It never ceases to amaze me of the strength and resilience of wildlife. Over this past decade, the animals in Zimbabwe have been under tremendous pressure from man. The three zebra in the Vumba have been no exception. Even though the zebra sightings have become a regular part of the trips to the Vumba, we were notified about a month ago by Revayi Mudzingwa, Warden of Vumba National Parks, that two of the three zebra had been herded by a few unknown persons in the Vumba to an unknown location. Alarm bells started ringing, as they were an easy target for poaching and Parks asked us if we would relocate the zebra to Osborne Dam, which is a National Park just outside of Mutare.
Thankfully, due to Mr Tim Paulet and his company Wildlife Management Services International, we were in a position to move the zebra on behalf of Vumba National Parks. On Friday 7 January 2011, we set off in search of the stallion. What we were not at all prepared for was the MIST! Visibility was certainly no more than 5 or 6 meters in a straight line. The WEPU and National Parks scouts had gone out early in the morning to locate the stallion. When we arrived at the said location (thank goodness for cell phones) we had to whistle in order to identify where exactly everyone was as there was no visibility. Mist was everywhere! We located the stallion; Tim drew the dart ready for him and then sighted his gun. Everything was in place. Tim had the stallion in his sights aimed and fired – impact was heard – the dart hit the stallion squarely on his rump. He stood for a while and then without warning ran down the mountain moving further and further away from us who were following on foot. Concerned not to chase him and push him further, it was difficult to follow without losing sight of him. The mist seemed to be moving closer and closer towards us, and then before we knew it we no longer had sight of the stallion. He had been swallowed up by the mist. Time is an interesting factor when capturing game. There are those days when you seem to find yourself just sitting and waiting and waiting and then there are days like the one we were having – time vanished. We searched the surrounding area following the fresh spoor of the stallion realising two and a half hours later that if we were going to move the other two zebras today – we had to go to where they were being kept. We divided the WEPU scouts in half so that half of the unit could remain under the supervision of Wadzi ……, whilst the other half came with us to help with the remaining two zebra.
Moving wildlife is not an easy task and with every capture there is always something new to be learnt. This capture was no exception. The mother and foal duo had been herded the week before by our WEPU scouts, under the supervision of National Parks, to Fernview Valley Police Station for safe keeping until we were able to get to the Vumba and move them. We would like to thank the Police Station and their staff for taking care of the zebra whilst they were waiting collection. What we had not quiet anticipated was the road, or rather, lack of road to get to where the zebra were based. We took the 8 ton truck as far down the road as we could possibly do so, and then it was decided that the rest of the way we would go in the 4 x 4 open back pickup, returning with the two zebra on the back being held by simply manpower! It all made for interesting thoughts on the way there. We arrived to see both mother and foal looking calm which was fantastic. Tim could get very close to both zebras. Once assessing the weight of the zebra, Tim calculated the drugs which would be required to knock them both down so that we could move them. The dart gun was sighted and then it was action.
First dart hit its target – the mother zebra. In no less than 7 minutes the mother started to feel the affects of the drugs. She dropped down and was unconscious in no time at all. Straight away her eyes were covered and we moved the vehicle into position to lift her up on to the back. This is certainly no mean feat, to lift an adult zebra onto the back of a high rise pickup. Holding onto her head and making sure that the blind fold did not come off her face I have to say I wondered how on earth this would all work out. Not only did we have to get the zebra onto the back of the vehicle, but she had to remain there!!! Due to a very supportive group of on lookers as well as the WEPU scouts, the task was completed and as soon as the mother zebra was loaded we moved into position to pick up the her foal. After the mother, the foal was as light as a feather! With both zebra loaded we headed back to the truck with a crate, in which they would continue on to Osborne Dam in.
Just before we embarked on the next leg of this journey, Revayi received a call, letting us know that the stallion had been found and was fully recovered from the dart, eating grass not too far from when he had been darted. What a relief!!!
Remembering that the road was very eroded as well as bumpy, we felt every single bump as did the zebra. It was no more than 200 meters when the zebra start to get up onto all fours. Immediately Tim stopped the pickup and administered more sedative, to make sure they remained unconscious for the remainder of this trip. After a couple of minutes the drug took affect and we were able to proceed with caution. Once at the truck the zebra were reloaded into the truck. Once inside a secure crate, the reversal drug was given. In a few minutes both zebra were up on their feet and adjusting to the sound of the truck. The trip in the truck to Osborne Dam was about a 30 minute drive, obviously going very slowly. Once at Osborne Dam the zebra were herded into a boma so we could monitor them for a few days before being released into the main area of Osborne Dam where there are other zebras and wildlife.
This mission would not have been possible without the dedication of Mr Tim Paulet who has been involved with wildlife capture since the early 60’s. Tim has donated his time and vehicles which included an 8 ton truck with specialised crates attached as well as his own 4 x 4 vehicle – affectionately known as “Rusty” to this operation. A huge thank you goes to Revayi Mudzingwa and her National Parks Team as well as to our very own WEPU scouts all of whom where instrumental in putting this operation together and making sure that all animals involved were given the utmost of care. As soon as the rains have subsided a little we will be returning to collected the stallion and take him to join the other zebras at Osborne Dam.