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Connecting with the Night: Camping in Zimbabwe

Words and photos by Howie Minsky

Today, we spent most of the day planting Zambezi Teak trees to repair a section of forest damaged from several years of overgrazing by a large elephant herd. Trying to maintain a harmonious balance between flora and fauna takes years of preparation and planting and although our work is only a tiny blip on the timeline of this preserve, every bit is needed to make a difference.

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After a long day of planting trees, our reward is a camping trip into the preserve. Just as the sky fades and dusk approaches we load the 4×4 with our camping gear and drive to find a campsite deep in the bush. As we drive through a forested area filled with giraffe, elephant and kudu, we come upon open field on a hill overlooking the Zambezi River, which winds its way through the grassy savanna below. Dotting the vista in fading light, elephants, giraffe and zebras browsed on grasses and leaves.

As we set up camp, a Lilac Breasted Roller, my favorite African bird, lands on a tree branch near me. I throw a handful of raw oats on the ground and he flies down to join me.

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I assemble my tent to face west toward the savanna and the setting sun. The easterly winds blow gently through our campsite and whisk the remaining heat from the day. We gather wood and dry grass and have little trouble finding dozens of branches and logs to keep a fire burning through the night.

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As the flames flicker yellow and orange I scoop the embers beneath the logs to form a circular pile adjacent to our campfire. On the embers I place a black iron kettle filled with water. Within minutes steam rises and we are ready for coffee and tea.

I didn’t think it possible, but I may have found a replacement to the marshmallow. Here in Africa the campfire treat is “Stick Bread.” (Like most things named in Africa, simplicity rules the day.)

First , you make sure to find the perfect long, pointy stick. On the table is a bowl filled with bread dough. You simply tear off a piece and wrap the dough around the top of the stick, holding your stick above the flames for about 20 minutes. When the stick bread turns golden brown, the outside is crispy and the inside is soft and warm. We then pour some condensed milk in a mug and use it for dipping the stick bread. This is to die for—a wonderful treat after a long day working outside.

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We circle the fire with chairs and sit back to enjoy a few beers, the breeze off the savannah and the warm dancing fire. In the distance baboons bark and there’s the occasional roar of a lion. It feels as if everything is quiet inside me, as if I am one with myself. I breathe deeply in the cool air, the darkness soft and deep around me.

Africa is in my soul.


Read more about Howie’s adventures at the “Our Man in Africa page. 

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Cage Diving with Carnivorous Crocodiles

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While walking this morning, I meet up with Shamiso, who is on anti-poaching patrol in the preserve.

Shamiso lost his right arm to a crocodile attack while fishing several years ago. When I ask him how it happened, he says he was fishing near the waters’ edge of the Zambesi River when a large croc leapt from the water and grabbed him by his right arm. Struggling to break free, he fell backward over a tree stump, his arm still in the croc’s mouth as he felt himself being pulled to the water. Shamiso braced himself against the stump and was pulling to free his arm when the croc went into its awful death roll, tearing his arm off at the shoulder.

Shamiso was raced to the hospital and narrowly escaped dying from loss of blood.

For more than 250 million years evolution has created the perfect eating machine in the Nile Crocodile. This living dinosaur and ambush predator waits patiently for the ideal moment to attack. As Shamiso says, when they strike, the attack is lightning fast.

After hearing of Shamiso’s experience, I was fascinated by the idea of seeing a croc up close—but safely. So today I’m cage diving with Nile Crocodiles.

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When I arrive at the dive site, I take stock quickly of the dive cage, the scuba equipment—and the three massive crocs drifting nearby. Two are grey-olive in color with a yellowish belly, and the third is an albino. They all are large by any standard—around 14 feet and 1,400 pounds. I lean over the fence for a better view as this apex predator stares back at me like a dinner bell just rang.

As I pull on the wet suit, I am unsure what I will learn from this encounter—or why I am even doing it. I have always been fascinated with the simple response wildlife has to hunger, the powerful instinct of survival. Will being inches away from the vice- like grip of the toothy crocodile jaws answer some age old question?

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As the dive cage is lowered, the crocs, suspended in the murky water, slowly begin to circle me. The sound of my heart pounding fills my ears as they begin to bang their heads against the cage, trying to force their snouts between the bars. Once fully underwater, I come face to face with a long row of teeth only inches from my face.I know this ghastly smile waits for a hand or an arm to dangle within its reach. Were it not for the cage, I know I would be torn apart, a morning snack for this boy. Instead, I take a picture or two, my camera close to my chest.

I wait in the dim underworld for long enough, and slowly rise to the surface.

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I touched his foot and claw which felt hard and unyielding. As he came over the top of the cage I was able to scratch his belly. His underside was softer than his foot and there was give when I pressed into it with my fingers. As I ran my hand across his underside, his belly felt like a leather hand bag.

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I had never before been so close to such an intimidating creature. I feel lucky for the experience. I think of Shamiso and his horrendous encounter and feel it is time for some retribution. I was tired of feeling like lunch. It was time to have some. Just a short walk down the street there is a restaurant where Croc Wraps are on the menu.

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After a nourishing lunch of croc tail with wasabi aioli, lettuce, cucumber, carrots, red onion, and ginger; the score is Howie 1, Croc 0. Please know the Nile crocodile is not an endangered species. In addition, Nile crocodile is farmed in Victoria Falls for leather and meat. The croc farm is one of Victoria Falls largest employers. By enjoying this meal, I am giving back to this economy and supporting the community I respect so much.

I’m looking forward to sharing our next adventure.

Your man in Africa,

Howie Minsky


All photos by Howie Minsky. 

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Day Two in Zimbabwe: Elephant Encounter

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by Howie Minsky


I awake as the first rays of light shine over the red sand hills of Nakavango Big Game Preserve in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, Africa. It is only my second day of my two-month stint as a volunteer here and already I feel at home. I close my eyes and breathe deeply; the aroma of coffee fills the air. I am at peace. I grab a chair on the veranda and look out onto the African bush just feet away. It is winter here—the dry season—and the lush greenery of the rainy season has given way to leafless trees, tall yellow grasses of straw and large patches of dark red Kalahari sand. These are difficult times for African wildlife.

This morning, I choose to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Not sure why… perhaps the sense of childlike adventure I feel here. I sip my coffee and watch as three warthogs nibble the salt lick a few yards away.

As I finish my second cup, our guide walks past and we jump to take our seats in the 4×4. I just want to get out into the bush and get to work. Thoughts racing… What creatures will we see today? What adventures await us?

Our guide says we’re heading to do maintenance on a watering hole, and then check on salt licks, and asks us to always be aware of people walking in the reserve; they are most likely poachers. We all nod our heads. We just want a safe environment for the animals to stay wild and free.

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As we enter the gate into the preserve luck is on our side. We spot an eland (pictured) atop a nearby hill. As quickly as we see him, he dashes off into the woods. We continue to ride through the preserve toward the Never Ever Forest—aptly named for the inexperienced who become lost and will Never Ever find their way home.

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As we drive along we see zebra, impala, baboons, black rhino—and then our guide spots the tracks he’s been looking for. As the vehicle slows, we see fresh massive circular prints pocking the dirt road. Elephant tracks maybe 20 inches in diameter.

These tracks are fresh, and we jump off the jeep to try and catch up with the elephant that made them. Walking through the bush we follow all the signs—the massive tracks, trampled saplings, mounds of scat (poo), and large branches ripped from decades-old trees.

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For more than three hours we follow the rough trampled path until something changes in the air, a heavy dusky odor filling up the dry woods. And there he is, close by, a dark drifting shadow just through the trees. As we move forward, we see him looming in the woods, a mottled wall of grey, ears twitching, trumpeting loudly. He stomps his foot, telling us to stay back. We continue forward, his ears fanned as he listens to our approach. Soon there are only a few trees between us.

And that is far enough. He stomps his feet and begins to charge toward us. There is a thundering sound of bushes crashing and snapping, and as he barrels toward us he bellows as loud as an oncoming train. Already large, his outstretched ears make him look twice the size. Knowing that 95 percent of elephant charges are bluffs, we stand our ground. But in the back of my mind I am wondering about that other five percent. What if he doesn’t stop? What if this time it’s not a bluff?

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A few seconds and he’s upon us, stopping just a few feet away. He is massive; all I see is the elephant head and ears before me. I can almost taste his earthy odor as my heart pounds in my chest. Again, he stomps his foot and tramples the bushes with his trunk. I am motionless, eyes wide, barely breathing.

As we stand our ground, he stares us down, shakes his head and turns. He slowly ambles away into the dark trees, until they engulf him and he is gone.

We head back to our vehicle in silence. Almost in unison, we exhale. My heart is still racing, my mouth is dry and my body is charged with adrenaline. I say “wow.” And I begin to laugh. What a trek. What a day.

What a place this is.


To read more of Howie’s adventures, visit Our Man in Africa on our website, and follow Howie on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and Instagram.

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Introducing: Our Man in Africa

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Meet one of our most exciting new contributors—Howard Minsky—who has agreed to take our Boca readers on an African adventure during September and October. His blog, which we are calling Our Man in Africa, will be a weekly column about his experiences volunteering for two months on an animal preserve in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, Africa. In his own words: “I’ll share new stories with lions and cheetahs, safari by horseback, cage diving with Nile crocodiles, fixing roads on the preserve, doing anti-poaching patrols, helping local school children, planting trees, tracking wild animals for photographs, and lots more.”

This is who Howie is, and why he’s heading to Africa.

Who am I?

My name is Howie Minsky, and I’m a Boca-based newly anointed eco-tourist. I’ve been an animal lover, photographer and novice conservationist for many years. Last February I volunteered for thirty days on a big game preserve in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. It was such a fulfilling and amazing experience that I am returning this September and October to do it again. Since my last trip I have been giving presentations to children at local schools in South Florida about wildlife and conservation, and I recently became a volunteer for ChimpanZoo, a Jane Goodall Institution program, at Lion Country Safari.

I truly enjoy sharing my love of conservation, volunteering, and action-oriented education. The more I learn about environmental issues, the more I want to help reduce the top three issues: poaching, habitat destruction and pollution. As a novice conservationist, I want to help conserve our wild. Every little bit helps, and together we can make the world a better place for future generations.

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In my previous career, I was co-founder and president of SKM, a top 100 fastest growing company in America. Inc. Magazine’s Inc500 rank: www.inc.com/profile/skm-media-group.

Why am I doing this?

I need a change. Not the change that a new shirt brings or having dinner at a new restaurant. No, I wanted to break out a bit more than that. Simply put, I want to live more deeply. I want to get involved and make a difference. I want to escape my comfort zone because my comfort zone isn’t comfortable. I always felt there is something more out there. Well, it’s time to see how true that is.

I’ve always appreciated nature whether it’s a colorful rainbow, beautiful animal or breathtaking landscape. Seeing these always makes me feel good. I enjoy watching animals on TV and learning about them, but I had never experienced this first-hand, with my own eyes, until last February. If I don’t do it again, when will I?

I really do want to hear from you!

I encourage you to post comments, ask questions, and request things you’d like to see. I’ll respond as quickly as I can. So please be active, and I’ll do my best to make you feel like you’re by my side experiencing this first-hand.

Where Will I Be?

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For daily updates, follow me on social media!

www.instagram.com/ConserveOurWild

www.facebook.com/ConserveOurWild

www.twitter.com/howardminsky

www.youtube.com/howardminsky

If you want to learn more about me, check out my video interview about the trip I took in February.