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November 2009 Travel Zambia 25 Zambia undiscovered trees thrust their skeletal, sun- bleached branches at the scorched sky, and hippo, elephant and buffalo graze the lush wetlands. But this serenity belies a turbulent past. The inundation of the Zambezi floodplain destroyed hundreds of local villages on ancestral lands and stole vital habitat from countless wild animals. Threatened by the rising flood waters, 30,000 displaced Tonga people were resettled in Sinazongwe and Siavonga, while Operation Noah launched an animal rescue operation of epic proportions, saving over 7000 animals - from snakes to elephants - by capturing and releasing them onto higher ground. Joe Brooks, now 80, moved to Zambia in 1954. Two years later he was resettling the Tonga people, rescuing stranded animals in Operation Noah and witnessing the preparation of the new lake bed for fishing. " It was an epic task," explains Brooks. " We had to clear over 350 square miles of dense bush so our nets wouldn't be snared by the dead trees." Huge tree trunks, linked in pairs by lengths of battleship anchor chain attached to 2.2m- high steel balls, scythed through the virgin bush a few feet above the ground. " I remember tall trees trembling violently, lurching forward and crashing in a cloud of dust, while hundreds of birds exploded into the skies," recalls Brooks. " And bulldozers trundled behind, pushing the debris forward into neat funeral pyres over five miles long." With the ashes buried, towering grass erupted from the fertile lake bed after the first rains and birds flocked from far and wide for an incredible fishing bonanza. A less welcome invasion, however, was the Nile cabbage, salvenia and water hyacinths that soon choked the new lake. " Weeds rippled in waves like a giant mattress and my kids used to jump in and bounce around," laughs Joe. The infestation was finally eradicated by raising and lowering the lake level and then painstakingly clearing the decaying vegetation. Today the Kariba shoreline offers a new way of life for many Zambians, with kapenta fishing having transformed the valley's economy. Thanks to this tiny, protein- rich, sardine- like fish, the towns of Sinazongwe and Siavonga are thriving. " Approximately 25,000 tonnes of kapenta are caught annually," explains Bernard Below: Elephant are numerous around the lake, often swimming across to graze on the islands

Mulenga. Now 47, Mulenga has fi shed on Lake Kariba for over 25 years and is general manager of eight fi shing rigs at Sinazongwe. " Kariba's fi shing industry has changed the lives of hundreds of Zambians no longer forced into Lusaka or the Copperbelt for work," he adds. Kariba's kapenta hail from stock that was introduced from Lake Tanganyika over 40 years ago. The fl eets use lights to attract the fi sh after dark, and on a moonless night you can watch them twinkling as the rigs chug slowly across the darkened waters, scooping out huge shoals of their wriggling, silvery catch in the dripping dip- nets. " Most of the haul is salted and sun- dried," says Mulenga. He explains how this process allows the fi sh a long shelf life, and means they can be transported anywhere in Zambia without refrigeration. Of course it's not just hard work that lures people to Kariba. The resorts, lodges and houseboats that dot the bays and islands reveal how this enticing shoreline also offers an inland riviera for local holidaymakers - something I was looking forward to experiencing for myself. Boarding a converted fi shing rig at Lake View resort, we puttered across with hosts Keith and Lee- Ann Coyne to the unspoilt island of Chikanka. Cutting quietly around Chete, Kariba's largest island, we watched elephants foraging over the grasslands, while hippos broke surface with a hydraulic hiss and crocodiles slipped grudgingly off their sun- warmed sandbanks. Chikanka's hilly backdrop was soon drifting towards us and Eddie, our skipper, beached on a sandbank so we could wade ashore. Chikanka now comprises an archipelago of three wooded islands covering 600 acres and, apart from the lodge itself, is a pristine wilderness. The fi ve chalets perched high above its green- swathed cliffs face the lake to catch any breeze and offer a magnifi cent vista of the drowned landscape below. Late in the afternoon we meandered along Chikanka's narrow channels, revealing a hidden world of criss- crossing hippo trails and grazing game. And as the day drew to a close Kariba's 26 Travel Zambia November 2009 Kariba's dam wall boasts some impressive statistics Height: 128m Span: 617m Thickness: 24m Amount of concrete: more than one million cubic metres SIZE MATTERS Top: Kariba's shores offer a haven for to sun- seekers Above: Petrifi ed tree at Chirundu Fossil Forest Left: Philip Dickson beside one of the great steel crushing balls that was used to clear the lakebed Below: The building of the dam wall took four years and claimed 86 lives