs to come in. Someone counted 187 crocodiles there at one time. This croc banquet continued the entire length of our stay at Kaingo Camp. Grisly, gruesome…fascinating.
ITINERARY IN BRIEF
11 June Arrive in Johannesburg, AtholPlace Hotel (2 nts)
12 June At leisure in Johannesburg, AtholPlace
13 June Scheduled flight to Lusaka, meet Allen Bechky, Latitude 15 Hotel (1 nt)
14 June Scheduled flight to Lower Zambezi, transfer to Chiawa Camp (3 nts)
15-16 June Activities in Lower Zambezi, overnights at Chiawa Camp
17 June Charter/scheduled light air transfer to Kafue via Lusaka, transfer to Shumba Camp (3 nts)
18-19 June Activities in Busanga Plains, Kafue; overnights at Shumba Camp
20 June Light air & scheduled flights to Mfuwe (via Lusaka), transfer to Tena Tena Camp (3 nts)
21-22 June Activities in South Luangwa, overnights at Tena Tena Camp
23 June Game drive transfer to Kaingo Camp (4 nts)
24-26 June Activities in South Luangwa, overnights at Kaingo Camp
27 June Scheduled flight to Lusaka, transfer to Latitude 15 Hotel (1 nt)
28 June Departure from Lusaka
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