Zambia – South Luangwa September 2022
Arrival in South Luangwa National Park, we come from Lusaka to land in MFUWE Airport, it’s the beginning of the afternoon, after 45 minutes on a paved road, we enter into the National Park, Kapamba lodge is at 2 hours-drive.
On the way, we cross a group of Kudus called Bachelors.
The Bachelors are the young males already too old to stay in a family group. They have left it to gather into a group of sub-adults.
Looking at a Baobab, it seems a big mouth has bitten its basis; during the dry season, elephants like to eat the tree trunk which contains much water.
KAPAMBA LODGE (Bushcamp company)
We are not far from the lodge, when we discover a pack of 5 Wild Dogs adults, four males with one female and 4 puppies.
We are just near the den with the pups moving around while the mother has gone to hunt. They are about 2 and a half months. One of them looks very small and thin compared to the others as they were all born the same day. This small weak pup became our favorite and we decide to call him “Little Kenneth”.
We were deeply sleeping when at 2 am we were awake by 2 clans of Hyenas fighting near the river, they were howling and laughing near our room. A pity we had no light…It was really a scary noise!
Then the silence filled the room as well as a smell of jasmine flowers coming from outside. We were told it was wild jasmine plants growing around.
We left the camp to go back to the Painted Dogs (Wild Dogs) and pups.
Everyone is playing while the adults have gone for hunting without the pups. When they kill a prey, they eat very quickly to avoid the Hyenas. Back they regurgitate the meat to feed on the puppies which run making a lot of “yip yip”yip”. That was nice to see them moving around the female “Alpha” and still more to observe she took a special care to feed the “small Kenneth”. It’s only when the puppies will be about 4 – 5 months old that they will go hunting together.
Later on, an Impala male surprises us, he has in the mouth a beautiful red flower. It is the flower of a Sausage Tree (“Sausage” because the shape of their fruit), the birds like to suck their nectar when the fruit begin to take shape and they make them fall on the ground. The Antelopes like it even if they can be a bit dizzy because of the fermentation. They are a treat for other animals too like Baboons.
Not far, an Elephant Herd is bathing and drinking in the river; on the strand a Giraffe is looking around with his cleaners, some Red-billed Oxpeckers which take out the insects from his neck.
Around sunset time, we came near 2 lionesses with five cubs, they were between 2 and a half month and 3 months old. It was a moving moment as one of the cubs wanted to suck the lioness which rejected him. He tried everything like a moment of seduction but he remained unsuccessful! May be the mom had no more milk as the cubs were reaching an age to begin to eat meat…
At few meters, a handsome male was lying and sleeping not concerned at all by the family.
Altogether that tribe is composed of 8 lionesses, 5 cubs and 3 males.
It’s early morning & we go back to say “hello” to our pups, they are all awake and Little Kenneth is quite lively in spite of his sad appearance!
He is running and following the other pups feeling equal to them and we admire his courage. We notice that the other ones don’t ignore his presence and take much care of him which makes us happy.
It’s difficult to believe that small Kenneth with his brother on the pic have the same age
The baby Wild dogs are born with close eyes and without hair. They go out of the den at about one and a half month and they begin to learn hunting at 4 months.
As we leave, a flock of thousands of Red-billed Queleas begins to fly in front of the car, it’s incredible how they can fly tightly packed against each others to form a big ball. At the same time a Western Banded Snake Eagle is sitting on a branch and with binoculars we can see imbricated scales on his legs to protect himself from the bites of the snakes they used to catch.
Looking at the landscape, I discover on the ground some small solar panels. I am very pleased to hear they allow pumps to work in few places during the very dry season. Because of them, the grass goes on growing allowing animals to feed and drink; That’s really great!
We cross an Elephant, he is eating the branches of a Fig tree, they are very tender and contain water, with them, Elephants have food and drink!
It’s time to have our picnic near the Luangwa River, while they set the table, I walk around and found a beautiful Brown-hooded Kingfisher resting on a branch.
The Luangwa River has it’s spring at the top of a hill at 1500m at the east of Zambia near the Tanzania & the Malawi borders where it is raining a lot, the water goes to the Luangwa River which is never completely dried. “Luangwa” means “fishing basket” in the villages.
We are at the end of the meal when suddenly some movements alert us, A group of Impalas are jumping one after the other, they are close to us and it is an amazing & unexpected view! We did not find the predator…
The end of the day was nice but quiet, going back to the lodge, we stop for a baby Scrub Hair, he is so cute facing us, sitting in the middle of the track, resisting to the light of the car and refusing to move. This is a nice picture that I shall keep in head…He reminds me “Tiananmen Square Trouble” with a happy end!
The Carmine Bee-eaters are coming, all the holes dug in the wall of the cliff are their nests in nearly each one the female broods the eggs. The male comes and goes from the nest to find and bring herbs or food.
They like also to spend some time in the trees around. It looks like the trees are full of beautiful red fruit. From times to times they all fly together away from the trees, a danger is not far, it could be just the view of a bird of prey…We stay more than one hour at this magic place, but we must leave, having still much to discover!
It’s the case with a female Puku not far which has dropped a baby probably few hours ago! She is still leaking the calf to take out the smell to avoid predators to sniff him. For the night she will hide him inside the bush while she goes to eat with other adult Pukus. The Baby Pukus have 50% chance to remain alive.
The females are free to copulate with as many males as they want, males are territorial but not the females.
We go on through an Ebony Forest, these trees remains always green and bring some fresh air at this season.
We end the day by a 2nd visit to the Carmine Bee-eaters, it is sunset and the light is great.
This morning, like a pilgrimage, we go back to see our sweet pups, but an awful reality makes our smile disappear: the den is empty! We begin the day trying to find them but no signs of the pack! This past night we heard again powerful “laugh” of hyenas and fights between clans and this morning many alarms calls make us worried.
The puppies were here since about 3 months. When they felt a danger, the parents leave the pups inside the den and go to explore and find another den. After that, they observe during few days if there are predators around before deciding that the new den is safe. Then they bring the small ones. They mostly use a den left by an aardvark.
We are now driving along the river, a Greenshank is wading in the water not far from a Ground Hornbill in the grass. His name comes from the small boss on his beak and which is like a small thick horn. He lives up to 45 years and is mature at 6 years old. Monogamous, when they mate, it’s for the life.
We go back to the lodge with another stop at the puppies place, the den is desperately empty, we have 5 days left to find “our boys”, the area suddenly appears to us fade and we feel miserable.
This afternoon, we move to another lodge with our guide and spotter, but it is in the same zone.
We pass near a tree where a leopard is resting on a branch near the remaining of an Impala. When an Impala is too heavy, the leopard drags him into the bush. Then he opens the belly and takes out the guts and stomach to reduce the weight before climbing in the tree with his prey.
It is sunset time and the colors change, suddenly on the left side of the track we see a big group of Wild Dogs (34), they are lying peacefully when they begin to move slowly before being really active. Now they all stand running on the road, we are just behind to follow the pack. Suddenly they all rush ahead, they have seen a small Puku. They all pounces on the prey with shrill screams, the excitement is incredible. The adults begin to eat and then leave the food to the pups coming in a frantic rhythm! It is an unforgettable vision.
We arrive to the lodge for the evening meal, our table was set on a terrace with a panoramic view on the river, the atmosphere is unreal.
We go back to the room at 8.30pm when we listen to some guttural strong moans, we don’t pay too much attention but however it is perturbating. Shortly, someone is knocking at our door and says “quick! Come, 3 lionesses are killing a Buffalo inside the limits of the lodge”. We have to rush there but I have lost my shoes and Denis begins to be nervous! So finally, I go out barefoot in old half broken thongs…The Buffalo is in the middle of the pond of the lodge and three Lioness are trying to kill him in the night. One tries to close his muzzle while another one wants to strangle him and the third one is maintaining his legs.
Back to our bed, we found some difficulties to sleep after such a day.
This morning we cross some Kudus, the male has put some mud on his horns to impress the others as they look longer.
The 34 Wild Dogs were also in the area, they were active and training until they leave the place altogether to go hunting again.
They have to hunt several times as they need more than one prey to feed all the group and the puppies. We follow them running, when they began to tease some Buffaloes. It was funny to observe them disturbing these big animals, but the arrival of an Elephant trumpeting stopped their provocations!
It‘s now a nocturnal drive, we noticed on a branch a beautiful Brown-hooded Kingfisher which is asleep. The reason why he does not fall is that he has the power to lock on the muscles of his toes around the branch.
The night is peaceful until suddenly an Impala pounces at full speed on the left side of our moving vehicle and shocks herself very strongly. I was just behind the driver and see in half a second his frightened beautiful eyes at my level and staring at me during the brutal shock. I was terrified to see that incredible event and sick for this poor lovely female Impala. Fortunately, the shoulder of our guide cushioned the brutality of the bump (sorry Francis!) and she could go away a bit dizzy but apparently safe. The shoulder got some pain, the jacket also some remains but not too serious.
The explanation is that she confused the coming of a Leopard near her when it was just a civet!!! Poor pretty lady and what a big emotion for me…
This early morning, we pass again through the pond to see the lionesses eating the buffalo and the animation around the corpse. The moment when the cubs want to reach the buffalo is funny as they are not used to go into the water and the buffalo skin is “slippery when wet”.
The dead Buffalo, before his tragic “accident” was always with 2 other big ones. Moving around, we met them but as they saw the Land Rover, they quickly turn to be very aggressive threatening to charge us, better not to stay longer even for pics!
We prefer our encounter with Elephants and a baby, one has in his mouth branches with colorful leaves, it seems he is offering a bunch of flowers…but it’s just “Paperbark Acacia”.
We are driving without real purposes when we perceived a Pick-up truck stopped in the fields. It’s the “Zambian Carnivore Programme” We approach them hoping to have news of our little “small kenneth”, but unfortunately, they don’t have seen the pack since their disappearance! They promise to let us know if they hear something. We are a bit downhearted!
Our second meeting with an Elephant is unexpected, he is near the car, looking nice and quiet until he begins to push the trunk of a Paperbark Acacia. Suddenly the top of the car receives like a bucket of small stones which makes us jump and then laugh a lot. Repeating that action several times unaware of our presence, we understand Elephants love Paperbark fruit and that we are parking under the branches of the tree.
Later on, we found back our 34 Wild Dogs, the pack is divided in 2, some of them are staying to keep an eye on the Pups while the others go hunting. We stay behind them but apart a small prey, the result is poor. It is very dark and one of them has lost his group and wanders lonely calling for the pack with a different sound. It is sad and I hope he will find them back as for the moment they have completely disappeared.
The lagoon with the dead Buffalo is very busy, many things happen and it’s exciting! Among the Vultures, Marabou Storks are there as well as Saddle-billed Storks. At 1st glance, everything looks ok, but in fact it is a false appearance.
The Saddle-billed Storks are fishing at the end of the lagoon while one of the Marabou lets believe that he is interested in the meat of the carcass…In fact not so much, he would prefer to get some fishes from the “private” pond of the Saddle-billed Storks. So, from the carcass, he moves slowly ahead in the water as long as the Saddle-billed Stork has not noticed anything, when at least he is spotted, the other arrives threatening him with his open wings and clapping with the beak. The Marabou goes back but as soon as the Saddle-billed Stork is far, he comes again slowly to fish. After this happens many times, the couple comes together in force well decided to chase him. As nothing seems to stop the Marabou from fishing here, one of the Saddle-billed Storks takes a great decision and finally pounces straight on the Marabou for a spectacular spat in flight!!! That was really amazing and comic!
After this episode, two wary Hyenas, looking everywhere and a bit afraid are coming close to the Buffalo and after some hesitation, they begin to eat, having always an eye on every movement. In spite they are friends, there is a bit of trouble when they want both to eat the best same piece of meat …
The White-backed Vultures are also present, they are numerous and the biggest want to prove his dominance, the one which jumps on the Buffalo, opening his big wing “declares” he is making the law until he is knocked out and ejected off the prey by some other ones.
A male lion is lying not far, he belongs to the tribe composed of 3 males, 8 females and the 5 cubs.
Leaving the pond we arrive near the river, it’s very dry, a hippo has been killed by lions in the night. Some males are more specialized on Hippo, they are easier to catch and they have learnt how to strangle these big thick animals. The kill has happened during the last night. We suppose he just finishes to guard the food. He leaves the spot to a female and is going to drink before joining the others roaring not far. Soon after he effectively met another male sleeping under a tree.
Obliged passage at the pond before leaving! It’s relatively peaceful this morning.
On the way we listen to some alarm calls from the Pukus, they are non-stop with high-pitched sounds. When it is for territory defense, they emit about 4 times a sound which is not so sharp.
We go back to the hippo place of the day before where one of the lionesses is panting. After eating, her temperature is increasing and it’s a way to ventilate her body. We listen to the 3 lions, they are at different places but communicate by longer rumblings which fills the atmosphere.
Always moving along the riverside, we stop in front of a group of 7 Giraffes, the view with the river is exceptional. Two of them are together, an adult male with a younger one, to our surprise, the two begin a training which simulates a fight. It is like a slow motion as if the time was very low. They are necking, putting up the leg on the other, or with the head, giving light strokes under the belly and reverencing each other at the end of each serial. I never saw that in my life!
A flock of queleas is agitated, flying, landing, flying when we notice that one of them is a “leucistic” Red-billed Queleas, which means he has a lack of pigments making him white then a rare specimen!
It’s our last morning, and time for breakfast, we take the last pics from the lodge
but before leaving we still have a very long safari.
The pond is now empty, the buffalo has been pulled completely on the side by the last Hyena which dissects the remaining of the carcass.
After a nice last meal near the river, we left Africa with some sadness…
We had no news of “small Kenneth”
The area is peaceful again as if nothing has happened during these past exceptional days.
PS : Back at home, few weeks later, the Zambian Carnivore Programme” send us an e-mail : they found back the small pack of Dogs, “small Kenneth” is still alive and well.
Months after, a friend told me he saw him and he is now nearly as strong as the others even trying to make his law. What a wonderful new!!!
Pictures of my website “planetstillalive” on Zambia – South Luangwa.
My VIDEOS YOUTUBE
Lion cubs : Mom does not want me to suckle
34 Wild Dogs hunting
“I felt like the 35th Wild Dog of a pack hunting, killing and eating!”
Acrobatic choreography by 2 Giraffes (Rare sighting)
Elephant strange Manners