MUMBA MWANSA, Mumbwa
IMAGINE sleeping in a tent in the thick bushes, surrounded only by sounds of various wild animals like elephants, hippos and lions, and the only visible things around you are bushes, trees, animals, a river and some game rangers.
The journey, which comprised myself, a fellow journalist and some Zambia Wildlife Authority (ZAWA) officials, into the 22,480km2 Kafue National Park began on a late Saturday afternoon from Mumbwa town – a stretch of about 90km up to the camping area.
With the bad terrain, which is rarely used by vehicles as the â€˜roadsâ€™ are covered by small shrubs and long grass, it took us about five hours to reach our destination.
All along the journey through one of the oldest and largest national park in Africa, the only things we could see around us were bushes and uprooted trees – an obvious indication of the presence of the mighty elephants.
However, we were unfortunate not to set an eye on any single animal as we drove through the park in the late evening and under little moonlight.
Finally, after the long bumpy ride, the vehicle suddenly came to a halt and there was our destination: a piece of land that is partially cleared of the shrubs, with two tents, a hut and well, some game scouts at the entrance to the area, which, by the way, was not protected by any fence other than the bushes and part of the Kafue River.
We were welcomed at Kaulundeya camp in Impyamanzi Game Ranch (a former game management area) by some ZAWA game scouts and three ladies who look after the place and prepare meals for visitors.
Apparently, Kaulundeya camp usually hosts hunters during the hunting season and has almost no visitors during the off-hunting season.
We all quickly offloaded our luggage from the car as the men were shown to their tent whilst we, the women, were equally directed to our tent.
Our tent was set about 15 metres away from the menâ€™s tent and in it were two properly done single beds with linen not as cosy as one would expect because this is a game park and not a lodge, motel orÂ hotel. However, the blankets were warm enough as this place was very cold due to the river which runs through the park.
As a team, we then gathered by a fire where we told stories and educated one another on how to survive in a game park as well as other vital issues as we watched the night away.
By the way, the fireplace was so close to the river, about a minuteâ€™s walk, and the sounds of hippos grunting felt like it was just right behind you. It was terrifying and exciting, I must confess.
During our discussions, I learnt from the ZAWA officials that whenever one meets a lion, they are not supposed to give the big cat their back but instead look it straight in the eye as one slowly took some steps backwards until the beast goes away. This must be some courage, I thought to myself.
â€œIf you give a lion your back, it means that you have given the animal chance to attack and it will definitely attack you. You need to challenge it,â€ explained John Shamizinga, a ZAWA game scout.
â€œAs for the elephant, never run away when you find one or even many. Simply stop and make slow steps backwards until you are out of its sight. Never run or scream. And when you are in the game park, we donâ€™t allow wearing white clothes [bright colours] but dark ones like our uniforms.â€
Mr Shamizinga narrated how he was one day surrounded by five lions whilst patrolling in the game park, away from the Kaulundeya campsite.
â€œIne, one day, nenze kuyenda musanga neka, then ninabwela napeza nkalamu zili five [One day, I went patrolling alone and then I met five lions]. I had initially only seen one and so I turned to face the lion as I took few steps backwards.
â€œWhen I looked behind me and on the sides, I realised that I was surrounded by five lions. The big cats placed me in the middle such that I could not take any more steps backwards. I simply started chasing them away like we chase dogs…fuseki, fuseki [get out, get out], until the lions finally ran away and I continued with my duties,â€ narrated Mr Shamizinga, who has been a game scout since 2011.
He explained that game scouts can even go patrolling alone, though they usually move in pairs.
Whenever faced by wild animals, I learnt that should never scream, run away or show fear because the animals are equally afraid of human beings.
After a long chat by the firewood, which reminded me of the few times I visited my grandmother in the village, we, the women, decided to retire to bed after a long day.
As we were saying our goodbyes, we were cautioned not to ever leave the tent until morning as elephants and lions usually pass through the camp – especially between 02:00 hours and 04:00 hours – even close to the tents. Can one really have a peaceful sleep?
Truthfully, I couldnâ€™t enjoy my sleep as I would at home. So much fear gripped my body on the thought of lions coming near our tent and worse off elephants, especially that our tent was next to a marula tree. Wonâ€™t the elephants trample over us?
One of the game scouts said: â€œNo they [elephants] cannot attack you unless you provoke them. They only come here to eat the marula fruit and continue their journey around the park.â€
â€œAs for the lions, they can get as close to the tent but may never attempt to attack you as long as you do not provoke them.â€
Still with fear running through my body, my colleague and I had to brave ourselves as we walked to the tent, which only protected us with a zipper.
Somewhere in the middle of my sleep, I could hear some sounds of hippos grunting, lions roaring and angry elephants blowing their trumpets. So I was told in the morning that the elephants sounded angry or troubled. Was it because of our visit?
After waking up intact and alive in the morning, I thanked God for the protection and requested for more of it.
Bathing time was another tale as the shower room, was located outside just next to the tent. This was like a village set-up, though the only difference was that this shower place had no door and, at least, there was hot water running since Kaulundeya camp runs on generators.
The shower place was protected by a grass fence with one opening, which neither had a door nor curtain, but was surrounded by some bushes. There was a shower, which was modernised with some good artistic works of mirrors placed in basins, and it had a concrete floor.
Even as I was taking my bath, the only thought running through my mind was: what if a lion appears from nowhere?
For the game scouts, this is their everyday life; living in the bush conserving wildlife. As for me, it was a wonderful experience being a one-off visit, but staying in the game park with all the lions and elephants around, I would probably not survive and would suffer from insomnia, as I wouldnâ€™t sleep.
MUMBA MWANSA, Mumbwa