Luambe is the lost park: the Luangwa Valley’s secret garden. It lies between South Luangwa National Park and North Luangwa National Park in Zambia: a small patch of land I remembered as a place rich and meaningful even by the standards of the Valley.
I had seen elands and lions when I was there last: elands who seemed to reduce their preposterous flight distance in my honour and lions that lolled insolently in full view. I was passing through – it’s a place people used to pass through – in 1991 on my way to the north park, and in 1992 when trying to find the road up the Mchinga Escarpment.
But since then, the human population of the Valley has grown, and lonely Luambe became a magnet for poachers. It’s had some troubled years but now I was on my way back with Mario Voss, who has set up a camp there in a great act of adventure and daring. Luambe is now a place for stopping and staying a while.
It’s a truism that the tourist tends to destroy whatever he seeks: the first visitors to St Tropez were in search of an unspoiled fishing village. In Luambe tourists have a rare chance to do the exact opposite. Here you can create what you seek. A benign human presence is a serious deterrent to poachers.
And at the same time, it becomes clear to the nonhuman residents of Luambe that not all humans are enemies: that it’s possible to relax in the presence of human admirers.
So it was that we came across a crowd on elephants: 40 of them: a herd of such numbers would have been impossible a few years back. It would be an exaggeration to say they were at their ease: we got a threatening head-shake – but no worse – from one of the matriarchs, and a couple of the younger males stuck their tails out horizontally to show how stressed they were.
But as we did nothing, so the elephants settled down. Heads and tails were lowered, and this social gathering continued, perhaps a trifle self-consciously, as we watched from a discreet distance. The visitor to Luambe is reclaiming the park for elephants. These elephants.
There was something oddly satisfying about this. Earlier that day I had seen elephants in the South Park infinitely tolerant of humans and their vehicles: here, it seemed, were wild elephants and the negotiations that would allow us to co-exist in the same small space had not yet been completed. But they were progressing…
I remembered the chapter at the end of The Silver Chair in the Narnia books.
The Healing of Harms.
I was co-leading the Sacred Combe Safari with www.wildlifeworldwide.com