Prolific Luangwa Predators

by David, Madeline and Heather Child

Dozing Leopard

Dozing Leopard

A few hundred meters from the camp the guide and spotter were clearly not yet in the groove and drove straight past a dozing leopard. After relayed messages to our driver, we reversed and had good views as the leopard we passed moved deeper into the bush. We also saw a buffalo kill in progress, a lioness stalking a kudu, an attacking fish eagle and many others. Predators are prolific in Luangwa, Zambia.

Safari Company Performance

Shenton Safaris performance was excellent.

Derek Shenton, at Kaingo is a true bush lover and expert with many years of living in the Luangwa and in tune with the wildlife. His guides, especially Patrick and Mwila, are really knowledgeable.

In South Luangwa, the groups in our vehicles varied from 3 to 5 people and we travelled with either Toyota or Land Rover OSV's.

Food and Accommodation

We stayed at Kaingo Camp - a remote camp sleeping about 12 under tall trees on the banks of the Luangwa river.

The camp has many places to laze. A favourite is the deck floating on the Luangwa River.

From here I could watch birds and take pictures of kingfishers and swallows which would perch on a fallen tree a few meters away.

Many birds of prey were also seen from here - on one occasion four species of eagle in the space of a few minutes. Also downstream elephants would regularly wade across the rapidly falling river.

We ate everything put before us - varied and excellent both international and local dishes. Full breakfast, large lunch, huge dinner plus snacks in between. Definitely no danger of malnutrition here.

Wildlife Highlights

Luangwa is special - we saw two prides of lions, had many leopard sightings as well as good birds (e.g. 3 Pel's Fishing Owls).

Typical Day

On a typical day we got up at some ridiculous hour (that damn drum) and stagger outside and huddle by the fire in the dawn half light near freezing temperatures; warming our hands around an early morning coffee and cake/biscuits.

This morning we had a choice: a game drive or walk. I choose the drive; my wife and daughter chose the walk.

  • The Game Drive

  • Although nominally a game drive, the vehicle had three 'photographers' on board so it was billed as more of a 'photo drive' than a 'game drive'.

    100 meters from the camp we disturbed a Pel's Fishing Owl on a low branch and watched as it flew away into the trees. Another 100m and a Fish Eagle took exception to us and swooped down from its perch and dived at us - talons extended - at least that really woke us up and reminded us that despite the gloom and cold we must get our cameras set up.

    A mile or so later our original plan of heading quickly North and then returning slowly along the Luangwa River bank was abandoned when we heard the unmistakable sound (albeit in the distance) of a none too happy buffalo.

    We headed towards the commotion - the dying cries continued for about 20 minutes by which time we had located the animal along with the dozen lions who were just starting to have their breakfast.

    The gruesome scene was duly photographed at many different focal lengths and angles as the lions began to skin the animal's stomach and start feeding.

    It was pretty gruesome but it was difficult to surpass the impact of the lioness who had been hanging on doggedly to the head to suffocate her kill, ripping out and eating the tongue.

    Then onwards along the river with many stops (including another for coffee and more really excellent homemade chocolate cake) and photographs of rollers, fish eagles, bee-eaters etc. The Pukus in the morning light were particularly photogenic.

  • The Walk

  • We were introduced to Enoch our park ranger, reassuringly armed for our protection, and given a briefing on safety in the bush.

    We (4 of us) set off a little nervously in a line behind Enoch and Derek, but were soon feeling relaxed and able to enjoy the peaceful bush environment and the thrill of actually being on the ground rather than in a vehicle.

    The smallest details - tracks, insects, feathers, leaves - have an extraordinary fascination. Our route started off through part of the fantastic "cathedral like" ebony forest - cool and mystical.

    Back in the bush, for a while we were following recent leopard tracks - maybe which explained the absence of game, until we came upon signs of buffalo.

    Having been signalled to approach slowly in silence, we were guided to a large tree stump - carefully peering round we saw a huge herd of buffalo about 25m ahead by a river bank.

    The photographers in the group were able to get excellent views for the record, before the herd decided to move on. We headed off in a different direction, and after a stop for a cold drink and a rest, continued on to the bush camp. A warm welcome awaited and full cooked breakfast arrived in no time.

  • Hippo Hide

  • A couple of hours later we had the option of visiting the hippo hide or a walk in the ebony forest. We chose the hide.

    The main attraction at the hippo hide is pretty obvious. But a few hundred of them of all sizes and the closest only a few meters away is special. One had a tooth that was right through the skin, curling upwards (a picture of which our dentist now uses).

  • Late Afternoon

  • More tea/coffee/cake and then off again about 4.30 for the evening drive.

    Next we came across a nice family herd of 20 elephants that were walking towards us. Suddenly the walk became a canter as they shot by and then there was much commotion over the other side of a dried up watercourse.

    Another group of elephants and some pretty aggressive interactions. Then onwards to 'Lion Plain' where there was a 'roadblock' of a dozen lions asleep across the track.

    They had zero intention of moving - satiated with buffalo, of course. So a diversion before heading North alongside the river. Then with the sun low in the sky and super light a 'magic moment'.

    A lioness in the bushes on the left and a young kudu feeding on the right. The lioness crept slowly (oh very slowly) in front of us heading for the young kudu (prompting my wife to say 'if she gets the kudu I will cry').

    The look of single minded determination in the eyes was astounding and was recorded by the camera but, even if it had not been, it was something we will never forget.

    At one point the stare at the kudu was replaced by a furtive, almost domestic cat like, glance at the car. The end was the young kudu moving away of its own accord, so no tears were shed.

    Then the obligatory sun downer (probably after sunset thanks to the lioness) - and more cake!

    That done, off again and almost immediately a leopard hunting impala and moving along so close to the ground you would not have believed it could move like that, but luckily (for the impala) no more kills in front of us today.

    Heading towards the camp we had to stop occasionally for nightjars on the track, genets, a civet, a white tailed mongoose and another Pel's Fishing Owl (who annoyingly waited for the camera to be raised but not long enough for the flash to fire!).

    Then not far from the camp a honey badger was ferreting around a fallen tree - very nice views and a few flash pix as well.

    Finally another very pleasant homely meal. Looking up at the myriads of stars by the fire after that sort of day makes you appreciate the world and how lucky some people are to be able to see it as we did.

    Other Activities and Disappointments

    We relaxed and had no disappointments (apart from the failure of Derek to find aardvark or pangolin etc. on the night drives).

    Tips and Advice

    Just go and enjoy it - especially the ebony forest, and remember to bring your camera.

    David, Madeline and Heather's Safari Details:

    Rating: 10/10

    Safari company used: Shenton Safaris to South Luangwa (make an enquiry)

    Parks visited: South Luangwa National Park in Zambia (plus Livingstone - Mosi-oa-Tunya NP; South Africa - Mountain Zebra NP, Tsitsikamma NP, Wilderness NP and Camdeboo NP)

    Date of Safari: 5 days - 30 June (part of a 3-week long trip to Zambia and South Africa)

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