Blue Lagoon National Park lies to the west of Lusaka after a two-hour drive over reasonably good roads. It has been a favourite jaunt in the past and I have, occasionally, had the pleasure of leading day-trips there. On this occasion, my clients were a group of eleven Croatian science students.
Blue Lagoon covers a small part of the Kafue Flats floodplain system, which flanks the river below Itezhi-Tezhi Dam. This ecosystem has its own unique antelope species – the Kafue Lechwe – and a vast population of waterbirds which shifts, waxes and wanes with the seasonal flux in water levels. At least that’s the historical pattern: the Dam upstream has completely disrupted the flooding regime and in Blue Lagoon, the waterbird populations have been doing more waning than anything else. So have the Lechwe.
Being students of the Life Sciences, the Croatians showed a lively interest in this environmental problem, and I walk them through the scrub zone which has developed over extensive areas of what used to be floodplain with rich, nutritious grasses. I had more in mind than a bland case study, however, being as I am in the holiday business. I had a keen eye out for exciting company as this zone, with myriad antbear holes and old hyena dens, is the haunt of numerous, often very large, pythons. In due course a four-meter individual glided into our path.
I immediately stalked ahead, with the aim of capturing it for a spot of “show and tell”. I had covered most of the distance when I discovered I was not alone. A girl from the group had followed me, and showed every intention of pouncing on the snake herself. This would not do for several reasons, not least of which was the threat of my thunder being stolen, or at best shared. She had to be dragged back to the group and restrained by a combination of stern warnings and promises of ‘priority access’ once the reptile was safely under control.
The girl’s name was Ana. She was an obsessive reptile-lover who fully capitalised on her ‘priority access’. We spent a great deal longer on the walk than previously planned, mainly because she could not be persuaded to let the python go! She was similarly captivated by the huge monitor lizards which inhabit the area, and fortunately the rest of the group was happy to go at her pace. When we stopped at a picnic spot for lunch, Ana disappeared for a few minutes, and came back to report that she had hunted down another snake. It turned out to be, from her very detailed description, a Mopane Bark Snake.
Of course it was not long before I had to wind up the whole expedition and get everyone back on the road. It was only later that I discovered what the trip had meant to Ana, when I next went through my ‘Comments’ book. Ana’s comment was succinct and to the point:
“This was the best day of my life”, was all she wrote.