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).
crunch of foliage means an abrupt change of plan, as a small breeding herd of elephants materialise from nowhere. Quickly we scramble down a gully to a sheltered position below the steep riverbank where, with the Luangwa at our backs, we watch the great pachyderms move out onto the very spot where we'd been standing seconds earlier. Their questing trunks seek our scent. That leopard will have to wait. As we tramp back towards camp, Manda is explaining how the behaviour of one animal – as with those baboons – often betrays the presence of another. As if on cue, a clamour of agitated bird calls draws our attention to the canopy of a large sycamore fig. We move closer, scanning the branches, and there – high above our heads – are the gleaming coils of a large python. It freezes at our approach, suspended down the trunk like a fat, ornate necktie, while a retinue of drongos and bulbuls step up their shrill displeasure. Fast- forward four more days and I'm walking beside another, very different, river, 400km to the west. This is the Kafue, whose twisting course forms the eastern boundary to the immense Kafue National Park. Again, lions were roaring during the night, and now we're out searching for their tracks. My guide is Tom Heineken, owner of the delightful Kaingu Lodge, which is tucked away on a picturesque bend of the Kafue in the southern section of the park. Tom leads us through a riverine landscape that is a far cry from the sand banks and shrinking pools of the Luangwa. Here the river tumbles through a maze of small islands, splitting into hidden channels and disappearing among stacks of granite boulders and beneath over- arching waterberries. Dassies scatter among the rocks, trumpeter hornbills lurch overhead, and the telltale spraints of otters litter the jumbled shoreline. There is an intimacy to this riverine playground. And yet, as we move away from the riverbank and the bush thins out, I realise that we are stepping into perhaps Zambia's most awesome wilderness. Here there are no people, no lodges, no roads: just thousands of kilometres of bush stretching away to the western horizon. Game is skittish, being less accustomed to people than in South Luangwa: kudu melt into the treeline and horrified warthogs thunder A walking safari is neither endurance test nor adventure sport. But a few basic guidelines can help make it more rewarding. Wear neutral colours ( greens and browns); avoid bright or very pale colours. Lightweight longs are better protection than shorts against ticks and thorns. Take a hat ( neutral colour) Go without deodorant ( animals sniff out artificial scents) Use sunblock, even on overcast days Take a small day- pack for water bottle, field guide, camera etc ALWAYS DO EXACTLY WHAT YOUR GUIDE SAYS, especially around potentially dangerous animals. If you want to stop – even just to tie your laces – ALWAYS tell your guide. Keep binoculars around your neck, not in your day- pack. Bring a lens suitable for small, close- up stuff. Ten top tips for walkers Right: A bush walk in southern Kafue reveals scattered porcupine droppings around a false baobab seed pod ( above), and bark that has been chewed – and spat out – by an elephant ( below). November 2008 Travel Zambia 29 Making tracks