KaingU Lodge

Back to Busanga

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Busanga plains. The North West corner of Kafue National Park and an iconic area.

Three years ago we visited Busanga in May and it was lush green with water everywhere and we had to travel in to the plains by mokoro. It was a bit of a emotional trip as we were collecting belongings we had left there the year before. The end of three years working there and having some incredible experiences and leaving some real friends there was quite a tug. In fact canoeing out in the stunning scenery and birdlife was really like the end of an era for us and a bit of welling up might have been seen in Julia's eyes. So three years later here we are planning a Busanga trip. Julia's mother and a friend were out to visit us and we thought that it would be time to go back. Now if it was just us we would have headed up with the roof tent and roughed it at Kapinga with the guys from NamibSky (who stay for three months and do the ballooning for Wilderness Safaris). But camping is not really their thing in the heat of October so Mukambi very kindly came up with a good rate for the Plains Camp for three nights.

30449505706_190f3f5f01_k.jpguntitled shoot-19095.jpg by G Dickson, on Flickr


A quick bit of general Busanga background:

There are three permanent camps in Busanga (which generally is estimated to comprise 730sq kms). Shumba and Busanga Bush Camp are both Wilderness properties while Plains camp is owned by Mukambi. Plains camp is the furthest North of the three and in the beginning of the season is reached by a massively long boardwalk over the swamps. The Busanga season is a short one – 4 or 5 months maximum. The whole area is inundated with water from December through to June, and while it is absolutely stunning then it is impossible to operate. The area is deservedly referred to as the 'jewel of the Kafue' and to be honest it is. There is simply no question that the unique area offers something that the rest of the park (and the Luangwas and Lower Zambezi) just cannot match. It can be simply mind blowing. The sheer intensity of life there is incredible. Yes, early season if the lions disappear across the Lufupa channel then it can be 'quiet' for those seeking predator action, but the multitudes of birds and lechwe in the plains is amazing.


I digress a bit. Anyway, the ladies were fortunate in that they could jump on a flight up from Chunga while I was driving. I elected to take the Western Boundary road which is exactly that – a road used by DNPW to deploy scout teams, sometimes a hunting safari and as a logistical route to the plains. It is a much faster (but more boring) route than the conventional 'spinal' road from the hook bridge up. So I dropped them off at the strip to wait for the plane and headed off.

Four hours later I am now heading East, along the treeline and then turning North again into the plains. To be honest at this time of year the plains are a bit underwhelming when you arrive at the edge. In fact it resembles more the salt pans of Botswana than anything else!

30210752920_075f5f0c82_k.jpguntitled shoot-18188.jpg by G Dickson, on Flickr


I bimble across the plains and before long I am seeing roan and (of course) lechwe in the dozens and dozens and some roan. But to be honest by this point I just want to get to camp, rendezvous with everyone and get a shower... The mid day light is also really harsh.

29878548994_595f4c0dcf_k.jpguntitled shoot-18195.jpg by G Dickson, on Flickr


I arrive at the camp to be greeted by Erko (apologies if I have spelled wrongly) and told that there is some mechanical drama with the plane so the ladies will not be arriving until much later. Erko is helping out for a few weeks with camp management (his real life consists of film making in Holland). So the rest of the afternoon is just spent wandering around. Edjan (Mukambi MD) has made some great changes to the camp since I last saw it - not least the spectacular elevated viewing lounge high up in the massive fig tree that the main area sits under. I have to confess I might have had a couple of Mosi up there while waiting for the rest of the party to arrive.

30485454865_eecfadf454_k.jpguntitled shoot-18256.jpg by G Dickson, on Flickr

30448995006_74f8ab96fa_k.jpguntitled shoot-18260.jpg by G Dickson, on Flickr

The camp itself is four tents which are generously sized meru style under big canvas awnings that provide plenty shade for seating out the front. There are outdoor bucket shower bathrooms reached down a small grass corridor outside each tent. Comfy beds, great linen (can't believe I am writing this!) and as much as you need but not getting into the realm of 'luxury'. Tasteful. Thankfully no solid copper baths or personal waiter service here! Just a proper safari bush camp.

The main area has lounge areas, is all up on an elevated deck and has a firepit down at the end of a boardwalk. It is everything that my dream Busanga bushcamp would be..... ;-) As careful readers of Caracal's Kafue trip report might know I like plumbing. I know that not all trip reports include bathrooms, but mine does.

30187022310_dfd555ed25_k.jpguntitled shoot-18225.jpg by G Dickson, on Flickr

30398900541_6d3155394d_k.jpguntitled shoot-18211.jpg by G Dickson, on Flickr

29854715164_28cdbdb93f_k.jpguntitled shoot-18255.jpg by G Dickson, on Flickr

The ladies roll in around 18:30 after a great slow drive up from the airfield. A couple of drinks around the fire, meet the other two guests in camp and then a great dinner and bed!

30369228772_7d71c959a1_k.jpguntitled shoot-19446.jpg by G Dickson, on Flickr

05:00 wakeup call. What a pleasure to be on the receiving end rather than the giving end! A quick slice of toast and some filter coffee and off. Well, not before the obligitory lechwe with the rising sun... To be honest this works a LOT better in the winter months with the mist. The haze now is smoke from the bush fires. I had forgotten how much cooler it is in the plains in the evenings, at night and the early mornings. It makes sleeping a pleasure! But a sweater is a must. Unless you are forgetful like me. Fortunately at this time of year the cold lasts for about 15 seconds.

29854870414_255d6ffb1e_k.jpguntitled shoot-18508.jpg by G Dickson, on Flickr

30485602355_3f14c42397_k.jpguntitled shoot-18495.jpg by G Dickson, on Flickr

We are driving with guide Powell (fairly new to Mukambi and the plains) and the other two guests in camp (a charming Kenyan/French couple who are into everything, just like us). First sighting (lechwe and hippo excluded) is a rosy-throated longclaw. This bird is tiny but spectacular and is a regular sighting in the plains.

30368823872_154112fc63_k.jpguntitled shoot-18517.jpg by G Dickson, on Flickr

A few minutes later an elephant. When we were in the plains to be honest the elephant sightings were not as common as what our impression is now. Speaking to the various guides at various camps over the next couple of days backs this feeling up. The big Kapinga herd are still a bit spooked, but there is no shortage of fairly relaxed bulls wandering around the plains – which is really encouraging. We head off around 'acacia island' looking for lions but quickly we figure out that the heat and the wind have driven them into the shade of the long grass so they won't be showing until maybe the afternoon.

30485633125_63776af505_k.jpguntitled shoot-18527.jpg by G Dickson, on Flickr

We start heading slowly back North towards camp and encounter some fantastic pools packed with hippos. Hippos in Busanga break all the so called rules: it is not uncommon to see herds of them wandering around in daylight (yes, I know they are not really 'herds'). There are a fair old number of them around too. A fair number of side-striped jackals are seen as well.

29853291803_607d089b8d_k.jpguntitled shoot-18593.jpg by G Dickson, on Flickr

30187241630_8c875c3f17_k.jpguntitled shoot-18607.jpg by G Dickson, on Flickr

29853220193_d463e7df9c_k.jpguntitled shoot-18447.jpg by G Dickson, on Flickr

We get back to camp around 10:30 (after setting of at 06:00) for a very good brunch with a great lasagna and fresh salad and rock shandies.

If my morning drive description seems brief and the sightings few, then this is the wrong impression! I am too busy soaking up just the atmosphere of being back to really photograph and note what I am seeing. To be honest the heat and haze is such that the camera was pretty much put away at 09:30 as anything not really close is just too soft.

As we are about to have our brunch I spot old friends out driving so walk out over the boardwalk to arrange a rendezvous for the afternoon....

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Siesta then afternoon tea. Standard safari rituals really. We set off to meet Eric & Nancy who own and run Namibsky ballooning and spend three months every year flying a balloon for wilderness in the plains. Eric does it for the love of the area, that I know for sure. His son and daughter in law are also staying with them for a week, great to catch up with them all as we spent a lot of time together and were lucky enough to stay with them in Namibia and do a fair bit of ballooning! Awesome people in every way. Anyway, the weather for tomorrow is bad – if the forecast is really unfavourable then better to cancel than raise hopes. So no pilotage the next day means that Eric and Dennis are determined to game drive with lots of refreshments during and after. Eric's safaris are a bit of a legend in the plains...

The drive doesn't disappoint:

29853318513_71d4b2a338_k.jpguntitled shoot-18669.jpg by G Dickson, on Flickr

"Machine". This weird moniker was given to this lion by the plains guides. Simply because she is a 'killing machine' and an extraordinarily successful hunter.

Shortly after we run into a herd of Zebra close to Shumba camp. Beautiful sight in the soft evening light, and in an area where in 3 years I didn't seem them there. There are some really encouraging signs in Busanga....

30449285856_f6c73639df_k.jpguntitled shoot-18744.jpg by G Dickson, on Flickr

There are roan with the zebra - again not what I am used to in this area. One curious young male gets closer and closer in curiosity before giving a toss of the head and trotting off.

30399131551_e5572d09e7_k.jpguntitled shoot-18727.jpg by G Dickson, on Flickr

We then head off back towards Kapinga in the sunset and I see something that is a really stirring sight. The big herd (80 +/-?) of elephants that move between the treeline and Kapinga island are heading back from the trees. This herd are skittish with a capital S, so we cannot get too close, but what a sight.

30187353170_4f0120cd2b_k.jpguntitled shoot-18759.jpg by G Dickson, on Flickr

30187365510_c4cb2712f7_k.jpguntitled shoot-18764.jpg by G Dickson, on Flickr

We get back to Kapinga and get invited to share some of Eric's single malt and have a look at some of the stunning pictures and videos they have from the last couple of years ballooning. We then manage to find our way back to the plains camp and dinner! As we get to the car park and are about to set off across the boardwalk we see flashing torches and shouts of LION. One of the big males has just strolled through the camp and is somewhere near the end of the boardwalk! So we wait for a vehicle to come and fetch us rather than walk. This is just like old times - lion encounters in camp.

Another great dinner and bed!

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Enchanting! For a purple lover like me, your sunset eles is a gorgeous scene. You didn't spook these skittish guys at all.

 

Collecting your 3-year old belongings had to be a poignant task.

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Posted (edited)

Great report with beautiful pictures, especially like the final picture with the large herd of elephants in the purple dusk. Thanks for sharing.

Edited by AKR1
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Bet the lion sobered everyone up.

 

Really sounds like a nice visit so far and very, very nice to hear about the area from someone who knows it so well, even if he didn't take as many photos as we might have expected. That elephant sighting is wonderful though. Magic.

 

 

I am not wholly buying this "light was bad so I didn't take many photographs" thing when there appear to be so many drinks in hot weather involved, but I will play along.

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Hurrah a rosy throated longclaw! @@KaingU Lodge it brings back fond memories of our first drive in the Bushings plains in 1998 with a laid back guide called Dorian and 2 elderly eccentric English birders who wanted a better picture of the bird wintering the plains for at least an hour during which one of them lost his shoe! Splendid time

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@@KaingU Lodge

 

So nice to see big groups of nsofu on Busanga plains. Usually the imagery that I see of Busanga doesn't feature them much.

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@KaingU Lodge

 

beautiful shot of the whimsical antelope! so you reckon that the game density has grown substantially in Kafue since you have been away and what would would have contributed to it?

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@KaingU Lodge

 

beautiful shot of the whimsical antelope! so you reckon that the game density has grown substantially in Kafue since you have been away and what would would have contributed to it?

 

Difficult to say if it has really increased to be honest. There are instances of animals being more relaxed (elephants), the lechwe numbers are impressive (but again difficult to say if they have really increased). There are instances of brazen poaching - where aren't there?

 

Lion numbers certainly haven't increased but haven't really declined either.

 

Whatever the case what is certain in my mind is that the game viewing is as good and probably better than I recall.

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Great photos, Busanga obviously is a magical place. Really like the Longclaw and the Elephants in front of the red setting sun - beautiful.

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Next morning and we are off again. Sadly Peter and Evelyn are flying out today so won't be joining the morning drive. They have been great and enthusiastic company. Fingers crossed for lions this morning.

Another digression.

Now when we were working in the plains there were basically two prides within the heat of the plains. Busanga (who became quite famous for their tree climbing exploits and were filmed for a few seasons) and then the Papyrus pride who were more usually to the North around the permanent swamps. Lion pride dynamics are never static, that is for sure. Now there is one pride of 9 (we never saw number 9). The tree climbing activity has died away with the Busanga pride sadly. The pride numbers really need to rise. Part of the problem is the habitat. The annual flooding makes it very hard for these lions to raise cubs. Pretty much every year there are cubs, and pretty much every year the cubs don't make it.... Lion cub mortality is always high, but how much more so in a swamp with small cubs trying to keep up. Now having said all that it is still an amazing place to view lions. Especially in the late season when temporary bridges and the reduced water means that more of the plains can be covered by vehicle. It is estimated that Busanga could well be number 11 of the most important lion strongholds in Africa.

This photo was taken a few years back - one of the Busanga pride cubs just with the onset of the rains. A few weeks later and the plains were filling up and we wondered if we would see the cubs next season. We didn't.

post-42446-0-48577700-1477388877_thumb.jpg

There is far more to Busanga than lions, and I apologise for going on about them so much, but we spent a lot of time with them and I found it fascinating to get to know their individual behaviour and pride behaviours. A chap that became a good friend of mine, Neil Midlane was doing a PhD on the Kafue lions when we were working there so it was fascinating to see some of his data and learn more.

Here is some collar tracks (several years ago, courtesy Neil Midlane) showing clearly how the lions are largely sticking along the main channel. The green track is "Mr Busanga" who was (and still has been seen around) but is no longer the dominant pride male. The yellow was a fairly young male associating with the papyrus pride, but he was pretty young to really be a dominant male. I recall he "disappeared" in the GMA... Blue = a papyrus pride female. I seem to remember purple was a Busanga pride female (but at the time of mapping the collar had not been on long so not much data was gathered). Red I am trying to recall - I think it was a female from the 'treeline' pride and black probably a treeline male. The two males now with the only pride left in Busanga originated from the treeline area if I am not mistaken.

post-42446-0-15482200-1477389622_thumb.jpg

Anyway back to the present day.....

30399188421_9685c9ab3c_z.jpguntitled shoot-18803.jpg by G Dickson, on Flickr

I can't get enough of Busanga mornings. Julia (who is not a morning person at all) is easy to convince to get up. Believe me, when that happens it must be a special place....

29854912074_1c2bb05bf6_z.jpguntitled shoot-18535.jpg by G Dickson, on Flickr

As we get close to acacia island there are a few tell tales that we are suddenly seeing.

30187223430_5d69540df7_k.jpguntitled shoot-18563.jpg by G Dickson, on Flickr

Apart from the vulture, the other tell tale is a hilux in the hazy distance. As we get closer sure enough. Guide Newton (out of Busanga Bush Camp) is with the lions.

30416555582_ef130b81ef_k.jpguntitled shoot-18881.jpg by G Dickson, on Flickr


Now this time of year it is fairly easy to find the location of the lions. The open plains, the fact that there are three camps and all the guides talk to each other means that the guys who live there generally know the rough area that they were last seen. But this doesn't detract from the experience, radio chatter is nil through our entire stay and I never get the feeling that we are being 'managed' into sightings. Powell is doing a good job despite his relative newness to the plains. The vehicle we are in is also good. Bucket seats, no squeaks and rattles, decent suspension, good tyres and nicely converted. No complaints at all here.

We spot Isaac (Shumba Camp) as well. Weirdly he is with a German agent that we know really well. The reunions are continuing. Last time I saw Isaac he was working here at Kaingu! The Kafue (despite being the size of Wales) is a small world.

30233219140_09e3221feb_k.jpguntitled shoot-18995.jpg by G Dickson, on Flickr


We can see a total of eight. 'Machine' and her two sub-adults, a collared female, two males (as mentioned previously that came up from the south and have now started dominating the plains) and a further two females. One of the males is off pursuing a female and emitting low calls but she is not showing much interest.

The current King:

29853461463_451eaea96d_k.jpguntitled shoot-18916.jpg by G Dickson, on Flickr

30485882385_874962cecd_k.jpguntitled shoot-18977.jpg by G Dickson, on Flickr

The killer and her sub-adult offspring:

29855138394_94720a34b3_k.jpguntitled shoot-19018.jpg by G Dickson, on Flickr

30399245071_e0e1605245_k.jpguntitled shoot-18932.jpg by G Dickson, on Flickr

30449416626_45473953e3_z.jpguntitled shoot-18943.jpg by G Dickson, on Flickr

The amorous couple (well, he was anyway) return:

30233233200_39469d7afa_k.jpguntitled shoot-19022.jpg by G Dickson, on Flickr

As we are sitting watching them I spot a distant martial eagle. Shumba camp used to have one that would regularly perch in the huge fig tree above the main area. Quite a sight as you are having a cup of tea (and some 5 star snacks - Shumba is pretty high end!).

30414763902_5f4e523981_k.jpguntitled shoot-18622.jpg by G Dickson, on Flickr

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My internet connection is fading fast.... I see some pictures haven't formatted properly. Grrrrrr. So no picture uploading until the connection gets better.

So with that we leave the lions. Interestingly on this trip I was using a teleconverter a fair bit. All the lion pictures were taken with my canon 100-400 II and an old Kenko 1.4x converter. I have a canon 1.4x (Version II) that I bought when I bought the 100-400. The Kenko I already had. To be honest I had never really tried the Kenko properly with this lens. I was not that satisfied with the canon results so kind of assumed the Kenko would also be a let down and probably even more so. It turned out that I was totally wrong. Even wide open (at F8) the Kenko was producing better results than the canon. Also because the camera doesn't recognise the Kenko I could use all the focus points - bonus! The focus was also snappier than with the canon. To be honest it was a bit of a revelation.

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Great past and current lion shots. The map of the two prides' territory was very interesting.

 

"The annual flooding makes it very hard for these lions to raise cubs. Pretty much every year there are cubs, and pretty much every year the cubs don't make it.... Lion cub mortality is always high, but how much more so in a swamp with small cubs trying to keep up."

 

Was the flooding also common when there were 2 larger prides in the past? Why would #s be down now if the flood patterns have not changed? Thanks for your input.

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Beautiful pictures from an beautiful area. Thanx!

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Great past and current lion shots. The map of the two prides' territory was very interesting.

 

"The annual flooding makes it very hard for these lions to raise cubs. Pretty much every year there are cubs, and pretty much every year the cubs don't make it.... Lion cub mortality is always high, but how much more so in a swamp with small cubs trying to keep up."

 

Was the flooding also common when there were 2 larger prides in the past? Why would #s be down now if the flood patterns have not changed? Thanks for your input.

 

The flooding has always been there. Pride dynamics are in a constant state of flux, I am sure Egilio (for example) could explain it a lot better than I, but for example a small pride in decline faces threats from other prides taking territory and small prides finding it difficult to take down larger prey (Buffalo, Hippo, Zebra) therefore a lack of food security. It's a natural cycle (In my opinion) and for sure Busanga has at times seen lion affected by man (large pride males hunted in GMAs, snares etc but I don't see these two factors as a main reason). But then just yesterday I saw a report from someone staying at Plains camp that had just seen a previously unknown lioness and cubs in the plains. So things change constantly. As I have alluded to, cub mortality is high. The floods just make a complex dynamic even more so.

 

When we were living there I recall the treeline pride was something like 12+ strong. I also recall the lufupa pride at that time had 12 cubs - not one of which survived as the pride basically abandoned them in moving off.

 

In a few years we could see another pride in the area, the current one may expand massively. Who knows?

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I enjoyed the informative interlude very much. It's very thought provoking and it's also what I would have asked you about, just that too, coincidentally as Zambia is on my mind now they have the pre-screening for visas from all countries and so we can actually visit without a holiday in Beijing beforehand. It's a fascinating area.

 

When do those temporary bridges start to work? And when do the morning mists end and the burns usually start?

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I, too, have been enjoying this report and it has brought back happy memories from our visit to Kafue in August 2015. I was interested in what you wrote about the Busanga lions and their territorial movements which seemed focused in the wetter areas despite the fact that there appears little shortage of available prey in the higher regions nearer the woodland edges. I speculated that the very rough ground conditions in these higher areas might have made hunting difficult and uncomfortable. Any thoughts? I am very surprised that Mr Busanga is still alive. He appeared to be in extremely poor condition when I saw him and I thought his death would be imminent and a mercy.

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Great past and current lion shots. The map of the two prides' territory was very interesting.

 

"The annual flooding makes it very hard for these lions to raise cubs. Pretty much every year there are cubs, and pretty much every year the cubs don't make it.... Lion cub mortality is always high, but how much more so in a swamp with small cubs trying to keep up."

 

Was the flooding also common when there were 2 larger prides in the past? Why would #s be down now if the flood patterns have not changed? Thanks for your input.

 

The flooding has always been there. Pride dynamics are in a constant state of flux, I am sure Egilio (for example) could explain it a lot better than I, but for example a small pride in decline faces threats from other prides taking territory and small prides finding it difficult to take down larger prey (Buffalo, Hippo, Zebra) therefore a lack of food security. It's a natural cycle (In my opinion) and for sure Busanga has at times seen lion affected by man (large pride males hunted in GMAs, snares etc but I don't see these two factors as a main reason). But then just yesterday I saw a report from someone staying at Plains camp that had just seen a previously unknown lioness and cubs in the plains. So things change constantly. As I have alluded to, cub mortality is high. The floods just make a complex dynamic even more so.

 

When we were living there I recall the treeline pride was something like 12+ strong. I also recall the lufupa pride at that time had 12 cubs - not one of which survived as the pride basically abandoned them in moving off.

 

In a few years we could see another pride in the area, the current one may expand massively. Who knows?

 

 

Pride dynamics can be pretty complex. Small prides get pushed out by bigger prides. Bigger prides are more successful at securing food, providing safe areas for cubs, and thus in raising cubs. But typically once a prides goes over 5-7 adult females, and the main prey is buffalo, the pride will start breaking up. If the main prey is smaller, this will happen at smaller pride sizes. This is because the costs (hunting is dangerous) and gain balance tips. In some areas these dynamics can be seasonally, like the Kalahari in areas where ungulates still migrate. When zebras and wildebeests are plentiful prides will be together. Once the zebras and wildebeest migrate out, the prides will split and it's pretty much each one on their own.

 

Busanga is a little different again, it's not so much the prey which moves, it's the water. I'm not sure if Neil's data showed seasonal shifts in homeranges of lions. I can imagine that prides can make an easy living on the plains when they're dry, but once the water is back they probably retreat, to areas occupied by other lions. Or when they stay in the wet areas, lives become difficult, with frequent and long water crossings, which are even harder on the cubs.

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Posted (edited)

@@KaingU Lodge Thanks for this great trip report! I enjoy your photos as well as your stories. Few years ago I visited Kafue. It was too early for the Busanga plains, the water wasn't entirely gone and camps were still being built. On the way back to Lusaka we got a ride from Tyrone from Jeffery & McKeith Safaris (may be you know them) and after his stories I starting following them on Facebook (they have a great page). Now, Busanga Plains is high on my list of places I want to visit.

 

Funny thing; I stayed at Mukambi Safari Lodge. We had no idea this lodge was run by fellow Dutch people until we were at the reception and I noticed photos of their reality tv show about the lodge which I had been watching :)

 

I thought quality of guiding was really high and think it's good to hear they still don't use radio on gamedrives. It so much more peaceful when the radio is off.

 

Looking forward to the rest of your trip. Meanwhile, I'll be making plans in my head about a return to Zambia (not that I have no travel plans coming up with city trip to Barcelona this weekend and flying to Namibia a few days later...)

Edited by LarsS
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Great past and current lion shots. The map of the two prides' territory was very interesting.

 

"The annual flooding makes it very hard for these lions to raise cubs. Pretty much every year there are cubs, and pretty much every year the cubs don't make it.... Lion cub mortality is always high, but how much more so in a swamp with small cubs trying to keep up."

 

Was the flooding also common when there were 2 larger prides in the past? Why would #s be down now if the flood patterns have not changed? Thanks for your input.

 

The flooding has always been there. Pride dynamics are in a constant state of flux, I am sure Egilio (for example) could explain it a lot better than I, but for example a small pride in decline faces threats from other prides taking territory and small prides finding it difficult to take down larger prey (Buffalo, Hippo, Zebra) therefore a lack of food security. It's a natural cycle (In my opinion) and for sure Busanga has at times seen lion affected by man (large pride males hunted in GMAs, snares etc but I don't see these two factors as a main reason). But then just yesterday I saw a report from someone staying at Plains camp that had just seen a previously unknown lioness and cubs in the plains. So things change constantly. As I have alluded to, cub mortality is high. The floods just make a complex dynamic even more so.

 

When we were living there I recall the treeline pride was something like 12+ strong. I also recall the lufupa pride at that time had 12 cubs - not one of which survived as the pride basically abandoned them in moving off.

 

In a few years we could see another pride in the area, the current one may expand massively. Who knows?

 

 

Pride dynamics can be pretty complex. Small prides get pushed out by bigger prides. Bigger prides are more successful at securing food, providing safe areas for cubs, and thus in raising cubs. But typically once a prides goes over 5-7 adult females, and the main prey is buffalo, the pride will start breaking up. If the main prey is smaller, this will happen at smaller pride sizes. This is because the costs (hunting is dangerous) and gain balance tips. In some areas these dynamics can be seasonally, like the Kalahari in areas where ungulates still migrate. When zebras and wildebeests are plentiful prides will be together. Once the zebras and wildebeest migrate out, the prides will split and it's pretty much each one on their own.

 

Busanga is a little different again, it's not so much the prey which moves, it's the water. I'm not sure if Neil's data showed seasonal shifts in homeranges of lions. I can imagine that prides can make an easy living on the plains when they're dry, but once the water is back they probably retreat, to areas occupied by other lions. Or when they stay in the wet areas, lives become difficult, with frequent and long water crossings, which are even harder on the cubs.

 

Thank you both for that additional info on lions in Kafue.

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@@KaingU Lodge - really looking forward to reading the rest of this. The plains look lovely and your lion monochrome is magnificent. It does feel like the entire park is doing really well. Knock on wood.

 

I, too, am astonished (though thrilled) to hear that Mr Busanga (who some of us call Busangadude here) has been spotted recently. We had heard that he had not been seen since after this year's rains - but I am not entirely surprised to hear this. That lion is capable of the most astonishing feats!

 

I had not realized that you actually lived there for several years. Have you ever seen that astonishing spectacle that Tyrone described to SafariChick and myself where on one or two days a year, the plains are literally covered in fish that emerge from the mud? If so, did you ever photograph that?

 

Thanks for sharing this trip with us.

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Great past and current lion shots. The map of the two prides' territory was very interesting.

 

"The annual flooding makes it very hard for these lions to raise cubs. Pretty much every year there are cubs, and pretty much every year the cubs don't make it.... Lion cub mortality is always high, but how much more so in a swamp with small cubs trying to keep up."

 

Was the flooding also common when there were 2 larger prides in the past? Why would #s be down now if the flood patterns have not changed? Thanks for your input.

 

The flooding has always been there. Pride dynamics are in a constant state of flux, I am sure Egilio (for example) could explain it a lot better than I, but for example a small pride in decline faces threats from other prides taking territory and small prides finding it difficult to take down larger prey (Buffalo, Hippo, Zebra) therefore a lack of food security. It's a natural cycle (In my opinion) and for sure Busanga has at times seen lion affected by man (large pride males hunted in GMAs, snares etc but I don't see these two factors as a main reason). But then just yesterday I saw a report from someone staying at Plains camp that had just seen a previously unknown lioness and cubs in the plains. So things change constantly. As I have alluded to, cub mortality is high. The floods just make a complex dynamic even more so.

 

When we were living there I recall the treeline pride was something like 12+ strong. I also recall the lufupa pride at that time had 12 cubs - not one of which survived as the pride basically abandoned them in moving off.

 

In a few years we could see another pride in the area, the current one may expand massively. Who knows?

 

 

Pride dynamics can be pretty complex. Small prides get pushed out by bigger prides. Bigger prides are more successful at securing food, providing safe areas for cubs, and thus in raising cubs. But typically once a prides goes over 5-7 adult females, and the main prey is buffalo, the pride will start breaking up. If the main prey is smaller, this will happen at smaller pride sizes. This is because the costs (hunting is dangerous) and gain balance tips. In some areas these dynamics can be seasonally, like the Kalahari in areas where ungulates still migrate. When zebras and wildebeests are plentiful prides will be together. Once the zebras and wildebeest migrate out, the prides will split and it's pretty much each one on their own.

 

Busanga is a little different again, it's not so much the prey which moves, it's the water. I'm not sure if Neil's data showed seasonal shifts in homeranges of lions. I can imagine that prides can make an easy living on the plains when they're dry, but once the water is back they probably retreat, to areas occupied by other lions. Or when they stay in the wet areas, lives become difficult, with frequent and long water crossings, which are even harder on the cubs.

 

 

Hey Egil,

 

To quote from Neil's PhD Thesis:

 

However, increasing HR size in the wet season did not significantly reduce the inundated proportion of HR, and thus the shift may have been to shallower water rather than dry land, particularly for plains lions that experienced a greater degree of flooding. Simultaneously, the increased HR size may also have been influenced by prey species being more homogeneously dispersed in the wet season due to widespread availability of water (sensu Davidson et al., 2013). This assertion is supported by the fact that female lions’ minimum daily movement was significantly greater in the wet season than the dry, suggesting that they had to travel further to find prey

 

 

It is possible that plains prides are thus adversely affected by both higher levels of anthropogenic influence (closer to the park edge) and greater flooding during the wet season which together may adversely affect pride size relative to woodland lions. During my study, only three of 16 observed cubs born to plains prides survived to one year of age, and all three were born in late wet or early dry seasons. Local tourist guides confirm that historically cubs of females born near the end of the dry season seldom survive the subsequent wet season (I. Mulenga pers. comm.). In East Africa, proximity to rivers and drainage lines was the best predictor of reproductive success (Kissui et al., 2009; Mosser et al., 2009), yet in my study area, where all prides had river access, only 5 of 34 known cubs (14.7%) survived past one year, less than half of Serengeti and 25% of Ngorongoro Crater cub survival rates (Packer et al., 1988). Dry season prey biomass distribution suggests that the Busanga floodplain should be a prime territory for lions in Kafue, but the extreme seasonal fluctuations in the system, along with the potential anthropogenic pressures close to the boundary, mean that dry season habitat selection may not translate into increased fitness.

 

 

 

The conservation status and dynamics of a protected African lion Panthera leo population in Kafue National Park, Zambia

Neil Midlane

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@@KaingU Lodge - really looking forward to reading the rest of this. The plains look lovely and your lion monochrome is magnificent. It does feel like the entire park is doing really well. Knock on wood.

 

I, too, am astonished (though thrilled) to hear that Mr Busanga (who some of us call Busangadude here) has been spotted recently. We had heard that he had not been seen since after this year's rains - but I am not entirely surprised to hear this. That lion is capable of the most astonishing feats!

 

I had not realized that you actually lived there for several years. Have you ever seen that astonishing spectacle that Tyrone described to SafariChick and myself where on one or two days a year, the plains are literally covered in fish that emerge from the mud? If so, did you ever photograph that?

 

Thanks for sharing this trip with us.

 

Thanks Sangeeta.

I cannot help but feel that more focus on Busanga with a SAPU (specialised anti-poaching unit) team there (particularly over the green season) is starting to reap benefits. As I alluded to there has still been some cases of poaching and a recent lion snaring (the snare was removed) but if the momentum can be kept up then I really feel things will improve.

 

I should point out that the work done by Game Rangers International (and obviously DNPW was they are integrated operationally) is supported by some Kafue operators (although most funding is external). Wilderness Safaris, Jeffrey & McKeith and Mukambi have played a significant role.

 

I haven't seen the fish spectacle to be honest. The area is full of surprises!!

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I hadn't really intended to talk that much about previous years in Busanga, but the more I progress the more relevant it seems to be to me anyway. We have talked about rising waters and tree climbing lions and how difficult the area is. So forgive another digression please!

 

The camps are generally all packed up by the 1st week of November. But a few weeks later and the spectacle (and solitude) of the plains is incredible.

 

5400774245_c0c1c0d07e_b.jpgP1010726 by Gilmour Dickson, on Flickr

Staying on in December (a building project) was challenging but immense fun!!!

 

5400773431_75b9c63fb6_b.jpgP1010722 by Gilmour Dickson, on Flickr

 

5400685633_8c90a28709_b.jpgP1010111 by Gilmour Dickson, on Flickr

 

We have been talking about Lion research - here is Neil in action. The work he started has been continued and built upon by Zambia Carnivore Project (ZCP). Egilio and Paul, Caz have all done great work. Not just research but snare removal and all sorts of other stuff.

Money left over from Neil's research was also a serious boost to GRI and their work as when he left he and his major funders (Panthera and Wilderness mainly) agreed that the money would go into GRI's work.

 

Tree climbing Lions. I grabbed these snaps while delivering sandwiches and diet coke to Dana Allen who spent literally 8 hours in a vehicle under a tree waiting to capture "the shot" of one of the Busanga females descending the tree. She was a good 5m off the ground. He got the shot!

 

5400747905_e77c76a74b_b.jpgIMG_6331 by Gilmour Dickson, on Flickr

 

5400749029_9c28639795_b.jpgIMG_6335 by Gilmour Dickson, on Flickr

 

5400764483_857df1003b_b.jpgP1010634 by Gilmour Dickson, on Flickr

 

 

Okay, end of digression!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Posted (edited)

@@KaingU Lodge

I stumbled upon the Kasonso Anti-Poaching Unit on Facebook (after a post of theirs was "liked" by a friend), supported by Ntengu Safaris.

 

It was good to see that they were having some anti-poaching successes in the Kasonso Busanga GMA, which should benefit the park.

 

(PS: Sorry for the digression!)

Edited by ZaminOz
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