The first two hours were a welcome return the joy of observing animals in their natural habitat. Just one minute into the drive we came upon a group of giraffes grazing on the trees. The species of giraffe here are called Thornicraft, and differ a bit from the typical giraffe in that their spots are a bit smaller, more defined, and stop at their knees. We then crossed into the official park and found abundant elephant, zebra, impala, warthogs, and more. We even happened upon a cobra crossing the road, who turned around after crossing and arched its neck to show off for us. The overall experience certainly lived up to expectations in providing ample opportunity to soak up the natural beauty and settle into the serenity of the intricate and diverse ecosystem. The daylight portion of the drive was capped off with a more human experience, on a quest for the capstone of the safari experience: a lion sighting. Due to the relatively short time span of the drive we often ran into other vehicles exploring the same somewhat small area, and the phenomenon is amplified when all parties converge on the rumor of a lion. We had experienced this in the past on our previous safari, and the event provides a somewhat humorous opportunity to observe humans in the wild as they crowd around a valued find.
This iteration didn’t fail, and even provided an extra twist. Our driver had heard about the lion from other drivers and headed towards the location. We arrived on what seemed to be the lion, given the large collection of safari vehicles, but upon closer inspection we found that the group was at the bank of a river of dry sand – and all the drivers were debating the risks of getting stuck in the sand. Our driver had the right mix of experience and machismo to not extensively ponder the choice, and with some slight encouragement from our group decided to brave the crossing. That broke the ice and inspired a waterfall of additional drivers to follow suit (pardon the weak puns given the dry river bed!). Upon reaching the other side we were rewarded with a male lion lounging idly along the dry river. Julianna will want it noted that the lion bore a striking resemblance to Jersey – or was it the other way around?
So, our groups’ lust for a lion sighting fulfilled, we headed back across the treacherous dry riverbed for the safety of the main roads. But, on returning to the riverbed we found two vehicles stranded in the loose sand unable to move. The next 15 minutes provided an entertaining spectacle of the drivers collaborating to pull the stranded vehicles from their sandy graves – all the while receiving instructions from some Texans who seemed to think they knew much better how to deal with the situation. After snapping a couple of cords attempting to dislodge them from their ruts, eventually everyone was rescued and all went off on their own ways. We drove to a quiet spot and stopped for ‘sundowners’ – which consisted of a Mosi (a Zambian beer) while taking in the sunset. The stop made for a nice conclusion to the first half of our evening drive.
The second half of the drive commenced at dark with the consistent scanning of a handheld searchlight by our ‘spotter.’ The light spanned an arc across the horizon around us, bumping up into the sky occasionally to avoid shining directly into the eyes of the passengers of a nearby vehicle. The idea of the night drive is to observe the nocturnal population of the park, which in large part consists of cats that become more active in search of dinner. Leopard and hyena are rarely seen in daylight because they are nighttime hunters. A leopard is a prized safari sighting, and South Luangwa is known for it’s dense population. We were lucky and able to come upon one laying in the grass, I suppose deciding on what to have for dinner. We didn’t find any hyena, but did see a group of four female lions, which made for a satisfying end to a very full four hours of safari!