Thriving riding safari business on peaceful and productive farm - Veterinary Practice
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InFocus

Thriving riding safari business on peaceful and productive farm

MARION McCULLAGH continues her reports on her Tanzanian adventures

MAKING the change from safari to our riding holiday was long drawn out, hot and dusty. It included changing driver, a new passenger to be delivered to Kilimanjaro airport and a flat tyre for the truck.

I gave in and went to sleep in the back, half hearing a most alarming debate about “turn left at the shop and right at the school”. It reminded me of getting bushed in the New Forest when phone and sat nav go dead and the only way to get to the farm is to knock on a door and ask for help.

Africa, however, was kind and we found the right track to Makoa farm, a coffee farm on the southern slopes of Kilimanjaro where we were to go riding. I crawled out of the truck into the warmest possible welcome.

Two German Shepherds and a small brown dog greeted us, backed up by Dr Laszlo Paizs and Dr Elisabeth Stegmaiser, owners of the farm. The darkness was absolute but we were safely escorted to our accommodation.

It was typically Tanzanian, a practical mosquito-proof tent, all zips and Velcro, sited on a permanent concrete base with an iron and banana leaf roof. The bathroom had ad lib hot water, which was heated by burning wood in an outdoor oven and fed into the irrigation system after use. The whole farm lived on irrigation from the river, all gravity fed.

It was the most absorbing mixture of Europe and Africa. The farm had been started in 1901 and its owners had included a German mission, White Russians and a Greek family. Its primary crop had been papaya which is the source of papain, a proteolytic enzyme which is used as a meat tenderiser and in anti-cancer therapy.

Back to bush

In the nationalisation of farms in 1972, the ownership passed to the local co-operative which harvested two coffee crops before letting it all go back to bush. This was made worse by the water drying up, as there were about 10,000 people using the water before it reached Makoa.

Now, all seems peaceful and productive, the water rights have been sorted out, the farm is rented from the co-op on a 20-year renewable lease and the Government is the final owner.

Laszlo and Elisabeth have 29 horses for their thriving riding safari business. We had chosen a day ride on the farm but most of the guests were more adventurous, setting off on real treks through the game parks, staying in different camps and riding among the habitat.

The uncultivated slopes and valleys provide important corridors for the movement of wildlife between the mountains and the plains. It is home to the most marvellous menagerie of rescued wildlife casualties including Willi the warthog which had had severe joint ill but now was friendly enough to sit on command and take titbits from Laszlo’s fingers.

Bahatey, the orphan monkey, lived free in the garden but liked to jump on people. After supper we took fruit outside for the bushbabies to come and eat from our hands. It was very special, very much an enchanted kingdom, and we were made to feel part of it.

Laszlo and Elisabeth have dog boarding kennels and practise as vets as well. Laszlo said that it was just like Europe, owners who say “Just come and have a look when you’re passing” and report illness when it is far advanced.

There are very few horses in Tanzania, probably less than 1,000. Laszlo’s horses include six imported from Germany where they had been putting up good performances in high-grade endurance competitions. Most of them were thoroughbred.

Now he breeds his own and trains them to be safari horses. They start work at around three to four years old and they are taken on safari on a headcollar for their first year and then schooled and ridden on the farm before being used on safari at the age of five.

Screening for AHS

Every horse has its temperature taken each morning to screen for African horse sickness. The horses are vaccinated against it, and anti-fly nets and sprays are used but they are still at risk. Early detection and aggressive treatment does save them.

We first met the horses when they were tacked up, ready for our ride. They were in their corral, heads under a thatch shelter, eating elephant grass. Laszlo said, “Everything eats elephant grass.” It looked coarse but the horses looked wonderful, lean and fit and relaxed.

I was introduced to Joy, a 15 hand chestnut four-year-old mare. She had no shoes, no bit and a treeless saddle. She gave me an exhilarating ride, trotting and cantering among the coffee bushes, under trees, along dirt roads. Laszlo rode in the lead, my daughter was behind me and one of the horse boys came at the rear. The pace left me in no doubt that Laszlo’s métier was endurance racing.

As we rode Laszlo explained all about the bush, the pasture, the coffee plants and the highly technological horticulture. There were huge glasshouses which produce cut flowers such as chrysanthemums and acres of outdoor cultivation with lights high above the plants, on frames so that the lights can be moved as the crop underneath needs them.

There were irrigation streams all around and Laszlo explained that those were controlled by computer to get the maximum benefit from the water. I had not expected to find such cutting-edge technology alongside the small family farms of the Chagga people – but Africa is always surprising.

It was also very hot. I was glad to stop for a drink of lukewarm water from a plastic bottle carried in the saddlebag. They told me about the guest who said, “Thank you very much but I don’t need to wash my hands,” when they offered him his drink. He was unaware of the real risk of dehydration.

Roosting bats

We ended our morning ride at the river, the horses were led away and we scrambled down the steep bank to see a cave which was home to a colony of fruit bats. The roof was a mass of roosting bats with only a few flying around. The river was dark and looked cool, pushing around a gravel bank. It was a quiet corner of the farm, a bit of the original forest, shady and unspoiled.

I rode again in the evening, through the cattle pasture where a herd of about 30 animals were grazing. The cattle on the farm were small and stocky and of mixed breeds. Breeding is done by artificial insemination and young males are castrated by Burdizzo.

Laszlo has tried using semen of European beef breeds on the local cows but found that there was no advantage in producing a bigger carcase as the cattle are slaughtered in the morning and all the meat is expected to be sold by the same afternoon as there is not much refrigeration.

The humped Boran breed is the most favoured as it is more resistant to flies, disease and parasites than European breeds.

It was a magical ride, criss-crossing the various habitats, spotting birds and baboons and watching the sun setting and finally riding back into the corral in the dark.

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