Zambezi river challenge and Big Cat project
- 08 October 2016 to 18 Oct 2016
Registration for this trip is now closed.
To find out more about future trips such as this taking place in 2018, please register your interest below or click here to see details of our big cat challenge in India during 2017.
From 8-18 October 2016, we are running an exciting Zambezi river challenge and Big Cat project.
It offers a unique opportunity to challenge yourself while raising vital funds for your local Cats Protection branch or adoption centre.
The team taking part this year will fly to the vast, landlocked nation of the Republic of Zambia. Highlights of the trip will include helping on a range of tasks at a lion conservation project and learning about lion behaviour.
They will also deliver a lesson to local children to educate them on the benefits of conservation and participate in a thrilling downstream canoe expedition on the Lower Zambezi River.
When I signed up for the Zambezi River and Big Cat Project, I don’t think I realised just how gruelling it would be. It would be a challenge – I always knew that – but even more so in 42 degree heat. The days are long and tiring, there’s lots of travelling and lots of information to process.
But I also didn’t realise quite how much wildlife we’d see, how well we’d connect as a group and how much we’d all learn.
When we arrived in Lusaka (via Johannesburg) after more than 24 hours of travelling, we were taken to a campsite – our first home, for that night at least – and introduced to our canoeing guides, TK and Martin. It was dark so they welcomed us with a hot meal they’d whipped up by campfire and we then discovered that the Zambezi was only about 10 feet behind our tents. They said we were likely to have some visitors in the night – hippos most likely – but that they were there to listen out, protect us and shoo them away.
Sure enough, a number of us awoke to the sound of snorting and the rustling of canvas just metres from our heads. Wide eyed, I tried not to make a sound. In the morning, TK told us a hippo was in the camp and they had to politely send him on his way.
The great thing was, no matter how many wild animals we or they (often by moonlight without our knowledge) came across, they made us feel absolutely safe.
I thought we’d be lucky to see a single hippo or crocodile. We saw hundreds of hippos in the river; we were constantly steering our canoes around them to avoid disturbing them. We saw many a crocodile too – the largest looked around 4.5 metres long – and beamed in amazement when we came across herds of elephants bathing in the water.
Canoeing was hard work, especially at points in the day when the wind picked up and we’d get carried by the current. We all got very sore thumbs too; the paddles are not kind to your hands! We’d have to use all our combined power in our two- and three-manned canoes to stay within the safe zones of the water, out of harm’s way.
After three days of canoeing a total of 70km down the Lower Zambezi, we travelled by coach to Livingstone for the next part of our adventure, volunteering at a wildlife and environmental conservation and research project.
The project’s aim is to ensure the future of Africa’s wildlife and one program rehabilitates and reintroduces the offspring of captive-born African lions back into the wild. We fed the lions and also helped with data collection – observing the pride to evaluate whether they were functioning as wild-born lions do. We collected data on a variety of social, territorial and hunting behaviours of the pride – it sounds very easy but it was difficult to not get distracted and keep an eye on which lion was your own when they all look so similar!
We also searched for and monitored wild elephants, buffalo and waterbuck to understand their impact on the ecosystem and conflict with rural communities; and accompanied our guides on a snare sweep (we found over 40 between us) to stop poaching of wildlife.
On one of the mornings we also visited a school to meet the local children. We played games with them for a while and delivered a lesson, helping them to learn English and encouraging them to talk to us and their peers. Educating the local community on conservation and managing their environment, as well as teaching basic life skills helps the locals to understand the advantages of living alongside and conserving the local wildlife and habitat.
The whole trip was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and our participants worked hard to raise over £60,000 between them. You can see how funds like these might be used to help cats in our infographic below.
If you’re thinking about signing up to our next big cat challenge and want to read the stories of all those who took part please visit the group fundraising page here.