As our Social Media Administrator, Jo Bestic regularly shares extraordinary updates from Kafue National Park’s undiscovered safari gem, Busanga Plains. Last week she popped in to experience the magic for herself…
“You just have time to settle into your room and then meet me back at the vehicle to see if we can find the cheetah. They have been spotted at Kapinga so don’t be long!” So pronounces our Shumba Camp guide, Golden, as we attempt to take in the eye-watering expanse of grassland plains populated edge to edge with roan antelope, lechwe and puku, while bouncing our way from the airstrip in to camp.
The cheetah in question are two brothers, one of which is collared and monitored by the Zambian Carnivore Project (ZCP), and which have been providing thrilling sightings for guests as the Busanga Plains dried over winter to expand the cats’ hunting area. They had recently made a kill and were alternately moving and resting in the steely light of dusk when we found them.
Busanga Bush Camp under the trees on the horizon
A portentous start to our Kafue adventure, you’d be right in saying!
Barely had we recharged our batteries when the next morning dawned and we were heading out to the hot-air balloon launch site. Palpable excitement was tempered with a frisson of concern, heights holding a spot at the very top of my “Fear and Loathing” list. An unfounded anxiety it turned out, as pilot Eric kept us close to ground level only lifting the basket to skim the occasional huge fig tree in our path. A gentle wind saw us drift for about 45 minutes over vast herds of lechwe, rafts of hippo wallowing in the drying pools and African jacanas and innumerable waders splashing about their early morning business, all set against the backdrop of Busanga’s exquisite rose-coloured sunrise.
Allowing us to operate our camps for just five months of the year, the Busanga Plains are flooded in the area’s rainy summer season, drying out gradually from around June every year to reveal a heavenly grassland paradise supporting uncountable numbers of birds, lechwe and puku, wildebeest and buffalo, as well as increasing and impressive numbers of elephant – attended naturally by predators such as the aforementioned cheetah, the resident Papyrus Pride of lions , wild dog, serval, side-striped jackal and even leopard. On our drive back to camp after our cheetah sighting we also spotted an African wild cat, a rare and thrilling moment for Golden, let alone ourselves.
One of the new Nomads looking for his brother
Sunrise from the hot air balloon
A decade ago poaching was effectively decimating the wildlife here until Wilderness Safaris committed to its “frontier ecotourism” presence. To quote our Why Wilderness | Reason No. 11: “We took a leap of faith into remote Zambia, far off the beaten track for most travellers and with a shortened tourism season. We did it in order to help expand ecotourism across Africa.”
Calling his brother
The elephants haven't forgotten the poaching and are relatively skittish in the Busanga Plains
Safari guides who had worked in the area years ago confirmed after a late-season visit last year that our presence and commitment has noticeably improved game sightings and reduced incidents of poaching. The latter is still a concern and an important focus of the ZCP’s work here. We were lucky enough to attend a ZCP presentation at Shumba and their dedication to Kafue’s wildlife through research, de-snaring and education is impressive and inspiring, with just one example of their dedication being some 20 lions de-snared in the last eight years.
Vet Dr Kambwiri Banda updating Shumba guests on ZCP projects
Wilderness Safaris employs upwards of 130 people from the local communities here, making an important economic impact on theirs and their families’ lives. Our Group Sustainability Manager, Dr Sue Snyman, quotes her research confirming a knock-on benefit for at least seven family members for every individual we employ.
Busanga Bush Camp guide Sam Simunji-Simunji
Speaking of local community members, we met Chrispin on our first night – this young man is a waiter who’s been with Shumba since the early days of its initial construction when he and three friends arrived from a village some 80 km away looking for work. “How could we turn them away?” says Shumba manager, Ondyne, and some 11 years later, Chrispin is still employed here!
So, between the extraordinary landscapes, impressive wildlife, beautiful Zambian people and welcoming, understated camps, our journeys really do change lives: (hopefully) yours, ours, the animals’, our partners’, the villagers’… the list is long.
This Kafue visit was a poignant reminder of the privilege we enjoy being part of a company that actively contributes at so many levels in this underappreciated African region.
Written and Photographed by Josephine Bestic