If ever we have to stand together it most certainly has to be for this year 2011. Only too frequently have I heard that life is a journey – enjoy the ride! Right now this roller coaster ride which Zimbabwe finds herself on, I fear does not have much enjoyment attached to it. But what Zimbabwe most certainly does not lack are those unsung heroes. A hero, I believe, is someone who feels that they can no longer stand by and watch, but rather have been moved enough to stand up and make a change to what they truly believe is wrong. I have spent the most amazing moments in the wild savannahs of Zimbabwe’s bush, being completely and utterly spoilt by her beauty and diversity of wildlife. With all the rains our veldt is rich with the variety of grasses, which allow every type of herbivore to gladly reach their fill. Elephants have the luxury of choice of only eating the tops of the grasses and leaving the ends. Sitting silently with my eyes closed being able to smell the veldt on the wind, I am able to dream of days long gone. But when I open my eyes reality arrives with a bang and my heart and lungs start to tighten as I realise that both our environment and wildlife are not safe and are constantly under threat. Each day that we wake, we are not certain of what policy or change or action needs to be taken.
There are a lot of remarkable people whom I have had the opportunity of meeting and working with, who will stop at nothing to allow this land we call home to be a land which is safe for our wildlife. For every one of these ‘hero’s’ there have been multiple sacrifices made to allow them to follow their path of dedication. When I was growing up, I always thought that a passion must be the most wonderful gift to have, yet as I have lived with my own passion I have realised that that passion does come at a price for those around us and to our own lives. It becomes something that consumes us and does not enable us to see outside of that world – each day just like taking your first breath your mind turns over and over in the hopes of being able to find another solution to what we face.
Throughout the world and over many centuries, the politics of land has been a turbulent topic. There is nothing more powerful than land and nothing more destructive than that greed for that land. Zimbabwe is living her history today and her future is looking very uncertain. I await the day when I can draw back the curtains and watch the sun shining through, without dread in my heart for all those animals which we just can not save, for the ones trapped in wire snares, or bleeding to death from being wounded.
Earlier this year the Trust was involved with the relocation of two rhinos from the Chiredzi River Conservancy where they were under tremendous threat. Two of the four remaining rhino were poached and their horns taken, in January of this year. Nothing prepares you, when you see the merciless killing of a beast which is not only 100% innocent, but has been a part of our planet for centuries. Who gives anyone the right to take a life? Stupid question in this day and age that we currently living in. GREED! The one major force which drives this madness. I walked through the bush with the smell of death filling the air all around me. The black flies darken the branches, the grasses as well as the carcasses. All that could be heard was the buzzing from the flies. There lying before me lay these two bodies – only a few weeks ago they were walking, eating and alive. Today in front of me, they were lying murdered and stripped of all dignity. These two rhinos did not deserve to die like this! This land where the murders had taken place, was the land where I had grown up and spent many holidays as a child. On this very land I began my love affair with nature and her splendid magnificence. It was her beauty that would in the future get me through many a sad moment. She had been my saviour time and time again. Running innocently through this veldt, laughing and playing without the knowledge that in a few decades of my own life I would be standing in that same veldt watching the animals being poached, murdered – for me I don’t understand the difference between the two. How do I repay this land who gave so much to me, when the fight that we are fighting is so enormous? Do we get a second chance? When all the animals have been taken and the trees cut and the grasses burnt? What will be left for us to marvel at? Over these past months I have wondered time and time again, how do we, keep going? The answer is now so clear, we have no choice but to keep going, to keep fighting.
On the 10th February 2011 two female rhinos were darted and translocated to safety. This effort was a massive undertaking involving many people who share a similar love or passion for this land we call Zimbabwe. Each one of us had a task to under take. On the day everything came together perfectly and in a matter of a few hours, the girls had been located from the air, darted, loaded into crates and moved. This all sounds so simple – it is not I can assure you, however the professional people involved made it all work like clock work. I sincerely thank all those involved for not only having the dedication which they all have had over this past decade but for never giving up with this fight. Due to the sensitivity of rhino issue currently, I will not mention the people and or organisations who were involved in this move.
Even though things do not smell like roses here in Zimbabwe I feel that we have to remain positive and look at the areas in our lives that we are able to make a contribution to. As you know the Trust made a decision to implant our animals (apart from the hedgehogs) in order to stop breeding for the time being. We reached that time of year again and our two male Bat-eared foxes were implanted as after the reaction Hooch (female African Wild Cat) had towards the implant (please see September 2010 newsletter) I was concerned to re-implant Sahara our female Bat-eared fox. Like with many of these things in smaller carnivores in captivity – not a lot of research has been done as to the long term side-effects. We have decided not to implant any of the female African wild cats as well as Francis our female Civet, due to this area of uncertainty. Though we are not breeding now, it is hoped that in the future we will be able to resume breeding these endangered species to repopulate protected and safe areas of Zimbabwe.
There has been such an amazing response with regards to this project. Even though hiccups have occurred along the way we have managed to overcome them and the project continues to go from strength to strength. Herewith follows a brief table of results to date:
NOV / DEC 2010
Day patrols : 20 days (not incl. training from 1st Nov to 19th Nov where daily patrols occurred)
Night patrols : 4 nights
Ambushes : 1 – wood poaching truck taking wood out of the Bunga Forest. The vehicle was detained.
Snares collected : 412
Other traps and nets : 27
Animal carcasses found : 1
Arrests and fines : 8 Poachers arrested
Day patrols : 16 days
Night patrols : 2 nights
Ambushes : nil
Snares collected : 145
Other traps and nets : 8
Animal carcasses found : 3
Arrests and fines : nil
Day patrols : 20 days
Night patrols : none
Ambushes : nil
Snares collected : 16
Other traps and nets : 2
Animal carcasses found : 1 (old)
Arrests and fines : nil
One of the biggest breakthroughs with regards to the Vumba I feel has to be moving the squatters out of the Bunga Forest. In the middle of 2010, several groups of people moved into the Bunga Forest and started settling there. With this move there was not only deforestation, poaching of the wildlife but also soiling of the river system that runs through the forest. So all and all, this was something that could not be allowed to continue. Furthermore, the Bunga Forest has never previously been inhabited and has been part of the Parks Estate for as long as Zimbabwe has been independent, so it should never have happened. Our gratitude goes to both, Revayi Mudzingwa, Warden of Vumba National Parks and Lawrence Nyagwande of Environment Africa Mutare, for the ground work which was required to move these people and their tenacity to make sure the squatters were removed. They had to get support from the Lands council right up to the Presidents Office. The approval was given and thanks to the support through National Parks Head Office in Harare, as well National Parks Vumba together with the WEPU scouts we were able to remove the squatters. This is a tremendous break through as you can well imagine for the Vumba. Hopefully it will act as a deterrent to any other potential squatters. Our scouts are out on daily trips as well as extended patrols and as you can see from the records, their presence is having an impact in the Vumba.
Bramble and Blue Bell introduced Hawthorne their first calf born and the Trust’s first steenbok born in captivity. To date Hawthorne has continued to grow in strength and size. Blue Bell has been an amazing first time mother which has been a huge relief. As we had never had a steenbok born in captivity we separated Bramble (male) from Blue Bell and we believe that this has been a positive step. Bramble and Blue are in enclosures neighbouring one another so that they have the company and do not loose contact. Once Hawthorne is a little older we will re introduce the two adults.
Releases seem to be something of a past memory seeing as we have a new policy of not breeding. However 2011 has seen a couple of releases already for the Trust.
The first release of its kind we believe in Zimbabwe, where both wild rescued and captive bred Southern African Hedgehogs are released in a communal manner. There have been many discussions with our partners in this project, Stuart & Michelle Johnson of Esigodini, as to the actual process and more importantly, post release monitoring of this release. We have not as yet perfected a tracking device for our hedgehogs, as they are considerably smaller than their European counterparts but we have stumbled upon a relatively simple and effective means of marking the animals with no invasion what so ever…… bright nail polish!
A release enclosure was established on Claremont Farm in Esigodini. On the 25th January the male hedgehogs were treated for parasites (Frontline) and placed in the release enclosure. Over the following four days food placed outside the enclosure to encourage them out. By the 7th February three of the four male hogs were being sighted on a regular basis. This was sufficient enough for the movement and release of the females from the same enclosure. A similar protocol was followed for the girls and we are very happy to report that they are being seen regularly and appear to be doing well. We are greatly encouraged by the fact that many of the released females have in fact gained weight!
Willow our orphaned impala has gone to a small holding where he will be the beginning of a new nucleus with two female impalas. On 23rd February 2011 Willow was introduced to not only the land that was to become his new home, but also the two females. It was fairly obvious that Willow would have to adjust to knowing that he was in fact an impala! The two females I believe will help him adjust incredibly well. The Trust would like to thank both Andy and Tina Lowe for their support as well as offering all three impala’s a new beginning.
Our three genet orphans, Hugo, Boss and Femme have also started there first phase back to the wild. On Saturday 12 March, the three genet travelled, to their new home in Mount Hampden. Here with the help of Neil and Nikki Deacon, all three genets will start the process of being rehabilitated back to the wild. They are in an enclosure which is where they will stay over the next month or so, adapting to their new environment. During this time they will be fed as well as being exposed to the wildlife in the area and well as the sounds. It has been four days since they were moved and we are delighted to report that all three including Femme are adapting well, their appetite as also not been affected which is a great relief.
I know that there are so many of us who have this feeling of helplessness with what we are up against. But I also know that we are very privileged to have the support of one another. It is through this strength that I know one of these days we will be able to draw back the curtains and celebrate in this land we call home. The uncertainly will be gone and the knowledge that we have done all that we could have done will be real. What was wrong has been righted. “the beating of our hearts will echo the beating of the drums”, we will be able to rejoice in new beginnings.