There’s a place in Zambia known to the locals as the “Valley”. It is tucked away in the middle of the South Luangwa National Park.
It’s a park filled with many trees. Trees that came to life much before the ancestors of the men and women in the vicinity. Trees that have stories in the creases of its bark. Trees whose roots are old and wise.
Amongst them stands a particular tree. Bearing fruit. Wild mangoes say the locals. And it has been standing there for ages. Long before the Mfuwe Lodge was built in its front yard. Long before it came to be known as ‘the’ mango tree in the backyard of Mfuwe.
Mfuwe is an award-winning safari lodge inside the game area of the South Luangwa. It dots the park with a canopy of thatched chalets around two lagoons.
When Mfuwe was constructed more than a decade ago, the mango tree was just another mango tree. Until that first November…
That November when the air was sticky and sweet with the smell of ripe juicy mangoes, a herd of pachyderms paid a visit to Mfuwe. This was not their first visit. This was their annual ritual. Their ‘mango’ pilgrimage.
Local legend has it that three generations of one family of elephants have been visiting the Valley every November to feast on the ripe mangoes of this particular mango tree. I don’t know whether it is true, usually, legends are…well, just legends. But it warms my heart to think of it as truth.
The people of Mfuwe was not aware of this special bond between the elephants and their mango tree. There are witnesses that have seen the herd visiting this particular tree for more than two decades.
One year, when the elephants returned, they encountered Mfuwe. Sitting right in the middle of their path.
It did not deter them. What’s a safari lodge between them and their sweet treats? That’s no elephantine hurdle!
And so the herd continued their journey. Right through the lobby of the Lodge. Under the thatched roof. Across the stone-tiled floor. Passing the reception filled with staff with fear-wobbly knees. Navigating down a few steps too small for their large feet.
Led by a majestic tusker the herd of ambled languidly across to the mango tree on the other side. And then feasted on the fruits as they have always done.
They have been making this passage ever since — for more than 15 years now. They come in November. Led by leader Wonky Tusk (so named because of the wonky tusk). They pass through the Lodge every day (sometimes, more than once or twice in a day) for around three to four weeks during the month of November. They eat mangoes. Laze around. The oldies keep an eye on the young ones frolicking around. The herd enjoys a joyful R&R. And then they return home only to come back again the next year.
Now, the staff is used to the elephants. No more having their knees fellowshipping with each other in fear. The elephants have never harmed anyone till date. No ruckus. No kicking the barstool. Or hitting on the guests. Yet, the staff knows that these are wild elephants. So they are always on alert. But they also know that they are in the animals’ territory. They respect that and give them their space. It’s been a win-win situation for both humans and animals.
More tourists flock to the Lodge in November to see this spectacle unfold.
Watch the video 🙂