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L ion! A big male, too, explains my guide, Levy Farao. We squat down for a closer look at that unmistakable signature: four round toes in front of the pad; twin indentations at the back. The single paw print has all the chilling authority of gangland graffiti. Clearly we are intruding on someone else's patch. And not just anybody's: this is Mr Big. Levy has little doubt that this is the lion we heard roaring during the night. Just three hours ago, at 4am, the explosive snorts of panicking impala jerked me awake. I sat transfixed in the darkness – like a child counting seconds between lightning and thunder – as the big cat's moans reverberated through the insect throb of the Zambezi night. So, only fifteen minutes into our walk from Old Mondoro Camp and already pulse rates are quickening. This, I know, is why Zambian walking safaris have acquired their legendary reputation. More tracks confirm that our quarry is heading away from the river and towards the escarpment. We fall into step behind Levy as he takes up the trail. In front is Gideon, our scout, whose rifle provides at least some reassurance. Yet there is a palpable tension: every shadow seems to conceal a tawny body; every swaying twig is the twitch of a tail. There is something about the Lower Zambezi – that smoky light beneath the browse- line, perhaps – that reminds me of English parkland. It is hard to believe that such formidable beasts as lions prowl this apparently benign terrain. But there is nothing English about the immense elephant bull that we come upon next, casually demolishing a winterthorn. Nor the baboons that scatter shrieking from our path as we detour around the jumbo, the grunting of hippos from the river behind us, and the exuberant tropical birdsong – black- headed oriole, white- browed robin chat, black- crowned tchagra – that emanates from every thicket. Levy stops frequently to consult the trail. He points out the neat cloven imprint of impala and the heavy, blunter stamp of buffalo – the latter embroidered with the delicate, tiny- pawed signature of a genet. Our lion's tracks are now overlaid with those of a more recent leopard heading in the opposite direction. I glance around nervously. But as the temperature rises, so the tension ebbs. Levy is concerned that we are wandering 26 Travel Zambia November 2008 The single paw print has the chilling authority of gangland graffiti. Above left: A lion's pad is twice as big as any other predator's. Left: Hippo trails are the highways of the Lower Zambezi bush – easily identified by the central ridge left by the feet on either side. ALL PHOTOS MIKE UNWIN ( PAGES 26– 31)

too far off course. And – making his decision easier – the tracks disappear. It seems this is one lion that doesn't want to be found. We stop for a drink in the shade of a mahogany and I take a good look around. The wilderness has enveloped us completely: there is not a road, not a building, no sign of humanity but our own ephemeral footprints. And all around us the bush is pulsing with life in its tiniest detail: the glittering webs of a tropical tent spider; the toxic colours of an African monarch caterpillar; the empty brood balls of a dung beetle, ransacked by a honey badger. As we sit, a side- striped jackal trots out across the clearing ahead – closely followed by its mate. For ten minutes the two canines work their way across a sea of purple panweed, pausing to sniff, scent- mark and greet one another. They are utterly oblivious to our presence. Three days later and lions once again awaken me in the small hours. But this time I am 400km to the northeast, at Chikoko Trails Camp, deep in South Luangwa National Park. The Luangwa Valley has been synonymous with walking safaris ever since legendary warden Norman Carr pioneered the concept during the 1950s. And today Chikoko, being accessible only by foot, preserves the purity of the original concept. The camp itself – a jumble of thatch nestling in an ebony grove, and overlooking a floodplain teeming with puku and zebra – certainly seems like the real deal. And so, after hasty pre- dawn coffee and toast, we hit the trail once more – this time led by veteran walking guide Isaac Zulu. Our route meanders along the Chikoko Channel, negotiating trampled dambos and drying lagoons. At every turn Isaac unveils more revelations from the bush: here, a tamarind in the death grip of a strangler fig; there, the immense haystack nest of a hamerkop. This morning the theme is dung. Isaac rummages through a civet midden – a prodigious mound, given the modest size of its creator – and reveals, in the crushed fragments of millipede, tufts of rodent fur and scattered ebony seeds, that this animal is indeed an omnivore. He shows us the hazel nut- sized droppings of a giraffe, identifiable by the wide area over which November 2008 Travel Zambia 27 Above right ( clockwise): long- pod cassia in bloom; African monarch caterpillar; warthog droppings; crocodile track. Right: walking guide Stephen Banda ( Crocodile Trails Camp) measures up to a termite mound. Making tracks