The Herbivores of South Luangwa
Following my post last week on my carnivore sightings in South Luangwa I thought I would follow up with an account of my experiences and encounters with the valleys herbivores.
Unlike my previous experiences in Samburu and the Masai Mara where I had visited outside the migration, South Luangwa had large mixed herds of impala, puku, zebra, waterbuck, warthogs and even giraffes at times, that formed scenes as I had imaged the open plains to look like.
We would daily watch the baboons waiting for the warthogs to unearth something tasty.
The occasional greater kudu could be seen wandering around though always seemed fairly shy as were the bushbucks.
Oddly we didn’t see any vervet monkeys in the park though we had daily sightings of them around both camps. Vervet monkeys are not always a welcomed visitor around the camps, though I have to admit I love watching them. Our open access room at Nkwali camp made it easy for them to come and go as they pleased, only causing trouble if guests were foolish enough to leave food around. One afternoon the troublemakers even managed to steel the camps sugar bowl that had been left out accidently following afternoon tea.
I always feel slightly cheated if I don’t see elephants when on safari as they are a favourite of mine. Luckily despite the terrible history of poaching here it was fairly easy to locate them. Each day we would find ourselves in great positions too watch them go about their business. One morning as we were heading back to lunch we fortunately stopped to see what was rustling in the bushes only to have a large family of ellies including young, appear and cross the road in front of us to reach a large lagoon, where they would go on to drink, bath and play.
Another day we decided to head into the park earlier than usual for our afternoon game drive to see if we could catch anything starting to stir as the midday heat began to pass. We didn’t regret this as shortly after heading into some thick woodland we discovered two young bulls sparring. The clashing of the tusks is a sound I shall never forget!
As there was still plenty of water available in the heart of the park we didn’t come across any big herds of buffalo. Only ever seeing solitary pairs away from the mixed herds, usually in a lagoon. Though we did hear accounts back at camp that another group had managed to find a herd of at least a hundred.
When we were in the Masai Mara we tried unsuccessfully to see a hippo out of the water, where we were always either too late or too far away. Our experience in South Luangwa couldn’t have been more different. Within moments of arriving at our first camp, Nkwali, at the heat of the day we were able to see hippos all along the river including bolder characters standing out of the water on sandbars. We quickly learnt that these hippos certain weren’t shy in Luangwa, possibly due to having one of the densest populations in Africa.
These guys provided a huge amount of entertainment. Most nights as we drove back to camp we would see them heading out of the water to graze, their huge frames light up by the moonlight. We would always let these gigantic animals pass us at night rather than the other way round, often turning off the vehicles engine and lights to prevent spooking them. We would then fall asleep listening to their grunts as they fed on the grass outside of our tents.
If you have ever wanted to witness the classic scene of hippos surrounded by nile cabbage, this is the place to see that! At this time of year no matter the size of lagoon you are likely to find a resident hippo in it, chomping away all day long, trying to gobble up as much of this extensive green carpet as possible before the pools dry up.
If you are lucky you will even find a fisherman catching a sneaky ride on the hungry hippos back!
Our final boat trip across the Luangwa River was definitely a memorial one, giving us a send off which epitomised our trip. Halfway across the river a hippo that had been resting on a sandbar decided to charge us, with the boat put into full throttle we managed to reach the bank just in time and probably set a record for the time to evacuate the boat and climb the steps up the bank!