Christine Coppinger’s Home News
Home at last! It’s great to be back in the bush. My last visit was a year ago but it feels like it’s been much longer! The winter has been bitter in South AFrica, where I am studying, and some Zambian sunshine has been a welcome relief. It seems like the wildlife of the valley has welcomed me home as well. I was put on spotting duty on my first day back for dad’s drive. Dad started off with a cycle down Nyumbu drive with the guests and the vehicle met them later at the turnoff to Crane Lane. Mum and the relief cyclists headed home on the bikes and we proceeded down Crane Lane and towards “John’s road” for the night drive home. It was a lovely evening and I was soaking in as much sun as possible. I don’t think my skin has seen this much sun in months!
On John’s road I happened to spot a female lion in the distance calmly observing us trundling by! It would have been quite easy to drive on past without noticing, which makes me wonder how many times we blunder on past without realising how many animals are out there watching us! We bundu-bashed over the rough ground to investigate and found seven very satiated lions lazing about (three cubs and four healthy lionesses). There was a young female cub perched very uncomfortably in a small tree looking extremely precarious. Dad thought it was probably to avoid the flies…they must have really been pestering her.
The young male cub was looking at us with big, yellow, intent eyes. Never a great look to get from a lion! We decided to try and get a better look at the lionesses a bit further away and as we started to move realised that we had a flat tyre. Also not a great thing in the middle of seven lions! We rolled slowly away so that dad could change the tyre at a safe distance while I kept an eye on the lions. Once the tyre was fixed we joined the lions for a bit more of their “chill” session - the lionesses decided it was time for a beauty session with much licking and cleaning of each other. The lioness in the group that we spotted first was a beautiful lion; big, strong and healthy.
Continuing on our way doing some stargazing once in a while, we enjoyed another stroke of luck, spotting a female leopard on her evening prowl. She wasn’t shy either, walking up to us, across the road, flopping over for a quick dust bath and then she walked along the road in front of us for a while. She started to show some interest in a group of nervous puku. We knew the hunt would probably take hours so we left her.
A few minutes down the road we bumped into a male leopard relaxing on the road. He wasn’t so relaxed so we watched him as he slipped away into the bush. Thinking that we’d used up our quota of great spots for the night we carried on home not stopping for the genets. We were almost safely home when our second puncture of the night happened. Unfortunately we’d used up our only spare so Alex came to our rescue. The tyre was quickly changed with all the new hands to help.
We were late by this time so we rushed on home. Almost on Tafika’s doorstep, I saw what I thought may have been a grysbok but it looked too big and catlike. It turned out to be a serval. We had a great view of it as it slipped away silently into the long grass. What a night!
My luck with game viewing didn’t stop after the game drive. Dad had a relatively quiet microlight morning yesterday so I had the chance to spread my wings again after a year of no flying. It was great to be up there again. We headed out past Crocodile camp towards Ndau lagoon to see if we could find any action. Dad said it had been pretty quiet in that area when he had flown there recently and sure enough there wasn’t much to see apart from a few impala on the plains, the odd ellie and a lone eland mingling with some impala. I was quite surprised since you normally see numerous herds of zebra, buffalo and other antelope.
We investigated a couple of lagoons and some copses of trees without much luck. Just as we were giving up and started to head towards Nkendwe Plains (Jen’s favourite place in the world!), I saw some animals dotted in the grass a little distance away. Curious, we decided to investigate. Luckily we did since they turned out to be a large herd of 24 roan antelope! I can’t remember the last time I saw roan so I was chuffed. I had forgotten how amazing their ears are. The babies looked like they were all ears and not much else! There was a nice big male in the herd which was great to see. When we eventually got tired of circling the herd we moved on towards Nkendwe Plains. As we got to Zebra Plains we spotted the regular Tafika buffalo herd. Dad estimated that there were roughly 500 animals in the herd but we thought even that could easily have been an underestimation. They were extremely relaxed and didn’t even look up as we flew over them since they’re now accustomed to the drone of the microlight engine.
Our tummies were grumbling by this time so we started to head home. We spotted four kudu galloping wildly through the regenerating mopane forests. Not as calm as the grazing buffalo earlier so we left them and headed back to Tafika’s peninsula. I was quite nervous for the landing since I hadn’t flown in a while so I approached the airstrip with lots of height to play with; always the safer option, especially with the Acacia (ooops I mean Senegalia!) just before the runway which is getting quite big these days. It turned out to be a good landing and dad was very impressed… thank goodness! Dad says that every landing you walk away from is a good landing but it doesn’t hurt to really impress your parents once in a while!