The man who found the elephants




By Suzanne Cordrey


In the heart of the South Luangwa Park in Zambia is Kakuli Safari camp and during my visit there, the guide was a Scottish/Zambian man named Mike. His story is as fascinating as is the bush surrounding the Kakuli camp.


Mike was born in Uganda, but quickly whisked back to Scotland as a toddler when Idi Amin was in power. Do you remember that period in history, 1971-9, when the megalomaniac Idi Amin ruled over Uganda? Amongst his many atrocities against his people and the land, all in the name of power and greed, he had enticed a young naive, Scottish doctor into his sphere of power as his personal physician. This man was Mike’s father. As the corruption became worse, Mike’s dad was encouraged to leave and take his family back to Scotland. He had seen things and knew the secrets of Idi Amin’s regime that made him a threat. But it was already too late and Idi Amin suspected such, so he had body guards and henchmen pull the strings tighter around the doctor.


There was a movie made later on called The Last King of Scotland starring Forrest Whitaker as Idi Amin and James McAvoy as Mike’s dad, Nicholas Garrigan. It was an account of Mike’s father’s experience with Amin and of the brutality perpetrated by Amin in those days. Mike’s father did manage to get his family back to Scotland, but he almost lost his life trying to leave the country, after being brutally beaten, by sneaking onto a plane with a load of passengers all fearing for their lives and Amin’s henchmen chasing the plane down the runway upon realizing that the physician was on that plane.




This story was told by Mike and only late one evening sitting around the campfire after many had gone to bed, did he tell it to a few of us after much prompting as we wanted to know more about how this enigmatic and intelligent man came to be in the bush of Zambia. None of us realized the horror that his story would entail.




After years in Scotland, Mike was missing his roots in Africa and returned, but long after Amin had been deposed and was living in exile in Lybia and Saudi Arabia. Not being interested in following his father’s footsteps, Mike wandered deep into the bush and found solace in the heartbeat of the nature of Zambia and all her inhabitants there. Mike had become well versed in the behaviors of the animals and took us on several adventures along the river where we encountered some rogue male elephants and once a leopard walking down the path toward us. Knowing the mindset of the animals gave him the understanding of how to respond so that we were never in danger. Guiding visitors through the bush was truly Mike’s calling, as well as his passion. He was able to interpret the activities of the animals without interrupting them, thus, when we came upon a nanny elephant tending three babies in a spot of shade one quiet morning, we could watch without intrusion, and feel the magic of the moment. Africa as you showed it to me will always live in my heart. Thank you, Mike, wherever you are.


Photos: Suzanne Cordrey



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