Tak­ing a walk on the wild side

Now cel­e­brat­ing 50 years of in­de­pen­dence, po­lit­i­cally sta­ble Zam­bia is a great place for a sa­fari on foot, ac­cord­ing to Sarah Mar­shall

Buckinghamshire Advertiser - - GLOBE TROTTING -

LIS­TEN­ING to some­one nois­ily chew their food isn’t es­pe­cially pleas­ant, but I find my­self mes­merised by the loud-mouth diner munch­ing his evening meal just five me­tres away from me. As his jaw pounds heav­ily up and down, greens hang­ing from his bot­tom lip, I’m gripped by this mun­dane daily ac­tiv­ity.

But sit­ting down to din­ner with a rhino is a rather novel ex­pe­ri­ence.

I’ve stum­bled upon this rau­cous feast while on a walk­ing sa­fari through the dusty scrub­land of Zam­bia’s Mosi-Oa-Tunya Na­tional Park. As the dip­ping sun bathes the land­scape in warm yel­low light, wildlife scout Al­fred sig­nals me to edge back­wards into a thicket, while he as­sesses the rhino’s mood.

“If you see him tilt his tail up­wards, it’s time to exit,” warns Al­fred, one hand grip­ping the ri­fle slung over his shoul­der. For­tu­nately, the 14-year-old male is more en­grossed in his food than the small crowd of spec­ta­tors who have gath­ered in front of him.

Ob­serv­ing rhino at eye level, rather than the el­e­vated com­fort of a sa­fari ve­hi­cle, is both ex­hil­a­rat­ing and hum­bling, and a re­minder of how pow­er­ful and un­pre­dictable na­ture can be.

Zam­bia and neigh­bour­ing Zim­babwe are cred­ited with be­ing the birth­place of the walk­ing sa­fari.

Cel­e­brat­ing 50 years of in­de­pen­dence this month, Zam­bia en­joys both po­lit­i­cal sta­bil­ity and a rapidly de­vel­op­ing in­fra­struc­ture which, in com­bi­na­tion with great game and im­pres­sive land­scapes, makes it a favourable op­tion for sa­fari.

Mosi-Oa-Tunya is its small­est park, en­com­pass­ing just 66km2, but it still has mas­sive ap­peal – mainly in the form of 10 white rhino cur­rently liv­ing within its grounds.

In the 1970s, when the park opened, there were 60,000 rhino in Zam­bia, but by 1989, there were none. The main cause of their demise was poach­ing, an epi­demic which is still sweep­ing across Africa at an alarm­ing rate. Rhino horn is now con­sid­ered more valu­able than gold and sells for 35,000 US dol­lars per kilo on the black mar­ket.

In 1992, five white rhi­nos were trans­ferred from South Africa to Mosi-Oa-Tunya, where the small scale of the fenced park fa­cil­i­tates 24-hour se­cu­rity, and the pop­u­la­tion has since dou­bled. Ten guards take it in turns to watch over the pre­cious crea­tures, of­ten al­low­ing tourists to join them.

A short drive from Liv­ing­stone air­port and reached by a Tar­mac road, Mosi-Oa-Tunya is far less wild than Zam­bia’s big­ger, more re­mote na­tional parks. On a drive through a mix­ture of gnarly bush and open wood­land, I en­counter buf­falo play­fully lock­ing horns, ele­phants bull­doz­ing their way through thick­ets, and gi­raffe kneel­ing down to sleep at dusk, their long necks re­main­ing up­right. None is par­tic­u­larly per­turbed by a ve­hi­cle driv­ing past.

The park is also within easy reach of one of Zam­bia’s great­est tourist attractions, Vic­to­ria Falls.

Con­tain­ing the big­gest vol­ume of wa­ter of any wa­ter­fall in the world, the roar­ing falls stretch for 1.7km, although the largest slice be­longs to Zim­babwe. When I visit, the Zam­bezi river is swollen from heavy rain­fall and the wa­ter level is high.

With so much mist lifting from the wa­ter, the face of the wa­ter­fall dis­ap­pears into a cloud of white noise, as rain­bows form over­head. And as I walk along a wooden bridge that runs along the front of the Falls, a plas­tic pon­cho does lit­tle to pro­tect me from a drench­ing. But it’s the sound – the bot­tom­less, aching roar of an in­sa­tiable beast – that com­mu­ni­cates Vic­to­ria Falls’ real power.

Even fur­ther along the Zam­bezi, while sit­ting on my river­side ve­ran­dah at Sanc­tu­ary Re­treats’ Sussi and Chuma lodge, I can still hear the rum­bling, although at this dis­tance it is more of a press­ing whis­per.

We in elab­o­rate spher­i­cal tree houses on stilts, de­signed in dark wood with stand-alone baths and four-poster beds. Rooms are con­nected by sus­pended wooden walk­ways of­ten pa­trolled by cu­ri­ous vervet mon­keys.

At night, hip­pos tramp clum­sily be­low, while ele­phants pass calmly through the camp, of­ten stop­ping to drink at the lodge’s pools.

Given the abun­dance of wa­ter, it’s sur­pris­ing to dis­cover that the nearby Nakatindi Vil­lage only re­cently re­ceived fund­ing for bore­holes. When I ar­rive, I’m be­sieged by chil­dren want­ing to hold my hand and pes­ter­ing for sweets. Mavuto, a 28-year-old, has been given the role of vil­lage guide.

His tour be­gins with an in­tro­duc­tion to the homes; spher­i­cal mud huts thatched with ele­phant grass. With barely any room in the dark cham­bers, peo­ple spend most of their time out­side. Although liv­ing only a few kilo­me­tres from the na­tional park, most chil­dren in the vil­lage have seen very few an­i­mals in the wild.

There are plans though, to take them to see Mosi-Oa-Tunya’s 10 white rhino. After all, it is the next gen­er­a­tion who will ben­e­fit from their pro­tec­tion and, in 50 years’ time, hope­fully Zam­bia will have another suc­cess story to cel­e­brate.

PA Photo/hand­out

Peace­ful set­ting of the Sussi and Chuma lodge and, in­set, lively chil­dren in lo­cal vil­lage

PA Photo/Sarah Mar­shall

Hip­pos in the Zam­bezi River

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.