Just like an athlete needs to stretch before a sprint, here at Wildlife Camp we also need to get warmed-up before the very busy peak-season.
June, traditionally, is our hamstring-stretch. It is not as busy as July, but busy enough to have us running around camp making sure everything goes smoothly. It is not as quiet as the months like January and February, but quiet enough for us to enjoy the finer things in life – watching wilddogs from the restaurant with a cup of coffee in hand for example.
One of the run-arounds we did in June was putting up the Bushcamp; in athletics terms, a two day exercise involving lifting, building, digging, carrying heavy things and on one or two occasions hiding behind a tree from elephants. And, as you’ll find out at the end of this newsletter, our moment of the month almost resulted in a sprint-finish for me… But more about that later.
Droppings, footprints and drag-marks.
Wildlife Camp’s bushcamp has become extremely popular over the last years and is a flagship product for this little owner-run safari camp in the Luanwga Valley. In years gone by, we have only received one complaint from guests who stayed over at the bushcamp: “The hippos were too noisy – I could not sleep” said a grumpy old man with dark blue rings around his eyes. Other than that, guests love the chance of going on an overnight walking safari to our bushcamp!
A typical overnight walking safari starts with lunch with one of Wildlife Camp’s walking guides, James or Ryver. Between the two of them they have 28 years of guiding experience and are the perfect people to escort you for a night in the bush. Depending on the time of the year, the walk to the bushcamp begins at 15:30 or 16:00, armed scout in front, followed by the guide and guests. Walking safaris are about all the signs animals leave behind – droppings, footprints and drag-marks. It is also about birding and spending time getting to know the vegetation of the area better. How can a sausage tree cure sick chickens? What came first – the tree or the termite mound? Why is a sensitive plant called a sensitive plant? Ant-lions hunting and dung-beetles rolling are always interesting. And of course, there is a chance of seeing some of the bigger animals while out on foot – an elephant suddenly looks a little bit larger if you’re not in the safety of a safari vehicle!
“We also spent a night at Bushcamp, and personally think that nobody should miss out on this experience whilst at Wildlife Camp. Walking out with our walking guide (a walking encyclopedia of knowledge!) we came upon a group of 30, yes 30 giraffe!”
Two bush-toilets and a shower.
Arriving at the overnight stop, also known as our bushcamp, you’ll be greeted by three more friendly faces – a bush cook (Amon or Rogers) and two general staff. Your overnight bag and a cooler box filled with cold drinks are waiting. The camp consists of four dome-tents with two beds inside each. There are two bush-toilets and a shower, complete with hot water hoisted up into a tree to get rid of dust after the walk. A small grass structure acts as ‘restaurant.’ After a short tour of the camp you can sit back and enjoy one of Africa’s most iconic trademarks – a red sunset. The cook will start a campfire and you’ll be surprised by the smell of fresh bread coming from a bush-made oven in a nearby termite mound. The river-view is like the biggest wide-screen television in the world, constantly showing live and unedited National Geographic programs. Hippos, elephants, puku and impala are scattered across the landscape while yellow-billed storks fish for the last catch of the day. Even though the overnight walking safari is not about game-viewing, animals seen last year in and around the bushcamp include wilddogs, lion and leopard. So, keep your eyes open! Can you think of anything better to do?
“In addition to morning and evening safaris in a vehicle, I took an afternoon walk to the bush camp. During this experience I walked on the hippo highway, examined the impala website, tasted the fruit of the sausage tree, rubbed lavender behind my ears to discourage mosquitoes, tracked a leopard, saw his/her kill, was guided around an elephant with her young, learned about droppings and seeds and their various cosmetic and medicinal uses, discovered the tree that produces the blossoms that are used to make the cordial amarula, became aware of the positive contribution of nitrogen into the soil by the winterthorn tree, and sighted several birds including the lilac-breasted roller and the fishing eagle. Although the bush camp experience is not geared to seeing the large animals, we saw many giraffes, some elephants, a leopard, hippos, and had a hyena in our camp at night.”
The bush comes alive at night.
After sunset we sit down to a three-course dinner with the guide and scout. These guys have unbelievable (but true) stories to tell about their time spent in the bush. To ensure your safety, the scout has his firearm by his side all night long. With no lights except for a couple of candles and solar-powered lamps, the night-sky is something to behold, and with the southern-cross moving towards the top of its arch, it’s time for bed.
But don’t fall asleep immediately! The bush comes alive at night, so listen out for lion-roars, hyena-whoops and hippo-snorts (but please don’t come and complain about them the next day!)
“Now, Amon Mwale….what a cook! What a terrific story teller! He was the most natural story teller of my entire trip. I love to tell stories and I recognized him immediately as a wonderful story teller. He is such a good addition to bushcamp. The descriptions of bushcamp on the internet said that there would be stories…and he is your best story teller. His food was excellent. He went out of his way to find out what food I liked and didn’t like. He made me hot chocolate that was a dream come true.”
Were the elephants really this close ?
Waking up the next morning you’ll hear the bushcamp staff already busy preparing breakfast. A steaming cup of coffee to fight the morning chill have never tasted so good. After breakfast the slow walk back to main camp begins and will cover a different area than yesterday. What is that track in the sand? Were the elephants really this close to where we slept last night? What made that big hole in the ground? The guides know all the answers. And just before the worst heat of the day you’ll be back in camp to enjoy lunch, have an afternoon nap and get ready for a night-safari! Perfect!
Because our bushcamp is so popular, and because we do not like to mix bookings, please make sure to e-mail us early to book. The bushcamp is already open for 2013 and will be open only until the end of October, when the first rains arrive in the Luangwa Valley – what more can be said? It is the perfect combination of Mother Nature and famous Zambian hospitality.
Moment of the month
If you happen to have leopards living in your backyard, PLEASE DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME!
One early and especially cold Thursday morning I was on a routine inspection towards the bushcamp when we spotted an impala carcass hidden away under a bush. It was clear that it had only been killed minutes before and I suspect that the roar of the Land Rover engine must have forced the culprit to scatter. On closer inspection it was clear that the culprit had four legs, big whiskers and spots. As soon as I saw the abandoned carcass I knew what I wanted to do – get inside access into a leopard’s den!
Wildlife Camp recently invested in a stationery motion-censor camera. This new toy of ours detects movement and takes relatively good quality photos of whatever wanders past… and a carcass is sure to attract many wanderers.
So, I came back to camp, collected the camera from the lagoon where it was previously stationed and fixed it onto a small sausage tree. I made sure to remove all grasses and bushes from in front of camera and then left. Luckily Boo, the campdog that escorts me wherever I go was told to stay in the office because as the camera footage shows, 4 minutes after I left, not one, but two leopards were back at the kill! Sprint-finish, and I did not even stretch!
That afternoon I went back looking for signs of the carcass and the leopards, but only got a quick glimpse of the cub as she quickly moved away.
The next morning I scanned the area again and found the impala carcass underneath a thick mixture of mahogany and combretum. Once again the cats were not there and once again I dared to venture into their den to install the camera. Over the next 36 hours we got data of the leopards coming and going to the kill. Other visitors included a bushy-tailed mongoose, a warthog and a hyena, all drawn to the site by the smell of blood. But don’t let me use 1000 words to tell you something the photos can do in the blink of an eye – I uploaded the highlights onto our facebook page at www.facebook.com/WildlifeCamp
Stories like these unfold in the Luangwa Valley on a daily basis. However, having this story unfold on the road between Wildlife Camp and our bushcamp and getting such unprecedented access into the secret lives of leopards makes this sighting incredibly special, and a worthy winner of the best moment of the month.
That is all for this month’s edition of Wildlife Camp’s newsletter.
Kind Regards from all of us.