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October 13th 2019
Published: October 13th 2019
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It is getting close to dusk when we see the leopard in the tree. Half asleep, it ignores us completely. We drive off to watch the sun set across the river and then quietly return. With the aid of our lights we find the young leopard again. He is slowly walking in dense vegetation, carefully approaching a group of impala. Closer and closer but an impala suddenly barks, it has sensed his presence. Now they are all alert, looking and listening in the dark. The leopard moves away, these will not be his dinner tonight.

We drove in to South Luangwa National Park, Zambia, from Malawi. It was a warm drive along a good road, with a chaotic but friendly border post at halfway. We passed many clusters of brick huts, basic villages where families live a tough, subsistence lifestyle.

Our camp, Kiboko, is on the Luangwe river. It’s is the dry season, so the river is very low. It will have risen six metres up its banks by January and become three times as wide. Hippos greet us with their deep belching laugh. They are keeping cool by standing submerged in the river. We are stood in the sun on the bank and it’s 40+c. They have good reason to laugh.

Our brand new chalet has three brick walls and a canvas roof. The fourth side is left open during the day and then closed at night with mosquito screens. The view of the river and the wildlife on its banks is superb.

The chalet is a little walk up stream from the main building. We are warned to beware of roaming animals when walking to and fro. We might meet baboons, hippo, elephant or even lions, so best to walk with a guard! We do as we are told and realise the dangers when they find a puff adder behind the neighbouring chalet.

During our stay in the park we have four games drives. Morning game drives start at around dawn in a golden light. The baboons are just waking up while the lions are seeking somewhere to rest after a night hunting. One lion guards his kill, a young buffalo.

Two drives start in the afternoon and continue into the night. On every drive we see elephant, kudu, waterbuck, impala and much more. The endemic Burchell's zebra are beautiful and the elegant; the Thornicroft giraffes look at us with a curious disdain. In all we see more than twenty types of animal. It is not a busy park and we get close to lions and have a two good sighting of leopards, one during the day and another at night.

Birds are everywhere, from pretty little bee eaters to fish eagles and an eagle owl. Ox peckers ride on the backs of giraffes, buffalo and many antelope. They peck out parasitic pests, including tics, as they take a free ride. Storks, ibis and heron fish in the river, ever watchful for approaching crocodiles. Crossing the river in a tiny ferry boat, we are very aware that the crocs are utterly invisible in the muddy water.

Nights are hot, it doesn’t cool down much this time of year. Restless under our mosquito net, we listen to the night – yellow baboons call; wind blown fruits hit our canvas roof; and hippos chuckle and burp. They have come out of the river and are grazing on the vegetation around the chalet.

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