A Welcome Return
After the long wait through the Covid Years it was a welcome return to Zambia with Wildlife Worldwide in 2022, making it a special pleasure to welcome guests from Europe and the USA to my favourite wildlife destination. Many of my Zambia Art Safari clients had never been on safari before. After so long away, it was a real joy to accompany them on their first encounter with Africa’s iconic wildlife.
I was also welcomed back to a refurbished Mfuwe Lodge. New for 2022 is a magnificent glazed and air conditioned library and seminar room, right next to the deck where I host my daily animal sculpture workshops. Over the years, many of the Mfuwe staff have become personal friends. It was great to catch up. I was very pleased to have two of my favourite guides, Suzyo and Steve, looking after our group.
The real magic of a place life Mfuwe is you don’t have to go for a game drive to see the wildlife. Just walking to and from my chalet I would pass warthogs with babies, vervet monkeys, hippo and bushbuck. But it’s elephants for which Mfuwe is justly famous. These most magnificent of African beasts wander at will through the lobby and into the gardens to feast on mango.
During our stay we were treated to a visit by a large family of elephants. One of the adolescent males was about to be ejected from the matriarchal family to join a bachelor group. The rumbling and trumpeting of the adult females voicing their displeasure at the young male’s presence was quite a spectacle. There was also a very young calf nursing while his mother ate her fill of mango. This, of course, provided plenty of artistic inspiration for our animal sculptures.
As always, the Mfuwe staff worked tirelessly to cater for our every need. We were surprised by a special bush brunch midweek, cooked over an open fire out in the wilds of the African bush. Our programme combines early morning and evening game drives and in the afternoon we work on our animal sculptures. It’s a tried and tested formula that enables us to make the very most of the African experience.
A Sight to Behold
Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park, where our Zambia Art Safari is based, hosts some of the world’s best wildlife viewing. Lions were to feature heavily during our stay. Our very first sighting set the stage, with a rare encounter with extremely young five-week old lion cubs. Their mother had only just rejoined the pride, having emerged from hiding with her young and vulnerable offspring.
We would go on to see coalition males in a large pride who had amicably decided who was to breed with the female in oestrus. We observed mating on numerous occasions, while the new mother patiently herded her playful cubs out of harm’s way. This experience gave new meaning to the expression herding cats!
The reality of life and death is never far away in the African bush. We observed this first hand when we encountered two buffalo stuck in the mud. One had already been killed by lions and the other, after six days in the mud, was only barely alive. Whilst these encounters are always moving, they also show how one animal’s passing sustains many others, including lion, hyena, vulteres, Marabou storks other carrion birds.
Our encounters with elephants were not limited to the lodge. On one memorable occasion, we were able to observe a large bachelor group at close quarters. A large bull even walked right up to our vehicle and peered in for a closer look. This kind of close encounter is always very dramatic and provides ample opportunity to observe the behaviour and interactions of the animals first hand.
A leopard sighting is always exciting. We were thrilled to come by a male who had just stolen an impala carcass from a female and was busy consuming his ill gotten gains from the safety of a tree. He then dropped part of the carcass right in front of our vehicle. He slid down the tree to retrieve it, but then thought better of it and strolled off nonchalantly into the bush.
Unexpected rainfall marking the beginning of the rainy season brought frogs and insects out of hibernation. All of a sudden the ground was swarming with little creatures. You had to be careful where you walked. It was remarkable to see the landscape greening up after just a few days. We felt relieved for the poor herbivores who had been suffering such limited browse.
I can never pass up the opportunity to play with a skeleton and neither, it seems, could my guests! It was fascinating to have a close look at a hippo skull; to see its winged jaws which give anchor to the huge cheek muscles; to feel the immense weight of one tooth, let alone the entire skull. To see what’s going on under the skin gives an appreciation of the animal’s structure. This affords an invaluable insight for an animal sculptor.
I just wanted to thank you again for this amazing trip! It topped my expectations by far! You are such a lovely, interesting and energetic person and it really was a huge honor for me to experience this week with you.
Later in the week we drove further afield in search of the elusive wild dog. Although I’ve been lucky on previous trips with good sightings, these aren’t guaranteed in a national park the size of Wales. Sadly, we did not find any wild dog this time. However, we did have an extremely rare sighting of the largest of the antelopes, the Eland. This was closely followed by a dozen Cookson’s wildebeest, another rare sighting and in numbers I’ve never seen before.
Yet another highlight of Mfuwe Lodge is the opportunity to experience night drives, affording us a rare glimpse into Africa’s nocturnal wildlife. Highlights of these drives included numerous genet sightings, an encounter with a honey badger and a chance to handle a chameleon expertly spotted by our guide.
On our last game drive we were enthralled by a large pride of lions with cubs playing by a water hole. We watched them stalk, pounce and play for twenty minutes or longer. It was the perfect end to our 2022 Zambia Art Safari.
Bringing our Sculptures to Life
After the first game drive I delivered my main presentation and demonstration on animal sculpture in Mfuwe Lodge’s new seminar room. We continued to work on our sculptures throughout the course of the workshop. I’m always on hand to answer questions, explain animal anatomy, and provide a mix of hands on instruction and demonstration.
For our Zambia Art Safaris, I have special air-drying clay shipped out to the Lodge for everyone to use. This product is perfect for hand-building and allows the sculptor the option of either firing the work in the kiln or letting it dry rock hard.
As you can see, my group worked very hard on their sculptures. The progress that can be made over an extended period immersed in our art can be a revelation. And the opportunity to model the animals we observe in the wild provides a unique insight into their character and behaviour.
At the end of each afternoon’s sculpting, we were rewarded by afternoon tea, followed by an evening game drive and, of course, a sundowner. There really is nothing quite like watching the sun set over the astonishing spectacle of the African great plains.
When our Zambia Art Safari finally drew to a close, I sealed each damp animal sculpture in a bag and carefully packed them in bubblewrap for each guest to take home, along with spare clay to deal with any final tweaks.
A Fond Farewell
We had the opportunity to visit a couple of craft centres on our way back to the airport. We were able to observe the traditional Batik process at Tribal Textiles and discover how snare wire has been turned into jewellery at Mulberry Mongoose. Project Luangwa gave us an insight into how the craft shop was giving local girls new opportunities for education.
By this stage, I was sad to bid farewell to our guests, but they have kept in touch via their own WhatsApp group. They’ve shared numerous photos and experiences and I’m sure some of us will meet again on a future trip.
Nick, your packing of the sculpture was amazing. My bag was squashed, but my elephant was undamaged! Thanks for a wonderful experience in Africa.
My next Zambia Art Safari will be running in November 2024 when I’ll be running two workshops back to back. Places are sure to fill up quickly, so book soon if you don’t want to miss out on the trip of a lifetime.