Its Monday 13th January 2014 and a day at the dogs.

Hello – so who is ready to be made absolutely positively and utterly jealous!!  I hope you are sitting comfortably and ready to read this incredible story from Annie Woodhouse who spent a marvellous five days at Liuwa with Robin, Jason and the rest of the team.  So for this week we are off to Liuwa.

I can see for miles and miles and miles – eight miles, in fact, in every direction. Liuwa Plain is a vast expanse, dotted with small pans of water and a few tree islands, plus the Lone Palm that stands out like a beacon. And then there are the mirages where trees transform into downtown cityscapes and we joke about driving over there for a night out. But the weirdest thing of all is the suffrutex. Just 15cms high with tough, green leaves, these plants are actually trees with branches running under the ground! One of the wonders of evolution, suffrutex may have developed this form in response to fire. Who knows? Small it may be but driving over tree tops is, nonetheless, very bumpy.

My big hope for Liuwa is seeing wild dog but the storm that greeted us on arrival has sent them packing and the Zambia Carnivore Programme has lost all track of them. The Programme is very active in Liuwa, studying cheetah, hyena and wild dog and, in addition, a doctoral student is studying a key prey mammal, Blue wildebeest, which number 45,000 at this time of year.

It’s not until the last day of our visit that the researchers pick up a signal from the radio-collared dogs. We get the GPS readings, they’re 12kms away and it’s a race to get there, knowing that they could take off and be gone in a trice. In the distance there’s a low ridge and we can see wildebeest running, a fairly common sight here, but there are small shapes behind them. It’s the dogs and they’re hunting! Foot down and we’re racing over suffrutex tree tops, hanging on for dear life. The 13 strong group are streaming along the ridge, tails flying out behind them. We’re doing 35kph and coming in at a 45 degree angle to the head of the line, but they are moving faster than us. Suddenly they isolate a small group of adults and calves. A calf is down and the dogs pile in. It’s all over very quickly and the dogs feed furiously but so democratically. There’s no pushing or squabbling and each gets their share.

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Some of the dogs peel off and trot away along the ridge and lie down in the grass as the scavengers arrive: White-headed, White-backed and Lappet-faced vultures, Yellow-billed kite, Tawny eagle, Marabou storks and, of course, hyenas. One hyena sidles up to a lone dog and snaffles his piece of the remains. Immediately a couple of the dogs come trotting over from their spot 200 metres away and chase the hyena, biting it on the bum and reclaiming the scraps.

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Meanwhile, an adult wildebeest comes back and stares at the ground where the calf died. Presumably this is the mother and, although it’s nature, it’s a poignant moment and I can’t help feeling sad for her. The dogs all leave for a pan and spend the afternoon paddling, playing tag and lolling in the bright yellow Grangea flowers, providing splendid photo opportunities.

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Six days, two kills, 10 mammal species, 5 reptiles, 141 birds and a ton of fun!

Thanks Annie, I am sure that’s got everyone’s Monday off to a fabulous and exciting if slightly green with envy start.  Truth be told I fear that there is in fact very little else that can be said to top this tale so in order not to be bested by Liuwa I am going to gracefully bid my fond farewells to you all and hope that wonderful weeks are had and even better and much deserved weekends by all.

Have fun and keep smiling

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