Canoeing amongst the animals of the Lower Zambezi National Park

Driving from Livingstone to the Lower Zambezi National Park looks easy enough on a map, but it is quite the drive. The region has a lot of mining operations, and you often get stuck behind slow moving, oversized trucks. Because of the vehicle misadventures, we ended-up missing the last ferry across the river and spent the night in a nice but expensive lodge, on what was for us, the “wrong” side of the river.

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The next day, we got to our intended lodge. We had picked one right outside the National Park, as the rates were much lower, but from there you can still go on tours on the same river, in the same park. The park is somewhat undeveloped still, but is very pristine. The first leader of independent Zambia, Kenneth Kaunda, made it the private game reserve of the President during his 27 year term in office. While his first decision as leader was to ban all other parties, he did go down in history as only the second African leader ever to give up power through elections, in 1991. We booked a little fishing trip, and a day long canoe trip. It was quite expensive, but very nicely organized, with a tow upstream on a power boat which followed us all day (very discreetly, at a distance). Here are some pictures of the park from our time on the water.

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Canoeing past hippos was quite the experience. A little scary, as they can be very dangerous animals, but our guide had been doing it for years and seemed confident. He was also well aware of where they would submerge and resurface, and we kept well clear of these areas.

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Something was keeping a close eye on us…

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I apologize for this bad picture, but I thought it of interest, as it is the only time I ever saw a hippo on land.

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A few meters from the elephant, protected by the little cliff.

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I think that’s my best elephant picture from my travels in Africa.

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The biggest crocodile we saw that day.

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Our guide told us they open their mouth like that to cool off. It was 39 degrees that day on the Zambezi.

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And we scared it away.

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The National Animal of Zambia, the African Fish Eagle, eating a smaller bird.

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And flying away with its lunch. Too bad I cut out the top of the wing. These are not the easiest pictures to take and push the limits of my normal quality lens. This is the kind of photography where you can really take advantage of a $3000+ telephoto lens but, I don’t have one!

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More eagles, eating a fish.

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And being scared away. I really don’t think we were doing anything stupid to scare the animals away, but they don’t see that many humans, especially in the low, hot season.

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Nature can be beautiful, but nature can be cruel. This buffalo is not taking a bath, it is bogged down and stuck. Predators like lions are not stupid and will not go and get stuck themselves. Since the animal has access to water, there is nothing out there to kill it fast. When this picture was taken, it had already been there for 4 or 5 days. Eventually, it was going to die, at which point the vultures would land on it and have a feast. The only thing I didn’t understand was why crocodiles hadn’t got to it. Maybe an adult buffalo seemed too large a prey for them.

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The lodge owners initially considered trying to haul it out with ropes and, if all failed, just shooting it to put it out of its misery. Unfortunately, neither options was possible. The middle of the river is the international border, but as long as we were in the boat, we remained nominally in Zambia. However, the animal was definitely in Zimbabwe. Going on land to pull it out would have meant illegally entering Zimbabwe and killing it would have been poaching in Zimbabwe.

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The powerboat driver and the lunch he set-up for us. The amount of food was ridiculous. Supplies to make salad for four included 15 hard boiled eggs and at least two dozen rolls of bread!

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At the end of our Zambezi stay, my friends drove me to a small town from which I caught a bus to Lusaka airport. An overturned truck reminded us of the dangers of the Zambian roads.

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The road design doesn’t help. This is an emergency stopping lane, before a steep downhill segment, presumably for runaway trucks. The lane is short and flat; it wouldn’t stop a bicycle. But it does create a bit of a jumping ramp. If you are about to die in a horrible crash, you get the option of dying in a horrible, but spectacular crash!

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It didn’t get better in the capital. Your trailer is too full to close the door? No problem, just put a strap to hold it shut. Your cargo is radioactive? Who cares!

#Zambia

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