Thursday, April 07, 2011

Steve Pope – Chipembere Safaris

I received sad news recently. Steve Pope, a well known Safari guide based in Kariba, is very poorly in a hospital with cancer, and is not expected to live.
It is really strange that whilst I have had no contact for many years, I found him on Facebook three weeks ago and sent a message.

His daughter, Chessa, stumbled across my Mana Pools videos on YouTube. She is in some of them, along with her father. She was naturally gob-smacked. I was then contacted by her mother who told me the news and that Chessa is trying to get some pictures of her dad to put up on Facebook. 

Steve himself was a prolific photographer of wildlife but it can be presumed that he didn’t take many pictures of himself. I know there are many people out there who went with Steve on safari and have pictures. One such bunch were the Quantas aircrew during the late ‘80s early ‘90s. My ex and I met many of them whilst on safari with Steve. They told us that, it was at the time, the most coveted long haul job in Quantas. You worked the flight in and then had a week off. They would chip in together, rent a car and dash down to Steve and go on safari. Nights were spent around the campfire listening to his stories and getting well pissed.

So popular was the man, that they arranged a flight for him, and took him around parks in Australia. I recall seeing at his home (we spent many private nights there as we became good friends), of him in his Zimbabwe bush outfit, squatting next to a kangaroo.

I also took quite a few pictures but they were all slides. A couple of years ago I digitalised them, hence the quality is not that good.

Here is a story from one of those wonderful trips.


I am not sure what year, but the ex and I are camping with Steve at the main camp in Mana, right next to the Zambezi. So, one night, we listen to some right roaring, screeching and bellowing; enough to wake the dead stoned likes of even me. Whatever was going on outside in the bush surrounding the camp (unfenced), was serious shit man; so I pushed the ex to the front of the tent to make sure she gets eaten first.

Next day we ascertain that there is a wounded buffalo, up to its knees in the Zambezi, looking rather sorry for itself. It had been in a serious fight with a pride of lions and managed to get into the river. The fully grown male was in a bad way. (Sadly no photo found.) Steve explained that the lions are hanging around (run for your lives), and will be back in the night when they reckon the buff will be so weak they can take it.

Some smart alec guide, from another safari camp, asked if any of us would like a little stroll through the bush to find afore mentioned giant pussy cats. Steve was busy at that time. Quite a few lion bait volunteered to check out the scene. I didn’t like this idea, but fortified with half a dozen Castle beers and a couple of spliffs, I meekly tagged along 'up the rear'. 'Up the rear' is the Rhodesian terminology of the last member of a stick on counter-insurgency patrol. It is the opposite of ‘point’.

So, ‘point’, in this case, was also armed with an F.N. Thank fuck for that because the twat guided us on top of the bloody lions skulking in the grass. As one of the bastards stood up and gave us a right stare (all this from twenty paces away), super clever guide says, whilst cocking the rifle –
            ‘Everyone walk slowly backwards and do not look into the lions eyes.’

He might have gabbled some more survival bullshit, but as I was at the back and legged it asap, I was already in camp on my second beer when the other panty-shitters staggered shell-shocked in.

That night, after an excellent braai of steak, boerwors and piri-piri chicken with sadza and baked potatoes with onion and tomato relish, we all went on the piss again.
Around about, no idea - Fuck Me! - if the whole night doesn’t once again go nuts!
I was well oiled and stoned. Steve wanders off (ha-ha, how mad is that), and comes back all excited.
            ‘Come quickly. The lions have dragged the buff out and eating it –alive!’
All this was happening less than fifty paces away. I wasn’t that hot on the idea, but with my ex eyeing a life insurance payout, I was bullied to go up to where the soft, sandy banks of the Zambezi were quite steep. The lions had a flat area from where occasional flood water poured in.

I was totally wasted. Steve and the other rangers had driven up their 4x4s and plugged in spotlights. I could hardly focus, but got these shots.

The next morning Steve took us in his canoes and I got this shot from the river.


Anonymous said...

Sadly, Steve passed away this past Sunday May 14.

Sean Armstrong said...

Steve will be greatly missed by all in Mana Pools, he was part of the wilderness there. Our condolences to the family. It was a pleasure to know him. RIP my old friend.

Anonymous said...

Shame a very big shame, may the wilderness remember him by a smell, a look or even a vibration of him. Rest in peace mate.

yorkinca said...

I was very saddened to hear of Steve's passing. I had the pleasure of spending 4 days in Mana Pools with him in 1999. It was my first safari and within 10 minutes of hitting camp we were on foot and in the midst of a buffalo herd and some elephants. With Steve's coaching we were able to get quite close to the buffalo, without having the herd feel threatened. He truly had an amazing way with the animals. I've been back to Africa 3 times since then, I just love it there and have Steve to thank in no small way for showing me the veldt he loved so much.
Thanks Steve. I will miss you.
See you at the campfire.
-York Schueller
Ventura, CA

yorkinca said...

I was deeply saddened to hear of Steve's passing. I had the pleasure of spending 4 days on foot safari in Mana Pools with him in 1999. Within 10 minutes of hitting camp we were in the midst of a buffalo herd. Steve coached us how to move forward behaving in such a way as to not have the herd feel any threat. It was amazing! That was my first trip to Africa and I've been back 3 times now. As he said "Africa bites and doesn't let go." His wry humor and easygoing manner will be missed. Cheers, Steve.
See you at the campfire.

Ryan Beeton said...

Steve Pope was a legend - I met him only on one occasion when we spent a few nights together at Chitake Springs. He had a gentle way about him - and behind those steely eyes was a sharp mind and a great sense of humour.

We spent 3 days tracking lions and when we eventually found them a lioness growled at us - Steve calmly said that they were not happy to have us around and walked us away - a few hours later we returned and the mood of the pride was completely different and we spent hours with them as they relaxed 20 m away from us.

Later that night in our camp 2 male lions had a brawl and Steve pulled us out of the tents to have a look!

Though my time with Steve was short, he left a lasting impression on me that I will always remember as one of the greats in Africa. RIP Steve - I hope to meet you on the other side one day!

Leaton said...

I met Steve Pope in 1984 and am shocked and very sadened to hear that he passed away I spent a month with Steve setting up one of his very first safaries from Kariba to Victoria Falls for some guests from Europe. I have some great photos of a very young Steve and the unforgettable safari. They are some of the best memories of my life. I would love to share amd swap photos and safari tales. I was so looking forward to going back to see Steve after more than 30 years and am shattered I will never see him again. Leeanne Eaton (nee Shugg)

Anonymous said...

Hi. I know this might be a long shot! I am Steve's daughter, Chessa, I was wondering if you still had those photos of my dad? If so would it be possible to email them to me?
Kind regards