The South Luangwa National Park in Zambia is considered one of Africa’s last intact wilderness areas and is the natural residence of healthy populations and diverse species of animal, bird and plant. All life in this sanctuary thrives off the Luangwa River, which winds its way down from north-eastern Zambia until it joins the Zambezi River. Its many oxbow lakes and abandoned meanders attract herds of elephant, zebra, giraffe and hippo, which are in turn hunted by lion, leopard and African wild dogs.
While the Luangwa River might be a point of focus in the South Luangwa, it is not the only outstanding natural feature to be found. The park is characterized by mixed terrain and cathedral-like forests of African ebony and red mahogany trees, sprawling mopane and miombo woodland, and grassland savannah and acacia shrubs.
Every season radically transforms the park. The rainless chill of winter turns the landscape dry and bare, forcing animals to congregate around permanent waterholes and exposing them to the predators that follow them to the water. As the summer rains sweep over the park, the Luangwa River generally bursts its banks and the vegetation takes on the full spectrum of green hues. The almost daily afternoon downpour leaves the sky a clear blue until the setting sun covers it in golden light.
The South Luangwa is well-known for its large herds of elephant and buffalo, which are often found near the river and lagoons, where sizeable pods of hippo wallow about. The lush greenery found along the riverbank and plains beyond are what draws these magnificent herds of herbivores. Elephants are rather fond of taking to the cool pools in their numbers to splash about happily on a warm day, much to the annoyance of the hippos.
South Luangwa is home to 14 different species of antelope and endemic subspecies, such as Thornicroft’s giraffe, Crawshay’s zebra and Cookson’s wildebeest. Sighting these animals is made particularly special when they are found in large groups, going about their daily habits without taking much notice of onlookers.
Also known as ‘The Valley of the Leopard’, the South Luangwa has one of the highest densities of this agile and handsome feline, so sightings are almost guaranteed. Healthy prides of lion are also regularly spotted and, of course, once they have successfully landed themselves a kill, the hyenas and vultures are not far behind to clean the carcass of remaining flesh and bones.
The park is a haven for endangered species of all kinds that flourish in this well-protected ecosystem. The African wild dog is one such species that can be seen roaming freely in their natural habitat. These fast-paced and famously strategic hunters are difficult to keep up with but completely worth the pursuit if you manage to catch-up to them.