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Zambia. South Luangwa National Park. Wilderness Campsite. Sunday 17 May 2015. Week 6, Day 36

AND Monday 18 May 2015. Week 6, Day 37.

Who would have thought we would have been able to fit all the potential events of 2 days visiting SLNP into one report. Yep, well that’s the way it goes with game viewing. We have been spectacularly unsuccessful whilst all around us some people are having bonanzas. We are really not used to this and it has not been from lack of trying. We have been out early both mornings in the park for about 5 hours and really not seen too much special. I think we are just spoilt brats!

What have we enjoyed then? SLNP fully deserves its very high reputation, on 2 occasions already we have arrived on the scene of a leopard sighting only to be told they they had just vanished into a thicket. Here leopards come in twos! We have found very fresh lion spoor that had the game drive guides casting about frantically. We have seen the 3 sub-species (whether valid sub-species or not) that SLNP is noted for. These are: Crayshaw’s zebra (without the shadow stripes seen in Burchels), Thornicroft’s giraffe with its well demarcated pattern and Cookson’s wildebeest (I know not why it is a sub-species). We saw a really spectacular jousting session between 2 rutting male impala right before us, lasting all of 5min. I was pleased to spot a number of flocks of rosy-cheeked lovebirds and a grey-headed kingfisher. We also watched a trio of Southern Ground Hornbills digging deeply in some mud and coming up with aestivating frogs, which were repeatedly stolen adeptly from their bills by large number of hammerkops. It was good to make acquaintance with large numbers of puku again and of course the lovely views of the Luangwa River with reputably the highest density of hippos, was also a treat.

Elephant were scarce and thus far we have not seen a single bull. Others have reported large herds of buffalo and even wild dogs. However this park has high animal densities and really it should not be too long before we have a change of luck. Last night we were awakened by a noise I can only equate to someone chewing peanut brittle right in your ear. Yes this was a hippo grazing in camp right next to our vehicle. Only when this close can you really appreciate the size of these magnificent animals.

No fear as we still have our night drive tonight. Tomorrow we are looking to relocate further east for about 2 nights along the river to Zikomo Camp, which is close to the Nsefu Sector of the park. Thus far we have explored both east and west within the Mfuwe sector. The film star animals are there but we are just not managing to find them. Considering our extensive good fortune in the past we really cannot feel hard done by.
The return trip to Lusaka has been worrying me as being boring, stressful and unproductive. I have been toying with the idea of taking either the Nsefu, Luambe route or the so-called 05 route through the North Luangwa Park to reach the Great North Road. I had the opportunity to speak to the 3 management staff at the Wilderness Camp office and they were most helpful. The long and short was they did not think it was possible yet as they had heard of no-one making it through. Also Mark Harvey had not as yet opened Buffalo Camp and there had been no reports or any of the ponts operating as yet or the sandbag bridge being operational. Thus despite it being a relatively dry year the predictions that we would not cross via North Luangwa seem like coming true. The management later ‘phoned ZAWA and were told that nobody was driving into the park yet and it was still closed. Certainly were we there later in the year, from mid-June into the rest of the dry season, I would not hesitate taking this adventurous short cut. I am not relishing the long trip back to Lusaka.

Our night drive arranged through the Wildlife Camp was again a bit of a blank. It is always lovely seeing the nocturnal creatures such as genets, civets, hyenas and porcupines. However we missed the prize sought in South Luangwa, a leopard. Our guide J.B informed me afterwards that leopard are seen about 4 – 5 nights out of 7. The previous night they had seen 3 and wild dogs. Lions are more difficult to find because of the bushed up nature of SLNP.

The main photo is of a puku, possibly more common in Luangwa than anywhere else.

Next is the thumbnail of a Crayshaw's zebra, note the absence of shadow stripes and the fact that the stripes go all the way under the belly.

Thumbnails no 2 and 3. Do you know the difference between the male and female saddle-bill storks?

4.These hippos in the Nile cabbage in front of Mfuwe Lodge have been photographed countless times, doesn't it look silly with its green hat?

5.The Wildlife campsite on the banks of the Luangwa River.