Leopards of the Lower Zambezi

The Zambezi is truly one of Africa’s great rivers.

The fourth longest in the continent, it rises in the highlands of western Zambia, before cutting down into Angola, back into Zambia and then acting as a natural border with Namibia, then Zimbabwe before it finally flows into Mozambique, wending its way down to the Indian Ocean.

One specific section of it – the aptly named Zambezi Valley – is between Chirundu and the Mpata Gorge, and is absolutely teeming with wildlife! On the northern, Zambian side of the river, lies the Lower Zambezi National Park, and it is here that we shine our spotlight…

Although the park itself is over 4000 square kilometres, the vast majority of that is scrubby hill-land from the escarpment back away from the river; as a result over 95% of the wildlife viewing takes place down on the valley floor, in the few kilometres between the river itself and the escarpment. It is here that the camps of the Lower Zambezi are to be found, and it is here that you will find some of the best leopard viewing in Africa.

Stunning open forested areas made up of imposing Winterthorn trees provide an incredible backdrop through which the sly cats are consistently to be found moving, as they stalk their predominantly impala prey. The bark of a baboon is often the first indication that there is a leopard on the prowl.

Although in recent years it is the large pack of buffalo-hunting wild dogs in the central Jeki area that has truly put the park on the map, the reality is there is far more to it than a single pack of canids. The lion population is as healthy as ever, general game is prolific, and the elephant herds move their stately way under the Winterthorn canopy in such numbers as to almost be uncountable. The height of the dry season in particular is a spectacular time for a visit as there is scant grass cover and lovely soft light, so you are invariably viewing animals in the open and the photographic opportunities are prolific.

Accommodation-wise one is treated to an almost surfeit of spectacular camps. To the west of the park lie two of our favourites – Zambezi Grande and Time & Tide’s Chongwe House.

With our amazing 35% special currently running on Time & Tide’s camps, Chongwe House would be our obvious recommendation for now, although Zambezi Grande is no less stunning.

Moving east along the riverbank one gets to Chiawa Camp, and it’s sister camp Old Mondoro more centrally located in the park. Both are very similar in design and feel and share similar game viewing opportunities, with Old Mondor being a particular favourite with the elephants, and Chiawa being one of the leopard hotspots in the west of the reserve.

Jeki Airstrip (directly above of Old Mondoro camp on the map) is where most flights to Lower Zambezi will arrive, and is unofficially the centre of the park; it is here that the famous wild dog pack renowned for their buffalo hunting prowess have chosen to den over the past two or three years. Although the pack has split slightly, the larger group and their pups still number roughly 30 individuals, and they still hunt the big bovines in the dry season.

Just east of Jeki, down towards Anabezi Lodge, is the leopard area. For some reason the density here seems to be higher than in the rest of the park, and sightings are frequent. A mother and her two daughters have become regular features in the sightings logs, as well as two small cubs born towards the end of 2023 that are now wll on their way to sub-adulthood.

Anabezi is our favourite camp in the east. It provides superb access to the eastern section of the reserve, is as comfortable as one could wish, and best of all, each visiting party receives their own private vehicle, meaning game drives are yours to do with what you please.

Whilst it is the wild dogs that have taken centre stage over the last few years in the Lower Zambezi, it is the leopards that we believe will keep the park on the map.
Spread throughout the reserve (the wild dogs can disappear into the escarpment), the viewing of them is as consistent and spectacular as one could wish, and with some of the most stunning scenery in Africa on display, there is almost no better place to be viewing these cats in the wild.

The Time & Tide 35% special will be running for the next two months, but there are plenty of options to choose from in this, one of the continent’s most underrated destinations.

Get in touch now through info@iconicafrica.com to find out more…


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