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Author: FOH Team

Hwange Game Count 2016

Hwange Game Count 2016

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Elephants approaching the pan
Photo Dave Dell

 

Each year, the anticipation and excitement around Bulawayo of the up coming Hwange game count is palpable and wherever one goes during the weeks leading up to it, the question is asked “Are you going on the count this year?” Well, would we miss it? Not if we could help it.

 

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Female Ostrich with chicks
Photo Dave Dell

We were amazed at how much drier the park had become in the month since we had last been up there. Just about the only green that could be seen were the beautiful Acacia eriolobas – covered in new green leaf, most already showing a fuzz of yellow pompoms, they offered welcome, deep shade at midday for the elephant – and the delicious looking but lethal patches of umkauzaan (Dichapetalum cymosum), or gifblaar as it is also known. There were a few Lonchocarpus nelsii out in bloom, covered in a haze of delicate lilac. Otherwise, it was dry, dry, dry.   On our way down to Ngweshla to join our party, we stopped off to admire the new platform that is now up at Makwa. We passed a huge herd of buffalo, numbering around 900, just off the road, the outriders all fast asleep and mounds of bodies trying to shelter under what little shade the Ordeal bushes (Erythrophleum Africanum) afforded or for the lucky ones who had found better shade under a few enormous Umtshibi trees. (Guibourtia coleosperma).

 

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Sable in the vlei
Photo Dave Dell

Driving through to our pan in the Wilderness concession the following morning, was a little better organized than last year and no vehicles appeared to falter in the deep sand. Our team had been delegated Scotts pan and we found a suitable spot under a very nice shady tree for the duration. On arrival there was a herd of 33 sable antelope lying in the vlei, having already had a drink and they only left later in the afternoon as it was cooling off. Elephant came down in droves, of course, and around the periphery of the pan were some herds of zebra, a couple of herds of impala as well as a troop of baboons. One group of zebra had a tiny new born foal afoot and there were several occasions during the count that the poor harassed zebra mother had to protect her baby from some aggressive males seemingly from another herd, obviously trying to get at the foal, each time causing a huge ruckus, dust and hooves flying. Overnight we saw three huge eland and two porcupines along with spotted hyena, duiker and a lone male giraffe in amongst all the elephant coming down to the pan. A leopard was seen just after dark trying to sneak in for a drink but was initially chased off by the elephant. It was spotted again having another attempt but unfortunately, a Wilderness vehicle with guests out on a night drive came along and interrupted its quest. We could just make it out in the headlights streaking off into the bush some way off.   On our first day, we were kept entertained by an amazing number of raptors popping in for a foot dabble and a drink at the pan. We enjoyed the sight of a lovely Tawny Eagle, and at one stage had nine Bateleur eagles visual. There was plenty of interaction in the air, on the ground and perched in the trees. Two males, one at the water and one balanced in a tall tree close by were certainly showing off, fluffing out their wings, puffing up their chests and throwing back their heads to call. There were several juvenile birds in various stages of maturity and plenty of aerobatics with some spectacular diving and jousting on the wing and more vocalization – what stunning birds they are. On the second morning of the count a strong wind blew up, making most of the animals nervous. Four roan antelope, two females and two youngsters, tentatively approached the pan along with a magnificent sable bull but they were soon sent flying back into cover when a vehicle full of tourists drew up.   Another herd of roan came in while a few kudu cows drank – the whole lot being put to flight by one of the zebra altercations. As we were leaving, the same four roan and the sable bull were making a second attempt to come in for a drink.

 

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Majestic Bateleur Eagle
Photo Dave Dell
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Tawny Eagle
Photo Dave Dell

Getting back to Ngweshla was a rude shock as there were SIX safari vehicles FULL of guests in camp, with one of the vehicles parked RIGHT in front of the gate blocking off all other traffic. Another lot of visitors, mostly counters, were sitting in the shade of the eriolobas just outside of camp. Fortunately, it quietened down after a while and we could return to camp for a much needed shower and a late lunch. We had a rather noisy night with streams of elephant continually visiting the pan. We did hear lion and early in the morning, six adult lion were seen moving silently past, round towards the back of the camp. We had the most amazing sighting of some of them, particularly a stunning female with two tiny cubs, probably only a month to six weeks old. Mother lion was lying on an anthill with the two cubs playing and tumbling around her. A second lioness and a young male lay along a game trail close by affording everyone a great photo opportunity before they all moved into some blue bush (Diospyros lycioides), where they were all but invisible. Our trip continued at Kennedy One for two nights, again hearing lion, most likely Jericho as he was in the area. The first evening while watching at the pan, a group of about seventy elephants were suddenly spooked by we know not what and dashed off at an alarming pace. Its amazing how there was very little noise as they galloped off and which of the animals had given off the alarm? On our last afternoon, we went through to Mbiza, mainly to see how well the solar unit is working there. The water level is great and although we didn’t see much in the way of game, it was still an enjoyable drive.

 

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New cubs at Ngweshla
Photo Dave Dell

We are sure we are preaching to the converted but we just have to say that we were very disappointed and dismayed at the continual criticism of the solar units that have been put in place throughout the Main Camp area in particular and at Sinamatella and Robins. We really would appreciate it if those criticizing would take into account the huge amount of effort and finance that has gone into drilling new boreholes so that there are two solar units at each pan if possible and then putting up the solar units themselves along with all the casing, piping, stone, cement etc., etc., that is needed for the site, not forgetting please, that all this has to be transported up to the Park as well. Most people obviously have NO idea how much finance was put into trying to keep Parks supplied with diesel in the past, often only to have it stolen from the engine sites. Parks was, unfortunately, not keeping up with the supply so a vast amount of donor money was being spent on supplying fuel. In the past, as soon as the count was finished, the pumping would stop, because there was no fuel available. Yes, we are aware that the solar units don’t work at night but…at least there is SOME water instead of none and why not use one of our most valuable natural resources! Two solar units at each pan pump the same, if not more water in a day than an engine running 24/7. And think how much less pollution is emitting into the atmosphere and the surrounding soil. There is a LOT less maintenance involved once the unit has been erected with no more refueling to be done. It does remain to be seen how the pans cope during the next couple of months but once again, better some water than none. It should also be remembered that the Park has experienced a particularly harsh year or two as the rains have not been good.

 

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Big Zebra Bully
Photo Dave Dell

Most of the Main Camp visitors/counters will have seen the new platform at Makwa. Here again there has been a lot of criticism about it but hey, everyone…surely it’s a step in the right direction and SOMETHING has been achieved. Plans are going ahead to resuscitate the Guvalala platform with work having started there and hopefully with a better supply of water once the two solar units are sorted out, it will become a popular overnight stop once again.   Please spare a thought for all those amazing people who are working their guts out to keep things ticking over in the park.

 

Thank you to the organizers of the count and hopefully we will see everyone back next year!

 

John and Jenny Brebner

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Young Boy at Ngweshla
Photo Dave Dell

 

 

Quick note from Hwange

Quick note from Hwange

Photo Dave Dell
Photo Dave Dell

 

We have just recently had a trip up to the Falls and Hwange and while staying in Main Camp, we managed to get around to see most of the pans in the area that are now operating with their solar units. We were delighted with the amount of water that is available at the moment, and it obviously remains to be seen how the units cope during the intense heat and dry, but at least there is water at most of the prominent pans without the worry of insufficient diesel or engines breaking down.

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Photo Dave Dell

 

One morning two of our party went out on a quick early morning drive and were excited to spot a big male lion and a lioness in the Nyamandhlovu area as well as a magnificent male cheetah that had been seen on numerous occasions according to the office sighting book. On a trip down to Ngweshla, we saw all the usual game – impala, kudu, zebra, giraffe, elephant, steenbuck, wildebeest – and we were chuffed to see five roan antelope roaming across the open vlei. Returning in the afternoon, we saw a group of vehicles stopped at Makwa and found the occupants all looking at a mother cheetah and her five cubs. The female cheetah was deep in the shade of an ebony tree with her five babies hiding behind her. Two warthog sauntered down to the pan to for a drink and a wallow in the mud and on returning the way they had come, the five cubs decided to try their luck at a stalk. It was amusing to watch as they rushed harum scarum out of cover while the warthogs just trotted away, looking rather scornfully over their shoulders – one could almost hear them chortling.. The cubs sat down, looking at each other with rather puzzled expressions on their faces! After that bit of excitement all the other vehicles moved off but we decided to stay put for a few more minutes. We were not disappointed as mother cheetah sat up, chirped for her cubs and began to stroll out into the open fairly close past the car. Mother cheetah -a beautiful animal who, we have been told, is the same mother that raised three young last year – then had a copious roll in some elephant dung with her youngsters leaping about her before they all sauntered off in a line further along the road. Unfortunately, with the approach of another vehicle, they soon headed off into thick bush.

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Photo Dave Dell

During another afternoon drive, we were delighted to see water flowing under the bridge at Caterpillar and down into the old natural pan. The scene at Dopi is lovely too with water in the old pan as well as the new one. Herds of elephant arrived in their droves to drink and splash, literally pouring out of the bush on all sides, most of the herds with tiny babies afoot. The sight at the sunset was food for the soul.

 

It’s wonderful to see so much water available and hopefully the solar units will cope in the coming months. We look forward to participating in the annual game count soon when we will once again enjoy the splendour of Hwange.

John and Jenny Brebner

Photo Dave Dell
Photo Dave Dell
Cecil’s Pride Alive and well – News from Wildcru

Cecil’s Pride Alive and well – News from Wildcru

King’s Vision
Image Chris Collyer

Cecil and the Trans Kalahari Predator Project
May 13, 2016
The idiom has it that as time passes water flows under the bridge: David Macdonald observes that as we approach the anniversary of Cecil’s death that proverbial water has been a torrent, but amongst the turbulence of debate and the swell of concern for lion conservation there is good news from Hwange: Cecil’s three lionesses and seven cubs are still alive and well and, together with the surviving pride male, Jericho, still occupying what was formerly Cecil’s home range. We did have a scare when one of the females appeared ominously stationary but it turned out that she had shed her radio-collar, so all was well. The survival of all these lions is a personal delight to us, and a relief, but it’s also quite surprising. As is widely known now, when a pride male is killed that can lead to the overthrow of his coalition partners by incomers and the subsequent infanticide of the cubs, but this didn’t happen. Furthermore, Jericho is a very unusual lion, sociologically, as was Cecil before him. Both were old, and both had previously been pride males elsewhere before they teamed up for a second career – Jericho’s continuing success is remarkable. All this is good news from the field, and adds to the continuing fascination of lion sociology, but this is only a tiny part of the story that has unfolded this year: WildCRU’s Trans Kalahari Predator Project has been setting up new initiatives in Zimbabwe and in Botswana, where Andy Loveridge and I will be working with the field team next month, so there’s much more news to follow.
Read more from WildCRU:

Donations to WildCRU’s Cecil Appeal can be made at: http://www.campaign.ox.ac.uk/wildcru
US donors can give via the University of Oxford North America Office http://www.oxfordna.org/giving_how.htm Please select ‘WildCRU’ in the drop down list.

Cecil and his Lady
Image Chris Collyer
Ostrich – Struthio camelus

Ostrich – Struthio camelus

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Ostrich pair
Image Dave Dell
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Ostrich Male
Image Dave Dell
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Female with chicks
Image Dave Dell

The flightless ostrich is native to Africa and is the world’s largest bird. Its average lifespan in the wild is 30 to 40 years. It lives in savanna and desert, and weighs up to 155kg. Ostriches are the fastest runners of any 2-legged animal, and can sprint up to 70km/hour. Adult ostriches have a wingspan of about 2 meters; the wings are used in mating displays, to shade the chicks, and to cover the naked skin of the upper legs and flanks to conserve heat. When threatened, ostriches run, but their powerful legs can be used as formidable weapons and can kill potential predators with a fearsome forward kick, the long toes on the foot are used to rip open the unfortunate victim.

Ostriches spend the winter months alone or in pairs but during the breeding season may live in flocks of 5-50 birds, usually one male with his harem of females that he vigorously defends. A complex mating ritual is performed. The cock beats his wings until he attracts a mate. He drives away all intruders, then violently flaps his wings and winds his head in a spiral, snaking motion while the hen circles round him with lowered wings. This performance will go on until she eventually drops to the ground and the male mounts her.

 

All of the herd’s hens place their giant eggs in the dominant hen’s nest, though her own are given prominent center place. The dominant female incubates the eggs by day, and the male takes over at night using the colouration of the two sexes to escape detection of the nest. The drab female blends in with the sand, while the black male is nearly invisible in the dark. When the eggs hatch after 35-45 days, the male usually defends the hatchlings and teaches them to feed, although males and females cooperate in rearing the chicks.

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Small Ostrich Chick
Image Dave Dell

The wild ostrich population has declined drastically in the last 200 years with most surviving birds now found in game parks and on farms. Predation of eggs and chicks is very high; only 10% of nests survive incubation and 15% of chicks survive to 12 months of age.

 

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Ostrich pair with chicks
Image Dave Dell

Ostriches are omnivorous. Lacking teeth, they swallow pebbles to help grind up their food. They can go without water for several days as they utilize metabolic water and moisture in ingested roots, seeds and insects; but they enjoy a drink and frequently take baths when water is available. Ostriches have the largest eye of any land animal, measuring almost 5cm across which allows predators to be seen at long distances.