On Safari: Africa's Big Cats

  • 12-day expedition to wildlife parks in Zambia and South Africa
  • Explore the plight of lions, leopards, and cheetahs in the company of grantees from National Geographic's Big Cats Initiative.

Expedition Details


From the magnificent lions that stalk the savanna to leopards and fleet-footed cheetahs, big cats are the treasured—and endangered—icons of the African wilderness. On a journey developed with National Geographic Emerging Explorer Luke Dollar, delve deeper into the plight of these creatures with researchers from the the Society’s Big Cats Initiative. Set out on safari in three wildlife parks in Zambia and South Africa, and find out how our grantees are helping save the big cats.

Trip Highlights

    • Spend two days exploring Zambia's wildlife-rich Luangwa Valley with the head of the Zambian Carnivore Programme.
    • Go on safari with a researcher from the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Carnivore Conservation Programme and learn about cheetah conservation in South Africa.
    • Track everything from the “big five” to wild dogs, jackals, and wildebeests during two days in Sabi Sand Private Game Reserve.
    • Experience the majesty and power of Victoria Falls on clifftop walks in the spray of the thundering waters.

Itinerary - 12 Days

Days 1 & 2 — U.S./Lusaka, Zambia

Fly overnight to Lusaka, Zambia’s capital, and transfer to our hotel upon arrival.
InterContinental Lusaka Hotel

Day 3 — Mfuwe/South Luangwa National Park

A morning flight brings us to Mfuwe, just east of South Luangwa National Park. On the way to our lodge within the park, keep an eye out for a first glimpse of leopards or lions. This vibrant sanctuary of lush riverine vegetation and thick mopane and mahogany forests harbors some 400 species of birds and 60 mammals. Settle into your thatched chalet before heading out on our first game drive this afternoon. We may spot lions, leopards, elephants, impalas, hippos, and Thornicroft’s giraffes, unique to the Luangwa Valley. Gather for a welcome dinner tonight.
Mfuwe Lodge (B, L, D)

Day 4 — South Luangwa National Park

After a morning safari, stop at the field site of the Zambian Carnivore Programme (ZCP) to meet with its CEO, National Geographic Big Cats Initiative grantee Matthew Becker. Matthew will demonstrate how camera traps are used to monitor big cats and discuss critical efforts to reduce the snaring and poaching of lions, leopards, and other wildlife in the Luangwa Valley. Matthew will join us for the remainder of our stay in South Luangwa, accompanying us on game drives and giving talks on conservation issues. Late this afternoon, return to the bush for a safari and spot nocturnal creatures as we drive back to the lodge after dusk.
(B, L, D)

Day 5 — South Luangwa National Park

Head into the field with members of the ZCP research team to track lion prides by radio collar and learn how researchers collect data and monitor big cats. Then, pay a visit to a village school to meet the students and hear about ongoing conservation and education projects. Continue to the headquarters of the South Luangwa Conservation Society, where scientists will share another approach to preserving the wildlife of the region. After a sunset game drive, enjoy a performance from Seka Theatre, a local troupe that presents plays with social and environmental themes.
(B, L, D)

Day 6 — Mfuwe/Livingstone

Fly to Livingstone and check into our hotel. In the afternoon, set off on a guided walking tour of Victoria Falls, known locally as the “smoke that thunders.” These breathtaking falls span more than a mile and tumble some 350 feet into the narrow Batoka Gorge. Cross the Knife’s Edge footbridge for incredible views of the Eastern Cataract, and if you wish, hike through the mist-fed rain forest all the way to Danger Point.
Royal Livingstone Hotel (B)

Day 7 — Livingstone/Kapama Private Game Reserve, South Africa

After free time this morning, fly to Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport. Travel overland to Kapama Private Game Reserve, nestled between the Drakensberg Mountains and Kruger National Park and home to an enormous variety of species, including Africa’s “big five.” At our lodge, meet Kelly Marnewick, a National Geographic Big Cats Initiative grantee, or one of her colleagues from the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Carnivore Conservation Programme, and learn about their work protecting South Africa’s fragile cheetah population.
Kapama River Lodge (B, D)

Day 8 — Kapama Private Game Reserve

Today, Kelly or her colleague joins us on morning and afternoon safaris in Kapama, sharing insights on predator behavior. Visit the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre for an up-close experience with cheetahs, wild dogs, servals, and caracals that are being rehabilitated. Watch cheetahs run and examine the unique markings of a “king” cheetah. Alternatively, join local rangers for a walking safari in Kapama.
(B, L, D)

Day 9 — Kapama Private Game Reserve/Sabi Sand Private Game Reserve

Go for a morning game drive before we travel to the Sabi Sand Private Game Reserve, the oldest private reserve in South Africa, which shares an unfenced border with world-renowned Kruger National Park. Get settled in your private bungalow within the reserve and then head out on an afternoon safari in search of lions, leopards, elephants, buffalo, giraffes, zebras, and a wide variety of birdlife.
Sabi Sabi Bush Lodge (B, L, D)

Day 10 — Sabi Sand Private Game Reserve

Rise at dawn and venture into the bush to observe rhinos, wild dogs, blue wildebeests, and jackals during their morning routines. Back at the lodge, enjoy breakfast and free time to watch wildlife from the terrace or go on a bush walk with local rangers. On this afternoon’s safari, stop for a sundowner cocktail as the sun hits the horizon, and continue spotting wildlife after dark. Toast Africa’s big cats at a farewell dinner this evening.
(B, L, D)

Days 11 & 12 — Sabi Sand Private Game Reserve/Johannesburg/U.S.

After a final morning safari, head to the airstrip and fly to Johannesburg to connect to your overnight flight home.
(B, L)


This expedition is not currently being offered.

Activity Level

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What To Expect

About Our Accommodations:
Mfuwe Lodge, Kapama River Lodge, and Sabi Sabi Bush Lodge are luxury safari lodges. Our accommodations in Lusaka and Livingstone are five-star hotels.