So, I recently took a little time off to go up to the northern part of the Luangwa Valley to a hunting concession (which shall remain nameless) and then a few nights in Mfuwe.
The hunting concession
I even had the pleasure of meeting the chief within which this hunting concession sits. He sat there in a chitenge wrapped just under his pecks, barefoot, a single ivory bangle on his left wrist. He was sincere, well spoken and clearly had no time for bullshit. This hunting area has villages within it – apparently the best place to start tracking buffalo is in the maize fields themselves! The chief’s palace is also in the hunting are.
He said that the Community Resources Board (CRB) received quite a lot of money from the hunting in the area, which has been used to build, among other things, three schools, two clinics and a few teacher’s houses.
When asked if he had anything against hunting in his chiefdom he simply said “No, but we need more classic safaris.” A “classic” safari is one of those with the expensive animals like lion, leopard, buffalo, etc. and they bring in a lot of money. In this area in particular, “classic safaris” are $100,000 + deals.
Considering the sprawling villages are a mere 20 – 30 minute drive from the hunting camp, and that the population in Zambia is growing rapidly, one might hold the opinion that hunting is necessary in areas such as this to a) be stewards of the wildlife and b) keep an eye on poaching and settlement spread. This is a very practical opinion indeed.
When we arrived in Mfuwe to drop someone off at the airport the first thing I noticed was this: you are very obviously not welcome if you are not from a lodge. Parking spots have all been reserved (or bought?) and have name posts – “Flatdogs”, “Mushroom”, etc. – with some lodges claiming more than one! Way to go Mfuwe safari peeps.
Next thing I notice is that it’s only $5 less to enter the South Luangwa National Park if your a Zambian resident or SADC citizen than it is for others. Then I see that it’s $10 cheaper per person if you do a game drive with a lodge than if you do self-drive. One must realise that the Mfuwe circle does not actually want many locals there because we can destroy the illusion of the African bush that they feed their unknowing guests with as little as “you’re charging K20 for a Mosi?!”. Mosi is the local beer. It costs K7 – K10.
So I do not like Mfuwe. I never really had a positive opinion about it, but know I definitely dislike it and would not recommend it as a place for someone who actually wants to experience the real Africa – what Zambia used to be. I suppose the selling of Robin Pope Safaris and Norman Carr Safaris may have something to do with it – it’s not for the joy of the job anymore, it’s purely a money thing. Therein lies the problem. Mfuwe and South Luangwa are not about welcoming anyone who wants to see the Luangwa Valley (the only place in Zambia where giraffe are indigenous), it’s about pulling in the mula and making damn sure the rest of us have a hard time enjoying our heritage. I digress.
Another thing I heard while in Mfuwe – some guests at a camp situated downstream of the Mfuwe bridge in a hunting area were upset. They had heard there was to be a lion-leopard hunt in the area. This was outrageous. How dare they? Well, if safari companies stopped lying about where their camps are situated and owned up to being in a hunting area because it’s cheaper than being in the NP and it allows for permanent structures then this sort of stuff wouldn’t happen as often. I know camps opposite the Kafue NP that market themselves as actually being within the National Park itself and the Tourism Board does nothing to correct this misinformation (let’s call it what it is – lying). It’s fantastic!
Another thing – people seemed interested only in seeing animals. What about the sense of adventure? Not today. Too hot. This was very disappointing for me; I care about the journey to and between sightings equally as much as the sightings themselves.
Half-way down the dirt road back to the camp I reside at, I decided to confirm something I already knew – that in this chiefdom the only source of full time salaried jobs is with the hunting safari companies. The driver, who is very trustworthy and doesn’t mince his words, said that you can be a carpenter or hire your wagon out or make bricks but it’s all “piece-work”. Nothing solid. The only full-time employment with a salary each month in this chiefdom, which is rather large, can be found with the 4 hunting areas that are entirely, or partly, inside the chiefdom.