Can a landscape make you who you are? Ngande Shimwe, more fondly known as “Baba”, the big man with the even bigger heart and one of Desert and Delta’s most well-loved guides says Savute has given him everything he has. Guest post by Mana Meadows
“I feel I’m part of the landscape. I feel I’m part of the wildlife also.” Known for his special relationship with the Marsh pride, a famous family of lions that he has seen almost daily for ten years, Baba has watched generations of the cats grow up while he has been at Savute Safari Lodge (SSL). “Sometimes I feel like I breed them… I’m part of their family,” he reflects. “And I’ve known them from the beginning to the end, who is the son of who, who is the daughter of who.” Seeing the whole pride of seventeen animals together always makes his day, as these days it is a rare sighting. “If they kill something like a wildebeest or zebra, it’s not enough for seventeen of them, so most of the time they split up. So I’m very pleased if I see the whole family together, that makes me happy.” The lions are renowned for their elephant-hunting skills – very rare behavior as usually lion do not hunt elephant unless they are very young or sick.
When I ask him to tell me about Savute, the expansive wildlife-rich wilderness area which has been his home for just over a decade, Baba is silent. There is a long pause and I wonder if he has heard the question. He tells me later that he was so touched to talk about Savute that he needed some time to compose himself. When he begins, his words are sincere and flow fast. “Savute made me who I am. When I came here I had nothing. Right now I have kids, I am a married man, I have a home. So Savute is even more than a home, it made me what I am so far.”
Tourism is Baba’s second industry. He worked in a security department for ten years before the company he was working for was liquidated. He then enrolled in a year-long guiding course in Maun where he qualified as a guide and afterwards started with Desert and Delta, beginning his attachment with SSL and never looking back. Despite his roundabout route to guiding, the career was in his blood. “I was born in wildlife – I’m a cowboy by birth.” Being from a farming family living on the edge of the Okavango Delta he was used to nature and wildlife. “To tell you the truth I was born as a guide. The things I learned [at school] were more about hosting nationalities and hospitality stuff, but nature-wise, I will tell you that I’m a cousin of the bushman. That’s me.”
The Savute Marsh itself – now dry and more like plains than marsh, but once a great wetland, also holds a special place in his heart. If Savute wasn’t in a national park his dream would have been to have been buried there. “That landscape is one of my favorite places to be. I will never do any drive without passing by the marsh, it will make me sick. The landscape is beautiful. If you’re there for sunset, it is unbelievable.”