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False Lower Zambezi are a staple food for elephants and other wildlife. This rich fl ora supports a corresponding diversity of fauna, with more than 50 mammal and 400 bird species. Enthusiastic birders are attracted by frequent sightings of the pennant-winged nightjar, collared palm- thrush and Lillian’s lovebird, with the biggest tick for twitchers being the Pel’s fi shing owl. And everyone, whether twitcher or not, is awed by colonies of hundreds of carmine bee- eaters tunnelling into the steep banks of the Zambezi. Of course most visitors hope to spot the large predators, and with frequent sightings of lion, leopard and hyena, plus occasional wild dog, few go home disappointed. Smaller predators often seen include serval, civet, white- tailed mongoose and honey badger, while among a host of other nocturnal creatures there are occasional sightings of aardvark and even pangolin. Antelope include abundant herds of dainty impala, families of shaggy- coated waterbuck, regal kudu, shy bushbuck and nocturnal Sharpe’s grysbok, while zebra, warthog and abundant hippo swell the ranks of the herbivores. But the park is perhaps most famous for its prolifi c elephant and buffalo herds along the river during the dry season: elephant gatherings may occasionally number up to 200. Perhaps surprisingly, there is no evidence that wildebeest, cheetah or giraffe were ever found within the LZNP, with some suggestion 28 Travel Zambia May 2008 that the physical barrier of the escarpment may explain the absence of giraffes. The park remains perfect black rhino country, however, and the recent successful reintroduction of this species into North Luangwa National Park has led to plans for their imminent return to the LZNP. The dry season is the best time to visit, with most camps operating between early April and mid- November. The coolest months are June and July, with October considered ‘ suicide month’ as daily temperatures regularly climb above 40 degrees Celsius. A strict management plan has limited the number of safari operators within the park to six bush camps and luxury lodges, but more operators are located in the Chiawa game management area adjoining the park’s western boundary, where they share the same basic habitat and wildlife – many offering excursions into the park. Whether inside or outside the park, the visitor has a wealth of activities to enjoy, including game drives ( both day and night), catch- and- release fi shing for the world- renowned tiger fi sh, sunset boat cruises to view elephants cavorting in the river, informative and exciting morning bush walks, and canoe safaris. It is the last of these that offers perhaps the defi ning thrill of the Lower Zambezi. Whether you choose just to fl oat downstream for an hour at sunset, or spend a full day exploring the river’s smaller hippo- crowded channels, this is undoubtedly one of the greatest wildlife experiences on earth. During the dry season an endless procession of animals line the riverbanks and slake their thirst from the life-giving river. The canoes slip slowly and silently by and a feeling of total tranquility descends. You become a part of nature rather than an unwanted intruder. Sundowners are equally synonymous with Zambezi safari. You can alight from your open game- viewing vehicle, beach your canoe or simply cut the boat engine and fl oat quietly downstream. As the sun sinks behind the escarpment, turning the views from golden to blood red, the hippos start grunting, a distant lion roars and your gin and tonic will never have tasted quite so delicious. Visit at your peril, because most who set foot in the lower Zambezi quickly become addicted and return year after year. Stephen Cunliffe, born in South Africa, spent two years as a licensed safari guide in Lower Zambezi National Park, based at Sausage Tree and Old Mondoro camps. In 2007 he was invited to join CLZ’s board of examiners for safari guides. And everyone, whether twitcher or not, is awed by colonies of hundreds of carmine bee-eaters tunnelling into the steep banks of the Zambezi. Elephants are ubiquitous on the Lower Zambezi, whether browsing on the bank or swimming across the river, trunks aloft like snorkels. MAREK PETZERSTEPHEN CUNLIFFE

False The Lower Zambezi has become renowned for close encounters with wildlife. Marek Petzer, a photojournalist based in Lusaka, recalls how one such moment will stay with him. May 2008 Travel Zambia 29 I ’ ve been fortunate enough to have visited the valley several times over the past decade, and each time I leave, my predominant emotion has been one of relief: relief that I am still alive. My memories are haunted by close encounters with animals that could do me serious damage. And, disturbingly, it’s inside the impeccably appointed lodges that these encounters have been closest. You see, the permanent residents of the park don’t let a minor thing such as a 12- bedded lodge get in the way of their ‘ survival of the fittest’ lifestyle. Many is the time that lions or leopards have chased down their prey through camp, buffalo have ambushed me on the lawn, or – just as I’m nursing my much- needed drink at the bar – an elephant has wandered up to shake the very tree that it is built around. My bar! There it is hoovering up pods for lunch while the ice rattles uncontrollably in my glass. At least the camps provide escorts to and from your tents or chalets at night – which is just as well, since that’s when our friend the hippo, whose toothy grin accounts for more human fatalities than any other animal in Africa, moves in to mow the lawns. One particular incident stands out in my memory. I was wandering back to the bar at Sausage Tree Camp after shooting some tent interiors when I pulled up short: a small herd of large elephants was heading the same way. I saw all the other guests gathered in the dining area. First thought: go to a tent. Second thought: hang on, there are great pictures to be had. Third thought: where can I hide? I made for some steps cut into the riverbank leading down to the boats and canoes. There I stood with just my head above the bank, waiting for the perfect shot. That’s when things went pear- shaped: one large bull, who must have noticed me going down the steps, strolled over to check things out. OK, where now? Crocodile- infested river behind me, elephants in front. I went right down to the canoes, jumped into the first and stepped into the next until I was in the one furthest from the steps. But still I was feeling very exposed. The bank was about two metres high, so I reckoned the best thing would be to move to the front of the canoe and hug the bank – which I literally did. Over the din of my thudding heart I could hear the elephant snuffling a mere foot or so above my head. I froze. After a couple of days – or was it seconds – I heard a call from the dining area: “ Marek, move to the right, there’s a gulley you can come up.” Speed was essential: I sloshed through the mud, clambered up the gulley and peered over the top. The elephants were still there, very close. “ Wait,” called Jason, the camp owner. But too late: I bolted for the dining room. Just made it. “ Wondered if you were going to get out of that one,” said a cheerful guest. Jason just shook his head. Never did get that dining room shot. UP- CLOSE AND PERSONAL An uninvited guest CHONGWE RIVER CAMP