Firstly let me start by wishing you a very Happy New Year from us all here at Shenton Safaris. We hope you all had a great holiday season. During this period of reflection we have had a chance to look back over the 2014 season for the first time since closing and what a season it was. We have had everything that you could possibly ask for from the wonderful wildlife of the South Luangwa National Park.
But before we get to that here is a word from Derek and the family.
2014 was a great year, our best year since 2008 in terms of bookings, lots of wonderful repeat guests and wonderful sightings, though in many ways it was a tough year with several challenges to be overcome during the season.
The final challenge of the year came in the form of a fire. The rains came so late this year that it really stressed the herbivores, who were struggling to move between the dwindling water in the river and the grasslands further back. In fact by mid December things were critical, mortality, especially amongst the new-born and aged was reaching its peak as some animals simply lay down and died from malnutrition and exhaustion. There was simply not enough food near the river to support the large numbers of game.
We have a borehole at our bush camp, Mwamba and we use it during the season to pump water into a small lagoon in front of the Mwamba Hide. This keeps it pumping with game throughout the season. We move out of the area at the end of October and all the vehicles, and camp furnishings (and in the case of Mwabma the actual chalets as well) move down to our plot near Mfuwe airport. At the end of the season the only sign Mwamba exists is the small Mopane poles that demarcate the chalets. Whilst the borehole remains, it won’t fill the lagoon without someone there to physically turn on the generator and pump it.
I was in Lusaka with Jules and the girls, which was also really hot and dry. We nervously listened to the daily reports of “palibe mvula” – “no rain”. We were really concerned about the suffering of the game and so I sent my manager, James Zulu, the few hours drive up to the camp to pump the waterhole.
James keeps an eye on the plot for us during the rains, he holds the keys to all the vehicles, makes sure there are no rats getting into the stores, pays wages and generally runs the ship during the closed season. Our fleet of game viewing vehicles, and my beloved John Deere 6620 tractor are all locked up at our airport plot under cover and steering wheel locked for security.
As James reached the camps and started to pump there was a disaster in the making at the plot. The deep, long, dry was not only having an adverse affect on the animals, the people of the village were also suffering. It was impossible to plant crops with no rain to sustain them after planting and people were looking down the barrel of a drastically reduced yield. Two would-be thieves broke through our fence, and with the idea of breaking into our house there, set a fire in the middle of the plot as a distraction.
A few years back we had a fire sweep through in the hot, windy dry at the end of the season and we had two small buildings burn down. Fire loves nothing better than a thatched roof. Ever since I’ve been really careful about ensuring we have a really thorough firebreak around the edges of the plot and this year was no different. Before leaving the valley I had cleared extensive firebreaks all the way around it. However I hadn’t anticipated a fire being set from within the plot. The gusty hot winds worked to the thieves’ advantage and very quickly there was a burning inferno in the middle of the plot being blown towards our garages and storerooms.
A cluster of really unfortunate events presaged the damage caused by this fire. The fire was already very established and had reached the vehicles by the time the gardeners called me. The vehicles had steering wheel locks on and James had the keys, but he was hours away at Mwamba, ironically pumping water. The fire was too hot by that point for the three gardeners to get in and break the steering locks to push the cars out of the course of the fire. I called the airport fire brigade who are nearby at the airport. Their truck came, but was too big to get down the drive towards the cars and so the water just couldn’t reach the fire. I sat helplessly on the other end of a telephone line in Lusaka whilst two of my game viewers burnt to the ground. Thankfully, the two vehicles that burned were the older vehicles in the fleet, though one had particular emotional value as it had been the first brand new vehicle I bought back in 2000. We don’t comprehensively insure the fleet of game viewers, the cost here in Africa is prohibitive so it was a big loss.
Ever positive, Jules took the loss on the chin and did her best to cheer me up. She reckons the amount we’ve saved in 20 years of not purchasing comprehensive insurance will pay for two new cars many times over, not to mention it’s a chance to upgrade the fleet. A process I’ve been undertaking steadily for the past few years.
Later that evening I was called again by the plot team; a tangential fire had broken out down near the house which held the entire contents of both camps and the fire had spread to the tree above the roof of the storeroom. My second wife (the John Deere) was right next-door. Thankfully we changed the entire plot to tin roofs after the last fires and the team were able to put this fire out quickly enough. The John Deere was untouched.
In years to come when we think of the “Big Fire of 2014” is not the loss of the two game viewers, but the saving of the John Deere and all the new vehicles in the fleet that we will remember. It is with this outlook of gratitude that we approach the New Year. 2015 has a great feel about it, bookings are looking really strong, the rains have FINALLY come, the game is now enjoying abundant water and farmers throughout Zambia are planting their crops.
We hope that you are also looking forward to a wonderful 2015, that it will be joyful, fruitful and filled with special times with family and friends. We look forward to welcoming many of you back to the camps this coming season.
For now, over to the team to share some of the highlights of the season.
Derek, Jules and the girls
Behind the scenes at Mwamba Tom and Gerry were up to their usual tricks from raiding the bar when we had all gone to bed also draining our water tank just as the gusts need to shower – you name it they have surely done it! What entertainment they bring to everyone both staff and guests at Mwamba Bush Camp.
The honey badgers took a particular liking to our kitchen at Mwamba with a pair regularly coming in mid dinner service looking for fallen scraps as well as drinking a full 5 litre bottle of cooking oil. I’m sure we had a few poorly mustelids after that particular midnight raid!
Tyson; Kaingo’s resident leopard one night decided to casually oversee dinner service watching on under the safety of a bush as the staff rushed back and forth…..it was only later we realised he had been there the whole time just relaxing.
The big cats really worked hard this year which kept us all thoroughly entertained. Some even fought to the death for survival of the fittest unfortunately meaning we lost one of our Mwamba male lions we all know as “Ringo”. All three lion prides were out in force. We even had few appearances from the Nsefu pride across the river with a few last minute memorable appearances just before we closed. We were spoilt with choice with our game viewing that is for sure. The Mwamba Kaingo pride decided that morning tea and coffee at our bush camp was a date in their diary they could not miss and turned up to welcome guests after the morning drum sounded. They must have thought it was solely for them, as when we tried to tell them otherwise they proceeded to make off with our chairs, leaving us to have our morning biscuit on the hoof.
My personal highlights from this year were our Camp Outs at Kapanda lagoon. If you ever want to experience nature at its rawest then sleeping under the stars with nothing but a mosquito net to separate you from the outside world is certainly the way to go. Guests enjoyed lots of excitement on all of our camp outs with Lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant, aardvark, honey badger and the ever curious hyena all popping by to see what these strange two legged creatures were up to.
Proflight: As from 1st April 2015 the Lusaka/Mfuwe P00806/7 will move 30 minutes earlier to allow better connection for the South African Airways SA065 to Johannesburg.
Kenya Airways: As from 1st April 2015 will no longer offer a 09.55 arrival to Lusaka hense the move in Proflights P00806/7 to allow passengers to connect to the popular South African Airways flight instead as mentioned above.
Well that’s about it from us.
We are all looking forward to getting back to camp to see what the 2015 season has in store for us.
All the best Matt & Charlie