Norman Carr and the origins of Luangwa's safaris
The success of safaris in the Luangwa Valley is due in no small measure to one man: Norman Carr. Originally a ranger within the newly formed reserves in the Valley, Carr was quick to spot the potential of tourism as a lucrative source of income for the park. Although originally an advocate of hunting safaris, Carr soon recognised that there was an alternative – and one that didn't involve hunting down and killing the local fauna.
By 1950, Carr had persuaded Senior Chief Nsefu to establish a private reserve on the eastern bank of the Luangwa River. (Interestingly, a reliable local historian maintains that the colonial provincial commissioner was nervous about this. He feared that ultimately the local people would lose both their land and their access to collect salt at the pans in the centre of the Nsefu Sector. His concerns proved valid when, twenty years later, the Nsefu Sector was combined into the national park in 1971.) In partnership with the chief, Norman founded Nsefu Camp in 1952. The camp's original site was close to the present-day Nsefu Camp (it's still visible on the Nsefu Luangwa Wafwa), though the camp was subsequently moved when the river changed its course.
In 1961, Carr moved on to set up his own wilderness safaris, based out of another camp, Kapani Camp. This had been established in 1960, when he was warden of the Luangwa Valley, and it was here that he stayed with Big Boy and Little Boy, the two lions that he famously kept as companions. Kapani Camp lay just north of the Nsefu Sector, some 60km upstream of the present day Kapani Lodge, and close to present-day Tafika. In 1961, he leased what is now known as Old Lion Camp, close to Kapani Camp but on the opposite (western) bank of the Luangwa River.
In those days the whole operation was basic, with Carr wading across the Luangwa every morning to fetch his clients from Old Lion Camp before taking them on a walking safari. Further camps were tried by the lower Kapamba River in 1963, and the Mwaleshi in the north of the reserve, but none was commercially viable. The venture to Mwaleshi, in North Luangwa, ended with the sad death of one of the guides, Peter Hankin, who was killed by a lioness.
Norman was more successful with his next venture. In 1965, he started to base walking safaris out of Chibembe Camp, just north of the Chibembe/Luangwa confluence. With this as a hub, he established a circuit of several small bushcamps, made of poles and grass, with his clients walking from camp to camp. Nine years later, in 1974, he built Chibembe Lodge nearby (as this was larger and built of permanent materials, it had to be sited outside the park, on the east bank). He then used this as his main base, and continued to use the old Chibembe Camp as one of its walking bushcamps.
This modus operandi of having a number of small, temporary walking bushcamps working like satellites for one more permanent lodge is still the model on which many of Valley's operations work today.
Norman's clientele in those early days came mainly from the UK, with a few from Southern Rhodesia, South Africa and America. The expense of travelling to and from Zambia ensured that such safaris were a very expensive, elite activity.
Two years after Chibembe Lodge, Mwamba Bushcamp was constructed, on the East Mwamba River, close to present-day Crocodile Bushcamp. This was the first exclusive bushcamp, a place where clients could hire the whole six-bed camp and have their own vehicle and guide and do whatever they wanted, free from any other tourists. Other camps and lodges followed, including Chikoko and Kasansanya (1974). In 1977 Norman founded Chinzombo, which could be reached all year (Chibembe had always been inaccessible during the rains), then later came Kakuli, in 1984, and Kapani Lodge in 1986.