Vusa Sibanda’s journey to becoming a guide began in the Matetsi region of Zimbabwe, where he worked as a tracker for eight years. Roaming along animal superhighways, Vusa would use misplaced twigs, imprints in the sand and naked tree branches to draw a map in his mind, illustrating wildlife movements that would be indecipherable to the untrained eye. Recognizing his talent, recruiters for the FGASA program offered Vusa the opportunity to spend two months in South Africa to complete his guide-training course. Five years later, Vusa is a highly respected and valued guide at Old Drift Lodge. While his days as a tracker have drawn to a close, Vusa’s boundless knowledge of the bush and his acute attention to detail is reflected in his exquisite wildlife photography.
Vusa’s Instagram page resembles an archive of experiences and safari moments frozen in time through the lens of his Canon Camera. Scrolling through the images will take you on a sentimental journey back into some of the most wild and untouched places on earth. “One thing I have learned being in the bush, is that every animal, tree and stretch of landscape has its own character”, muses Vusa. “I am in the wilderness everyday and have been since I was young, but I am always excited to go on the river and on a game drive because I know that the wilderness will show me something I have never seen before”. While many people will scour the National Park looking for big game, Vusa believes that the subject of the photograph is not necessarily what determines a great shot. It is the moment that they spring into action, be this a bird in flight, a lion yawning, or a buck prancing through the trees. Outside his lens you might see a bird nesting or hippo wallowing, but the gentle click of his camera is reserved for the fleeting moment that they take off, or tear open the surface of the Zambezi River, leaving him with a hard copy of that powerful moment.
Vusa’s camera has been an ever-present companion on his ventures into the wilderness and his passion has become a vessel through which he shares his expertise with guests at Old Drift Lodge. In an increasingly digital world, memories of the present are scrolled instantly into the past. However, Vusa’s images will compel you to look closely, look twice and look slowly. Through the glass screen of your phone or desktop, you can peer into his wild world and understand what it looks like in a given moment.
One of the first things to strike you as you arrive at Imbabala Zambezi Safari Lodge is the warmth and friendliness of its guides. One of these guides is Richard Nsinganu.
Richard was born in Harare and from a young age, he developed a love of the bush. His natural tendency towards looking after and entertaining people led him into the tourism industry. His first taste of tourism was when he worked for Imire Game Lodge in the north-east of Zimbabwe as a driver. He recalls that as a driver he watched the guides there taking people for drives and interacting with tourists and he decided that this would be his chosen career. He made the move from Harare to Victoria Falls, the capital of tourism, and he has lived here for 18 years. He has worked as a guide at Imbabala for 5 years. He has had several prestigious mentors in the industry, including Roger Parry from the Victoria Falls Wildlife Trust. Through their teachings and a natural dedication of his own, Richard gained his Learners Guides license. He has continued to amass a wealth of knowledge about all aspects of the bush.
Richard has a deep love of the bush, everything to do with wildlife and is a natural host. A game drive is certainly not just a game drive when you go out with Richard! Nothing is too small or insignificant for him to stop and talk about. He can hold guests spellbound for 15 minutes talking about a termite mound or have you all in stitches while describing a busy squirrel’s thought process. Whether on a cruise or a game drive, Richards’s constant flow of information and innate sense of humor keeps guests enthralled and allows them to take home pieces of information and memories of Africa that will stay with them for life.
Richard is married and is the proud father of 3 delightful daughters. We hope that one day at least one of them will follow in their father’s footsteps and contribute as significantly as Richard has to the tourism industry. Written by Libby White
The muggy afternoon heat was beginning to dissipate as Mike, our incredibly knowledgeable and charming guide, arrived to collect us from The Stanley and Livingstone. Almost immediately we saw a herd of zebra. This fairly common sighting suddenly became an interesting study in how zebra stripes act as a private air conditioning system, allowing them to stay blissfully cool in the heat of a Zimbabwean afternoon. Equally fascinating, although less romantic, we learnt that within the first few days of being born, baby zebras eat their mother’s dung. This provides them with roughage and ample bacteria to fight off infection during their vulnerable first days.
Suddenly we were startled by a warthog whose impressive size and demeanor was somewhat diminished by the very obvious lack of his tail. Mike explained to us that it is common to see warthogs with no tails on the 6000-acre reserve, as there is fierce competition between warthogs and hyenas for the limited number of burrows. About 70% of the warthogs have lost their tails from reversing into a burrow and finding it occupied by sharp fanged rivals!
Alerted by the smell, we were thrilled to see a pile of rhino faeces on the road. Mike explained to us how rhino have a unique system of detecting the presence of other rhino in the area. Male rhino ensure that after defecating they leave traces of urine and faeces on their back legs. These ‘calling cards’ drop off as he walks, clearly demarcating his area for other would-be trespassers! Female rhino dung can indicate an increase in oestrogen for potential suitors in the area.
Much like we humans will sniff a glass of wine trying to discern different scents and notes, so a rhino employs a similar, albeit rudimentary method to glean information. So the next time you raise a glass of wine to your nose and inhale deeply, think of the rhinos, one of which could be doing exactly the same thing at the same time. Cheers to you both!
Our glorious afternoon was complete when suddenly we came across not one, but five Black Rhino! Unperturbed by our presence and obvious excitement, these magnificent creatures strolled leisurely up to our vehicle, sniffing (of course) the air inquisitively and coolly regarding their star struck visitors. We realized how supremely privileged we were to see these 5 rhino (the herd comprises 7 in total) when Mike pointed out that the total black rhino population in the world stands now at a mere 1500. Depressing news indeed! For this reason the rhino on the reserve are regularly de-horned to deter poachers.
After the privilege of watching these incredible creatures, we made our way to the dam. Progress was delayed firstly by a herd of elephants waiting patiently for the babies to stop gambolling on the road and then by an enormous herd of buffalo whose progress indicated that they too were feeling the lethargy and peacefulness of the early evening. After a glorious sunset, accompanied by perfectly made gin and tonics, delicious nibbles and a myriad of bird activity, we reluctantly left this stunning display of nature to make our way home, all of us enriched by an incredible afternoon in the capable hands of Mike.
- Wear neutral coloured clothing, a hat and sunglasses.
- Take cameras and binoculars- there’s plenty to see!
Of all the things that make up a great safari the most important factor to a guests enjoyment and understanding is their guide. He or she is the person who ensures that guests experience the destination and all it has to offer to the fullest. Stan is one of our small but dedicated team of guides at Imababala and does a great job at ensuring his guests have an amazing time. A gentle giant with a deep voice and an infectious smile Stan is passionate about what he does. One guest recently said in a review
…Our guide Stan was fantastic. He can double as a voice over for James Earl Jones! He is knowledgeable about all of the game and birds. You also get the opportunity to do your game drives on the river with a pontoon boat, which makes the viewing even better when the wildlife is at the rivers edge or when the elephants are crossing the river. We saw many elephants and hippos and the bird population was amazing. Stan even spotted a leopard and honey badger on a night drive!
Stanislous Chizipi was born in Rusape, a small charming town in the eastern district of Zimbabwe. One would be forgiven for stating that Stan was born for the job he is doing. Born in a family of 8 in typical rural Zimbabwe, young Stan was a cattle herder from a very young age. Initially he followed his older brothers, cousins and neighbours until he was old enough to be trusted with the family herd by himself. It was during these formative years that he developed his skills in spotting birds and small animals since his home area does not have big game. His love for nature and all its glories was nurtured and allowed to grow in this environment.
All young boys in the rural areas desire to make it to the big city, seek employment and build a life. Stan was no exception and the completion of his O’Level studies in 1987 saw him move to the city of Mutare, Zimbabwe’s third largest city nestled in the beautiful Eastern Highlands. As fate would have it, he met a Mr Dixon, who was a member of the Eastern District Bird Club. It was this gentleman who introduced him to a world of birding and wildlife spotting, giving names and some fascinating background to some of the birds Stan had seen in his younger days. His childhood interest in animals and the wild grew until he saw an article in a local department store’s magazine that featured a guide who was working in the Matopos National Park.
This article led him to explore ways in which he could become a professional guide. He got in touch with the Zimbabwe Professional Guides Association who provided the tutorials necessary for him to obtain his Learner’s Guide Licence in 1998. Job openings in his field of passion where however not readily available and it was only until 2003, that he got his first stint at a guiding job. He has never looked back.
Stan has a wealth of stories to tell of his guiding expeditions and the vast experience he has gained over the years. He describes his favourite guiding experience as one night drive back in 2011 when he and his team came across a lion with a young buffalo kill. They watched him settle down to tackle the feed for about 10 minutes before 3 hyenas appeared on the scene. The scavengers tried to scare the lion off but he stood his ground prompting the hyenas to engage in their signature call for reinforcements. Within 5 minutes, 5 more hyenas joined the invading group and the pack mobbed the lion until he scurried off leaving his barely eaten meal.
Comedy does not reside on the small screen and theatres alone; the wild also offers its fair share of lighter moments! With a huge grin on his face, Stan speaks of the time he witnessed a slender mangoose confidently having a go at a two metre python which then strangled him and the hunter became the hunted. He says.
Do not start a battle you can’t finish.
It has been said that if you do what you love, you will never work a day in your life. Stan is one person who thoroughly enjoys what he wakes up to do on a daily basis. “I enjoy watching birds and taking guests on drives and cruises, it gives me immense pleasure to be able to share my love for nature and what it has to offer with people who are experiencing it for the first time. ‘I thrive in that environment’.
Of all the animals he has got to learn about and interact with, the firm favourite is the elephant. “This is because my first guiding experience in Victoria Falls was with the Wild Horizon’s Elephant Back Safari operation where I got so attached to this majestic land giant and learnt a lot about its gentle nature and behaviour”. To this day, any opportunity to work with elephants or interact with them in the wild brings about treasured memories of his early days of guiding.
Stan is passionate about young people and the next generation. His advice to young people looking to begin a career in guiding would be for them to be well-disciplined and willing to learn as this is a dynamic field where one has to constantly keep abreast with the ever-changing environment. He asserts that this is a rewarding career for those with a passion for it and have a good and thorough knowledge of their subject matter.
For the traveller, Stan has valuable tips on how to make the most of their trip. He reckons its best to take in the whole ecosystem to get the best possible bush experience. The flora and fauna is all interconnected and surprisingly highly dependent on each other hence the need for one to learn and understand how each animal is connected to the other and its usefulness in the wild. He sagely says
People miss a lot in their rush to see the next big animal.
Should you make it for a trip to our beautiful Victoria Falls and its environs, be sure to heed this experienced guide’s advice. Take your time and explore all that this magnificent land has to offer.
Article by Tendai Chiwaka
Images and Editing by Sarah Kerr
MEET OUR PEOPLE: ‘KHULE’
Mkhulekelwa Ndlovu or ‘Khule’ for short was born 44yrs ago in a small village in Matabeleland. As the last born of a family of 9 Khule was designated the sole cattle minder. He first went to school at the age of 10 due to the demands of home chores his duties herding cattle. Yet this uncomplaining man sees the silver lining in every situation and says:
This gave me an opportunity to learn a lot about the bush and survival skills before my academic education.
He completed his primary and secondary education in the same village where he grew up and after that began working for a private vet, who used to take him to game farms. Here he met some game rangers and safari guides who inspired him to go into guiding. When speaking about his decision to become a guide Khule’s passion for nature really shines.
I realised from my childhood there was something in me about learning and sharing with boys of my age on tracking and other bush life activities. It was like nature wears the colour of my spirit, as such becoming a guide was the only platform that could make me share the piece of heaven on earth with others.
Khule leads a walking safari
Khule has been guiding since he first got his learner’s licence in 1996. He says he was privileged to be under the tutorship of a renowned Professional Guide who encouraged him to work hard. He qualified as a full Professional Guide in 2001 and has never looked back. He says he most enjoys meeting different people and taking them on walking safaris.
It makes you feel very much close to nature and causes you to engage with the natural world with all your senses; smell, sight, touch, etc This is the time that I pay attention to all details of nature; from bugs to elephants, from grasses to trees from butterflies to birds, it satisfies your soul.
His career has also given the opportunity to see some truly amazing sightings.
I have had a few breath taking sightings but the one I recall most was a chase by painted hunting dogs after a kudu. This poor kudu dived into the water where there was a crocodile basking on the edge. It quickly went in and caught the kudu’s side. Within the few minutes this shallow water hole changed to red with blood. The dogs would go for the nose as the kudu tried to escape; it would turn back and the croc would have a go again. It attracted fish as well and this poor kudu was having cat fish all around attracted to the blood. This drama last a few minutes and eventually the crocodile got the ‘lion’s share’. But it was not over for the dogs as they saw an impala and gave chase. It was caught by surprise and disembowelled within minutes. Vultures started landing and dogs struggled to keep them away. It was like a staged act and we could hardly believe what nature could offer in such as short time frame.”
It’s clear from Khules’ answers that all of nature holds inspiration for this man who loves to share it with his guests. He has a particular soft spot for rhinos saying that they look prehistoric and fascinate him but also that he feels particularly strong empathy for them due to their persecution by humans. He encourages others to enter the guiding industry but says you should be prepared for the careers rigours;
“For starters, one has to love nature, love people and have patience and a soft heart. Being a guide is also being an ambassador for nature. You should be passionate, be prepared to live within ethics. Be a hard worker who can stand the hard demands of different people and be able to remain smiling. This one industry that can give you opportunities to meet celebrities, change the world and change lives.”
And finally, Khule has a few words to share to those wanting to come and experience the beauty of Zimbabwe. He says it’s important to experience nature without prior expectations so you can enjoy it all as it comes.
“To my guests, I say look deep into nature and you will understand it better. On earth, there is no heaven but there are pieces of it. The fact that you have come this far, make the best out of it, we start the journey together and share what is on offer here.”