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  • Writer's pictureChilalo Mumba

Come and Experience the Breath-Taking Beauty of Kafue National Park this Winter

A mere 10 minutes after entering the National Park, our guide suddenly turns the key, bringing the vehicle to a sudden halt, and points at the road directly ahead, where just meters from us, an Elephant silently emerges from the Mopane woodlands. The guide silently motions to us and we follow where he is pointing to the other side of the road, where her calf is inquisitively watching us.

It’s the African tale as old as time, never get between a mother and her calf.

With a mighty stamp of her front foot, kicking the red and dry earth swirling up around us, the female elephant flaps her ears, bows her head, and lunges forward at us, in an assertive display of power, before retreating back again. As if this isn’t a warning sign enough she lets out a roaring trumpet and leans back once more - posed and ready to mock-charge again. Our guide knows the drill, with the dust from her flare still circling around us, he slowly edges the vehicle back to show her that we mean no harm and that she is free to reunite with her calf. While our breaths are still caught in our chest - oblivious to all of the commotion, the calf trots across to his mother, where she draws him in under her belly, and he nestles into her. Elephants are extremely family-orientated and social animals, with the calf nursing for the first four to six years of its life. A troop of vervet monkeys calls out from overhead- all too familiar with this exchange taking place beneath them. It is a reminder that we are guests in this beautiful Kingdom, and we need to leave it as we found it – untamed and untouched.

Just a 4 -5 hours’ drive (and an even quicker flight) from Zambia’s Capital, Lusaka; Kafue National Park is one of the most easily accessible of Zambia’s hidden travel gems. With the open road ahead and the hustle and bustle of the city fading in the rearview mirror, it doesn’t take long before you feel the anticipation of adventure at what lies ahead.

Vast plains of untouched wilderness,

Kafue National Park is Zambia’s oldest and largest National Park, covering an area of 22,400 km2. Cascading across a diverse topography, it offers spectacular views of unique and ecologically significant landscapes.

From the Busanga wetlands in the North to the savannah-style woodlands of Miombo in the Park’s center, finally giving way to a drier and sandier landscape in the South - perfect for Zambia’s signature Mopane forests. The Kafue River is the longest (about 960km) and largest lying wholly within the country. It is a major tributary to the mighty Zambezi, but sustains a host of life in its own right, providing nature lovers with the perfect sundowner spot to enjoy views of hippos and crocodiles basking on the banks below. The Park is a haven for bird lovers, home to the Malachite Kingfisher, various species of Barbet, Wattled Crane, Southern Ground Hornbill, Pel’s Fishing Owl, and one of the few places left that you might catch sight of the Black-Cheeked Lovebird, Zambia’s endemic parrot (officially listed as vulnerable by the IUCN). The custodian to an estimated 152 different species of mammals, the Park offers an abundance of wildlife sightings in store for you at every turn.

When it comes to Wild dogs and Hyenas you often smell them before you see them due to their extraordinary odor (which some say is due to their high protein diet while others put it down to their somewhat unruly hygiene habits). Catching the midmorning sun and soaking up the heat from the road’s surface as they laze across it, we come across a pack of Wild Dogs on our return back to camp. Completely nonplussed by our arrival, and apart from a quick glance up to make sure we aren’t a threat, they are unwilling to vacate their prime sunbathing spot anytime soon. The African Wild dog is Southern Africa’s most endangered carnivore. This social and inquisitive mammal, known for traveling in large packs, once roamed the continent.

But now, Wild dog numbers have dwindled so much that they are only found in 14 out of the 39 countries that they once roamed freely across, with only an estimated 6,600 left on the entire continent.

Due to a combination of habitat loss and human-wildlife conflict, accidental killing, and infectious disease, it is now classified as an endangered species globally and found only in sub-Saharan Africa. These mammals need vast and unfenced spaces of protected wildlife corridors to survive to help connect their increasingly fragmented habitat. Kafue National Park offers a vast, unfenced, and largely untouched habitat for the packs to hunt and travel through, making it one of the few places in the region where sightings are not as rare as one might think given how few Wild dogs remain on the African continent.

Of all the drives to look out for, the late afternoon/evening one is a must!

Despite being wintertime here in Zambia, temperatures still reach a comfortable 24C during the day.

But as the sun fades and takes with it the winter rays, temperatures quickly drop, giving way to the chilly night air. As the dark ushers in, it brings with it a completely different ensemble of sounds and creatures, from the whooping of the hyena as it sets out to hunt for the night, to the warning cries of the baboons – alerting one another of the resident leopard making her way down from her day’s resting perch, and the rumbling from a lion’s roar from deep within the park carried by the night’s breeze, echoing across the plains.

When the mighty African sun fades it floods the landscape with the most spectacular hues of deep orange and permeating pink before it dips silently below the trees, and the grassland is eclipsed with darkness as night falls on one of the largest remaining protected wild spaces left on the continent.

Photo and Words by Wild Travel Media for Mukambi Safaris

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