September News

So apart from our ‘back of house’ news we also wanted to share our regular pictorial news of what was happening in and around Kaingu lodge for the month of August 2016.

We had our usual annual share of firefighting, both in the GMA and in the National Park.  This (sadly) has become such an annual routine now and it is intense work.  This year (in terms of being out there) was not as bad as last year, but we still clocked up 8 days continuous firefighting.  We are lucky that this year we invested in decent beaters and more backpack firefighting pumps.  We were able to at least stop fires from the North and from the South from marching up the park between the spinal road and the river and our early burning saved most of the ‘pools loop’ area.  But the amount of late season fires is just too much.  The GMA was also bad, again we were at least able to stop our walking areas from burning.

This was day 7 of non-stop burning. The “macpoly” backpacks really mean the difference between being able to control a fire or not.  Especially late fires in winds where beaters just cannot get close enough.

Contrast the blackened landscape above with this area near the lodge where early burning was done:

But then to balance the bad with the good.  We hosted staff and Trustees from The Nature Conservancy (TNC) on a two night fact finding mission to the Kafue.  On top of the rock we had a big group discussion where fires were a hot (sorry) topic.  Some of the good news was that it looks like next year TNC will be investing massively in fire management in the Kafue.  Great news. Post discussion beers, pictures and Mpamba sunset:

A day or too later we were treated to a lunchtime visitor.  I know we keep saying it, but the regular sightings of elephants crossing from island to island and from Park to GMA is just so amazing.

Then (finally) the Wild Dog Air plane took to the skies!  Interminable delays meant that everyone was using a Proflight Islander, but now at least it’s up and running.  It does look absolutely spectacular (inside and outside) and we are all pleasantly surprised at how many people have made use of the flights this year:

Then a few pictures just wandering around camp in the early evening:

Then we had our good friend and pro photographer Anthony Grote come and stay for three nights.  He was back in the Kafue doing work for some lodges and contacted us that he would love to come and stay and while here put together a small Kaingu video.  We jumped at the opportunity!  I must say it is great to see that he has been able to add more lodges to his list in the Kafue.  We can’t wait to see the finished video.  As usual with Anthony we worked the schedule hard – Mpamba, river, poachers rock, shishamba, pools loop, parrots, river, rapid canoeing, more river, rapid dinners etc!

Of course while out working on trying to video things it also means a lot of time being ‘out there’.  One afternoon drive that then turned into a night drive was spectacular.  Including mating leopards…

Franco.  If you have noticed we have talked a lot about him recently. Why? Well it is simple.  He is a genuine success story in that he is a local guy that has used his skills and talent and hard work to (via Kaingu and our shop) make a huge difference to his family’s income.  With 9 children to support you can imagine the pressure.  We mentioned before that he is making good money from the curio shop on a weekly basis.  This month we also directly contracted him to make some large driftwood fish for the deck of each tent.  Excellent.

Then we end the month with what we might consider the perfect ending to a day!  Out on the boat enjoying some peace and tranquility after watching African Skimmers do their thing.  Looks like they are back and nesting on what we call “skimmer island”.  The bee-eaters are also busy on the same island, so the hide is reconstructed and ready for use.  Bring it on!

Back of House News

So every month we try and post news. Generally this is pictures of scenery, birds animals and sometimes guests (and sometimes ourselves pretending to be guests).  But anyone that follows our facebook page will know that we also are not shy to post what goes on behind the scenes. People are generally interested in how it all works.  For the last month or so we have been embarking on a fairly major project to upgrade the staff village.  Kaingu now employs 25 contract staff for ten months of the year.  Last year we added 3 new houses, but more facilities are required. 

We decided that another new double (flush) toilet was needed (ladies and gents) and a double shower block (four showers) was needed to supplement the existing ones.  A staff kitchen (monkey-proofed) was also added to the list, as were re-thatching of Nkutas (outside shelters) and some new ones.  So Mr Gibson (thatching grass) and Royd (contract builder) were engaged. 

Of course part and parcel of bush life is breakdowns and repairing them!  Out old Mitsubishi Canter is getting a bit tired, but it struggled vainly on moving thousands of bundles of grass, dozens of poles and all the rest...

Nkutas are found in all the village homes.  They are areas where people can cook, sit around the fire and shelter from the rains and the sun.  We have small ones and a massive communal one where all staff not on duty gather to eat and chat (and yes, sometimes party!).  This small one below is for JohnD and Jenny:

The large one for the staff is matched by another one behind the kitchen.  Eating and sitting area for the guides who cannot bear to be away from the wifi signal! 

The staff kitchen is a major step forward.  Up until now the cooking is done by the staff chef (Vincent) in the large Nkuta on an open fire.  The staff kitchen below is having a gas range, shelves, cupboards and sinks for washing up.  Our staff is what makes Kaingu, well, Kaingu. We firmly believe in trying to make their lives here as good as we really can.  Wood smoke from open fires in Africa is a huge problem for people's health. 

Royd was also asked to add to the contract a small outside seat and flower pot for each house.  Small details, but at least the houses can be a bit more like home for everyone.  Of course some of the "rugged" guys like Bo haven't actually planted anything.  The ladies seem to be in the lead on this one.  The house below is Chef Lizzie's house:

The thatching looks a bit like a bad hair moment, but after the first rains it all flattens down.  Pictured below is the new shower block which is now finished except the tiles and plumbing.  Mike is on that job as I type:

Now constructing a proper kitchen gave us another idea.  In fact the idea came from Willard (camp hand, not the guide!) who jokingly told me that now there is no smoke inside the large Nkuta we could put a TV there.  We started to think about it.  Why not?  So....   4 solar panels, an inverter, 2 deep cycle batteries, a charge regulator, a dish and decoder and a HELL of a lot of alignment and we now have DSTV with dozens of channels as well as a charging station so everyone can charge mobile phones while watching shocking Nigerian movies (that seem to always be one of only two themes - infidelity or witchcraft.  Some of the better ones combine both topics).  To be fair I did find guides Kaley and Israel watching a Nat Geo programme about the Amazon. 

  And then we finish with an improvement that benefits everyone - a new solar pump.  After our second submersible solar pump packed in (due to water ingress) we decided to install a surface pump where all moving parts are on the river bank and not submerged.  This meant a few things - firstly a chicken house for the pump to go in and secondly a large extension to the panel array.  So far so good.  The pump is quiet and vibration free.  Of course nothing is easy.  People will sell you a pump, but to get fittings to plumb it in???  Our good friend Congo came to the rescue and fabricated some special flanges for us.  Okay, I have to stop now because I can literally talk about pumps the whole day!  We are really pleased with the staff village improvements and we are proud of the fact that we are really trying to make everyone feel that Kaingu is a good place to work.

Look at it! All shiny and sleek.  Stainless steel and other bits.  Sexy. I can sit for hours and just listen to the gentle whirring noises.  Art in motion. 

 

August News Images

Just a selection of images from Kaingu Lodge taken through the month of August. 

July Newsletter

5 Egrets

It was fascinating to watch 5 egrets all try and land at the top of the same tree.  They continued wheeling around the tree for ages making for some great photo opportunities. 

David and goliath

On the way up to do a staff transfer run Julia saw the rather unusual sighting of a goliath heron and a finfoot together. 

One tusk in camp

We were visited in camp regularly over the course of the month by 'one tusk' who is the most regular elephant visitor here. 

Wild dogs

No GMA sightings this month, but no shortage of dogs in the National Park. 

One tusk in the river

"One Tusk" again providing guest entertainment.  In the river this time.  The spectacle of elephants in a river is always amazing, what makes it more special here is if they then climb on top of rocks!  We don't see it often, but when we do it is incredible!

Lions

Regular predator sightings.  As temperatures hot up and the bush dries out sightings of lions, wild dogs. leopard get far more regular. 

Lesser jacana

A massively cropped picture, but I was highly excited to see my first ever lesser Jacana (at Kaingu that is) and grab a picture of it.  All while waiting for guests to arrive for an island sundowner. 

Pied kingfishers

The Kaingu Lodge logo is the pied kingfisher.  Quite appropriate really as I don't think I have ever been on the river and not seen one.  The pied kingfisher is apparently the only African kingfisher that is capable of a true hover.  They have been clocked flying (not diving) at 50km/hr.  Rapid little things!

Chalet improvements 1

We also rolled out some chalet improvements over the month of July.  The first one is new luggage racks/wardrobe units.  All work by Julia. 

Chalet Improvements 2

We have replaced all the bedside rugs with new sisal rugs and every room now also has a Nguni cow skin rug too. 

Chalet views!

And then because we were taking pictures of chalets we couldn't help but take one of the view in the evening dusk. 

Birdlife on the river

Its not just the mammal sightings that have started to really kick in.  As the river levels continue to drop the bird numbers just keep on increasing almost daily.  From the specials to the more everyday ones... 

Green power

And once again the wonderful 'one tusk'.  This time he was checking out the solar hot water and PV panels at Chalet 2.

Wedding anniversary

American guests were celebrating a rather special event.  Cake and decorations by Julia and Lizzy. 

July mists

The most fantastic thing about July (for me anyway) is the morning mists on the river due to the cold temperatures.  It is simply amazing and wll worth frozen fingers and an early start. 

July mists 2

We can never get enough of these mists!  Actually few guests elect very early morning cruises (for some reason it is usually an afternoon choice), but as you can see it is actually the best time. 

Kill by the camp

A wild dog kill 1km from camp meant some great vulture sightings.  Kaley and I went back after the guests had seen the dogs and spent an hour just watching the action. 

River by night

Coming back after packing up an island sundowner. 

Pools loop.

I always associate our pools loop with golden evening light, golden grass and loads of hartebeest.  The pools this year are really full with water and I am betting they will hold water right through to the rains.  Should make for productive sightings the whole season.  

Gargantuan beast

We were taking guests upriver for a spot of canoeing and saw that our canoes had an admirer.  Bear in mind our canoes are almost 4m long and are dwarfed by this massive crocodile.  The biggest I have personally ever seen. 

Kaingu rock art

And our final image from July is the rather interesting rock art that is found near the lodge.  Fascinating.  Most theories are that it is an ancient 'nsolo' game and that the place was probably a meeting point (market?).

Fire in the Kafue National Park and GMAs

Introduction

We get a lot of questions about Fire in the KNP and the surrounding Game Management Areas and as we are now quite well into the dry season and a lot of early burning has been done we thought that we could talk a little bit about fires. We will see more of them before the first rains – of that I have no doubt. I have an interest in fire in general. In my previous life I spent 15 years as a forest manager and I have spent far, far too many sleepless nights and hours fighting late season fires and talking to guests (who are often a bit shocked by fires) here in the Kafue to not be interested in the topic – especially how it fits into the broader ecology/landscape here as well as it’s role in shaping the landscape as we shall discuss.

Fire in General

It is generally known that Southern Africa is the ‘cradle of mankind’ and fire has been a part of man’s influence on the African landscape for thousands and thousands of years. But despite it’s close role with man it remains a highly contentious topic. So many guests that come through here express horror or shock at fire. It is inevitable I suppose. For our modern populations ‘wild fires’ (through whatever source of ignition and whatever time of year) are associated with destruction of life and property. The terrible news images from the US, Australia, Southern Europe are on our screens every year. Of course the reality is that like so many things the real root of the problem is not the fire but us humans. We are building houses, villages and towns in areas where there were no settlements before. We have tamed the landscape, planting and protecting trees and vegetation and settlements from fires. In places the vision of fire as the enemy led to many years of fighting it like a war – extinguishing it wherever it occurred, allowing fuel loads to build up year upon year and then resulting in massive destruction when fires took hold. The United States Forest Service and attitudes that have changed over the last years is what springs to mind here.  The USFS for decades excluded fires and fought them regardless of when, where and how the fires had started.  Only over the last couple of decades has this attitude changed and the use of prescribed fires started.  Not all fires are equal. Seasonality, wind, frequency of previous fires, air temperature, dew point all play major components in how a fire will burn and what destruction or indeed benefit it will bring. It is not a case of all fire being bad and no fire being good. Like everything to do with ecosystems (and man’s place and influence in them) it is far more complex than that.  An interesting National Geographic article examining the historical USFS attitude to fire (and associated problems caused by this) can be found here: 

National Geographic Fire Article

Dry season fires here in the Kafue are almost all started by man. We do not have significant electrical storms of any significance until the onset of the rains therefore the only source of ignition is man made until generally October or so. Such fires are known as anthropogenic. The early Portuguese explorers, who rounded the Cape of Good Hope in the fifteenth century, referred to the interior of South Africa in their ships logs as “Terra dos fumos” – the land of smoke and fire. What makes Africa distinct from other areas or continents is how long man and fire have been interacting in the landscape here. Estimates mention figures like the earliest evidence of human use of fire being 1.5 million years ago. We have some history here together in Africa us humans and fire! The distinct and defined wet and dry seasons here create perfect conditions for fires. Tropical savannahs around the world have been moulded by fire and here is no different. So while a huge wilderness area like the Kafue is often perceived as ‘untouched’ by man, the reality is very different. Anthropogenic fires (i.e. started by man) have been shaping the landscape here for a couple of thousand years since the iron age. And this is a difficult concept to grasp at first. When you come around a bend in the road and are confronted by a fire the natural human first reaction is not to think “ah, fire – that has been part of the shaping of the Kafue landscape for a couple of thousand years!”. The first natural reaction is that it is out of place, dangerous and destructive. If it is in October then it possibly is. If it is mid-June then the general reality is quite different as we shall see.

Early burning a protective black line around Kaingu property

Fire and the vegetation

Here in the Kafue we are very much in the Miombo belt. Miombo is the vernacular name given to the savanna woodlands found here which are dominated by a few species of tree. It is woodland in the true sense – not fully closed canopies and interspersed with grassy areas. Miombo is said to cover about 2.7 million square kilometres of South and central Africa. Miombo woodland is dominated by trees of the genera Brachystegia, Julbernardia and Isoberlinia. Being not a closed canopy forest but rather a woodland, the landscape is also rich in other plants in the under-storey (particularly grasses). The larger mammal inhabitants of this landscape are dominated by elephants, buffalo and the larger antelope such as Lichtenstein’s hartebeest and the magnificent sable antelope. However the soils in miombo woodland are poor and this is reflected in nutrient poor grasses. The miombo woodland areas does not support the abundance of animals that richer grasslands or woodland types do. This factor together with the inevitable tsetse fly is why cattle grazing has not dominated the ecosystems here. Miombo trees have evolved deep tap roots to cope with the lack of nutrients and the long dry season. In fact a large, mature miombo inhabitant tree may have a tap root 5-6m deep. In the dry season the senescent grass provides the fuel for fire which burns through the forest floor – again all of these fires are anthropogenic in the dry season.

So why did man burn the African savanna and why still? There are many reasons, some ancient and some new. The main reasons being hunting, creating fresh growth for grazers (domestic and wild) and to clear areas around habitation to reduce wildlife threats and allow cropping. These reasons still exist of course but can be added to by factors such as protective burns around habitations, to increase visibility (tourism), more incidental causes such as honey collection (which for sure are also ‘ancient’) and of course quite modern factors such as a cigarette flicked from a vehicle. Early burning (which here can be described as from the end of the rains until mid July, depending on how long the rains persisted) for the above reasons have always been preferable; the earlier the grass can be burned to remove wildlife threats and promote grazing or to allow better hunting (for example) the better. In our case we do early burns to protect property and to stimulate fresh growth thereby encouraging grazers and open sight lines for tourist game viewing. Again, the earlier the better. We also burn areas such as the Kaingu game viewing loops in the National Park so that if late fires come through they do not cause havoc – an early burned area will stop a late season fire due to the absence of fuel load. We would rather have fresh grass (and grazers) in July through to October than absolutely nothing but scorched earth in October after a late season fire.

These early fires burn relatively quickly and cool in contrast to fires later (say October) when vegetation is at it’s driest. It is estimated that Miombo in general burns with a frequency of every 2-4 years. It is further acknowledged that this frequency is probably underestimated and is in fact more. Permanent sample plots and studies of fire and miombo interaction have been carried out for 36+ years now. Without going into very dry descriptions and tables of basal area (after all this is for general interest!) these studies can be summarised as follows:

  1. Early season fires in Miombo woodland have little or no impact at all on diversity, basal area or surface litter.

  2. Late burning however suppressed woodland development and had the opposite effect of early fires (with the exception of nine species that proved to be considered as fire resistant.  It should be noted however that these changes obviously take time.  It is very rare for a late season fire here to ‘crown’ and actually burn standing trees in number.  

  3. Complete fire protection in Miombo results in the formation of a closed canopy forest, reducing the diversity of under story species (and of course the grazers that utilise them) end eventually results in the change from miombo woodland to dry evergreen forest – something that we are not keen to promote.  

For all those reasons it has, for many years, been the policy of foresters and ecologists to promote forest development and conserve biodiversity through early burning. It could be argued that the Kafue National Park (and surrounding GMAs are perhaps burning more frequently than the above estimate of 2-4 years, but research has shown that this frequency anyway may well be a general underestimate. In the absence of enough manpower, equipment and firebreaks (as well as an integrated fire management plan and recording) this is inevitable and the key point (to repeat) is that early burning has no impact on diversity and forest development.

Early season burning in Miombo woodland.  You can see how the slow, cooler fire is basically only consuming grass.  

Of course as we have seen from point two above, late season fires can have the opposite effect. This effect is further compounded if there has been no early burning for several seasons and fuel loads have been built up. Then the late fire will be extremely destructive as well as landscape changing, and not to mention effect on other inhabitants of the ecosystem as we shall discuss later.

But of course the Kafue is not purely Miombo woodland. The woodland is interspersed with grassy dambos and larger open areas. So what effect does fire have on pure grassland environments? There has been plentiful amounts of research on this – mostly originating in South and East Africa. As we have discussed earlier, fire is an intrinsic part of maintaining savanna grassland, where burning allows grass to regenerate but shrubs and trees not to, or to be more coppiced, scrubby and not to form real woodland or forests. Again, this shows up the influence of man on what are perceived to be ‘pristine’ environments but in reality have been shaped for centuries if not millenia by the powerful tool that is fire.

Controlling early season protective burns.  The use of drip torches and backpack extinguishers allows fine control. 

Studies of grassland fires have shown that whether it is a late season or early season fire there is little effect on recovery in the next growing season. However experience and common sense dictates that obviously early season fires are better in that fresh growth will still occur after an early fire, the fire will be easier to control, less dangerous and less destructive to other living organisms. We see this year in year out in the Kafue: a destructive late season fire results in a charred ‘moonscape’, but the next season, come February it is like the fire never happened. So in effect grassland fires can be said to be like the Miombo in that early burning is better, but probably from the point of view of the inhabitants (Including man) and aesthetics rather than the actual grassland itself.  But before leaving the topic of fire and flora it is also worth pointing out that late season fires can in certain circumstances actually be of benefit and be used as a management tool.  For example in areas where fires have been excluded for many years thicket development can be checked and reversed by a controlled, hot late season fire.  Interestingly this is very visible around camps here in the Kafue that have been around for many years and where (obviously) fire has been excluded.  Eliminating this thicket development is possible with late season burning, but obviously there are serious safety implications with late fires in the direct vicinity of people and property.  A real fire management challenge.  

Fire and the fauna

But what about the inhabitants? If early season fires are not really damaging to the wider landscape and the vegetation, what about the fauna and what impact does it have there? Studies here are not as plentiful as the impact of fire on vegetation, probably as the concept of non-consumptive tourism based around wildlife (and indeed what we know as ‘conservation’) is relatively new, whereas say managing grassland for increasing grazing potential is far older. Now I cannot claim to have done degree level reading on the subject, but a cursory examination of available and pertinent literature throws up some interesting descriptions and facts. Again, it is quite clear that cooler, earlier fires are generally better. But overall, like the vegetation, it would appear that fire (especially early ones) has little effect.  Again when one considers how long fire has been part of the landscape here this should not really come as a surprise.  

The influence of fire on the animal kingdom has been broken down into two distinct areas of influence. Firstly comes “First Order” fire effects which are the obvious ones – animals physically burned and injured by fire. “Second Order” is the subsequent influence of fire affecting habitat and ecosystems and that in turn affecting the inhabitants – in other words a more downstream affect from fire.

As a broad indication of how the animal kingdom has evolved along with fire here are a few observed examples (not confined to Africa alone) of how animals respond to first order fire threats:

  • Studies showing that juvenile tree frogs when played sounds of fire moved to take cover in fire resistant sites – i.e. very wet grass that cannot burn.

  • Birds flying just ahead of the fire line and finally moving into thickets that will not burn.

  • Lizards burrowing into the soil and climbing trees to avoid fire.

  • Voles finding shelter underground or moving onto bare ground to avoid fire.

  • Snakes retreating underground.

  • Adaptations to take advantage of fire: certain beetles can sense fire up to 5km away and then move into the burned areas to lay eggs in trees weakened by fire. Indeed over 30 sepecies of beetle so far are know to do this.

  • Woodpeckers thriving in burned areas because of them preying on the above beetles and their offspring.

  • It is to be remembered that 90% of terrestrial arthropods spend a large portion of their lives burrowed in the soil or the soil litter.

Again, our subjective ‘gut feeling’ tells us that a lot of these examples ring true. Anyone that has been here when the cicadas are in the trees in the late dry season would realise that even late season fires are clearly not damaging the cicada population that have yet to emerge from the soil. 

What has been clear from research is that early patchy burning (certainly not all vegetation burns in early fires no matter how much drip torch fuel is expended!) is the primary goal. Patch burns and burning of different areas on subsequent years allows refuges where (particularly insects and lower order mammal) populations can shelter and then breed and repopulate burned areas extremely quickly. Like say grassland regrowth, the repopulation can be very rapid and by the following year the effect of the early season fire can be totally negated or even seen.

Clearly more mobile fauna are less likely to be first order casualties of fire. Birds, quick moving mammals etc are able to escape early fires. Inevitably there will be casualties, very new infants spring to mind. Without wanting to sound callous, this is clearly part of the natural order, and with early fires the potential to find areas that will not burn, already burned areas or to simply flee the fire area is high. Slower moving larger animals of course are a different case. But again, fire is not always a recipe for doom: a study indicated that 30% of large Florida Box Turtles showed carapace damage from fire. Although clearly this was not mortal damage. My own experience, on a far lesser scale, was of seeing a huge leopard tortoise that I was horrified to see in an area where we had just done some early burning. On close examination it was totally unharmed and proceeded on after the fire had passed (it did hiss in quite an annoyed fashion when examined for burn injuries!).

I feel that this write up is starting to get lengthy and possibly digress from the overall goal. The overall goal (to repeat) is to try and allow visitors an insight into why early season fires are not necessarily bad, and to why they occur and what the effect is. I am conscious that birds have not featured heavily in my descriptions so far, so in our penultimate conclussion I will cut things short and simply past the final conclusion of a paper from a student of the Percy FitzPatrick institute of African Ornithology:

Managers of savanna ecosystems can take comfort from these findings. There is clearly little reason to be concerned over the medium-term effects of fires on bird communities, even for the most severe fires. Some savanna species may be dependent on fire-created habitats for breeding. However, these species tend to be highly mobile, enabling them to locate suitable breeding habitat irrespective of the fire management strategy employed, other than complete fire suppression”

Conclusions

Once again the obvious conclusion would the that (taking all that has been said into account) the goal of total fire suppression would be a goal to be avoided at all costs. This holds true be it for the vegetation (and the grazers, and in turn predators that depend on them), the insect life and indeed the birdlife. There will be (for sure) first order casualties, but like all complex systems this has to be balanced and evaluated in the context of the greater good. It would appear that early burning (which inevitably allows un-burned areas) is an overwhelming positive force that has existed for hundreds (if not thousands) of years and is now an intrinsic part of what shapes the landscape – certainly no more and no less than the rains, the lack of rains, the global weather patterns, and ultimately (and certainly the most profound) the influence of us humans. The overall goal it would seem is that early burning must be done with a degree of science and planning. At the moment in the Kafue the lack of fire breaks, man power and equipment means that the early burning is usually quite random in nature. The goal should be that fire management becomes a far more proactive and integrated part of the management of the landscape. However in the absence of such infrastructure and management it would seem that a strategy of fairly random early burning is not a strategy to be ashamed off and is better then the alternative.  

Perhaps the most appropriate final words should go to Phillips, J.F.V, writing in 1965 who said that (fire in sub-saharan Africa is): “a bad master but a good servant”.

June News Images

May News @ Kaingu Lodge

The month of May. I believe that here in the Southern hemisphere it is comparable to November in the North. Well, I have to see that it is way, way better here than what I remember of Scottish Novembers.

For us May was the month of big groups. Well, big for us – up to 16 guests – which is great. The groups give us a chance to do things that don’t tend to happen otherwise! Cultural talks, chitenge talks, drumming, dancing and all that good stuff:

May news-41

“Benny’s Band” also then come into full effect.  Kebby has appointed himself choir director – his love of talking carries over into singing too.  There is some talk of making a CD and Benny and Kebby selling them in the curio shop for some outrageous sum!  With the larger groups they get welcomed into camp with the “Kaingu Welcome” song and then the last night is a big dancing and singing session.

The groups entail some serious early morning wake-up calls on the day of departure.  Getting up at 04:00 can be a bit daunting.  The beautiful clear skies of May before the smoke and haze of the winter months make for absolutely stunning nightscapes.  So a quick bit of super early morning star photography while the kettles boil compensates a bit:

May news-15

We did have a couple of gaps in between the big groups, during one of the gyps Julia, John and I grabbed some river time and went out looking for the goliath heron nest that Israel had spotted down the side of Mantobo island.  We failed to find the heron nest though.  But still, being out on a boat here is always good for the mind and the soul:

untitled shoot-16152

Then one afternoon we were treated to a lioness casually strolling right through camp!  She wandered around the guest chalets and we were able to grab the old landrover plus one group member (who had stayed in camp to relax) and follow her around.  A lion moving quickly through camp is surprisingly hard to get a picture off.  But finally we managed just by the battery room:

untitled shoot-15979

Talking of cat sightings May has been pretty good.  Going through the sightings book I count 3 separate cheetah sightings in the National Park.  Almost all of them were on the early morning runs taking groups up to the Chunga airfield.  Now the Kafue is one of the few places in Zambia where you can see Cheetah, but its not exactly like they are sitting on every termite mound!

May news-36

We made the chefs very happy in May as well!  The dying kitchen range was replaced with two shiny Bosch ovens.  So now Wina can roast his pork and Lizzy can make her cakes.  At the same time.  Awesome.  We also rebuilt the parrot hide in anticipation of the gathering of the Meyer’s parrots (and yes, they are gathering).  This unique spectacle is highly anticipated.

May news-48

We also managed to pack in some annual first aid training.  St John’s ambulance in Zambia do a really good training service and the trainers are all top notch professionals.  Last year we did advanced training for the guides, this year we did basics for Kebby (trainee guide), Nyambanza (asst manager), Benny (barman).  Boyd and Kaley (guides) also sat in just to refresh.  There were quite a few laughs.  Of course everyone wanted to put ‘Nyambos’ in the recovery position.  Benny turned out to the the lucky guy! May news-27

We also had a real guest baby.  Not Wina’s son Fabio (yes, Wina claims that Italian names are intrinsic to his family, so Wina named his son after one of our most loyal guests…) and not the plastic St John’s dummy.  So real babies inevitably get looked after by a real professional – Aunt Jenny!  Kaingu’s free babysitting service is often a huge hit with parents wanting to do an early morning game drive or a romantic dinner with some sparkling “mummy and daddy juice”…May news-35

Talking of parenthood, to round the month off we had a very different sort of big group.  The annual Kaingu ‘fathers and kids’ fishing trip.  Into its fourth year now, it gets better and better each time.  In addition to about a thousand cooler boxes stuffed with beer and sugary drinks Victor (organizer and top guy) brought a whole lamb to roast on a spit.  It was incredible.  We rigged up a zip line, we created a water slide, we sampled Mark’s schnapps which makes your brain go all warm and we played hours and hours of musical cushions.  It is an absolute highlight of our year!!!May news-56

And our final news for this month – we created a new extension to the ‘Kaingu Loop’ in the national park.  Great stuff.  We mapped it, walked it, slashed it, burnt it and then got it tow-graded.  And in doing so we saw buffalo hers twice, a beautiful leopard and Bo, Oscar and Martin found a dead thing in a stunning dambo that is 5kms long.  This new road is a winner.  Going across very early one morning to finish it off we also had the most incredible sunrise.  Now I see a fair few sunrises here, being on the river at that time is amazing, but this one was something else.  The unusually cloudy sky combined to make it the best one I have ever seen.

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April News

Well, finally the rains stopped. Thankfully. It was all getting a bit much, but the rains ceased almost with the start of the month. April fools day (I had no idea it was April fools) saw poor Nyambanza being woken by Benny at 04:30 who told her she was late for work! She did get revenge later by telling him that his house in the staff village was on fire. The nice thing about getting up super early (I am trying hard here to see positives 🙂 is that you can try and get some time on the river at sunrise with a camera after dropping guests and a guide at the car park and before the morning staff meeting.  Or mess around trying to create ghosts!  

April saw some great sightings. We had many sightings of wild dogs, leopards, lion (the Shishamba pride with 7 young ones on more than a few occasions) and even cheetah. Now we try to keep things in perspective – the Kafue is not Ngorogoro crater.... We will not tell you that the central area of the Kafue is a teeming multitude of predators and prey, the Kafue runs deeper than just great sightings. But for April we were pretty amazed. Remember that the game drive loops are not even fully open yet and the grass is very, very high so to get such good sightings is really encouraging.

We also had good predator sightings on the river. The carcass of a young elephant floated down the river and got trapped in rocks. This meant that literally dozens of crocodiles were present, feasting on the unfortunate elephant.

We also had lions in camp a few times over the month. I won't forget Nyambanza's statement “I thought they were big dogs walking past my door”. The pack of seven wild dogs that we see fairly frequently in the GMA here were also spotted. It was a great opportunity to drive out 1km from camp and spend some time with them. Vary sated dogs looking a bit muddy and bloody!

April also saw us doing our first ever professional chef training. We invited Sarah Lilford, a top Zimbabwean chef to come and train. We had three intense days and learned a lot. What we really enjoyed about Sarah was that her ideas and recipes are designed for remote lodges and not 'over the top' foodie extravaganzas that are more appropriate in Mayfair than in the Kafue. She focussed a lot on presentation and fine tuning our menus, but was very complementary about our menus and chefs skills and created a great atmosphere in the kitchen while she was here. I would strongly recommend taking a look at her book “Dusty Road” which combines recipes with tales of life in rural Zimbabwe.

We also did manage to do a couple of brief management excursions. Very brief ones though. We did a quick “round round” of Mantobo island on the boat. We are always telling guests that Mpamba rock is so beautiful that we actually go up there ourselves without guests. Well we do. Here is some proof. Rick, Lynda and Julia walked up and Gil brought the land rover (and a cool box, naturally).

Our guiding team is now complete! We were delighted to welcome Boyd Longwani to the Kaingu team in April. He has almost 30 years experience here in the Kafue, almost all of it at Lufupa. Starting in the days of Map Patel and through the tenure of Wilderness. He is best described as “solid”. In every way. I really feel that with JohnD, Kaley, Israel, Boyd and Kebby as trainee we have a really strong team – everyone with their own interests and specialities. Of course poor Boyd has to go through the rather nerve-wracking experience of learning the river here now. We all had to do it, but it is quite intimidating at first. These rocks...

We also got delivered a copy of the book “Kapenta and lelish and other fishy tales” which is a very interesting book filled with photographs, anecdotes and recipes from all over Zambia. We were delighted to find Julia's baobab lemonade welcome drink right at the front as well as a small write up about our good friend Marcus and Valley Lodgeistics who supplies us and other lodges here in the Kafue. The book is selling like hot cakes and raising money for the Lusaka Animal Welfare Society, of which Marcus is probably their number one supporter.... largely because he tries to trigger very generous bidding at their annual fund raising auction! Last year he very kindly kept bidding and bidding on a weekend at Kaingu, raising the prices and eventually winning it.... Which (it has to be pointed out) he could actually have anytime. For free.

As we move into May the temperatures are starting to drop, the mornings and evenings are now really pretty cool, the beautiful morning mists on the river as we head over for game drives are spectacular. It is such a beautiful time of the year – still green, no haze as yet and clear skies. Beautiful stars and the humidity is dropping. The river dropped massively too – 70cm over the course of the month, so the river is starting to show it's character again with the rocks emerging. The birdlife is also picking up on the river too as it starts to descend. For me the best sighting was on a rubber boat trip down the tiny channels south of the lodge. We came around a bend in a channel to be met with what I (initially) thought were a couple of hundred sacred ibis. It turned out though that they were Abdim's storks – easily over two hundred. I had never seen even one here. Let alone 200. Amazing. Unfortunately I didn't have my camera with me.

And then our last bit of news is a revolutionary device. The “Kaingu car park solar powered radio”. Now, 95% of guests that come to us come down the spinal road (through the National Park on the western bank) and then we cross them over by boat. Now this is an absolutely great way to arrive at the lodge. But it does involve a lot of guess work on our side. Trying to predict when guests will arrive. Now sometimes it all works well, but other times we end up sitting at the car park for literally hours. So we put Mike onto the job. And we now have a solar powered radio in a prominent position in our car park so guests can call us up from the car park. As usual with Mike it is quite a work of art! Incorporating aluminium chequer plate and driftwood. A melding of technology and nature. Sort of.

March News

Closed season and camp opening at Kaingu

So you might have noticed that we have been a bit quiet!

The last guests left Kaingu just after New Year. A private party had booked the lodge and really enjoyed their time here over the festive season. For the two months we are closed the lodge was looked after by guides John D and then Israel. This means a lot of slashing grass, fishing, checking tented chalets and houses and generally keeping an eye on things. They did a great job following on from Kaley’s stint in 2014. Last year Julia and myself stayed on through the shutdown period (Julia went to Germany to see family very briefly). The two month shut down period is important. We get asked a lot why we do indeed close down. Well, to be honest after New Year it is a very, very quiet time in terms of bookings. It seems very few people move at this time! The weather conditions are also less than ideal and drying clothes, charging solar batteries, getting hot water from solar heaters is all very hard.

I am often banging on about the green season, and it is something that every safari-goer should experience once, but maybe not in the peak rains in the Kafue! A lot of game viewing loops (well, basically them all actually) become quite impassable and not everyone finds being wrapped up in ponchos in driving rain repeatedly fun! Everyone should see the green season at least once, but lets not be trying to fool people, it can get wet, slippery, muddy, damp etc. There is a good reason that bookings in January and February are low.

For our staff it is also an important time to get home for a longer stay and do some farming chores. It is a long tiring season for everyone and the recovery period is appreciated by everyone. Of course it also means that everyone comes back re-energised and ready for the new season! Rick and Lynda get the chance to see their grown boys in America and Australia and travel around a bit but with no home as such – home is Kaingu. The same applies to Julia and Gil whose home is Kaingu, and then enjoy catching up with nieces and nephews, brothers and sisters and parents.

Bookings are looking strong, and what is very exciting is that Kaingu is part of a new air charter service that we are hoping will dramatically change access and visiting the Kafue. The consortium consists of Kantanta, Konkamoya, Mukambi and ourselves. The concept was spearheaded by Kantunta and we have bought an Islander 8 passenger twin engined plane. It is by no means new, but it is in tip top mechanical condition and should be ready to commence operations in April. The four part-owner lodges have agreed on very competitive discounted seat rates to make the Kafue even more attractive. It will also hopefully allow us to tap into Livingstone and other destinations. The plane is going to be in a unique paint scheme that reflects the name of our company – Wild Dog Air Charters! Very exciting news indeed.

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Our first guests this year into Kaingu arrived on the 29th of February, so we had quite a mad week getting everything up and running and ready. The rains over December and January and the early part of February have been pretty poor. Southern Africa as a whole is crying for rain. But the second part of February and the first few days of March have been spectacularly wet. This of course makes for some difficult camp re-opening tasks. A new kitchen waste-water scheme started to turn into a scene like that of the WW1 trenches. And then the grass slashing… A huge task. Everything from footpaths to the hide, the rock, the rapids. The campsites, the roads etc.

So let’s talk about this sort of thing. As we have commented in the past – people are genuinely interested in what goes on behind the scenes. So what is entailed in re-opening the camp? Here is a brief rundown of this year…

  • Land in Lusaka. Head to Pioneer Camp, catch up with friends and sleep for 14hrs.

  • Head into town, go to the bank. Yay! We got some deposits so can buy deck oil, nails and string. And food…

  • Drive out to the lodge. Being astonished that the grass by the side of the road is now over two metres tall. Buy fresh groundnuts on the way. While driving along the other one gets on the phone to the staff. Before leaving we have set reporting dates, but we have since accepted an earlier than usual booking. So we need to get on the phone and call housekeepers, waiters, everyone in fact. Everyone that is who lives in phone coverage! Fortunately our rural communities here are small and the ‘bush telegraph’ works well. So, for example, if we can reach Victor by phone and he is coming up from Itezhi Tezhi by bicycle, then he will spread the word as he passes through the villages.

  • Arrive at the lodge and start unpacking after a quick walk around to see everything, see Israel and Bo and Handson who are looking after the lodge. Greet the cat and discover she is fat as anything!

  • And then the fun starts. Slashing the grass in the campsites, the paths, the paths to the hides, the rock, the car park, the road into the car park etc. This job alone takes 4 people about 10 days.

  • Rubbing down and oiling every wooden deck – the main area plus all 8 accommodation decks.

  • Washing and drying all linen to get rid of the musty “stored” smell.

  • Washing down and sweeping and cleaning all the tents

  • Weeding all the pathways

  • Re-wiring and setting out all the pathway lighting

  • Digging two massive holes – each 2x2x2m, digging 60m of trenches for the soak-away. All for the grey-water kitchen waste system.

  • About 5 tons of sand and rock to fill the trenches.

  • Lifting 90% of the deck and replacing 150 metres of 2”x4” underneath. Yes, the original deck builder used untreated pine…..

  • Get first delivery from Markus (Valley Lodgeistics). Everything from Gin to maize meal to plastic tanks and pipes to petrol and diesel. Everything has to be off loaded on the spinal road, shuttles into our car park, loaded onto the boats and then boated 1km down to camp and offloaded and carried up.

  • Entire kitchen is emptied – every pot, pan, jar, box, utensil is taken out, the whole kitchen is scrubbed down and everything is washed and put back.

  • Try and remember what bird call is what bird!

  • Start going through boats and vehicles. Nothing likes to stand. So inevitably we face a few dirty carbs and rough running engines and blocked filters. Clean all the boats and vehicles properly, sand down and re-finish the woodwork on the game viewer vehicles.

  • Find out what the mice have eaten in our house. Start thinking about trying to track down a young cat for the house. Has to be hybrid wild cat or it will last about a week before being eaten. Hmmmm.

  • Get out in a boat for an hour or two on an evening before the guests. Be shocked to find that we can go just about anywhere as most of the rocks are underwater.

  • Re-stock the bar, lay out all the glasses and mugs and tea station and wash all the table linen.

  • Repair thatching grass on a few places on the roofs.

  • Repaint walls where water has marked them.

  • Get out in the bush and gather firewood!

  • Test all the hot water boilers

  • Replace fences that have sagged or collapsed in the rains.

  • Unpack and re-stock all the curio shop items

  • Start treating all the wood borers that really like to eat all the construction ‘bush poles’.

  • Start transferring all the bookings into the big register so we know who is coming when.

  • Start planning, trying and refining various new recipes into a cohesive flow that works together.

  • Check the credit card machine is still working else it might get a bit embarrasing when the first guests want to pay.

  • Realise that our service provider has accidentally down-graded our VSAT internet and that is why our connection is suddenly like 1995…

  • Drive up to the airfield, meet the guests and then drive and boat them into camp. Season 2016 is offically open!

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