It’s guide’s exam time in the Luangwa Valley… But what makes a good guide?

Pseudolachnostylis maprouneifolia

2094155496April is not a month for fools here in South Luangwa National Park. Traditionally the guide’s exams are written at the end of April and this year was no different. Current and prospective guides cram as much theoretical knowledge into their heads as humanly possible while also keeping an eye out for the mechanical exam that tests their knowledge on all things Land-Rover related. Imagine having to learn the word Pseudolachnostylis maprouneifolia, while trying to remember the gestation period of a four-toed elephant shrew. What is the lifespan of a baboon? Define the term perrisodactyl. Write down the taxonomy of a tse-tse fly. Which bird acts as a host for the red-chested cuckoo eggs? What is the name of the Director General of the Zambia Wildlife Authority? How long can a crocodile stay under water? Name five traditional uses of Kigelia africana.

Wildlife Camp’s studying guides also attended a bird-ringing session held close to Mfuwe International airport to boost their knowledge on our feathered friends.

But guiding is not all about theory – good guides tell good stories. And Wildlife Camp has some very good guides…

Why do hippos yawn?

1547113012I once overheard a guest asking Wildlife Camp guide BJ why hippos yawn. Knowing the answer to the question I decided to not pay much attention to that conversation, but as soon as BJ started talking I had to listen…:

When God made the earth thousands of years ago, He went to all the animals and asked them where they wanted to live. The lion, being King of the Jungle, said he would like to live on land. The monkeys, being very afraid of mister lion and his wives, decided to live up in the trees. Giraffe, who also wanted to live in the trees (partly because they are scared of lions and partly because their food is up in the acacia and mopane trees) then made a compromise with God – they would live on land if they could have long necks to see the lions and to reach up into the trees. The birds chose the sky and the fish picked the water. The warthogs got a good deal – they would graze above ground by day and sleep in tunnels at night. God owed leopard a huge favour (leopard wanted stripes in the beginning, but God had already given its stripes to the zebras) so He gave leopard the power of climbing trees – the baboons complained for days and days about this new rule, and even today you can hear them at night shouting whenever there is a leopard around.

2315851131God finally came to the hippopotamus and hippo said: “I want to live in the water.” But God had already given the rivers and lakes to the crocodiles and the fish so he offered hippopotamus a brand new pair of wings. Hippo tried it for a day or two, but other animals laughed at him all the time – can you imagine a hippo flying? They also tried out trees and it worked well until hippo lay down on a branch, just like he saw leopard doing it. The whole tree came tumbling down to earth under his weight. Holes in the ground were too small and the mountains too difficult to climb.
Hippopotamus again pleaded: “Please God, I want to live in the water.”

3476024191God replied: “My dear hippotamus, look at how big you are, and look at those magnificent teeth I gave you – if I let you live in the lakes and in the rivers you will eat all the fish and within a week there will be nothing left.”

Then hippo came up with an idea and said: “At night I will leave the water to find grass to graze on – I shall eat no more meat. And to prove it, I will open my mouth as wide as possible just before I leave the water everyday so You can see that there is no fish in my mouth or in my belly”

And that is how hippo became a herbivore and why they yawn just before the sun sets.

Come and see for yourself.

2934053867If you’d like to come and find out for yourself why waterbuck have rings on their bums, or why guinea-fowls have spots on their feathers, why not book “Wildlife Camp’s 21st birthday special?”

This offer runs during our peak-season (July to October) and the package includes:

· 5 nights accommodation in chalets here at Wildlife Camp.
· Breakfast, lunch and three course dinner daily.
· Airport transfers.
· 2 morning safaris, 3 night safaris and a tour of the local villages and tribal textiles.
· One night spent on an overnight walking safari to our bushcamp
· National park-fees.

For only $1100 per person sharing it is not only the best way to experience the South Luangwa Valley, but also the most affordable. For more info please e-mail Retha at or get hold of us on Skype at

Moment of the month

2476352698Once again, we had so many stunning moments lined up to be named the best moment of April. There were lions in camp that kept us awake for nearly an hour with roar after roar after roar after roar. Another highlight was a hippo fight in the river in front the swimming pool. I was ready to put one of these stories to paper when our guides came back just a couple of days ago with an even better story.

1779390769Out on a morning drive in the lupunga area of the park our guests were watching three male lions doing what lions do best: sleep! After a while they left the sighting to find a shady coffee-break tree. As the guide walked around a bush to answer nature’s call he heard barks. Yes, not 30meters away was a pack of wild-dogs, barking at a Wildlife Camp coffee-break. “They sounded just like village dogs” the guide tells me.

2447818369That same afternoon our safaris went back to lupunga – at one stage they could see both the three male lions and the wild-dogs at the same time – and then the moment of the month happened.

Wild-dogs can reach a speed of 65 – 70 km/h and they depend on their stamina in long pursuits to wear down the prey. Chases cover 1,3 – 3 km, but could reach 4 – 5km if necessary. The dog that catches up with the prey first will grab it and pull it down, or it runs alongside and slashes at the prey’s rump or shoulder to slow it down until the other dogs catch up. They kill the prey by biting chunks out of it and disembowelling it. The technique is rapid and brutal but they are more successful hunters than most other carnivores in Africa.

On this occasion the dogs chased down an impala and five minutes later they had brought down dinner. A feeding frenzy followed and that is when our guest, Gianluca Vasta, got these amazing photos. The rest of the album is posted on our facebook page at
Sure, later that same evening the lions also attempted a hippo hunt and yes, if it wasn’t for the safety of the water the lions would have been successful, and yes, our guests were lucky enough to see that as well, but I won’t let their antics take the spotlight away from painted dogs. An amazing moment to cap off yet another amazing month of animals sightings here in the Luangwa Valley – and that, after all, is what we are here for: for the animals.

Herman and I are flying down to Durban to attend Indaba during May – if you have not yet contacted us to set up a meeting, please e-mail me at

That is all from us here at Wildlife Camp, South Luangwa, Zambia.

Kind Regards