A marked man

by Luke, in Zambia
22nd September, 2009
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Noah and I spent a fantastic Tuesday afternoon together last week. Unfortunately, during the only period in the last month when I had sole responsibility of my son, he fell off the swing in the park not once, but twice. Like a Spartan warrior, he was pretty unfazed by the whole incident – and was demanding to be airlifted back onto the swing in a flash, giggling and shrieking with laughter; defeat was not an option. The problem was not in the falling off, nor in what turned out to be the epic duration of time we spent on our afternoon walk (he was late for tea) but the fact that the mud I had thought was encrusted around his face actually turned out to be blood.

Suffice to say it hasn’t passed unnoticed in the local village. The graze is absolutely huge and upon seeing it, everyone immediatley assumes it must have been my fault (an assumption that has cut me to the quick – albeit a correct one). I should basically be walking around in a flea ridden straw coat as penance carrying a large sign of apology as far as the local housewives are concerned. And the raised eyebrows that greet me at every turn in our tiny village, have scarred me emotionally.

So it is with my tail between my legs, that I’m back on the plane, happy in the knowledge that Noah will be fully healed by my return and am now counting down the days when we can re-attack the swing and prove to all and sundry that as a team, we can nail it without incident, responsibily. I will keep you posted.

I’m currently sitting elbow to elbow with Dawn from Marlow, squashed up in the hold as we power our way over the Sahara in a 767. I’ve been reassured that Zambia is a wonderful country. Dawn goes over twice a year for five weeks at a time and leaves her beautiful pub, The Queens Head (which has featured on Midsommer Murders and Inspector Morse) in the hands of her husband to escape to the bush. The thought of tearing yourself away from an endless supply of fine vintage ales surely proves visiting Zambia must be worth the trip. Zambia is the world’s fourth poorest country (ref Bruce/Wikkipaedia), so it has a bit of a struggle going on – but word is that the people are wonderfully friendly and I’m excited.

I’ll be working with a charity called Lusaka Animal Welfare (LAWS) and as normal, have little idea what to expect. I would imagine lots of dogs, cats, a poor African Township and some inspirational people battling against the odds. Fingers crossed.

Marc has put his German feet up for this one and Nick is taking the helm with Adam returning to crack the whip. Bruce, as normal, is sleeping at the back of the plane. It just wouldn’t be the same without him.

Aerials over Kafue National Park

by Adam the Cameraman, in Zambia
1st October, 2009
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posing_with_chopper

Wow!!

Spent the day in a helicopter filming aerials over the park with a Cineflex. Incredible. It was like watching a 3D of Planet earth!

We had just under two hours of flying time to get everything that we needed to film. Everything had to be planned with the Pilot, with Dave the Cineflex operator, Luke, the elephant orphanage, the park rangers etc.

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We started by filming Luke and James from the elephant orphanage, driving around, stopping and looking at wildlife, then we turned off and filmed some wilder beasts and zebras, which were running around like headless chickens, one way this and one way that. Despite being quite high up, the noise of the chopper was disturbing the animals. We couldn’t go any higher as the helicopter was to heavy and the winds were too strong.

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We spotted a herd of elephants alongside the road to the airstrip; there were about a hundred or so. It was incredible. To think the amount of times we had driven along that road knowing there were elephants there, yet  we couldn’t spot them for the dense burnt trees.

Once we had elephants in the can, we veered north towards the lake. The idea was to head towards where we had filmed the dead buffaloes, but fuel was going fast and we didn’t want to miss out filming Luke at the elephant orphanage.  So we circled around and got some shots of some hippos ducking into the water, some impala’s and buffalo and headed back south to the elephant orphanage.

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When you’re up in the air over the park you begin realize its size. It stretches for miles in to the horizon. absolutely stunning. What a privilege to have been able to do and see that!

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Tibetan Terriers

by Luke, in Zambia
23rd September, 2009
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Today was brilliant. We rescued about nine cats from a poor compound in downtown Lusaka, I chased a young lad down the street who was illegally selling a puppy that looked half dead – an undercover policeman pulled a gun on him, all very exciting, but the puppy is fine and if the lad turns up to help me on Friday at the mobile clinic, he’ll get a job at the dog shelter rather than street trade in animals. Fingers crossed. I spayed a cat with the indomitable Sue who runs the shelter, the cat work up a bit early which was a bit hairy, but is fine and the op went well otherwise. There was a rehoming with Claudia, and I love the shelter here. They are the only charity in the whole capital and are doing great work. Sue is tough and funny – although she compared my hair to that of a Tibetan Terrier which Bruce predictably found very amusing.
 
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Nick officially owes me a million. Big welcome dinner last night, paid for by us, resulted in me being the only one with money (incredibly rare and something I strive to avoid) and it cost over a million Zambian Kwacha. Whilst I liked having a million, I actually prefer being owed it because it means I can incessantly remind Nick he owes me a mil. It is going down well. As the new producer, and very weird not having Marc here, it is great fun getting Nick into the swing of things. Bruce is constantly buffering my attempts at explaining to Nick what Marc would do in any given situation, but if Bruce isn’t around, I have a clear run and whilst Nick is a thoroughly great guy, there is huge value in helping him out a bit. Adam is deep in the zone and keeping us all on track – great to have him back driving the bus and good feelings about this trip all round.

Pussy, Pussy, Pussy!

by Nathan the Assistant Producer, in Zambia
23rd September, 2009
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What a great day. I think this is the best feeling you can have after a day’s filming: captured everything we wanted, having fun, and looking forward to doing it tomorrow. Great feeling.

This time around we’re at the Lusaka Animal Welfare Society (LAWS) and they are absolutely amazing people. They are all really friendly and more importantly extremely comfortable in front of camera, which makes all our lives so much easier.

We had an absolutely fabulous day full of great stories: boy being chased by Luke for illegally selling puppies by the roadside, getting a gun shoved in his face and somehow ending up being asked to work for LAWS, a drunken old man shouting out “pussy” loudly to attract his cats and Luke getting named after a scraggy, bloated, lumpy mongrel because he looks like him. And people get on my back for comparing him to Timmy Mallet… Hilarious (actually Luke did have some funny moments today – a revelation).
 
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Oh also I’m back to being called Bruce as I’m back in Africa.

Tongue of fire

by Luke, in Zambia
24th September, 2009
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We visited a desperate farming community today on the outskirts of Lusaka. To say it was grim would be an understatement – rubbish covered half the enclosures and whilst the calves, goats and pigs didn’t actually look too bad, the husbandry was a big issue. It was great to give all the animals some water – and they went mad for it – but what was really worthwhile was that all the children came over and started to clear up all the rubbish. Even the duck pong got some water put in it! Sue and her team are going to keep an eye on things and ensure that the farm does pick up and the changes we made get improved on, otherwise the animals will only get looked after for a few days!

Checked a couple of Sue’s animals over for her and then we did a few shots of driving through town. Tried to get parrots off a street trader but didn’t manage it, got a bit ugly – he threatened Nick with some African Magic and a blade so not such a positive result as yesterday. Everyone in good spirits but bizarrely I’ve had an outbreak of ulcers over my tongue and during the course of the day about ten have sprung up. It means I’m speaking with a very special sort of lisp which is a bit of concern for the camera pieces! Fingers crossed it settles down by tomorrow as it’s a bit sore but I think it must be an allergic reaction to something (can’t imagine what but I feel fine in myself) so should hopefully clear up fairly soon.
 
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Richards Big Day!

by Luke, in Zambia
25th September, 2009
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Richard turned up. Not only did the street lad we chased down the road and rescued a puppy off him that he was illegally selling arrive for his first big day of rehabilitation – but he was actually brilliant. Really good with the dogs (no massive surprise there I suppose) but he was an amazing help to me and it was hard graft. We treated about 300 dogs and Richard helped me with all of them. He was injecting by the end of the day with easy confidence and was good company. He proved himself and Sue has given him a job!! Brilliant!!

LAWS did amazingly today as well – the huge effort they had gone to in co-ordinating and organising their first field clinic day was really incredible. Michelle and Claudia to name but two of the LAWS committee working totally voluntarily to get today in the bag and of course Sue – driving the bus and getting everyone sorted out and motivated. Really impressive team. We must have done about 600 dogs as a group today and I was simply staggered by the receptiveness of the community we were working with (in a football stadium in downtown Lusaka).
 
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The dogs themselves were in not too bad condition – a few were in trouble and we treated accordingly. One we simply had to confiscate – the kid had tied wire around the base of its tail as a slow method of improvised docking – poor thing. I think the tail can be saved but I’ll keep an eye on it over the next few days and see how it does.
 
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Everyone in the crew is on a high – although totally shattered. The day had a real buzz about it and we all feel we achieved something. Once the cameras had done their thing, Adam, Bruce and Nick all got stuck into helping with the animals – really great crew. It was like having a full on WVS team by the end of the day – I reckon at the end of the series they’ll all be able to spay and stitch up without batting an eyelid!

Bruce hits downtown

by Luke, in Zambia
26th September, 2009
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Big day – started off arresting some street traders illegally selling puppies. One of the pups was quite sick from the heat and dehydration but soon perked up when back at the shelter. We had police support which made it easy and the agro was minimal.

We then headed back to the football stadium to help with the big rabies campaign – over 770 dogs were vaccinated by the time we left – I would love to take credit for being a contributing force but it would be a lie. Five vet students from the University of Zambia, led by their Professor, were manning the vaccinating stations and were absolute troopers. I set up to deal with the sick animals and amongst many that needed help, had one small sweet puppy collapsed with tick fever, followed by one with a ripped eye both of which we took back to the shelter. I removed the puppy’s torn eye before we set off to downtown Lusaka by the bus station to film so GVs. A notoriously dangerous part of town, everyone was very friendly- particularly the numerous ladies that lined the side of the road. – Bruce caused quite a stir!

We’ve also changed hotel tonight – Nick has the short straw as he is sharing with me – I’ve told him to beware the sleep walking and talking – we shall see!!

Losing a million

by Luke, in Zambia
27th September, 2009
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Nick survived the night. No dramas and despite the bed being a foot short, it was very comfortable and I woke up in the zone. Just as well as it was an action packed day. Off to Munda Wanga – a place that used to be a zoo but was taken over by a local crocodile farmer who wanted to set it up as a charity with strong conservation and education programmes. I have to admit being a little skeptical at first, crocodile farming is a far cry from charity and conservation work, but the efforts being made there by the team, particularly Fred – a Dutch ex pat who is running the centre – are impressive. They are very short of money and equipment but are nevertheless working hard on rehabilitation and release programmes – they have released over 300 rescued primates back into the wild. They are also committed to stem the illegal trade in exotic and wild animals and what LAWS do for the puppies and kittens, they are doing for the birds and monkeys.
 
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There is a lot they need at the centre in terns of equipment, advice and support as many of the enclosures are a bit run down, but I sensed this was simply due to lack of funds rather than any apathy on behalf of the management team and it will be good to help them.
 
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I was put to work straight away to remove a rotten tooth from a female baboon. She had been rescued from a man who kept her as a pet and fed her beer and made her smoke cigarettes. There is hope she may get back to the wild but it won’t be easy for her after all that time in captivity. The anaesthetic went well and the tooth came out without too much of a struggle so it was a good start and she’ll feel a lot better. I’ll get my knuckles rapped for not wearing gloves but unfortunately it wasn’t an option and so I just had to get on with it.

We then had to move an eagle owl to a bigger enclosure to rehabilitate it before being released. That was a bit interesting as the centre didn’t have any spare gauntlets so although it was only about 9 months old, I was little nervous as they are carnivorous birds with wickedly sharp beaks and my fingers were definitely potential snacks as I carried it around the centre to where it needed to go, but thankfully no issues and the bird was happily released.

Other big news is that I have now lost a million. Nick repaid me, I then promptly donated the roll of notes to the Zambian community somewhere during the day. Not quite as much fun saying you’ve lost a million. But I making sure everyone knows.

Chris de Burgh

by Luke, in Zambia
28th September, 2009
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Turns out our Zambian driver Geoff is a mad fan of Chris de Burgh. This is where Bruce and I split our musical tastes. For some reason Bruce isn’t a fan of the classic ballad. Thankfully I know a lot of the words, so am working on getting Bruce into the zone. The guys are loving this of course.

Nick has found today very stressful, we had some issues getting some permits signed so it meant he had to trawl into the centre of Lusaka and race around after the Director General of the Zambian Wildlife Authority who had gone shopping. Whilst the rest of us shamefully found this mildly amusing, hats off to Nick for sticking with it and tracking his man down – we now have all the permits and letters we could possibly need to delve deep into the depths of the National Park tomorrow.

Aside from the above dramas, there was some TT testing of some vervets and baboons, I castrated a vervet monkey, fed some lions and sexed some feral Serval kittens with Fred which was all pretty exciting. Adam seems happy with the shoot so far which is a winner, and great news that Cherry (the puppy whose eye I removed the other day) is doing really well and is very bright and active.
 
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I would hate to bang on about it, but I may have mentioned I lost a million kwacha yesterday. Just in case anyone had forgotten.

Early start tomorrow so we are stripping down our luggage and getting ready for a bit of light aircraft action to Kafue National Park. Fingers crossed… no e-mail or phone access for a few days apparently so wonder in about a week if I don’t update the blog.

R Kelly

by Luke, in Zambia
29th September, 2009
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I had a moment of crises today. It wasn’t so much the fact that the plane bounced in turbulence to the extent everyone banged their heads on the ceiling of the aircraft, nor the fact that the pilot said it was the worst he had ever experienced; it was more the fact he told me if we had been in a smaller aircraft it would have flipped us and we would have undoubtedly crashed. Whilst the pilot radioed through to warn all the other light aircraft in the region, I gripped the wing seat with white knuckles and wondered if there was any other way we could get home on Friday. Apparently not. Fantastic.

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Kafue National Park is twice the size of Belgium. It is staffed by 250 rangers who work for ZAWA (Zambia Wildlife Authority). The money to fund the park comes from hunting quotas so it is one of those ironic situations whereby the hunters are conserving one of the last true bastions of African wildlife. Zambia is famed for its game and although we’ve only been here this afternoon we’ve already seen lots of fish eagles, hippos, crocs and some elephant.

aerial-park

Our first call was to help ZAWA investigate the sudden death of 35 buffalo found floating in the river. Not an easy mission but intriguing. It promises to be an amazing few days. Ever dutiful, Nick got a bit upset because we all refused to wear life jackets on the boat (health and safety strikes again) – but after the plane ride I think he’s going to have his work cut out on that aspect from now on. In fact, even he gave up on it on the journey back from the dead buffalo so I think we’re finally wearing the poor guy down. At least Bruce’s rendition of ‘I Believe I can Fly’ cheered him up again – more so when it was modified to ‘I Believe I can Swim’. Adam has it all on tape so maybe it will make the cut…

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