Sunday, December 11, 2005

Zambia - South Luangwa National Park

I am at the Mfuwe lodge set in the middle of the South Luangwa national park in Zambia. There are no fences around the lodge. The chalet I am staying in is on a oxbow lagoon. Just outside there is a herd of ten elephants noisily splashing around. A small family of Warthogs are getting out of the way with three tiny babies scampering behind their parents, unaware that they could be squished by the elephants. A wild buffalo got stuck in the mud earlier and the herd abandoned it to die haplessly. The guides told us that hyenas and lions would set upon the easy prey later that night and we would have to deal with the rotten smell of a carcass. But then these are the rules of the jungle. A mother baboon and its baby have occupied my patio and are looking intently through the screen mesh at what I am doing, cocking their head curiously at the unfamiliar strains of Bob Dylan from my laptop wailing,

“Windows were shakin' all night in my dreams
Everything was exactly the way that it seems
Woke up this morning and I looked at the same old page
Same ol' rat race
Life in the same ol' cage.”

Assorted clusters of grazing herbivores - Impalas, Zebras, Waterbucks, Kudus, Pukus, Vervet monkeys, and Baboons are walking the dry lagoon bed to the wet patch in the middle having a drink or grazing on the few patches of green. The only part of the lagoon that has deep water has been colonized by a large group of hippos who have marginalized the crocodiles to the edge of the water. The hippos seem to fear no one and grunt threateningly most of the day and night. The animals walk freely around the lodge between the chalets. A certain herd of elephants is particularly fond of the mangoes from the mango tree in the courtyard next to the bar. It is an astonishing sight to see wild elephants walk through the building, stopping at the reception, sniffing at the strange smells from the vodka bottles in the bar before heading off to the tree. The lodge staff escort me between my chalet and the main lodge which reminds me that this is the wild, these animals roam free, and I am caged in my room or in my safari jeep.

Yesterday evening I saw a herds of elephants gather in a very organized fashion on the edge of the Luangwa river where they meet up every night. Once the herd was about 160 strong they crossed the river in several groups led by a senior matriarch. Upon crossing to the other side they dispersed into their respective family units to wreak havoc on the villages outside the park and eat up the mangoes and other crops the Chewa, Bemba, and Kunda tribes grow. Patson, our guide, tells us that they show up at his village every night and it is a complete nuisance. In the morning they make the trip back. They collect as a large group at a crossing point, make the crossing and then disperse again. Their social organization and intelligence demonstrated through this daily behavior is astonishing.

All this is a remarkable sight for a city dweller. To understand how to deal with wild animals if I encounter one on my way to grab dinner at the restaurant I refer my Lonely Planet guide to Southern Africa and it has this advice among much other useful information, "If a Rhino charges and you cant immediately climb a tree, then face the charge and step to one side at the last moment in bullfight style." The other guests in the lodge include a mining rights lawyer from Canada, a health care accountant from Belgium, and Brazilian couple who work in the Zambian copper mining industry. I spend the afternoon running little video clips in my head of Rhinos charging and how each one of them would do the clever sidestep maneuver as perfectly as the Lonely Planet guide suggests.


WindWhisperer said...

Love those free roaming elephant pictures. Beautiful blog you have...

bowerbird said...

"Life in the same ol'cage..."

Last week, we were at Thekkady, in Kerala and i went on the boat into the Periyar lake. I don't know why we tried so hard to look at the jungle to spot at least something?!
At least, the elephants and the tiger and malabar deer could spot a whole boat-full of humans!

I was so sure the animals were all there, looking at us from behind the trees. Somehow, it made me think about the women watching serenely from behind marble screens of the palace zenana as life passed by. Sometimes, content lived with them also in that sanctuary. And today, is the jungle its home...?

It would be great to offer a "city tour" to the herd of elephants, with a "Lonely Planet Special Elephant Edition" for ready reference, with its usual 'Getting there and away' and 'Sleeping & Eating'

tinks said...

Wow - those ele photos are amazing. I so envy you with all the travelling! Excellent blog - will keep checking on your adventures.

ian said...

hope you never get to do in real life the clips you've rehearsed in your head...

safe journey always!

light dreamer said...

Hey!! Have you seen this? They give you a LAPTOP for making 18 people sing up on their website. It's so easy:

Priti Singh said...

Hi Gopi,
Was blog hopping when I came across yours. Its indeed fabulous. But what grabbed my attention was this story about Zambia. The thing is....I spent my childhood there, when my father (an Indian railway official) was posted there on deputation. The place, its people, natural resources and wildlife are amazing and kept me perpetually enthralled. Ever since, I've been in an "Africam State of mind" if there is such a thing.
Coz u are such an avid traveller, I thought I'll bring to your notice one of the only pristine places left on the face of earth ( and unspolit by man's rapacity)on which I've done a beautiful coffee table book titled "The Islands and Tribes of Andaman and Nicobar". If you happen to vacation in this part of the world ever, dont make the fatal mistake of skipping the place.... coz in all probability, its the only terra firma where all your senses go into overdrive and your lungs feel they are finally breathing in the air they were originally devised to. In any case, my book is the next best thing to a have a look.
Priti Singh
Blog "Edit Page India"

WizardMan said...


Stunning site man. Being from South Africa myself we get to see this alot more than most, but it's awesome to see that people like you take the time to share this with the rest of the world.

If you're ever interested in coming to South Africa let me know.


brugini said...

Stunning site to me also and I've never been to Africa. Thanks for showing me the world. New blogger,

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TG said...

So nice photos of those elephant...I like it!

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