Three weeks ago I was privileged to stay in one of our favourite Nomadic Thoughts African safari haunts – Shumba Camp. It is a paradise in the wilderness that is as remote and cut off as you can imagine. And frankly it takes some managing.
Sitting in the heart of the vast, unspoilt floodplain grasslands that is Kafue (Africa’s second largest National Park covering 22,400 km² and accounting for 33% of Zambia’s national park & wilderness area), the Camp is an oasis of remote luxury, with only six tents, no wi-fi and a horizon-stretching view to match anywhere on the planet.
So how an earth do they manage to provide fabulous luxury, backed up by such a professional, knowledgeable and friendly service?
The nearest town, hospital and surfaced road is at Kasempa, a five hour drive away to the northwest. The western boundary settlement of Kaoma is a four hour drive. Lusaka, the capital, is a 7 – 8 hours drive, or 1½ hour flight in a Cessna 210.
The terrain is dominated by vast floods during the rainy season, which means the Camp is only open from the beginning of June to the end of October. This year, approximately 1,000 guests were looked after by 24 staff members, who switch shifts to work six weeks on and two weeks off.
During the ‘Green Season’ (Nov-May) only four staff members remain at the camp, simply to ensure the Camp does not fully return to nature. The four chefs go part-time, embarking on additional training as well as work at other safari camps. Ten of the staff are laid off until the new season and the six senior and junior managers continue to learn their craft at other affiliated camps and lodges.
The good news is that during the season, staff development still appears to have a strong focus. Although they are effectively cut off from the outside world there is an emphasis on ongoing staff training through job rotation and hospitality learning videos.
Fresh food (dairy/meats/vegetables) arrive once a week, on a Thursday. Dry supplies once a month. All from Lusaka. Deliveries are shared out between five other nearby camps – Busanga Bush Camp, Musanza Tented Camp; Lufupa Tented & River Camps; Kapinga Camp (where next season’s Conservation Project HQ is scheduled to be based).
Considering the inaccessibility of Shumba’s location, the stock-keeping must be tight. With, for example, a monthly consumption of over 500 hundred 300 x 500ml water bottles (soon to be replaced by reverse osmosis water machines); 7.5 litres of shampoo/shower gel/conditioner; 24 cans of insect repellent; 100 toilet rolls; 10 bottles of gin; 5 vodka; 120 Mosi beers bottles. Alongside a carefully selected supply of fresh ingredients to satisfy the chefs’ high standards of international cuisine.
Getting out and about isn’t easy either. Each month 1,200 litres of diesel are required and are delivered separately by a bowser from the holding hub at Lufupa camp (which is in turn supplied from Lusaka every two months).
Water regulation is tightly managed, as the camp’s 50m deep water bore hole dried up and had to be re-drilled this season. Treated as liquid gold, with an eco-septic tank lined by internal enzymes, grey water is re-distributed across the Camp’s lawn areas. The small swimming pool is now supplied by filtered water from the local river, as a softer and quicker option to previous camp-managed water-treatments.
Then there are the regulatory licences. Which, in addition to the necessary 15 years Government Concession Licence granting permission to run the Camp, include fire, liquor, business & trade and health & safety certificates.
All this before we even think of the considerable difficulties in protecting, as well as blending in with the local Busanga Plains environment. It’s an eco-system that supports, among so many other animals, several prides of lions. Which ‘Shumba’ (‘lion’) takes its name from.
I loved very minute of my three day stay.
When speaking to the staff their sense of ownership, not only of the camp, but also of the surrounding wilderness is infectious.
With the very existence of their ‘backyard’ linked to the long-term sustainability of its fragile eco-system, Mutale Yumbe (Training Manager) said that if there was one thing he could change, it would be ‘harsher punishment for poachers … a 6 month to 2 year sentence, that is invariably cut to far less, is not enough for a poacher. If they are caught with poaching equipment, or a dead animal, they should get a minimum of 5 years’.
Musing further he wondered whether Zambia should mirror Botswana’s policy of ‘shoot to kill, if found in any national park with poaching equipment’.
The balancing act of the local flora & fauna versus human encroachment is a point often lost on visiting tourists. Who, while being guaranteed a life-changing look into this most wonderful of African wildlife areas, often neglect their own responsibilities as visitors.
Alas, client management, as anyone in the trade will tell you, is as an ever-absorbing challenge.
Shumba’s staff feel it their duty to engage in the provision of guest education. Which, although dominated by many, many happy memories, leads to a heavy sigh from Camp Manager Evidence Musabi, when he explains how a recent guest demanded to be taken hunting, even though it is illegal in this region. In addition, he once had to explain to a group of visitors (who insisted that the lions looked lazy and should be woken up to perform more ferociously, with the camp providing meat for them to fight over), that they were purely there to observe, not interact with the wildlife.
The good news is that all the clients left happy, once the local situation had been explained.
So, even though it’s a tough shout offering paradise, I wholeheartedly recommend Shumba Camp as one of my favourite flagship examples of how best to fall head-over-heels in love with Africa.
Behind the scenes at Shumba Camp, Kafue, Zambia: