November 2007 Travel Zambia 27 Green Season that takes visitors into the heart of the valley at the height of the rains. And thus it was that I found myself out on the river heading for Mchenja Bushcamp, one of only two bush camps in the park to remain open throughout the year. Our guide at Mchenja was the supremely knowledgeable Levy Banda. With game drives largely off limits, due to the waterlogged roads, he led us out on foot. Walking through the bush is a privilege at any time of year, but in the wet season, surrounded by nature in full flush and not another tourist in sight, it is a magical experience. The verdant landscape, with its profusion of velvety greens, jades, olives and limes, appeared in places almost like the ‘wild garden’ of a stately home, its lawns cropped by nature’s best lawnmowers – the hippos. With visibility often limited, we soon learned to keep our ears open. At every turn the bush revealed yet another secret: the rattling of oxpeckers hinting that buffalo or giraffe might be ahead; the harsh ‘go-waaaay’ of the grey lourie suggesting a nearby predator; even the staccato chattering of tree squirrels indicating a snake might be slowly wending its way through the long grass. But it was the sudden ‘wa-hoo!’ Angola pitta This beautiful but elusive bird arrives in low-lying areas, including the Zambezi and Luangwa valleys, in late November/December. Skulking in thickets, where it is best located by call, this is a top target for serious and dedicated birders. Monster mushrooms The rainy season is mushroom season at Mutinondo, where fungi fiends can find the largest edible species in the world, known locally as Chingulungulu (Termitomyces titanicus). This monster measures up to 85cm across. Flaming fireballs The bush bursts into bloom with the green season, with a profusion of purples, pinks and yellows. No flower is more spectacular than the scarlet fireball lily, which emerges at the first hint of rains. Bat bonanza Forget the Big Five: the largest and most impressive gathering of mammals in Zambia is the roost of several million straw-coloured fruit bats in the swamp forests of Kasanka National Park throughout November and December. Baby boom Many mammals drop their young at the start of the rains, when lush new growth means plenty of food for mother and baby alike. And all those vulnerable newborns tottering about is good news for predators, who have their own ravenous young to feed. Indoor elephants Elephants are a familiar sight in the Luangwa Valley all year round – but not generally in your hallway! Each December the local jumbos enter Mfuwe Lodge, without a reservation, drawn by the wild mangos that grow in the grounds. Shoebills on show The bizarre stork-like shoebill, surely Africa’s strangest bird, uses its enormous bill to capture lungfish in the Bangweulu wetlands. High water levels from January to May make for good sightings close to camp. Seven seasonal secrets Zambia’s rains bring some unexpected wildlife highlights. Here are seven to look out for. Setting out for Mchenja A flooded ebony grove NORMAN CARR SAFARIS ANNA DEVEREUX BAKER Fireball lilies on Livingstone Island MIKE UNWIN
Green Seasonalarm call of a baboon sentinel from above our heads that brought Levy to a stop. The troop was staring intently into a spindly rain tree. We peered through binoculars: a raptor, maybe – or perhaps a python? ‘Kaingo,’ whispered Levy, as a leopard emerged from her hiding place in the branches and slipped sinuously down the trunk, an impala dangling from her jaws. She landed with a soft thump at the base, snarling as the barking baboons reached a crescendo. A few brave youngsters, egged on by the mob, darted forward with teeth bared. Discretion being the better part of valour, the cat withdrew into the bush to finish her meal. We approached cautiously through the thick grass and peered into the deep shadows, hoping to catch a glimpse. But the leopard had melted away, leaving only the telltale signs of her presence: deep claw marks in the bark of the tree and a smear of blood at its base. Ten minutes later, over cups of kawambwa tea (with the customary three sugars each) and thick slabs of banana cake, Levy told us that the baboons had probably not been scared, but angry, and were trying to force the interloper from their midst. ‘They could see she had already caught her prey,’ he explained. ‘I think that’s why they were so brave. No baboon in its right mind would approach a leopard that looked hungry!’ When our feet could take us no further, the river itself provided our transport. For even the most experienced safari buff, a boat trip up the swollen Luangwa is a revelation – a real emerald season treat. We putt-putted slowly downstream, stopping here and there to let a hippo slide out of our path or watch a dazzling malachite kingfisher among the reeds. On one journey, a cacophony of squawking led us to a breeding colony of yellow-billed storks – the tree’s thick coating of white guano giving it a ghostly appearance. Juveniles engaged in bill-clapping squabbles as they jockeyed for position on the thinnest of branches. Meanwhile crocodiles circled below, ready to snap up any hapless individual that lost its footing and plummeted to the water. South Luangwa National Park Camps and lodges Flatdogs (www.flatdogscamp.com): open until mid-Jan Kapani (Norman Carr Safaris: (www.normancarrsafaris.com): open all year; birding safaris; Rivers and Rainbows package Wildlife Camp (www.wildlifecamp-zambia.com): open all year Chichele Lodge (www.sanctuarylodges.com): opens December 2007 Nkwali (Robin Pope Safaris: (www.robinpopesafaris.com): open all year; Rivers and Rainbows package Kafunta River Lodge (www.luangwa.com): open all year Mfuwe Lodge (Bushcamp Company: www.bushcampcompany.com): the only lodge inside the park to remain open all year Bush camps Mchenja (Norman Carr Safaris): combines with Nkwali and Kapani (see above) for ‘River and Rainbows’ green season safari package. For even the most experienced safari buff, a boat trip up the swollen Luangwa is a revelation – a real emerald season treat. Rainy season round-up ‘The cat withdrew into the bush to finish her meal.’ 28 Travel Zambia November 2007 ANNA DEVEREUX BAKER KAFUNTA SAFARIS Conditions during the rainy season vary from one part of Zambia to another. Though some areas become effectively off-limits, many others are not. Certain locations offer their prime attractions only at this time. Here are some top spots in which make the most of the season. ROBIN POPE SAFARIS Left: Zebra foal in green season heaven Below: Lions near Kafunta River Lodge contemplate the rising waters.