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Dissipation becomes redemption: Big-game hunter David Lloyd

A big-game hunter and safari guide, David LLoyd dissipated a 600-year-old family fortune in England in the pursuit of exotic pleasures. He is not an unfamiliar British type. His life changed when he looked down from the air at a small wildlife park in Zambia.

Having accounted for the dissipation, the Telegraph obituary continues -

Then, while flying back to Lusaka from Zambia’s Northern Province, Lloyd passed over Kasanka, a small national park bordering the Congo Pedicle that was in danger of closure due to rampant poaching. Out of curiosity, he decided to visit; there were no roads or bridges, and no tourists had penetrated the park for many years, but he managed to explore a little on foot. On hearing the crack of gunshots he concluded that, if there was still poaching, there must be animals. Impressed by the wide variety of habitats, he decided to try to save the park from total depletion and the threat of losing its national park status.

He and Gary Williams, a local farmer who had also explored the park a little, used their own resources to employ scouts and build roads, bridges and temporary camps. The Zambian government, which had been unable to manage the park itself, encouraged their efforts. Crucially, they secured the backing of local communities and of Chief Chitambo IV, whose great-grandfather, the first chief Chitambo, had received David Livingstone in 1873, when the explorer was on his deathbed. Livingstone’s heart was buried under a tree at a spot a few miles outside the park, a place now marked by a simple stone monument.

The Kasanka Trust was set up to formalise their position and help raise funds, and soon attracted attention from conservationists. Tourism then started to bring in a little money and, by 1990, the Zambian authorities were sufficiently impressed by progress to sign an agreement allowing the Trust officially to manage the park. Lloyd’s understanding of, and affection for, local Zambians – he had a firm grasp of four tribal languages and apparent immunity to threats of witchcraft – was crucial to this success.

The following year the television presenter Michael Palin passed through Kasanka on his journey from Pole to Pole. Palin wrote in his diary: “ I learn more about hippos here than in all my time beside the Mara River in Kenya. So thoroughly had this area been poached, says David, that when he took over the park in 1986 there were only three hippos. 'They didn’t call at all for the first two years – dead scared’. Turning in. Sounds of low voices round the remains of the fire and bullfrogs on the lake. Above, a clear, intense, starlit sky. No reflections from anywhere. Pure sky. Pure night sky.”

Today the populations of hippo, elephant, sable antelope and hartebeest are recovering. The Puku antelope, once reduced to a few hundred, now exceed 5,000 and there are sizeable herds of the swamp-dwelling Sitatunga, Reedbuck and Waterbuck, as well as groups of the rare Blue Monkey. Kasanka also plays host to one of the great migrations in the natural world – the arrival of some 10 million bats from the nearby Congo to feed on the park’s abundant supply of musuku fruits.

Lloyd showed great vision and determination in starting and sustaining a project on this scale and, acting against type, put in a lot of hard work himself to get it off the ground. Ironically, given his record, he was also to prove so adept at eliciting financial support from others that Kasanka’s drain on his own dwindling funds was relatively modest.

In 2002 he was appointed OBE, and the following year the Kasanka Trust was granted “exclusive rights to manage and develop Kasanka National Park” for a further 10 years.

His flowing blond locks and the flamboyant behaviour of his earlier years made Lloyd an instantly memorable figure. Proud of his Welsh lineage, he was well-read and traditional in his views, but also deeply irreverent and alarmingly candid. [He was] a fine raconteur, especially around a camp fire deep in the bush with a drink in hand. . .

Ave atque Vale.

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