Day 12: South Luangwa NP

Today was a relaxing one. B and I chose not to do an optional early morning game drive and had our campsite almost entirely to ourselves for several hours. It was great to lounge by the pool and be interupted by a few local entertainers:

1. Monkeys

They were always in the vicinity of food and they are always eyeing up an opportunity for a steal. Our cook has a slingshot with him and will try to warn them off with a few stones sent in their direction.

Amazingly, they recognize the difference between male and female humans. If I move towards them and shout they’ll flinch a little and typically move away. If B tries the same (and I’m not around) they’ll not be warned off at all!

It’s fun to see how they move and jump around, though, and while we were by the pool a gang of them bounced around, looking around the bar for anything they could eat or drink.

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2. Hippos

Beside our camp a family of hippos were hanging out and burping and farting their way through the day. In the day time they hang out in the water to keep cool – they can’t regulate their body temperature enough to be out in the direct sunshine – and in the evening (or when it’s cooler) they’ll head onto land to graze.

Another interesting thing is when they open their mouths wide (and maybe growl) it’s commonly misinterpreted as them getting angry. Apparently, this is actually them yawning to get enough oxygen inside them to keep digesting their food.

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3. Beautiful birds

It’s the wet season and this is the time of year when male birds show off colourful plumage to try and win over the ladies. We saw some awesomely beautiful birds around the site:

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So we had time to look forward to our main event of the day – a night-time game drive. Well, sunset and night-time more accurately. We set off at 4 pm with a couple of guides in a fairly small 4×4 (we had 6 of us on board) and entered the nearby national park.

It was a beautiful setting with lush, varied vegetation. Some areas were quite enclosed with trees and there were also some quite wide plains with enough space to see lots of animals hanging out together.

Some of the new things we saw were:

  • 2 new types of antelope: Bushbucks and pukus
  • various birds of prey (I’m not great with their names but definitely a couple of different eagles)
  • A mongoose
  • A group of baboons – really fun seeing their playful interactions as a family
  • a Hyena – up much closer than in Botswana and waiting for sunset presumably to get some food. The Hyena is a pretty powerful one with the strongest jaw around. Here they are fairly solitary and wait for leopards to make kills and then they rock up to eat the spoils too.

Then after a quick sundowner beer (where we saw a crocodile in a nearby lake) we set out during sunset to do some night viewing.

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One of the guys in the truck was in charge of a powerful spotlight that he tracked across about 220 degrees or so in front of us. For the first few minutes I wasn’t particularly impressed and thought we stood no chance of seeing anything. However, I was soon proved wrong to doubt.

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First up we saw something that looked like a little leopard – it was actually a nocturnal creature called a genet. Then there was this small, rabbit like creature (we don’t remember the name). We could initially catch a sight of them based on the light reflecting off their eyes, then get a closer look under the spotlight.

However, the piece de resistance, and something this park is famous for, was our sighting of a leopard! With the sun fully down we saw him prowling through the undergrowth, and very near to our truck. He wasn’t perturbed by being in our spotlight (but I’d be a bit annoyed if I was hunting for dinner and someone was showing me up) but it was really interesting to hear the whoops from the nearby baboons who were chirping about the leopard being around. The nearby impala we then saw nervously running away, having had an early warning from the baboons (who have better eyesight). It’s fascinating to start seeing how the different animals hang out and benefit from the special skills of one another.

So this was all very exciting, although our pictures were rubbish… hopefully we’ll see another later in the trip.

We quickly lost sight of him, though, and hopes of seeing him make a kill were dashed.

And having enjoyed good weather up until that point the lightning and thunder began – along with the trucks shining the spotlights it was very dramatic. And shorty thereafter the very heavy rain began. We weren’t sure quite what was going on but it became clear that we needed to get out of the park and back to the camp.

There were ponchos on board that we used to try to keep dry, but we were in an open car, except for a canopy at the top. As we raced along and the rain got harder we were soon drenched through and through, despite the ponchos.

We were back in time for dinner and were all pretty pumped about the experience and enjoyed chatting about all we’d seen. The guides had done an awesome job and we later found out the exams to become a guide in Zambia are the most difficult in Africa. They had encyclopedic knowledge, and were always sharing information about what we were seeing and the behaviours.

Even the rain wouldn’t get us down – we’d been able to pitch our tents under a canopy normally reserved for picnic benches, so we were concerned about getting wet in the night. And before we knew it, we were fast a-sleep.

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