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Taking the Plunge!

By Sport Beattie

Founder of GRI

Recently, on our social media channels, you may have seen the terrible flooding we experienced at Camp Phoenix. This is where the release phase elephant orphans are being prepared for their journey back into the wild. The camp is located on the Nkala River, in Kafue National Park, south. Nkala means sit or wait in the local language. It is a very apt name for the river, as it floods quite easily and becomes impassable, forcing you to sit for a while and to wait until the waters subside.

The Nkala River, surrounding the Elephant Release Facility at Kafue National Park
The river provides protection and predator deterrent around the boma

Fourteen and a bit years ago, when we sited Camp Phoenix it was during a year (2008) when Zambia was experiencing her worst floods in fifty years! The beauty of this challenge was that it allowed us to find the one favourable place on the river, which wasn’t completely flooded or underwater. This place was Chintumba Pools. Consisting of a series of ox-bow lakes adorned with mature, shady trees it made the perfect site for our camp, as well as the Release Facility for the orphaned elephants. It was also a favourite watering hole for many species of wildlife, including lion, cheetah, wild dog, waterbuck and the recovering herds of wild elephant, which liked to frequent the pools in the dry season. Needless to say, it was also a favourite camping spot and hunting ground for poachers! Thankfully, our full-time presence at Chintumba Pools has deterred them and meant that all wildlife in the area has been given a better chance of survival and recovery. Today, the results speak for themselves.

So, when a late-night message came into my phone on the 18th of January this year, alerting me that Camp Phoenix was flooding, I wasn’t too worried. After all, I had seen it at its worst (apparently) and I knew we had a very capable team on the ground, many of whom had been with me when we first sited the camp during the fifty-year flood. However, the following morning it was clear to see that Zambia or at least Kafue was experiencing something which more closely resembled a seventy-five-year flood or so it appeared from the photos and videos I was receiving sitting in our newly established fundraising office, in Scotland. Still, I was not worried. I knew, under Rachael’s expert leadership, the team would manage the situation with a high level of skill and ensure that everyone, including the orphan elephants were moved to an area of relative safety.

Rangers boating past the boma, walking to work in the rain and the camp offices below water level

Whilst monitoring closely from afar (thanks to modern day technology), I was able to stay abreast of events as they unfolded. Drone footage revealed the full extent of the flooding and the sheer expanse of water, which covered the plains for as far as the eye could see. I watched as the orphans were led by their trusted Keepers to their favourite crossing point on the Nkala River. The Keepers needed to get them across the river, to higher ground before it was too late. Whilst waiting for all seventeen of the orphaned elephants to congregate as a group at the water’s edge I allowed myself a brief opportunity to enjoy the bird’s eye view of the drone. The scenery and greenery were breathtakingly beautiful.

And yet, just a few months prior, this exact same crossing point was dry and barren! Such are the wildly different faces of sub-Saharan Africa, from one season to the next.

Wary of the unfamiliar sight of the swollen river the orphans were understandably reluctant to cross the Nkala. They were happy to wait, but time was not on our side. With much coaxing and cajoling the Keepers, some of whom had already swum to the other side to reassure the orphans, finally succeeded in getting Ludaka to ‘take the plunge’ and enter the river. One by one the others followed until all seventeen were safely across to the other side. It was a humbling sight to behold, albeit from the screen of my phone and a wonderful reminder of the amazing bonds of trust that can be developed between man and beast – if only we choose to live in peace and harmony with each other.

The Elephants are safely guided across the flooded river by the Rangers

After a few days the flood waters subsided, and we were able to assess the full extent of the damage to camp. Thankfully, no equipment or data was lost, though we did have a fairly large crocodile visit the office block for reasons known only to himself. Since ninety percent of our camp is built from locally sourced natural materials, including mud walls, most of the damage is structural. Whilst camp is still liveable and serving its purpose, we know it will require some major repairs in the dry season. Given the way global weather is changing we believe these types of floods and their frequency will likely only get worse and so, with this in mind, we have taken the decision to rebuild Camp Phoenix with more permanent type structures, but with the same amount of charm afforded by the original layout and design.

We look forward to welcoming our partners, supporters and volunteers to see the finished product and we thank everyone who has already given so generously toward this endeavour.

If you would like to support Game Rangers International in the rebuild of Camp Phoenix, please donate here and select "Wet Weather Appeal" from the dropdown. Thank you.


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