Tiger Safaris - MUCH more than a fishing camp!

Sally Wynn, Wild Zambezi • 21 November 2021

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I have to confess, right at the start, that I’m not a dedicated angler – I haven’t the patience, and for me, fishing as a sport doesn’t have the appeal  (I’m more a believer in catch only what you eat  - i.e. the “hook and cook” principle).  Having said that, my other half is keen on tigerfishing, and, with this in mind, we accepted a long-standing and very kind invitation from Tiger Safaris to spend a few nights at their delightful camp situated right on the banks of the Zambezi River just downstream from the border town of Chirundu

Tiger Safaris is one of Zimbabwe’s longest-running and most popular fishing camps –a location for serious tigerfishermen, which hosts many a group tournament for dedicated anglers.   Its fishing guides/boat skippers are renowned for being some of the most experienced in the country, and the results are there to see in the many Social Media posts showing delighted anglers holding up enormous and beautiful specimens of the latest record catches.  A strictly-enforced “catch and release” policy imposed by this camp (together with others in area) in recent years is definitely proving worthwhile in ensuring that breeding stocks of the Zambezi’s native tigerfish are not depleted – at least not by sport anglers. 

Recent upgrades and improvements to the Tiger Safaris camp by owner-managers, Tim and Michelle Balance, including the addition of a restaurant and bar, two new inland cottages to complement the existing five riverside chalets, and a campsite, have also resulted in it broadening its appeal in recent years as a child-friendly holiday destination for families and a picturesque riverside wedding venue.

I had been there before (a few years ago), but had not actually stayed, so I was keen to see the changes to the camp.  Also, as a safari enthusiast, I wanted to see what effect private-sector conservation initiatives in the area have had on the wildlife experience along the Zimbabwe shores of the Zambezi River and for some distance inland.

Despite the fact that the November weather was extremely hot - prime time for tigerfishing - our afternoon tigerfishing sorties on the river were… shall we say….unrewarding, (a fact that in no way reflected on our very accomplished skipper and guide, Lance, who tried hard to make it happen for us).  However, most of the other guests at Tiger Safaris reported excellent catches (and releases) and happily related their experiences over drinks in the bar in the evening.

For me, the main delight of our 3-night stay was a series of unexpected and highly entertaining wildlife encounters.  

We were fortunate to be accommodated in a comfortable thatched 3- en-suite bedroom self-catering chalet– at the end of a row of five identical units along the banks of the Zambezi River.  With some thick bush on one side, lovely large shady trees all around and lush green lawn sloping down to the river right in front of us, this was a tranquil and peaceful spot which seemed to attract a great deal of wildlife.  

First there were the little putty-coloured Foam Nest Frogs residing in our chalet bathroom.  These delightful, and totally harmless, little creatures are often to be found in unexpected places seeking out sources of moisture at the end of a very long dry season.  The bathroom at Chalet No 5 was just perfect for them, and it was fun  to scan the room on entering it, to discover what new hiding place they had managed to find each time!

Then there was the troupe of Vervet Monkeys who entertained themselves every morning using our garden chairs as a playground jungle gym for their youngsters to practice their climbing and jumping skills!  The adults are obviously accomplished thieves and, given the slightest opportunity, would attempt a raid on the kitchen if we were distracted and left the door open.  Guests less wise to monkey tricks might find this a bit annoying.  Sadly this behaviour is often inevitable in safari camps in the Zambezi Valley at the end of the dry season when natural sources of food are scarce and the environment is very harsh environment for all wild animals.  One has to very vigilant and, above all, avoid any temptation whatsoever to feed them – a dangerous precedent which will only makes them more dependent and usually results in their elimination as pests.

We were also visited regularly by a Water Monitor who did his daily rounds foraging among the tree trunks near our chalet and disappearing down the slope to the water, when disturbed.

One of the changes at the camp since my last visit has been the removal of all fences so that some of the larger wild animals can now roam freely through.  And this they do with apparently familiarity and ease.

Families with young children need to be aware of this and remain vigilant at all times.

We had elephants by day….

and hippos mowing the lawns by night (in large numbers)

and we saw the spoor of more secretive little nocturnal creatures like a Large-Spotted Genet which fossicks round the chalets during the night. 

The most significant improvement to Tiger Safaris since my last visit is the opening up of a large “back” section of the camp with the addition of a spacious and airy new restaurant and bar area looking towards the river on the one side and the pool and bush beyond on the other.  The restaurant serves delicious homely meals, welcoming both fully-catered guests and those who would like a break from their self-catering option.  

Strategic use of the run-off from the camp’s bream fishponds has created a little wetland area at a safe distance beyond the swimming pool, and this has now become a real feature of the camp.  Guests can now relax by the pool and enjoy a drink and a swim while a prolific amount of birds and wildlife passes by in the background. 

While we were at the poolside, we saw a small herd of buffalo , a resident family of warthogs and a surprising number of waterbird species.  Elephants are frequent visitors, sometimes even lions pass through, and on one recent (and unforgettable) occasion, a particularly unwelcome crocodile decided to take up residence in the swimming pool and had to be swiftly and professionally removed by the local crocodile farm!

You get my message… Tiger Safaris is NOT just a place to go tigerfishing.  There’s much more to it than that. The wildlife experience is quite extraordinary, with relaxed and unthreatened animals obviously hugely benefitting from a considerably more secure and protected environment thanks to the sensitivity of this camp and the efforts of local conservation outfits.

Add to this a warm and welcoming management style and wonderful friendly and efficient staff, and you have a winning formula.

And I haven’t even mentioned the romantic outdoor weddings hosted at Tiger Safaris, with a magnificent riverside setting on the grassy banks of the Zambezi and a party under the stars with the hippos grunting their approval in the background ….   that’s for another time! 

Take the family to Tiger Safaris for a wonderfully relaxing holiday treat.  They'll love it!
 

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