Safari on foot: Walking with lions in Zambia
The country's unique walking safaris get you out of the jeep and up close and personal with lions, elephants, and hippo droppings.
South Luangwa National Park, Zambia
'If the animal charges, please don't panic. Wait for instructions," said our guide, Abel Banda, with a straight face as we began a walking safari through Zambia's South Luangwa National Park in late October.Skip to next paragraph
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The comment is greeted by silence, then nervous chuckles from our motley crew of safari-goers – my wife, Parsa, myself and our four parents.
We needn't have worried. As we walked into the bush that morning, the sun was arching up the sky, the crickets were humming, and the white-browed sparrow weaver was calling – but the lions and elephants were hiding.
Walking in the bush at dawn without the safety and distance afforded by vehicle affords a rare opportunity to learn about plants, animals, birds, and local beliefs up close. And offers more than you ever wanted to know about animal droppings.
Our three-day safari was the centerpiece of a two-week visit by my parents and my wife's parents to Zambia, where Parsa and I moved 18 months ago. She manages an HIV/AIDS program; I work as a journalist.
It was the first trip to Africa for all the parents. Suffice to say, my mother and father, born in western Massachusetts and New York City respectively, and my wife's parents, born in Bangladesh, never imagined they'd come to the middle of southern Africa on a safari.
Zambia, a peaceful but largely poor nation of 11.5 million, is generally less well-known for safaris than countries like Kenya, Tanzania, and South Africa. But that is changing. Zambia boasts abundant wildlife and national parks that have escaped the rampant tourism promotion that results in one lion being surrounded by 25 safari vehicles, as I experienced earlier this summer in Kenya. The Zambian government touts the country as "Zambia: The Real Africa."
What makes Zambian safaris particularly unique, however, is the walking safari, pioneered decades ago by Norman Carr, a conservationist born in 1912 in the town of Chinde, then a British-controlled town in what is now Mozambique. For the big occasion, we picked the company founded by Carr – Norman Carr Safaris – which runs a lodge outside the park and four more rustic "bush camps" located within the park's boundaries. The bush camps are open from May through November – Zambia's dry season – and are torn down and packed up before the annual rains begin.
To get there, we took a two-hour ride in a small plane to Mfuwe, the gateway town to South Luangwa National Park. An open-air safari vehicle picked us up at the airport and drove us past miles of villages and into the park to the Kakuli bush camp.
Some visitors choose to stay at all four of Carr's bush camps, hiking between them by day; others, like us, opt to stay at just one, doing walking safaris in the morning and game drives at night.