Much has happened since my last South Luangwa post so a follow-up is long overdue! The dry season is now well and truly over. I will never forget 1st November, the day the rains arrived…
That day I awoke to find a veil of cloud had descended over the valley. There was a sense of anticipation as the parched earth and thirsty animals waited for the first raindrops to fall. However, there was also another cause for excitement that day; I had heard rumours that wild dogs had been spotted in the area! Ever since arriving in Zambia I had been searching for African wild dogs, a species that has always managed to evade me on previous trips. I set off in search of them, hoping that I wouldn’t be thwarted by the rain.
I found the pack after a couple of hours and enjoyed spending the rest of the morning with them. It was wonderful to watch them as they played around boisterously. After taking some shots with my long lens, I deployed BeetleCam. The dogs’ curiosity was instantly aroused and they crowded around the camera. I had always dreamed of photographing wild dogs from this perspective and the resulting shots were exactly what I had hoped for…
This was one of my last shots of the dry season… a few hours later, the heavens opened. Over the next 12 hours, 110mm of rain fell (approximately 10% of region’s annual rainfall)!
The bush camps have usually closed by the time the heavy rains arrive as the surrounding roads become completely impassable. However, this year the first deluge caught everyone off guard and as a result we were marooned in the bush for several days whilst we waited for the sodden landscape to dry out.
On the third day it was time to attempt an escape. This was easier said than done as the roads had turned into rivers of mud! Fortunately there was a four-wheel drive tractor on hand to tow me out of the boggiest areas. After several hours of battling mud we eventually made it out of the park. The next challenge was going to be cleaning my car!
Over the following days and weeks, South Luangwa underwent a radical transformation; the hazy atmosphere and dusty colours of dry season were replaced with beautiful clear light and vibrant greens. Watery lagoons and lush plains appeared in areas that had been dust bowls a few weeks earlier.
Now the “Emerald Season” is here and the valley seems to be bursting with life. The herbivores are fat and healthy and baby impalas have taken over the valley. Times are also good for Luangwa’s leopards as the dense bush and tall grass afford plenty of cover for hunting. The cats stand out beautifully against the verdant backdrop.
Dazzling jewels also stud the greenery as colourful migrant birds arrive and residents flaunt their breeding plumage…
…and there are kingfishers everywhere!
In the last few weeks, the Luangwa River has risen enough to make river safaris possible. This has allowed me to photograph the park from a different perspective. Exploring the river by boat has also bought me face to face with some truly monstrous crocs!
Luangwa is famous for the astonishing density of hippos that it supports and the boat was forever dodging them as we cruised up and down the river.
On one occasion, we came round a corner to find a newborn baby hippo and its mother on a sandbank. We cut the engine so that we could drift past quietly. I had my lens focussed on the adorable baby when I became aware of a frantic pattering noise emanating from my right. I swung my lens round and was greeted by a terrifying sight… an angry mother hippo in full charge. We had no time to start the engine and escape. Fortunately she stopped a few metres away and we were able to beat a hasty retreat!
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