Nature & Wildlife Photography by Ronald Zimmerman

All images © 2008-2020

Malawi 2015 Part III: ‘The Warm Heart Of Liwonde National Park’

After a very beautiful montane adventure at Mount Mulanje and a rather disappointing short adventure at the Zomba Plateau it is time to show you my first ’typical African wildlife experience’. A ’typical African wildlife experience’ is how I have always imagined African nature. I imagined Africa as one big wilderness with elephants, lions, zebras, giraffes, hippos, crocodiles, buffalos etc.. This third part is about my adventures in Liwonde National Park.

A small Hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius) in 'The Shire'

The moment we arrived I had the feeling that I was in the middle of a nature documentary. We stayed at Mvuu Camp and we had to cross the river first. Nile Crocodiles (Crocodylus niloticus) and Hippopotamuses (Hippopotamus amphibius) welcomed us during the crossing.
When we arrived at Mvuu Camp the first thing I noticed was the very relaxed atmosphere. It was in the afternoon, so most guests were relaxing and waiting for a ‘late afternoon activity’ like a game drive or a boat safari. Activities like this were around sunset and sunrise. During those moments the animal activity is high and the light for photography perfect.
It was also our first experience with the ‘dangerous animals’ of the African bush. The ‘safety briefing’ was one of the first things we got. That is a good thing with many crocodiles, hippos, and elephants around the camp. Soon I realized that I was not in human territory, but a humble guest in the African bush.

Is it possible to look for reptiles and amphibians during a safari trip with all the restrictions? I think that is the question all people who are passionate about reptiles and amphibians would ask themselves. I think I can answer that question in this report. I am passionate about reptiles and amphibians myself, but also about the big African mammals. I can already spoil that I had a great time in Liwonde National Park.

Why we could not swim in the river..

I already told you about the dangerous animals of the African bush. One of the reasons we were not allowed to swim in The Shire (the river of Liwonde National Park) was that many Hippopotamuses (Hippopotamus amphibius) were present. During the day they were in the river, but when it became dark they also came on land to have dinner.
During the boat safaris we saw many of them!

Hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius) Hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius) Hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius) Hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius) Hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius) Hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius) Hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius) Hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius) Hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius)

Another good reason not to swim in the river

The second  good reason we could not swim in the river was a very good camouflaged animal, the Nile Crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus). As you can see on the photo, basking on the shore was also not a good idea to get a tan. The beauty of this prehistoric looking reptile made up a lot!

Nile Crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus) Nile Crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus) Nile Crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus) Nile Crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus) Nile Crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus) Nile Crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus)

Liwonde from the water

We arrived one day sooner than planned, because we had decided to leave the Zomba Plateau earlier. We did not have plans for the late afternoon on the first day. I was so excited, I wanted to go on a boat safari. And we did.

Malachite Kingfisher (Alcedo cristata) guarding a Nile Crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus) MalawiLiwondeNationalParkMvuu20150725-2Kingfisher

After seeing beautiful herons, kingfishers, and crocodiles we looked for Pel’s Fishing Owl (Scotopelia peli). We saw two of them in a tree.

Pel's Fishing Owl (Scotopelia peli) Pel's Fishing Owl (Scotopelia peli)

The first time I really got goose bumps was during our first close encounter with an African Bush Elephant (Loxodonta africana). From our boat we could approach the elephant and I was able to photograph the beautiful elephant while standing in the boat.

My first African Bush Elephant (Loxodonta africana) African Bush Elephant (Loxodonta africana) African Bush Elephant (Loxodonta africana) African Bush Elephant (Loxodonta africana)

During our stay I did two boat safaris. It was a great way to explore the river. For the birders a boat safari is mandatory.

MalawiLiwondeNationalParkMvuu20150725-18 Saddle-billed Stork (Ephippiorhynchus senegalensis) African Bush Elephant (Loxodonta africana) Waterbuck (Kobus ellipsiprymnus) African skimmers (Rynchops flavirostris) MalawiLiwondeNationalParkMvuu20150726-37

Birding and herping during a game drive.. 

The first game drive was a mixed ‘bird and reptiles’ safari. The people of Mvuu Camp really want to make every activity something special. They ask what you want to see, and you can always tell them your requests. The ‘bird and reptiles safari’ was a game drive and walking safari. We drove to a location and we had the opportunity to walk sometimes to look for animals.
Birds and reptiles are not really a good combination. We did see many birds and mammals, but no reptiles. We did look for reptiles, but it was very hard. July is the dry season for a reason. Reptiles often hide under trunks. We created dust clouds while flipping the trunks. Far from optimal!

Yellow Baboon (Papio cynocephalus) Waterbuck (Kobus ellipsiprymnus) Warthog (Phacochoerus africanus) Yellow Baboon (Papio cynocephalus) Yellow Baboon (Papio cynocephalus) Lilian's Lovebird (Agapornis lilianae)

More mammals

To see more mammals we asked for a more specific game drive for mammals. In the early morning we went to the sanctuary. The colors of the forest were stunning in the early morning. I really liked the contrast of the green and brown leafs, almost black trunks, and dry yellow grass. This game drive was also very successful.

African Bush Elephant (Loxodonta africana)

After the elephant we saw the second member of the ‘Big Five’, the Cape Buffalo (Syncerus caffer). A large grumpy bull was staring at us.

Cape Buffalo (Syncerus caffer) Cape Buffalo (Syncerus caffer) Impala (Aepyceros melampus) Sable Antelope (Hippotragus niger)

Not a member of the Big Five, but also an animal I really wanted to see, was the Zebra (Equus quagga). I really like the photo, because this photo illustrates the beautiful colors and contrasts of the forest.

Zebra (Equus quagga)  Waterbuck (Kobus ellipsiprymnus)

Sundowners, a great African tradition

While some of our group wanted to do a boat safari, and Dieuwertje joined the bat researchers of Bat Conservation Africa, I really wanted to do another gamedrive in the late afternoon. I really wanted to make better elephant photos than I already had. During the drive I joined a couple. They were also very passionate about photography and he looked a lot like Neil Diamond (with blue jeans). After seeing mammals like Impalas (Aepyceros melampus) and a Warthog (Phacochoerus africanus) doing a number two, we saw a group of elephants near the river. Our guide did a great job with the four wheel drive getting us in position to photograph the elephants during sunset. It was very bumpy but he did a great job! Another demonstration of how passionate the crew of Mvuu Camp is.

Impala (Aepyceros melampus) Warthog (Phacochoerus africanus) doing a number two Impalas (Aepyceros melampus) Boab African Bush Elephant (Loxodonta africana) African Bush Elephant (Loxodonta africana) African Bush Elephant (Loxodonta africana) African Bush Elephant (Loxodonta africana)

After photographing the elephants it was time for a great African tradition called a ‘sundowner’. It is having a drink while looking at a beautiful African sunset.


Rhino tracking

The Black Rhinoceros or Hook-lipped Rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis) was a species I really wanted to see in the wild. In Liwonde National Park guests at the Camp or Lodge can join guides to track black rhino in the wild and learn about this critically endangered species.
We had to wake up early in the morning to have a briefing. We did fit the dresscode for rhino tracking so we moved on to the safety instructions very soon. After the briefing two armed Rhino Protection Team (RPT) scouts and Frank took us to the sanctuary to track a rhino. After driving for more than an hour we had to proceed on foot. We had to walk in line with one scout walking in front, Dieuwertje walking second, then Frank, followed by me and then Sander. The second scout closed the line. After a short hike in the African bush we got very close to a rhino. Frank already warned me that Black Rhinoceros love thick bushes. They feel comfortable in it. A natural frame would be inevitable. He was right, the rhino was in the thickest bushes of Liwonde National Park. At first I was very disappointed, because the results were not as good as I hoped. Now I cherish the photo, because it is a photo of a very relaxed rhino in its most comfortable habitat. This is how they are.
If you want to see rhinos, it will cost $80 per person. For me that is a lot of money. But the idea that 90% of proceeds will go to The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) to maintain the program is something that feels very good. Because of the already long lasting ‘ivory crisis’ the Black Rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis) became a critically endangered species. I hope both the demand for ivory and the poaching will stop very soon. Iconic animals like elephants and rhinos should be preserved so other generations can have the same unforgettable experience as I had in Liwonde National Park.

Black Rhinoceros or Hook-lipped Rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis)

Searching in Mvuu Camp

I hope the people who are very passionate about reptiles and amphibians are still reading. After the Nile Crocodiles (Crocodylus niloticus) this report was only about mammals and birds. I want to return to the question I asked earlier in this report. Is it possible to look for reptiles and amphibians during a safari trip with all the restrictions? I will try to answer this question now.
During nighttime we were able to walk around at Mvuu Camp. The crew was watching over us, but we were able to walk around the camp. We did find some interesting geckos.

Turner's Tubercled Gecko (Chondrodactylus turneri)

During daytime we saw many more beautiful animals around the campsite. The Böhm’s Bee-eater (Merops boehmi) were flying around the camp. They were easy to approach. I am not a bird photographer, but I enjoy exploiting opportunities like this.

MalawiLiwondeNationalParkMvuu20150726-20 Böhm's Bee-eater (Merops boehmi)

If you walk around the camp you should be alert for alarming birds and squirrels. They start alarming like crazy when there is a snake around. Signals like this are not always successful, but a good reason to have a better look in that area.
Tree Squirrel (Paraxerus cepapi)

Again during a nighttime inspection on the camp we found something interesting. It was a Southern Foam Nest Frog (Chiromantis xerampelina). You can find them in and around buildings.
MalawiLiwondeNationalParkMvuu20150726-40 Southern Foam Nest Frog (Chiromantis xerampelina)

Last year I wrote about the ‘Monkey Maffia’ of Bako National Park on Borneo. In Liwonde there are also monkeys going for human food. Vervet Monkeys (Chlorocebus pygerythrus) are trying their best. Sometimes they succeeded, but the crew of Mvuu Camp did a good job keeping them away from the dinner tables.
A frequently seen reptile was the Wahlberg’s Striped Skink (Trachylepis wahlbergii). A very photogenic skink.

Wahlberg's Striped Skink (Trachylepis wahlbergii) ervet Monkeys (Chlorocebus pygerythrus) Vervet Monkey (Chlorocebus pygerythrus)

Besides a great snake alarm Tree Squirrels (Paraxerus cepapi) are very cute to see. They walk, climb and run around the camp.

Tree Squirrel (Paraxerus cepapi) Böhm's Bee-eater (Merops boehmi) Tree Squirrel (Paraxerus cepapi)

When Sander was looking for birds, the snake alarm went off. He found a Green Water Snake (Philothamnus hoplogaster). He called us. The snake tried to escape into a tree. We surrounded the tree. It took a team effort to capture the snake to photograph.
Green Water Snake (Philothamnus hoplogaster)

Sander found a snake while we were relaxing in and around the pool. We spent a lot of time around the pool during the afternoon between the morning activity and evening activity. While sitting next to the pool Dieuwertje probably had hawk eyes. She saw Angola Dwarf Geckos (Lygodactylus angolensis) from at least 20 meter distance. Dwarf geckos are around 5 centimeter long, so that is pretty impressive.

Angola Dwarf Geckos (Lygodactylus angolensis)

Holding a Nile Monitor (Varanus niloticus) was one of Bobby’s goals. He succeeded, and I also snapped a photograph.

Nile Monitor (Varanus niloticus)

On the last evening, our guide and new friend, Sebastian showed us a juvenile Southern Foam Nest Frog (Chiromantis xerampelina) very proudly. The frog was definitely a cutie!

Southern Foam Nest Frog (Chiromantis xerampelina)


For the last night we got an upgrade to a chalet. The bed was great, especially after many nights in a tent or a not so great bed. I am still very thankful for this very kind gesture.
The original plan was to enjoy our sleep a little longer this time. I had a great night of sleep, but they woke us up early. A Southern African Rock Python (Python natalensis) was spotted next to a waterhole. They brought us to the waterhole all the way in the sanctuary.
When we arrived at the waterhole two bull elephants were having breakfast at the waterhole. Bobby walked to the snake, guided by an armed scout. The snake did not move, and soon it became clear that the snake was dead. We do not know how it died. What could have been an epic moment, turned into a moment with mixed feelings. The mixed feelings were because the two bull elephants were very calm and allowed us to be there. They gave away a ‘breakfast’ show.

African Bush Elephant (Loxodonta africana) African Bush Elephant (Loxodonta africana) African Bush Elephant (Loxodonta africana) African Bush Elephant (Loxodonta africana) African Bush Elephant (Loxodonta africana) African Bush Elephant (Loxodonta africana) MalawiLiwondeNationalParkMvuu20150729-84Boab

‘The Warm Heart Of Liwonde National Park’

Malawi is called ‘The Warm Heart of Africa’ for a reason. Everywhere people are smiling and waving. We felt very welcome in Malawi. At Mvuu Camp they took ‘warm’ to the next level. The crew was very passionate about the National Park and the animals in the park. Besides being great people, they did everything to make our stay an unforgettable experience. They wanted us to see all the animals we wanted to see. The quick drive to the waterhole to see a python just before we left was a great example of that.
I can really recommend Mvuu Camp (and Lodge). I hope I can inspire at least a few people to visit this place. From now on I will call Mvuu Camp The Warm Heart Of Liwonde National Park’.

I did not photograph many reptiles and amphibians, but I am also very passionate about the big African mammals. I call this a very successful chapter of the trip. My first ever wild elephant, the elephants at sunset, the rhino tracking, and the two bull elephants at the waterhole were unforgettable moments.

Behind The Camera

In my report about ‘The Majestic Mount Mulanje’ I showed a photo of myself during my adventure. I want to show you more about how I created the photos and show something about the atmosphere while being on a trip. In this ‘Behind The Camera’ I will show you ’the team’ (my friends and I) during a game drive in Liwonde National Park.
My friends and I

The next photo was during the last elephant encounter where we found the dead python. I think this is our best group photo ever.
Group photo with our new friends..

If you do not want to miss my next report about Malawi you can follow me on social media. My next report will be about Cape Maclear in Malawi. The links to my Facebook Page and other social media are at the bottom of this page.

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