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Thursday, Dec 12, 2019

Nature’s Hideaway

Discover Busanga Plains and Kafue, the oldest national park in Zambia Late one afternoon, I was lounging in the shade just outside my cottage, leafing through Francois d’Elbee’s book, Busanga, writes Geetika Jain.

india Updated: Aug 20, 2008 15:25 IST
Geetika Jain
Geetika Jain
Hindustan Times

Discover Busanga Plains and Kafue, the oldest national park in Zambia Late one afternoon, I was lounging in the shade just outside my cottage, leafing through Francois d’Elbee’s book, Busanga. We were on the grassy plains of Busanga, in the northern part of Kafue National Park in Zambia.

A herd of sable antelopes with enormous scimitar-shaped horns grazed 50 metres away, forever on the alert. They are rare, and exquisitely beautiful, but for the moment the musings of the author held my attention… “Animal lovers attempt to communicate with them by capturing and taming them. They are often like prisoners who have lost their soul. Sport hunters decide to satisfy their fascination for wild animals by killing them in assort of legalised crime of passion. Scientists scrutinise animal behaviour in the hope of providing explanations for everything.

From time to time, I find the harmless dreams of poets infinitely attractive, as they run their hands through the lion’s thick mane and glide among the clouds with the eagles…” It was hard to believe that Kafue is Africa’s largest wildlife reserve. These 22,000 square kilometres of bush are practically unheard of, and there is a reason for it. For a good part of the year — November to April — the plains of Busanga are submerged under water. In March, the water recedes into the Lufupa River basin and in come the herds of buffalo, elephants, zebra as well as lions, hyenas and a host of other animals. Despite its proximity to Lusaka and the copper belt, the reserve has been underutilised and is only opening up now. A handful of safari companies have built their lodges, yet it remains a hideaway.

A special reserve
Most visitors who come to Zambia on Safari tend to visit the famed South-Luangwa National Park or Lower Zambezi National Park. A weak spotlight has only just shone on Busanga. For us, it was a find. Busanga is a game-dense area, with many endemic and rare species such as the red lechwe that splash across its waterways in their hundreds, roan and sable antelope, the elusive sitatunga antelope whose widespread hooves enable it to walk on floating reed-mats, the oribi and Chaplin’s barbet. The landscape is truly spectacular.

Vast plains stretch out endlessly, giving way to teak woodlands and the languid meanders of the Lufupa River. One minute, we were driving through miambo woodlands and the next it was the grassy dambos. Spectral baobab trees were framed against sunset here, and thousands of bizarre, knobbly mounds of mud formed a little termite city. Most of all, it was wonderful to feel like we had the place to ourselves. When a pair of dark-maned lions and their pride brought down a buffalo, and the aftermath ensued, with hyenas, jackals and vultures joining in, there were no other vehicles in our view finder.

Night drives
Zambian national parks allow walks with armed rangers and night drives. We took in the small things on foot, watched weaver birds construct their nests with precision, with an extra exit in case of a visitation by a snake. Safari ants marched across the plains, and upon close inspection, we found that the slightly larger ants had built a bridge above the smaller soldiers by linking their arms and legs, creating a ribbon of fine lace.

We got the chance to exchange a few words with the local fishermen of the Kondo and Nkoya tribes. Back in the jeep, the lights came on at dusk, revealing the nocturnal creatures; genets, civets, porcupines and honey-badgers made their appearance and the rosetted queen of the night, the leopard, enthralled us with her lithe acrobatics on the branches of a mahogany tree.