Lusaka to Lilongwe
Finally escaping the spell Lake Kariba had us under, we now made our way to Lusaka 200km away. Rather hilly drive we finally arrived at a friend of ours whom we had met at the Greenpop Festival a couple weeks earlier. Penny, this legend woman, invited us to stay for a couple of nights at her house while we waited for a meeting with the park manager at Lilayi Elephant Sanctuary. This is a fantastic organization that is working hard to rehabilitate young elephants in Zambia, who have been made orphans mainly due to the poaching issue, pillaging Africa. Operating for 10 years, the orphanage started as training place for anti-poaching units and is part of an umbrella company called Game Ranger’s International. In the early years, they often came across orphaned elephants and started taking the elephants in to rehabilitate them. Due to the highly qualified rehabilitation officers operating the orphanage, more and more elephants started turning up from all over Zambia. Once they have been rehabilitated they are transported back to the park and begin to integrate themselves into a herd.
Since their 10-year operation started they have had 40 elephants come through the program but unfortunately due to the trauma they face, the survival rate is around 40-50% with elephants under two years old only given a 10% survival rate. With a turnaround period of 5 years for calves in the wild, the rate at which poaching is occurring is seriously threating to this species. Over 100 elephants are killed every day in Africa which is about one every 15 minutes. A very alarming figure regarding the poaching rate of elephants in Africa so the work being done here is doing as much as it can maintain the populations of elephants certainly in this area but what was mentioned was that the rate at which they are declining supersedes the rate at which they are being rehabilitated. It is estimated that if this rate of depletion continues the elephant population will be extinct within 10 years. When you put figures to a problem like this it really shines a light on how serious the poaching problem is and requires a lot of hard work and commitment to keep these beautiful animals on our planet.
Because elephants can drink milk from their mothers for up to four years, the rehabilitation process is a lengthy one where keepers manually feed elephants milk out of large suckers. Effort is put into forming a bond between the keepers and elephants by using the bottle when feeding. Baby elephants drink up to 16 litres of milk a day so the keepers are feeding the elephants at 3 hour intervals every day. The keepers become the surrogate herd for the calves, not a mother because once they are relocated back into the wild the elephant will feel a loss of another mother which can deteriorate their health. People underestimate how smart elephants are and the fact that they feel emotional pain and remember nearly everything makes it a sensitive process to ensure their successful release. Once the elephants are released they are equipped with trackers to monitor their process to ensure their safety as well as act as indicators on how successful the rehabilitation has been.
After a very informative meeting with the park manager we made our way to catch up with Pete in Lusaka. We met Pete in Livingstone who is walking and hitchhiking up through Africa. Pete is an absolute legend and we admire his drive to get out and keep moving and exploring so we look forward to meeting up with him further along the track. Lusaka is probably the first big bustling African city we pushed the Tuk Tuk through with grid locked roads, potholes and regular police stops. Usually the Tuk Tuk can push and slide itself through tight gaps and often can get around the worst of the traffic but when driving in a place like this you should pick your battles wisely. People in nice cars wouldn’t dare try block you off and tend to move out of your way to not risk their slick car getting dinged, however people in older more beaten up cars are happy to push you out of the way and they are usually bigger so the Tuk Tuk can’t always challenge these. So, with good judgement, a bit of risk and quick gear changes you can get through thick traffic pretty easily.
Driving through Lusaka it was interesting to see the variety of goods being sold on the streets between the cars as well as on the sidewalk. There were people selling educational books for English and math, there were guys selling probably used underwear, shoes, glasses, dog chains that looked awfully close to fetish collars and much more. It took us over two hours to escape Lusaka where we finally hit the open road gunning it for the border. Two and a bit very long days later we arrived at the border ready for the hustle and bustle of African borders. With relative ease, we got through the border pretty efficiently and whilst we waited for the gate pass we sat around a bunch of locals playing checkers which entertained us sufficiently.
We officially ended leg 3 of the expedition and were overwhelmed by the beauty and generosity of Zambia, a truly great place to travel through with the roads in good condition driving through stunning scenery and the people always willing to help however they can. Thank you, Zambia.