I could not leave the Valley without having one of Anna and Steve’s famous gin and tonics, watching the sunset over the Luangwa River. With a bit of luck, I would also bump into Douglas the three and a half year old hippopotamus, whom I had met in 2014.
Anna met me and the car parking area and introduced me to the menagerie. I remember Cosmo the baboon, who was tiny when I visited two years ago. However, one of the vervet monkeys was extremely jealous and kept biting the back of my legs when I was with Anna. He was confined to quarters so I didn’t have to be constantly looking over my shoulder.
The two Jack Russell terriers, Coca and Molly, were very excitable on meeting a new guest. They saw a large group of banded mongeese behind the pond and raced over to chase them. In return, a couple of large angry baboons chased the dogs.
We walked over to the education centre with its “walk of life”, a representation of time since the creation of the planet, with the arrival of man coinciding with the tiny gap between path and veranda. The centre was being renovated when I last visited so it was great to see it completed. There are two areas – a classroom and a hands-on museum of natural history. From the leopard print paper lampshades to the eagle made out of surrendered catapults, it was innovative and inspiring. One door had the hind quarters of a zebra, the other door had a list of phrases for the children to think about (it’s too strong to call it a list of rules).
The museum had a mural painted around the top of the walls. There were exhibitions of bones, faeces, fossils, dried fruits and seeds from trees and a scale model of the valley, bigger than a full size snooker table. What a great way to learn about your heritage.
Anna asked me to have a look at a vervet monkey’s damaged tail. It looked in poor shape and I advised that they get another opinion from a vet. Steve fed the puku and we all went to the river to watch the sunset. Douglas decided to pay us a visit just before it got dark. He lumbered up the bank to pay his respects and to greet Steve. He had grown since my last visit, but unfortunately he bore the scars of several attacks by lions and fellow hippos.
“We don’t get paid for our work at the centre,” said Steve. “This view every evening is the only payment we need.”