I was once asked by a guest whether I can speak “African”. When I replied that I can indeed speak “African” but that the “African” I speak is mainly spoken in South Africa he looked confused and enquired whether South Africa and North Africa are two different countries with different languages.
When out in the bush I often make the same type of mistake of over generalizing the Luangwa’s beauty to be “African” and forget that I find myself in a different country than my own: Zambia. In March, in order to remind myself of the uniqueness of my surroundings I set out to find something that represents all four colors on the flag of Zambia. It was no hard task finding something green, something black, something red or something copper in the Luangwa Valley. Here is what I came up with:
Finding green in the rainy season is as easy as spotting a giraffe hiding behind an impala – not very hard. Green grass and greener trees cover the whole valley this time of year. But out of all the trees there is one in particular that stands out above all the rest: The Baobab in Big Baobab Loop – Adansonia Digitata. This upside down tree is less than a 5km drive into the South Luangwa National Park and often plays host to a variety of animals, including birds who uses this huge hollow tree as their mansion. Guides estimate that this tree has been in the valley for anything between 500 and 900 years. It will loose its green cover soon and will remain bare until December. The Baobab’s ‘super fruits’ grow up to 15 to 20 centimeters long and contains 50% more calcium than spinach, is high in anti-oxidants, and has three times the vitamin C of an orange. A fitting metaphor for the green on the national flag which symbolizes vegetation and natural wealth.
Black represents the people of Zambia. Its population of nearly 13million speaks 72 languages and is spread across 9 provinces. Guests at Wildlife Camp often remark on the friendliness and the broad smiles of the staff. The trip between Mfuwe airport and Wildlife Camp is often a showcase of the best that Zambians have to offer with children waving cheerfully at the passing tourists, women weaving baskets or selling bananas, mangoes or sugar cane at the side of the road and men working in their fields, fishing in the rivers or transporting their handiwork by bicycle to a prospective buyer. Their entrepreneurship is evident and under every second big tree you can buy airtime, have your bicycle repaired or ‘go in’ for a hair cut.
The copper color on the Zambian National Flag represents the country’s wealth in minerals, copper being the most famous export of landlocked Zambia. The famous Statue of Liberty contains 81 tonnes of copper. In 2009 Zambia produced 655 000 tonnes – enough for more than 8000 Liberty Statues. Here in the valley I found Bunaeopsis rendalli, a copper colored moth sitting on the Mopane tree at the entrance to the reception. It amazed staff and guests alike and was very happy to show off its colors to our camera lenses. Finding out what type of moth it is was a little harder than I at first thought, purely because there are an estimated 250 000 different species of moths – thousands of these have never been described before. Fortunately africanmoths.com identified this one for me within 24hours. Thank you Roy Goff! But if anybody has any more info on this particular species, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Red on the Zambian flag represents the country’s struggle for independence which was gained from Britain in 1964. I found red chilies here in the Luangwa Valley that symbolizes another kind of struggle – the struggle against raiding elephants. For years farmers in the local community of Mfuwe have struggled against elephants raiding their crops. However, last year the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations released a ‘toolkit’ suggesting “making chilli bricks out of elephant dung and ground pepper, positioning them around the edges of endangered fields and igniting them. The thick, peppery fumes keep elephants away. Whole fields of chillies may also be planted and grown, keeping elephants away and yielding profits too.” Since then the South Luangwa Conservation Society has initiated a chili fencing programme designed to minimize human-elephant conflict around the National Park.
Sighting of the month
Staying with the Zambian theme, I must include the following story: It was lunch-hour here at Wildlife Camp. The staff were sitting around eating and chatting. Others were taking siestas. All seemed normal until Abel – a basket and banana-leaf-mat salesman from Mfuwe – came running into the workshop, eyes big and arms shaking, still holding a beautifully crafted paper-bin in his hands… On his way here, right by the road that leads to the campsite, he suddenly noticed that all the baboons were up in the trees – a curious thing for that time of day. He remembered the barks he heard earlier on. Abel knew that something was wrong, but he had a basket to sell and could not turn back now. A few seconds later a lioness lazily crossed the road 15m’s in front of him – he turned back slowly only to see another one doing the same behind him…
“I was very scared but I did not run. I carefully kept on walking trying not to look at them. I did not think they saw me. Then, just by the termite mount next to the road I saw them all lying there and I hoped they were asleep. One, two, three, four of them. But I did not run. I walked slowly. I was scared but I did not run. I do not think I will come here to Wildlife Camp again – I was scared but I did not run.”
Abel was back the next day to sell another basket but this time he caught a lift with the staff’s transport. As for Abel’s pride of lions – they were also back the next day, and three more times after that and were even seen hunting Pukus in front of the restaurant. What a wonderful Zambia we live in – as long as we do not run.
That is all for March from me and the rest of the Wildlife Camp team.
Kind Regards from Zambia