My thatched camp in the Game Management Area of Nyampala was nestled in a park-like setting with a wide view over Zambia’s Luangwa River and beyond. Luangwa Valley, up to 80 miles wide, hosts one of the world’s highest concentrations of hippo. Seldom was I out of sight of hippo, puku, impala, elephant, kudu and the odd plodding rhino.
My late friend, Andre de Kok, and I were employed by Zambia Safaris as professional hunters. We’d haggled over the price of my .458 Winchester; Andre fired a few rounds into a blaze-mark on a tree and, satisfied, a large sum of money changed hands.
Later, in the low-walled dining room, we heard shouting coming from the direction of the staff quarters. “Mfubu! Mfubu!” (“Hippo!”) they yelled in Bemba. Our cook and the waiters, rushed into the dining room, snatched up our rifles and thrust them at us.
The hippo were fighting over territorial rights, the younger bull chasing an older one. They charged between our Land Cruisers and into camp. As they loomed towards us, I cranked the bolt of my .375 Holland & Holland, as did Andre his .458. We shouted and waved, and he fired over their heads. The bulls swerved behind my clients’ huts, then chased each other down the bank and over the sand. With a mighty roar, they pushed through the shallows into deep water and submerged.
All was silent as they walked along the river bed, then they re-surfaced, snorted and honked loudly. My tracker, Labkin, appeared from behind a tree that had washed down during a flood. He paused, peering nervously towards camp. Then, weighed down with buckets of water, he hurried up the bank to stop in front of us. Shaking his head fearfully, he said, “Mfubu too much dangerous!”
Our clients were due in the next day, and while waiting, we took in the birdlife. Carmine bee-eaters swooped through the sky, and pied kingfishers hovered above the water. That night, the mopane logs on the camp fire created a wonderful aroma; a lion roared across the river in Luambe National Park while we talked in low tones and sipped our beers; the river was deathly quiet when we retired for the night.
We were jolted awake before dawn when the hippo noisily returned to the river after a night’s grazing on land. They waded from the shallows into deep water, with mating calls − best described as an on-going moaning, tuba-like sound. The silences in between ‘creaked’ with a zillion crickets, and we drifted back to sleep.
Early the next morning, I dressed in my smart hunting outfit and walked to the dining room, on my way noting fresh hippo spoor in the dust. Then I saw the dining table − it was sprayed with dung! I called Andre and we laughed at the mess. My vegetable garden had also been raided; all the lettuce, cabbages and tomatoes had been eaten.
Read the full article in the August 2017 issue of Magnum.