Lewis Mangaba Interview

February 12, 2016

Wilderness guide Lewis Mangaba is considered one of the world's best. The UK’s Wanderlust Magazine readers voted him as “World Guide of the Year”. For now he's based in Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe, where wildlife sightings are among the most impressive in Southern Africa.
Lewis Mangaba Wildlife Guide Zimbabwe copyright Scott Ramsay

Wilderness guide Lewis Mangaba, in Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe

Near the end of last year, I spent some quality time with Wilderness Safari’s guide Lewis Mangaba in Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. I connected straight away with Lewis’ easy-going yet effervescent nature. His knowledge and experience as a guide deserves to be shouted from the tops of the tall teak trees of Hwange.

For more than 20 years Lewis has been guiding visitors to some of the wildest places on the continent. And Hwange is certainly one of these. Predictably, Lewis has seen some amazing things.

“Once, at Madison Pan near Little Makalolo Camp, 15 lions killed a buffalo. Then 22 hyenas pitched up. We watched the lions and hyenas fighting for several hours.”

“Also at Little Makalolo, four hyenas chased a buffalo into camp and killed it within metres of the guests in camp.”

“At Davison’s Camp, three wild dogs chased a kudu into the dining room while guests were having breakfast. The kudu hid inside for a while, then ran out and the wild dogs killed it and ate the intestines and organs in front of the guests!”

“At Davison’s Camp, three wild dogs chased a kudu into the dining room while guests were having breakfast. The kudu hid inside for a while, then ran out and the wild dogs killed it and ate the intestines and organs in front of the guests!”

Although Lewis is a Shona, he grew up in the Tonga area of Kariba, near the dam wall that holds back the waters of Kariba Dam. In 1914, the English colonial government moved his grandfather’s family from the predominantly Shona-speaking highlands of Mutare in the east of Zimbabwe to the north of the country, near the Matusadona wildlife area on the Zambezi River valley.

“We lost our land, our homes and could only keep ten cattle. When the dam wall was built in 1956, we were forced to move again.”

Lewis is one of fives sons. His grandfather Lucas Mola was a local chief in the Omay area on the Zambezi River. As a young boy he was a cattle herder, and when hunters came to the Matusadona, Lewis would track elephants, which kept raiding the village crops.

“The hunters didn’t know the area, so I would find the elephants for them.”

In those days, Lewis says, the money from the elephant hunts would pay for the construction of new schools.

In 1992, as a 17-year-old, Lewis started working as white-water rafting guide on the infamously huge rapids below Victoria Falls.

“One year of that was enough for me,” Lewis chuckles, his smile broadening across his face. “Most of the river guides were older Ndebele guys. There’s a traditional rivalry between them and the Shona. So, because I was a new river guide and a Shona, they always made me carry the heavy rafts out of the steep gorge!”

In 1997, Lewis started working as an apprentice under respected guide Benson Siyawareva in Hwange. In 2011, Lewis qualified as a Zimbabwean professional wildlife guide.

In 1997, he started working as an apprentice under respected guide Benson Siyawareva in Hwange. In 2011, Lewis qualified as a Zimbabwean professional wildlife guide.

The four-year Zimbabwean qualification is considered the most stringent – and best in Africa. Qualifying guides have to spend a minimum of two years training as an apprentice under a fully licensed guide. To cap it off, the learner guide is submitted to a weeklong practical examination in the field by a panel of assessors, themselves experienced professional guides. The weeklong examination includes tracking, bush survival and close encounters with charging lions, elephants and buffalo.

Lewis has diverse experience. His formative years were spent working throughout Zimbabwe’s legendary wild areas, guiding visitors on walking and canoeing safaris through areas with dangerous wildlife.

For seven years he worked in the immense arid lands of Sossuvlei and Etosha in Namibia, and for 4 years in the savannahs and woodlands of Serengeti, Ngorongoro and Ruaha in East Africa.

In 2014 he was voted by readers of the UK’s Wanderlust Magazine as “World Guide of the Year”. 

In 2014 he was voted by readers of the UK’s Wanderlust Magazine as “World Guide of the Year”. He is regularly contracted by safari companies to train other guides around Africa. From 2011 to 2015, Lewis was the guiding instructor for the highly-respected Asilia Africa group of lodges. But he missed his family, his wife and children too much, so he came back to Hwange, which “will always be my home,” he says. “It’s still my favourite place in the world.”

 

Elephants Hwange National Park copyright Scott Ramsay

One evening Lewis took me to a water hole, near to Linkwasha Camp. We watched the full moon rise, and several herds of elephant coming to drink. I've been fortunate to travel around Africa to more than 100 protected areas, and the elephant experience in Hwange ranks as one of the finest.

Elephants Hwange National Park copyright Scott Ramsay

According to Lewis, Hwange is the best place in Africa to see elephants, after Chobe National Park in Botswana. You can see why!

Elephants Hwange National Park copyright Scott Ramsay

Hwange is also famous for it's large herds of Cape buffalo. When it comes to potentially dangerous wildlife, Lewis is one of the most experienced guides on the continent.

Lewis Mangaba Hwange National Park Zimbabwe

Lewis doing what he does best - giving his guests an exclusive, superlative wildlife experience.

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