Zambia’s South Luangwa – The Valley of the Leopard
South Luangwa National Park in Zambia is a destination that needs to be experienced by wildlife lovers, and I was not let-down by my recent week-long stay there in the beginning of this July.
My safari took me to both ends of the Park, South to North, which enabled me to experience a good collection of camps and their workings as well as the wildlife experiences that could be had. Whilst I stayed at different camps for only 1 night, I was still able to come home with a beautiful wildlife portfolio and many exciting memories that were either captured as an image, on video, or avidly watched.
In order to show not only the images that could potentially be captured at this destination but as well as the experience, my focus of this private safari was definitely geared towards shooting video and capturing the sounds and sights around me. This was a wonderful exercise for me, and one that I feel has actually benefitted my photography as well as hone my vision more. Learning more about video, what kind of experiences I wanted to capture and stories that could be told, it made me look more fuller and deeply at my subjects when I shot off stills.
The wildlife in South Luangwa is predominantly habituated. The Lions casually glance at you for a few seconds but that is as far as their interest goes even at times where we drove quite close to them. This applied to most Leopards as well although there were some that were more shy than others. This is nature! And it was refreshing to see the true elusive nature of these rosetted beauties come out. This Park is wild Africa in that the landscape is wild and the wildlife is wild whilst still being habituated enough to enjoy their company and fire off some shots. South Luangwa is not made up of cultivated wildlife sightings and with each sighting that you do come upon, it is thrilling as you truly understand how special it is to have seen it.
There really is so much happening in this park; from large herds of Puka, Impala and other plains game eating the last remaining green grass on the Luangwa River’s flood plains, to herds of Elephant with young tripping over holes in the dry mud made from Hippo and Elephants from when the rains last fell. South Luangwa is also home to the Thornicroft Giraffe, a species that is endemic to this region alone! The night life is as exciting as the day-drives, and I can confirm that I saw Leopard on every night drive. Though not always the best photographic sighting, it was very special nonetheless to see them active and looking for prey. Genets seem to be around every corner, and I was lucky enough to see a Civet and Honey Badger.
Huge pods of Hippo are constantly grunting in the River and are accompanied by some impressively large Crocodile! Whilst the Luangwa River is much shallower in July than it is earlier in the year after the rains, it is still amazing to see how much life is found in its depths. A treat is seeing Elephant herds cross this large expanse of water. They were spectacular scenes to see!
Whilst I only had a brief sighting of sleeping African Wild Dog, guests from different lodges saw these beautiful creatures and one sighting even included a successful hunt. I was quite jealous, I must say, but I was glad to know that these dogs are around.
The birdlife is exquisite and the Nsefu sector has one of the biggest Yellow-billed stork colonies that I have ever seen! With an abundance of small and big birds, my highlight was seeing a few Martial Eagles and photographing a juvenile in flight. Of course, an African safari is never complete without seeing the African Fish Eagle and hearing its delightful cry.
July falls under the Winter season in Africa and the landscape is pretty much brown with beautiful green trees breaking up the monotonous colour. There are so many different environments here that one bend in the road will take you through a dense and beautiful woodland section and 5 minutes later you are driving on an open plain. It keeps game drives very interesting especially during the more quieter drives.
The grass is still quite long especially along the floodplain, as you can see with my Lion image below which was lying down, but it is beautiful to see these beasts and other wildlife completely blend in to their environment until they announce their presence.
North versus South
Having spent time in both areas of the Park, the northern region is definitely more quiet in terms of vehicles density. The main gate is in the South and therefore it sees a lot more people coming in especially as self-drivers are allowed in the park for the day. The beauty of the north then is that a more intimate and relaxed time with the wildlife can be experience. There was hardly a moment I remember where I shared a sighting with another vehicle, unless it was one other vehicle from our camp. In July there are definitely less vehicles around in the park in general with the end of August to early October being the main months where tourists arrive. The temperature was wonderful with hot days were not unbearable.
Whilst the south is busier than the north, this does in turn mean lead to the north being more wild in terms of wildlife behaviour (though not drastic by any means) and the accommodations are more spartan than what is found in the south. The accommodations I stayed at in the northern sector where definitely 4 star, with the maximum of 5 to 6 rooms available at each camp. Beautiful and intimate. My favourite combination when going out on a safari. The southern sector has camps which are 5 star, but this area is busier from a vehicle traffic perspective.
I look forward to our photographic adventures together!