Norman Carr - man of the African bush

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"Norman Carr was, quintessentially, a man of the bush. He had a fierce and ungovernable love for the world's wild places, and it was in the bush that he always felt himself most at home."

-- London Times

It was my good fortune to know Norman Carr personally having been on safari with him numerous times while he operated his safari camp at Chibembe in the Luangwa Valley. When he came to give wildlife conservation lectures in the United States and Canada it was my privilege to act as his guide in the urban wilderness of North America.

Back to Africa: Being a guest at Norman Carr's camps and going on walking safaris with him are experiences not soon forgotten.

Each time I was flying in and caught sight of the meandering Luangwa River below while the plane was preparing to land at the small airstrip at Mfuwe, I found myself profoundly grateful to have one more chance to visit this wild place.

The place that Norman called alternately the "Enchanted Valley" and "Valley of the Elephants".

The latter became the title of one of his books.

(This webmaster owns a signed copy of his book "Return to the Wild", see cover photo below on this page)


Below: Wilderness Trails.


Norman is number two from the left - leading one of the early walking safaris

Norman Carr initiated and invented the walking safari. He named them "Wilderness Trails" a name capturing the sense of genuine adventure. This was real Africa up close - with sightings of widlife along the trail - including the thrilling sighting of lion - the king of beasts - while on foot.



Above: Afternoon in the Luangwa Valley

The Luangwa Valley in Zambia is a southern extension of the great African Rift which is cut through by the Luangwa River. a tributary of the Zambezi. This is divided principally into two national parks. They are considered by many to be the finest national parks in Africa.

Richness of Luangwa wildlife includes the magnificent Kudu

The Luangwa Valley supports one of the greatest concentrations of wildlife to be found anywhere in the world. It is a place of dramatic contrasts of climate, a place where luxuriant vegetation in the rainy season alternates with scorched mud and parched leafless trees in the dry season.

Norman Carr knew the Luangwa as no other man did for he worked and lived there for decades.

He was well established as a conservationist and renowned wildlife authority - Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands wrote the foreword for one of Norman's books after having been on safari with him in the Luangwa Valley.

Members of British royalty too came to the Luangwa Valley as safari guests of Norman Carr.

Below are some comments made about Norman Carr in the pages of the Times of London in 1997:

Norman Carr was by no means the vainest of men, but he leaves behind him a monument that makes the Great Pyramid of Cheops look like a pimple. No mere pile of bricks for Carr; his monument covers more than 14,000 square kilometres.

There is hardly anything in the Luangwa Valley upon which Carr has not left his mark.

Today it is one of the richest wildlife destinations on the planet. holding impressive populations of elephant and lion.

It is also. because of Carr's innovative mind, the best place in Africa to see leopard.

Carr's belief was in tourism. Tourists, he realised, brought foreign exchange, valuable to a country emerging from colonial rule. He saw the "dollar value" of wildlife.

Carr also worked right from the beginning to make sure that local villagers profited from the richness of the wildlife. He wanted it to become a source of local income and local pride.

Photo shows Norman crossing the Luangwa by pontoon

This policy is now a commonplace of conservation worldwide. but it has only recently become the standard practice of international organisations. Carr was promoting such policies in the 1950s.

But Carr was much more than a practical administrator or a master of the tourist industry. He was, quintessentially, a man of the bush. He had a fierce and ungovernable love for the world's wild places, and it was in the bush that he always felt himself most at home.

A few years ago Carr was taking a group of tourists on a walking safari, in the company of an armed game scout, when they had the misfortune to be charged by an angry lioness. The game scout fired five shots, but the beast was not deterred by the warning. Even when it was hit in the leg it did not turn back. Meanwhile. Carr had rounded up his walking party and established them on the top of a termite mound.

The lioness made her attack. Carr, a slight man then in his late sixties, fought the lioness off with his walking stick. It was thanks to his courage that no one was harmed.

Norman Joseph Carr was born in Mozambique and educated in England, but emerged without a single academic qualification. In 1939 he was appointed elephant control officer in Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia; the following year, after the outbreak of the Second World War, he joined the King's African Rifles, and served in Abyssinia, finishing with the rank of captain.

After the war, he became a game ranger back in Northern Rhodesia. In 1950 he opened the first tourist camp in that country. Norman Carr established hunting safaris operated by Game Department staff, making it a priority that local people received both money and meat from the enterprise.

He was the first warden of the country's first National Park, the Kafue. (The Kafue National Park is half the size of Switzerland).

Here he raised two lion cubs, Big Boy and Little Boy, and took them with him wherever he went.

Within four years, the pair were capable of hunting for food for themselves and Carr celebrated this in one of his six books:

Return to the Wild”.

In 1960 Norman Carr went to report on the tourist potential of the Luangwa Valley.

He subsequently retired from the Game Department and started up his own safari operations.

Northern Rhodesia becomes Zambia

Thus, as Northern Rhodesia became independent Zambia in 1964, the Luangwa Valley turned from a forgotten wilderness to a tourist Mecca without ceasing for a second to be utterly wild.

Above: Zebra in the Luangwa Valley - note: It's the dry season!

Viewing Elephant on foot in the Luangwa Valley

The great thing about Carr, however, was not simply his love of the bush, but his delight in sharing it.

He did not want to keep it for himself: he knew that way spelt ultimate destruction. He inaugurated the idea of the walking safari: “Wilderness Trails” -- the last great adventure in which large beasts relate to human walkers not as intruders, but as one mammal to another.

Carr also initiated the idea of night drives, in which the nocturnal life of the bush can be seen in a powerful spotlight. This helped to make the leopard, normally the most elusive of beasts, one of the star attractions of the valley.

But if Carr was one of the last of the "old Africa hands", he was also one of the pioneers of the new Africa. In changing economic and political times. he saw a conservationist opportunity and made it work - to the benefit of the country, of the local people, of the visitors and, perhaps most importantly, to the benefit of the wildlife itself.



The trouble with Africa

This title refers to the frustrations and vexations we experience when we try to judge Africa from our Western perspective.

It also alludes to the notion that although we may be confused and impatient with it, we are in Africa's spell.

Once Africa is in our blood, it is hard to let go.

The author uses paintings accompanied by anecdotes and stories of his experiences in the bush and the people he met there to portray the magic of Africa, while simultaneously exploring the mystical connection between wild animals and man.

The author also makes mention of one of Africa's great conservationists, Norman Carr, as well as the splendour and beauty of Zambia.

Both of which he feels have not received the attention they deserve.

Norman Carr Safaris