An African Adventure
The adventure begins The trip to Zambia was a “lifetime opportunity”. From landing in Lusaka to living in a sugarcane farm, standing precipitously close to the thundering falls, walking with the lions, lounging with the cheetahs, and living in a game park in the midst of wild animals ... The images depicted here are raw, real, and taken by my son, Advait. Once you go on an African safari even the best stocked zoo will turn you off. We journeyed to two game parks in a tiny plane, stayed in one for three nights, and saw the last of the rhinos in another. Elephants and other wild animals frequent the reception areas of the game park, Mfuwe Lodge. Our chalets, steps away from the main building, were guarded by alligators and other wild animals. At night a guard took every guest to their chalet with the warning not to step out till morning. I talked to one of the staff who had seen lions lounging outside the chalets in the morning. I saw the photograph of a lioness sunning herself outside the chalet my wife and her sister stayed! The dream of every ardent safari-goer is to see the BIG 5. Elephant, lion, wild buffalo, rhino, and the reclusive leopard. Luckily we saw all of them. The leopard, just a glimpse. I’m not sure if I actually saw the leopard. Or, was my intense wish playing tricks? My wife and son claim they saw it. As Peter Zulu, our guide, said, one has to always leave behind a wish so one can come back to fulfil it. - Madhav
Mukuni Big Five Safaris, Livingstone, Zambia
Uneasy lies the head that wears a woman’s hand
...at the Mukuni Safari. Cheetahs can attain speeds from 0 to 90 kms in three seconds! At such speeds most animals cannot see, but the cheetah has an image stabilizer built in. When they are off to catch its prey their head is the only part of the body which remains steady; the tail acts as a rudder in navigating sharp turns. The cheetah has tear marks on its face which helps reduce the glare during hunting in harsh sunlight. Lounging with Cheetahs...
“Always approach them from behind. Pet them firmly, otherwise they will feel ticklish. Do not touch their heads and paws. When you get near them, crouch down or they will feel threatened and attack. If they roll over, Walking with the lions I’ll scratch your back, hope you don’t scratch mine! distract them with the stick; do not touch their tail when they are lying down or sitting. “Talk to them when you approach them so you do not take them by surprise. They do not understand any language, so just keep talking! They are wild animals, they are not tamed. They have learned to co-habitat with humans. Their killing instincts are very much intact. When they are two years
old, they will be released into the game park which is about 80,000 hectares.” These were the words of Faria, the lion minder before I approached the lions – Simba, Nelli, Luba, and Shingu – at the Mukuni Big 5 Safaris, Livingstone, Zambia. I did feel a bit like Tarzan. The stick was insurance. If she turned her head and tried to snap at my loving hand, I was to distract her by offering the stick! I paid good money to massage the little squirt! [I did think of opening a massage parlour for exotic animals!] Lions and lionesses like their belly rubbed firmly. Nelli had her leg up in the air from the time she settled down. I could hear her purr like a cat.
Twenty Five plus years ago I grabbed the hand of my bride and walked around the ceremonial marriage altar. Though she has matured into a loving wife she still has a healthy growl! Now I was going into the bush holding the lioness by its tail! Was I taking Nelli, the lioness, for her morning poop making sure that her tail does not get in the way?
At the edge of Victoria Falls, Zambia, held in place by the guide. Another step and it’s a sheer drop ... twice the height of Niagra Falls. It looks like I am sprouting wings and getting ready to fly. The Victoria Falls is 1.74 kms wide with about 1.2 km on the Zambian side and the rest on the Zimbabwean side. It is 111 mtrs high. It is impossible to see the falls in one stretch, except as an aerial view. The Lozi speaking people call Victoria Falls Mosi-Oa-Tunya, while the Tonga speaking call it Shungu Namutitima. Both translate to “the smoke that thunders”.
David Livingstone saw Victoria Falls for the first time from this edge. Now known as the Livingstone Island, one can look down upon the magnificence of falls without any barriers. At the height of the season the entire length of the falls will be covered in water and this island is mostly under swift flowing water. During summer, the most daring can swim in the Devil’s Pool the lip of the falls and peer down!
People jump off the bridge above the Zambesi river. The bridge also connects Zambia with Zimbabwe and is a popular spot for bungee jumpers. There was an incident where the chord broke; the jumper fell into the alligatorinfested waters, and managed to swim to safety with a few broken bones!
Mosi-Oa-Tunya National Park
We came upon this fellow [below] in a bend in the road. We followed him like shady characters for about half a mile. When we realized that he had no intentions of moving out of the way we went back and called a guide who promised to take us to the rhino. On our way we met the lone panchyderm who charged us. We reversed the jeep and left him in a cloud of dust. The charge of the heavy brigade
Thirty years ago, there were 7,500 rhinos in Zambia. When we visited the game park there were just five! A dedicated group of forest rangers guard them with their lives. The guide who accompanied us took us to an outpost in the Mosi-Oa-Tunya game park. Another forest ranger hopped into our jeep and we drove for a couple of miles. The rhinos’ whereabouts are kept a secret. Wherever the rhinos fancy to wander the guards follow. They have shoot-at-sight orders in case of poachers. We left the jeep and travelled on foot for about five minutes. Under a tree we came upon these rhinos - the male, and a female with its calf. Built like a tank
This cute baby rhino [below] happened to cross our path, did a little jig, slipped, fell, slid, and waddled across.
South Luangwa National Park
The second safari, in South Luangwa National Park, was an hour's flight from Lusaka, capital of Zambia. We stayed at Mfuwe Lodge within the game park. At times elephants, lions, and hippos graced the lodge's reception. Scattered around were tastefully furnished chalets. Behind our chalet, Impala, was a small body of water. I settled down into the cane swing on the balcoly and looked around. There was a stone sculpture of a crocodile with an open mouth on the opposite bank. After sometime it slid into the water! There were more live crocs in the small lake below the chalet's balcony than I’ve seen in my life. On the other side of the lodge was a river which was mostly dry. From the deck of the lodge one could see zebras, elephants, deers, giraffes, and baboons warily sharing the pools of water. Mfuwe Lodge
Having seen four of the Big Five, we were looking for a leopard the whole morning. Towards the middle of the safari, I saw vultures circling around in the distance. Peter Zulu, our guide, said that the lion or leopard may have killed something. As we were returning back, Peter slowed down and stopped. The ground was level with thinly populated trees. Then I saw the vultures. They blended with the brown landscape and the trees. To the right of the Land Rover was a giant bush about 10 feet high and twice as wide. A colony of vultures stood in front of the bush. Through the binoculars the vultures seemed to be guarding what looked like a thorny entrance to the bush. Even a small cat would have had to crawl to seek refuge inside; an ideal place for a leopard to enjoy its kill in peace. Peter was sure that the leopard was inside with the vultures beating around the bush. Story of Rika, the leopard My thoughts? Rika, the leopard, had allegedly killed Kudu, the deer, on sacred ground. Baboons, sworn enemies of the leopard, sneaked the news that Rika was hiding in a tall bush very close to Puzhavazhi, the sacred ground. They spread the message far and wide, assembling all animals in the Luangwa Valley. The keen-eyed vultures, circled and guarded the lone doorway to the thorny bush. Rika had committed the heinous crime at four in the morning. The only witness was Barush, the baboon, who had barely escaped Rika’s wrath a month ago. Since then Barush, the most sly member of the valley’s paparazzi, was stalking Rika. Barush claimed that Rika had gone hungry over a week and had now killed kudu and that he had a mental snapshot of the crime as proof. Kudu’s tribe sought revenge and vowed that Rika will be punished. Seembah, the lion king, who was in constant threat of losing his seat to Jimbah the elephant, will have to preside and make a ruling. The ruling council, at the beginning of the summer season, had passed the rule that Puzhavazhi, the passageway to the shrinking river bed, be considered sacred ground and that all members of the Animal Kingdom be given safe passage. Geeraffe, the guardian of Puzhavazhi, obviously had his head in the clouds or fallen asleep giving Barush a golden chance to get even. Did Rika actually kill Kudu? Was she then foolish enough to hide in the bush? If found guilty, will the vultures argue the case on behalf of Rika or against? If proven guilty, what punishment will Rika face? What do you think?
Design: Madhav Kochunni [email protected] Photos: Advait Madhav