Lessons from Munda Wanga Zoo

Updated: May 15

Life in Zambia, our adaptation (a short Kids Share story)

In 2017 while working in Zambia, life was challenging while coordinating and considering the contrasting hardships of those living in Zambia. We were fortunate to have had our time with new friends in two rural area developments supported by humanitarian organizations. What struck us the most was observing open kindness and genuine concern to help with our mission from those living in inadequate conditions and limited opportunities. No matter where we traveled in Zambia, affection from the people was always present for our team, and we naturally gave it back in equal measures.

After our two-week Kids Share Zambia workshop was complete, we headed to the Lower Zambezi River, near the Zimbabwe border. Our goal was to capture more of Zambia's wildlife and children living in rural communities. After many exciting days filming on a guided riverboat, getting dangerously close to hippos and elephants, but were unable to film lions in the wild, our driver recommended we stop at the Munda Wanga Zoo. We were told that the zoo needed rescuing after the owner had died, and now the Zambia military stood guard to protect the animals. For only $2 US dollars, we could visit the zoo and get up close to, specifically, the lions.

The zoo had been closed to the public that day. But we were told by the driver who lived locally, that they would open it just for us. When we arrived, we could see the zoo was in great disrepair with armed military guards, while the animals were held back in dilapidated and flimsy fencing. And yes, we could get dangerously close to the lions, but there were only two that remained. The zoo had intended it to be a botanical wildlife sanctuary, primarily serving the local Zambian's who lived nearby.

We did walk through what was once a beautiful botanical garden, no doubt a botanist's dream left to the wilds of Africa. When we meet the lion pair, they were stressed, currently hungry, and we imagined saying, help us or let us eat you! One of the guards and volunteer lion handlers offered Wari Om, our brave and very entertaining filmmaker, a closer look with his camera because it was feeding time. Wari Om jokingly kept saying, "just take the fence down; let's set them free!" (see short video clip below) We all wanted to set the animals free because, from our vantage point, it looked like they might be better off. We were lead to an area where the lions could almost put their heads through a makeshift feeding hole. As we watched the men dangle fresh meat hanging from a stick over Wari's head and camera, he got the wild shot he was looking for just as the lion lunged towards him and our hearts! It made for fantastic film footage, and you can see it in our Kids Share Zambia trailer.


The stressed zoo was disturbing for us to experience, and we did walk away, feeling the animals were not getting the care they needed due to lack of funding and experienced handlers. Still, instead of showing our shock and animal rights concerns, we decided to treat the men guarding the zoo with respect. They had rifles with warm smiles and were only doing what they could, given what appeared to be no experience being a zoo handler and no one in charge of the zoo with expertise. We decided to enjoy the adventure, tell the story, and live in the moment because few of these moments in life would give us this kind of insight. We also realized quickly, it is easy to have an opinion from the bleachers, but unless we are up close and living this day to day experience, we lacked a vision for what needed to be done to save Munda Wanga Zoo.

Before we thanked everyone for helping us, we were told that local children often visited to help out because they cared about the animals left in captivity and wanted to protect them in the wild as well. When we set out on our Zambia workshop adventure, we dreamed we would help bring light to some of Zambia's youth culture in stress and would lead to inquiries about our findings, bringing us more reporting in the field worldwide. Especially places like the Munda Wanga Zoo and the local volunteer children helping to care for the animals.

Our initial dream did not happen to continue Kids Share's worldwide reach with humanitarian organizations. Nor did our big documentary film idea after the Kids Share Zambia film. But instead, we got so much more. We went outside our comfort zone, made friends a world away, down roads we did not consider traveling, opened our minds and hearts to places we did not initially set out to see, and advanced our compassion for others in ways we could never have imagined. It is hard to witness injustice, but what matters is the willingness to look up close, even if it's not pretty, and adapt new ideas, instead of judging from the bleachers.

"A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable but more useful than a life spent doing nothing." — George Bernhard Shaw

Pictured above: Taken by founder Kristina Applegate, showing Wari Om, Kids Share Filmmaker near the Lower Zambezi River, with one of Munda Wanga's Zoo guards and right before the brave lion footage, photographing before supper.

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*Munda Wanga's Zoo Story

There is sparse information but what can be found was this, a zookeeper had bought the Munda Wanga's around 1950. His name was Ralph Sander, a civil servant in the then Colonial Government of Northern Rhodesia; he had a dream. His dream had always been to start his botanical garden, not very surprising as he was raised in a famous horticulture family based in Brugge, Belgium. When we arrived, Ralph had passed away from an illness, and the zoo had gone into disrepair. The zoo was taken over by the Zambia government.


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