A number of years back a gentleman with great vision and passion, Noel De Villiers, had the dream of opening up tourism routes from Cape Town to Cairo. As far as I am aware this was to be mainly for self-drive, adventurous travellers. The concept was to provide information and assistance to tourists by way of maps. It would link different countries in a bond of friendship as travellers moved from one country to the next. The idea then went further, creating ‘routes’ within the different countries and linking together service providers together with local communities offering facilities to travellers.
Today this dream has become Open Africa. Funding came from big corporate company’s, notably fuel companies. Information was and is, being provided by way of printed maps and the internet. It details wildlife, where tourists can stay and what local communities are providing along the routes.
So you might ask, what has this got to do with Tom’s Talk and the Kafue National Park in Zambia in the middle of Africa? Fair question. I had contact with Noel way back in the late 1970’s in the Cape and was intrigued by his ‘dream’. I then moved away, landing up in Zambia building Kaingu Safari Lodge. Later by coincidence or divine providence I had contact with a young couple, Ann and Mike Scott. They were based in Namibia and had previously been working in the Southern Cape. They had also been involved in Noel’s project Open Africa project on the Open Africa Southern Cape — Blue Crane route. Later they moved to Namibia with Open Africa — Namibia.
Through them I learned that the next move for Open Africa was into Zambia. Soon we had a visit by the Open Africa team at Kaingu Lodge. There was much reminiscing, with beers and talk around the camp fire. We had greater insight into the new Open Africa concept and how Zambian tourism, and in particular, as far as I was concerned, Kafue National Park could benefit.
In addition to linking lodges and community based tourism projects in the Kafue National Park, providing internet information for free Open Africa is also involved in conservation. They are putting in place a flagship species monitoring program. Together with the Zambian Wildlife Authority (ZAWA) and all the lodges in Kafue National Park, we have nominated five species to monitor through our activities together with our guests. The five chosen species for Kafue are not the most seldom, or most often seen, but rather those that are typical of the region and those visitors would like to see. The number one and icon specie is the Cheetah, together with the Sable Antelope (written about in the last Tom’s Talk), the Elephant, Defassa Waterbuck (endemic to the Kafue region) and the Wild Dog.
The monitoring concept is that a fixed walking transect is chosen by each lodge in the area’s within which they operate. This transect is walked at least once a month. Information on actual sightings, tracks and signs are recorded by guides, wildlife rangers and their guests who become participants in the program. All recordings are fed into an Open Africa database that can be used for research purposes. Interestingly it can also be accessed by travellers who may have for example, a particular interest in Wild Dog and would like to know where they have been seen most often, at what time of day and year, in what sort of habitat, etc. They can then plan their trip to increase their chances of sighting their favoured species.
A great idea with great potential but it needs commitment and dedication. Things are a bit slow in getting going, especially in Africa and Zambia. But here at Kaingu we have started our part in the program. Our route is ‘Untamed Kafue: Where the cheetah roams’. Guests thoroughly enjoy being part of the whole exercise. During their stay the five flagship species are not all we look for and encounter. Guests get to experience many other associated species that all fit together in nature’s wonderful kaleidoscope of life.
This Tom’s Talk started off wanting to speak about the Cheetah (pictured below) but I have digressed into a brief background about Open Africa. But not to worry, we have now opened the door to discuss the Cheetah in the next Tom’s Talk. I will help unravel a lot of misconceptions about this enigmatic creature — is it a cat? A dog? Only, an animal found in open plains?? We will then follow-up on the other Open Africa Kafue flagship species and some interesting facts and fantasies about them.
The Tom’s Talk seriesThis is the fourth article in a series about happenings in and around Kaingu Safari Lodge, Kafue National Park, Zambia.
1: Introducing Tom’s Talk from the Kafue National Park2: Tom’s Talk — Facelifts and new adventures at Kaingu, Kafue National Park, Zambia3: Tom’s Talk — Sable antelopes, the show-piece of Kafue National Park, Zambia4: Tom’s Talk — Open Africa and Kaingu Safari Lodge