by Louise Orr
Where else in the world would one hear the command “It’s time to light the dung!” Yes, elephant dung is the best defense against tsetse fly on game drives in areas where the nasty, hard-biting tsetse occurs. Lighting dried elephant dung, placed in a bucket off the back of a Land Cruiser is much more effective than any chemical spray, and the smoke smells pleasantly like an earthy incense. Elephants are herbivores so their dung is straw-like, and of course quite large; we became connoisseurs of properly-aged dung for this solution! Six to ten days was the optimum age for proper smoking quality of elephant dung. And it really works!
My Zambia safari was very different than the three previous ones, and just as satisfying. Most gratifying were my travel companions, terrific friends Clive and John from Australia whom I met in 2005 in Tanzania. We have remained in touch over the years; they visited me in Charleston just weeks before I moved to Panama in 2007, and last year proposed a reunion in Africa. They are very experienced Africa safari travelers, and made all of our travel arrangements flawlessly. After 7 years, we met again in Johannesburg on August 26 within hours of each other, and then traveled together for the next 17 days in Zambia’s huge Kafue National Park and nearby Game Management Areas.
Zambia is not the best choice for a first-time safari; I was aware of this. As Clive told me, “It is not handed to you on a silver platter.” The game is there (all except rhino and giraffe), but the park areas are so vast that sightings are not guaranteed as in more concentrated locales (and hence, more visited). With their expert planning, we three had an almost private safari! In two of the four camps, we were the only guests, and never did we see another game drive vehicle while spotting spectacular antelope species and the always-fascinating birds of Africa. The young, highly-trained and expert guides we were privileged to have MUST have high-powered binoculars and night-vision implants in their vision! How do they spot a small bird at 500 yards, or at night (using a spot light) a tiny bush baby in a tree hundreds of yards away, or a lioness hidden in underbrush with only her flash of an eye glow? Amazing professional guides with passion, knowledge and experience are key to any safari. David, our guide at Nanzhila Plains Safari Camp, is only 26 and one of the best I have met. Clive and John know him from three previous visits to this remote camp, and are justly proud of his expertise.
Yes, I got to see my favorite (elephants) on several occasions, in addition to visiting the David Sheperd Elephant Orphange on the drive to Nanzhila. Here, seven orphaned-by-poaching elllies are being rescued, fed and reintroduced to the wild; it is a years-long project. It was delightful to see a calf grab the big bottle of milk and use his trunk to feed himself!
In the wild, elephant viewing was a personal highlight. On a daytime drive near Kaingu Camp, our guide Isaac positioned the open Cruiser to within yards of a group near the Kafue River. There were several family groups, including bulls, females and calves. Fascinated, I could hardly breathe! I was sitting up front with Isaac, and would have happily spent all day there, just observing their behavior……using a convenient tree trunk to scratch their backs and bottoms, relishing the water in mid-day heat; matriarchs keeping the young in line; family members touching and intertwining trunks (playful, but significant recognition tactics).
I was in Elephant Heaven! A curious few approached a bit too close for comfort, and Isaac asked for my hat (a broad-rimmed, light colored one), which he quietly held aloft to alert the group of our presence. They backed-off politely. Elephants have keen smell and hearing, but not eyesight. It is a distinct privilege to observe these giants in the wild, and a real possibility that future generations will only hear tales of them.
On to lions! Who is not thrilled to see a lion in the wild? On my first safari in 2002 to Botswana’s Okavango Delta, a lioness was the first African animal we spotted moments after entering the Chobe National Park. She was radio-collared, but I am going to guess the majority of our 8 member tour group almost wet their pants! Have seen lions close-up on subsequent trips, including the “Fabulous Fabio” at Katavi Camp in Tanzania where I met Clive and John…Fabio earned his name with his flowing mane, and his keen interest in the lady lions!
On this Zambia safari, we spent our first four nights at Leopard Lodge on the Kafue River; we were the only guests, and the site was beautiful. Word from staff was that “Copper and Coin” were around. These two male lions are in their prime; they are brothers with black manes, and were heard at night across the river. Wouldn’t that be terrific to sight them?! Again, “It is not handed to you on a silver platter” in this part of Zambia. But, one evening as we settled into the traditional African “Sun Downer” (snacks and drinks in the bush as the glorious sun sets), we heard a distant lion roar…in fact, Clive caught the sound first. Let’s pack-up the Cruiser and follow that sound, so off we go!
As always, the guide, driver and scout are critically important, and they are keen on providing a safe and special experience for the client. Within an hour, as darkness grew, we found “Copper and Coin,” at Full Roar! They were about 30 yards off, walking with intent and following each other. Believe me, the sound of two male lions roaring so close hits you in the gut; so thrilling we were speechless and grinning from ear to ear! We followed them (with some real “bundu-bashing” through the heavy bush, with expert driving and spot-lighting) for almost an hour. Lost them at one point, and then, quietly, they reappeared directly in front of the vehicle and crossed the track within feet. Definitely this was a premier wildlife sighting; voted #1 when we assessed the overall trip on our last night together.
The Kafue National Park (the size of Wales) in Zambia is named for the river that flows though much of it. And, as such, we did have some camps on the river (Leopard Lodge, Kaingu), and then in Livingstone on the mighty Zambezi River. Hippos spend their days in the rivers and graze on land at night. So, we met “Max” at Leopard Lodge and “Humphrey” at Waterberry Lodge on the Zambezi as they ate the lodge’s grasses after dark. Big fellows; not to be messed-with, and occasionally a very large obstacle when walking back to your tent or chalet to tuck-in at night after dinner! Of course, the staff escorts guests after dark.
One aspect of wildlife that I enjoyed (and became better acquainted) were the spectacular antelope species in this area. There are many, and they are prolific. Everything from the tiny Oribe, the graceful Impala, the biggest Eland, the innumerable Puku, the Roan with their huge ears, the so-pretty Bush buck, and the magnificent Sable….I was impressed by the number, diversity and distinctiveness of these species. Zambia’s Kafue National Park and nearby GMA’s offer these to the discerning safari-goer. The anticipation of seeing a herd or small group of these antelope offsets any disappointment at not spotting cheetah, leopard or wild dogs when on game drives. That is not to say the “signature” species are not there; they are…but “not handed on a silver platter.” On this safari, I did not witness a kill, as in the past, but I counted the moth caught in a spider web in my shower as an “official kill.”
The above perhaps explains why I describe this Zambian experience as different than my previous three safaris, but just as satisfying or more. I was with terrific, experienced friends; Zambia was new to me; I liked the more rugged aspect (but enjoyed the wood-fired hot showers, ample food and drink); I discovered new species; I laughed so hard and so long with my pals we had tears at times! My shoes fell apart and were promptly and expertly repaired by a staff member. I accidentally tossed my digital camera out the back of a game drive vehicle while trying to dodge tsetse fly (staff went back, without a second’s hesitation, and found it after 3 hours of searching). I can’t recall meeting a fellow American, but loved delightful Tony and Victoria from England….sorry, Vic, but “Doing a Victoria” is now part of our lexicon!
With Clive and John’s past expertise, and particularly Clive’s knowledge of African history, I got to see places not usually available on a visit… a village school and old missionary graveyard where my friends left school supplies as in their past visits; in Livingstone I thoroughly enjoyed time at the museum, including original papers of David Livingstone; we had an opportunity to visit The Old Drift, the surviving traces of the first European settlers in this part of the world, including that of an “American,” although Hawaii was certainly not part of the USA in 1804….Samuel Thomas Alexander was one of the most significant agricultural and transportation entrepreneurs of Hawaiian 19th Century history.
My first, and so-positive, impression of Zambia would not have been possible without the expert planning and wonderful companionship of my fellow travelers and dear friends, Clive Hope and John Cocking. Clive, with his experienced eye and knowledge; John with his kindness and quiet humor, made this safari so very special. I cannot thank them enough, and hope that we may travel together in the remote, special places of the world again…with keen eyes, appreciation for the wildlife, respect for those who protect it, and our private “in house” humor; something always shared with special friends.
Indelible mental images/impressions remain:
The full moon rising on September 9 while the sun set; both blood red due to dust in the atmosphere, as we enjoyed sun downers…
The next morning, before dawn, with the full moon shining through my mosquito net and the call of the African Fish Eagle (“The Voice of Africa”)
Cold nights under impossibly luxurious and heavy covers and feeling warm and cozy before a 6AM game drive; the temp was 49, knowing the first half hour would be chilly getting dressed!
Clive making time to update his safari notes; so thorough and well written
John making tea and coffee for everyone on game drives, and taking my arm when walking back to my room at night so that I would not walk into a hippo!
Seeing Victoria Falls again, this time from the Zambian side, provided a different aspect of the mighty Falls.
I hope this finds you healthy, happy and planning your own adventure!