Morning came fast today. I woke up to my alarm at 5:30 but panicked and thought I must have overslept because it was so light out. But then the wake up knock on my door came, and I realized it just gets light early here! I dressed and headed to the main lodge for a light breakfast (carefully avoiding the female baboon on the walkway), and then we loaded into the vehicles and were off.
Our first sighting was just beyond the lodge - three elephants walking toward the river. They were in a hurry and didn't want to pose, so we pressed on. For an hour we drove mostly in silence, passing plenty of puku and impala and warthogs but not much else. Every now and then our guide would stop the vehicle to listen to the sounds of the bush or check fresh tracks. We were following a leopard track and the guide heard baboons calling a warning, but he said it didn't sound like their leopard warning. He was right. We pulled around a bend and started seeing movement - wild dogs!
This was a large pack of 20 individuals (down two from the last census), including an alpha male with a radio collar, several females, and six young pups. We drove near to four dogs lazing in the shade but soon realized that the action was with the rest of the pack - they were feeding! We watched as the pack devoured a recently-killed impala; the scrum was fairly collegial, but every now and then there was a snap and a whelp as someone was smacked for being too greedy. The little pups ran around excitedly, occasionally grabbing a bite to eat but otherwise playing and having a grand old time. A couple more vehicles came upon us, but it was a relaxed viewing, and the dogs weren't bothered in the least.
Finally most of the pack headed off to get some water by the river, while a few stragglers picked the carcass clean, moving it from one spot to another. We left them there and headed off in search of leopards. Another fairly quiet hour passed, with more antelope, a glimpse of yesterday's dead elephant covered in vultures (reminiscent of the dead hippo in Selous), some giraffes and elephants at a distance, and lots of birds.
Then our guide noticed that the puku were nervous, and the guinea fowl were calling out a warning. We drove toward the guinea fowl and were looking around when one of the other guests looked up and locked eyes with a leopard! This was a large, older male our guide told us, who goes by the name One Eyed Leopard. It's a fitting name as his right eye is clearly useless, possibly from a long ago fight. He is well known to the guides and sired a number of the other leopards in the area. Apparently his teeth are wearing down, and he isn't as agile a hunter anymore, so he relies a lot on scavenging.
Right now, though, he was lounging in his tree looking deceptively docile. At first he posed for us, seemingly as interested in looking at us as we him, but then he shifted and hid his face mostly behind a tree limb. We watched him for a while, enjoying the uninterrupted view of his gorgeous spots and powerful limbs and twitching tail. The two leopards I've seen thus far have been the best sightings I've ever had; of the seven leopards I'd previously seen one had been running away in Etosha, one was in a far away tree in Sri Lanka, one was in a distant tree in Murchison Falls, two were trying their best not to be seen or stay in one spot in Masai Mara, and two in Serengeti were up and down trees that weren't too close to the roadway. But these were amazing. Last night's hunter was actually under our car, and today we were directly underneath this guy's perch. South Luangwa lives up to the hype.
After that it was time to head back to the lodge so my fellow travelers could get to the airport in time for their onward flight to another park in Zambia. We had no more surprise sightings along the way, and once I arrived back at the lodge I made arrangements for a late lunch and headed to my room to nap. And what a glorious nap it was. I woke up moments before my alarm, refreshed and ready for more. I enjoyed a delicious, leisurely lunch on the veranda, and now as I finish writing this post it's time for afternoon tea (though I'm still full from lunch!) and then another afternoon/night game drive. This is my idea of paradise.
|Elephant munching on leaves|
|Wild dog! Alpha male with collar.|
|Eagerly eating an impala|
|The pups had taken a few pieces for themselves, away from the main feast|
|Alpha male, bloody from first pickings.|
|Hungry pups join in too!|
|Gnawing on a limb|
|Just imagine being parked under a tree, looking up, and seeing this!|
|Meet One Eyed Leopard.|
|Love that tail|
|Maybe I prefer not to be seen|
|You can't see me!|
|Find the leopard!|
|Ground Hornbill all puffed up|
|Southern Carmine's bee eaters|