As we reach the end of 2016, it’s clear that the world has changed dramatically in the last 12 months. Some of it for the better (increasing elephant numbers in countries where they have traditionally declined, thousands of refugees accepted into Europe), some for the worse (Aleppo, Olympic doping and too many deaths of well-loved public figures) and some of it remains to be seen (a change of President and national order in the US, a resurgent Russia and further changes at the climate level).

Here’s a brief round-up of the season which gives a glimpse into the world of the South Luangwa, and why it is found at the top of many travelers’ safari lists! While there are poaching and encroachment pressures – as in any National Park – the Luangwa offers a chance to experience a world unaffected by man, where Nature continues as it has done for millennia.

Hidden among the leafy branches of a Red Mahogany, a Verreaux’s eagle owl snoozes through the hot hours of the day. In the early mornings when the air is cold, their far-reaching “hunh-hunh-huh-huh” call can be heard from almost every wooded area across the Valley floor. They live in long-term pairs, rearing chicks every 2 years in favourite spots.
This sub-adult male leopard had spent the afternoon lying in a gully relying on outstanding camouflage for concealment; males never show themselves as readily as females. But as darkness fell, his demeanour changed and he became bold & ostentatious, casually leaping into this Leadwood tree. Using a spotlight while there is still the glow of dusk behind gives this royal-blue sky effect.
Snarling her displeasure at the prospect of crocodiles in the narrowing channel, this lioness nevertheless takes the plunge to join her pride on the other side of the river. While lions are known to cross the river regularly, they usually do so at first light and we often miss it!
At the dry season’s peak, when water dwindles even in the main river, hippos find themselves living in astonishing density. With little to eat when they do go foraging at night, tempers are short and scuffles such as this are common. Interestingly, these brief – but noisy – outbursts often involve a female defending a calf from an agressive male.
The search for this leopard formed perhaps the most unusual sighting of 2016. Following baboon’s calls, I led my group to a grove of trees. Seeing so many baboons, antelope and monkeys feeding, we assumed that the leopard must have moved on. It was only some time later that we spotted this little female peering out from a tree right above us, sharing the branches with several baboons!
Almost certainly my favourite image from my time in the South Luangwa. This scene showing an impressive sub-adult bull elephant wandering through an ancient forest of Leadwoods captures the magic of the Luangwa like no other I’ve seen.
Nervous at the best of times, kudu are particularly jumpy in the dry season when thirst forces them to cross large sandy beaches to reach the river. For much of the year, kudu can get their moisture requirments from their forage, but it’s not enough when it’s really hot. We don’t know what spooked the kudu to create this stampede – and nor did the impala, but they weren’t taking any chances!
This was one of those situations where we simply ‘got lucky’! As a small family of elephants crossed the river in front of us, a disturbance in the water alerted the lead cow to a submerged crocodile. They turned to go round the large reptile and in doing so headed straight towards us which revealed the two small calves in the middle of the group.
Lit from both sides by spotlights, a pride male surveys the surrounding flood-plain in search of prey. Large lions such as this are able to kill for themselves – and often do – but also make use of the more efficient females. For this, some label them lazy, but in fact, they play a crucial role in patrolling, scent-marking and protecting the pride’s range so that females can safely rear cubs.
These dogs are part of a large group called the Manzi pack, named after a river where they were first located. After the serious busines of hunting and feeding – with blood still evident on their faces and flanks – there was time for play. At this stage, they still had dependent pups back at the den, so they soon dropped the puku skin and trotted back to regurgitate meat for the youngsters.
Dwarfed by the Luangwa River’s empty dry-season channel, a bull giraffe tentatively crosses the shallow water to explore territorial, feeding and mating opportunities on the far bank. This time, bizarrely, he reached mid-stream (which was barely above his ankles!) before stopping and turning back. Who knows what unseen factor caused this change of mind.
These 3 brothers are juveniles from a small pride in the Nsefu Sector. In a couple of years, they will be forced to leave their natal pride and mature in sub-prime habitat areas. At the age of 5 or 6, they’ll start challenging incumbent males to claim a pride of their own. Assuming they all survive the harsh growing-up stage, they’ll form a powerful coalition of pride males.
Taking to the shade in the hottest part of the day, this bull giraffe was accompanied by a host of oxpeckers. While some groom his fine coat, others rest with their bills gaping open to lose heat. The distinct marking-change which is seen at the ‘join’ of the neck and the body is one of several indicators that this is a Thornicroft’s giraffe, found only in the Luangwa Valley.
Alert to our presence – even at a distance of 500 yards – these impalas raised their heads in unison the moment we broke cover on a walking safari. In the early dry season, impalas can be found in fruiting ebony groves enjoying the left-overs that careless baboons have dropped from the canopy above. Of course, having keen-eyed primates in the trees above offers safety too.
In a beautiful moment between mother and cub, this female appears to lock eyes with her cub as it approaches. These two are the daughter and grand-daughter of Alice, a famous Luangwa leopard who wowed visitors with her successful hunting and fearlessness around people. It’s hard to know the impact she had on tourism in the South Luangwa, but her legend lives on!
Lifting off on wings spanning almost 2.5 metres, a juvenile Martial Eagle takes to the skies in search of prey. With long talons, propelled my muscular feet, these murderous raptors are known to kill monkeys, baboons and even small antelope. At full-size females may weigh over 6kgs making them one of the largest eagles in the world.

With this, I wish you all a Happy and Prosperous New Year, and I thank you for following my blog, supporting my business and coming on safari with me!