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Trip Report Zam and Zim Sept 2010: Shumba and Ruckomechi

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It's taken me a bit of time to sit down and write this, but the memories are still vivid. My husband and I visited Shumba and Ruckomechi in September, and had an awesome time. It was our 4th safari; 2nd time to Zambia first time to Zimbabwe. If you want to just skip to the photos, here is the link: Most photos are captioned to tell the story.
Otherwise read on for the full trip report. Sorry it's long.

Flight: BA Toronto to London, killed a few hours at the Yotel at Heathrow, London to Lusaka. The Yotel cabin was small but pleasant and comfortable, and certainly convenient.

Arrived in Lusaka early a.m. on Sept 2. Because we were only flying out to Shumba in the afternoon, we rested at Chaminuka lodge, about 40 minutes from the airport. Nice enough for a quick stopover. Then back to the airport for our light plane out to Shumba. As we flew over the park, you could see and smell smoke from numerous brush fires. Great scenery, though. From the airstrip, a quick helicopter ride into camp. Interesting view of the flood plains from the heli, and lots of lechwe to be seen.

Shumba Camp - Kafue NP, Zambia - 7 nights - 6 tents
The camp is beautiful, the tents are wonderfully outfitted, and the staff are really really good. The location is stunning and you really get a sense of being out in the middle of nowhere as there is just these great open expanses everywhere. Lexon was our guide, and he is a cheerful, helpful, knowledgeable guide, for both birds and other animals. We would rank him high on our list of quality guides we've had on our safaris.

Wildlife sightings - You need to understand that viewing wildlife in this area is different. These are vast plains, and the wildlife can see you coming a mile away. But that being said, we did see a lot of variety:
Hoofed: oribi, roan, wildebeest, zebra, reedbuck, bushbuck, lechwe and puku (hundreds and hundreds), waterbuck, impala, warthogs, buffalo
Cats: lions almost every day (same pride), a few serval sightings
Hippos and crocs galore, including the biggest hippo we've ever seen. Elephants
Other: bushbabies, genets, monitor lizards, jackal, vervet monkeys, grey mongoose, water mongoose, white-tailed mongoose, civet
Birdlife: Very good. Lots of great sightings, including Fulleborn's longclaw and lots of rosy-throated longclaws, martial eagle with its meal, egyptian geese goslings, black-winged stilts and chicks, lots of wattled cranes, black crakes, lesser jacana, goliath and squacco herons, etc.
Highlights: balloon ride over the plains, getting a good look at 4 bushbabies, a hippo rolling over another hippo, and brief hippo skirmish (all in my photos), lions in front of our tent and visiting the tent deck next to ours, gamboling wildebeest calf and zebra foal, very large flock of crowned cranes, evening boat ride with tremendous water birds and hippo interaction.

We had the camp to ourselves for 4 days and then enjoyed the company of some really nice people from all over. My overall feeling about this camp is that it truly feels wild, and while you don't have the fastpaced animal sightings that you get in some of the smaller conservation areas, it really is a true safari feeling. I think this camp is ideal for birders and experienced safari-ers. The only down side is that the tse-tse flies are difficult when you approach the woods (which is where you can see sable, leopard, waterbuck, impala, and lots of other birds). We used the old burning elephant dung trick, which helped a lot. I would suggest bringing a light scarf, that you can wrap around your neck and across your mouth and nose for protection.

Flew back to Lusaka, then we took the road transfer to Zimbabwe, as we thought it would be cool to see a little bit of the country side from the ground. A lot of big trucks on the road, but our driver was good and it was interesting. Crossed the border into Zim with only a minor wait, and then boarded a motorboat for a 1 hr+ trip down the Zambezi river. A nice way to arrive in camp.

Ruckomechi Camp - Mana Pools NP (actually a small adjacent concession) - 6 nights - 10 tents
The camp is set on the banks of the Zambezi river, facing the Zambezi escarpment. The tents are well equiped and comfortable. The camp was full most of the time, and there was a lot of temporary staff on hand, so it didn't have as much of a relaxed feel as other places we've been but it was still really great. Everyone we met was wonderful. What's different is that you don't get 1 guide for the duration of your stay, so we ended up doing activities with 5 different guides. We enjoyed the company of all of them.

There was lots of wildlife to be seen. Elephants were abundant and constantly in camp, in amongst the tents. As the tents are at ground level, the elephants can walk on your decking, and peak into your tent or rub against it. Because the acacia pods were dropping, the ellies were constantly vaccuuming them off the tops of the tents. I love being this close to wildlife, but you do have to always be aware and cautious when stepping out of your tent.

Wildlife: cheetah, leopard, serval, genet, wild cat, wild dogs, lions, honey badger, elephants, hippos, crocs, waterbuck, buffalo, impala, kudu, baboons, hyena, and probably some more that I can't think of right now.
Birdlife: really good - carmine, white-fronted and little bee-eaters, malachite, pied, giant and hooded kingfishers, black headed heron, marabou storks, wood owl, white browed coucal, weavers, skimmers and lots more

Having an option for different activities was great. We canoed, walked, drove, boated, all providing exciting ways to see wildlife.

Highlights: seeing a honey badger by our tent at night twice, with one of the times, we were inside and could hear him sniffing around and see him peaking in at us; the abundance of elephants and lots of babies and them visiting our tent; the wild dogs (see more below); photographing the weavers and the bee-eaters from the boat.

Wild dogs: I have planned all our safaris around trying to see wild dogs, and other than a fleeting glimpse of 2 dogs across a river on our 1st safari, we have struck out. But we made up for it with a vengeance this trip. The dogs hadn't been seen in the area for a while, but finally they were spotted. We found them at night near the airstrip - a pack of 26 which included 8 puppies. We snapped a few nighttime pics, but hoped they would still be around the next morning. Off we went looking for them, and we found them. They settled down by some palms and we were able to get out of the jeep and approach them on foot and sit near them and take pictures. Once again in the afternoon, we wanted to go find them, and they were still in the same spot. So we approached on foot and sat with them for a while. After a time, the puppies got curious and started approaching us, and got within @ 4 metres. It was awesome, and if it had ended there, we would have been over the moon.

But then all the dogs got up and started milling about - it was late afternoon. Dogs started disappearing into the bush and all of a sudden the puppies were alone. We started looking around, and we saw, off in the distance, an impala herd running, being chased by dogs. We thought they were heading far off, so we decided that we would stay with the puppies as the adults would come back for them. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I notice movement and an adult male impala is running straight for us, being chased by 2 dogs. As we are frozen standing there it veers away from us and runs in front of us, perhaps 10 metres, and zooms by us at full speed, followed by 2 dogs in hot pursuit (see blurry photos). We run to the jeep to try to catch up (ferrari safari), and we've baredly turned into the dry riverbed, and we slam on the brakes and there are 5 dogs pulling out the entrails of the impala. We got quietly out of the jeep and sat in the sand about 5 metres away and watched as the entire pack, including the puppies returned. We stayed there until after it got dark. What a day! I bet if we go back to Africa 20 more times, we will never see anything like that again.

I think Ruckomechi is ideal for first time safari-ers, because of the amount and variety of wildlife and activities. It is also great for more seasoned folks, but I would recommend a private jeep. They do fill the jeeps otherwise, which isn't always ideal for photography and for staying at sightings for a long time. We had a private jeep booked for our last 4 days and it was well worth it.

Flew back to Lusaka, and overnighted at the Intercontinental, where I got food-poisoning, which made the trek home difficult, but we made it!

Another fabulous trip! The upside of the food-poisoning is that I lost whatever weight I gained from the yummy food at the camps.

Happy to answer any questions or provide more details.

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