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
they are scattered, and points out the bone- whitened ' bush meringues' left by a hyena. Again, we have missed the lions. But other game is plentiful: three old ' kakuli' buffalo eye us across a donga before tossing their heads and wheeling away; a grumpy hippo crashes out of a thicket and across our path en route back to the river; and a wary party of eland trot away through the mopane before stopping, at a safe distance, to watch us pass. Late that afternoon we even surprise a hyena, who lumbers off with the remains of a puku ram. Stolen from a leopard, reckons Isaac. We follow close behind the thief – encumbered as he is by his grisly booty – until the fading light suggests it would be prudent to return to camp. A fingernail of new moon hangs above the floodplain as we file back through the head- high ' adrenalin' grass, the first bats and nightjars flitting overhead. The next morning it seems the leopard has struck again. In a dry river bed close to camp we come across scattered tufts of coarse, brick- red fur and a long drag mark in the sand – chilling evidence of where a bushbuck met its demise during the night. Somehow it is just as thrilling to find the killer's calling cards as to see the animal itself. We are sharing the same terrain. Our paths might cross; they might not. That's how it is in the bush. Three days later and I am on the trail of another leopard – still in the Luangwa Valley, but now 150km to the south in the vicinity of Bilimungwe bushcamp. Now my guide is Manda Chisanga, winner of the Paul Morrison Wanderlust International Guiding award 2006 ( and that's not just for Zambia, but for the whole world). Manda is not only a goldmine of knowledge and enthusiasm, but also the most accomplished mimic of animal noises I have ever encountered. Right now, though, he is crouched down and listening intently. We know from the uproar of baboons in the riverine bush ahead that the leopard is close. In hushed tones, Manda explains how the alarm bark given for leopard – the full ' wahoo' – differs from the less urgent call given for lions, which generally pose much less of a threat to the primates. We manoeuvre closer – and, sure enough, there are the leopard's fresh tracks. But a sudden 28 Travel Zambia November 2008 We know from the uproar of baboons in the riverine bush ahead that the leopard is close. Left: Manda Chisanga ( Bilimungwe Bush Camp) explains the secrets of the Luangwa Valley, from the dentition of an elephant ( below) to the formation of meander loops ( above).