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Author: FOH Team

Darting Hat Trick

Darting Hat Trick

Waterbuck with snare visible round its neck
Darted waterbuck with wire snare

With the continuing deterioration of the socio-economic situation in the country, we have seen an increase of snaring for bushmeat in and around the boundaries of Hwange National Park. Animals caught in snares are doomed to a terrible, slow, agonizing death. The following is a report from Paul and Stephanie de Montille from DART of a de-snaring hat trick they recently performed:

” One Friday in August, we were called to a fresh sighting of a snared Painted Dog. Because the snare was around its neck we wasted no time and rushed down with the Painted Dog Conservation guys and a Parks Ranger but unfortunately, we couldn’t find the dog.

That night the rangers had to return to Main Camp but Stephanie and I decided to stay and spend the night in the area.

Revived waterbuck

On Saturday morning we set off looking for the dog once again, but instead found and darted a snared waterbuck and removed a single strand steel wire from its neck. (We darted a  different waterbuck in that area 10-days previously). The snare had done some damage but the wound wasn’t too serious and had already started to heal. Apart from the discomfort and danger it posed for the waterbuck, the trailing wire was shiny and easily visible which made it very upsetting for guests and tourists to see, so it was a pleasure for us to get it off.

Darted dog

At lunch time we picked up a signal from the VHF tracking collar of one of the dogs in the pack we were searching for. The signal led us to a new den site where the dogs had young pups. There we found and darted the snared dog within the group.

Wire snare round the neck

All went well with this immobilization and we removed a single strand steel wire snare with a long trailing wire from the dog’s neck. The rest of the pack were watching us from the bush 50 metres away and they hurried over to greet the darted dog as soon as he recovered.

 

 

Dog up………
……….and away.
Cutting out the wire snare

Finally to complete our snare removal “hat-trick” for the day we found a big buffalo bull with a terrible cable snare around his left back leg. He was in a very bad way and it took some time to cut the high tensile steel cable and to clean and treat the ghastly wound that was infested with maggots.

We should note that these wild animals are extremely resilient, and with the snares removed, we’re confident that all three animals treated have a good chance at total recovery.

High tensile steel cable snare

Many thanks to Friends of Hwange Trust and Hwange Conservation Society for the support to enable us to attend to animals in distress. “

The Life of Bhubezi the Lion

The Life of Bhubezi the Lion

Bhubezi August 2017
Image David Dell

This is the story of Bhubezi the Lion as told by Brent Stapelkamp.

Frisky
Image Brent Stapelkamp

The Ndebele people in Zimbabwe say that there are two kinds of lions. One, called Ilawo, is a young, nomadic lion that preys on livestock and conflicts with people. The other, called Bhubezi, is a large, older, heavily maned beast that doesn’t conflict with people at all. This very accurate cultural observation describes not two different types of lion, but two distinct periods in a male lion’s life. The hero of this narrative is a lion called Bhubezi and he certainly has been both of these lions in his lifetime

In the searing heat of October 2007, Bhubezi was one of two tiny, helpless male lion cubs born into a pride that was resident at Hwange Safari Lodge in the area just outside Hwange National Park. There were two lionesses and seven cubs in that pride, but the mother of each cub was never really known because one of the lionesses tragically died in a snare soon after the cubs were born. The remaining lioness, called Frisky, assumed responsibility for all seven babies. Lionesses in a pride often produce litters at similar times, and will happily co-suckle the cubs. Frisky did an amazing job as a mum, and only lost one of those cubs, seeing the rest to adulthood. She was observed hunting two buffalo at a time to satisfy their voracious appetites.

“Yin” – Bhubezi’s sister
Image Brent Stapelkamp

The cubs’ sire was thought to have been the only remaining male of a formidable coalition of four called the Dynamite Boys. Dynamite – as he became known – lost all his three brothers to snares. He was a massive lion that became famous in his own right because he eventually left Hwange and headed north to cross the foaming, white waters of the mighty Zambezi River and swim to Zambia. There he was caught preying on livestock and was thrown into jail!

So Bhubezi and his siblings had a good start to life with a dedicated provider (Frisky) in a wonderfully productive territory. Their uncle was a lion called Oliver, and he took over the area for a brief time when Dynamite went walkabouts. One night, residents at Hwange Saf Lodge were jolted awake by the sound of furiously fighting lions. Awed, the onlookers watched Oliver smash Bhubezi and his brother Bush straight through the Safari Lodge electric fence. This overt aggression resulted in Bush and Bhubezi spending more time away from the pride with walks that got longer and longer in their duration. Initially, the youngsters went north past Hwange town then they turned and headed south into the Tsholotsho communal lands where they survived by preying on cattle and donkeys. This is typical behaviour of dispersal males aged between two and four years old that aren’t big enough or streetwise enough to fight for a territory of their own in the protected area of the National Park.

Oliver
Image David Dell

Luckily the two survived this uncertain, nomadic period in their lives – most young lions don’t due to human-wildlife conflict – and once they passed a “critical mass” point they returned to the Park in 2011. There, at Makololo, they found Jericho alone – having lost his two brothers to trophy hunters – and they easily chased him away and dispossessed him of his pride. They were also Cecil’s neighbors for a while before realizing that he too was alone and so they usurped his pride and his territory around Linkwasha. Those two displacements were ultimately the catalyst for the now famous association between Cecil and Jericho.

Bush and Bhubezi had by this time developed into two mature, experienced male lions in their prime and they dominated the Wilderness concessions. At first they were extremely cautious and shy and would run from the game drive vehicles. But as their confidence grew they relaxed and people began to enjoy sightings of the magnificent pair and their large prides.

Bush and Bhubezi
Image Brian Courtenay

One evening a guide with a vehicle full of eager tourists sat watching as a herd of buffalo crossed the road at dusk. Suddenly, a frantic skirmish erupted, and amid chaos, noise and clouds of dust, the clear silhouette of Bush mounted on a buffalo’s back was caught in the vehicle’s headlights! Bhubezi killed for himself that night with a single swipe of his massive paw that spun his hapless victim a complete 360. It was dead as it hit the ground!

bush and Bhubezi fighting over a lioness
Image Brian Courtenay

One fateful day in May 2015 Bush and Bhubezi were lured to a hunter’s bait just 700 meters from the park boundary and Bush was shot and killed. The world would wake up to another lion’s death a few weeks later but Bush’s hunt was “legal” so passed unnoticed. Unnoticed by the world but not by his pride, for now Bhubezi was alone and couldn’t hold the turf. Two young males – Xanda and his brother – came along and chased him off. He moved down to the area of Ngweshla rather fortuitously at about the time Cecil was killed, so he claimed that territory and spent months patrolling up and down from Linkwasha through Makololo, Ngweshla and the Somalisa Concession up to Kennedy 2. He was seen chasing and harassing Cecil’s pride, threatening the two male cubs, but those wily lionesses ducked and dived, and left one of their girls to fraternize with Bhubezi and distract him by mating with him while the other two made their escape with the cubs. Eventually, little by little Bhubezi came to accept Cecil’s pride as his own without harming the cubs or driving out the two young males. Cecil’s offspring, cubs no longer, have since developed into magnificent young lions in an awesome pride numbering ten, and have reclaimed their original territory at Ngweshla.

Bhubezi and Bush with an elephant kill
Image Brian Courtenay

Bhubezi currently holds territory from Ngweshla to Kennedy 1 and is often seen with Cecil’s pride. Campers in the area frequently wake at dawn to the sound of his thundering, throaty roars echoing across the plains – that age old, haunting, thrilling sound of the wild!

 

Bhubezi – hunter, warrior, protector, cohort, father. He is king of his realm, and is a lion truly deserving of his name.

 

Bhubezi – deserving of his name
Image Brent Stapelkamp
Zambezi and Hwange National Park – June 2017

Zambezi and Hwange National Park – June 2017

Main Falls-Victoria Falls
Low maintenance lawn mowers

Taking advantage of our annual timeshare at Lokuthula, we had a wonderful week up at the Falls. What a treat! As we arrived we found the low maintenance lawnmowers out on the lawn as usual – a sounder of warthog in the company of a huge boar with an impressive set of warts and massive tusks and a trio of dainty bushbuck.   As it was marathon Sunday the second day we were there, accommodation was packed to the rafters and the town was seething, not only with tourists but some 2000 marathon participants. We decided to absent ourselves from all the marathon hype and took ourselves off along the river for breakfast, through the Zambezi National Park. It is evident that the rainy season did a fair amount of damage to the roads in the park but fortunately, where we wanted to travel, had been recently graded despite some spots where the grader obviously had very little impact. We stopped off at fishing spot number 10 for coffee and fruit while watching a herd of impala, a large flock of white-fronted bee-eaters darting in and out of the bank, an Egyptian goose sunning itself, a pied kingfisher noisily looking for breakfast too and two pied wagtails twittering away near a pair of sun loving wire tailed swallows.   A couple of white crowned lapwings spectacularly and acrobatically harassed an African harrier-hawk (gymnogene) out over the water who did some equally spectacular acrobatic flying to escape! Later an osprey flew by but didn’t linger to be admired.

Elephant herd drinking – Zambezi National Park

After another short drive further along but before the road got too bad, we started back to find a fishing spot for our breakfast. Number six which also has a lovely vista was pretty closed in with fallen trees across the road, and a herd of elephants were fast approaching so we withdrew to another spot further down which was just as beautiful and where, from a safe distance, we could watch the herd drink.

During our week, we had several forays into the park, along the river as well as along Chamabonda Vlei, and had a mixed bag of sightings during those drives – some large herds of buffalo, elephant, warthog, impala, kudu, spotted hyena, a fleeting glimpse of some eland, baboon and vervet monkeys. We even came across lion one morning attempting a buffalo hunt.

Lioness in Zambezi National Park

However, with a disdainful look from some of the outriders, the herd crashed off into thick bush and the lions retired to sun themselves on an anthill. A short while later, hearing what we thought was a heavy vehicle approaching, we realized that the buffalo were stampeding towards the now resting lion. It was quite spectacular as we watched the seething sea of black thundering through the brush, a rolling, bellowing tide of jostling bodies, startled oxpeckers and dust flying, chasing the lion off!

Buffalo cow – Zambezi National Park

Chamabonda vlei is very well maintained thanks to the efforts of Trevor Lane and Bhejane Trust who have put in a number of solar units all along the vlei. There is a new hide at Timots pan which is looking good. Towards the bottom end near the camping platform, the grass is very long and rank as no mowing has yet been done so we didn’t see any animals except for a couple of warthog. We did see two Kori bustards, one of which took to flight like an overloaded, lumbering boeing, and along a particularly sandy patch of road, a large number of little bee-eaters were obviously attracted by something as the road ahead of us was littered with them before taking off at our approach. Birding was great and waiting for a lift one morning, we had a delightful hour bird watching near the Zambezi River drive entrance, walking up to the small dam next to the elephant ride place and through the boat club car park, adding to our list with a great variety. We were staggered at the many, many coveys of Swainson’s spurfowl that we came across – chicks of all ages including some two inch tiny tots scuttling off into the bush.

The Zambezi River is flowing very fast and is full, full, full so walking in the rain forest was extremely wet and viewing was fairly limited! The Victoria Falls as always was an awesome sight once we’d trudged our way through all the masses! We dried off in the sun at the Lookout Restaurant overlooking that spectacular view of the gorges below the bridge while having lunch and watching some of the adrenaline junkies take on the gorge swing and the zip line as several others took their turn bungi jumping off the bridge. Yet again, Victoria Falls Safari Lodge did not disappoint. One evening we called in for a drink and were treated to a spectacular sunset as a herd of buffalo with some very young calves came in to drink, trailing a large red dust cloud, lit up by the late evening rays.

Sunset from Victoria Falls Safari Lodge balcony

We also enjoyed a delicious lunch there one day so we could watch the vultures being fed which is always quite a sight drawing many oohs and aahs from the tourists. The lodges are very well maintained and the staff throughout the complex so friendly, helpful and above all cheerful which makes staying there such a pleasure.

Planning on spending the weekend in Hwange, we took the road less traveled – through the Matetsi area past the border crossing turn off to Pandamatenga and on to Robins. It’s a fairly corrugated route, rattling the old bones not only of the passengers but our trusty much-traveled vehicle, but it winds through some rather picturesque country. After having had such a fabulous and luxurious time at the Falls, getting to Robins seemed a huge come down. However, on reflection, although we have visited Sinamatella often and thought how badly off that camp is, Robins must surely be the runt of the litter when it comes to it receiving any financial assistance to maintain the place. The staff there were very welcoming and pleased to see us, helpful and friendly. The chalet assigned to us was “not operating” so we were given another across near the camping ground. The chalet was spotless with comfortable beds but the less said about the ablution facilities the better with only one of the two ablution blocks semi-operable. We went off for an afternoon drive, starting off with visiting Little Tom’s which is a sorry sight since it was burnt and has not been rebuilt. However, the water there was plentiful, the surface dotted with purple waterlilies. Again, the rainy season had obviously wreaked havoc with the roads but some had recently been graded although there were a few trickier spots that were a bit dodgy. We could just make out the backs of elephant in the long grass of the vlei while traveling through to Big Tom’s where we had our lunch, the platform there having fairly recently been revamped.

Calm old fellow munching by the side of the road

The water level was excellent and we had a nice quiet time  bird watching with the spotting scope. The number of Bateleur eagles we saw in the Robins area is amazing and at one point, crossing one of the salt springs, seven Bateleurs of varying ages took off from the spot where they’d been paddling. While at Big Toms we watched an adult black chested snake-eagle interacting with a juvenile. Both birds were spectacularly marked and their aerial display quite something to watch. Sadly, there were disappointingly few birds at Salt Pan but we did get to see five black storks, their glossy plumage shining metallic maroon and green in the sun with bright red beaks and legs. We traveled on a newly graded road to Dolilo pan where the borehole has just been revamped and a solar unit recently installed before turning back to camp. Interesting country but aside from several ostrich which fluffed up at our approach, we didn’t see much. The Robins area has always hosted large flocks of helmeted guineafowl and the birds have obviously bred very well again this year. We also came across some tiny double banded sandgrouse chicks being herded along by a handsome set of parents.

Double Banded Sandgrouse male – Robins area

Provided with a nice stack of firewood, we enjoyed a braai under a star studded sky, continuously serenaded by barn owls, scops owls, the odd hyena and bats swooping around. Our night was punctuated by barn owl chicks ensconced in the roof of our chalet – we knew when one of the parents was approaching with food as the chicks started hissing and screeching until we heard the thump as the parent landed and the stamping around as the chicks were being fed, the noise dying down as the parent fluttered off again.

The following morning, we set off a little after six just as dawn was breaking, a gorgeous roseate flush on the horizon, followed by a crimson orb that popped up very quickly, turning a startling yellow in no time at all, washing the eastern horizon a soft lemon. We stopped off at Deteema to have a look – the water there is great and the Mike Edwards hide is very well maintained. A small herd of impala were grazing quite contentedly close by but there was evidence of recent lion activity. The camp attendant at the site, said that lion had been heard at four that morning, there were huge pug marks on the road between the camps and to one side, a bit of bloodied bone being picked over by a hooded vulture. On then through to Main Camp, stopping off at the various pans along the way. The water all along the way is phenomenal for this time of the year and so heartening to see. The new hide at Shumba has been well built and overlooks the brimming pan where we watched a pair of mating hippos while the rest of the pod kept a safe distance. Dwarf Goose pan was a delight with a flotilla of 15 teenaged spurwing geese and a pair of fussing Egyptian geese with three downy goslings, a few little grebe and two African jacanas also with youngsters. The natural pans along the way still hold quite good water in places and the level of water at Danga, Shapi, Whitehills, Guvelala and Boss Long One is high. Danga – not an FOH pan – is still being pumped with a diesel unit, and although there are still those skeptics who bewail the fact that solar is “unsightly” and “looks out of place”, seeing the pump unit there, despite being enclosed in green shade cloth, belching out smokey fumes and noise with the surrounds coated in black sludge, makes us even happier that solar is becoming more prevalent. Nyamandhlovu is very full and the vlei there was full of animals – zebra, wildebeest, black backed jackals, baboon, waterbuck, the usual enormous crocs out sunning themselves and hippo in the water. Along the loop road some of the depressions were obviously still damp as several sounders of warthog were down on their front knees, butts in the air, rootling around with their snouts.

An obliging crimson breasted shrike

Having settled into our lodge, we took a largely uneventful drive down to Kennedy One and back, not seeing a great deal. That evening, we had a tasty supper at the Waterbucks Head while John and Gary caught up with the chat.

On Sunday, John went off for an early morning drive and had a hugely successful time driving through to Caterpillar, Dopi, past Nyamandhlovu and returning to camp via Balla Balla. He saw an obliging side striped jackal that stood for a bit to be admired, a lovely herd of roan with some small babies, elephant, kudu and impala and just as he turned for camp via Balla Balla, he came across a group of lionesses. Judging by their pace and single mindedness, it was obvious they were out hunting and we heard later that this was a group of lionesses that did have small cubs, evidently hidden away somewhere while the moms went in search of food. The water all along the route was, again, lovely to see and although Gary told us there was a problem with one of the the solar units  at Kennedy Two and at Ngweshla, we have subsequently heard that they are both fixed up and working well again. It certainly was great to see so much water at the onset of the “big dry” – and it is great that much needed funds do not have to be used on endless supplies of diesel.

Once again, a huge thank you to all interested parties, to the donors, those doing such great work in the park and in particular, Gary who is having a hard time of it trying to get fire breaks done before its too late!

John and Jenny Brebner

Hwange at Easter – 2017

Hwange at Easter – 2017

It was great having the opportunity to go to Hwange Main Camp over the Easter weekend. Having not been up since December and before the main rain had fallen, it was wonderful to see the park so lush and green with water still lying everywhere. Most of the natural pans were filled with grasses and sporting beautiful purple, pink or pale yellow water lillies.   On closer inspection, most of them also had bobbing heads of water birds and their young – several flotillas of white-faced and knob-billed ducklings as well as one lot of white-backed ducklings, red billed teal and little grebe chicks, three lesser moorhen chicks being overseen by a watchful mother, several African jacana chicks of varying ages, two fluffy Kittlitz’s plover chicks being herded along the road by the parent birds near Nyamandhlovu, Egyptian geese with goslings and a few teenage spurwing geese were seen. All along the roads we came across coveys of game birds with varying aged young and the groups of helmeted helmeted Guineafowl we saw had also bred well with lots of young birds amongst the crowd. We have never seen so many Southern ground hornbills swanning around the open vleis. At Makwa there were at least six black-headed herons plodding about and although we saw several pairs of grey crowned crane, we only saw one youngster near Livingi. Food looks plentiful at last and the Acacia erioloba trees are absolutely LADEN with pods so we are sure that will be a big draw for the elephant herds later in the season.

 

We spent our first full day driving down to Ngweshla. We had a rather uneventful trip down, passing a few giraffe, a big breeding herd of elephant in the forest just before the Sinanga turn off, several zebra and impala herds, watching two large bull elephants emerge from the tree line to munch away in the Kennedy vlei, one of which had an impressive set of tusks, and admiring a black backed jackal which had dug a comfy hole for itself at the K2 pan and was sleepily catching a few warm rays. The Ngweshla vlei was surprisingly quiet, with not much to be seen although a large herd of buffalo had apparently just moved off towards the Wilderness area. Finding out from other game viewers that the road through the Mangas had been fixed up and as we had wanted to check up on the water particularly at Manga One, we returned to Main Camp via the “back route”, which has been fixed up and was pleasant going for a change. Again, we didn’t see much apart from another big breeding herd of elephant but the water at Manga One is good and the solar units there doing their bit. Jambile waterhole has filled up nicely and people staying there over the weekend ended up having lion shambling around camp in amongst their tents during their last night! One of the solar unit pumps at Dopi was hit by lightning but was speedily repaired, and both units are doing a great job with the pans nice and full. We had heard that a leopard cub had been seen at Caterpillar in the morning but didn’t expect it to be still hanging around as we arrived at Caterpillar in a bit of drizzly rain. To our great surprise, there was the young cub walking along the road and on seeing us, it went off into the grass on the side of the road. After coming very close to the vehicle and inspecting us with a yellow glare, it shambled off to take cover from the rain under one of the ebony trees. What a beautiful animal with a magnificent coat! We felt sure that it was waiting for its mother to return and although several other vehicles came and went, it didn’t seem too perturbed. We were rewarded after about an hour when the cub started moving off towards the teak forest on the far side of the pan and we finally saw the mother wedged motionlessly in a tree, obviously having called to the youngster who was now bumbling through the long grass and weeds towards her. We soon lost sight of both of them but oh, my goodness, what a treat! Getting back to camp, we had an armada of eight giraffe sail past our lodge just on the other side of the fence, their long necks and heads silhouetted against the last of the evening light.

 

The following day we had another fairly uneventful morning driving down to Boss Long One. The new solar unit there is pumping into a small pan while the large natural pan at the back is full of water. Over a cup of coffee, we watched two combating giraffe having a necking session, a small herd of zebra with one very pregnant looking mamma and two black backed jackals loping around before settling down in the sun. On our way back just before the Nyamandhlovu turn off, we came across a lovely Roan female looking a bit nervous and only realised as she moved off that she had a very young calf with her – in the long grass, we could just make out the long ears bobbing along close behind her. At Nyamandhlovu there were always zebra, wildebeest and impala present as well as a growing herd of waterbuck, one of the dams had a really small baby that spent a lot of the time nursing. And we got to see an incredibly beautiful boomslang (if snakes can be “beautiful”!!) draped motionlessly in a batch of blue bush right next to the road. We also saw the Martial eagle on the nest near the turn off and she is obviously incubating at the moment. Along the loop road we came across the smallest baby steenbok we’ve ever seen, standing on wobbly legs in the middle of the road. We only had a fairly fleeting glimpse of it before a panicky mother shot out of the long grass and shepherded her youngster back into cover. In the afternoon we went down to Makwa in the hopes of seeing lionesses with half grown cubs that had been seen on and off over the previous few days but had no luck. According to one of the guides with his group of tourists, we apparently missed seeing a pack of 14 wild dogs seen at Sinanga where we had just been and seen nothing!

 

On Easter Monday we decided to go lion hunting again to see if those illusive lion would come to light. On our way through the gusu, a side-striped jackal ran along the road ahead of us for some way, obviously reluctant to go off into the long wet grass. In an open area just before Makwa, we came across a herd of sable with calves – one of which was very young – along with a small herd of zebra and two black backed jackals. Arriving at the main Makwa pans, we were greeted at the baboon spa as the primates sat in the early morning sun, preening and gleaning with rapt expressions on their faces while some of the youngsters got up to mischief. A couple of giraffe glided past as a large herd of impala came out of the scrub along with two wildebeest. A dainty mother warthog with two youngsters trotted across the road in front of us and later we saw a grumpy old boar with a HUGE set of tusks. One of the crocs was out on the bank sunning itself, the pans were bustling with waterbirds and game birds while a group of seven ground hornbills were perched at first in an old dead tree, having a good preen before setting off with their doop, doop, dooping around the place. The area was teeming with activity but….no lion! Not that we were disappointed – we had a brilliant and entertaining morning.   In the afternoon, we went along the Whitehills road to check out the water along that route. Mabuya Mabena was looking great and although the pan is fairly grassy, there was a lovely batch of waterbirds hustling and bustling. Again, we didn’t see an awful lot but it was a very pleasant drive. We were sad to see that the Guvelala platform was once again in a tatty looking state with one of the doors ripped off. However, the pan was nice and full although devoid of any game and very little in the way of birdlife.

 

On our final morning, before packing up to return to Bulawayo, we took another drive down to Makwa. This time, the pan and surrounds were pretty empty of any game but we did have a honey badger scuttle across the road in front of us. While having coffee up in the platform, a small group of impala emerged reluctantly and took to standing on a high point, nervously looking about before finally settling down. We wondered if perhaps the dogs had been about with the lack of animals around. We thought we’d try our luck again and travelled back past Caterpillar and Dopi but saw nothing much except a duiker.

 

It was fabulous being back in the park and wonderful to see it so flush. We were astounded at all the youngsters we saw – both animals and birds. It was also great to see so many families with children enjoying the park, it being school holidays as well as Easter. There is still a lot of hard work going on in the background and once again, we should like to thank all the folks responsible for the sponsorship, donations and continued support.

 

John and Jenny Brebner