Combining a Selous-like sense of remoteness with beautifully varied scenery reminiscent of the Okavango Delta, the Busanga Plains in northern Zambia are less well-known than either. Which, of course, only increases the appeal of Busanga Plains safaris to Zambia safari buffs and lovers of Africa’s wild places and wildlife. As the floods subside, prepare for the ride.
After our exhilarating encounter with the Victoria Falls in Livingstone, we took some time out on our first morning in Kafue, enjoying the panoramic views of the Busanga Plains from the raised decks of our luxury lodge. Its isolated island setting gave us a true sense of the remoteness of this part of northern Zambia, and after an early-afternoon siesta, we were keen to get a closer look.
As we set off on our first game drive our guide, Idos, joked that he would level with us about what we might see, referring to the terrain which was anything but undulating.
We liked him immediately, and as it transpired, it would be hard for him to have promised a better first Busanga safari than we actually had. Idos navigated expertly through a giant patchwork quilt of grassland, swampy areas, and small streams – all formed by a tributary of the Kafue River.
This of course was the dry season, which meant that the herds of antelope were no longer restricted to the wooded islands and had spread out to graze on the floodplains. In contrast to other safari areas we’d been to, the dominant species here were lechwe and puku.
I particularly enjoyed seeing the lechwe, with their orange fur and built-up rumps. Idos explained that like all antelope in marshy areas, they can splay their hooves to spread their weight and avoid sinking into soft ground. Watching a small herd bounding away from us, it seemed that they could run almost as quickly through water as on land.
Pausing by a large pool, we watched a towering Goliath heron tread delicately along the reedy fringes, before stabbing with its dagger-like bill to spear a hapless fish. Our first kill on our Zambia safari!
Only moments later, we thought we might be about to see a second and even more dramatic one. Idos’ sharp eyes detected a cheetah lying completely flat, with only its head raised. It was staring intently at a knot of puku, about 400m away. As they were feeding peacefully, it seemed that they’d not noticed the predator.
Sensing an opportunity, the cheetah began stalking towards them, shoulder blades moving like slow pistons beneath its spotted skin. Idos explained that it wanted to get close enough to be certain its superior speed could endure long enough for success.
With almost half the distance to the puku covered, there was cough of alarm from one of the antelope. Twenty heads instantly popped up and stared straight at the advancing cat, which froze. For a long, tense moment, all was still.
Then, remarkably, the cheetah stretched to its full height, and began to nonchalantly stroll past the antelope as though trying to give the impression it hadn’t really been hunting at all. Human and puku alike, we watched it walk away.
Once the antelope resumed grazing, Idos invited us to stretch our legs, watch the sunset and enjoy our sundowners. A perfect end to a perfect afternoon.