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
18 Travel Zambia November 2007 Wattled cranes dot grasslands splashed with dwarf red hibiscus, where wildebeest stand snorting on the horizon like deranged sentinels. This is the alluring landscape of Liuwa Plain National Park, on the Zambezi floodplain of western Zambia. First declared a game reserve in the 19th Century by King Lubosi Lewanika of Barotseland, it has long been neglected by conservationist and tourist alike. But thanks to the progressive management of the African Parks Foundation (AP), reports Jake da Motta, times may be changing. AP was formed in 2000 by a group of conservationists and spearheaded by wealthy Dutch philanthropist Paul Fentener van Vlissingen (who, sadly, passed away in 2006). Its mission is ‘managing parks in public private partnerships with governments on a long-term basis’, and it has already acquired seven national parks across five African countries. When AP signed their management agreement in May 2004, they inherited 3,660km2 of wilderness protected by just eight scouts and two managers. Years of illegal hunting had left the game depleted. Nonetheless the park’s famous wildebeest herds, reaching 33,000-strong, still continued their annual migration trek, while plentiful zebra and antelope grazed the grasslands, sustaining good numbers of hyena, plus a few cheetahs and wild dog, and a solitary lioness nicknamed Lady Liuwa. Today the park is accessible by road from May to January, and has three excellent campsites, each run by the local community in partnership with AP. It also, most importantly, has an excellent team in place: Alex Liseli is an erudite and passionate tourism liaison officer, whose team of six tourism scouts escorts visitors, while experienced park manager Craig Reid heads a dedicated force of some 55 scouts. Much of the foundation’s annual budget supports community directed projects, alongside law enforcement and game relocation. In due course, tourism should help this precious habitat to pay its way. The local community, who have grazing and fishing rights inside the park, are already seeing the benefits. Liuwa’s future looks bright. Watch this space. Sheila Siddle and her daughter Sylvia Jones are continuing the excellent work of caring for chimpanzees at Chimfunshi Wildlife Sanctuary and Chimpanzee Orphanage, reports Leslie Thomson. Despite the death in June 2006 of David Siddle, Sheila’s husband and co-founder of Chimfunshi, the orphanage continues to offer sanctuary to numerous animals. It is now also developing an education centre, and completing a school for the children of staff and the local community. Chimpanzees are not native to Zambia. Those at Chimfunshi have come from all over the world, the victims of poaching, the bushmeat trade and illegal capture for bars and circuses. Many arrive in a shocking state, often badly injured or scarcely able to see. The Chimfunshi team nurse them back to health with love and constant care, restoring their trust and enabling them to live again in their natural environment. In time, the chimpanzees join family groups, and progress to living in tree-filled enclosures of up to 500 acres. Chimfunshi, located west of Chingola in north-central Zambia, receives no regular funding or assistance, but relies solely on donations and the founders’ personal resources. Help in any form is constantly needed. There is an Adopt-a-Chimp project and opportunities for volunteers. Find out more at www.chimfunshi.org.za or contact Save-our-Chimps at www.talkingtravel.co.za Chimp champions DID YOU KNOW? A giraffe has the largest heart of any land animal. It weighs up to 11kg and pumps 75 litres of blood every minute around the animal’s body. Liuwa allure: opening up Zambia’s wild west DARYL BALFOUR / WILDPHOTOS Fresh grazing brings the wildebeest south. LESLEY THOMSON / TALKING TRAVEL Anyone for Nshima?