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November 2007 Travel Zambia 17 PeoplePeopleVakachaVakachaHabitatHabitatNkaniNkani Obituary: Mabvuto Nyirenda Mabvuto Nyirenda, driver and mechanic at Chipembele Wildlife Trust, died in September 2007 after being attacked by an elephant whilst cycling to work. Mabvuto was born in Lundazi in Eastern Province in March 1971, one of nine brothers and sisters, and moved with his family to Mfuwe in around 2000. He learned his trade from his father and, despite never receiving formal training, acquired great skill and experience in the job that he loved. His hard work and pleasant company made him an extremely popular figure, both at Chimpembele and among the local community, and he is dearly missed. Mabvuto leaves a widow, Milika, and four children, as well as the two orphaned children of his late brother, for whom he was also caring. The tragic death of Mabvuto Nyirenda highlights the ongoing difficulties of human/wildlife conflict in the South Luangwa region. The South Luangwa Conservation Society (www.slcs-zambia.org) is taking steps to address this issue. You can assist the Nyirenda family by contacting Anna Tolan at www.chipembele.org. Wings above Luangwa John Coppinger, veteran safari guide, is the only microlight operator in the Luangwa Valley. From his base at Tafika (www.remoteafrica.com), he enjoys a unique aerial perspective on this fabulous wilderness. John described for Travel Zambia the thrill of taking to the skies. After 14 years and some 2,000 flying hours high above the Luangwa, I am very much at home gazing down at this magical valley. A microlight is the perfect realisation of all those childhood dreams of flying: it imparts such a sense of freedom that even the least adventurous passenger comes back for more. Most animals have grown incredibly tolerant of my aerial presence and barely afford this giant, buzzing bateleur an upward glance. It is an awesome experience to fly over a herd of buffalo or family group of elephants without disturbing them at all. Some animals can be quite comical: lions swing their heads in unison as I pass, like spectators at Wimbledon; and I have seen a leopard chase after me like a kitten with string. The only ones to show any fear are crocodiles, which scurry away in panic at my approach. I don’t feel too bad about this, though, having more than once very nearly featured on a crocodile’s menu. As well as taking guests, I am always ready to fly on behalf of SLCS or ZAWA to help with crocodile and hippo censuses, or make aerial anti-poaching patrols. One such patrol led to an alarming incident a few years ago. I was following the trail of poachers who had ransacked our camp on the Mupamadzi River, with a ‘crack’ scout strapped in behind me. The scout had insisted on bringing his AK47 because: ‘when I see those poachers I must shoot at them!’ Against my better judgement I gave in, knowing full well that any accidental contact between his gun and the propeller behind would be catastrophic. Just as we were cresting the rugged Muchinga Escarpment, the scout began flailing about, exclaiming ‘I think I have dropped my gun!’ I turned around to see that this was indeed true. Miraculously the gun had not snagged the prop. The team reported back to me a few days later, proudly announcing that, quite incredibly, the gun had been found. The poachers, needless to say, were long gone. A microlight is a fair-weather machine. In the dry season I generally restrict my flying to the early morning, before the wind or thermals pick up. During the rainy season, however, the thermals tend to be more even and so easier to fly in. This affords me the great pleasure of flying with eagles, many of which approach amazingly close to satisfy their curiosity. Flying in the late afternoon in March or April, checking out crowned crane nests, counting elephants on Mtanda Plain or simply luxuriating in the crisp, clear visibility – when the escarpment seems close enough to touch – is simply intoxicating. I must be one of the luckiest men alive. REMOTE AFRICA SAFARIS REMOTE AFRICA SAFARIS