A Great start to the Season.

Sean’s guiding season has now started for 2018 and what a start it has been!!  The last 2 weeks have been spent in the amazing Hwange National Park where he has seen some incredible sightings. First off a mother lion and her 3 cubs sitting under the shade of a Leadwood.  Like all youngsters they squirmed and climbed on her, and chewed her ear, then her tail until she had enough.  She gave the closest cub a huge lick, knocking it onto its back as if to say “Enough!!” and then they all slowly wandered off.

Another unusual sighting was seen in a shallow pan, rounding the corner of the dusty road, there was a Male Ostrich sitting in the water!  He must have been really hot in the midday sun, and decided that the water looked very inviting.  He was there for about 5 mins, before fluffing up his feathers and stepping gracefully out of the water. Another quick shake to rid his feathers of the excess water and he looked refreshed as he sauntered off into the savanna landscape. Swimming Ostrich

And just this morning, while on a transfer to main camp, Sean and his guests came upon a stand off between a Leopard and a troop of Baboons.  There was a huge shouting match going on as the Baboons swore and cursed the leopard who had clearly chosen the wrong troop to mess with.  Baboons and Leopards are arch enemies, with the Baboons being a favourite meal for the spotty cat.  But this bunch of apes was not having any of it and but after an hour or so of standing their ground, they got bored and moved off, leaving the Leopard to some peace and quiet.

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Africa’s Travel Indaba

Indaba

I’m in Durban, South Africa today for Africa’s Travel Indaba which is one of the world’s largest marketing events in Africa and attracts the widest variety of Southern African tourism products, agents and operators.  It is very exciting to be a part of it this year, and I am looking forward to seeing what is out there, what plans are there for African tourism and the products on offer.  We are going to be getting our name out there to international community as well and carry the Zimbabwean flag as it were, to let everyone know how amazing our beloved country is.  I hope to make some new friends and colleagues as well as connect with some old ones.

A lot of the camps, lodges and hotels in Zim have sent representatives to this event, to market themselves to the international agents, who I am sure will be looking to see how little old Zimbabwe is doing after our political developments last year.  The excitement and the hope for our country is carried in each one of us and our enthusiasm will hopefully encourage people to come and see our beautiful home.

How nice it would be to live in the bush…..

We often visit the bush and think ‘gosh it would be lovely to live here and have wildlife on your door step each day’.  But would it, really? Oh course it would be wonderful to see the elephants wandering past everyday on their way to find water, or the warthogs snuffling around your tent in search of food.  But imagine if you were trying to make a living from where you lived by growing vegetables or crops, raising your chickens and cattle so your family could eat?  The veges wouldn’t get their delicate leaves a cm from the surface of the soil before something, birds, Baboons, Warthogs, Bushbuck, Elephants, Buffalo……would have eaten, stomped or killed them.  The chickens would be a bush takeaway for the likes of Serval, Genets, Wild Dog and the cattle are sitting targets for Lion and Hyenas!  With the human population expanding as we are, our living spaces are encroaching on the wild life areas, gone are the ‘buffer zones’ of old where there was land set aside to act as a buffer between the national parks and the communal areas.  Humans need every single metre there is and we are creating pressure on the wild life areas, with more poaching, poisoning and hunting happening because there is no longer enough space for us to have our 20 cattle grazing for 2kms to feed our family.

Human – Wildlife conflict is a huge and very real problem for both sides.  Elephants have less area to forage so they come and eat the beautiful maize growing not too far from their ranges, the rural communities have been putting all their time and money in to nurturing that crop to feed their families for the next 5 months, and a herd of elephant come in and destroy it in a night.  It is very understandable for them to want to kill those creatures that threaten their livelihood or have to resort to poaching to feed their families.

Planning

This is not a problem seen only in this country, it is worldwide. In Zimbabwe, there are a few projects that have been setup to try and address this problem.   One of which is The Soft Foot Alliance which works with the surrounding communities of Hwange National Park.  On our 3 week trip we were lucky enough to meet a couple who drive this initiative and since have been following and researching their projects on facebook.  This Trust is “dedicated to improving the lives and landscapes of people living on the boundary of Hwange National Park and at the same time achieving a sustainable co-existence with wildlife.”  How do they do this you wonder?  By helping the local people understand wild life and the environment they can help them live in harmony, while not changing their way of life drastically. A project like the ‘Mobile Boma’ to keep cattle safer from lions and hyenas, as well as at the same time using the cattle waste to fertilizer their crops.

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Or the setting up of bee hives around vegetable patches and maize fields to discourage elephants from coming in to eat them, with an added benefit of having honey to eat and sell.  It is ideas and education like this that will strengthen and promote both the people and the wild life of this planet.

Bee keeping

The communities don’t need ‘handouts’ to sort their problems, they need to be educated and shown how to do it for themselves, time spent helping them is more valuable than money tossed at them.  It is my opinion that this only helps the short term problems and not the long term sustainable future for generations to come.

Photos credited to The Soft Foot Alliance Trust. 

Highlights of Zimbabwe

The purpose of my blogs are to give you a taste of what is on offer around our beautiful Zimbabwe, the diversity and choice, and to encourage you to come and experience the country for yourself.  We are always delighted when we discover yet another area that offers unusual flora, fauna, interests or activities.  I have decided to do a mini summary of the main areas with photos to show you the overwhelming beauty we have here.  It is by no means conclusive, it is only to show you the diversity on offer in our little Zimbabwe.  Starting from Mana Pools National Park in the north of the country moving clockwise around Zimbabwe, you can see the many different habitats, animals and climates found in the different areas.  If you would like any more information about one or all of these, please get hold of us.  We are always excited to share Zimbabwe with you.

Mana Pools National Park, famous for its open flood plains and Faidherbia Albidia forests kissing the banks of the great Zambezi River before it makes its way into Mozambique and the Indian Ocean.   The herds of elephants and buffalo, the beautiful walking areas and wealth of animals waiting to be discovered.

Umfurudzi Safari Area is located about an hour from Harare, and provides unsupervised walking and mountain biking trails around this rocky area.  Both camps are located along the Mazowe River providing a wonderful calming view over its waters, with a good selection of plains game to find.

The Eastern Highlands is made up of a few different areas, Nyanga, Bvumba, Honde Valley and Chimanimani.  They are all mountainous, lush forested areas, and a stark contrast to say Hwange or Mana.  They don’t hold the game viewing appeal but for active visitors who enjoy biking, walking, fishing or birding, these areas are ideal and never disappoint.

Gonerazhou National Park is a large area in the south of the country that seems to have a bit of everything.  Best known for the Chilojo Cliffs and the Save and Runde Rivers, which create a stunning vista with the surrounding hills and kopjes providing postcard views.  But moving away from this iconic area provides wonderful areas that hold so much game and always something to surprise you, be it an area that looks like you are in Mana Pools or a herd of a hundred elephants!  Due to its diverse ecosystems, the birdlife here is incredible, a must for any enthusiastic twitcher!

Kyle Recreational Park is a small area situated around a lake, with unusual game and beautiful scenery.  It is one of the smaller game areas in the country but provides the perfect place to stay when visiting the Great Zimbabwe Ruins.  These ruins are impressive to say the least and were the capital of Zimbabwe during the late iron age, with construction beginning in the 11th century by the Shona people of the area as a royal palace for the local king.  It is dripping with history and culture, with enthusiastic guides to explain your way round.

Matobo National Park is the resting place of the discoverer Cecil John Rhodes, who travelled the continent of Africa, discovering its many hidden gems.  This area derives its beauty from the huge granite boulders, piled up reaching for the sky.  They look like they have been balanced precariously by giants, and create interesting images.  This park also boosts having both Black and White Rhinos, where you can walk with the Park Scouts to track and see them on foot.

Then of course Hwange National Park, the largest in Zimbabwe with its open, almost flat landscape home to herds of buffalo, elephant and impala, a huge amount of bird life and great choice on places to stay.  Also being so close to Victoria Falls makes it very accessible.

Victoria Falls, the seventh wonder of the natural world doesn’t need much introduction, with a growing town to provide all sorts of adrenaline activities, the Zambezi National Park within a half hours drive, delicious restaurants and cafes, game excursions and a huge wealth of history, it is a must for any first time visitors to Zimbabwe.

And lastly, for this blog, the Matusadonna National Park set on the shores of Lake Kariba, with the relaxing option of house boating around the Lake to view the game, or spending your holiday fishing for the infamous Tiger Fish.  There are also camp options on the shoreline if the boat doesn’t appeal to you.  The open shorelines offer great game viewing and the variety of birdlife is astounding.

Nyanga in the Eastern Highlands

20180404_104745On a recent trip to Nyanga in the Eastern Highlands of the country, we were struck by how different this area was to the usual “bush” area that we refer to when we talk about the African bush.  It’s a very walking and mountain bike friendly area with no big game, except the odd cow wandering about, to pose any danger.  Lions and Leopards have been sited here but they are not usual.   So the area presents a stunning area for the energetic among you, with not much flat land about, and rolling hills being the norm!  The climate is cooler than Harare and Vic Falls most of the year round and reminds us Zimbos of the UK or Scotland landscape.  It has huge pine forests standing tall on the side of hills, with huge granite boulders perched in between, valleys holding lakes and rivers, with trout fishing being a popular pastime.

This area offers majestic views, especially if you are feeling energetic enough to climb Mt Inyangani , the highest mountain in Zimbabwe standing at 2,592 m (8,504 ft), located in the Nyanga National Park. The mist frequently envelops this mountain, so climbing it should be done with someone experienced enough not to get lost. As with many impressive things in Africa, it is swamped in superstition, and is said to be home to one of the Supreme Spirits that created life and influences human destiny.  Locals advise you not to offend him by pointing at the mountain or stamping your feet in anger or making loud noises when you are climbing. If the thought of climbing to that height doesn’t appeal to you, then the next best place to get majestic views is Worlds View on the Nyanga Downs Plateau.  This is only a half hours climb up but has a 600m (2000ft) drop to the plain below, allowing a view to the west, and on a clear day you can see places up to 70km away. A tower at the viewpoint bears a toposcope on which the direction and distance to thirty African localities are inscribed on slabs of black granite.  The nicest thing is to take a picnic lunch and after your climb to the top and down again, settle on one of the picnic benches with a view either West down onto the plain below or East over the Connemara Lakes.

Nyanga also has rich cultural history, with numerous ruins on the tops of hills, lowland enclosures and some fascinating pit structures with a disputable background.  There is also the Rhodes Museum which documents the colonial history of the area.

April is a beautiful time of year, as there isn’t too much rain but just enough to encourage the wild flowers, mushrooms and birds to show themselves before the cold winter arrives in May.  The many tracks and trails are very accessible and are ideal for mountain biking or horse riding.  Or a challenging golf course at one of the Hotels, provides hours of entertainment.  Be sure to plan a trip here the next time you are in Zimbabwe, to see another area of our beautiful country.

A night spent up a tree

Nearing the end of our 3 week trip we had the chance to sleep out in a tree platform which was so very peaceful and novel.  It was a few kms from the main camp and was set up at in three levels, in and around a huge tree.  The bedroom was at the highest level with the most impressive view out over the surrounding grasslands.  With an open air toilet and shower on the middle level with a open decking area on the nearest to the ground level.

We were dropped there after dinner, armed with our torches, radio and change of clothes, we climbed the wooden stairs up into the branches of the tree.  We could hear the snort of the wildebeest and impala not too far away, who were not happy to have us as neighbours tonight.  Sadly we didn’t time it right as it was not a full moon, but we could imagine the whole area bathed in moonlight, providing the most incredible vistas at night.  We climbed into a very comfortable bed, and was just able to glimpse the branches of the tree silhouetted in the weak light outside our mosquito netted window.  We dozed off to the sounds of Hyena calling in the distance and a Spotted Eagle Owl hooting in a tree a little way off.

DSC_2984The morning was a spectacular view, the sunrise lighting the room in its gentle pinks and oranges.  We took the tea basket we had been given the night before and climbed down to the bottom level to a pair of chairs set out on a deck facing the open area where we could see the herd of wildebeest wandering through the wet landscape.    We enjoyed our filter coffee and muffins in the fresh morning breeze while we safely watched the goings on from our lofty vantage point.  Eventually our grumbling stomachs forced us to radio camp to ask for someone to collect us for breakfast.

Life Giving Water in Hwange

9W0A7908Hwange National Park falls into the semi arid climate region of Zimbabwe receiving less than 650mm per year on average, with most rain falling from November to February and almost nothing in the winter months of May to September.  With temperatures reaching 40 degrees C and being above 30 degrees C for most of the dry season, combined with Kalahari sands, the pans and water holes don’t hold the rainfall for long.

Before the area was declared a National Park, in the drier months the animals would migrate to neighboring countries, leaving the area devoid of all but the most hardy of creatures.  During the rainy season, this area was the hunting area of the great Matabele king, Mzilikazi, as it was unsuitable for any agriculture due to  its lack of water and poor soils. But since it became a National Park in 1930, something had to be done to provide water for the animals in the area and so pumping of water into the water holes started.  The first game warden for the area, Ted Davison, retells the many challenges and problems he had to overcome when he began implementing this scheme in his book entitled “Wankie, The Story of a Great Game Reserve”.   He recounts his achievements and struggles to create this magnificent park, with tales of his long journeys across the unexplored wilderness with his wife, some helpers, two horses and a donkey, to try and find water in the driest times of the year.   Once the areas where water was present all year round, albeit very many meters under the surface, were found, construction and insertion of Lister engines to pump the water to the surface were slowly installed.
9W0A4763These worked well, but proved expensive to maintain and fuel, but with the recent technological developments, the Lister engines are slowly being replaced by solar powered pumps.  One of  organizations responsible for this is The Friends of Hwange Trust, who raise funds to erect and maintain these life giving structures. They began with 10 key pumps in the northern area of the park, but today are responsible for all the pumps in and around Main Camp.  The water demand is huge, if one adult elephant needs about 100L of water a day to survive and there are on average 30,000 elephants in the park at any one time,  just the elephants need about 3 million litres of water a day, that isn’t counting the other animals.  So they are tirelessly trying to find eco-friendly and effective ways to provide the animals of Hwange National Park with life giving water during the harsh dry seasons.

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Predator Excitement in Hwange National Park

Ngamo Plains

Green season in the bush is not the ideal time to see the big game, with the grass being tall and the shrubs being in full leaf, there is just so many more places for the animals to hide.  Also the water is sitting in puddles or seasonal pans all over the place so, especially in an area like Hwange where the game relies heavily on the solar powered watering holes, the animals don’t have a desperate need to come down to the designated water holes.  But in saying this, the bush is always full of surprises and in some areas of Hwange, the creatures on everyone’s bucket list are very visible all year round.  We were lucky enough to be able to stay in one of these areas on our recent trip and on a game drive to Ngamo Plains, we had a beautiful sighting of a pride of lions.  This area is within the Wilderness Safaris concession so is not available to the general public unless you are staying at their camps, but it is a very happening place all year round.  The area is a huge almost treeless area surrounded by teak and acacia forests, and is quite breathtaking, with a huge diversity of bird life as well as hosting herds of zebra, wildebeest and impala almost all year round, which in turn brings the predators.

Lounging Lions

We had been alerted that this pride had been seen the previous day in the area, so we were scanning the wet grass scape for their light tan forms, but as always are surprisingly difficult to see.   We eventually spotted them way off in the distance, and could count 3 females and 7 youngsters of varying ages on a wildebeest kill.

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There was not much left of the poor victim, with just the head and skin being squabbled over by the greedy youngsters, while the adults lay nearby with bulging bellies in the grass.  Eventually one sub-adult must have won the disagreement, and walked off to a nearby mound to enjoy the remaining tatters.

An adult and 2 cubs got up and began moving off from the pride, making their way purposely towards the treeline in our direction.  From last nights storm and torrential rain, the area was full of puddles and they were clearly used to wet feet and plodded their way through.   They passed right in front of our vehicle, giving us a lovely close up view of them as they splashed their way towards the thicker bush and trees to our left.

DSC_2405They took a few more paces into the longer grass and disappeared like ghosts, just a flick of the black tail, the follow me sign, showing for a few more moments before they were gone.  Whether they sat down just out of sight or whether they carried on, who knows, but it highlighted the fact that although you may be able to see into the bush, the animals are gifted with incredible camouflage and who knows what splendid creature is watching the vehicle from its hiding place just a few meters off the road.

We turned our attention back to the rest of the pride still lounging around in the grass but none looked like they had much else planned for the day, so we moved off to another area of Ngamo to stop for our morning coffee and muffins, very well received after our spot of excitement over the lion pride sighting.

 

The Graceful Giraffe

These magnificent beasts are such a beautiful sight, with their long spindly legs, their dappled coats and necks stretching up into the tree tops, making them the tallest mammals in the world.  The tallest giraffe recorded was 5.88m but on average they stand between 4 to 5m tall. Their patchy coats correspond closely with the colour and arrangement of the Acacia branches and thus are well camouflaged in these woodlands that are their preferred diet.   Generally, the colour of the patches start off lighter in calves and darken with age, and tend to lighten towards the legs which are usually whitish.

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The Giraffe is yet another example of the ingenuity of Mother Nature, with that long neck and the pressure of gravity you would think it almost impossible for the blood to flow all the way to its head! But with a blood pressure of double the readings of normal terrestrial creatures, and with about 150 beats per minute, this life giving juice can reach the brain along almost 2m of artery!

The horns on a giraffe’s head are present in both males and females with the females being distinguished by their fluffy tops and the males usually having bald tips.  As babies, they start off as soft cartilage and with age the horns solidify into bone.  The males use these protrusions when fighting, swinging their heads on their long necks and bashing them into the sides of their opponents to wind or knock them off their feet.

The social structure of a giraffe is normally casual, with herds or journeys being made up of females and their young.  A male will visit a herd for a few days and then move on, being a solitary creature for most of the time.  Gestation periods are about 450 days and a calf at birth weighs about 100kgs and stands just 1.5m tall.  Not much can beat doing a horseback safari through the Zimbabwean bush and being able to get within 5m of these amazing animals, to be able to see their long eyelashes, and long leathery tongues as they expertly strip a thorny acacia branch of its delectable leaves.

On a safari to Hwange or Gonarezhou you are very likely to see these tall loping creatures in amongst the acacia trees, but disturbing reports are surfacing recently that these beasts should be moved to the vulnerable category.  An extract from the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species states that the population has declined by 36-40% over the last 30 years, with populations in 1985 of the Giraffa camelopardalis species being about 160,000 and in 2015 falling to 97,500!!   Their decline is due to habitat destruction and poaching, as their tail in the local cultures, being a very strong talisman.  It will be a very sad day indeed when these towering creatures aren’t seen in the bush anymore and only in zoos.  Humans have a lot to answer for concerning the destruction and degradation of this beautiful world that we call home.