Good morning folks!
Today I have the distinct pleasure to be writing about Mukuni Big 5 Conservation and Safari Park. At the end of June, I visited Mukuni while on personal leave with a visiting friend from the U.S. I’m a Peace Corps Volunteer working in health and community development in Northern Zambia – Luapula Province. While I was in Southern Province experiencing Tonga culture, and the majestic majesty of the Mosi-Oa-Tunya (Victoria Falls), I took the opportunity to follow up on the advice of some of my fellow volunteers. Everyone I had spoken too said that if there was one place I had to have on my program, besides the falls of course, it was a full day at the Mukuni Big 5 Safari facility. I’d called ahead the day before and made reservations, then so filled with excitement I could barely sleep.
We woke up early, grabbed some local transport (Mukuni provides transport but as a resident I decided to use a blue taxi driver), and headed over to visit. As we drove in on the dirt and gravel bush road, I was immediately captivated by the beauty of their field site – the stark beauty of the African bush is dominating. One could easily lose themselves in the complexity of the foliage for hours. More so, the flora and fauna of southern province is in stark contrast to that of my home province in the north, next to the Congo and Tanzania. The site is just a few kilometers from the falls, and the surrounding scenery is typical East African bush. Acacia, thorn brush, baobab trees, and a wonderful whorl of colors in the leaves, bark, and mixing with the minerals in the sand and rock. Its enough to send your senses overboard even without the wildlife, birds, and elephants! It’s truly one of Gods most captivating canvases.
We turned at the well marked sign, and drove in through copper and tan sand, passing elephant trails and animal paths. On the way in, you start to notice strange circular patterns, the large elephant foot prints pattern the sand as if a natural mosaic were etched in every passing footstep. It’s a beautiful moment of reflection on time, the fragility of our lives, and the immense beauty that can be found in such transitory moments. Just one small gust of wind and all that beauty is washed away into a new pattern. As we rounded the last corner, we saw the gates and the entrance to the Mukuni Site. We got out of our taxi and were welcomed with a hearty shout of hello, and a traditional Tonga morning greeting. We had a quick tour of their spectacular facility, learning about the conservation effort, the three phase reintroduction program for their Lions and Cheetah, the Caracal and talking about the elephants – their herd history and each animal’s background and personality. One of the Cheetah handlers, a man named Lee adopted us right off the bat, and took us around the facility, giving us detailed, and extensive information about the program. We then met up with our host – Cliff Welch, the Volunteering Manager. We talked with him about his own past, and got more information on the conservation efforts at the park – he introduce their methodology, the park area, and on a topographical map showed us the phases and areas of the preserve. We then moved back to the animals, learning about their programs. The Mukuni volunteering program was especially interesting, and the Mukuni linkage to sustainable community development caught my attention.
Mukuni Big 5 offers a variety of experiences, Animal walks with their beautiful Lions and Cheetahs, Elephants as well as interactions with the Caracals, to community projects for those interested in staying over and contributing to the program through Mukuni’s excellent volunteering package.
Mukuni Big 5 is a privately owned and operated company. Founded in 2008, it is focused on conservation, and reintroduction of native animals – particularly focused on the African Lion (white and tan), the endangered African Cheetah, African Elephants and Caracals. They are a pioneering conservation effort here in Zambia that is working in the science of breeding and re-introducing the Cheetah. But more than the animals, Mukuni is taking a comprehensive approach to their conservation efforts, focusing in on conservation education. Inviting schools from around the country and local populations to educational seminars designed to sensitize Zambian youth to the importance of their national resources and their beauty and majesty.
Mukuni [recognizes the need for our youth of today to respect and conserve our animals for the future]. A spectacular vision!
I’ll talk more about the encounters in my next post, but now I’d like to focus in on the Volunteering program available at Mukuni. Mukuni is a prime example of Ecotourism – offering a chance for tourists/visitors and contributors to interact with the conservation effort, better understand the need for the programs, and allow people to experience the exceptional beauty of Southern Zambia, while remaining affordable and utilizing the funds raised by tourism activities to fund real conservation. The three phase breeding and release program is perfect, because it allows the phase I animals that have bonded to their trainers, and thus cannot be released into the wild, to help fund the continuation of the program. The Mukuni Volunteering program starts with a warm and hearty welcome, a thank you, and of course the necessary information for your individualized project. Volunteers can participate in data collection on the animals, contribute to the upbringing of the Lions, Cheetahs, Caracals, and the Elephants found at the site. They can also work with Mukuni’s breeding programs and/or get out into the aforementioned local villages and community to assist in grass roots education, community sensitization, and various other community based development programs for the local Zambian villagers.
Mukuni’s end goal is the breeding and release of their lions and cheetahs into the wild, to reintroduce the endangered cheetah, and help bolster the vulnerable lion population. They are working in a three phase model – to help offset the difficulties faced in reintroducing bonded animals to the wild. Outside of the breeding site and safari facility lies an 80,000 Hectare or 800 Sq Kilometer game preserve that serves as the release site for those animals.
Volunteering with Mukuni does require placement fees, which go directly back into the project and help keep the program moving forward. Those fees go into program improvement, including further development of programs, education resources and community sensitization, as well as the understandably high cost of Veterinarian bills and animal care, maintenance and expansion of enclosures, and provision of food stuffs for the animals. More information about the placement fees, the volunteering program and the Mukuni project can be found at
In my mind Mukuni seems to have a great view of their role. When I think of the conservation project there, an ecosystem, an economy, and the circle of life come to mind. All share similarities, in order to progress, in order to function a certain balance is necessary, and as these systems grow and change, they are affected by every action taken. What’s spectacular is that we, as a species, as a function of these systems, have the ability to interact and develop the same systems, affecting the balance in one way or another, and we consciously work to protect and maintain a perceived balance. Through that understanding it’s possible to reverse damage caused by lack of education and understanding of the importance of one smaller part to the whole of the system. In regards to an ecosystem, we can reintroduce species necessary to the healthy function of the whole. A predator is threatening yes, but it is necessary to maintain the balance and health of the land and natural system. Eliminate a shark, and the octopus eat all the lobster – destroying the cycle of life. Eliminate a wolf, and the deer decimate the plains and over populate, destroying the system, we’ve come very close to eliminating these majestic predators, and now it’s time to protect them, help reintroduce them thus undoing our thoughtless actions and ensuring the system swings back into balance.
If you’d like to see some of my photo’s from Mukuni Please visit http://www.facebook.com/david.n.berger And peruse my facebook albums!
Cheers to Mukuni for their hard work and efforts!