Life Through a Lens
You can get very, very close to the wildlife on a photographic safari in Zambia.
Hippo hide, Kaingo Camp, South Luangwa National Park
"From a few feet away you don’t so much see hippos as experience them. You smell them, hear their heavy breathing and grunting."Audley Zambia Specialist
Any safari presents an abundance of photographic opportunities and safaris in Zambia, with its untamed vegetation, birds and prolific wildlife is no exception.
The main game areas are the Kafue National Park, Lower Zambezi National Park and the two Luangwa National Parks: North Luangwa National Park and the more famous South Luangwa National Park. In addition, the Bangweulu Wetlands are a haven for birders. The country is also renowned for its night drives, which offer the chance to see a myriad of nocturnal life, of which the highlight is often the leopard.
The camps are very small and rustic and surrounded by animals. It’s the best place to go for walking safaris and has some of Africa’s finest guides.
Map of Zambia
Personal view from an Audley Zambia specialist
From a few feet away you don’t so much see hippos as experience them. You smell them, hear their heavy breathing and grunting, look into their eyes and appreciate their breathtaking size and power. But hippos are regarded by many as the most dangerous animal in Africa, so how do you make their intimate acquaintance and live to tell the tale? Simple - you use a hide.
Just about anybody who goes on safari is searching for that special shot, the perfect wildlife photograph that they can endlessly show off to their family and friends. A stay in Zambia’s stunning South Luangwa National Park will give you your best possible chance of capturing these unforgettable images. Shenton Safaris have a series of photographic hides that over the years have been used by National Geographic, the BBC and others whose job it is to unearth film and photographs to wow the public. From their two small, stylish camps, they offer three safari activities per day, the third of which will usually involve an hour in a hide, sheltering from the afternoon sun and gaining privileged access to some of Africa’s most famous creatures.
Staying near to Kaingo, the Elephant Hide is a tree house structure perched high above the Luangwa River. The views from here are sensational, and it is most impressive when watching herds of elephant cross the river, the adults keeping a close watch over their calves and an eye out for any brave or hungry crocodiles that might try to steal them away. If you are feeling particularly intrepid, or for a once in a lifetime experience, you can do a sleep-out in the hide. You are provided with a comfortable mattress and blanket, a bottle of something medicinal, and there’s no need to worry about leopards or other potentially inquisitive nocturnal wildlife as a scout spends the night in a game vehicle right below the tree.
Mwamba Bushcamp is slightly more rustic than Kaingo but is in an area of the national park that is phenomenally rich in game. Here you will find the Last Waterhole hide, which really comes into its own towards the end of the dry season, when water sources become more scarce and game concentrates in large numbers around the few remaining water holes. It becomes a magnet for large herds of wildebeest during the months of September and October, which in turn attracts the resident Mwamba pride of lion. This can make for stunning sightings which are often not for vegetarians or those with a weak stomach.
Keen birders might be wondering what these hides have to offer them, and the answer becomes clear in September and October, when vast numbers of carmine bee-eaters begin nesting on the river banks. In early September, there’s a hide on a boat anchored right in the middle of the river to gain a perfect view of these beautiful little birds busily going about their day. I’m no Bill Oddie, and generally watch mammals and reptiles more than the birds, but even the most sceptical of twitchers cannot fail to be enchanted by the brilliant, luminous colours of the carmine bee-eaters, lilac-breasted rollers and lovebirds that are so abundant in the area.
Even for those who are not keen shutterbugs, time spent in the hides is a fantastic way to learn more about the bush and its residents. There is simply no other way to get this close to large, potentially dangerous wildlife such as hippos, elephants and buffalo. Sheltered safely by the thatch and mud walls that separate you, some of the animals may be distantly aware of an unusual scent, but most are completely unconcerned by it, going about their usual business as if you are not there at all.
At the Hippo Hide, near Kaingo, I watched a large pod of hippos and became more closely acquainted with their behaviour patterns than I ever thought possible. I saw the tenderness between a mother and its calf, the deep scars along the adults backs caused by territorial infighting, the painful in-growing tooth protruding at an unnatural angle from one male’s mouth and, more gruesomely, their exhibitionist toilet habits! It is like an hour-long opportunity to step into David Attenborough’s shoes and really get to know the behaviour of a particular animal, "warts ’n all." It is also fascinating to examine the way they interact with other species, particularly in the tense co-existence of hippos and crocodiles.