While game viewing can never be guaranteed there are some trends in animal distribution, density and occurrence related to habitat types and water availability that allow an overview along the lines of the below. We have focused here on only a handful of species most generally sought after by visitors.
Elephant herds occur across Zambia but in some areas move quite dramatically according to the season and as a result of vegetation and water availability. During the dry season when camps are operational elephants are best viewed in the South Luangwa (Kalamu & Chinengwe) where the remaining water in the Luangwa River and the lagoons and oxbow lakes adjacent to it attract both herds and bulls. In the Kafue, herds are occasionally seen in the woodland along the Lunga, Lufupa and Kafue Rivers, but it is more common to encounter bulls. The camps on the Busanga Plains, Kapinga, Shumba and Busanga Bush Camp, have regular but not frequent sightings of bulls during the dry months. During the wet season elephants are dispersed due to water and forage abundance and the concentrations seen in the dry season are thus generally not encountered. Sightings along the Zambezi River from the River Club are more frequent in the dry season when both herds and bulls are seen.
Lion also occur across Zambia and there are well known resident prides present in all our concessions. Lion pride densities are influenced by local dynamics and the status and make up of specific prides can change from month to month as a result of shifts in male lion dominance and territoriality. Lion viewing on the Busanga Plains is perhaps the best of our Zambian camps – up to three prides utilise the area around Shumba, Kapinga and Busanga Bush Camp – and lions are less frequently encountered at Lunga River Lodge. Lion viewing from the South Luangwa camps (Kalamu & Chinengwe) is also good and as a result of game concentrations around the drying water resources in lagoons and oxbow lakes can be spectacular.
Leopard occur across Zambia and are found in all habitat types. Viewing of this species is dependent on habituation and knowledge of individuals by the various camps and the best viewing often takes place when specific females have cubs. As a result the best leopard viewing is cyclical and one camp need not necessarily be best for leopard viewing throughout the year. Leopard viewing at Lunga is regular, while sightings from the Busanga Plains camps (Kapinga, Shumba and Busanga Bush Camp) are sporadic. Sightings are best in South Luangwa from Kalamu and Chinengwe where the leopard density is famously high.
Cheetah, as a smaller and more specialised predator species, are less commonly encountered than lion or spotted hyaena and to a large extent occur in those areas which have lower densities of these afore-mentioned species. As a general rule therefore wherever there are high densities of these predators, cheetah sightings are not common. Prey densities ensure the presence of predators however and in prey-rich areas all species of predators occur alongside each other, the large home ranges of cheetah allowing them to move away from areas of temporarily high predator concentrations. The best cheetah at our Zambian camps takes place at the Busanga Plains camps of Kapinga, Shumba and Busanga Bush Camp where the habitat is ideal for both cheetah and the viewing of them. Cheetah viewing here can be very good. Cheetah are also seen – albeit sporadically – from Lunga River Lodge.
Wild dog are similarly vulnerable to larger predator species and also occur at their highest densities in the absence of these larger predators. They also have huge home ranges and are notoriously difficult to see. The best time to see this species is during the denning season which spans the dry winter months between June and August. At this time the pack is tied to a much smaller area than normal because of the immobility of the pups and if the site of the den is known sightings can be regular. The Kafue and South Luangwa National Parks both hold good densities of this species and sightings are regular with dens in our concessions in some years. Sightings in the woodland at Lunga are regular but vary from year to year. Sightings on the Busanga Plains are good, but limited to the wooded fringe rather than out on the open grassland. Sightings in South Luangwa from Chinengwe and Kalamu are regular.
White & Black Rhino
Both species were officially hunted to extinction in the wild in Zambia. A very small white rhino population has been introduced in Mosi-oa-tunya National Park outside Livingstone in the south of the country and can be seen on day trips from the River Club. Black rhino were reintroduced into North Luangwa National Park in 2006.
Buffalo social structure is based on either larger breeding herds of mixed age and sex, or small groups of bulls. The large herds inhabit large home ranges which need not necessarily overlap the game drive areas of specific concessions on a permanent basis. Large herds do however provide consistently good viewing at Shumba, Kapinga, Busanga Bush Camp and Lunga in Kafue and at Kalamu in South Luangwa.
Some more specialised species sought after by visitors to Zambia include Sitatunga, Puku, Red Lechwe, Roan, Sable, Eland, Lichtenstein’s Hartebeest, Thornicroft’s Giraffe, Cookson’s Wildebeest, Defassa Waterbuck, Yellow Baboon and Hippo.
Sitatunga is the most specialised of these species and inhabits the permanent papyrus of the Busanga Swamps where viewing is very good and can be achieved from Kapinga, Shumba and Busanga Bush Camp. Puku is a common species throughout and is equally common on the floodplains of the Busanga Plains and in the woodlands of the Lunga area and South Luangwa. Red Lechwe replace the Puku in the wetter areas of the Busanga Plains and on the Kafue Flats and in the Bangweulu Swamps two lechwe subspecies (Kafue Lechwe and Black Lechwe respectively) are found. Roan are relatively common on the Busanga Plains and viewing from our camps here is amongst the best in Africa. Sable are less commonly encountered but can be seen in the woodlands around Lunga as can Eland. Lichtenstein’s Hartebeest is a sought after species found on the fringes of the Busanga Plains and in low numbers in South Luangwa. Defassa Waterbuck occur in riverine and woodland fringe in Kafue and South Luangwa as do Yellow Baboon.
Cookson’s Wildebeest and Thornicroft’s Giraffe are two subspecies whose distribution is entirely limited to the Luangwa Valley and can be seen from Kalamu and Chinengwe Camps. Hippo occur at very high densities in the Luangwa River and also in the Lufupa, Lunga, Kafue and Zambezi Rivers and can be seen at all of our Zambian camps.