Thursday, July 12, 2007

And now we resume regular programming

Back to business. The following post will (hopefully) appear soon on my other blog, on the Getaway Magazine website.

“There’s no game left in Zimbabwe.”

I wish I had a greenback for every time I’ve heard that one. Fortunately, it’s not true, though as with the human population, it’s a monumental understatement to say things could be better for wildlife in Zimbabwe.

Wildlife has been hard hit in parts of the country close to population centres, and on private conservancies which suffered during the farm invasions. In the more remote parts of the country, however, such as Mana Pools and Hwange national parks, there is a glimmer of hope for the country’s environmental and tourism future.

Each year Mrs Blog and I take part in a game census in Hwange National Park. It’s a bit of a ritual for us, and we’re looking forward to the next one, which will be in September. It’s co-ordinated by Wildlife and Environment Zimbabwe (WEZ) – formerly the Wildlife Society of Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe’s parks have suffered in recent years from shortages of diesel (not just for Parks vehicles, but also for diesel-powered water pumps), and the vagaries of the weather. We’ve taken part in every census since 1999, and have seen the tragic sight of elephants dying, due to fuel and water shortages.

However – and it’s a big however – mother nature is a pretty resilient old bird. In the years when the drought hit hardest we noticed a commensurate spike in the number of predators. You couldn’t stop at a pan without seeing a pride of lion, lying full-bellied, under a tree. In those lean years, we saw packs of up to 15 hyena cruising waterholes in search of orphaned pachyderm babies.

I’m not here to argue the merits of elephant culling, but I can tell you that too many elephants and not enough water equals a lot of death. But, if you’re a lion, every day without a cloud can have a silver lining.

The water situation has improved a little in Hwange, thanks to support from Getaway readers and concerned people around the world, who’ve donated money to help the dedicated bank of volunteers who are repairing several pumps and pans.

Zimbabwe has some wonderful hidden wildlife treasures which have (so far) escaped the country’s ravages. On the last game count I saw herds of 30 to 40 sable, and similar numbers of Roan antelope in Hwange. There are still Black and White Rhino in Hwange, and we’ve seen herds of up to a 1000 buffalo.

The game census is conducted over a 24-hour period, from midday to midday over the last full moon of the dry season. Last year we had a pride of lion charge past our Land Rover in the middle of the night in pursuit of a baby elephant – the year before we watched a leopard stalking an impala.

So what? I’ll tell you what – the leopard was using an adult Roan – who obviously didn’t see the cat as a threat – as cover while he snuck up on the smaller antelope, creeping in its shadow towards the pan, not two metres from the Roan.

Yes, there is still game in Zimbabwe. I’ll let you know in September if that’s still the case.


ali g said...

Ah you've got me. Joining the 'cat whisperer' for trip to Africa.

vmac said...

Coming from Zim, and still having family there it's great to hear the good stuff amonst all the negative reports. Also good to know there's still plenty to see when i go back for my annual holidays!