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Digital Subscriptions > Travel Africa > January-March 2018 (81) > A wildlife lover’s Zambia

A wildlife lover’s Zambia

From bat swarms and birding bonanzas to leopard encounters and little-known migrations, William Gray presents a guide to Zambia’s definitive, spine-tingling experiences
Between October and December each year, about 10 million straw-coloured fruit bats descend into a tiny patch of evergreen swamp forest inside Kasanka National Park
KATE SIEDEL
A leopard peers through lush grass in South Luangwa National Park

Some of South Luangwa’s leopards are bold enough to hunt by day — stealing through the thick cover of the park’s riverine forest, pausing to fix you with a nonchalant stare that instantly sears your memory

Thirty years have past since my first visit to Zambia. Bouncing around the country in the back of a bright yellow overland truck, it fuelled my love of African wildlife. Three decades later, I still have sketchy memories of a fat python stretched out on the floodplains of Lochinvar, freshly gorged on a lechwe fawn; a leopard slinking along a dry river gully in the Luangwa Valley; and herds of elephant, easily spooked, drifting like grey smoke through the mopane forest of Kafue National Park. Back then, Zambia felt raw, untrammelled. And it still does. Every time I set foot in one of its vast wildernesses and smell the pepper-sweet tang of the savannah, or hear hippo chuntering away in the river, I can’t help feeling that I’ve returned to the wild heart of Africa.

Valley of the leopard

Your gaze is never still during a game drive in South Luangwa National Park. Eyes dart from one ebony tree to the next, fiitting through the twists and turns of old river channels and probing every shadowy bushwillow thicket. There are leopard out there — probably in higher densities than anywhere in Africa — but they are masters of camouflage. You wonder how many have watched you pass, lying unseen, draped like spotted sashes in the sun-dappled canopies of Natal mahoganies. It makes the encounter, when it comes, all the sweeter.

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