Zambia’s Kafue National Park was founded in the 1950’s by the legendary Norman Carr and spans an area of approximately 22 400 km2. It is a mixed vegetation ecosystem, offering a wide variety of opportunities for life to flourish. In some circles you will hear it being spoken of as the lungs of Africa.
Yet this idyllic setting, with its large boarders and rich game, has become the subject of poaching on a gigantic scale. The rhino have been poached out and the elephant population decimated, coupled with a significant bush meat trade targeting smaller game. In 2010 I first visited Kafue and I spent six days in the park. I can vividly remember the lack of game and if it was sited, how timid and skittish it was.
Yet despite the park being brought to its knees, the lungs are beginning to breath stronger again and it’s beautiful wildlife is growing in number. So how is this happening? Approximately seven years ago a gentleman named Sport Beattie, supported by the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation, formed a plan with the Zambian Wildlife Authority based around setting up a safe area to release Zambia’s rescued elephant orphans; the victims of poaching. The heart of the Kafue offered an excellent location for this; quiet, rich in vegetation, plenty of space and low in elephant numbers.
So the Elephant Orphanage Project began under the stewardship of Game Rangers International. However their was no point releasing these orphans if they were only going to be shot by poachers, so a protection plan had to be put in place. This resulted in many success for the park in 2013 including the recovery of 14 lengths of ivory, 19 weapons of various calibres, 1600kg of bush meat, 2 lion and 2 leopard skins, 350 snares, 2 pangolins recovered from dealers and released back into the park and 56 poachers apprehended (including 2 notorious ivory poachers) and 32 successfully prosecuted.
As well as these successes the Elephant Orphanage Project is getting closer to seeing Chodoba, their eldest orphan become fully wild. At nine years old, Chodoba (“lost and found” in the local language) was found weak and alone, in South Luangwa National Park. Transferred to the Kafue facility he has made a full recovery and now that he is nearing maturity, he is spending an increasing amount of time away from his surrogate siblings and socialising with wild elephants in Kafue National Park. The release process will happen gradually as he gains confidence and becomes large enough to defend himself.
In anticipation of his release, Chodoba has been fitted with a GPS tracking collar, which will enable the team to monitor his movements as he spends an increasing amount of time out of sight. The collar was funded by Pro Wildlife and sourced from bio-information technology specialists EcoKnowledge who are supporting Game Rangers International with three years of free satellite downloads. Zambia Wildlife Authority vet Dr. David Squarre supervised the collar fitting, alongside Dr. Ian Parsons of Matobo Vet Centre and John Carter of GRI Kafue Research Project. After Chodoba was sedated, the collar was expertly fitted and he was back on his feet within 20 minutes.
I am now sitting on the banks of the Kafue River four years on from when I last visited, and can I see a difference? Yes I can, and every time I have retuned to Kafue since that first visit I have seen more and more game.
The species seen and their number has increased in each visit, where there was one or two, now their are six or seven. The bird life is fantastic, hippos bellow, lions call, hyenas chatter, elephants feed peacefully and a fish eagle takes off into a darkening sky.
People can argue very easily against my unscientific assumptions, but I truly believe that a difference is being made and this paradise is coming back to life. As the park opens up and is rediscovered, game will flourish and the poachers will, hopefully, be pushed out.
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