The world of wild animals by Andrey Gudkov

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The country of pink hazes

The tempted travelers and judges of Africa should undoubtedly visit Zambia. The territory of the country is stretched from Tanganyika Lake up to Kaprivi strip in Namibia. Borders in the north on Democratic Republic Congo, in northeast –on Tanzania, in the east – on Malawi, in a southeast – on Mozambique, in the south – on Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia, in a southwest – on Namibia and Botswana, in the West – on Angola. Victoria Falls, great Zambezi, Kariba Lake - a place of extreme fishing, which waters simply teem with crocodiles, a wood of fossils Churundu with numerous prints of 150 million years old trees and subjects of the Stone Age, and also a copy of a Neanderthal man skull, which estimated age is more than 100 thousand years. But the true pearl of Zambia is by right its national parks. Our trip is to the national park Kafue - the oldest park of Zambia, which territory is comparable to the Wales territory.

Small airport of Livingstone town, named in honor of outstanding scientist, traveler and humanist, Scottish doctor David_Livingstone (1813-1873), located in 300 km to southwest from Lusaka met us with an empty waiting room and visa obtaining short formalities. Livingstone is one of the oldest in the country cities founded by Europeans and starting point to travel to Victoria falls. The frontier guard rummages in numerous papers, making the concentrated face. Then with a meaningful look tumbled a small rectangular seal in the passport. “ Welcome to Zambia”, - he held the passport to me, smiling. Formalities were observed.

But Livingstone is not the final destination point of my voyage. My aim is the Kafue national park situated in the very heart of the country. A European-looking man of about 50 in shorts, T-short and wide-brimmed leather hat (similar to cowboy's in Hollywood films) approached to me already in the waiting room. Are you Mr. Gudkov? Yes - I answered. “Then you're the one I'm waiting for. I am Jake - your pilot. We will be flying for about 4 hours. Are you ready? Where is your stuff?”. I have shown on small barricades of bags and wardrobe trunks with photographic equipment. “ОK” - Jake answered. “We depart in 10 minutes. Your luggage will be now delivered to the plane”.

A young African appeared from somewhere and having picked up my load began to bustle to a plane. The plane was the small and already worldly-wise four-seater “Cessna”. In another two minutes our toy-plane soared up to hot and infinite-dark blue African sky. While we were flying Jake told me about the Kafue national park. Kafue is Zambia's oldest and largest park. Proclaimed in 1950 it extends over 22 400 square kilometers (the second-largest national park in the world).

Despite the fact that Kafue is located close to such large Zambezi provinces as Lusaka and Copperbelt, until recently the park has been poorly developed and represented wild abandoned lands. The Kafue Park is fine wild nature corner with spectacular landscapes, rich flora and fauna. The park is considered to be the main safari territory with numerous lions, leopards, elephants, antelopes and zebras, even rare yellow-backed duiker (South African antelope) ranges here. All this enormous area is flooded from March till May and then the park becomes a huge bog, breeding ground for thousands and thousands of hippopotamuses and millions of birds.

Four hours passed by imperceptibly. We soared up in the sky, from which the most picturesque views on infinite plains with sparse Africans villages were cleared up, then went down to the ground, flying by all in all one hundred meters above the ground and scaring away suddenly appeared herds of antelopes. Unexpectedly cleared short soil strip showed up ahead among trees and high bush. My pilot dived and masterly landed the toy plane. I relaxed already anticipating rest, but that was only a part of the way. In the improvised air station a guy and a girl - rangers of the park – had already been waiting for us. Short greetings-farewells followed and my pilot departed back. As for me, 40 more minutes helicopter flight to the very heart of the park in “Kapinga Camp” was still ahead. By the evening I already sat in a convenient wicker chair of huge open terrace standing on piles of one meter above the ground in the middle of absolutely wild savanna. According to the Park's rules there must be not more than 8 people in each camp at one arrival. It aims to preserve "wildness" of the Park in order to emphasize exclusiveness of such kind of “ecological safari”, and also not to frighten animals, enabling them to feel freely as much as possible. However even with such natural “wilderness” home comforts in the Park are represented in full. Visitors live in big army tents making nothing remarkable from outside, but with a five-stars stuffing from within. Tents are put on a circle by a facade on savanna so that each lodger could observe animals and nature to one's heart content keeping his bed.

There is hot and cold water, electricity, bar provides some dozens of drinks, menu is made taking into account individual wishes of tourists. All factors are considered, including vegetarian menu and confessions of tourists. Every evening before a dream you are asked, what you would wish to taste before breakfast. Coffee or tea, cakes or jam? Thus the personnel will bring all you have ordered into the bed. Service!

After safari, in the evening, when all lodgers came back, the staff kindles a fireplace and everyone sits down in a circle and tells about the day passed, share impressions about the last safari over a bottle of “Sherry”. It is the tradition and it is unshakable from the moment of the Park' proclamation. And everyone should tell the history. The personnel write down some most exciting stories in a special diary. Such original chronicles are made here… During the Park's lifetime this diary has turned to enormously thick album with the read pages. It is interesting, if you are friends with English language.

It happened that Dutch married couple arrived together with me. We were the only visitors. Park's employees hastened to inform me that I turned out to be the first tourist from Russia ever visited “Kapinga”. In general, there are two more such camps in the Park - “Shumba Camp” and “Busanga Camp”, located on the other ends of the territory. Tourists do not stay in one camp for more than three-four days, and move from one to another. Such system enables to know the Park better, and to look to nature and animals in fullest. Amazing Busanga plains in the Northhwest of the Kafue national park, ancient savannas and lush dambos of the south owe magnificence of the greens by emerald rivers Lunga, Lufupa and Kafue which feed them, and, in turn, also maintain huge populations of animals living in this region. In the south the river Kafue runs into dam Itezhi-Tezhi of three hundred seventy square kilometers. This dam is the important source of hydroelectric energy from the river Kafue. 158 species of mammals, 481 species of birds, 69 species of reptiles, 35 species of amphibians and 58 species of birds are counted in Kafue. In 1963 in the national park two white rhinoceroses were delivered, however, till now there are no proofs of that white rhinoceroses, as opposed to their relatives - black rhinoceroses - once were found on these lands, but, nevertheless, all white rhinoceroses in park died.

A young African came to me in the evening after a supper and introduced himself as Lexon. “I'm your guide and driver”, - he told me. We talked a bit about the park, his work, specificity of shooting of local animals. “The car will wait for you at 5-30 in the morning”, he said. It is a high time to watch lions. They hunt at this time. Besides it is now their mating season. So shooting will be serious.

Already before a dream, the managing director instructed me and the Dutch couple. “It is compulsory to keep doors closed. If elephants come, signal on a portable radio to the personnel or turn on a siren. It is desirable not to go outside at night time and not to walk on camp. It can be dangerous. There are wild animals around, do not forget!”.

I woke up at midnight because of lion's roar – shrilly and inviting, penetrating pitch darkness. It seemed to be absolutely in no distance at all - coming nearer to the tent and then leaving deep into night savanna. It was so close from time to time that it was getting uneasy.

Early in the morning the bright red African sun showed above horizon, shining savanna in foggy smoke by brightly pink light in which antelopes were glazing as phantoms. Their contours were hardly perceptible in this impossibly-fantastic natural surrounding. I notice, that my Dutch neighbours observe this picture at the next tent. Someone shows aside. In just about 300 meters from camp a big herd of elephants walks slowly and sedately to a watering place as ships drift one after another. It is so silent that we can hear as grass under their feet is trampled down. I put out a camera and make a series of shoots. It is 5 o'clock in the morning. I ask the Dutch whether they heard lion's growl at night. They confirm. That means it didn't seem to me as well.

Day flies by imperceptibly. We shoot lions, their love games, kittens and a lion's meal. Animals are not scared and let the car to drive very near. In a small lake remained from rain season and turned to a dirty bog, a big herd of hippopotamuses luxuriates. They loudly sniff, rise above the lake's surface and yawn lazy. Herds of antelopes nervously move on savanna, wiggling their ears and looking with mistrust at a dense bush at the very edge of a bog - lion's growl is continually heard from there. We do not call in for a dinner in the camp, and continue to shoot animals. Work carries away so that we do not notice how twilight go down. There are so mane emotions that tiredness is not felt. We stop in the middle of savanna and Lexon organizes small picnic of what has been cooled for a dinner. We may now relax and listen to evening savanna. We come back in the already after dark.

A few days fly in such rhythm. Every day brings with it a storm of emotions which you try to lay somehow in the head before traditional evening fireplace. City vanity goes somewhere far away and you even do not notice that there are no phone calls, infinite E-mail and force-majeures. There is another life here - slow, quiet, measured, but not less emotional.



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Acknowlegements:
Special thanks to designers Dmitry and Vladimir Jakovlev for professionalism and original creative decisions;
to translator Irina Kharakterova for qualified texts translation.