news from the bush
from Sport Beattie, CEO Game Rangers International.
Greetings from our GRI – Field Head Quarters (FHQ), located on the shores of lake Itezhi Tezhi at Musa Gate, in Nkala GMA – the gateway to Kafue south.
I trust this update finds you and your families all keeping safe and well during these unprecedented times. This time last year we were just wrapping up our fundraising drive in the USA; Jackson Hole to be precise and unbeknown to us, Covid was just about to become a household name! Little did any of us realise back then, just how deeply the Corona virus would penetrate and pervade every nook and cranny of our human existence, nor the consequences it would have on our day-to-day lives. I doubt there is a single person on the planet who does not know someone who has lost a loved one to this awful menace. Our Chairman, Robin Miller can personally attest to how virulent the virus can be! Thankfully, he is making a strong recovery and we are so grateful, but there was a moment when we were all holding our breaths and hoping for the best. Others, including one of our Senior Rangers, Mr Samson Banda have not been so fortunate, and our thoughts and prayers are with all these friends and families, as they grieve the loss of their loved ones. May Their Souls Rest In Peace.
Just as hard as it was to imagine the catastrophe that loomed ahead of us this time last year, I sincerely hope that, in a year’s time we will be equally surprised at how far we have progressed, in a positive way, from now.
I do not wish to dwell much on Covid-19. I am sure if you have not had the virus then, you will have certainly had your fill of it! However, on behalf of everyone at GRI, I do wish to extend a massive thank you to all our amazing donors and supporters who have stood beside us, unwavering in their commitment to help us conserve wildlife and wild spaces. We are so grateful for your support – both moral and financial. Despite the Covid mitigation measures and all the extra precautions we have implemented, as well as the very unfortunate loss of Mr Banda (MHSRIP), I am very pleased to report that, our front-line conservation operations have continued unabated in Kafue and Rufunsa. This is testament to the dedication of all the Rangers we support and the strong leadership and team spirit we have nurtured in GRI. Shortly, we will be releasing our 2020 Impact Report – it has some impressive results, and we look forward to sharing this with you.
We have come a long way on our fourteen (14) year journey, here in Kafue. I remember, we could not go much more than a few days without getting charged by a cantankerous elephant/s! One had to maintain constant vigilance and spatial awareness when driving or walking through their preferred ‘stomping’ grounds. This morning I left camp before dawn with a flask of coffee and the obligatory chocolate biscuits to watch the sun come up. We’ve been blessed this year with a fantastic rainy season. The waterholes are full; the rivers are flowing, and the grass is three meters tall in many places. The bush is positively happy.
Choosing a good spot is crucial if one is to enjoy the full vista of a sunrise or sunset. Today, I chose poorly, or so it first seemed. I went down a track I had not been down for a long time. I am not even sure why I chose that particular track, but something drew me to it. The grass was so long it bent over both sides of the road, almost creating a tunnel for me to drive
through. The light from my headlights reflecting off the walls of grass. In such cases it is quite difficult to see anything. After about a kilometre or so, realising I may miss the sunrise altogether, I decided to look for the next available clearing to safely turn around and find a better location. I soon came upon a clearing where the grass was only a metre tall and whilst doing my three-point turn, I heard a branch snap about 100m away. The kind of snap which can only mean one thing – elephant! The unmistakeable belly rumbles between some members of the herd confirmed my suspicions, though I could still not see them in the break of dawn.
Double checking all my options for a hasty retreat, if need be, I switched off the land rover, sat very still and just listened. There was movement in the grass about fifty metres away from me and I could just make out the silhouettes of the gentle giants, as they glided purposefully and peacefully through the long grass on my left-hand side. Judging by all the different heights amongst them I discerned it was a breeding herd. All the more reason to be cautious and alert!
Meanwhile, the eastern sky, still filled with remnant flocks of the rain-forming sheep clouds was quickly beginning to lighten with hues of pinks and reds. By now I could make out at least twenty individuals in the gathering light. Feeling reassured by their body language I felt safe to continue watching the spectacle, as it unfolded before me. Sunrise + elephants, it doesn’t get much better than that. Enter my tried and tested metallic friend, the Stanley flask, or Dr Stanley as I fondly refer to him. This somewhat battered vessel has ‘endured’ a thousand sunrises with me and provided great companionship on many a morning. Today was no different. I gently cracked Dr Stanley’s seal and the aroma of freshly brewed coffee hissed out, almost as if he was rebuking me for waking him up from his morning slumber! One chocolate biscuit quickly became two. One is just never enough!
And there I sat, feeling so grateful (and privileged) to be present, witnessing this moment in time when 2021 AD could just as easily have been 2021 BC. Twenty individuals gradually became fifty and fifty quickly became a hundred, or more! Amongst them there were many calves and sub-adults – all good signs of a recovering population. Aside from the odd young bull flexing his muscle and the matriarch shaking her head once or twice, I was able to watch the entire procession move slowly past my position, feeding contentedly as they went. I could imagine with a smile on my face the late, great David Shepherd sitting there in the passenger seat, as he had done in times gone by and just how ecstatic he would have been to share that special moment with the elephants. Though somehow, I believe he was there in spirit, smiling down at the amazing transformation that has taken place in the Kafue over the last fourteen years and which all started with his visionary support.
These days we only get charged once in a while and when we do it is more of a reminder by the elephants of who is boss, as opposed to the aggression and pent-up rage we used to experience when we first arrived in this wonderful landscape.
There is still much work to be done in the Kafue. Bush meat poaching; unprescribed fires; charcoal production; land encroachment; unsustainable fishing practices and human wildlife conflict remain very real challenges that we are yet to bring fully under control, but we are making steady progress every year and the good news is: where we have Ranger presence, we are seeing tangible results and we will continue to grow this footprint, as well as our valuable work in the local communities. Coupled with this is the great news about African Parks and the Interim Support Package of USD$3M they have pledged for the Kafue during the next 12 months. These much-needed funds, together with our USD$2M budget for 2021, as well as additional support from other co-operating partners, including The Nature Conservancy, Panthera, WWF, IMWC and Musekese Conservation means the future for Kafue is the brightest it’s ever been for at least the last few decades. Working in partnership with the Department of National Parks and Wildlife, as well as the local communities we look forward to many more wonderful sunrises over this timeless landscape.
Once again, thank you very much to everyone for your support and commitment to help us save Kafue and more recently, Rufunsa – we could not have reached where we are today without you and we remain ever grateful.
Please stay safe and keep well, wherever you may be.
I welcome the day when tourism in Zambia resumes, and our paths may cross again.