THE LEGEND OF RUPERT FOTHERGILL

Changa Safari Camp (with edits by Wild Zambezi) • 6 October 2017

The secluded area around the beautiful Changa Safari Camp in the Matusadona National Park on Lake Kariba's southern shore, area is rich in history.  Every tree, bush and animal has its own tale to tell. 

The story that underlines each of these tales is that of the legendary, Rupert Fothergill, (pictured) famed for spearheading the renowned “Operation Noah” - the heroic rescue of wild animals stranded when man-made Lake Kariba first filled.

Construction of the giant Kariba Dam (pictured) between 1955 and 1959 brought about notable ecological developments.

As the first waters flooded the Zambezi Valley behind the completed dam wall, thousands of people had to leave their homes in the low-lying valley and were translocated out of it by the government of the day (this is a subject of another Blog story).   The wild animal inhabitants of the valley also had to move to higher, safer ground.  

Larger animals such as buffalo, elephants and those that could swim made it to safety on the Matusadona mainland to the south of the growing lake.  But many didn't.

Rupert Fothergill moved quickly to address the plight of those animals that remained marooned on the temporary islands.

He mobilized a team of 60 wildlife wardens and game rangers for a rescue mission that would be named Operation Noah.

They embarked on an extensive exercise to evacuate the stranded animals, using various methods which included tying them up and transporting them by boats. The methods evolved over time. At some stage, they famously resorted to using women’s nylon stockings as these were friendlier to the animal hides than rope.

Where necessary, they also used darting and tranquilizing. Unfortunately, some animals did drown during the historic rescue exercise.  However, thanks to that famous operation, an estimated 6000 animals were saved.

Notable amongst the ‘beneficiaries’ of Rupert Fothergill heroics were elephants, black rhinos, kudu, hare, zebra monkeys, snakes and even porcupines! (pictured). As much as possible, the rescue team saved every type of animal, irrespective of size or any other consideration.

This mission served to set the foundation of the present day Matusadona Game Reserve, now a National Park and home to a wide and rich variety of African wildlife which can be enjoyed by guests staying at Changa Safari Camp.   

In recognition of his exploits, a plaque was erected in Rupert Fothergill’s honour by ex-Park warden and veteran professional guide, John Stevens (see John Stevens Guided Safaris Africa). Appropriately located in the Matusadona Mountains, it overlooks the lake and valley floor, towards Changa Safari Camp – a fitting tribute to his conservationist cause.

Comments (1)

The full biography of Rupert Fothergill was written up by the late Keith Meadows and published by Thorntree Press, Bulawayo ( ISBN 0-7974-1608-0) but is a hard to find text these days that ocassionally can be found in second hand book stores or on line

John Davison9 October 2017
Thanks John

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