I’ve been to Africa many times (on safaris which I love!) and have my favorite places, tours, and operators. Or so I thought… On a recent trip, I decided to include a visit to Zambia. A few National Parks are worth a visit in the country, such as South Lwanga, but my friends at Wilderness Safaris built a lodge even more remote than this. So I flew off to Kafue National Park, to stay at Shumba, a camp sustainably built, located in Busanga Plains.
A few years ago, this lodge made headlines, when a lion pride, with cubs, decided that “home” was inside the camp area. I never forgot about this story and with that in mind, I flew there to hear about it firsthand.
A 90-minute flight from Lusaka, inside a tiny plane, took us into one of the most isolated areas I have ever been. Wilderness Safaris motto is, “connecting you to the wilderness” and I found myself, once again, surprised by how far they can take you. Flying over plains of water, with mini islands dotting the landscape, we landed in the middle of the bush, where a smiling face was there to welcome us, equipped with blankets for the cold, some finger-food and water.
From the plane, we drove an hour until we reached a narrow water channel. So far, the journey went from one pilot to a driver and now into the hands of paddlers, who gave us rain boots to walk in the mud and reach our canoes. After one hour gliding through the water, in a silence filled with egrets and birds, we took another 4 x 4 into (finally!) one of the most beautiful lodges I have seen. Everything was luxuriously integrated with nature; the main decks and room verandas face infinite plains, where you can witness the wildlife and catch every sunrise.
Our daily rhythm starts under night skies, and it’s only when we sit for breakfast that the horizon goes from violet into bright orange. We leave camp in the morning cold but our car seats are already heated with water bottles and blankets. Eyes open, all senses alert, the morning safari is filled with unexpected encounters. After a couple of hours, the heat is finally on and we leave the car to hop on a boat. Every activity is different from the previous one; African nature never repeats itself. In the water we encounter families of hippos, crocodiles, jumping herds of Puku and Red Lechwe. But what’s more spectacular in June are the birds; big flocks come in all sizes and colors. It’s a wonder to watch and learn about them from our brilliant guide, Newton.
Once the morning safari is done, we go back to camp where a delicious brunch is waiting for us, followed by a siesta. The objective, on safaris, is to not be out in the bush during the heat because there is little action happening. So we wait and rest in our rooms, often with our eyes open, checking the plains. When it’s time to go for the second activity of the day, the staff makes sure we have a delicious snack before we leave: more live action and adrenaline rush awaits us out there.
During our stay at Shumba we witnessed some spectacular happenings. A heard of 500 buffalo migrated from the forest into the water plains right in front of us; they were coming in an endless line, sometimes swimming across channels to get into the dry islands. The noise of them marching, the birds flying above, and us, quietly observing this massive migration from our boat was quite special.
We also saw the most famous lioness in the region (with her two cubs): the staff in camp calls her Killing Machine because she became used to hunting on her own – and very successfully. Her body was muscular and her size incredible. We spent a morning with her and at night, by the fire and under a sky filled with stars, our guides finally told us the stories of the lions ‘love for this camp.’
Indeed a few year ago, a pride moved in, occupying two verandas, (and often laying on the couches) of two rooms, that had to be closed down to guests… for obvious reasons. Back then, one of the lionesses gave birth below one room and their stay at Shumba lasted for some long weeks. Surprisingly enough, there was never a dangerous moment between the staff and the big cats. The co-habitation became civil and respectful, from a distance of course.
After this pride left, Shumba became unusually familiar to lions – a phenomenon worthy of studying and here’s why: this camp only opens from June to October, which is what makes it so unique. In June and July the plains still have a lot of water but from August to October the soil dries out and the wildlife changes too. When the water is abundant, water antelopes and vast varieties of birds are easily spotted but when the channels become accessible by road, in come the elephants and other types of predators (those who don’t like to get wet).
One would think that lions would come then too, say mid-August. But in this magical place, lions seem to strive even in the flooded plains and often come to camp at night, just to rest or look for prey. The guides at Shumba believe that Killing Machine is part of a generation born here, a few years ago. There are a few female residents now, who are so comfortable around this place that – very recently – one of them just stood by one of the vehicles and raised her tale to touch the guide’s arm. What happened next?
If you want to hear the rest of the story, I say: go visit… chances are you will peacefully sleep with a lion under your tent.