I recently returned from my 2019 Zambia Art Safari. This was my fifth visit to the South Luangwa National Park and the Bushcamp Company’s Mfuwe Lodge. South Luangwa always impresses with its abundant wildlife and accessible game viewing. It’s the best place in Africa to see leopard in the wild. Of course, there’s no guarantee the animals will cooperate but, as it turns out, we weren’t disappointed.
On our first game drive we encountered a recent buffalo kill. This was to be our first lion sighting, a magnificent male lion lying alone and aloof in a most regal pose. We then moved to the rest of the pride and delighted in watching the cubs at play.
We were treated to daily sightings of leopard. By the end of the week week we had seen six individual leopards, including a courting couple and a female with her older male cub. We were able to follow the mother and cub throughout the week. We watched a bush buck kill and a dramatic confrontation with elephants.
We witnessed other confrontations, the first between lion and leopard. We turned a corner to see a pride of lions staring intently in one direction, some relaxed but others stalking. But this wasn’t a hunting opportunity. A male leopard stood in their path. As a lioness sprinted towards him, he leapt swiftly up a tree, spreading his weight over a branch with what I can only describe as a goofy expression on his juvenile face.
On safari we start each day with a game drive, followed by lunch at the lodge. We spend the afternoon sculpting on the deck at the lodge. We use our own photos of the animals for reference. In some cases, the animals visit us in person. Elephant can be seen in and around the lodge throughout the day. They are joined from time to time by bush buck, zebra and warthogs.
After afternoon tea we head back out into the bush for another game drive. This gives us the chance to catch up with some of the animals we saw earlier in the day. Sundowners allow us to discuss the highlights of the day over a well earned drink. A night drive follows, giving us a special glimpse into the nocturnal world of genets, civets and porcupine.
But it’s the elephants that set Mfuwe Lodge apart. Everyday they walk into the lodge to feast on mango. They wander past our deck to gorge on fruit, then settle down to sleep it off under the shade of the mango tree. It’s a very special, if slightly surreal, experience. But then elephants are highly intelligent creatures. And naturally curious too. On more than one occasion we had an elephant walk right up to our vehicle, trunk extended, for a good sniff.
No visit to South Luangwa would be complete with the wild dog, my favourite wild animal. Since my first visit eight years ago, the wild dog population has grown from one female to three packs. As I had hoped, we were visited by a pack of five adults and three older pups. They never failed to keep us entertained with their play and joie de vivre. A highlight for our Zambia Art Safari was the number of baby warthogs we encountered. 2019 has been a good year for hoglets and these naturally skittish creatures were more relaxed than I’ve ever seen them.
The opportunity to observe our subjects in the wild is what makes an art safari so special. There’s just no substitute for spending time with our subjects in their natural environment, observing their forms and proportions, movements and behaviour. All our guests agreed that the opportunity to experience the wildlife of Africa in such close quarters made for the trip of a lifetime.
I certainly enjoyed my time in South Luangwa and it was very gratifying to see my students progress to produce animal sculptures of such high quality. I’ve brought them all back to my studio in the UK for firing and will be sending them out soon to their new homes. If you’re interested in joining me on safari, I’ll be running another Zambia Art Safari in 2020.