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May 2009 Travel Zambia 43 People Vakacha Habitat Habitat Nkani Nkani SAFARI Asian elephants have been part of the working culture on that continent for centuries. African elephants, by contrast, have always been considered untameable. So are elephant- back safaris in Zambia really a good idea? And what's in it for the elephants? Philip Dickson clambered up to find out for himself. Lumbering through the tranquil African bush on the back of Liwa, a surprisingly agile three- tonne elephant, is a novel way to view the wildlife of Mosi- oa- Tunya National Park - just a few kilometres upstream from the Victoria Falls. And as we negotiate the tangled riverine forest along the banks of the Zambezi, the local residents appears distinctly bemused: bushbuck peer disbelievingly from a thicket as we pass, while baboons stare and mutter to themselves. I may be captivated by the wildlife, but Liwa careers off at full- throttle towards a juicy bough. Suddenly brittle branches are snapping and crackling around my head like Chinese firecrackers. " Leave it," commands Owen, our guide, and Liwa swishes off indignantly with a messy mouthful of tamarind tree, stripping the bark until it looks like a giant toothpick. Elephant- back safaris are a fast-growing development in African tourism, though not without controversy. Some have argued that such activities compromise the dignity and welfare of the animals. These particular elephants, however, are all orphaned survivors from culling and drought in neighbouring Zimbabwe - refugees from a far worse fate. Liwa now spends her days taking nature- hungry tourists into the Zambian bush with the rest of her family herd: Danny, Bop, Mashumbi, Marula, Madinda, Chavaruka and her own young calf Nandi. While they may look alike to us, each elephant has its own personality. Liwa, apparently, is a prima donna and hand- bag thief, and she appears to be flirting blatantly with Owen and the other handlers. What fascinates me most about these giant terracotta warriors, as we plod rhythmically through the bush, are the low subsonic rumbles that reverberate through my body as the elephant family communicate with one another - and the amazing texture of the huge flapping ears: hard and hairy on the outside; soft and rubbery on the inside. Meanwhile Nandi dodges and weaves her way through the forest of tree- trunk legs below us, as we wade out across the Zambezi shallows and onto the islands. Dismounting back at Thorntree, I stand nervously before the towering Liwa, holding out a handful of pellets. She stares down at me with her wise, beady eyes. Her inquisitive trunk gently caresses my shoulder before hoovering up what must seem like a pitiful reward, and part of me wants to kneel in reverence. I had agonised about an elephant-back safari, out of respect for these gentle giants. But having learned about their background and witnessed at first- hand the close bond between the elephants and their handlers - and also knowing that Liwa and her family are free to roam wild after we leave - my concerns have now evaporated. Jumbo journeys Elephant- Back Safari and Elephant Encounter at: Zambezi Elephant Trails Thorntree River Lodge, Livingstone Tel: + 260 332 0606/ 7/ 8; 0845 2930512 ( from UK) www. safpar. com/ elephant_ back_ safaris. htm Email: zaminfo@ safpar. com Book directly at The Waterfront Lodge in Livingstone with Safari Par Excellence. WHERE TO GO The Zambian Ministry of Tourism, Environment and Natural Resources has teamed up with Grant Thornton consultants in a new scheme to safeguard standards in the hospitality sector. " The provisions of the act include the enforcement of reasonable standards, and the classification and grading of accommodation establishments," says Mwinga Chiluwe, principal standards inspector at the Ministry. Ms Chiluwe added that this would improve service, enhance quality and serve as an effective marketing tool for Zambia's tourism. Each category of accommodation establishment - from hotels and guesthouses to bush camps and backpacker hostels - will be classified and graded within a star system according to appropriate criteria. The Ministry plans to begin classifying establishments this year and follow with grading in 2010. Making the grade DAVID GODNY

44 Travel Zambia May 2009 People People Vakacha Vakacha Habitat Habitat Nkani Nkani SAFARI Photographer's tips Sharpness and clarity are the key to capturing memorable images. Sharpness comes from avoiding camera shake, so always try to use a beanbag or tripod, especially when shooting with a big lens. Clarity comes with the rains. Travel agents quite rightly tell you that August to October is the best time of year for game viewing; November, however, is best for photographers. The fi rst rains wash all the smoke and dust from the air, bringing a new clarity and vibrancy. In early November the air is clean, colours are crisp, vegetation is still low, animals have yet to disperse and Zambia is a photographer's paradise. Stephen Cunliffe is a freelance photojournalist who has lived and worked in Zambia, Uganda, South Africa, India and the Caribbean. You can enjoy his work on pages 34- 37 and 18 of this edition. Contact Steve at stevecunliffe@ gmail. com Driving kids wild Children growing up in South Luangwa might watch tourists coming and going from the national park, but few ever get to experience the thrill of a game drive. Christina Carr, from Kapani Lodge, explains how Norman Carr Safaris are working to put that right. One of Norman Carr's main ambitions was to engage the youth of Zambia in conservation, and to show them how wildlife can benefi t their local economy. Long before the concepts of community- based tourism and responsible travel became so accepted, he realised that the only way to conserve wildlife was to ensure that communities living alongside the animals benefi ted somehow from their existence - and not simply because the animals looked pretty. Norman Carr Safaris regularly take local school pupils on game drives to give them an understanding of what the tourists come to see. These children also compete in an art competition each year to win a night at one of NCS's exclusive bushcamps, with Luwi and Nsolo hosting up to ten each. This year the children decorated a new classroom built by NCS with a mural depicting local scenes. Many children in the South Luangwa region see only the negative side of wildlife, such as elephants destroying their families' crops or crocodile attacks at the river. So these game drives and bushcamp breaks come as a revelation: by watching wildlife in its own habitat, safe in the company of a top safari guide, the children can learn about conservation and appreciate the importance of the natural environment - both for its own sake and for the economy. And what's more, they have fun. Capturing the interest and engagement of the next generation is critical to the future of South Luangwa National Park. And for us, watching these youngsters learn the true value of the natural world on their doorstep has been simply priceless. Find out more at www. normancarrsafaris. com Robin Pope Safaris are running their annual photographic competition. Prizes comprise free extensions to an RPS safari, as follows: stay for 2 nights at any RPS camp and receive 1 free night stay for 5 nights at any RPS camp and receive 2 free nights stay for 7 or more nights at any RPS camp and receive 3 free nights Photos must have been taken while on safari with RPS in South Luangwa, Liuwa Plain or Pumulani during 2009. Winners will be announced on 28 December 2009. Full details at www. robinpopesafaris. net SNAP HAPPY Close encounter on a school game drive. NORMAN CARR SAFARIS ( 2) STEPHEN CUNLIFFE