December rainfall was excellent. The average for the last five years was just fifty-seven mm but this year we received two hundred and twenty one. For the first week or so there was no sign that this was going to happen and passing Masuma on the 9th I counted thirty-two elephants, four buffalo, three warthogs and many baboons drinking at the dam – far more typical of a dry spell than the rains. That evening however, the rain started and within a few days the Park was transformed. The view from the hill changed dramatically, as it does every year of course, but it is always surprising enough to be worth a photo…
With good rain falling we could relax a little over game water pumps but we did have some breakdowns to contend with including a rod sheared off at the Masuma pump and the engine stand collapsing at Shumba. We have received offers of help from WEZ and Patrick Jacquemin for some work on the game-water infrastructure during the next few months so we hope we will be able to start the next pumping season with a lot of potential problems already solved
News wasn’t so good on water at the camp. ZNWA were still unable to repair the equipment for which they are responsible and the pump which Parks installed as a temporary measure itself broke down. For a week or so we were relying on a small petrol-powered pump on loan from Bhejane but it was not really big enough and the water supply was erratic. After numerous other plans and breakdowns the system was running (but by no means perfect) at the end of the month with the Parks pump back in action. ZNWA did send in a very competent electrician at one stage but in most other ways they are simply unable to cope and most of the water supply equipment on their side of things has in fact been supplied and installed by either Parks or Bhejane and it is very hard to see a way forward that involves ZNWA in any way.
As always once the rain arrives, the large mammals were difficult to find. Tourists were more common than anything except perhaps impala and as usual, some of them were convinced that the poor game-viewing is due to poaching rather than being quite normal. At Christmas a large group of wild dogs with pups spent a few hours close to the exit gate where many visitors were able to see them and on one or two days elephants appeared on the flood plain in the evening to feed on the new grass so it wasn’t all bad news. Things were better for the birders. Plenty of migrants arrived with the rain and on the
day after the first heavy fall we counted eighty-five marabou, ten white, two saddlebill and two woolly-necked storks catching frogs in the flooded grass on the flood plain. After a few appearances last year, Common Mynah turned up in a number of places. We recorded them at Sinamatella, Masuma and Shumba whilst rangers reported them at Lukosi and Mbala.
Last month I reported that we had collected samples from a dead elephant at Masuma, suspecting anthrax as the cause of death. We got results back from Dr Foggin at the laboratory in Victoria Falls and, as with the lion that died in November, they were negative. Nonetheless, as a precaution, rangers did their best to burn the carcass and the onset of the rains should mean few animals visiting the area for the next few months.
We will have to see what happens next dry season.
Rhino sightings were good again in December. As usual, the animals were more mobile once the rains arrived and rangers made reports of visuals and rhino sign from a number of places, quite far apart. Unfortunately our experience is that sightings are few and far between once there is good water and browse throughout the area so we have started an exercise to map our patrol coverage and rhino sightings. We hope this will help us to focus our monitoring teams on the most likely and the most neglected places.
We often see Giant and Rough-scaled plated lizards at Sinamatella but this month we found an unusual Giant with a forked tail resting on a rock close to the house…..
From : The Bhejani Trust
By Stephen Long
8 January 2015