Zambia with grandpaPublished 10:36am Friday, February 5, 2010
By JOHN EBY
Dowagiac Daily News
South Luangwa National Park in eastern Zambia, at the tail of the Great Rift Valley, is well known for walking safaris to admire more than 60 different animal species and more than 400 different bird species.
Known for game concentrations around the river and lagoons, the park has rebounded from past poaching which wiped out rhinoceros.
But lions, elephants, hippopotamuses, cape buffalo, giraffes, hyenas and even leopards abound in numbers that are some of the most intense in Africa.
Zambia was once part of Rhodesia and abuts Zimbabwe.
South Luangwa National Park, founded as a game reserve in 1938, became a national park in 1972 and encompasses 9,050 km2.
Herb Phillipson gave his granddaughter Kelly Wilson, or “Kea,” a nine-day Zambian safari as a graduation gift last May as she moved from St. John’s College in Annapolis, Md., to working for the institution at its other location in Sante Fe, N.M.
Jane’s daughter, who grew up in Kirtland, Ohio, and graduated from high school at Interlochen Arts Academy, turned 22 while in Africa.
“It was wonderful getting to take my grandchild who I don’t see very often along on the trip,” he said.
“It was as much selfishness on my part as it was to give her a graduation gift.”
For Herb and Eve, who previously visited Botswana twice, it was their third time to the world’s largest waterfall, Victoria Falls.
Determining exactly how many countries the retired city attorney, prosecutor and probate judge has visited is vexing because, for example, “France has Tahiti, which isn’t counted separately,” but he figures he’s traveled in “pretty close to 100.”
Despite all that globetrotting, “We’re sweating out our passports” for an upcoming excursion to Sri Lanka and India, he confided.
“We haven’t gotten our visas.”
Passport rules “keep changing,” Phillipson added. “India now requires your driver’s license and a copy of your birth certificate.”
The travelogues Phillipson makes usually prominently feature wildlife.
“I could watch elephants all day,” he admits.
So you can imagine his reaction to reading about Zambia in National Geographic “as the wildest park and the hardest to get to. Kelly graduated May 16. Zambia is a big country that used to be northern Rhodesia,” he told his fellow Dowagiac Rotarians Thursday noon at Elks Lodge 889.
“It’s probably as big as Texas” and a four-hour drive from one end to the other.
Poacher pressure on pachyderms “took out” larger elephants, Phillipson said. “They left a few smaller elephants, which are multiplying like mad.” Hippos also flourish.
Baby elephants “are the cutest things,” he said. “You want to take them home and hug them except they weigh a couple hundred pounds.”
“There is lots of game,” he said, narrating as big snakes, yellow baboons, seven-foot monitor lizards and dangerous cape buffalo paraded before his lens.
“We stayed in very nice cottages,” he said. “It wasn’t tough. We had everything we wanted on safari. Bunks. Mosquito netting. Kelly had a separate room. The bathtub was so big it could fit 10 people. The story is that someone misread the plans as inches instead of centimeters.”
“The bread and butter of the park is a puku, which looks like an impala and is a bit smaller than our deer.”
In fact, Zambia is home to 14 different kinds of antelope.
Zebras are unlike any others found in Africa.
“They have no shadow stripes. They are pure black and white.”
Hyenas are nocturnal, but Phillipson found one lounging in the bush in daytime.
“This is their excrement,” he offered as some finished their lunch.
“It’s always pure white. I present everything” in his director’s cut.
Their photographic jaunts took place four hours each evening and four hours early in the morning.
Waterbucks are easily recognizable by a fur pattern which looks like they just sat on a freshly-painted toilet seat.
Lions were “everywhere, and they’re always lying down or yawning. The males stay apart from the females and usually want to eat first. We didn’t see a kill, but I’ve seen one once. Leopards are very nocturnal and hard to see, but we saw several in this park. They are gorgeous. I love going to the zoo, but there’s nothing better than seeing them in the wild.”
One pride contained 14 females.
When one leaves the lions begin grunting and barking like seals. Is that why they call them sea lions?
They trailed the roaming lion three-quarters of a mile.
When she returned to the fold she “hugged and kissed, so to speak,” the others.
He shows a “sausage tree,” with what looks like Coney dogs dangling from its branches, except they weigh four to five pounds each.
“They say don’t go to sleep under one,” Phillipson said. “Nobody eats them – no animal,” except hippos.
His extensive footage showed a giraffe ambling along a roadside, bobbing and lurching stiffly, like a seahorse on stilts.
They rode with Dutch couples for four hours over an unbelievably rutted, muddy road without encountering any other traffic.
They drove right into the river at one point, fording it on sandbags.
“I thought the thing was going down,” Phillipson said. “This is one of the reasons it’s a thrill going across the river.”
The water was infested with crocodiles and hippos, which can chomp a child in half although its diet is vegetarian.
“Hippos are the noisiest animals in Africa,” he said. “Animals are not bothered by vehicles. They’re so used to it,” such as the lion sacked out in the grass, ringed by truck beds full of photographers who look to be enticing, easily accessible snacks, except for guides with rifles.
They arranged their trip through a travel agent in Ann Arbor.
At the sight of a real gecko, a Rotarian quips, “I wonder if Herb saved 15 percent on his trip.”