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January 2004
Our Man in Zambia : Taking a walk on the wild side
Kafue National Park
The fading light of the Kafue National Park.

Described as one of the best places in Africa to see wild animals in true wilderness areas, Zambia is a real gem for wildlife enthusiasts.

Jamie Baldwin
Nottinghamian Jamie Baldwin, takes a walk on Zambia's wild side.
SEE ALSO
Our Man in Zambia

Our Man in Zambia : Part Two

Our Man in Zambia : Part Three

Our Man in Zambia : Part Four

Our Man in Zambia : Part Five
WEB LINKS
VSO

Jamie Baldwin
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FACTS

Zambia:
Population: 10.8 million (UN, 2003)
Capital: Lusaka
Major language: English (official), Bemba, Lozi, Nyanja, Tonga
Major religions: Christianity, indigenous beliefs, Hinduism, Islam
Life expectancy: 33 years (men), 32 years (women) (UN)
Leader: Levy Mwanawasa
Monetary unit: 1 Kwacha = 100 ngwee
Main exports: Copper, minerals, tobacco Average annual income: US $320 (World Bank, 2001) Internet domain: .zm
International dialling code: +260

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It was time to put on the safari hat, buy an animal guidebook and take a walk on the wild side.

While many of you were sitting down to a Christmas appointment with a turkey, I was having one with a rather large elephant called Bernard in the middle of Kafue National Park.

Bernard the elephant
Bernard the elephant.

A far cry from the hustle and bustle of Lusakan life, there is something special about drifting in a boat, as hippos bask at sunset, knowing there is no-one else around for miles and miles; or, sipping wine under starry nights, the only other light coming from the fluorescent fireflies flying past the verandah.

Spanning a massive 22,000 square kilometers Kafue National Park is the second largest in the world. It supports just about every typical wild animal you can think of including: lions, leopards, buffalo, hippos, crocs, cheetah, zebra, wildebeest, dozens of antelope species - one of which exists only at Kafue, about 400 species of bird and, of course, elephants.

quote Bernard kept wriggling his trunk, sniffing the air before deciding that tree-bashing was more fun than man-bashing. quote
Jamie Baldwin

Despite the apparent wealth of wild animals here, and throughout Zambia, poaching has taken its toll. Large-scale commercial poaching was a major problem during the 1970s and 1980s. Rhinos were killed for their horns, grazing animals, such as the endemic Lechwe, for their meat, and elephants for their ivory.

Unfortunately, it still exists today - last month one of only four white rhinos in Zambia was killed. It was found dead floating down the Zambezi river, its horn hacked off. Generally though the present situation is a lot better, with trained anti-poaching teams working in all the major parks. This is all funded by the influx of tourists to Zambia over the last ten years.

Ironically, for elephants like Bernard, the safest strategy for avoiding poachers is to stay reasonably close to human settlements such as the Puku Pan Lodge where we were staying. Every day he came down to take a drink from the dam beside the lodge, oblivious to the crocs lying on the edge or to the trees in his path.

Zambian wild life
Zambian wild life.

A far cry from the Our guide at Puku Pan Lodge, Martin, has been living in Kafue for the last ten years. He told us that while poaching has certainly been reduced, the animals are now facing another threat from trophy hunters. These are people who pay huge amounts of money to shoot animals such as lions and buffalo. It's marketed as a means of 'controlling populations', but in reality it is a profit-making exercise for the Government.

On the final day of our trip I went on a walking safari with Martin. Just as we were returning to camp, cursing our bad luck at seeing only a few animals, we walk straight into Bernard. As we did our best to look inconspicuous behind a rather small bush, Martin pointed at my white shirt and then pointed out that elephants have a thing about the colour white - they really don't like it.

A good ten minutes ensued being stalked by a slightly irate elephant. Bernard kept wriggling his trunk around, sniffing the air before deciding that tree-bashing was more fun than man-bashing. It made me feel very small and made me realise that in the presence of all wild animals, humans should be nothing more than spectators.

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