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Born Free Responsible Guiding Award, Kenya

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BORN FREE MOST RESPONSIBLE GUIDE AWARD WINNER 2011, KENYA

REPORT ABOUT GUIDING IN SOUTH LUANGWA NATIONAL PARK, ZAMBIA

First I must thank everyone who made this possible. It all began when our camp management called me in to the office and announced to me that I was one of the competitors in the 2011 Born Free Foundation-sponsored ‘Most Responsible Safari Guide in the Masai Mara’ competition, run by Tribal Voice Communications and the Mara Conservancy for all the camps in the Mara Triangle to identify and celebrate which guide was guiding most responsibly. Being the third year of the competition, our camp Manager King wished me all the best in the 2011 competition. Our entire Olonana management team, my fellow Olonana guides and our Mara Conservancy game rangers and my guests that I took on game drives, thank you all for being my mentors to be the first Olonana guide to bring the trophy to our little bush home that made everyone in camp to be proud to work for Olonana Camp. Thank you all.

CHALLENGE DURING THE COMPETITION

Interesting, in the Mara Triangle all of our Guides are a challenge and the competition was fierce to win this award. The game rangers have worked hard to make sure that around all camps our guides are responsible, and being the third year of the competition it has got even tougher to win this award. We did not know when we would be assessed or who the assessors were as they just came on drives with us as ‘guests’. After the announcement that I was the winning guide I requested to visit Zambia for my prize of a training trip by May. Our office made all the required arrangements and documentation for my trip. Mr and Dr Mvula thank you so much for planning an excellent itinerary for me.

25th May 2012

This was the day I left for Zambia and again thank you so much to our head office for arranging all the transfers for me. My flight was at 8 AM but I had to be there at least two hours before the flight. Thanks Rosemary for checking me in online, it made everything easy for me. Kenya Airways was the airline I was flying with, super nice plane Boeing 737, 237 passengers were in the plane, flying via Harare in Zimbabwe, so a big plane but so fast! In a few minutes the pilot who was excellent showed us Mount Kilimanjaro {it was my first time to see}. We landed in Harare to pick up a few other passengers. I was happy to at least breathe air in Zimbabwe and we took off again after 50 minutes. Lunch was served in the plane in between Harare and Lusaka. One hour later we landed in Lusaka, a simple and very clean airport. I went straight to check in at the Domestic flight desk and everyone in the airport was so helpful. I noticed that they are one hour behind East Africa and Airtel is everywhere. I called our camp manager to tell him I arrived safely in Zambia.

Pro-flight Airways was the plane I took to Mfuwe international airport. We landed around 5 PM and was picked by a vehicle from Kafunta Lodge, to be picked by someone from Robin Pope Safaris [Kiki} the camp manager on route.

Robin Pope Safaris (RPS) Nkwali Camp

We arrived at camp at around 6 pm in the evening and was welcomed by staff and I went to bed early after dinner. Next morning I was transferred to RPS’s Luangwa River Camp and was given the best tent in the whole camp, excellent for honeymooners. VICTOR was the first RPS guide I shadowed, and we went for a morning drive and saw 8 lionesses just in the road next to Mfuwe Lodge. Back for lunch and then transferred back to Nkwali.

PLACES THAT I VISITED:

1. NKWALI CAMP [3 nights]

2.KAWAZA CULTURAL VILLAGE [1 night]

3.LUANGWA RIVER CAMP [1 night]

4.FLATDOGS CAMP [ 2 nights]

5. NORMANS CARR SAFARIS (Kapani, Kakuli and Mchenja) [5 nights]

6.Nsefu Secondary School [ taught them about East Africa and the Maasai history} [day visit]

7.Mfuwe Basic School [day visit]

8. Project Luangwa and South Luangwa Conservation Society [day visits]

9. ZAWA HEADQUARTERS [ Zambia Wildlife Authority ] [day visit]

10 .KAWAZA BASIC SCHOOL [day visit]

SANCTUARY CAMPS

A. ZEBRA PLAINS [3 NIGHTS]

B. PUKU RIDGE [2 nights]

C. CHICHELE PRESIDENTIAL LODGE [1 night]

THE PARK ITSELF [SOUTH LUANGWA  NATIONAL PARK]

Run and managed by ZAWA this park is dominated by the Luangwa River, a large river almost over 150 meters across in many parts of it. It is a big park over 9,000 KMS. Along the river it is dominated by the MOPANE woodland and the BIRD PLUM.

It is very rich in wildlife – every game drive you almost guaranteed yourself a Leopard [almost every 2KM there is one along the river]. The lagoons are a big source of water for many birds, and the Lillian’s Lovebirds were among the over 400 species they have.

My first animal I saw was the Crawshay’s Zebras. They look almost like our Zebra in the Mara but they lack the Shadow stripes. There were many Elephants in the Park too. Densely populated by the Ebony trees it’s almost dustless in the park. ZAWA work very closely with the community and all the camps around in relation to the wildlife / human conflict issue.

GUIDES THAT I MET IN ZAMBIA AND THEIR GUIDING ETHICS

I think most of the longest serving guides I have ever met are in Zambia, like ABRAM BANDA of Normans Carr Safaris was among them with over 22 years as a guide. He has won so many guiding awards and managing one of the walking safari camps was one of his happiest moments as a guide.

To be a guide in SLNP is a dream of almost everyone who works in any of the safari camps. It’s not easy to be a guide and even to be the best guide is even harder. Grading of guides is paramount and I think is a standard almost all over Zambia National parks. It’s well known to everyone that a series of several written exams and a tough practical are conducted before you can become a qualified guide.

1. Grade 1 Guide – Walking Guide  –  This is the top guiding position that everyone wishes to be one. Once you qualify as a Grade 1 guide you can do both Game drives and walking safaris.

2. Grade 2 Guide Game Drives Only This is the second best guiding position, you can only do game drives, BUT even after passing the exam you will be accompanied by a walking guide for 5 game drives to see how you do your game drives before you can take clients on your own.

3. Grade 3 GuideOnly Airport Transfers – This is a trainee guide position and most of the time he or she will join other guides on game drives and be trained and mentored by them.

All guides are in total control of every activity in the Park, that is game drives and walking safaris. It’s a taboo to do off road driving in Zambia, and anyone who will break any of the park rules will be reported by his fellow guides to the Zambia Wildlife Authority.  Respect among the guides is paramount and you must a team player here. Meetings are frequently held in any of the camps between the guides on the way forward to make their park the best of the best. I was lucky to attend one and saw how serious these guides are – they are looking at the future not the present.

Guides are the master of the bush they work in, and in Zambia they are so creative that even air can be a topic of interest when animals are not seen – the guide KANGA is an example of this from Robin Pope Safaris.

GARTH from Zebra Plains was among the top best walking safari guides I met. He taught us about the sensitive plant that retracts when you touch it [ MIMMOSA PIGRA].

Guiding ends when guests go to bed in Zambia, hosting in the evening is a must in all the camps that I visited. After the night drive a hot shower is always good, and you will then meet your guests in the evening around the camp fire, sharing the history of your camp, the community, the park, the country and the world at large are topics that will make the guest understand more that you could not talk about during game drives.

In all camps Sundowners are a must then extending to a night drive. In-house training is arranged annually for all the Guides in the Valley and exams are done after this training.

Luangwa River is the Eastern boundary of the park and in most of the camps that I stayed in a boat ride across to the Park was one of my favourite moments, smooth and safe giving me a chance to see an even closer – up view of an Avocet with eggs. Again your guide is trained even to explain the speed of the water and even the direction it flows.

I was so proud of the guides by not ever speeding – 40 Km/hr was the highest speed ever gone when I was in Zambia.

PHILANTHROPIC PROJECTS IN SOUTH LUANGWA NATIONAL PARK

Zambia is divided into almost 72 tribes, all are Bantus. The Mfuwe area was dominated by the Kunda community, well known for a long time for eating game meat. This community has a clear ‘hunting’ history. I was very proud on the efforts the Government (ZAWA) and conservation bodies (South Luangwa Conservation Society) in pulling together to protect the wildlife.

  1. Project Luangwa and South Luangwa Conservation Society are the pride of everyone I met. Every camp has brochures for guests about these projects, they are well explained by every manager, every guide and all the staff in camp to all the guests  – it was clear to me that it’s everyone’s responsibility to make a positive change for the local community and to conserve wildlife. I visited Project Luangwa  and SLCS twice with guests and they are amazing. I have never seen so many confiscated snares in my life like this time. Each snare has a history of where it was found.  All the funds donated to these projects are used for anti-poaching activities and for building and improving schools in the area. Basic education on conservation is one activity they do around the community next to the park, on a weekly basis. Patrols in the park are done every day by SLCS with ZAWA rangers.

A lot of water projects are done around the area too, in schools, clinics, churches and many villages have a borehole. The water level is so low, and highest is 12M.

All camps have a uniform Environmental Day whereby they meet and pick a place to do a litter clean – up every two weeks, a very successful activity that everyone appreciated in the community.

MOST INTERESTING MOMENTS

You can only appreciate what you have when you see how much other people like it. Taking my Maasai outfit with me was the best idea. Cheryl told me to carry it. Everyone wanted to see a Maasai! I visited Kawaza Cultural Village and the school there too – the whole school was almost 1,250 kids and everyone stopped what they were doing and I was surrounded and could not even move one step. They called me AgaNga [a witch doctor]; they never thought I could speak any word in English!

They got very surprised that I could speak and even taught them the history of the Maasai, the Mara and how I ended up travelling to Zambia – funny that in this rural, remote school library they had a book for Born Free. The Village guide that Kiki appointed took me around almost every village around; it was a chance for everyone to meet a Maasai. I gave them a huge lecture about our History, 560 people attended the evening talk. The Kids were the most enjoyable ones.

By

Joseph Koyie

2011 Most Responsible Safari Guide Award Winner

Sanctuary Olonana Camp, Kenya

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