As I sit in the back of a Land rover Defender whistling through Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe, there is no better time to reminisce on what has happened over the past week. We’ve seen three countries, fought off baboons, interacted with white Rhinos and visited one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
The River Zambezi is a force of nature and whilst crossing it on a rickety old iron ferry crammed to triple capacity you get a terrifying feeling that the whole thing is going to spilt in half. In the middle of the river you are at a point where the boundaries of four countries meet, namely Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Zambia and we were incredibly excited to enter the latter.
Our first night in Zambia brought us to a small farm 5km from Kazangula. With the sun setting quickly, Waddi spotted a small wooden hut off the side of the road and went to introduce himself. Mutema, the nonchalant local headman, welcomed us into his home and allowed us to pitch our tents for the night. After a tour of his farm, we grabbed some dinner and joined him and his son, Inambao, around the fire.
It’s amazing how sometimes the most relevant and interesting conversations come out of blue and our evening in Kazangula was exactly that. After discussing our story with Mutema and Inambao we learnt some incredible insights into the effects of poaching at a local level and how it was directly impacting their community.
With such a low employment rate, the young are prime targets for poaching recruiters and in Inambao’s class of eighteen, eight boys have been killed through anti poaching efforts and two are now in prison. We learnt that many of the kids are acting out of necessity and that Inambao had personally been confronted more than once by Angolan recruiters. Although the poachers know the dangers, they are the breadwinners for their families and with a lack of jobs; they are forced to look for alternative methods to support their families.
Having spent the previous week in Botswana, who have a very strict policy against poachers, it was fascinating to get some insight into the bigger picture and how shooting poachers on first sight is perhaps only a short term solution which can cause dramatic long term effects within the community.
We left Kazangula in high spirits, albeit in slight trouble. After launching the drone for some aerial footage, the local women’s club had rushed to the headman’s house in terror saying there was a “spy jet following them.” However, after clearing up the confusion we set off.
The cycle into Livingstone was our first glimpse of civilisation since we had departed Francistown almost two weeks earlier and with our sanity becoming questionable and peanut butter jelly sandwiches running low, we welcomed a couple of days off with open arms.
Visiting Victoria Falls had been hyped up hugely and the four of us were incredibly excited to arrive at the park on the Zambian side. Passing through the gate was like entering a rain cloud just before it released its contents and with the river so high it was incredibly difficult to see anything. Although the visibility was poor it was amazing to experience the immense power of the river and it was every bit as mighty as I had imagined. We spent the remainder of the day trying to rescue a damsel in distress’s passport that had been stolen by a baboon, but fled in true heroic fashion after a local had tried to help the situation by hurling a stick at it.
The border crossing from Zambia into Zimbabwe took us across a small bridge with a panoramic view of the falls and after declining twice to participate in the bungee jump due to “time restrictions” we entered Zimbabwe. From left, right and centre, salesman trying to sell us three trillion dollar notes confronted us and we struggled to break free of their fine tuned hustle.
After a good nights sleep we were ready to head down to our second filming spot. Having decided not to cross the border in Botswana and not wanting to retrace our steps back through the lion infested parks, it was time for our first public transport experience.
The Road To Hwange
Catching a local shuttle in Africa may be a lengthy process but it comes with its moments. Having been adamant that no one else could fit in the car, our driver and his young apprentice spent the next hour patrolling up and down a 100m stretch of the road enticing more people to sit on our laps. With three in the front, six in the back and one in the boot we finally convinced our driver it was time to proceed towards Hwange National Park where we intended to film the Painted Dog Conservation.
The journey down allowed us to perceive Zimbabwe in a slightly different light to the one painted in Victoria Falls. Within the first ten minutes we were met with the “dreaded roadblock” and police swamped the car in their striking uniforms. Luckily for us our driver knew the protocol and after a 5-dollar handshake we proceeded on our way, this process was repeated five times over the next two hours.
On arriving in Dete, the main gate to Hwange National Park, we were met by David the manager at The Painted Dog Conservation. In true African style, we were thrown on the top of his car whilst he cruised through the bush and we were expected to dodge the overhanging branches. Luckily the four of us managed to arrive at PDC with only a few scratches and were welcomed with some fine hospitality.
Painted dogs (more commonly known as wild dogs) have now become one of the most endangered species on the planet with only 7000 left in Africa. To put things in perspective, there are 300,000 elephants left in Africa.
I’m really exited to spend the next few days in Hwange and learn more about The Painted Dog Conservation and their efforts to conserve one of the world’s most endangered species.
Things we’ve learnt:
You can always fit one more into a car
Wadi doesn’t always sleep in tents
Locals can confuse drones for spy jets
Pap is surprisingly tasty
Wadi has bowels of steel, even when 6 laxatives fall in his coffee ‘by accident’
We don’t get yoga