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Pocketmags Digital Magazines
Pocketmags Digital Magazines

It’s a jungle out there

Attitude joins walking safaris in the sustainable game reserves of Zambia and Malawi in search of lions, hippos and formerly endangered species but finds there’s an elephant in the room

Safari guide Peter gives me the once-over before declaring: “Good, you look boring.” That may not be the verdict you are looking for on many days out but here — close to where we spotted six young lions the evening before — it’s certainly the safest.

We had just stepped away from our Land Rover for a long morning walk through the African wilderness. That might seem like a foolish idea, but Zambia is the birthplace of the walking safari, and people here know what they’re doing: a hideous pair of beige zip-off trousers form just the right outfit, because boldly coloured fabrics can enrage the wildlife. After all, it’s better to be boring than trampled to death by a herd of elephants.

Norman Carr, a seasoned elephant hunter in what was once Northern Rhodesia, felt that the country was best explored on foot. For months, he traversed the wilderness with little more than a drop of the anti-malaria medicine quinine and a few teabags stuck in his bag. The hunt for elephants was deemed essential in colonial Africa, because the animals regularly caused extensive damage to crops, and the consensus at the time was that those tusks were better off being turned into piano keys.

After a while, however, Carr started to change his stance and felt it perhaps made more sense to make money from the living animals than to blast every last one of them into extinction. With the permission of a local chief, he constructed a number of mud huts, which were used to accommodate visitors who wanted to point cameras rather than guns at the wildlife. And it turned out that people were prepared to pay top dollar for the experience. This was 1950 — and eco-tourism in Africa was born.

Seven decades later, the formula has remained pretty much the same, although the huts are considerably more luxurious today and Northern Rhodesia is now Zambia.

Mfuwe, a village on the outskirts of South Luangwa National Park, is currently being sustained in all kinds of ways through ecotourism. With the revenue from the safari lodges, wells have been dug for clean drinking water, there’s porridge — enhanced with extra vitamins — for schoolchildren, and teachers are given a wage and accommodation. Respect for the natural abundance of the park is literally fed to the children at the school. That is of great significance, because despite the hefty prison sentences associated with illegal hunting, poaching is still commonplace.

When I arrive at the Mfuwe Lodge there is an elephant in the lobby, and a ceremony is being held. The two turn out to be connected. The ceremony is to celebrate the fact that South Luangwa has just been proclaimed the first sustainable park in the world, by the World Tourism Organisation of the United Nations. That title is a welcome boost for a game reserve where, despite the remorse displayed by Carr at the time, elephants came close to extinction here in the 1970s.

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About Attitude

Double cover: Adam Lambert on touring with Queen and Sense8 actor Miguel Angel Silvestre. Plus: Ross Lynch on playing killer Jeffrey Dahmer, enigmatic singer serpentwithfeet, Dusty Ray Bottoms on his gay-cure exorcism, and Drag Race’s Eureka O’Hara.