The camera that survived seven months in an African river

Lugenda

[words and photograph © Narina Exelby]

One evening last November, as night closed in over the Lugenda River in northern Mozambique, Nic van Rensburg chuckled, took a sip of his G&T and then in a thick South African drawl said, “you know, man, I have a funny story about this river.” Nic actually has a lot of stories about this river; he’s been the manager at Lugenda Wilderness Camp for the past six years and, over that time, has gathered many campfire tales about life on the banks of this beautiful, far-flung place – from incidents with hippos to altercations with poachers. (We had, in fact, spent the previous few days tracking elephant herds and scouting out recently used poaching camps.)

But the mystery of the missing camera was something different; a treasure story of sorts. Nic had heard, via the bush telegraph, that fishermen had caught a mysterious object in their nets; word was it might be a camera. And that evening, on the banks of the Lugenda, Nic told us that his staff were in negotiations with fishermen to recover the object. It might just be the GoPro that belonged to Mike Scott, a friend of some of the camp staff… Can you imagine the footage it’d contain, if it was that GoPro, and if it was still working, we mused as we sipped our G&Ts late into the summer evening.

Fast-forward to yesterday, when this email arrived in my inbox. It came from Mike Scott:

In April 2012 I was part of a kayak expedition on the Lugenda River in Niassa Game Reserve, Mozambique. We had been recording our journey with still photographs and a GroPro video camera. On day 10 the GoPro camera was lost in the river when a kayak capsized. We were sad and had little hope of ever seeing the camera again with all our precious footage.

In November 2012 when the river had receded to its lowest levels a local fisherman found this strange object in his catch. He sold it to a notorious group of poachers, who though it was secret spy-ware used by the local safari operator to clamp down on their nefarious deeds. The safari operator’s undercover anti-poaching unit got wind of this story and in one fell swoop, set up a sting operation where they netted the poachers and recovered the camera. The camera finally ended up in the owner’s hand in April 2013.

What was on the camera? Here’s video footage of the last few minutes captured on film – and the first few moments the camera was held by the fishermen or poachers. (The first minute of the video isn’t too interesting, so start watching at 1.03.)

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