Alan Murphy
Australia AU

Alan is a travel writer and author of over 20 Lonely Planet guidebooks, including the guides to Southern Africa and Zambia & Malawi.

Category: Alan Murphy's Column

Just returned from a safari in South Luangwa, Alan is brimming with tales of wildlife, tropical storms, and one very beautiful landscape.

I wondered what I would find on safari in South Luangwa, Zambia, in the off / rainy season, known locally as the emerald season. Why emerald? Well, to make it sound attractive of course! And a reflection on the prolific growth after the rains.

Safaris, accommodation, you name it - it’s all cheaper at this time of year. Why is that? Well, as beautiful as it is, the wildlife is harder to spot. With more water around the animals disperse away from the few waterholes they tend to congregate around during the Dry season.

The Best Time to see Wildlife
But me - I got lucky! I went in early December when the rainy season should have been in full swing but the rains were late last year. That meant water was still down to a few waterholes where the wildlife was gathering. It was damn hot and everyone (including me) was praying for the heavens to open.

The reality is that it’s a shocking time of year for local communities needing rain for their crops. And in wildlife terms, some animals perish from the lack of water, at this time of year, especially those dependant on large quantities of it - such as buffalo.

We entered the park with dark storm clouds brewing in speactacular fashion on the horizon. We saw a buffalo near a waterhole that looked as if it had died a few days earlier - it was being guarded by a pride of lions (some waltzed nonchalantly passed the safari vehicle - that always freaks me out!). We then saw an elephant carcass half submerged at a waterhole being chewed on by a large number of crocs.

Leopard!
But, best of all was a leopard sighting. I am always hearing about other people who have seen a leopard. Like a young French couple I once met in Kruger - first day in the park and whammo, they spot one in the middle of the road just after they enter. I am like the emerald season when I hear such stories - yep, I usually turn green! Actually, seeing a leopard is quite difficult (for most people....) as they are shy, reclusive and too cunning to show their spots.

Well, today it was our turn to see a leopard. We first spotted a leopard kill on the branch of a tree. We then spotted a young male lazing under another tree near a herd of impala. It checked us out a couple of times (it looked like it had been in a tussle as one of its eyes wasnt opening properly) but was more interested in keeping an eye on its  preferred menu item for dinner that night. We were able to get really close and spent an enthralling 15 minutes taking pics and watching its every move.

The landscape was surreal and intensely beautiful. Dark storm clouds continued amassing, ready to give their first deluge of the Wet, the landscape was very dry but the remnants of waterways still wound their way through mostly dry riverbeds. And of course animals were still seen everywhere. It is one safari that has etched itself into my memory.

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