monalisa

Flatdogs!! SLNP Jun17 - Home of Wild dogs, Garlic & Ginger

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South Luangwa National Park!! YAAAYYYYY!!!!! :D

 

Our time in Africa this May/June actually began in Botswana, but we loved SLNP so much I thought I would do my trip reports out of order so that I could get the Zambia component out ASAP before I forgot everything. 

I got lazy and didn't continue with my daily journal/notes. Here we are 3 months later and so much of the information and detail, like people's names have escaped me already. Thank goodness for photos! Just note that the order of events may be totally wrong. As a bit of background this was our second time to Africa, having been to Tanzania and South Africa in 2015. That was supposed to be our once in a lifetime Africa trip, but like many before us, we fell in love with the continent and being on safari and had to return. Although as much as we loved those countries we wanted to try others, and settled on Botswana and Zambia. Zimbabwe and Namibia will have to wait till next time!

 

Our Zambia itinerary:

2 days Vic Falls

6 days SLNP

 

As you can probably tell from the thread title, we stayed at Flatdogs, which is a camp just outside of the Mfuwe gate. We loved our stay here so much. The staff were great, and we met some guests who were on their third return to Flatdogs. We could tell from the beginning we had made a very good choice. I would happily recommend them to anyone.

 

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Going through the pictures for this trip report is bringing back such lovely memories, and a few surprises as well. Before I go on I have to show you this!

 

Here is a picture of a hyena I took about 30 metres away.....

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Now check out THIS easter egg!!! I caught this after zooming in on my computer and my jaw just about hit the floor. Now if I could just get into my time machine to go chase that leopard...

 

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I'm still shaking my head in disbelief :rolleyes:

 

Haha, anyway to kick off..

Our first game drive was an evening one. We had no expectations at all going in which I think is the best approach when it comes to nature, because everything is then a pleasant surprise.

 

Our first sighting! We were delighted to find a group of hippos in a pond/lake covered in crisp green vegetation. The hippos were happily munching away, it was a gorgeous sight in the lovely afternoon glow.

 

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Rude hippo letting one rip right next to his neighbour

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Hamerkop hitching a ride

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Bird (sorry I don't know what it is!!)

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Owl (sorry again from the worst birder ever)

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Baby puku - so cute!

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Baboon sunset

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In the evening our driver Kennedy had gotten word of a leopard sighting, which of course got the excitement going. All of the jeeps were rushing in that direction and we did see it but the number of jeeps put Kennedy off from hanging around. He assured us, "Don't worry. We will find our own leopard". And find our own, he did! We had this one all to ourselves :)

 

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We stayed with this guy for quite some time watching him sleep and just had our sundowners in the car in silence, which was perfect for us. We are the sort of people who would skip sundowners every time if it meant more time just sitting with the animals.

 

After a while, he decided it was time to wake up for the day

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I think I'm hungry

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Time for breakfast

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Here's half a baboon I prepared earlier

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The other party of 4 in the jeep were not keen to follow this leopard or watch it consume its meal so we had to leave, which is a big shame. We saw another leopard as well and were first to the sighting before a bunch of other jeeps showed up. We couldn't believe we had just seen 3 leopards in one night. Our jaws were agape at how great this drive was and how incredible SLNP was shaping up to be in just 3 hours! 

 

We also saw a bunch of other cool night critters.

Here's a bush baby!!

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And a genet. This was our first good look at one. It was amazing. This one wasn't shy and we watched it for a good 10 minutes stalk and chase prey. Gosh they are cute.

 

 

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There ends a great first drive. No more wildlife tonight. Unless you count this little friend waiting for us back in our room :lol:

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What a start!!!

First bird: white-browed sparrow-weaver

Owl: Pel's Fishing Owl!!! A much sought after bird by bird watcher and usually very difficult to spot during the day! You were very lucky to see one so well!!!

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Yay!  Another SLNP report!  I swear y'all are conspiring to get me there next year.  I'm eyeing June 2018, @monalisa so I anxiously await the rest of your report!  Excellent hippo sighting and what a joy to have a leopard to yourself!

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I was going to say @monalisa and @ForWildlife that looked like  Pels Fishing owl! Folk try for a lifetime to see one! We have wondered about Flatdogs so looking forward to your report.lovely video of the genet

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@ForWildlife Thank you so much for that info! I wouldn't know where to begin looking up guides to find out what birds I've seen. 

 

@amybatt The hype is real. Get on it!! :D

 

@Towlersonsafari Wow, I had no idea! I just thought it was a cool looking owl with intriguing eyes. If I'd known it might be the first and last we ever saw I might have pushed to stay with him longer.

 

 

The next day we were greeted at the gate by this fellow :)

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Heron hitchhiking on a hippo

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Cruising

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Not sure I want this hitchhiker

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Hmph

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Hyena! They're one of my favourite animals. I love them every bit as much as lions and leopards, but our travel companions just never seem to care much about them, so we didn't pursue them or get particularly close. Here is one having a bit of lunch. We weren't able to see what it was having unfortunately.

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Zebras and baboons

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Back past the hippo pool

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I'm an absolute sucker for a baby baboon clutching its mama. If I see one, I am taking a picture of it!! :D Expect more of these.

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Coming back to camp, one of the staff showed us a tortoise they found roaming through Reception. Here is the sweet little fella

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What I remember about this afternoon was that we weren't able to get back to our tent right away because of elephants blocking the path. When we arrived we were given an orientation and told about elephants coming through the camp and how we should never run, but to slowly back away to where we came from. Because of how chilled out eles usually are when we're in the jeeps, we weren't expecting them to be so confronting when on foot. When one takes a step towards you, looks you in the eye and starts flapping its ears menacingly, it sure gets the heart racing!

 

We decided to hang out in the common area and try again in half an hour. By then the elephants were a bit further off the path so we figured we could calmly walk past them. On our way we saw there was a young calf amongst them. Perhaps this was why the adults weren't as relaxed with us around.

 

Sleeping bub

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Pics from the evening drive

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Our first glimpse of Ginger. He didn't really do anything but sleep and never even bothered to look up at the queue of jeeps waiting to get a look at him.

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Scenery

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Squirrel

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Sunset in South Luangwa

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Hyena

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Not the best of pics, but right before we left we saw a mother leopard with 2 cubs. We watched them play for about 15-20 minutes before we had to go. 

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Your pictures are great @monalisa!  I'm sorry that your jeep companions weren't as keen to stay and watch the good stuff!

 

For anyone considering a trip, the Robin Pope Camps I used in June of 2016 did not put a lot of people in the jeeps.  I had several solo drives and some with one or 2 others.  It's higher priced than Flatdogs and there are no guarantees of course, but something to consider.  They also have no single supplement if that is a factor.  I'd consider Flatdogs for the main gate section of SLNP and maybe spring for the more expensive camps at location farther north. 

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The next day was an all-dayer. The proviso was that we could do an all day safari as long as 4 or more people were interested in going. Our jeep companions were keen so off we went.

The benefit of this was that we could drive further into the park and see different scenery and hopefully see different animals. It was worthwhile doing, but I wouldn't say necessary. It was a rough day being out in the heat for so long and the animals were mostly absent during the warmest part of the day. We also didn't see a particular increase in wildlife further into the park either. Still, we were glad we did it at least once.

 

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Ducks in a tree

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The craziest beehive I have ever seen

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Chestnut bellied kingfisher and his elephant friend

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Frog for lunch.. mmmmm..

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While the previous photos are I'm sure out of order, I know that the next sequence occurred in the morning. We got to a field where a leopard was stalking antelope.

I can't tell you how many jeeps were at this sighting, but it was too many. SLNP has rules regarding the number of vehicles permitted at a sighting. I think it was 3 or 4 max? The rule is that when a 4th jeep arrives, the 1st jeep needs to leave so as not to overwhelm the animals or disturb sightings. We were the one of the first to arrive on the scene and in a prime position to catch this hunt, so my husband and I were expecting to get to stay and watch this hunt unfold. Our driver and the armed ranger with us were agitated with the behaviour of the other jeeps and had words with some of them jostling around. I think in scenarios like this everyone should be able to stay as long as they stay still and quiet. Rules are one thing if it's a pride of lions sitting around or a stationary animal, but in the event of a potential hunt, I can't imagine that anyone would be okay with missing that. It just didn't make sense to us to leave.

 

Needless to say, my husband was extremely upset when our guide left this sighting and giving up our incredible vantage point.

 

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The scene right before we left <_<

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We really had to make a conscious effort to stay positive after the disappointment of missing a hunt. Thankfully SLNP has so much to delight that it was hard to stay upset :)

 

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Such a cuttiiieee :wub:

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Something I thought was interesting was that we never saw a pride of lions, either in Botswana or Zambia. We mostly got loners or pairs. This was quite a contrast to our experience in the Serengeti 2 years back.

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@Pamshelton3932 Robin Pope looked like a good one to go with! We saw a lot of other camp's jeeps that were definitely waaaaayyy too overcrowded. Flatdogs has a maximum of 6 people to a jeep, so even at max capacity everyone still gets a "window" seat. For the first few days my husband and I were grouped with a party of 4 friends, but for the last few days it was just us and one single guy. When it was just the 3 of us it was awesome because we happened to be a better fit. We were all on the same page about staying with a sighting for as long as possible. I really don't mind the large groups of 6 so long as everyone generally shares the same interests.

 

 

The day's redemption..

A leopard all to ourselves!!

 

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Absolutely magnificent

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Some of the day's other delights

 

Puku

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Caption contest?

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Mama zebra and baby getting some milk

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Getting spooked

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Getting spooked puts some in the mood

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No thanks..

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Still no.

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We have video of this girl giving him a good kick in the face. I'll try to dig it up later!

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Squee!! So cute! :wub:

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When we stopped for sundowners was when I took the hyena photo I posted earlier. I wonder if I can include this in our leopard count? :D I'm surprised a leopard and hyena can hang out so close together.

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All in all a pretty great day :)

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That hidden leopard is great.  I can imagine your thrill and surprise when you found it.  So cool to see something after the fact.  I once located my lost gray hairbrush on a bedspread of gray elephants when I looked at my camp photos. It was so camouflaged that I missed packing it.  Nowhere near as exciting as your leopard!

 

I have seen very close leopard and hyena encounters, usually where the hyena was trying to steal a kill from the leopard.

 

You got some great stalking shots of the leopard in the crevice.  I'd be upset to move too.  Do you know what eventually happened with the leopard and the prey it was stalking?

 

Fantastic zebra activity.  I like to see the stripes in motion and you caught them.

 

Great encounters both day and night. 

 

How did you settle on Flat Dogs and did you get a discount for 6 nights, a relatively long stay?

 

The # of guests vs the cost balancing act mentioned by @Pamshelton3932 prompts me to ask how many you usually had in your Flat Dog vehicle?  Even if you are sharing with just 1 or 2 others, they can have wildly different goals for the outing.

 

Nice to have such a good leopard sighting later in the day.

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Posted (edited)

Ginger! He's a special lion to me, first saw him as a cub in October 2008 and immediately recognized that he was a special lion!

 

About vehicles at sightings. Yes there is this 'rule' in SLNP, but it's more of a gentlemens agreement than a law. Actually, it matters much less if there are many cars at a sighting of sleeping lions then at a sighting of a hunting leopard. Both prey and leopard might get distracted by the cars, and leopards actually often use the cover of the cars (sound and physical) and thus the game between predator and prey is influenced by the cars, which it shouldn't. I know of one guide who told me saw many leopard kills, until he got the idea that the leopards might be using the noise of the car as a cover to stalk closer. Since then he would always switch off the engine immediately whenever he saw a leopard hunting. He never saw a kill happening anymore.

 

PS: the correct name for the chestnut bellied kingfisher is grey-headed kingfisher.

Edited by egilio
error
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Posted (edited)

59 minutes ago, egilio said:

I know of one guide who told me saw many leopard kills, until he got the idea that the leopards might be using the noise of the car as a cover to stalk closer. Since then he would always switch off the engine immediately whenever he saw a leopard hunting. He never saw a kill happening anymore.

 

 

strange guide - he should switch off his engine at each and every sighting, regardless if it's a stalking leopard or a sleeping leopard or a grazing puku. There are people who enjoy the sound and the smell of the bush much more than the sound and the smell of a diesel or petrol engine.

Edited by ice
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obviously my last comment refers to self drivers as well, those are usually worse than professional guides

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@Atravelynn Really? Are the leopards usually cool with the hyenas doing this? This hyena did look like it was eating something, so I thought it was strange that a leopard would just be sitting so casually nearby. Not that I really "saw" this in real-time anyway :P

 

Unfortunately with the stalking leopard, we never found out the outcome. Our guide tried to tell us that the open field meant that the hunt would have been a definite fail, but of course, you never know, and it still would have been amazing to watch. We've never seen a successful kill in action before.

 

How we settled on Flatdogs was essentially down to price. June still counted as low season so we were able to get a significant discount by going then. It was a great mid-range option that had very good reviews so we were sold. We also liked that they had a 6 person maximum to a jeep. Certainly if you have wiggle room in your budget it might be nice to go with some of the more private/luxury guides/camps. But then again as you mentioned, it's a balancing act. The extra $$ could be spent on even more days. Tough decisions! 

 

@egilio Ginger is one handsome fella. His colourings are just so special. Have you seen his brother Garlic too? We like him just as much :)

 

I think if vehicles are close enough that predators can use them for cover then that is problematic in hunt situations, but we were all well behind a ditch, behind the whole scene. If everyone would just kill their engines and be quiet then everyone could enjoy it without disturbing the animals. The 4 car rule meant that we might never see a hunt from start to finish.

 

Also thanks for the correct kingfisher name. I did forewarn that I was the worst birder ever :lol: But not for lack of trying!

 

@ice Agreed! Nothing ruins the feeling of being out in the middle of nature more than the sound and smell of running engines.

 

 

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6 hours ago, ice said:

 

strange guide - he should switch off his engine at each and every sighting, regardless if it's a stalking leopard or a sleeping leopard or a grazing puku. There are people who enjoy the sound and the smell of the bush much more than the sound and the smell of a diesel or petrol engine.

 

I should explain it better. Of course he would usually switch off his car. But he noticed that when would switch the engine on to re-position, the leopard would move. Or at night drives they sometimes switch on to make sure the spotlight isn't draining the battery. He noticed that those were actually the times the leopards would make a move and were often successful. So since then he refuses to switch on his engine to re-position even if guests request it (yes, that can cause issues too). When he sees a leopard he parks and that's it if potential prey is nearby and the leopard is interested in it. It happens regularly that leopard stalk behind and even under cars. A great experience for tourists, not so much for the targeted pukus and impalas.

South Luangwa has many great guides and I know many of them, and this one is definitely in my top 5.

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@monalisa thanks for posting a report of your time at sightings at Flatdogs. I have wondered what this camp and the offered activities would be like and I can see that it is wonderful. I love the hippo photos, the grazing in the greenery and the hitch-hiking heron. Congrats on an almost perfect Pel's Fishing Owl photo.

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More!

 

Baby ele learning to use its trunk :wub:

 

 

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Warthog

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This poor hog has lost its tail. And I seem to have caught it at an inconvenient time.

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Monitor lizard

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Wild dog time!

Up until this point we had yet to see wild dogs up close, so when our guide told us he could see dog tracks and that we would follow them, we were excited but tried to contain ourselves and not get our hopes up. After all I had had my heart broken in the Okavango Delta when our guide told us we had a great chance of seeing lion cubs and we never found them :(

 

Needless to say we were over the moon when we got to this clearing and found a pack of 16 dogs! They weren't doing too much but we were able to come pretty close and get a good look at them.

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This one was my favourite. I love the markings.

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The dogs' resident hyena who I think is so so cute! Poor thing got bullied by them later that afternoon.

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Arriving back to camp for the siesta break, we once again had to wait for elephants to clear the path before we could head back to our tent.

20 minutes later they had moved on to a mud pool just behind us.

This was the view from the back of our tent as we cautiously shuffled inside. They were having just the best time.

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On the evening drive we saw a lot of baboons on the Mfuwe gate bridge. I warned you if there were baby baboons I would be taking pictures!

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Pooped

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According to our guide this one is only a few days old :wub:

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Trying to squirm out of mum's clutch

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Stranger danger. I'm staying with mum!

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Mamas and their babies

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Once we passed the main gate area we headed straight for the location we had last left the dogs. We were happy to find that they were still there!

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They continued to lay around but then started to get noticeably annoyed with the hyena. A few of them chased him to a swampy area behind where they were initially resting, nipping at him and generally ganging up on him. Their attention span didn't seem that long however as they quickly got distracted by a crocodile and forgot about old mate hyena who was trying to play dead. 

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Playing dead

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Distracted by a crocodile

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Poor mud bum has learnt his lesson trying to hang out near the dogs

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Somehow at night time, across a marsh, in a tree, our guide spotted this.. our first ever chameleon!

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Our last great sighting of the night, a Verreaux's eagle-owl killing and eating a snake

 

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lovely photos - thanks for posting 

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"Up until this point we had yet to see wild dogs up close, so when our guide told us he could see dog tracks and that we would follow them, we were excited but tried to contain ourselves and not get our hopes up"  That's hard to avoid.  But you met with success.

 

The croc sure had the dogs' attention.  Was the croc in the photo?  I did not see it.

 

Your night time chameleon shot is beautiful.

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SLNP sure is an excellent place for leopards. You had a great range of sightings - including those wonderful Wild Dogs.

Thank you for posting.

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@monalisa

 

Just as you thought your first visit to Africa would be a "once in a lifetime trip," don't be surprised if the "world's worst birder" begins to develop a real affinity for birds.  Trust me on this. We took our African "trip of a lifetime" in 2013, and will be going on our fourth one in January.  I didn't know anything about birds on that first trip, and didn't believe it the first time I heard someone say that safaris will turn you into a birder, but I can assure you that legions of veteran safari-goers just bashed their foreheads with their keyboards when they saw that photo of the Pel's Fishing Owl and read that you didn't know what it was!  Seriously special find and great photo!  Coupled with the Verraux's Eagle-Owl eating the snake, you've had a good luck streak in the bird department. 

 

Fantastic leopard shots shots and love that chameleon.  

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@Atravelynn No croc in the photo unfortunately. To be honest I didn't see it either but our guide was adamant that's what had the dogs so distracted and agitated.

 

 @Alexander33 No doubt! Birding-creep is already upon me. I'm still far from an expert but I did find myself wanting to stop at every LBR and hornbill we saw :lol:

 

Since the poor Pel's owl didn't receive enough appreciation from me in the first instance, here is our clip of him and a closer photo :)

 

 

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Posted (edited)

On the morning of our second last day we heard lions roaring during breakfast. The sound was coming from across the river behind the camp. Everyone rushed to that side of the camp to try to catch a glimpse of them. 

Our guide Kennedy had other ideas though and told us all to run to the jeep as fast as we could. We would drive to find them ASAP before other jeeps found them and started crowding them. We were like lightning in the direction of these lions. How Kennedy worked out where to go when we had never sighted them we'll never know. Well, what an amazing find this would turn out to be. The famed Ginger and his brother Garlic were in the area! We were so lucky. These two are the most special looking lions I have ever had the privilege to see in real life. 

 

Ginger has the creamy colouring of a teddy bear, with an extremely kind, gentle looking face. No doubt he would still tear us a new one given the chance, but he just looks so sweet and kind ^_^

Garlic on the other hand is a fiery redhead with darker colouring and a menacing face. Together they looked like Scar and Mufasa, good and evil, except they were the best of friends.

We stayed with them for some time before other jeeps arrived. This was definitely a highlight of the trip for us!

 

Without further ado here are the pictures of the handsome boys


I've left a corner of the jeep to show how close we were

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I've never hated grass more for ruining my shot!!

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Garlic

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So intense

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If evil had a face..

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Ginger

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They got up after a while and we tailed them, but not once did they seem bothered by us or even acknowledge us when we followed them down the road.

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Don't they look just like Scar and Mufasa here??

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Garlic

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Ginger

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Is this not the sweetest face you ever saw..

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Edited by monalisa
added video :)
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The 'affection' pairs of male lions show each other is really quite touching. What a fantastic time you had with them and well done to Kennedy! 

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Really nice sequence of photos there.  I think that's what I love most about lions is how openly affectionate they are towards each other.  And this is another instance of a very dark coat on that one male.  I commented in another TR about that, I think it was Pepper the lion somewhere else was also dark like that.  Not the traditional tawny coat you'd expect.  Thank you again for this TR, I'm really enjoying it!

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Posted (edited)

1 hour ago, amybatt said:

 And this is another instance of a very dark coat on that one male.  I commented in another TR about that, I think it was Pepper the lion somewhere else was also dark like that.  Not the traditional tawny coat you'd expect.  Thank you again for this TR, I'm really enjoying it!

Interesting comment @amybatt Did you mean traditional to South Luangwa? There are quite a lot of dark maned lions in various places most notably in the Kalahari, and the Mara and Ethiopia. My understanding is that the darker maned lions have higher testosterone levels and are thus more attractive to females. So Garlic is probably the more dominant male of the two.

Edited by wilddog

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