The Thieving Lions of Luangwa

Jake Mohlmann and Corey Mitchell just returned from an amazing trip with Norman Carr Safaris in Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park.

We were part of a group of ten friends, who also happen to be colleagues, which met up in one of Africa’s premier wildlife hotspots for a ten day safari. South Luangwa is infamous on the safari circuit for its high density of leopards. Although the group experienced spectacular leopard sightings (we spotted a remarkable ten leopards in ten days), it was the other big cats that really got our attention.

Norman Carr Safaris run multiple bush camps in the park. The camps are deliberately spread out just far enough that you can walk from one to the next in a few hours and they are strategically placed near water holes and river beds in different habitat types to maximize the number and variety of game that can be encountered. Our group spent six incredible nights in three of their bush camps: Liwi, Nsolo, and Kakuli.

As seasoned field biologists we have lived in various bush camps, in fact, we spent six months living in one in Western Uganda prior to our Zambia trip. Our Chimp Camp in Uganda was very basic but comfortable enough for our needs; we had solar power, an actual bed, a tent we could stand up in, a real showerhead (it was attached to a black bucket on top of a ladder), and we sure didn’t go hungry eating Ugandan sized portions of beans and matoke. Their bush camps were nothing like that. They were incredibly luxurious. We had steamy hot water at any hour, unbelievably comfortable beds, the most amazing meals perfectly tailored to all of our unique food restrictions, ice cold gin and tonics, hot towels waiting for us after game drives, and extraordinary service from genuine friendly people. They also had loads of game right in front of camp; Chimp Camp didn’t have that, in fact, we barely saw the chimps we were supposed to study.

              Norman Carr's Nsolo Camp        vs.          Chimp Camp                                       
We happened to have our game camera along with us on the safari. Jake purchased it in the States and brought it to the study site in Uganda with the intention of setting it up along the chimp trails to catch some ape activity. It’s set off by motion and records minute long HD video clips during the day or nighttime, plus it’s waterproof. The camera survived multiple months in the equatorial forest, what could possibly happen to it in a few days at the bush camps?

At Liwi camp we had excellent luck placing the camera at the mouth of the garbage pit on two consecutive nights. We were rewarded with hilarious videos of a trio of honey badgers backing in and climbing out of the pit with their rewards over and over throughout the evening.

When we moved on to Nsolo Camp we passed on the option of more trash action and hoping for something more exciting, we placed it at the edge of the nearby water hole. The first evening there wasn’t much activity but we decided to take our chances and left it there for another night. When Jake went down the following morning to take down the camera with our guide, Innocent, and the Zambia Wildlife Authority scout, Patrick, they realized it was gone. On the ground next to the hole where the post holding the camera stood was a lion track. Jake ran back to where we were all having breakfast and preparing for our departure to Kakuli Camp yelling, “the lions stole our camera!” Everyone searched for the pilfered camera for a bit but we desperately needed to start our 15 km hike to Kakuli Camp so we left it up to the staff at Nsolo. The dry season had only just begun a month or two ago and the camp would operate until October. The chances were good that it would show up eventually. A few people were convinced it was at the bottom of the water hole and it would dry up over the next few months, hopefully unearthing our lost camera.

Are you the culprit?
On our final day with Norman Carr we received news that the camera had been found. There were very few details, only that they had it and someone would drop it off at Kapani Lodge that afternoon. When it was delivered we learned that it was found it in the dry river bed right next to Nsolo camp and it turns out the camera taped the whole thing. It managed to record the villains who stole it as well as the heroes who found it and its journey back to us.

Here is a short film we put together about the incredible incident. Enjoy!


Anonymous said...

What kind of camera were you using that it was able to remain on and record everything for two or three entire days? 72 hours of filming is a lot of battery life and footage.

Anonymous said...

72 hrs of filming and nothing more about the lions..except for the first few scenes?

Adventure Birding Company said...

It is a LightsOut trail camera by Wild Game Innovations. The battery life is excellent, although, the camera wasn't actually recording the entire time. It's triggered by motion and records 1 min videos when that happens, then the video shuts off until triggered again.

There were a couple minutes of lion footage at the water hole and then the lioness absconded with the camera! Over the course of that night there were videos on the camera that were clearly taken either inside the mouth of a lion or while being carried around by one. The best parts were included in the video. Then the camera was dropped near camp, most likely face down, because nothing else was recorded until the staff at Nsolo discovered and picked up the camera.