Friday, 26 November 2010

John Coppinger recounts an incredible story of Nature in the Raw

"The Killing Fields"
- 11 November 2010 00:00

This is the driest and hottest November I can recall in the Valley. Usually by now we would have had a few showers to bring some welcome relief from the relentless October heat, but this year there has been just a few small showers in far flung places.

One of the happy consequences of this is remarkable wildlife spectacles.

This is always a tough time of year for the large herbivores: buffalo, elephant and hippo. Buffalo in particular really battle with the lack of food and water - and in this heat they need to drink at least twice a day. My heart goes out to them when they trudge slowly and weakly towards the river and of course the lions loll about at the water’s edge waiting for their next meal to be self-delivered.

As the sun rose a few days ago I set off to track the wild dogs from the air. I had promised Matt from ZCP (Zambian Carnivore Programme…they are doing great work here – check out their website: ) to do this on a regular basis. We have had great viewing of this pack of 18 dogs but the one distressing fact was that one of the males (suspected alpha male) had a nasty snare. Rachel from SLCS and the ZCP team had tried on several occasions to dart him but he was extremely skittish and they had not been able to get anywhere near him. After many aborted attempts we managed to track them and Rachel successfully darted him and removed the snare – a very difficult job extremely well done.

So on this beautifully clear and still morning, perfect for flying, we felt no anxiety as we head off in a SE direction and picked up their signal within the first 5 minutes – our only objective was to get a fix on them for ZCP records. We found them finishing off a kill (either impala or bushbuck) after which they rushed off and eventually intercepted the road to Kauluzi Gate. They followed the road for some while which provided us with an opportunity to count them and ensure that they were all present and correct. There is a wonderfully descriptive Zambian word which describes Wild Dogs perfectly: ‘movious’. They never stop moving about and cover ground incredibly fast.

Reluctant to return to earth too soon, we diverted slightly to fly over the Tafika walking area where we found a pride of 8 lions (members of the Hollywood pride I believe), having just killed a young buffalo. There was a herd of buffalo not far away and it was apparent that the lions had separated a small group of them and killed one of them. Exciting stuff….but this was only the beginning. Whilst some of the lions began feeding on the downed buffalo, a large male strode purposefully towards the remaining group of 7 buffalo: 4 cows with 3 calves. One of the cows collapsed with exhaustion but managed to rouse herself again as the lion approached. However it was not long before the lion had leapt on the back of another cow and brought her down….support arrived in the form of 2 other lions and the male latched onto the buffalo’s snout to prevent her from defending herself with her lethal horns. This was not enough for the lions and they went in hot pursuit after the remaining 6 buffaloes; in very short order they had the weak cow down, followed by two of the calves. One of these was hit with a dramatic head-on attack by the male lion which resulted in a mercifully quick death for the calf. A lioness persisted in chasing the surviving 3 buffaloes, 2 cows and a calf. She chased them into the dry Chankanga River where one of the cows turned on her and kept her at bay whilst the other cow and last surviving calf scurried up the bank to freedom. We watched in absolute horror as the cow then made a dash for it and tried to follow them up a steep hippo gully, only to be caught and trapped in the gully from the rear by the lioness who latched on mercilessly; she appeared to pierce an artery because soon a river of bright red blood flowed down the gully into the sandy bank below.

A mere 20 minutes had elapsed since our arrival on the scene of death. We were just a few minutes from Tafika and we landed in a daze, barely able to believe what we had seen. Incredible, amazing, horrible…..nature in the raw!

You can vist John Coppingers Safari camps in the Luangwa and share in his knowledge and passion for the bush. Either on our suggested safari idea or we can put something together just for you. Please contact us .

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