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wild dogs, cheetahs, hyenas and leopards,” he says, adding that these plains have 21 species of antelope — the highest diversity of antelope anywhere in Africa. One mammal the area doesn’t have, however, is white rhino: poaching on Busanga was so intense between the 1960s and 1980s that every last one was killed. “Once you start losing animals to poaching, travellers lose interest in the area and the economy suffers.” A lot of the poaching here, Ben tells me, is


for the bushmeat trade. It’s a big commercial operation and, for conservationists, a big problem. Wire snare traps are hidden in the bushes and hooked on trees to catch animals like buffalo and wildebeest. In some cities, like Lusaka and Solwezi, bushmeat has become a delicacy. “I hear it tastes terrible, but there’s a demand for it,” Ben continues. “Guys come in, illegally, six at a time, shoot everything they see and set hundreds of snares. They can end up with hundreds of kilos of meat.” But the traps are catching more than just


prey species. On a game drive, I spot Queen, leader of a 16-strong pride of lions. My guide, Lazarus, tells me about her: Queen got trapped in a snare in 2013. Every lion on this


plain is descended from her, and without anti- poaching efforts to free her from the trap, the plains would be a very different place: with no lions, the entire ecosystem could crumble. “Kafue is the second-largest national park


in Africa — it should be a crown jewel, but because of traps, it’s severely depleted,” Ben later tells me. We’re eating dinner at Shumba Camp and have the place to ourselves. “Without big herds of prey, there’s a lack of carnivores, and tourists just aren’t coming. That’s why anti-poaching is such an important operation. More tourists would be the solution to more infrastructure and income for locals,” he adds. “And there would be more eyes on the poachers and more funding to stop them.”


Return of the rhino The next morning, I travel south to Toka Leya, a camp that sits on the banks of the Zambezi in the diminutive Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park. Turning off the main road, I drive between spindly parched trees to meet Bazel, one of the four rangers assigned to watch over the rare white rhinos in this park. “We protect these rhinos 24/7,” Bazel tells me as we carefully approach a four-month-old


white rhino. The youngster stands statue-still next to its mother while she grazes on small patches of sprouting green grass. “We even plant grass for them because of the drought.” Rhinos were completely wiped out in


Zambia in 1989 as a result of poaching (the keratin from their horns is erroneously considered to be an aphrodisiac in a number of foreign markets, including China). Four were reintroduced in 2008 by the DNPW, and the herd today numbers 10. They’re not in their best habitat: while black rhino are searchers and feed off trees, white rhino are grazers who like to roam, and the grass here is in short supply. The rangers tell me they’d like to introduce them to more areas, but it’s once again a question of funding and having the bodies to watch and look aſter them. Local organisations and farmers support the rangers’ efforts, and Wilderness Safaris — one of Africa’s foremost ecotourism operators, which has been bringing travellers to this area since 2006 — provides additional supplies, fuel and logistical support. I leave the rhinos and head to catch the


sunset on a boat ride along the Zambezi with Arnold Tshipa, the Zambezi Environmental


May/Jun 2020 151


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