My stomach lurches as the lion turns to me, unblinking, distracted for a moment from the still-twitching waterbuck he has just slayed.
Luckily, my guide, Moses, at the Ila Safari Lodge in Zambia’s Kafue National Park, is the epitome of calm.
Sure enough, the lion flops into the long grass, his indifference almost insulting.
Majestic: Lions lie in wait in Zambia’s Kafue National Park (above)
Kafue, Zambia’s oldest national park, might come as a shock to those who’ve done safaris in busier parks. The rarest sightings aren’t lions, but other people. My most memorable encounters — a sleeping pangolin and a rampaging herd of elephants chasing away hungry lionesses — are enjoyed without another vehicle in sight.
It’s also only about a four-hour drive from Zambia’s capital Lusaka, eliminating the need for expensive air transfers.
Day one and the big five are in the bag, plus monitor lizards, basking crocs, pukus and wrinkly-browed vultures (one of Moses’ ‘ugly five’, along with hyenas and warthogs). I’ve seen huge herds of impalas, known as African fast-food due to the McDonald’s-like ‘M’ on their bottoms.
On my second day, I’m joined for a boat ride by two American ladies on their first safari. They spot a hippo, only to panic when it disappears under the water.
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They scrabble to the other side of the boat and scream at Moses to start the engine. Naturally, he disobeys and, later, I find the ladies soothing frayed nerves with stiff drinks. ‘It was definitely after us,’ one whispers.
My next stop is the riverside Kaingu Safari Lodge, in the Namwala Game Management Area on Kafue’s border. We drive for two hours along dusty tracks, pausing occasionally when a lion or elephant trundles into the road. It’s the only lodge on one of the wilder sections of the Kafue river and leopards frequently wander between the six safari tents. Wild dogs are often spotted here, too — and they are at the top of my list.
On a walk through the forest, my guide points out weird and wonderful plants such as the euphorbia: its trunk resembles a tree, its upper half a cactus. Its branches contain a poisonous, latex-like substance. ‘Locals throw slices into the ponds, then wait for their fish supper to float to the surface,’ says the guide.
Mother and child: Pictured above is a puku and her calf
My final stop is the rustic Musekese Camp, where four thatched chalets have bucket showers, large areas of netting, rather than solid walls, and handheld solar-powered lamps.
The camp overlooks a wildlife-filled wetland and downtime is spent admiring elephants and gazelles from the decking.
But still those wild dogs elude me. Then a guide points to some scuffs in the sand and tells me they’re footprints. He adds that the dogs are fearsome predators, with an 80 per cent success rate on kills. If only my rate for spotting them was as high.
Wild side: A cheetah spotting on safari. Tamara also saw lions and elephants during her trip
Back at the camp, Tyrone, Musekese’s co-founder, recalls finding a bowl of yoghurt he’d laid out for breakfast upended. ‘I noticed the guilty-looking dog in the bushes,’ he says. ‘His face was covered in yoghurt!’
It’s at Musekese that I develop a new appreciation of birds, thanks to a boat ride up the Kafue.
We spot a rare African finfoot, its oversized orange feet visible on a rare foray out of water. I realise it’s something special when a passenger tells me this sighting tops all others — and he’s been coming to Africa for decades.
I leave without seeing any wild dogs — but that only gives me an excuse to visit again.
Far And Wild Travel (01768 603715, farandwild.travel) offers a nine-day safari, staying at Ila Safari Lodge, Kaingu Safari Lodge and Musekese Camp, from £3,499 full-board, including flights and transfers.
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