Caught on Camera

Craig mentioned that there was a possibility that Conservation Lake Tanganyika (CLT) would get some camera traps to capture some long lost large felines in Nsumbu National Park. I am personally very interested in camera trapping as you just never know what the pictures will show you and it’s always incredibly exciting to have a first look through the pictures. Thanks to the South Luangwa Conservation Society, the camera traps arrived in Nsumbu only one week after I got here, and so the camera trapping adventure started.

Our very first trial with the camera traps led me to the plains in the very heart of Nsumbu National Park. Honestly, other than a whole lot of puku, some baboons, and the occasional genet, I wasn’t expecting to find too much. I strongly urge anyone who would think that this would be a presumptuous conclusion to go onto the World Wide Web and search for Nsumbu National Park; even most of the peer-reviewed literature I found when I was getting ready for this trip state that Nsumbu is pretty much depleted. Well, they (and with that me) couldn’t have been more wrong as the wildlife in Nsumbu is alive and kicking and our camera traps were soon to reveal its secrets. As for our first trail with the camera traps, neither Craig, nor me, nor any of the scouts could have possibly wished for what we found those first few days out in the park.

A hippo having a bath
A hippo having a bath
Happy to see that the camera is still there
Happy to see that the camera is still there

Let me cut straight to the facts here, three days of trapping resulted in over 7000 pictures (I have to admit that many of these were pictures of grass swaying in the wind). The very first night, the cameras were visited by curious common duikers, side-striped jackals and even some hyenas. I thought we were already pushing our luck with these images when I retrieved the cameras to set them up in a different area the next day, but Nsumbu had more surprises in store for me.

Thanks to the efforts of CLT, the elephant population seems to be on the increase in Nsumbu NP over the last few years and the park hasn’t lost a single elephant in over 1.5 years now. However, most of the population moved to one specific part of the reserve were they felt safe when poaching was rife. Recently, elephants have started taking back the land that once belonged to them, wondering further into the park one step at a time. This is incredibly good news to me as this clearly shows that things are changing in Nsumbu NP. Seeing elephants outside of this “formerly elephant stronghold” still is highly exceptional and probably one of the biggest rewards for CLT. Keeping this information in mind, you can imagine how stoked I was to see elephants passing through a major hippo trail (and passing by one of my camera traps) on both of the nights the cameras were there. Next to that, these weren’t just wondering lone bulls and bachelor herds; these were proper breeding herds up to about 15 individuals strong with quite some juveniles among them. Just when I thought this first trial couldn’t get any better, a serval showed up on the camera screen putting the cherry on top of the cream. The first few days of trapping were an incredible success, and I couldn’t wait for the next opportunity.

Curious elephants
Curious elephants

We are currently 34 camera trapping days further into the project and Nsumbu hasn’t disappointed me on any of these days. We haven’t found any of the big cats yet but, other than that, the results are remarkable. The number of hyenas that we encounter continuous to increase at a steady rate and I’m adding new species to the list of encountered animals every single time I take a look at the cameras. And while elephants at nights were already a treat because of the reasons explained above, seeing elephants out on the plains in the middle of the day, having a splash in one of the many small pools that are starting to form because of the rainy season, must be one of the best phenomenons I ever caught on camera. If anything, the camera trapping project shows that Nsumbu National Park is very much alive and not nearly depleted yet. It is a hidden gem tucked away in far northern Zambia and it is waiting to be discovered.