Paradise re-discovered


My wife and I have just returned from an unbelievable six-day experience to the new luxury Safari Circuit of three of Zambia's National Parks. Relatively unknown, and for years rarely visited by international tourists, these parks have been protected but not develo

ped. Now John Glendinning’s “Star of Africa” group has built a series of stunning Safari Lodges and tented camps in four of Zambia’s most prolific wildlife areas. Each camp is unique in its concept and offers a diverse choice of environment and wildlife species located in prime settings within the National Parks. Sussi and Chuma lodges, named after David Livingstone’s two bearers, are situated in an enchanting riverbank hideaway just 10 minutes upstream from the Victoria Falls in the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park. They overlook a series of rapids and islands where we saw two groups of vervet monkeys and several small herds of elephants. Sussi Lodge is the larger of the two properties and consists of a string of 10 exquisite cabins each of which have been built well off the ground under the canopy of ebony trees. They are connected to the main reception area by a series of board walks which are several metres above the ground. Sussi’s dining and pool area, which overlooks the Zambezi, is a double-storey construction that is wonderfully relaxing. It’s made entirely from natural materials with a thatched roof, wooden decks and an infinity pool that mirrors the colour of the Zambezi. Over a period of two hours in the early morning we saw hundreds of impala, lots of giraffe including several new-born young and a nice herd of 15 buffalo. Baboons and vervet monkeys were common and warthog, zebra and bushbuck were seen from time to time. Only two white rhino occur in the Park, which were introduced from South Africa. They have 24-hour guards who safeguard them from poachers. While we only saw a few elephant and all of them with small tusks, the damage to the vegetation was unbelievably high. Hundreds upon hundreds of dead trees piled up on the ground and there was ample evidence that the elephants were still stripping the bark off large Albizzia harveyi trees on the flood plain. While the park can be considered as a rather “tame” one, the animals were all easily approached and not afraid of vehicles. It was a pleasure to study and photograph animals that were not running away. A trip up the Zambezi River late one afternoon was a real pleasure. From the boat we could see dozens of animals on the southern (Zimbabwe) side of the river. We passed several small groups of hippo and the occasional elephant. Riding the rapids was a lovely experience and as the sun set flocks of guinea fowl were beginning to roost in the Sausage and Ebony trees growing on the northern bank of the mighty Zambezi. Birds seen in the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park included a flock of Marabou storks, little egrets and Paradise Fly Catchers and in the Riparian and Syzgium Forests a wonderful variety of birds could be seen. We were lucky enough to see an African Sand Martin, a Horus swift, two black ducks feeding on some vegetation matter and a Pel’s fishing owl eating a fish. We spent three days at Chichele Presidential Lodge in the South Luangwa National Park. This elegant Victorian “Gentleman’s” Lodge initially served as a private residential retreat for former President of Zambia  Dr. Kenneth Kaunda. Chichele occupies one of the most breathtaking sites in the entire South Luangwa National Park. With its magnificent hilltop position inside one of Africa’s most prolific game-viewing areas, and Luangwa River, Chichele is set to become one of the greatest safari lodges in Africa. Chichele is surrounded by a great variety of habitats, including riparian forest, miombo and Mopane woodland and great open plains. When I think back of the Luangwa Valley 40  50 years ago, I remember hundreds and thousands of large elephants. Some of the bulls seen in the 1950’s and 1960’s carried tusks of over 100 lbs each side. At one time there were over 100,000 elephants in the valley. Today there are not more than about10,000 left. After years of poaching almost all the big bulls have been shot as well as all the black rhino that once existed there. However, during our visit small herds and single elephants were seen every day. The vegetation looked great and there was almost no damage to the trees by elephants and this was quite different to what it was 20  30 years ago when the large numbers of elephants caused considerable damage to the vegetation. Even though the Luangwa River was still flowing it was nevertheless very low and large groups of hippo were encountered. We counted 75  80 hippo in one group and at least another 5 groups of not less than 50 animals. Puku and impala were everywhere and some herds of impala consisted of 70 animals or more. Every time we went out in the safari vehicle we found lions. One late afternoon we found four lionesses which had killed two impala on the flood plain in front of Puku Tented Camp. The next day another five lionesses were seen with two cubs and on another occasion four young males were found feeding on a puku male they had killed. In every case all the lions were unafraid of vehicles and it was extremely easy to photograph them up close. It was a privilege and a thrill to see Africa at its best.

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