A guest of mine – who has been on safari with me a couple of times – recommended some of his friends from Australia should contact me for a safari. I helped them to put together a 5-day trip in Luangwa, before they headed off to see Victoria Falls and do some fishing on the Zambezi.

I’m always pleased when past guests recommend their friends to me, but expectations are always very high because stories from past safaris have been shared endlessly in the build-up to the trip! Fortunately, a combination of good local knowledge (and a portion of luck) gave us a memorable week which I hope will remain in their memories.

Just after entering the park on the first morning, we spotted some elephants heading to the water. They were either going to cross the river or have a drink (or both!) so we waited for them to reach the edge. The drying Luangwa River bed is very scenic at this time of year, and provides a magic background for photos.

From where we were watching the elephants, we spotted some lions hidden in the bushes on the banks of the river. They were well-concealed from view, but I knew that the sun was getting hot and they would eventually get up and move to the shade. We were very lucky because one of the males – known to us as Ginger (can you guess why!?) – finally yawned, rolled and then walked out of the bushes and right towards us!

He is an 8-year old male who has a rare condition where he lacks any black pigment in his skin and coat; whereas his nose, gums, tail tip and eyes should have black elements, they are all orangey-pink. He is magnificent and highly unusual – we don’t believe there are any others like him currently.

Continuing on the theme of lions –

We found Ginger’s brother (some have named him Garlic, some Biscuit…..!) on the open plains of Mbomboza wa Milombe early one morning.

From almost the same spot as the lion, but turning towards the light, we composed some pleasing backlit images using the dusty light.

And then came the LION RIVER CROSSING! We had been looking for the small pride of 5 females when we saw Garlic earlier in the morning, but they hadn’t been found. We headed to a nearby Carmine Bee-eater colony to photograph the morning activities. Suddenly baboons began to bark, and we scoured around trying to see what was bothering them. Eventually, a lioness appeared from under the bank where she had been hidden from us, but not from the baboons. She started to cross the river paddling through the shallow water!

We drove quickly around behind her to get the light on the correct side, and waited to see if the rest of the pride would appear from the long grass on the bank.

Sure enough, one by one, 4 more lionesses appeared, dropped down the bank (some gracefully, some not!) and wandered to the edge of the water.

It’s not unusual for lions to cross the river, but they usually do it in the night, or the very early morning when the crocodiles are still cold and less likely to bother them. This was really a treat to see such a sight in the morning light!

Not famous for loving the water – like Tigers do – each lioness would test the water, and show general disgust at the prospect of having to get wet feet.

Before entering, each one would snarl at the water – presumably warning off any nearby crocodiles – and then step gingerly in.

Some continued to snarl all the way across!

This was my second lion river crossing in a week, having very rarely seen it before this point. We felt very lucky to have observed it close up, in good lighting for photos and from such a great vantage point.

Up to this point, the LEOPARDS had kept a low profile, probably because there had been lions active in many of their favourite hunting grounds. But that same evening of the lions crossing the river, we came across a leopard resting in a gulley in the late evening.

Initially he was lounging around, occasionally swatting flies away, but when a small flock of Guinea Fowl approached the top of the gulley, he snapped into hunting mode and rushed to a place where he could stalk them. Him camouflage is extraordinary.

Having been spotted by the Guinea Fowl, he moved off and climbed a nearby tree, using it to escape the flies and search for hunting opportunities.

Our final morning also gave us an interesting leopard sighting. We found her up in a tree, where she was staring at Impalas in the distance, working out how to approach them. As the heat started to increase, she relaxed, came down from the tree and began to spray mark her territory as she patrolled through the grassland.

Throughout the week, we also enjoyed hundreds of BEAUTIFUL SIGHTINGS, which follow in no particular order.

A beautiful Giant/Verreaux’s Eagle Owl who was enjoying the cool shade and refuge offered by a Red Mahogany tree.

A Bateleur Eagle who was sitting in a tree above a mysterious dead Puku, waiting for her turn to enjoy some scavenging.

Giraffes coming to the river in magic early morning light.

We spent about half an hour with these buffalos, enjoying the way the evening light lit their faces, and revealed detail in the dark folds of their hides.

An inquisitive Lilac-breasted Roller examined us rather than flying off as many of his colleagues had done!

In the early afternoon, when the heat was still intense, a lioness and her two cubs were trying to rest. But a bee had other ideas and kept harassing the youngster until he snapped his displeasure!

After we’d followed a young leopard for a while in the grassland, the plains game settled down once more. But with adrenaline levels high, some juveniles couldn’t resist a bit of sparring to release the tension!

The sunset on our last evening was a beautiful way to end the trip.

It was a pleasure to take these 5 guests on a week’s safari, and I certainly feel that they enjoyed much of what Luangwa has to offer. One of the guests – who had travelled elsewhere extensively before – commented at one point….”why did we bother going anywhere else?!”. If you would like to visit Luangwa, with or without a camera in hand, please get in touch as I run a wide range of group and private trips throughout the year.

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