• Elephants crossing the river at msandile river lodge South Luangwa National Park zambia by Solly Levi
    Solly Levi
  • Elephant in Ebony forest pic taken at safari with msandile river lodge

Solly Levi visits Msandile

Posted on Tue December 5, 2023.

By now you may have realised that most of our management team, some of our guides and even some of our waiters are aspiring photographers. With a constant source of inspiration streaming from the bush you can easily get carried away taking 1000s of shots but not getting quite what you wanted. We absolutely love having amateur photographers coming to stay, sharing tips, gathering round the computers to show off edits and the excitement of getting a shot that really makes you say wow. This can be from incredible sightings of kills, or unusual interactions or simply capturing the magic at the right moment making the spectacular of what some think is the mundane. When the golden hour hits even the marabou stork can look quite handsome.

We were lucky enough to recently host Solly Levi a world-renowned photographer who is well known for his clean and colourful fine art images of Namibia and Botswana. An inspiration to one of our team, who was very excited, and teacher then to all of us after he left. Solly took the time not only to enjoy South Luangwa but to give all our staff members and even guests some tips and tricks for photography. When he left we were all quite sad but when he sent the images we marvelled at what he produced and felt quite proud of the team for their part they played.

Solly was here to see the wild dogs, despite his many years in the business and working in areas with wild dog packs he was yet to see them…until he came to Zambia! We are lucky enough in South Luangwa to have a booming population of wild dogs and there are high chances of seeing them. Last year you may remember we had a pack of 33 that settled on our beach for 10 days using it as a base to hunt from, relax and frolic over which was such a treat. Most of the packs successfully denned this year and thanks to CSL and ZCP we hear numbers are doing well despite the pressures and dire outlook on the species as a whole. However, Solly choose an unusual time to come, not to his knowledge. Just a few months ago the alpha female of the group of 33 was killed by a crocodile, the second time this pack has lost its alpha female and they dispersed. Not only have they broken into smaller groups they have gone in every direction! In the days leading up to Solly’s visit we had the northern pack of 14 come into (yes into) the lodge and kill a Puku on our side of the river. Having recently re-collared the alphas they had run from their normal territory only to return a week later. We thoroughly enjoyed their visit! We had a group of 5 females just the day before chase hyenas as they hunted, tease elephants causing mayhem and mischief and even a few kills in the Wafa just across from the lodge.

The known dens had all been left as the pups were old enough to keep up with the packs so normal spots, we saw some packs had been abandoned. In short, in the lead up to a famous photographer wanting to see dogs. We confidently sent him pictures on the daily of what they were up to not 5 minutes from where he would be sleeping.

That is until the day Solly arrived. Actually, the day he arrived the dogs were in front of the lodge, we confidently smiled as we told him as we collected him from the airport. He landed on the 17.45 flight ready for action the next morning… the dogs however decided to move on!! Nightmare! The pressure was somewhat off as he had come from some great sightings in Kafue however planning some of his group trips to Zambia, he wanted to include South Luangwa, so we were eager to impress. The dogs it seemed were playing hard to get. We have the option for just $100 a day to have your own private vehicle which is a cost shared between the car, quite the bargain for a group! It is also a lovely option for guests who prefer birding, or who don’t want to stop with newcomers for impala and Puku or anyone with a love of nature so great it overpowers their love of other humans and they prefer their own company to that of a group!

Solly had his own vehicle as he was solely looking for dogs, we didn’t race to leopard sightings, track lions or enjoy the beauty of the dancing carmine bee-eaters. Just dogs. Just dogs who were playing a very good game of hide and seek. He took some incredible images of giraffe in mahogany forests, impala in the dancing light of the ebony forests, zebra in the Winterthorn cathedrals, the almost guaranteed twice daily elephant crossings from the park to the lodge and into the villages to raid the mango crops at sunset returning at 6am sharpish to the safety of the park oh and maybe one or two carmine bee-eaters.

His guide Lungi frantically messaged the network of Luangwa guides, we packed breakfasts and lunches in cooler boxes so they could roam further if needs be and still nothing. After all our tempting messages of dog sightings we felt we had catfished him and apologised profusely. Sadly, we are not a zoo, we can’t schedule the animals sometimes we don’t see a leopard, sometimes we don’t find the dogs. Solly was great, ever enthusiastic he confidently marched down to the cars each morning excited and ready for the day. He kept in touch with Lungi over lunchbreaks, just in case, ready to jump into a car as soon as we got the “nod”. He kept changing his flights staying longer just in case, tomorrow would be the day. Proflight knew us by name, we knew their number off by heart and then on one of his many “last days” Day 5 we struck GOLD! Five females, a break off from the big group of last year, about 2 hours south of the lodge, Solly, our manager, our brilliant guide Lungi and another esteemed guest tracked down the mysterious wild dogs and fulfilled our promise! Of course, it was hot, they were sleeping, there were not so many of them but it was what we needed to ensure to Solly that we did indeed have dogs! He took the rest of the day off, enjoyed the pool, a few cold drinks and we chatted about getting photographic tour groups in the future. Phew!

South Luangwa is one of the few “wild” places in Africa, away from the crowds in South Africa, Tanzania and Kenya. Less commercialised then the slick and expensive lodges of Botswana and one of the true off the beaten path destinations that still has the level of sightings you would expect in more developed destinations. Zambia itself is a true hidden gem of owner run lodges, rustic charm and conservation success stories which is hard to find these days. It is in short, a photographer’s paradise, from the great sightings of the rarer animals like the leopard and the dogs as well as the usual other suspects to the ability to have the sighting yourself. We offer both private vehicles and all-day drives so you can explore the areas you want, target the species you want or simply let your guide work his magic. There is nothing better than enjoying a bush lunch, as you watch elephants eating the Winterthorn seeds in the towering cathedrals of the trees, all to yourself. Or if you want you can sit for hours at the riverbank to ensure you get the shot of the carmine bee-eaters. Sit for hours with the lions on a kill or wait to see a leopard emerge from the bushes its concealed in.

We are extremely excited to host more photographers, welcome back the ones we have had before, entertain their clients and groups and revel at the images that they produce. And you never know maybe we get a few “shots” of our own!

Check out more of this amazing photographer @www.sollylevi.com