As the sun slowly sinks toward the horizon in Zambia’s Kafue National Park (KNP), a herd of elephants quietly move across the Kafue River valley, grabbing grass and leaves as they drift toward sheltering Miombo trees. Nearby, a pride of lions stealthily slinks through tall savanna grass, stalking a nervous herd of red lechwe mingling with puku in the distance. On the Busanga Plains, a group of wild dogs run and play, stopping momentarily to prick their ears in the rising wind to listen for sounds of danger.
Boots crunching through the dry grass signal that another person has come, this one shouldering a rifle and peering through binoculars. In the far distance, fuzzy shadows move back and forth through the tree line. A kudu comes into sight as it eases out into a clearing cautiously finding tender grass to eat. With a sigh of relief, the Department of National Parks and Wildlife anti-poaching ranger lowers his binoculars and signals his unit to put down their rifles. This time they are safe and don’t have to worry about confronting a poacher. The rangers calmly breathe a sigh of relief and feel the tension fade.
While Kafue evokes all the thrills that untamed Africa can provide, Zambian resident, Jeff de Graffenried, tangles with the same dangers that wildlife across the continent face – the lethal threat of poachers. This August Jeff will embark on a 160- kilometre trek through the park’s untamed northern wilderness to raise awareness of the increasing threat of poaching and encroachment on Zambia’s largest and oldest national park, as well as raise funds to combat these threats.
KNP, located in west-central Zambia three hours west of Lusaka, is one of the world's great natural treasures. One of Africa's oldest and largest parks, Kafue is home to the unspoiled beauty of rolling hills covered with Miombo woodlands, thick savanna grasslands, extensive marshes, and sinuous evergreen forests along the banks of the Kafue River. Together with the connected game management areas, the park is the size of the country of Belgium. However, the park and those that call it home are in danger. The magnificent animals attract poachers while the sheer size makes protecting them particularly difficult.
The Ministry of Tourism and Arts, estimates between 4,000 to 6,000 poachers are operating in Kafue National Park. Poachers armed with military grade firearms and often supported by international smuggling cartels, pose a threat to wildlife, local inhabitants, tourists and the brave game rangers.
Kafue is globally recognised as a precious natural resource and serves a vital role as one of the member parks in the Kavango–Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area, a SADC effort to protect 519,000 square kilometres of wildlife and natural treasures across five countries. From its conception, Kafue has been a ground for pioneering conservation activities.
In an effort to raise awareness and funding for conservation of the Kafue, Jeff and the expedition team will walk 160 kilomtres through the northern tier of Kafue. Leaving from the Nalusanga Gate in the southeast corner, the team will cross some of the most remote parts of the park, including the iron-laden Mutumbwe Hills, Kafue River floodplain and the crown jewel of the park, the Zambezian flooded grasslands of the Busanga Swamp and plains, to reach their destination near the Kasompa Post in the northwest corner. For ten days, Jeff and the team will negotiate natural and human-made dangers – this includes lions, elephants, hippos, and some of the world’s most deadly snakes, not to mention the armed poachers who will do whatever it takes to protect themselves and their operations – to bring attention to the devastating effects of poaching.
To reduce impact on the environment and improve mobility, the team is intentionally small, with only five people. In addition to Jeff, the team includes: Philip Jeffery of Musekese Conservation, an experienced guide who will lead the navigation through unmarked territory. Phil is intimately familiar with the landscape, flora, fauna, and the local history, having spent most of his life exploring KNP. For protection and expertise on local conditions, two armed Zambia Department of National Parks and Wildlife Park Rangers will join the team. Craig Adkins, a veteran filmmaker and documentary producer, will film the expedition and oversee video production.
All funds raised from the walk will be donated directly to the Musekese Conservation which works with Zambia’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife to control the illegal and unsustainable exploitation of Zambia’s wildlife in and around Kafue. The final product will be a professional film interwoven with insights, testimonials, and honest reflections from local wildlife experts, scientists, historians, governmental officials, safari owners, local community members, and anti-poaching rangers. It will focus on the expedition and will tie in in-depth discussions with experts on the history of the park – how it came to be, who was involved, what happened to the local tribes, cultural history, geology, plants, animals, economic impact and threats and opportunities.
Though not native to Zambia, Jeff’s passion for its natural resources has awakened a realisation and sense of urgency to protect the vulnerable wildlife in the park from poaching and encroachment.