How can you surpass an ‘ordinary’ safari, and elevate your holiday to the ‘extraordinary’? In my opinion, the best way to do this is to ensure that every camp or lodge that you stay in directly acts to support local communities and conservation.
This is the only way we can ensure that the beauty and wonder of Africa is preserved for the future. That is why I applaud the work of the African Bush Camps Foundation, which directly contributes to a multitude of local projects each year to improve the lives of local people, and conserve Africa’s environment and wildlife.
Since its establishment 13 years ago, the ABC Foundation has partnered with leading conservationists and rural communities on the borders of national parks in Zimbabwe, Botswana and Zambia, empowering communities through a range of community development and conservation efforts, including education, healthcare, and programs that support conservation awareness.
They aim to improve the quality of life of the local people and achieve long-term conservation by linking these community benefits to wildlife tourism. The communities come to value the wildlife and ecosystems and become the custodians of their wilderness areas, having a long-term positive impact on conservation. You can support and witness their work whilst on the most amazing safari to Africa, elevating your own travel experience as well as giving back to the local area.
Whilst staying at African Bush Camps’ award-winning and authentic Somalisa Camp in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park, guests are encouraged to visit Mambanje. This is a remote rural community on the border of the Park where one can see first-hand some of the Foundation’s collaborative programmes, including efforts to reduce human-wildlife conflict.
Depredation of livestock frequently results in retaliatory killings of lions, contributing to population decline. In response, the Hwange Lion Research Project, which is overseen by the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) of Oxford University’s Department of Zoology, developed the idea of mobile cattle bomas. These bomas have been found to provide a range of benefits, such as the protection of livestock from predators at night, a reduction in the retaliatory killing of lions, as well as improved food security.
Mobile bomas encourage villagers to group their cattle in one large high-density enclosure, usually for around 10 nights before moving them to another plot, where they can be selectively placed to improve soil fertility and food security. The boma is made of local and opaque PVC material, thereby reducing the need to cut down indigenous timber, and is supported by poles and strung on ropes.
Although lions can recognise the presence of cattle behind the material through hearing and smell, they are unable to see them, therefore reducing the visual hunting trigger. Furthermore, as the cattle are unable to see the lions, they stay within the centre of the boma rather than break out in panic.
Since 2016, the African Bush Camps Foundation, working in conjunction with Elefence International and the Hwange Lion Research Project, has installed four bomas in the Mambanje area. The first was constructed in March 2016 and led to the rise in the number of villagers who have since joined the Mobile Boma Initiative.
The project has now grown to incorporate nearly 40 households with more than 380 cattle. The African Bush Camps Foundation would like to establish further bomas, incentivising cattle owners through a complimentary health program, offering vaccinations and healthcare for participating cattle owners.
The Mobile Boma Initiative works alongside the Long Shields Lion Guardians Programme. Lion Guardians are committed and courageous local men and women. Trained and employed Guardians are given the confidence and tools they require to warn their villages when lions are in the vicinity, such as through a lion-alert system whereby the location of a radio-collared lion can be checked on a phone using satellite network and the coordinates communicated via a WhatsApp group, which may consist of the village head, herders and shop owners.
Guardians also assist with livestock protection by improving herding practices and bringing cattle to bomas. Their homestead territories are patrolled on a daily basis and examined for recent lion scat and spoors.
If a lion is discovered it is either chased away using vuvuzelas (plastic horns used at African football matches), which terrify them, or herders are informed so to lead their cattle to safety. In addition, Guardians consult on the strength and maintenance of livestock enclosures. Lion Guardians are an essential link between communities and conservationists.
Since the inception of the Mobile Boma Initiative, as well as the Lion Guardian Programme, research led by the Hwange Lion Research Project has shown that crop yields of more than 30% have been recorded, livestock predation incidents have decreased by more than 50% and significantly less lions have been killed in retaliation. Communities are recognising that it is possible to live in harmony with predators, and these programs are brilliant examples of communities and conservation working together.
ABC have the most gorgeous range of camps and lodges in which you can stay across Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Here you can experience Africa’s wonders on a life-changing luxury safari, entirely tailor-made to your requirements.
These are perfect for families, couples or groups alike and there is something for everyone, whether you prefer a classic-style safari in a luxury tented camp, or a stay in a fantastic lodge with all the comforts of home. Children are welcome in many of their camps and this can provide the most memorable family safari which you will treasure.
In order to visit Mambanje’s projects one would stay in Somalisa camp. Based in Zimbabwe’s largest national park, this is an authentic tented camp perfectly located in a shallow valley in the midst of all the wildlife trails to and from the natural waterhole located about twenty metres away. One can sit on the verandah and look out over the valley which is filled with low bush; you can see all the wildlife from the comfort of your seat!
There are large breeding elephant herds in the area who prefer to drink the fresh water from the camp over the watering hole, so you can see groups of them come right up to the camp to drink from the camp’s pool. This is such an incredible experience to be so close to these gentle giants who are comfortable in your presence.
At night you can hear the different sounds of the bush, the hyenas in the distance, lion roaring or maybe a leopard calling. Then first thing in the morning, before dawn, a guide will wake you and walk you to the campfire where you can have a light breakfast and hot drink before embarking upon the first game drive, or maybe a walk, while it is still dark.
Children love the African bush and the fantastic guides will share their passion and knowledge with your family. The camp takes children from around seven years old and the guides specialise in making this a wonderful experience for them, keeping them interested and entertained. You can also take sunset boat cruises, walking safaris with your expert guide (children must be 16 to walk), game drives, or even a helicopter ride over the landscape for fantastic aerial views!
If you would like more information about the Foundation or safaris to Zimbabwe, please do feel free to contact me.
Images kindly provided courtesy of Somalisa Camp and African Bush Camps Foundation.