By Alan Cameron
The Elephant Charge (“Dust, Sweat, and Gears”), an annual off-road motorsport charity event, brings together competitors, their families, and supporters for a wilderness weekend of GPS-driven fun and frenzy in the Zambian bush. I’m for fun, but I always wince when I see folks tearing up habitat in the name of saving it.
Elephant Charge 2010 seeks to raise funds and awareness for local conservation in Zambia, specifically for two hides, or wildlife observation posts, in Lusaka National Park along with funding for the South Luangwa, Lower Zambezi and Kafue National Parks private-sector conservation efforts. Organizers hope to attract more than 300 campers over the weekend of October 23–25 and as many day observers and participants, en route to a fundraising goal of $35,000.
Focus of the weekend is an event for car and motorbike teams that requires stamina, sweat, driving, and navigation skills through the Zambian bush. Maps showing the location and GPS coordinates of nine checkpoints are issued to teams on the evening before the race. To win, a team must complete the nine-checkpoint course in the shortest distance among competitors. Each team finds it own route between the checkpoints, in any order, through valleys, over ridges, and up (or down) escarpments. The goal of short distance explicitly encourages teams to go off-road in their vehicles. Bush roads are cut to each checkpoint and marked on the issued maps, however they never give the shortest distance.
The blog piece you are reading is armchair bushwhacking at best, and it’s hard for me to preach at a distance to Zambians on how to use, exploit, preserve, or tear up their own turf. Of course it’s heartening to see GPS enlisted in conservation and education efforts. I just wish they weren’t harming habitat — by cutting bush roads and further encouraging racers to rip off through the vegetation — in order to help preserve it.
Visit www.elephantcharge.org for more information.
Alternatively, for a terrific vicarious experience of the Africa savannahs and bush without leaving home, read either Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller, set in Rhodesia, Zambia, and Malawi, or Sand Rivers by Peter Mathiessen, set in Tanzania. “The crack of the dry grass, the intense heat, the startling beauty of the birds, the fleeting glimpse of wary wildlife . . .”