How an overland trip through Africa led to the establishment of Malawi's premier carnivore conservation project
The beauty of an overland camping trip through Africa is that you feel much closer to nature. You hear every little sound. In the Serengeti I was woken up by the roar of lions in stereo, one to the west and one to the east. Soon hyenas started whooping to the north and south. All I had in my tent was a plastic torch – not much to defend myself against lions or hyenas – but I was hooked. The adrenaline was pumping and for the first time in a long while I felt alive.
I'd always dreamed of going on a safari to Africa. But I never thought it would be possible until a mate suggested I had a look at Wanderlust. I read – and reread – the articles and poured over the adverts for adventure and overland trips. Then I booked my first trip to Africa – the Kenya and Tanzania Adventure with Exodus.
The trip was three weeks long and took in all the big game parks, like Lake Naivasha, Nakuru NP, Masai Mara, Serengeti, Ngorongoro crater, and Mount Kilimanjaro, before finishing off with a few days on Zanzibar. I loved every minute of it; the scenery, the people, the wildlife. Things I'd only seen on BBC documentaries – lions, elephants, leopard and rhino – all up close and personal.
I saw my first big cat, a leopard, in Nakuru. Soon after I saw my first lion. We camped in the park and the tour leader warned us not to leave the camp after dusk. If we wanted a pee we were to check outside the tent with a torch. If eyes shined back at us from the bush we were not leave the tent. There was no fence around the camp. The wildlife could literally come and ‘visit’ us during the night.
I knew then that what I wanted to do with the rest of my life was to help with the conservation of animals in Africa. I 'retired' from my job with Mars, sold my house and moved to Africa. I signed up for a raft of volunteers projects: four weeks with the Cheetah Conservation Botswana; field guiding across South Africa; Big Five monitoring near Ladysmith in South Africa and in Zimbabwe; a rhino protection project in Swaziland; a wild dog project in Zimbabwe. Soon I had the confidence and contacts to start up my own conservation project, Carnivore Conservation Malawi. Its aim is to gain knowledge of the large carnivores in Malawi and develop methods to conserve them, restoring the balance of the ecology of the game parks and reserves.
Setting up a conservation project in Africa is an adventure in itself. But more about that in my next blog …