Mfuwe mumbles

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.

Mfuwe

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.

Back home

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.

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Conserving romance in conservation

Most people won’t have realised this, or even experienced it, but it is incredibly difficult to live in the bush conserving shit while simultaneously having a healthy relationship.  This is mostly because we work in remote areas with limited communications or because we simply cannot find someone willing to live with us in those remote areas, enjoying the same things we do.

Of course, you may have heard of ‘khaki fever’ which keeps some of us going.  This is, essentially, the newcomers (usually tourists) loving the rugged, toughness of our exterior and us taking advantage of that attention (because, let’s be honest, it’s been a long while since we’ve seen some decent tail besides the bushbuck running away from the car earlier).  But khaki fever doesn’t hold you when you have nightmares and it doesn’t help you with your day-to-day struggles in the office; it doesn’t love you.  It loves who you appear to be.  For a night, maybe two if you’re lucky, more if you’re a leprechaun.

So, when you find someone who is willing to either put up with the lack of communication our life affords or someone who fits into that life, you generally hold on to them with an iron fist and try your to never let go or let feel like they should let go.  Some, of course, refuse to change and this doesn’t end too well (google anything about people not listening to understand or how relationships interfere with independence and you will understand what I mean, roughly).

This means that, for the majority of us, we continue with our work, our crucial, vital work, while sacrificing the one essential element to the human life: to love and be loved in return (yes, that was a Moulin Rouge reference and what a beautiful film/song it is indeed (some of us are a tad educated in that department, others live under a larger rock than Fred Flintstone)).

Some of us are lucky enough to find someone who fits into our life scheme, plan, or lack thereof.  We are very few and this comes with its own challenges because, more often than not, we work together or for each other or some other scenario involving work colleagues, office hierarchy, etc.  Working with/for the one you love is incredibly difficult (take it from me, I deal with it on a daily basis).  It is even worse when you are expected to change to fit their model and they expect not to be expected to compromise to be parallel to your model or even to make you feel comfortable in just your professional role never mind the after-hours business (again, take it from me).

So, in essence, what I’m trying to say is: people working in conservation sacrifice a hell of a lot more than you might actually think we do.  We sacrifice hot water most of the time. And running water a lot of the time. And ‘normal’ social lives. And a lot more.  We sacrifice love. Being loved.  We sacrifice a fuck tonne because, somehow, we love what we do (bordering on masochism in some cases. No, not 50 Shades of Grey stuff, more like no children ever but you really want them kind of stuff).  I suppose I’m trying to say please give us a bit more credit than we currently get?  We give up a lot, willingly and mostly without argument (because we believe wholeheartedly in our fight) while most ‘conservationists’ sit behind computers as ‘keyboard warriors’ (see the article I wrote on these folks here) and rarely give up more than $10 a year for conservation.

We’re trying our very best.

 

Sincerely,

Almost everyone that chose to work/live/both in the bush in Africa.

xoxox

 

P.S. We don’t regret it, but we’d appreciate some sort of recognition for it.

Keyboard Warriors

You may be familiar with the surge of “keyboard warriors” – badly informed, highly emotional, rabid “activists” who would claim they have superior morals and incorporate rationality and compassion into their arguments.  They also tend to believe their opinions are a) correct to the highest degree, b) the most important opinions, and therefore c) we should all do what they deem to be correct.

Conservation should NOT be about what the foreign public thinks.

It SHOULD be about what the local public want carried out in a way that will work in that area with those people.

These “keyboard warriors” of social media and, to a certain extent, various publishing companies (e.g. Africa Geographic) make conservation incredibly difficult for the people on the ground.  The “real warriors” if you like.

 

How?

  1. By not immersing themselves in the available literature in order to fully understand a scenario before bearing arms. This sort of uneducated, ill-informed argument is what one would expect of a child – not an adult who has had access to good education and who very obviously has access to the internet, therefore a huge amount of solid, verified information.  This leads to two extreme views of the current conservation situation: “unless there is a shoot-to-kill policy for poachers and encroachers we will lose the war” and “by saving one individual elephant we have made a huge contribution to the elephant population”.  Just as outrageous as the other, these are dangerous opinions to hold and spread as they are UTTER BOLLOCKS.

 

  1. These “keyboard warriors” are, for the most part, not from the conservation places they are so rabid about (e.g. Africa, Asia, South America), or have had very little real-life experience in the conservation sector (tourism is NOT conservation) or researching conservation/wildlife/natural world topics.

 

  1. They tend to base their arguments on what is “morally right” instead of what is practical, ethical and what works in different parts of the world. Besides, Westerners have different morals and ethics when compared to the peoples of the third world (and quite frankly, this is good sometimes).

 

  1. Anthropomorphising animals, even plants, is never a good thing outside of a children’s book or film. “Keyboard warriors” are particularly good at this.  Any researcher knows you cannot get so attached to a study subject to project human qualities onto it.  I guess the point here is none of the “keyboard warriors” seem to be as intellectually successful as researchers.

 

  1. Very rarely do “keyboard warriors” see the BIG PICTURE of conservation, they focus more on individuals (e.g. Cecil the lion and his son Xanda, or Satao the giant elephant, etc.) which is rather detrimental when you’re trying to conserve a whole ecosystem for not just one lion but several prides of lion, for example. This is particularly true when considering how hunting is an important tool for habitat and species conservation with the increasing human population putting immense pressure on the natural world (this will be discussed in another article once I find the right words for it).

 

  1. They often choose animal lives over human ones while claiming to be compassionate and morally upright; such as when it comes to human-wildlife conflict. Local communities cannot be expected to live peacefully with, and protect, wildlife if their lives and livelihoods are threatened by that wildlife.  Conservation is a human construct in any case.

 

I’m sure there are other examples experienced by other people in conservation, these are just the ones I’ve dealt with.

 

The biggest problem the “keyboard warriors” create is their influence over the donors, upon whose money most conservation organisations rely.  People won’t give money to a cause they don’t believe in but that means instead of doing our jobs in the field protecting nature we’re constantly trying to sell our projects and our opinions to the general public.

 

If the conservation community were allowed to do their jobs the way they deem best without worrying about the reaction of the donor communities and their supporters, they would be a lot more effective at conserving wilderness and wildlife.