African wildlife as diverse, unique as continent itself
Having crossed the border into Zambia, we were stopped at a police check. Apparently our trailers tires were bald. Our guide protested and asked the officer if he had seen the condition of the tires on the minibuses overloaded with passengers that pass by regularly. With a crocodile smile spread across his face, the officer suggested that we cut our losses before he takes exception to the trailers taillights. Point taken. After getting a receipt for the fine back at the police station, we continued on our way to South Luangua National Park.
We stopped for a snack under a shady tree, and within minutes I counted 20 school-aged children in our immediate vicinity. Some were there out of curiosity, some were there in the hopes of getting something to eat, but all did their best to get in a picture when the cameras came out.
We arrived at Marula Lodge, on the bank of the Luangua River, in the late afternoon. After getting settled, we migrated to the rivers edge and watched the hippopotamuses wallowing in the water and the crocodiles basking on the shore. Seemingly harmless and docile creatures, hippopotamuses are the most dangerous animals one might encounter, especially at night when they leave the water to graze. Get between a hippo and its access to water, and you have big problems.
We were very excited about seeing our first African wildlife. Our guide, Godfrey, an ex-head ranger for the park, woke us at 5:30 a.m., and after a quick bite we were in the park just after 6. We saw a few impala, with their sleek coats and mascara faces, but Godfrey was keen on finding more elusive animals. We got quite excited about seeing our first zebras and their stencil-like markings. A small herd of elephants appeared off the side of the track, and a large bull walked into the middle of the road a couple dozen metres in front of us. He didnt seem too happy to see us, but eventually moved on.
We crossed a bridge over a dry riverbed, and many tracks even those of some large cats were evident in the ground. We followed the riverbank and suddenly a giraffe reared its long neck and head right beside us. They are such elegant creatures, with beautiful patterns and an odd, bowlegged stance. They look awkward drinking from a pond, but seem to float when they run.
We came across a troupe of baboons that evacuate the trees in which they are perched at the first sign of danger, as well as some Vervet monkeys who take to the trees when they feel threatened. We stopped for a snack overlooking a large plain where all the species we had encountered so far and some buffalo (the seasons first sighting) could be seen. We spent the rest of the morning trying to get close to the buffalo, but to no avail. In the meantime, we enjoyed watching all the other animals, including monitor lizards, puku and kudu (types of antelope), warthogs, waterbuck, bushbuck, a mostly nocturnal honey badger, and an elusive mongoose. Cranes, herons, eagles, vultures, guinea fowl, geese, and the beautifully coloured aerial acrobat lilac-breasted roller, among a kaleidoscope of other birds, were everywhere.