It’s August 2002 and …

It’s Monday 5th and an appeal from Chief Kakumbi

We have had another exciting week of gameviewing – quite spectacular – but the reports will have to wait until next week. I have been very busy this week researching all aspects of the drought situation in Southern Zambia. It is very clear that the aid agencies are working to PREVENT famine. Currently, wide spread famine has not yet set in. However, the food is short and the wells are drying up. There certainly will be a problem very soon. In contrast, Eastern Zambia is not in drought.

I have prepared the following statement that we are sending out to readers of It’s Monday and our agents. It is self explanatory and I ask you to take the time to read it thoroughly. If you have any comments I would be most interested to hear them.

Until next week,
and have a good one.


Robin Pope Safaris are pledging USD 30 / GBP 20 per bed night for the famine relief in Zambia for any new booking made for the rest of the 2002 safari season. This means that a couple, travelling for a week, we will give USD 420 / GBP 280. That will feed 23 families for a month! We are also inviting our agents to donate to the “Southern Africa Crisis Appeal” – a suggested USD 75 / GBP 50 per person travelling.

The serious reports on the pending famine in parts of Southern Africa, including Southern Zambia are now all over the world media. The charity and aid agencies are working to avoid a human disaster. The situation in certain areas will be very serious in a few months time. However, the images portrayed are discouraging potential visitors to the region. If tourists do not visit the region the long term effect on the local communities that depend on tourism will be devastating.

We have had guests arriving in the last few weeks who were expecting to see dying children along the road. They were relieved to see healthy, happy children waving as they drove by. Many have said that they thought about cancelling their safari. This would have a disastrous effect on a community that is not even experiencing a drought! Everyone in the Southern African tourism industry are working towards avoiding a sharp drop in the number of visitors travelling to the countries effected so that the communities that are already facing hard times will not suffer from lack of income.

The Valley experienced average rainfall this year and the crop was reasonable. There will be shortage of maize later in the year as the demand increases from the southern areas that are in drought. And I am sure that the price will rocket in December. However, the Luangwa Valley is not in drought.

Rainfall figures from the Meteorology Bureau at Mfuwe Airport season mm 1997-98 926.8 1998-99 718.8 1999-00 837.0 2000-01 1009.6 2001-02 849.2

It is worth considering how important tourism is to the community: The number of people that are reliant on the tourists coming to the Luangwa Valley is considerable – about 70% of the community. The population living in the vicinity is approximately 30,000. The safari camps employ 800 people directly. The South Luangwa National Park employs 300 people. Each person with a salary supports, on average, 15-20 members of the extended family. There are between 100-300 people indirectly employed from tourism (mat weavers, curio makers, market gardeners etc). That means that around 23,000 people in the local community rely on tourists travelling to the Luangwa Valley. That is most of the community.

Without tourists, this community will indeed suffer greatly through the loss of income.

The Disaster Emergency Committee in the UK, a group of aid charities that have banded together to raise money for the famine, have issued the following statement:

“Although the immediate famine is our current priority, the survival of local industries is also vital for the long-term development of these countries. Many communities, especially around the national parks, depend on tourism. Tourists who travel responsibly can make an important contribution to the livelihoods of these communities. We therefore do not discourage people from visiting these countries but encourage visitors to think carefully before travelling, and to support local enterprises when they are there.”

Robin met with the local Chief who wanted us to issue the following statement:


“The rainfall this year was less than in 2001, which was good rains.
However, for the moment there is enough water and food to sustain the people in the Luangwa Valley. It is expected that shortages of food may occur in the months of October, November and December before the next rains begin. However, we do not have famine in the Luangwa Valley that I am familiar with although the situation in Southern and Western Zambia is most serious.

We need tourists to visit the Luangwa Valley, and Zambia, as they sustain many people through jobs and associated industries. Without tourism here people lose their jobs and there will not be enough money to buy food as the prices of maize are expected to rise later in the year.

The wildlife populations are excellent and there is enough food and water for them as well. We will expect very good game concentrations along the river this year as it is slightly drier than normal.

I hope you will continue to visit Zambia, the Real Africa.”
The Hon. Chief Kakumbi
1st August 2002

It’s Monday 12th and out of the frying pan, into the fire!

Well, Jo’s report last week on the drought situation resulted in a flood of emails! The response has been very encouraging with a lot of supportive comments offered in relation to what we are doing here. Jo is still working away on further plans and next week more will be revealed. Your support is warmly received!

The forces of nature are rather confusing at the moment! Whilst temperatures are slowly on the rise it looks like autumn out there! A good indication of the impending rise in mercury levels is the mass dumping of leaves by the beloved sausage trees. It is as though it is a constant drizzle of sausage tree leaves, and as soon as they hit the ground they dry out. Thick layers of crunchy leaves lie around the back of Nkwali now! Last season’s sausages are also falling (a good time to watch your head!!) along with the tree’s beautiful velvety crimson flowers that are starting to bloom. Along with flowers from the sausage trees and the Natal mahoganies there is much colour around with the flame creepers in bloom. So it is just a riot of colour at the moment – lots of dusty browns & greys dotted with greens and reds!! At night we can hear the hippos hot footing it across the crunchy leaves, the fallen sausages being their target! Hippos LOVE sausages. As the dry season becomes hotter and available ground fodder diminishes this offering from the heavens comes at just the right time!

Along with the leaves falling the August winds have arrived with vengeance! These easterlies come in bursts during the day and night, whipping up everything that has dried out over the past few months – sand, dust, twigs, leaves and dried flowers. It is quite refreshing but it is difficult to keep those candles alight at the dinner table at night. It is also difficult to keep those idle pieces of paper in the office from flying across the room – I’ve often heard certain words coming from Jo’s office which won’t be repeated in this newsletter!!!

On to something else that I advised wouldn’t be repeated in this newsletter (for a while at least)…lions! Well, the story is interesting in itself and the lion part is only the beginning (perhaps I should use XX to refer to lion??). Anyway, the bedroom attendant staff at Nkwali were witness to this and nobody else (the guests were all out on afternoon gamedrives at the time!). Two female XX’s were seen chasing a herd of impala along the opposite riverbank. The scene was taking place directly across from the Nkwali bar! Two of the impala suddenly leapt for their lives down the riverbank and into the river. A crocodile was at the right place at the right time…it looked as though one of the impala leapt directly into the croc’s mouth! The reptile made short work of the fleeing antelope and they quickly disappeared under the water. It wasn’t all bad – the other impala deserves a medal for making it all the way to the other side of the river without any crocodiles getting in the way. It came up over the riverbank right next to the Nkwali bar and ran off to live another day.

Matthew and Sara joined the Pope family for a picnic at the base of Chichele Hill recently. On the way soon they saw quite a lot of buffalo! In some bushes between Chichele Hill and the pontoon a number of them were seen in the bush – they are difficult to make out when they are a few paces back from the edge of the bushes…they meld into the leaves and branches VERY easily!

The only giveaway sometimes is the helmets and those long stares coming from over the tops of the bushes! This was nothing compared to what greeted the Taverners at the pontoon – there were about 300 buffalo drinking at the river! What an amazing sight! In fact large buffalo herds have been spotted all around the Valley lately. It is fascinating to see six hundred eyes staring at you! They also resemble a swarm of ants from the air!

A report by Daudi and Ross from Tena Tena – elephants have been moving in large numbers lately. Once a single herd of at least 90 were seen! It seems that they enjoy blocking the road from the river crossing every time a transfer is being taken!! From the camp they have been watched crossing the river on a regular basis. Daudi had an interesting morning tea stop during a gamedrive…watching a mother elephant pushing her baby us the steep bank.

It took some time but mission accomplished after lots of noise and support from the rest of the family!

Well that’s it for another week. It is almost lunchtime and we are about to go and mount a dartboard into the Nkwali staff dining/bar area known as “The Cage”. It is a sacred place which resembles a zoo enclosure but in reality houses homo sapiens at feeding times! It also doubles as a recreational facility and there has been a large piece of board mounted to the wall at one end of the enclosure for some time now. Kevin has badgered and pestered and hinted to Jo for quite some time now that she should buy the staff a dartboard!! After many months of on-again off-again lively debate around the lunch table the Madam finally relented and came back from Lusaka on the weekend with a lovely big dart set!! Kevin is now happily putting it all together and soon there will be staff competitions galore in The Cage. I think ‘Dart Rules’ are in order to help prevent the uninitiated from sustaining any unwanted skin punctures!

From mission control, have a safe and fabulous week!


It’s Monday 19th and the liquid lunch

What a busy week we are having! Guests coming and going, vehicles moving all over the place, lots of walking, busy kitchens – normal peak season stuff! Our family friendly safaris at Nkwali are working very well. At the moment we have two families with children completely filling the camp. The kids are having such a great time with each other! The parents cannot believe it – if they wish they can hop onto a gameviewing vehicle with a clear conscious and leave their little darlings behind. Whilst mum & dad are out on an adults game drive the kids are happily interacting together under the watchful eye of our camp staff. In fact three kids stayed in camp yesterday morning.

ChickenThey had much to do. Starting off with a walk to the chook pen, they collected hen’s eggs with Shanie, looking at our enormous veggie garden along the way. Then they rushed off to the kitchen to make delicious biscuits for morning tea with Lameck before spending the remainder of the morning at the swimming pool and playing games out of Nkwali’s games chest. Why leave camp?!!

As a result meal times at Nkwali have put Shanie’s organisational skills to the test. With half the camp filled with children of various ages dinner has involved at least two or three sittings seated at different locations – at the bar, on the chairs round the fire or on the reading chairs! Bangers and mash has proved rather popular and Shanie has at times forgotten all about the usual table conversation (wildlife sightings and current affairs). Instead she sat riveted by details of the latest movies that have come out or arguing about what were nice names and bad names for people! All the important stuff.

Scat - Impala or Puku?We have also been able to indulge the children in a bit of walking with Keyala! Recently he took an eight and ten year old for a short walk at Kalawani Pan which is outside the Park. They walked in a very open area with the vehicle in sight and looked at all the small things like animal droppings and termite mounds. I don’t know who enjoyed themselves more – the kids or Keyala! A picnic lunch is being held at Nkwali’s swimming pool today. How appropriate – the parents can enjoy a traditional bush lunch (well, the pool is surrounded by bush!) and the kids throw each other safely into water!

Animal behaviour has been the focus of the week with some interesting and unexpected performances delighting guests and staff alike. Daudi took some Tena Tena troops on an early morning drive and as they drove under a tree noticed three sun squirrels on a branch alarm calling. The squirrels were all looking down which drew the gameviewer’s attention to a slender mongoose sitting on a termite mound. Suddenly the three squirrels scurried down the tree and chased the slender mongoose up into the next tree! Quite unexpected! Later in camp a puku could be seen daring to cross the river channel. It made it half way across then leaped around and rushed back to where it had started, to the safety of dry ground. A crocodile could be seen at the spot where the puku did the about-face!

And an amusing tale from Jason Alfonsi at Nsefu. He had taken his guests, who had just completed a Mupamadzi walking safari, on an afternoon drive and they were at the Big Bend (upstream from Bucca). They were watching a group of elephant who had been at the river drinking and then looked as though they were going to pass through the ebony grove. Jason drove into the ebony grove and waited. Suddenly the baboons started alarm calling. Jason then followed the calls, which led them all back to the river, but they couldn’t find anything. Then the vervet monkeys started chatting downstream so the vehicle was manourvered around a big bush to get a better view of what was going on but still there was nothing. By then it was decided that this was the spot for sundowners as the sunset blended well with the view of the elephants, who were now on the river sand below. As the essential gin and tonics were downed the elies moved up the bank and behind the big bush so quite close to the troops! Suddenly they heard a leopard growl and it shot out of the bush in front of the guests. It looked at them, growled, and with a rather embarrassed “well, what were you looking at” stare, walked off to lick its wounded pride! Poor thing.

Ellies at Nkwali - July 2002Lots of other lovely sightings this week with Jason A and guests also spotting a purple heron at Zebra Pans and an alpine swift on the Nkwali pontoon. The alpine swift is a rare migrant passing through the South Luangwa on its way to South Africa. It stops for one or two days in this area before it is gone again! The Nkwali elies have also been having a wonderful time in the lagoon. One teenager was seen in a state of bliss lying flat in the mud, rolling around and completely smothering itself!

Jo is thinking of starting a course to teach senior staff how to read international airline tickets! Jason Gifford, camp manager at Nsefu, is capable of many things here in the bush but at the end of a recent flying visit to Johannesburg for a wedding he couldn’t work out the details on his flight ticket back to Zambia. Thinking he was arriving at Jan Smuts within the normal two hours prior to departure he was left scratching his head, wondering why his flight to Lusaka had left 10 minutes before!! Dear OH dear!!

There’s a lesson in that for all of us, don’t you think!

Have a LOVELY week.


It’s Monday 26th and Highland Weddings

I’ve just returned from a truly increadible weekend away. It has been such an exciting few days with many familiar ex-RPS faces! Back in October last year I was present at some beautiful waterfalls along the Mwaleshi River in the North Luangwa National Park when Rod & Guz, the dynamic duo who operate Kutandala Walking Camp , announced their engagement. The end result was a seriously glamorous wedding on Saturday morning at Shiwa Ngandu, the grand ‘Africa House’ built by Sir Stewart Gore-Browne in the 1920s and successfully chronicled in Christina Lamb’s recent biography.

Rod & Guz invited about 40 family and friends from near and afar, all arriving on Friday afternoon for two days of increadibly good fun. During the week Robin and Jo threw open their house to welcome back good friends who returned to Zambia for the wedding…Possum, Holty, David & Karen Back. All four arrived from the UK for a whirlwind of catching up with Valley locals before flying to Shiwa, located in lush ‘highland’ country near Mpika on the other side of the Great North Road. Matt Gurney spent two days driving from Nairobi for the event…arriving at Shiwa airstrip at the same time as all of us on our 50 minute chartered flight from Mfuwe! It is amazing what timing precision can be achieved on the promise of an open cool box!

Jo Pope nearly didn’t make it to the wedding weekend, succumbing to malaria the week before. She was quite ill just five days out of the wedding but was determined to get better in time. Dr Frank prescribed a standard two month course of larium in a single dose to kill the malaria quickly and get Jo back on her feet by Friday. Whilst the medication was doing its job the Madam was completely wired and unable to sleep! It took four vials of valium to knock her out but she didn’t go down quickly or quietly! Thankfully by Friday, after a lot of sleep, she was feeling much better and ready to fly to Shiwa.

The wedding weekend was grand with many guests staying at Shiwa House and the rest camping at the refreshing Kapishya Hot Springs 20km away. Shiwa House is set on a very large and privately owned estate that in years gone by produced essential oils and raised cattle, amongst other things. The estate is dotted with old farm buildings, horse and cattle enclosures and fields of many types of tall trees which you can see for miles. The house is surrounded by landscaped gardens & rolling lawns, a 10,000 hectare game ranch with 22 mammal species and looks out through tall Cyprus Pines and silvery eucalypts down to Lake Shiwa Ngandu in the distance. Gore-Browne’s family descendents, the Harvey Family, have opened the doors of the estate for guests to come and stay. Modeled as a fine English home, Shiwa House is being restored and is full of history! Rooms full of antiques, a library packed with rare and old books plus volumes of photo albums and diaries from the late owner – you could spend days in there! The house is full of dark corridors with low ceilings, wooden floorboards that groan in the night, large bedrooms with log fires burning, a grand dining room, a sitting room, a central garden courtyard and a chapel to one side. It was at the front of the house, on a sunny Saturday morning, that all the wedding guests assembled and watched Guz ride up to the congregation on a white horse. Rod, in his Scottish kilt, joined his bride at the top of the stairs and we all assembled in the tiny chapel for another amusing Zambian wedding ceremony (the priest hadn’t performed a wedding in English for many many years!).

Many MANY glasses of champagne were then consumed along with mouth watering delicacies prepared by Guz. She was a busy girl up until hours before the wedding…in the kitchen presiding over food preparations that are quite mind boggling given the remote location. As with all her food offerings at Kutandala, the feast prepared by Guz for her wedding was of a quality one would expect to find in a cutting edge restaurant in London or Sydney! To-die-for!!

A fabulous afternoon followed by a knees-up at the hot springs well into the chilly night (much higher altitude than the Valley!) and sad farewells yesterday morning. Glowing bride and groom barefoot in shorts and t-shirts waved us off from Shiwa Airstrip. I have to say that the flight from Shiwa to Mfuwe is one of the most interesting imaginable – flying over the lush escarpment with sparkling rivers flowing everywhere before entering the Valley floor. My eyes were glued to the changing formations below….we first crossed the immense Chifungwe Plain, an impressive sight from the air.

It covers an enormous area of light yellow plain, without any trees or bush, but many swathes burnt black by fire. Then we flew over the beautiful Mupamadzi River, directly across Mobile Walking Camp 2, and it was easy to see how interesting this area is for walking safaris – remote with beautiful river and sand areas to walk along. We then flew towards Lundu Plain and spotted the enormous baobab tree mentioned a few weeks ago – it is a grand sight standing out from everything else! We followed the Chikaya Plains in the middle of the Park…a very desolate and barren area which has been shattered by elephant in the past. Crossing the dry Mwaamba riverbed we then flew over the Luangwa River and could clearly see Nsefu on one side and Tena Tena on the other – very exciting and unique from the air!

This week hasn’t all been about bubbles and wedding vows…there has been a continuation of remarkable gameviewing at all camps. Much to talk about next week but two interesting occurrences this week. Firstly, Robin has been advised by Daudi that eland are moving into the Tena Tena area once again. They come from the higher country to start grazing along the river area in big herds. It is usually at this time of year that we start to see them.

Secondly a report from Simon who took a group up to the Mupamadzi yesterday to commence a walking safari. A large porcupine walking in front of the vehicle, in broad daylight, for 2 kilometres and refused to get off the road and let the troops pass. Whilst this was interesting enough Simon eventually had to stop the vehicle and tried to persuade it to leave the road! As soon as Simon approached, the porcupine turned its back to him with prickly quills raised high in defense. Eventually it did move off but was certainly a very unusual sighting and a great start to the walking safari!

AND…I was just about to send this out when a very excited Mr Gifford from Nsefu walked into my office to tell me that he saw an aardvark last night!! It shot across the road at Riverside Drive….he saw it in “three and a half nanoseconds”! Jason’s fourth aardvark in four and a half years – not bad!!!

Until next week, cheers!


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