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False The Lower Zambezi has become renowned for close encounters with wildlife. Marek Petzer, a photojournalist based in Lusaka, recalls how one such moment will stay with him. May 2008 Travel Zambia 29 I ’ ve been fortunate enough to have visited the valley several times over the past decade, and each time I leave, my predominant emotion has been one of relief: relief that I am still alive. My memories are haunted by close encounters with animals that could do me serious damage. And, disturbingly, it’s inside the impeccably appointed lodges that these encounters have been closest. You see, the permanent residents of the park don’t let a minor thing such as a 12- bedded lodge get in the way of their ‘ survival of the fittest’ lifestyle. Many is the time that lions or leopards have chased down their prey through camp, buffalo have ambushed me on the lawn, or – just as I’m nursing my much- needed drink at the bar – an elephant has wandered up to shake the very tree that it is built around. My bar! There it is hoovering up pods for lunch while the ice rattles uncontrollably in my glass. At least the camps provide escorts to and from your tents or chalets at night – which is just as well, since that’s when our friend the hippo, whose toothy grin accounts for more human fatalities than any other animal in Africa, moves in to mow the lawns. One particular incident stands out in my memory. I was wandering back to the bar at Sausage Tree Camp after shooting some tent interiors when I pulled up short: a small herd of large elephants was heading the same way. I saw all the other guests gathered in the dining area. First thought: go to a tent. Second thought: hang on, there are great pictures to be had. Third thought: where can I hide? I made for some steps cut into the riverbank leading down to the boats and canoes. There I stood with just my head above the bank, waiting for the perfect shot. That’s when things went pear- shaped: one large bull, who must have noticed me going down the steps, strolled over to check things out. OK, where now? Crocodile- infested river behind me, elephants in front. I went right down to the canoes, jumped into the first and stepped into the next until I was in the one furthest from the steps. But still I was feeling very exposed. The bank was about two metres high, so I reckoned the best thing would be to move to the front of the canoe and hug the bank – which I literally did. Over the din of my thudding heart I could hear the elephant snuffling a mere foot or so above my head. I froze. After a couple of days – or was it seconds – I heard a call from the dining area: “ Marek, move to the right, there’s a gulley you can come up.” Speed was essential: I sloshed through the mud, clambered up the gulley and peered over the top. The elephants were still there, very close. “ Wait,” called Jason, the camp owner. But too late: I bolted for the dining room. Just made it. “ Wondered if you were going to get out of that one,” said a cheerful guest. Jason just shook his head. Never did get that dining room shot. UP- CLOSE AND PERSONAL An uninvited guest CHONGWE RIVER CAMP

False Lower Zambezi 30 Travel Zambia May 2008 Nature on the Lower Zambezi comes in many different guises, from the savagery of lions pulling down a kudu to the serenity of a morning spent drifting downstream. BOTH PICTURES: STEPHEN CUNLIFFE