South Luangwa National Park, Zambia

(Notes from a journey to Mozambique, Malawi, and Zambia, Sep/Oct 2015.)

Entering Zambia by bus from Malawi, our first destination was the South Luangwa National Park, among the world’s greatest wildlife sanctuaries. Its many eco zones teem with mammals, birds, reptiles, and more. The park's lifeblood is the Luangwa river, at its most languid in October. This being the end of the dry season, there were few watering holes left, making it easier to spot animals. We stayed at a bush camp for four days deep inside the park, among wandering lions, hyenas, elephants, buffaloes, and leopards. We did many game drives, including two at night, but one of my most exhilarating and vulnerable moments was a five km walk in the forest, a highlight of which was watching elephants at close range, including two babies, frolicking in a pond. We saw many lions and elephants at close range, most often with no other safari vehicles in sight. We were lucky to encounter a pack of the highly endangered African wild dogs, of which only 4,000 survive in the world. Our safari guide, Edward Selfe, was a thoughtful and knowledgeable Britisher who loved his work and, not surprisingly, was good at it. David Attenborough had so inspired him in his boyhood that after studying economics in college, he quit his brief stint in London’s financial industry and moved to Zambia eight years ago.

Notably, most safari operations in this part of Africa happen to be run by whites for other whites, mostly European. Whites also lead most wildlife research and conservation advocacy, funding, and related services, such as population census, collaring/tracking, veterinary/rehab work, etc. The truth is that African nations, given their socioeconomic state, are simply unable to prioritize these activities. Both subsistence poaching—led by individuals who must put food on the table, if by hunting animals such as antelopes—as well as commercial poaching for ivory and rhino horns and lion parts that fetch high prices in east Asia, are chipping away at animal populations. In South Luangwa alone, an estimated 60 elephants have been poached thus far in 2015. Habitat loss is another plainly evident reality: buffer zones around parks, supposed to be free of people, increasingly aren't. Anti-poaching efforts, led by international NGOs, focus on providing alternative livelihoods to subsistence poachers but it’s not clear that this isn’t a losing battle. And while wildlife safaris—however sensitive and responsible and even at their modest numbers as at South Luangwa—are intrusive to animals, they strongly help the conservation effort. They raise revenue for governments, making wildlife a profitable resource and its preservation more attractive. They also employ locals (giving them a stake in preservation), spread scientific knowhow, and cultivate a greater sense of wonder. But will this be enough against the rising tide of economies and populations of southern African nations? [—Namit Arora, October 2015]

Surveying the landscape

Drinking water

Two lionesses

South Luangwa sunset

Sniffing the visitors (more)


Watchful female

Sunset with storks

Elephants bathing

Stealthy leopard (1, 2)

Sauntering through

Wild dogs (more)

Giraffes at the river (1, 2)

Two hippos (1, 2)

Carmine bee-eaters
(1, 2, 3)

Early morning (more)

Puku (more)

Remains of a buffalo

On a walk in the forest


Our bush camp

Open-air bathroom (1, 2)

Along a seasonal river bed

Dining area

Typical road in the park

Hundreds of crocs (1, 2)

Croc soup

Run, yellow-billed stork, run!

Surveying the landscape

Late afternoon sun

In repose (more)


Watchful eyes

Young adult

Landscape with lions

Hanging out

Universal cat move

A pride of lions

Playful cubs


A lion on the road

Approaching us (1, 2, 3)

Lion loses interest in us

Heading to a water hole (1, 2)

Lioness in tall grass

After feasting on a warthog

Mother with cubs (1, 2, 3)

How many lions in this frame?

Walking towards water

Looking at the visitors

Surveying the landscape

After a warthog meal

Who goes there?

The male in the pride

Moving to a shady spot

Resting after a meal

Family gathers

Hanging around (more)

Playing with dad

Playing with dad (more)

Attentive stare

Two lionesses

Four lionesses (more)

Surveying the visitors (more)

Lions feasted on this
warthog (more)



Sacred Ibis

Buffaloes (more)

Watchful eyes

A herd passing through

Keeping watch




Lone hippo in the forest

Crowned cranes (1, 2)

Crowned crane

Egyptian Geese

Long-tailed Starling

Stealthy croc


Hartebeest (1, 2)


Tree with weaver bird nests


Going for a walk

Landscape with zebras

On a dry river bed

Later afternoon

A watchful herd

Drinking water

A herd of elephants

Mother and child (1, 2)

Goofy youngster

Leisurely walk (more)

Grazing in the forest

Mother and child

Baby scared by jeep

Sniffing the visitors (1, 2)

Running towards mommy

Reaching for the greens

Watching at close range


A small family

Walk across the plains

They're watching us too

Landscape with hippos

African ebony grove

African ebony grove

African ebony grove

African ebony grove

Greater Kudu (1, 2)

Guinea Fowl



Hippos swimming (more)

Symbiotic relationship

Hippo at the river

"Make some room for me"

Lone hippo in the forest (1, 2)

Lilac-breasted roller (more)



Impala (more)

Targeted by most predators

Impalas crossing the road

Typical road in the park

An old giraffe

Herbivore (more)

Sauntering across (more)

Looking at us

Drinking water

Sniff, sniff

Gentle gait (more)

Eating Giraffe (1, 2)

Walking giraffe


Licking its nostrils


A recently killed hyena




Once a Puku (more)

Saddle-billed stork in flight



Landscape with hippos

Landscape with hippos

Acacia tree


South Luangwa river


A road in the park

Waiting for the rains

Languid river

Lots of puku


Baboons and elephants

Baboons and pukus

Vultures on a buffalo carcass

A buffalo carcass

Strange tree

Landscape with hippos

Waiting for the rains

Ravaged by elephants?

Waterbucks and Impalas (more)

Fish Eagle

Vervet monkeys

Blue testicles (more)

Grimacing vervet

Not too happy with us

Vulture (more)

Sign of a kill

Awaiting their turn

Scavenging bird of prey

Landcape with pukus, warthog

The park looks very different
after the rains

End of the dry season

Landscape with hippos

African wild dogs near our
camp (more)

Big ears!


Fierce hunters

Highly endangered

Pooping wild dog (more)

Only 4,000 left (more)

Wild dogs with guinea fowl

Hunter of antelopes

Ready for action?

Looking for prey

Highly social carnivore

Lions are natural foes (more)

Descends from the
Golden jackal (more)

The wolf is on a parallel
evolutionary branch

A pup

Also called "painted dog" (1, 2)

Multicolored coat

Looking for prey (more)


Crawshay's zebra (more)

Unique to Luangwa (1, 2)

B&W beauties (more)

A healthy adult (1, 2)

Zebra closeup (1, 2)

Watchful zeal (1, 2)

Zebras sleep standing up

A zeal of zebras

Stripes are unique to
each individual

Zebras have excellent
hearing and eyesight

Communicate with high-
pitched barks / whinnying

Ancient Baobab tree,
reportedly 1500 years old

Recovered wire traps used
for poaching

A village near the park

A village near the park

Vegetable curry with
nsima, Chipata town


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