Noah’s Stockings


On holiday with the Atkinsons and De Beers in the drowning mopane forest at Lake Kariba 1964.

Noah’s Stockings

1916 was the last time lions were seen in Que Que.  Sir Roy Welensky, the prime minister,  famously said, “You can’t run a farm and a zoo.”  Tsetse flies are the carriers of nagana, animal tripanosomiasis (sleeping sickness).  The Southern Rhodesia game department, in an effort to control tsetse fly, shot over 300,000 wild animals in a big belt of country south of the Zambezi Valley. In the Valley itself, wild animals still abounded.

Noah’s Stockings

Before Kariba Dam was completed in 1959, on a remote stretch of the Zambezi River, a 2000 square mile lake began to form rapidly behind it.  The Batonka people had been resettled in anticipation.  It was expected that the game would head for higher ground too as they always did in the rainy season.

However, game from aardvaks to zebras headed in many instances for the wrong hills, that would soon become ever decreasing islands, finally submerging altogether.

Something needed to be done, and fast!  Senior Ranger, Rupert Fothergill of the game department with 60 African wild life wardens set out with two motor launches and 5 small boats to rescue the animals, large and small, from the valley.

They had a limited budget.  Primitive rafts were constructed out of 44 gallon drums strapped together.  Nets, boxes, sacks, cages, traps, ropes, drugs, darts and fuel for the boats and food for the team were assembled.  The valiant band captured the hearts and minds of the country.  The British Sunday Mail brought the mission worldwide publicity and offers of funding.  These were declined for fear of foreign interference. It continued on a shoestring budget.

Fothergill and his team noticed that ropes cut into the legs of the bound animals. He sent out a plea for nylon stockings. Plaited, these provided a strong but soft alternative.

I was too young, my mother thought, for high heels and nylon stockings. Fifty yard petticoats were all the rage.  I wore one under cotton frocks with gathered full skirts, bobby socks and patent leather shoes. Women dressed up to go to town.  Stockings were a must, so the average housewife went through quite a few.  They were thigh high, held up with suspenders  which had a habit of losing their buttons that held them up.  Aspirins, just the right size, were the perfect substitute.  Stockings laddered easily.  They didn’t make good rags the way men’s soft cotton underpants did for weekly polishing of the silver or washing down the car.

We were a frugal society and recycled and conserved everything.  My mother did all her baking for the week in one day, to conserve electricity.  Every rack was filled, the trays of biscuits, ginger bread loaves, and brown bread juggled around so they didn’t burn on the bottoms or brown too much on the tops.  Meringues were popped in last and left in over night as the oven cooled down.  Kariba would give us cheap  hydroelectricity.

The SPCAs were deluged with stockings.

Fothergill discovered many animals like antelopes and baboons could swim.  These were shepherded to Matusadona, a non-hunting area on the mainland, while the rest were driven into nets or into the water for easier capture.  They pioneered darting big game like rhinos with tranquillizers.  Then they were roped, trussed on stretchers and hauled by gangs of wardens to the waters edge,  slid onto pontoons and floated to safety.

I was lucky, as the daughter of a member of Parliament, to witness Operation Noah.  Over six thousand animals were rescued.

We have our own home cine but have yet to transpose it to a DVD.  Here is an excerpt from Rhodesian Spotlight made possible through Memories of Rhodesia. (This video is much more dramatic than ours!  Take a look.)

Also see epic pictures of the building of Kariba made available by Alan Smith on Eddy Norris’ web site:



  • Betty Goolsby

    Reply Reply April 9, 2011

    I am just blown away by the whole operation, also the killing of 300,000 animals to control the tsetse fly! It was ingenious that someone thought of stockings to soften the restraints,,,,it is wonderful what the human mind can come up with when there is an emergency!! Loved the story and your wonderful and very distinct memories!!

    • Diana

      Reply Reply April 9, 2011


      Yes, Operation Noah was really the beginning of the modern big game rescue operations which we all are familiar with today. Kariba is still a wild and wonderful place, a fisherman’s paradise and Matusadona Park, still being difficult to reach, is still full of game.
      It was a huge tragedy all that game was sacrificed in an effort to control sleeping sickness.

  • Beryl Gunn

    Reply Reply April 12, 2011

    The video was amazing and such a challenge to rescue that rhino. Operation Noah was indeed a wonderful effort to save the animals. Loved your story and I had almost forgotten the indignity of those suspenders, especially when the buttons popped and so uncomfortable when sitting on a bench! The inventor of pantyhose should have received an international award!

    • Diana

      Reply Reply April 12, 2011

      Yes, everything possible was saved, snakes and all, however much they protested. A whole new ecosystem evolved around the lake which I’ll be writing about next.

      I agree the pantyhose inventors are among the unsung heros of the world, although they must have made it to the bank alright.


  • John Nee

    Reply Reply April 17, 2011

    I remember in QQJS circa 1964, we would all traipse across to the hostel dining room on a Friday before closing for the weekend, and, sitting on the floor, watch films of the building of Kariba and the subsequent ‘Operation Noah’ as well as the tsetse fly control measures. Needless to say, we all wished we were a little older and could go along and help in such an adventure!

    • Diana

      Reply Reply April 18, 2011

      Yes, those were inspiring times, with everyone so intent on “Building a Nation” which was the UFP Party slogan at the time. I hate to use that other cliche’s but there was “So much to do and so little done” as Rhodes said and people felt the need to rise to the occasion.
      There was a Wild West aspect to life there, but so much wilder and more challenging than the West the century before given the challenges of greater disease, for ferocious animals, the rivers unnavigable to bring supplies inland and so on.
      You were not too late. You seem to have gone on to make a very interesting and adventurous life all the same, perhaps inspired by Rupert Fothergill?


  • Val Barbour

    Reply Reply May 15, 2011

    We wouldn’t dare swim in Kariba today! There are crocs the size of whales I am sure! They follow the house boats across the lake and feed on the leavings tossed overboard by the kitchen staff.

    • Diana

      Reply Reply May 15, 2011

      Val, I can’t imagine going to Kariba and not swimming! It’s so incredibly hot there. It was wonderful to flop over the side of your dads boat and cool off after all the sweat and toil of fishing! Your Mom and Dad have to get a salute for the patience of putting up with us. We must have gone down in the annuals of your history books ”as never again!”
      I have other photos from that trip of the chalets we stayed in and the getting ready for a day’s outing. I had forgotten how much it took to get launched. I expect you have copies of these also, otherwise I can email them on to you.

      I believe there is a cholera outbreak at the moment at Kariba. Too sad. It was such a premier holiday destination.

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