It was unusually cold that Thursday night on 9 August 2001. The riverine forest was showing signs of the harsh winter. The cathedral like arches, consisting mainly of mopane, African ebony, tamarind and Natal mahogany, was misty, and the only noise to be heard was the staccato huh-huh sounds of the hippo’s as they were leaving the water.
Fun, exciting, strategic, adventurous…..and deadly. Poaching is no light thing in Africa (read on)
Luambe is situated in the Luangwa Valley, between the South and North Luangwa National Parks. It is a piece of paradise and I was tasked with management of the Luangwa Wilderness Lodge (the only Lodge in the Park). I arrived in April 2001 and my brief was to manage the camp, entertain the guests, conduct the game drives, and undertake anti-poaching exercises. Coming from the heart of the Wineland, Stellenbosch, this was all very new and exciting to me. As I mentioned earlier I was here because I wanted to be here, but every day was proving to be a fast pitch on a quick learning curve. Especially that night . . .
For some unknown reason the twelve staff members, from the local Chewo tribe, and I were sitting in the Lodge’s little kitchen in the head nodding hours of the night. The tiny kitchen was made of reeds and wood, like everything else in the camp. One of the conditions of our operating license is that everything must be made from natural material from the region.
The government anti-poaching scout on duty that night, armed with an AK47, had joined us and was eager to sit close to the fire with the rest of us. Maybe he suspected what was about to happen, or it could be that he was just cold, but somehow we all sensed something was about to happen.
Nabbing the poachers can yeild different types of firearms, as seen here
And it did when at about 9 o’clock we heard the sound of shots from the direction of the Chipuka Plains. For you who have not been to Zambia I need to explain. People there generally do not own firearms and there is hardly any noise at night, apart from those of Mother Nature. You can imagine the noise a gunshot makes in this quiet natural setting.
An icy silence followed the sound of shots. The scout and I looked at one another. In an unspoken moment we realized that it was too risky to investigate at night. Poachers sometimes work in groups of twenty or more, coming from the local villages of Lundazi. The poachers know a jail sentence of at least 6 years awaited them if they were caught, and they will not hesitate to resist capture!
Given what’s at stake (their lives), poachers are known to fight, and kill, to avoid capture.
Although I am a professional hunter in South Africa, I was not registered in Zambia and thus not allowed to carry a rifle or a side arm. All I had was a “knopkierie,” a round-tipped stick one of the Madalas (old man) made for me from Mopane wood. The “kierie” has been handy a few times already when I had to deal with the odd snake in the footpath or the stray poachers. I might have been fooling myself, but I felt safer carrying it.
We knew that the “knopkierie” and one AK47 was not enough firepower, and that we needed back-up from the Anti-Poaching Unit head office at Janjusi, about a 45 minute drive away. I loaded the staff and the guard into the Land Cruiser and we set off for Janjusi at speed.
Upon our arrival the officer on duty informed us that there were no scouts available and, in the typical African concept of time, that we should return the next morning at 5 AM. By then, of course, it would be too late. Frustrated and angry we left. We have a saying in Africa: AWA or Africa Wins Again.