We set off in our safari vehicle and make our way towards the gate to the South Luangwa National Park, but before we even arrive there we see a herd of elephants crossing the dried up river in the distance. There must be at least seven or eight adult females and youngsters all crossing in a long procession. The sun is getting low in the sky, and there’s a dusty haze in the air, and I almost can’t believe they’re real.
Over the next four hours, as day turns to night, I am lucky enough to see giraffes, baboons, various antelope (including impala, waterbuck and puku), zebra, vervet monkeys, hornbills, hippos (my favourite!), crocodiles, a fish eagle, elephants, and to top it off, a pride of lions. I head back to my tent very tired, but very, very, satisfied and happy.
It’s easy to think that these animals are everywhere in Zambia, but that’s not the case. They are only here because the area is protected from human activity. In other parts of Zambia, even in areas just on the outskirts of the Parks, people never encounter wildlife like this. Most Zambian people living in cities, towns, and even villages and rural areas, may never see an elephant, zebra or even an impala, even though it’s hard to imagine when you’re here.
Parks like the South Luangwa National Park and the North Luangwa National Park, where I am heading tomorrow, are safe places for animals to live, where they are protected from human threats, such as pollution, habitat destruction, and of course, poaching. However, when people do not have the opportunity to see these animals and wild spaces for themselves, this can lead to a loss of appreciation for them, and a lack of understanding of their importance. This, in turn, can mean there is even less incentive to look after them.
That’s why I’m so excited to travel to North Luangwa tomorrow, as I will be spending the next two weeks there, observing and helping out with the Conservation Education Programme, Lolesha Luangwa (meaning ‘Look After Luangwa’ in the local language, Bemba).
The programme has been running for over ten years now in its various incarnations and aims to educate local school children and their communities about the local environment and how important it is, giving them practical ways to look after it and help protect it for the future. In particular the project focuses on black rhinos, as these were reintroduced to North Luangwa only 11 years ago, having been poached to extinction in the nineteen seventies and eighties.
But for now it’s off to bed, as I need to be up at 5am tomorrow for the final leg of my journey on to North Luangwa…
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