Flying and Cycling at Tafika by John Coppinger
I have had ample opportunity to indulge in 2 of my greatest passions in the Valley this season.
The flying has been as good as ever. Early in the season the regular pack of wild dog were frequenting the Salt Pan area and it was easy to track them from the air with the radio receiver, usually within 10 minutes of take-off. The alpha female was pregnant and we knew that sooner or later the pack would den, which likely meant an impending sudden disappearance. Last year they disappeared for several months and from data gathered later in the year it was established that they had denned some 150kms to the north, adjacent to North Luangwa National Park! Several of the youngsters dispersed but the pack returned with their pups right at the end of our season and we had about a month of good viewing before closing for the rains.
In the last week of May they did indeed disappear and it was not until mid-June that the Zambia Carnivore team got a fix on the collared male to the south of the Park. In the last week of June we flew and were the first people to find the den with the mother and pups suckling. They were in a thicket area and it was impossible to count the pups but there were at least 4 or 5 there. It is too far south to take our guests there and anyway we are very anxious not to disturb them at this time, but the good news is that they are relatively close to home and we can look forward to the strong possibility of having them back in the pan area within a few months.
Apart from the dogs a regular sighting on the early morning flights has been elephants crossing the river. They have a longstanding schedule of crossing to our side from the west bank in the late afternoon and then back in the early morning. It is always a spectacular sight and one that never fails to please my passengers. Large herds of buffalo (my personal favourite from the air) have been common and at this time of year when they are fit and fat they are often still in bed for the sunrise flights.
I’ve probably seen fewer leopards from the air this year than any previous year. I’m not sure whether this means I will see lots in the near future to bring up the sightings to my usual average or whether my eyesight is not as sharp as it used to be! I’d like to think it is the former…and certainly my flying medical this year did not reveal any problems!
More and more of our guests are taking part in our mountain biking activity and everyone loves it. Cycling being one of my passions, it is usually me that leads these safaris and the norm is to set off at about 16:00, just ahead of the game drives. We cycle for an hour to an hour and a half, the first part outside of the Park and the last part along the main road in the Park, where we meet the game drive vehicle shortly before sunset. Relief riders come out with the vehicle and swop places with guests who can then enjoy a sundowner before setting off on a night drive. Elephant, zebra, impala and puku are the most commonly seen animals on these cycling outings – it’s certainly a different way to view game and everyone enjoys the opportunity of getting some mild exercise too, especially after sitting through many game drives and indulging in Rona’s delicious meals.