My first and thus far the only visit to Zambia was in April 2012. It is another African nation that is rich in wild life. I began my African Safari 2012 at the South Luangwa National Park (SLNP) in Eastern Zambia, the southernmost of the three National Parks in the valley of the Luangwa River. It covers an area of 9050 square kms, most of which is woodland savannah.
The safari was planned from 28th April to 10th May 2012. Four nights of this period was at SLNP while the rest of the trip was at Victoria Falls (both on the Zambian side as well as in neighboring Zimbabwe), and at Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. On this trip with me was Lilani, Pala and Nilanthi with their son Charith and Rienzie, a friend of mine. We flew to Lusaka, the capital of Zambia and took a domestic flight to Mfuwe which is the closest airport to SLNP. Due to a flight delay, Lilani, Rienzie and I arrived in SLNP one day late. Pala and his family had arrived ahead of us as they were on different flights because their travel originated from the UK, where they are domiciled. We came together late evening of 29th April at the Thornicroft Lodge, situated on the border of SLNP.
The park stays open from 6 am to 8 pm. As the closing time is as late as 8 pm, it gives the opportunity to travel inside the park after darkness and sighting some nocturnal wildlife that we would not typically see during daytime.
At SNAP, we had several Lion sightings, a glimpse of a Leopard on a night drive as well as frequent meetings with Elephants. On one occasion, we had an anxious moment when a bull Elephant came menacingly close to giving us the charge. The park is home to the Thornicroft’s Giraffe, a sub species of Giraffe that is unique to the Luangwa Valley. They appear to be slightly smaller than their cousins in other parts of Africa, and they have a distinct color and design on the fur of their skin coat. As it has to pump blood up its long neck, the Giraffe has an enormous heart that weighs about 11 kg in an adult, compared to only 0.3 kg in a human. Its neck has the same number of bones as in humans but it is over 6 feet long and is the tallest living land mammal at heights of 16 to 20 feet. Its main enemy is the Lion.
During our time at South Luangwa Valley, my focus was on nocturnal animals and the birdlife at SLNP. On the last two night drives inside the park, I was able to take some good images of the African Civet, the Large-spotted Genet and the White-tailed Mongoose; all three being solitary animals that are active at night and omnivorous. Giant Eagle Owl and Pearl-spotted Owlet were two types of nocturnal birds that we saw on our drives after dark.
The African Civet is active at night when it feeds on vegetation as well as small prey. It spends most of its daylight hours sleeping inside dense vegetation. It is a mammal with a life span of 15 to 20 years and weighs between 1.5 to 4.5 kg. The African Civet is threatened by the demand for their musk, which has value as a fragrance and stabilizing agent for perfume. The musk is secreted by the perineal gland located in the genital region of the animal.
There are two types of Genets living on ground and on trees. The Large-spotted Genet has a black-tipped tail while the Small-spotted Genet is white, weighing 2 to 3 kg. The White-tailed Mongoose is 3 to 5 kg heavy.
The peak season for visiting the park is from July to September. These are dry months where chances are better of seeing wild life at the water holes as water is scarce on the ground. However, our visit in April/May was quite fruitful. Apart from the nocturnal creatures I have described here, I was able to photograph 31 species of birds.
Our four-night stay at Thornicroft Lodge was very pleasant. My friend Rienzie owns a chain of bakery shops in Sri Lanka and happens to be a very good cook himself. The lodge management gave him access to the kitchen and as a result we were able to enjoy rice and curry meals during our stay there. On the 3rd of May 2012, we took a flight to Livingstone at Victoria Falls in Zambia via Lusaka to continue our African Safari 2012.