Sacred Combe Safari IV
It’s different in the north.
We made the 30 minute hop by light aircraft from South Luangwa National Park in Zambia to North Luangwa National Park, a place that gets no more than 500 visitors a year. So naturally things are different. They still don’t know what to make of us.
You’d think that the fewer humans, the more the nonhuman animals would be at their ease with us: closer to Eden and all that. But it doesn’t work out quite like that. The more the animals are used to humans as a neutral, non-harming presence, the more relaxed they are. And in the south park, lions and elephants are nothing less than blasé. Well, quite a lot of the time, anyway.
But when we made our first walk in the north park, things weren’t like that. I was now based at Mwaleshi camp; Chris had gone to Takwela camp with the other half of the party. And right from the moment we started walking – Davis Ng’uni the scout keeping us safe – it was clear that the treaty between us and them had to be renegotiated every day.
And this was one of these days – they come often enough, but you never know when – that Luangwa throws absolutely everything at you. So when we walked into a group of elephants – well, there was a bit of a frisson. We stood still and calm and unthreatening and eventually, they allowed us a measure of trust.
Then we found ourselves doing the same thing with a herd of 400 buffalos: one male in his prime made a point of putting himself between the herd and us. If we did anything amiss, he was going to know about it first. But we didn’t and slowly, one by one, all the buffaloes behind him lowered their heads and started grazing again. Not him: but it was still, in its way, a triumph: humans and buffaloes all enjoying their afternoon together.
Then, as we walked on, a brief encounter with a leopard: for me, in my station at the back of the line, just a subtle glimpse of a head and shoulders as the leopard dropped from a tree, merged with the ground – and decided not to flee. He was wary – a leopard can’t be too careful – but by no means frightened. No need for panic.
And just as you’d thought the walk couldn’t get any better, we found a small group of lions, four of them lying out on the far bank of the Mwaleshi River. They were the easiest beasts of the whole walk: they looked at us with golden eyes, and then dropped golden heads back onto golden paws to grab a little more sleep before nightfall.
Every walk makes the peace treaty between us and them a little bit more binding. But you never take a walk in this marvellous place without knowing that you are there on sufferance. And that is where so much of the beauty springs from.