Zambezi National Park:
With the advent of the rains, the game has dispersed, but we are still getting great sightings on the Chamabonda vlei, while the Zambezi River frontage is very quiet.
Two wildebeest calves were born on the 27th- they were so young they could not stand up when first observed, but an hour later were running with the mothers.
The zebra have also had a good calf crop on the vlei.
There have been good sightings of lion and leopard on the vlei.
The first black Coucal was recorded on 27th, along with European Bee eaters, Common Buzzards.
Boreholes, Solar Units :
Both solar units up and working! Pumping for free! Plans are underway for the other two boreholes in 2014.
There has been a big increase in usage of the Chamabonda vlei by locals, with good reports coming in. They are taking the area to heart!
Some comments/reports from locals:
Wild dogs, 74 zebra, 29 sable, black backed jackal, elephant, kudu, baboons, buffalo, warthogs, duiker at Chamabonda this afternoon.
What another epic game drive in this recovering Eco system
– eland, sable, zebra, wildebeest, lion, leopard, warthog, bustards, buffalo, giraffe – an African thunderstorm complete with a double rainbow thrown in for good measure – there are some real wildlife heroes responsible for this abundance and diversity here in Vic Falls – keep up the outstanding work and commitment – it’s a privilege to bear witness to this
A special thanks to those who gave their time and helped in the field this year:
Gavin Rabinovitch for water divining,
Chris Lampard for sealing the water troughs on No 1, Dan Jones and Nathan Rabinovitch for spending a weekend at No3 assisting on building and plumbing, Mike Karasellos for assisting on engine maintenance, the volunteers from Planete Urgence who assisted in the chalet/hide construction, and Carel and Tom from Wilderness for making the solar panel frame and erecting it
Bhejane Trust 2013 report, Sinamatella.
Our excellent working relationship with the Parks staff continued in 2013 and we have become involved in yet more aspects of the running of the station – sometimes reluctantly. The outstanding feature of the year was an almost constant transport crisis. On many occasions the only vehicle running at Sinamatella was our Land Cruiser and as a result I spent a great deal more time than I would have liked simply driving. That cut down on the time available for other activities. Some details of the year are given below.
(i) Parks vehicles.
At the start of 2013 four vehicles were running – a Land Cruiser, a Land Rover, a Tipper truck and a tractor. All broke down on numerous occasions and by the end of the year the Cruiser, Tipper and tractor had all been out of action for two months or more. The old Land Rover, donated by SAVE Foundation has staggered through the year, rarely in good order but usually running. For most of the time it has had no reverse gear, no lights, no four-wheel drive, no starter, no cut-out switch and more or less no seats.
The Cruiser had numerous problems with the front axle and hubs, four-wheel drive did not work and by year end it had been out of action for two months with a broken rear diff
The Tipper twice broke down with all the bolts attaching the fly-wheel to the crank-shaft broken off. It had no starter and was out of action for an extended period with no usable tyres. At year end tyres had been obtained and Makomo had fixed the flywheel in their workshop. However in the time the vehicle was off the road, Regional Office in Bulawayo lost the pilot bearing which had been sent as a sample for replacement and it was proving difficult to get a new one without the sample.
The tractor was often out of order due to a timing problem. When that was solved, the clutch was found to be worn out so it was sent to Regional Office for re-lining. The re-lining was done in mid-year but meanwhile, Regional Office lost the thrust bearing and failed to find a new one so the tractor remained in pieces for many months, right through to year end.
In December a new Land Rover, donated by Mbada diamonds, was received. This greatly eased the transport situation but there are severe restrictions on the use of the vehicle – excellent in some ways but something of a problem in others. In my view the vehicle is unsuited to Sinamatella, being too complicated, so once the service contract runs out and Head Office funding dries up it will be impossible to maintain
(ii) Trust vehicles.
Our Toyota Hilux was out of order throughout the year. It needs new springs, shock absorbers, crankshaft pulley, swivel-pin studs and steering pump seals.
The Land Cruiser has been exceptionally reliable all year. Extensive repairs to the gearbox were needed in mid year but otherwise it has only needed minor repairs. It has, however, done a huge amount of work and now needs some attention to the steering and brakes as well as at least two new tyres and four tubes (constant punctures are one of my biggest headaches). Re-tempering of the rear springs, new shock absorbers and some auto-electrical work are also required but are not urgent.
The Canter (donated by SAVE) has been out of order for much of the year. The main problem was a leaking steering oil pump and this has still not been fixed though we had a new steering rack fitted at considerable expense. The suspension is in poor order and in December the vehicle was impounded by VID and released for repair at Sinamatella. We have been unable to afford to fix it. This vehicle is very useful and is still being used within the Park. The engine and gearbox still seem to be in good order but unless funds become available it will soon be unsafe to continue using it.
(iii) Outside help.
A number of people and organisations have helped from time to time with transport. In November and December, Makomo provided a staff bus to take rangers for shopping, time off etc. Wilderness safaris have occasionally loaned their tractor, Leon Varley, Kapula Camp, Khangela Safaris and Hwange Lion Research sometimes helped with deployments and Camp Hwange has been particularly helpful with ranger transport and the use of their tractor on many occasions.
Due to constant transport demands, we have not been able to do very much rhino monitoring in 2013. Amongst the few specific monitoring trips we have done, we have spent time at Matijoni, Vikane, Pongoro, Chawato and Surichenji, either following up on reports from rangers or searching for ‘new’ rhino.
At the start of the year four animals were known. Of these, the one female, number 299 has been extremely well monitored by rangers for most of the time. She is still relatively young and we can not hope for her to have a calf for at least a year, probably two. The dominant bull, number 251 has been seen on many occasions despite his very extensive wanderings. The young bull number 345 was seen on only a few occasions and seemed to be spending a lot of time out of the IPZ in Matetsi Safari Area. Bull number 327 was located a few times early in the year but not positively seen for many months up to year end though single spoor, thought to be his, was often reported.
In the course of the year two females with calves were located within the IPZ. We do not know where they were previously. One has been seen on several occasions but she is extremely shy and no-one has yet managed to read her ear notches or identify the sex of her calf. The other female has been seen twice and identified as number 159. The sex of her calf is not known. We have clear photographs and measurements of the spoor of the two calves and are absolutely confident they are two different animals. Patrol areas have been changed to take account of the presumed home ranges of these two females.
Reports of rhino in at least two areas where we do not think they are likely to be our known animals remain to be followed up.
The Area Manager has asked us to become more involved in monitoring in 2014 now that the transport situation has eased with the arrival of the Mbada Diamonds Land Rover. We intend to take patrols to some of the outlying areas where we think other rhino might be found and also to try to identify more accurately the home ranges of the two new females so that they will be easier to protect.
There has still been no positive response to our proposal for a fenced Rhino Conservation Area from Head Office so the project is still stalled. There has however been an offer of support and funding but this remains on hold until Head Office make a decision.
In late March/early April we received and installed another solar pump donated by the French organisation Le Pic Vert, thanks to Michel Buenerd. The pump was installed at Baobab Pan.
Unfortunately it was found to have a faulty inverter so we removed the inverter from Bumboosie South where the pump was out of order and used it at Baobab. The pump was very successful, keeping water in both the trough and the pan throughout the season. Michel eventually obtained a replacement inverter and we were able to get the Bumboosie South pump working as well. We were helped a great deal at the solar pumps by some of our groups of volunteers from Planete-urgence.
The motor for the small solar pump that was received from an anonymous donor via John Brebner of WEZ and originally fitted at Baobab developed a fault. John obtained a new motor and the unit was installed for a short time at Tshompani.
The diesel pumping units under Parks control are generally in poor condition and spares are in very short supply. Only Masuma and Shumba were pumped this year but even so there were numerous breakdowns which we were sometimes able to help to repair. Camp Hwange took responsibility for the pump at Shumba, providing diesel and oil and we repaired the wind pump at Shumba to reduce the need for the diesel pump.
We were disappointed only to receive four volunteer missions with a total of twenty volunteers from Planete-urgence in 2013. The volunteers that did join us were very useful in helping with work on the two solar pumps and we were able to complete road transect counts with each group but with only four missions the data collection did not span the whole dry season and lost some of its value.
Bird Atlas Project
The Southern African Bird Atlas Project (SABAP) launched in Zimbabwe in February and we have interested a number of the rangers at Sinamatella in taking part. Birdlife Zimbabwe (Matabeleland Branch) loaned us some second-hand binoculars and field guides and with their help the rangers have been very successful. Sinamatella is currently one of the best covered areas of Zimbabwe. The ecologist at Sinamatella, Hilary Madiri, recognised the value of SABAP as a monitoring tool and with his encouragement we ran a training course at Robins camp. Unfortunately with no-one at Robins to 5hp motor from a private donor.
The following donations were made by, or channelled through the Trust in 2013. (i) From other donors, via Bhejane Trust:
• A new solar pump which was installed at Baobab Pan at a cost of 9035.52 Euros. Donated by Bhejane Trust with funding from Le Pic Vert, France.
• Replacement motor for a small solar pump, previously donated by an anonymous donor via WEZ.
• Eleven knapsack sprayers for fire-fighting donated by Save Hwange Trust (ten) and WEZ (one).
• Through the Save African Rhino Foundation, eight TC500 radio batteries, assorted medical/First aid supplies, wages for the driver of the Canter and internet access for five months.
• From Imvelo Safaris, a water filter.
• From High Voltage Construction (Derrick Lane), a 50kva transformer for Borehole No 5
• 5hp motor from a private donor.
• Patrol rations valued at $300 per month for twelve months, with funding from Patrick Jacquemin
(ii) Directly from Bhejane Trust:
• Assorted small vehicle spares such as oil, brake fluid, filters, U bolts, clutch master cylinder, tyre repair patches and solution, repairs to wheel hub and clutch plate.
• Complete iwayafrica satellite internet equipment – dish, decoder, modem, and cables.
• Internet access for seven months.
• Assorted small game water spares, including oil, pipe fittings and water meter.
• Fifteen x twenty-five litre water containers for patrols.
• Repairs and maintenance to Mitsubishi Canter.
We are very grateful to all the donors who made it possible for us to continue to help Sinamatella in 2013. Without you, none of the above would have been achieved.
Food for thought… Are they a good thing or a bad thing? Victoria Falls has three vulture restaurants operating, and these are proving very popular with the tourists, as the vultures are fed on a daily basis.
However, what is the value of these restaurants.
Are they helping save the vultures, especially the weaker ones, by providing food, so taking away the “survival of the fittest” principle? Are they increasing vulture populations by ensuring greater survival of chicks as food is readily available? Are they a safeguard from the possibility of poisoning of vultures, as has happened in Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa?
Or are they building an over reliance on human benevolence to ensure the survival of vultures? Is there an ecological situation developing in the bush where vultures no longer carry out their age old function of cleaning up?
By : Trevor Lane