Spring has Sprung!
I remember when, I was a child, of being so excited for the bright bursts of ‘spring’ colour, from all avenues, leaves on the trees, buds bursting open and the petals of the Jacaranda spilling onto the roads and gardens, leaving, underneath them, purple carpets, which popped when you drove over them. Thinking back, I can see how wonderful it was being so naïve and living in a then, wonderland, which I called home.
Now when spring is around the corner, my heart is full of fear for the veldt fires which are destined to fill our night horizon. Burning seems to be a way of life in Zimbabwe around this time. Be it due to poverty and many people trying to catch rats to eat, or for clearing of land in preparation for the rains, or simply for revenge. Whatever it may be, Zimbabwe is turned into smoke and flames for the best part of August and September. I once believed, that education was the way forward with so many of the wrongs in this country, but sadly due to ever increasing poverty levels, I am afraid that even with knowledge there are certain issues we can not change, fire burning being one of those realities, no matter how hard we seem to try change it.
“Life is meaningless only if we allow it to be. Each of us has the power to give life meaning, to make our time and our bodies and our words into instruments of love and hope”.
- Tom Head (Author)
Each step that the Trust’s takes, is such a learning curve. I am thankful that with each one of these steps, I am able to embark on a journey of self realisation. As you all know my patience levels are tested constantly, and for me this has been one of my greatest challenges, living and dealing with conservation issues here in Zimbabwe. No one else’s clock seems to tick quite the same as mine, and there are many occasions when I find myself having to take very deep breath and count to a 100, long gone are the days of only counting to 10! In June of this year, the Trust was contacted by our National Parks to take care of a situation. A collection of animals, referred to as Noah’s Ark, had been captured in one of our premier Parks, and through, I pray, a greater conscience, our Director General decided to rescind this decision, and release these animals instead of sending them to a zoo overseas. We automatically reacted to this change of heart and in less than five days, we were bound for Hwange, to release Zimbabwe’s much talked about Noah’s Ark. You have all received the newsletter which outlines the release of these said animals, so I will not go into that. However, I would like to explain that as a result of this, move many doors have opened, and a few new directions have presented themselves to the Trust. After arriving in the Vumba, to release the captured Samango Monkeys, the Trust spoke with many of the stakeholders on the ground and the realisation of tremendous poaching and deforestation became a reality to us. With these facts racing through my mind, I returned to Harare with a multitude of ideas of how we might be able to assist. The long and short of it was that without trained manpower on the ground, to form a buffer against the main assault of poaching animals, we really are wasting our time. In light of this, I met with Martin Steimer, who runs an anti-poaching unit called Animal Lifeline in the Hwange area, to ask him to help with training. I have also been in contact with Charlie Hewat of Environment Africa with regards to a project in the Vumba. Together, we have got approval from ZPWMA to do the first anti-poaching training program in the Vumba, starting on the 1st November 2010. We, will be developing the Wildlife and Environment Protection Unit (WEPU), and this unit will operate throughout the Bunga Forest Area and the Botanical Gardens, and will be a reaction unit for the stakeholders who remain on land in the Vumba area, to protect against poaching and deforestation.
As I walked through the forests of the Vumba and saw these beautiful trees that had been growing, providing shelter and food for many different species below them for decades now lying, dying on the earth’s floor, my heart silently cried. The devastation throughout Zimbabwe is huge, vast, no, mammoth! Can we, actually make a difference, can we prevent further destruction – those of us who really care about the future of this land? Right now, there are questions which I have and which I want so badly answered. But who is there to answer them? The definition of chaos is “a state of complete disorder and confusion” this is where I feel Zimbabwe, stands right now. In amongst this are those of us who so badly want to see the light shining on the horizon, but for now our horizon is charred black and it will take time for that green bite to emerge. My dream is, that just as year after year the green bite continues to grow, so too in time will our future horizons, here in Zimbabwe. Because this land is our home we love her and we are here for her and so for now all we can do is crisis manage, one step at a time, one animal at a time and one tree at a time. So the answer of course is YES, we can do something to help restore our homeland. Hand and hand and through unity and determination we will find that horizon.
Orphans have become a way of life for the Trust, over the last six months the following animals have entered our lives and become part of our ever growing family;
Galadriel – a female serval arrived in a cardboard box, hissing as soon as you looked into the box. Her front right leg had been caught in a snare and was very swollen. Thankfully however we were able to save the leg and to day she is a beautiful, if somewhat aggressive serval. Being so young, she still has a good, eight or so months, before we have to decide what her future will be. Currently, I fear that there are no safe environments out there that will welcome an animal like Galadriel, without any threat of being poached either by dogs or wire snares!
Officially known as Madagascar, but rather affectionately called Mugsy – a young male, African Wild cat came into the Trust, from the Chirundu area in June. Mugg Wugg (another baby name he responds to!) maybe one of Africa’s smallest cat species but he most certainly has a character of a tiger! This little cat has survived one tragic event after another and still remains positive, loving and keeps everyone on their toes. At around three months old, Mugsy developed a condition called joint ill, which is a bacterial infection that develops in any joint, and left untreated can cause irreparable damage. However, it is highly uncommon in felids, and Mugsy’s case was the first seen by the vets in a kitten. He has been on a extensive course of antibiotics, as well as supportive treatment, but only time will tell with this little tiger as his limbs grow, the full extent of the damage to his leg. It certainly does not hamper his pounce ability!
Apple Blossom – a female common duiker arrived in September, weighing only 2.7kgs together with a fledgling eagle owl, who has aptly been named Archimedes! Once again, both of these critters came from the Darwendale area. We are so relieved that people are bring these orphans in and not just leaving them to a fate we would rather not know about. Apple has adapted to the bottle very well as well as starting on solids. With a piggy squeal, every time you pick her up she has learned what the routine is, and looks forward to her basket of daily delights from dandelions to Msasa leaves.
Each one of these orphans, have their own stories to tell of how they became orphans. Unfortunately most of them have one thing is common, they were all going to die should it not have been for the kind people who found them and brought them into us. In order for Apple to be released from her captors, a goat had to be given as a swop! This does not sound correct, almost like an eye for an eye and which animal has more value? There are question and decisions such as these that we are faced with and morality, does not feature, so it seems with many of these cases.
In July, I travelled to Victoria Falls to see how Makwa and Kennedy were doing at the Wild Horizons Trust. It was great to see that both elephants condition, had improved and they were walking daily into the wild regions surrounding Wild Horizons. Each day they will be learning more and more about what is required ultimately to be a wild elephant. Their characters have emerged little bit by little, Makwa is very much a wild animal at heart, and there is no way she wants to have anything to do with the human ways (she certainly has her head screwed on the right way!) Kennedy however, is much more forgiving and is not so hostile towards his fellow handlers. Whilst I was there, the two young elephants would go out walking daily with Miss Elly and Lulu, together with their minder. From a distance we could watch the four of them interacting with one another. Their trunks, investigating the, new branches and leaves, which they came across whilst on their walk. Early in the morning when they are let out of their stables, their excitement can be seen as their tails are lifted high up into the air and the ears start flapping forward and backwards and they do the elephant jog, not quiet a walk but certainly not a run. We will be following their progress.
One of the Trust’s key species is the Southern African Hedgehog. This tiny spiky creature has become part of our lives in a “big” way! 2010 will be the first year that we will be releasing hedgehogs into the wild. Stuart and Michelle Johnson, who are based in Esigodini, will be heading and monitoring the release of these animals back into their natural environment. With every release project there are mortalities and steps which we take and then have to re-think and step in a totally different direction. Nonetheless, all these steps are vital for the further survival of this species. It still amazes me that there are so many people who are totally unaware that Zimbabwe even has its own hedgehog species!
On the 2nd of September, Hooch our female wild cat started showing signs which were very similar of that to giving birth. Watching her closely we noticed that by early afternoon she was passing fresh blood. After phoning Clare Savage of Chisipite Vet Surgery, I asked if she would not mind coming on her way after surgery later that same day to check on Hooch. Returning to see Hooch after the phone call, it was evident that she was in terrible pain, arching her back and squatting at the same time. Quickly, we put Hooch into a basket, and called Clare telling her we were on our way and Hooch was not in a good way at all. Both Clare and Margie were quick to react to the very serious situation which we were presented with. Without delay, Hooch was anaesthetised, stomach shaved and Clare cut an incision down the length of her stomach. What Clare discovered was in fact a grossly oversized uterus, which was bleeding from a massive tear running the length of the organ almost to the external opening of Hooch’s genitalia. Literally had we waited another hour or two, it would have cost her life. Drs. Savage and Peacocke did a phenomenal job removing the damaged uterus and repairing the tear. The biggest concern was that Hooch’s bladder would function normally and pass urine out of the body, as opposed to leaking it into her abdomen.
Once sewn up, Hooch was brought home, put inside, on a hot pad, as after an operation of such magnitude, animals struggle to regulate their temperatures. Hooch is our “Grand Dam” who started our African wild cat project so many years ago. It has been a huge hurdle to over come and bring her through the worst of the operation. Despite all our efforts over those first few days, Hooch still developed a condition called, peritonitis and there were some very long and tense hours spent wondering if there was anything further one could possibly do. But true to her indomitable spirit, Hooch was very determined to see just how much extra special treatment she could get out of her adoring humans. Whether it was playing cushion for her to knead and sharpen her claws on, or delicately placing droplets of vanilla yoghurt on her tongue, or simply telling her how much we loved her, Hooch got the very best care and therapy. We are exceptionally pleased to report that Hooch is now almost back to normal, and is re-establishing her pecking order on the outside world. Being spayed now of course Hooch and Starsky are reunited without fear of producing any kittens – they are back in love – Hooch of course in total control of their relationship!
We here at the Trust, would like to thank all of you, who make it possible for us to continue doing the work that we are doing. Each week brings with it new challenges as well as a heart sore story – thankfully due to your support we are able to address each issue and try to solve it, to the best of our ability.