The 2023 season got off to a flying start despite some very late April rains. Full lagoons, flowing tributaries and lush green bush were the result of the excess water as well as some tricky logistics, camp building and road grading for us.
The operations team always breathes a sigh of relief when the key game viewing loop roads accessing the Yellow-billed Stork colony and salt pan are graded in time for guests arriving at the beginning of May. Early season, when it’s in full swing, is the best time to visit the colony. After exploring the entire colony area by boat in March at the height of the floods, it’s fascinating to observe the contrast in May, the water levels having receded revealing an entirely fresh new scene.
Apart from hundreds of Yellow-Billed Storks that breed here annually, this area is also home to two of our favourite leopards, Olimba / Pink Nose (who is now approximately 10 years of age) and her most recent offspring, Mutima. The heart (mutima) shaped birthmark on her flank makes her instantly recognisable.
Olimba is keeping a beady eye on her adult cub and we’ve seen them involved in several territorial scuffles this year. Although some leopards are lenient in sharing territories with their offspring, Olimba seems less inclined to allow this.
From the start, our guests have enjoyed multiple leopard, giraffe, elephant and wild dog sightings inside the northern part of the Nsefu sector, our prime game viewing area for Tafika Camp.
The Miliyoti wild dog pack have been front and centre over the last few months and the alpha female was heavily pregnant during the first few weeks of the season.
The pack comprises 12 dogs, one of which is a three legged but very capable male. This dog dispersed from the Miliyoti pack in 2021 only to rejoin again this year with one limb less. The fact that he survived and recovered from the loss of a limb without the support of the pack provides considerable food for thought. He’s still very active in the hunts and a popular baby sitter in the pup-rearing.
The pack denned at the heart of the Tafika game viewing area and the mother dog has been seen lighter and brighter the last few weeks. Thanks to her great choice of den we’ve had regular incredible wild dog sightings. Their hunts and disagreements with the local hyena clan have provided us some unforgettable experiences and photographic opportunities. Fortunately no serious injuries have been sustained.
The pups have begun venturing from the den and are entertaining guests with adorable displays of youthful energy. The den offers a great opportunity to view the dynamic relationship between the host of youngsters, as well as the adults and pups.
So far, 11 pups have been counted taking the pack to a total of 23 individuals, bolstering the numbers significantly.
Interspersed between the more iconic animals are the usual impressive numbers of elephant, hippo, buffalo, zebra, baboon, waterbuck and giraffe. Though considered more common, these beautiful animals are always a treat to photograph against a jade or sunrise backdrop. We’ve also enjoyed a couple of bush pig sightings, which is something of a rarity and we hope this becomes more regular going forward.
Tafika’s walking trail camps, Big Lagoon and Chikoko Tree camp, opened at the beginning of June and the walking teams have had some lovely elephant, lion, wild dog and buffalo sightings out on foot. It’s a good fruiting year for the Ebony (Mchenja) trees . As Big Lagoon is built within an Ebony grove, some relaxed bull elephants are becoming camp residents.
The deck at Chikoko is the perfect breezy spot to relax and look out over the Acacia plains and an array of antelope, giraffe and even wild dogs have been viewed from here. Roderick was even growled as by a passing wild dog while cleaning chalet three this week.
These walking camps remain unique, where activities are all on foot in an abundant and pristine wildlife area, unaltered by roads and vehicles. They provide the perfect hideaway to escape the modern world and enjoy an internet-free few days, immersed in nature.
At the end of May, Alex led the team up to the North Luangwa. It was a particularly difficult trek this year after the late rains and with several tributaries still flowing strongly. Preparing the camps was equally arduous but Mwaleshi and Takwela opened mid-June, all on time despite the challenges.
Both camps boast impressive river views from all chalets and the Mwaleshi-Luangwa confluence is now directly in front of Takwela. The North Luangwa continues to be the remote jewel of Zambia and the wildest escape on offer. With the grass starting to thin, we’ve had wonderful sightings of elephant, lion and wild dog. Whilst Mwaleshi continues to offer mostly activities on foot, Takwela is able to provide both walking and driving safari options.
We’re very pleased to welcome Heather back for a few months this season. She will be based in the North Luangwa and her experience and enthusiasm is greatly appreciated in the remote operations up north. We’re confident that her special touch will have a positive impact on our guest experience.
Shoebill opened at the beginning of May and Isaac Zulu is now settled at the camp working alongside the Bangweulu team. After decades of guiding in the Luangwa, Isaac is loving a change in wildlife and ticking off a few more lifers from his bird list.
Whilst Shoebill Camp is very remote, the area is also home to many fisherman and their families who live throughout the Bangweulu wetlands during the fishing season. They are an integral part of the Bangweulu experience. It’s an exceptional example of how communities and rare and endangered wildlife can co-exist and flourish.
Shoebill sightings have been excellent on the canoe trips with one group seeing no less than six of these prehistoric looking birds during their Bangweulu safari! Tsessebe, zebra, Wattled Crane, side-striped jackal and several thousand endemic black lechwe are seen regularly on the plains game drives. For details about visiting the African Parks Shoebill facility whilst staying at Shoebill Camp, get in touch with us.
“Breeding season is at its peak! Shoebill Nest Guards are reporting many nests in the Bangweulu swamps, most containing 2 eggs. In June, the Shoebill Captive Rearing Program passed a major milestone with collecting and hatching the program’s first egg. We now have 2 healthy young chicks in the facility being raised with the help of hand puppets. Guests can book in advance the opportunity to visit Chikuni island for a Show and Tell discussion with Shoebill Program Staff to learn all about our conservation work and progress this year.”
We’re thrilled to welcome Yaone to the team. Yaone is flying RASair for the season and although he hails from Botswana, has taken to the Zambian skies like a Bateleur. Having flown into all the bush airstrips in Botswana over the last 5 years, Yaone has expanded his horizons and looks forward to exploring the remote airstrips of Zambia.
The Tafika Fund
In addition to our termly stationary packs we’ve had some generous donations that we passed onto the Mkasanga school – books, pens, pencils, crayons, rulers, maps and educational games are really appreciated by the pupils so a very big thank you to those of you who have brought out supplies for the school.
One of our students, Jonathan Mwanza, finished his teaching diploma at the end of 2022 and had his graduation ceremony this year. He’s now a qualified secondary teacher. As Jonathan was such a good student we will be taking him on as an additional teaching assistant at Chasera school, a school in our chieftom.
Jonathan was awarded a bachelor of Arts with Education in English and Religious studies and is a registered secondary teacher for these subjects.
A very big thank you to all of you for your generous donations, they keep all of these initiatives alive.
We’d like to say a special thanks to the Specs for Africa team and a private donor for sending out a huge collection of glasses. The glasses went to some very grateful chefs, the local Mkasanga clinic and the Mkasanga school. Only a few very specific specs are left and a very grateful community is seeing a whole lot clearer now.
We’ve had several football boots donated for which everyone is extremely grateful – especially Jimmy, who organises our football league. The boots have been sorted and donated to the 16 teams participating in the 2023 Football for Wildlife league. We are now half way through the tournament and the competition to get to the final is stiff this year!
We may have leapt into the season but when in the bush we’re often reminded to move at nature’s pace (which sometimes teaches us patience!).