In September this year I made a dream come true and travelled to Zambia to photograph African wildlife, something that has been on my list for a long time.
In the lead up to my trip I admit I was a bit anxious having never travelled with my camera’s before and not knowing how I would feel being so remote. Its safe to say, as soon as I arrived that all disappeared!
I landed in the capital of Zambia, a very hot Lusaka and after a long wait getting through passport control I grabbed my bag and met up with the rest of my group. The trip was with Tom Way Photography, and with a small group of 4 other keen photographers, we got on the road to our first stop for the night.
We were staying in Pioneer Camp, about 30 minutes out of Lusaka and after one of their world famous steaks, we settled down for the night, an early start and a long drive to the bush awaited us in the morning.
We set off at about 6.30am after a quick breakfast. Driving through the city was a real experience, a hive of activity, bursting with so much life. On one hand you really saw the development of the city, with new high rise buildings and shopping malls appearing as we crawled along with the rush hour traffic. Then in contrast, the markets, comprising of thousands of hand made stalls that were modified and rebuilt every day. You could get everything here, fruit and vegetables, meat, clothes, toys, even a new engine for your Toyota.
As we continued, civilization quickly ebbed away apart from the odd collection of villages made up of mud huts and the few people walking on the side of this endless road. We did however, pass through a larger more developed town called Mumbwa about half way to our destination. Mumbwa lies on the great western road and borders the Kafue National Park on it’s west side. An active town, with a large secondary school and local shops, Mumbwa woke us up from a doze as we headed towards the remote environment of the bush.
We eventually turned off the main road and headed towards Musekese camp, traveling along a very bumpy, windy dirt track for another hour or so. On the drive we spotted our first animal, a Kudu. A large antelope with impressive spiralled horns.
Arriving at Musekese, we were welcomed by the wonderful staff who offered us a much needed cold flannel! We each had our own individual hut to sleep in with an amazing view of the dambo, a shallow wetland that plays host to a whole range of species. We freshened up, had some lunch before heading out for our first game drive and I would have never have expected the sight we were about to see.
Our guide for the trip was Tyrone, his knowledge and tracking skills were unbelievable and we experienced this from day one. Piling in to the safari landrover we drove through the dense bush to begin the most exhilarating 8 days.
We smelt it before we saw it, a carcass of a small antelope called a Puku hidden very discreetly under a fallen tree. With such a kill laying around we were sure there must be a predator in the area and it wasn’t long before we spotted her. A beautiful female Leopard with her two young cubs in the rich glow of sunset. I was so excited, not only had we spotted a top predator with young, but this was our first afternoon in the bush.
We sat for a good few hours watching her movements but as the light was fading we decided to return to camp and revisit the same area the next morning.
We were not disappointed the following day. Returning to the same spot as the sun was rising, we again located the kill and found the Leopard sitting in the long grass with her cubs watching from afar. As we sat and anticipated her next move, we heard a scuffle. Two Hyenas arrived, smelling the kill they dragged the carcass out from under the tree and proceeded to eat and play around with it, arguing as they went.
The Leopard was obviously upset about this and began to edge closer, she was stalking slowly, I assume to catch them unawares and claim her meal back. However, this was quickly thwarted by the arrival of a pair of Lions! A handsome male and female. My heart was in my mouth, not only had we a couple of cheeky Hyenas in front of us with a possible confrontation with the Leopard but another two top predators had turned up.
The presence of the lions made the Hyenas scarper and forced the Leopard up in to a tree.
What followed was a good 3 hours of eating and mating from the Lions with the poor leopard looking on from above. It was no wonder she fell asleep!
The lioness was an older female, she had been collared due to a snare injury previously and needed to be monitored until she had fully recovered. Snaring is a serious problem in parts of the bush. It is a small wire trap that is used for poaching bush meat, however the trap is non discriminatory and so many other species including top predators can also become victim and suffer the loss of limbs, injuries resulting in starvation or loss of young not to mention a slow painful death. There are many programs trying to deal with this problem with lots of research in to snaring locations and trends as well as the removal of snares from wildlife and veterinary treatment for the damage caused. Snaring is an ongoing threat to wildlife throughout Africa. As human populations grow, so does the need for food which results in an increase in illegal activity like this.
Our next stop on our adventure was the Busanga Plains where we stayed at Ntemwa, a more basic but no less comfortable bush camp. After crossing the Kafue River and driving a couple of hours to the camp, we finally arrived and moved into our tents.
The landscape here was different. Large open plains with the odd watering hole here and there. We spent a good four days here and had many rewarding sightings including elephant herds crossing the plains at sunset, a pride of lions with cubs, Zebra, Buffalo, Leopard, Warthog, Hippo and a host of Antelope species.
I haven’t even mentioned the amazing range of birds we saw, my species list of these goes over two pages! Impressive Fish Eagles, Cranes and Vultures as well as Darters, Skimmers and four different types of Kingfisher.
Our time on the plains was so special, the variety of wildlife was spectacular for such a dry, open, arid landscape.
Returning to Musekese after the plains, we again crossed the river by boat and were treated to a small herd of elephants crossing in front of us. This was so special and a sight we were to see again in the next few days.
Our days in the Kafue National park continued to reward us, with more impressive lions, antelope and elephants, not to mention hippos, crocodiles and eagles on our boat trips up and down the river.
Driving back to camp in the evenings when the light had left us was still an opportunity to spot those interesting nocturnal animals. With a flash light scanning the area we could pick out the eyes of some of the more elusive creatures. Bush Babies, Genets, a Serval and an absolute treat, a Porcupine with it's baby! After the sheer delight of seeing these two we turned the corner to be confronted with a huge Hippo in the middle of the track. It’s hard to believe these animals are so quick and agile with such size and weight.
One evening journey back to camp we were privileged to see two lionesses on the prowl. They were clearly on the hunt for something, showing stalking behaviour. They walked straight passed our vehicle, so close I had to almost hold my breath.
As we watched them walk away and the moment passed, we continued to head for camp, elated with what we had just seen. Just around the next corner, we started to hear a funny noise coming from the truck. With such variable terrain to navigate, these safari vehicles as brilliant as they are, do occasionally fall victim to a flat tyre. Tyrone hopped out to inspect and sure enough, flat as a pancake! There was nothing else to do but to radio for assistance and wait, wait in the dark, slightly unnerving having just seen two Lionesses in the vicinity in hunting mode!
Our final morning in the bush was emotional for me, we took a quick morning drive then headed back to pack our bags and say our goodbyes. As I sat on the decking and absorbed in the tranquil view of the dambo one last time, I reflected on the most incredible 8 days that had just passed. I was overwhelmed by the wildlife we saw and the feeling of being immersed in the bush, so close to such amazing wildlife was the best feeling I’ve ever had. We waved goodbye to our fantastic hosts at Musekese and began our long journey home.
Looking through my images, I can relive this trip over and over again and I am so happy to be able to share it with you. The trip would not have been the same without our amazingly knowledgeable guide Tyrone and brilliant photography guide Tom, not to mention my fellow photographers, Ian, Keith, Philippa and Colin, it was such a pleasure.
I will be releasing my best images from the trip over the next few months with the hope of holding an exhibition next year to showcase my favourites which I hope you will join me for.
Thank you for all of your support over the last few years, you have helped make this whole experience possible. Bring on the next adventure!