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I Had a Camp in Africa* ( Part 1)

By Howard Sanders • December 6th, 2010

As some of you may or may not know, before coming to Canada in the mid-nineties I was one of the very first qualified safari guides in the Republic of Zambia. It was a profound time in my life on many levels; growing up, making friends, pushing my limits and having the opportunity to witness the most raw and  incredible wildlife experiences imaginable. Helping to run Nsefu Game Camp, a wonderful 12 bed camp located in the South Luangwa National Park, I had the great privilege of taking safaris in vehicles during the day and at night as well as leading 3 day walking safaris where my acquired skills as a tracker could be put to good use. Below is a picture I took of Nsefu camp from the air (please click on any of these pictures for a much bigger version) .

Nsefu Game Camp from the air © Howard Sanders

I have often been asked to post some pictures of my time in Africa, so this will be the first of a few posts highlighting my favourite photographs from that period along with a short description of each one. You may also notice I was a little slimmer during this time. Youth was one reason, but malaria was another. I was unfortunate to contract it no less than three times, and boy do the pounds come off!  I hope you enjoy the following, and if you have any questions about Africa or its wildlife drop me a line or make a comment. Enjoy!

Howard Sanders collaring male lion

Collaring the male lion 'Cyclops' © Howard Sanders

The above photo of a svelt me was taken in the heart of a combretum forest located on the salt pan of the Nsefu sector of the park. This lion, unofficially known as ‘Cyclops’ because of a benign tumour in his right eye that effectively blinded it, was one of the most successful males within the entire park and maintained a stable pride of 22 females. It took us over an hour to get him down and required no less than 3 tranquilising darts. After the first one struck his rump he escaped into this scrubby forest and out of sight, so I and a couple of other scouts had to follow him in there. He turned on us a couple of times, and we had to dart him twice more, but he eventually succumbed. Anaesthesia can significantly raise an animal’s body temperature resulting in either brain damage or death, so we had to work fast. To add insult to injury the first thing we did was take a fecal sample and shove a thermometer up his….. poor guy, but Cyclops was part of a Japanese research study on the population dynamics of leopards and lions within the park in relation to hunting and tourism so he had to be tracked. To get this data we placed a transmitter on a leather collar around his neck and over the season made notes on his and the pride’s movement patterns. We also measured and weighed him. He was 180kg, measured 2m from head to base of tail, with a tail measuring 81cm and a neck girth of 80cm. He was a big specimen, and after the scientific work was done I laid on his chest and listened to the strong beat of his heart and the fog-horn of breath rattling in and out of his lungs. It was one of my most amazing experiences, even if he did smell like an enormous tom-cat! I watched Cyclops for the next three years until I left Zambia and he showed no adverse signs to being collared, remaining the most successful male lion in our sector for the entire time. I also saw him attack and kill a matriarch hyena female one night, but that’s another story…..

Howard Sanders Dockside Realty

Cyclop's canine teeth © Howard Sanders

Talking of lions and leopards, the next photo is of a female leopard that I had the privilege of getting to know very well. This leopard was known as N3 (N=Nsefu sector = 3= the third specimen I could repeatedly identify). She really was a stunner and again a highly successful cat. I watched her raise 3 cubs to adulthood, 2 males and a female, and saw her hunt and kill on many occasions. She even gave me the distinct honour of repeatedly urinating on the front tyre of my truck and so adding me to the objects in her territory. The picture below was taken on a clear night in August at about 7.30pm. She is resting on the top of the bank of the main river, The Luangwa, and was obviously in a peaceful frame of mind that night as she allowed me to come very close to her. Both my clients and I got some great shots, although this one is certainly my favourite. I often thought that she looked like a woman in a cat costume, particularly the way she is lying, but don’t let looks deceive you. She was very dangerous and could haul two and a half times her own body weight up a tree. A beautiful, beautiful animal, but certainly not to be trifled with. She was still alive and well when I reluctantly said goodbye.

Howard Sanders Dockside Realty

Female Leopard in spotlight © Howard Sanders

Finally for this post I would like to introduce you to Sabrina, a juvenile Hippo female who became our camp mascot for a couple of seasons. She appeared in camp one spring after her mother had died from Anthrax (a common disease that flared occasionally dependent on weather conditions). Sabrina was smart. It was unlikely she would have survived on her own, succumbing to predation from either crocodiles or lions or being killed by her own kind (you can see the scars where she was attacked by other hippos), so she went where she knew it was safest; our camp. Sure, she chased a few tourists that got too close, and even knocked the odd safari guide off the riverbank when they weren’t looking but she was generally a joy to be around and was very photogenic. She would graze in the late afternoon and most of the early evening and then park herself under a bush near the kitchen to wait out the remainder of the night. The last season I was there Sabrina failed to show up so we assume she was absorbed into a pod of her own. I thought I saw her a few times afterwards but by then she was nearly full grown and difficult to identify. Sabrina was a survivor though, so I’m sure she is still out there somewhere.

Sabrina the Hippo © Howard Sanders

* My acknowledgement to Karen Blixin (Isak Denisen) for the title of this post.


Thanks for sharing these lovely stories and photos. The female leopard is SO elegant. No wonder she reminded you of a hu-woman.

Thanks Trysh, I’m glad you enjoyed them.

Howard, yes, this is so terrific to read. I do recall, many years ago, that you were either working on, or thinking of working on a book? Let me know where and when as I’d love to keep reading about this time in your life.

Hi Katherine….it’s so good to hear from you again. We’ll be in touch and I’d love to hear all your news. Maybe you can make a trip over to Pender one day in 2011.


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