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Zambia 2015: South Luangwa

This is the last report from Africa for now. I had been looking forward to this last location of the trip to Malawi and Zambia. The last location is South Luangwa, Zambia. South Luangwa is one of the greatest wildlife sanctuaries in the world. After seeing the African Bush Elephant (Loxodonta africana), Cape Buffalo (Syncerus caffer), and Black Rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis) in Liwonde National Park I really wanted to complete the ‘Big Five’ in South Luangwa. So the African Lion (Panthera leo) and Leopard (Panthera pardus) were on my wish list to see this trip. The chance of seeing lions and leopards in South Luangwa is high, but in nature nothing is certain.

Besides the ‘Big Five’ I also wanted to see more reptiles, especially more snakes. With less than 550 specimen left in the wild the Thornicrofts Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis thornicrofti) was also on my wish list.

After a long drive and horrible border crossing (expensive and annoying) we arrived at the Marula Lodge. We arrived at dark and the naughty elephant family was at the lodge. It was time to flip the switch and be very alert again for big and dangerous wildlife again. We were only humble guests.
At night it was already time to look around at the Marula Lodge. Southern Foam Nest Frogs (Chiromantis xerampelina) were very present.

Southern Foam Nest Frog (Chiromantis xerampelina)

First game-drive
It was rise and shine in the early morning. There was a wakeup service and breakfast before the morning game-drive. After waiting at the entrance of the National Park, because we had to pay a $25 fee every day, we were ready to go. In South Luangwa I realized that travelling to Africa is really expensive. I hope they make good use of the money to protect this wildlife paradise in Zambia.
Sander and Dieuwertje were not with us during this first game-drive. Sander was the first to feel very sick. He went to bed very early and was not feeling better in the morning. Dieuwertje started to feel sick during the night and also did not join.
When crossing the river we saw a family of African Bush Elephants (Loxodonta africana) crossing the river.

African Elephants (Loxodonta africana) crossing the river

Very soon we saw a family of elephants taking a dust bath in the early morning. This was a special moment, with the dust blowing and the young elephant having some trouble getting up his feet

African Elephants (Loxodonta africana) African Elephants (Loxodonta africana) African Elephants (Loxodonta africana) African Elephants (Loxodonta africana) African Elephants (Loxodonta africana) African Elephants (Loxodonta africana) African Elephant (Loxodonta africana) Young African Elephant (Loxodonta africana)

After the elephants we heard that there was a call for a Leopard (Panthera pardus). It was very busy at the leopard and it was hard to get a good shot of the leopard. Seeing a leopard is special, but the moment was not as special as I had hoped. 
Leopard (Panthera pardus)

During this game-drive I started to feel sick. Being in South Luangwa, and feeling sick, would be a disaster. I did not want to miss anything. On the way back I did not enjoy the game-drive. Back at the Marula Lodge I went to bed, feeling very sick.

Nile Monitor (Varanus niloticus) Cape Buffalo (Syncerus caffer)

‘Sick going strong’
After sleeping the whole afternoon and seeing the toilet more often than my camera, I started to eat again in the late afternoon. I was determined to do all game-drives. I absolutely did not want to miss anything! Maybe my motivation kept me on my feet.

ZambiaSouthLuangwa20150804-15 ZambiaSouthLuangwa20150804-16

With less than 550 specimen left in the wild the Thornicrofts Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis thornicrofti) is a very special sighting. It looked like the giraffe used a giant toothpick.

Thornicrofts Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis thornicrofti) Thornicrofts Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis thornicrofti)

It looked like they were watching a tennis match together. At least there must be something interesting on their left side. A Common Warthog (Phacochoerus africanus) and Grey Crowned Cranes (Balearica regulorum) were standing next to each other and it looked like a symbiotic relationship with both keeping watch. It also could have been a coincidence. I am not sure, but it made a fantastic scene together.

Warthog (Phacochoerus africanus) and Grey Crowned Crane (Balearica regulorum) Warthog (Phacochoerus africanus) and Grey Crowned Crane (Balearica regulorum) Grey Crowned Crane (Balearica regulorum) [cropped from previous photo]

Elephants are everywhere in South Luangwa. They are always beautiful and impressive. This time I think we came too close. They felt intimidated. Our guide read the signals right and nothing happened. I made a nice photo of a baby elephant that seems to be hiding a bit.

African Elephants (Loxodonta africana) African Elephants (Loxodonta africana)

As I said before: “I absolutely did not want to miss anything!”. I did not feel very well, but better than in the morning and early afternoon. It paid off, I saw my first lion ever!
It was a lioness wearing a GPS collar. One female in each pride has one to keep track of their numbers.

African Lion (Panthera leo) African Lion (Panthera leo) African Lion (Panthera leo)

After photographing the lioness we drove away to see the other lions of the pride, but I saw this scene with a Hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius) standing in the river at dusk. I politely asked the driver to stop the car. He gave me a few seconds to make the photograph and then we had to move on. I did not have much time to think, but I am very happy with the result.

Hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius)

Walking around the camp

In the morning we decided to do a guided walk around the Marula Lodge. Our main goal was to find snakes. Unfortunately Bobby was next (I will spare you the details) and he did not join us. Jasper was the only one not being sick. I felt healthy again and Dieuwertje was recovering too.

We did find some skinks and frogs, but also this very hungry elephant.

African Elephant (Loxodonta africana) African Elephant (Loxodonta africana) African Elephant (Loxodonta africana)

When we had returned from the walk the technician had found a Green Water Snake (Philothamnus hoplogaster) that was not green. During this trip we did not find many snakes, so this one was very welcome.

Green Water Snake (Philothamnus hoplogaster) Green Water Snake (Philothamnus hoplogaster)

Self Safari, just outside the national park
In the afternoon we did not plan a game-drive. This time we went on a safari just outside the national park. This was a cheap alternative. We did not have to pay to get into the national park and we did not have to pay for a guide. The animals do not care about areas being a national park or not. There are also no fences, so all the animals could also be where we went. We had to be very careful.
Besides two elephant photos I also made a photo of a Puku (Kobus vardonii) in the beautiful golden light.

African Elephant (Loxodonta africana) African Elephant (Loxodonta africana) Puku (Kobus vardonii)

Happy morning

A happy morning it was in South Luangwa! Not only because I felt better after feeling sick, but also because this baby Thornicrofts Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis thornicrofti) was a very happy encounter. This little calf kept on running. Thinking of this moment makes me very happy!
Within a few hours of birth, a calf can run around. I think the age of this giraffe was between a few hours and a week. You can even see the umbilical cord.

Thornicrofts Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis thornicrofti) Thornicrofts Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis thornicrofti) Thornicrofts Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis thornicrofti) Thornicrofts Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis thornicrofti) Thornicrofts Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis thornicrofti)

During this drive we saw more animals like Impalas (Aepyceros melampus), a Spotted Hyena (Crocuta crocuta) and a group of Zebras (Equus quagga).

Impala (Aepyceros melampus) Spotted Hyena (Crocuta crocuta) Zebra (Equus quagga)

The Southern Ground-hornbill (Bucorvus leadbeateri) eat a lot of animals that I like, but I still wanted to see this iconic bird. The diet of the Southern Ground-hornbill consists of frogs and reptiles. I had seen one catching a snake.

Southern Ground-hornbill (Bucorvus leadbeateri)

Unforgettable!
This Impala running through the grass is a nice photo, but not the animal encounter that made this drive unforgettable.
Impala (Aepyceros melampus)
The Yellow-billed Oxpeckers (Buphagus africanus) were sitting on a Cape Buffalo (Syncerus caffer). The birds are known for eating ticks and blood-sucking flies. Another benefit for the buffalo is that the birds alarm when there is danger. The birds are also accused of keeping wounds open, perhaps to feed on the blood.
I really love the photos, but also this was not “the” unforgettable moment.

Cape Buffalo (Syncerus caffer) yellow-billed oxpecker (Buphagus africanus) on Cape Buffalo (Syncerus caffer) yellow-billed oxpecker (Buphagus africanus) on Cape Buffalo (Syncerus caffer)

The unforgettable moment was with this young male African Lion (Panthera leo). Our guide was driving like a rally driver to go to some lions. When we arrived we were not alone on the spot. A few young male lions were surrounded by tourists. We got quite close and I was in the front seat to photograph this beautiful animal that showed many expressions during this short photo session.

African Lion (Panthera leo) African Lion (Panthera leo) African Lion (Panthera leo) African Lion (Panthera leo) African Lion (Panthera leo) African Lion (Panthera leo) African Lion (Panthera leo) African Lion (Panthera leo) African Lion (Panthera leo) African Lion (Panthera leo)

After a while he stood up and walked towards me and came very close. The last photo you see it the last photo that I dared to take. I know they do not attack you when you stay in the car, but having a lion a few meters away staring at you and walking towards you can be a little frightening. It was an unforgettable moment where I felt very humble.

African Lion (Panthera leo) African Lion (Panthera leo) African Lion (Panthera leo) African Lion (Panthera leo)

One special morning
During our last game-drive in South Luangwa we were very lucky. We saw three Leopards (Panthera pardus) having a ‘beef’ with each other and with Spotted Hyenas (Crocuta crocuta). We did not know where it was all about. Maybe a place to sleep during the day or a prey up in the tree? We could not see. We missed the voice of David Attenborough explaining it all.
The good thing about this Leopard sighting is that we were the only one there after the car in front of us drove away very soon. Another thing is that Jasper thought he saw Leopards in that same bush the night before. He was most likely right about that.

Leopard (Panthera pardus) Leopard (Panthera pardus) Spotted Hyena (Crocuta crocuta)

During the remaining time we saw more beautiful animals like giraffes and zebras. I enjoyed the moment, because I realized that it was the last time in the ‘African bush’ for now.

Thornicrofts Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis thornicrofti) Zebras (Equus quagga)

Last surprise
At the Marula Lodge Sander had another surprise, an Eastern Bark Snake (Hemirhagerrhis nototaenia). For snakes this trip was a bit disappointing, but this snake was a beauty!

Eastern Bark Snake (Hemirhagerrhis nototaenia) Eastern Bark Snake (Hemirhagerrhis nototaenia) Eastern Bark Snake (Hemirhagerrhis nototaenia) Eastern Bark Snake (Hemirhagerrhis nototaenia)

South Luangwa was a great experience. As I said, we did not find many snakes. Reptiles and amphibians in general were hard to find. We did not find as much as we wanted. On the other hand I saw the ‘big five’ during this trip to Malawi and Zambia and many unforgettable moments. In my opinion the whole trip was a big success. I can not wait to return to Africa. Madagascar, Uganda, Namibia, Tanzania, Botswana, and South Africa are all on my wish list to visit.

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© 2017 Nature & Wildlife Photography by Ronald Zimmerman

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