June 2016 Update
The Valley weather in June and July is almost perfect, not too cold, the morning sun feels good and the days are warm. The bush is thinning out and visibility is improving. June has been filled with beautiful sightings and interactions with the park wildlife starting with regular visits from Impi in camp. He has been great company and we have really enjoyed each of his visits, even when he manages to break the satellite dish bringing a brief end to our Internet.
A lot of our guests had the opportunity to approach him on foot during their morning and afternoon walks, guided by Nick, creating such special moments.
Boswell and other bulls have been dancing on their hind legs, a Mana Pools specialty. Henry and his guest Laura had the privilege of witnessing this
on foot, as well as Nick and his guests whilst out on the canoe trail.
We have had great leopard sightings so far this year. There is a large male that walks through camp on a regular basis and we got a really good look
at him the other day marking his territory in camp. We currently have three prides of lion in the areas we do our drives, one near Nyamepi, Mucheni
and Little Vundu respectively.
The dog packs along the river have all denned down – the Nyakasanga (13 adult dogs), Nyamatusi (10 dogs) and Chikwenya (only seen 7 dogs) packs. We have seen the pups of the Nyakasanga pack; Black Tip the alpha female has had 10 pups. They were born in mid May,and are looking very healthy at six weeks of age. Peter Blinston of Painted Dog Conservation has been in a couple of times and has put a collar on the Nyamatusi pack.
Lions killed Wicket, the previous dog that was collared, in May. She was the alpha female. Two other females have denned down but the number of pups is not known yet. These are the only two collared packs in the Valley at the moment. Mana has seven packs utilizing the Park and there are also packs in the neighbouring areas of Sapi, Chewore, Dande and Nyakasanga.
We have had some great experiences canoeing this month, with many day trips for our guests as well as three-night canoe safaris. Anything from elephants crossing right in front of your canoe, to an afternoon spent with females and their calves, canoe safaris have definitely been a success and lifelong memories were created and shared on the mighty Zambezi River.
We have been busy putting up the new Little Vundu Camp, which is taking shape and looking good and we expect this to be complete in the next couple of weeks. We have a new logo which incorporates our old tree with a wild dog and we are currently working on an updated website.
The BushLife Support Unit has been continually busy on the anti-poaching front assisting National Parks where we can. Since we started in November 2015 we have, to date, covered 30,000km on deployments of 1300 rangers. We have been supplying food for Rangers who have not been paid for months and are required to supply their own food. Thanks to local farmers for their support: Pieter Gertenbach for donating 2,500kg of mealie meal to Rangers; Andrew Herbst for 200 litres of diesel; Henk Terblanche for 100 litres of diesel and Zambezi Society for 200 litres of petrol. The National Parks Investigations and undercover team have also been busy with a Mitsubishi Pajero donated by Steve Taylor. This has given the team the mobility they have been missing for too long. There are always several operations on the go at any one time.
Thanks also to Kevin Dunholm, who was the ecologist in Mana Pools for 10 years, for his teams hard work on the Great Elephant Census. I have recently received books on all the areas counted in Zimbabwe and it is a huge amount of work. We accommodated Kevin’s team in 2014 when they were counting the elephant in the valley and it is this work, which has shed so much light on the situation of the elephant population in Africa.
The end of June brings a change of landscape as Mana Pools is getting drier and sightings are increasing. A family who recently visited us will certainly agree, after a morning activity offered them wild dogs, lions, leopard, hyena and the famous Boswell, all in the beautifulsetting of the Mana Pools floodplains.
We are looking forward to a busy July.
April/May 2016 Update
The first days of April brought us the last rains and our first guests for this new 2016 season. The park is absolutely beautiful at this time of the year, with clear blue skies and lush green bush. The animals are healthy and there are a lot of babies around, from clumsy baby elephants, to buffalo calves only a few hours old, without forgetting the ever playful baby vervets, and lion cubs.
With the rains over and the grass drying out by mid May, the bush is still thick, the pans inland are full and the game has been quite dispersed. As the season changes into winter the acacia trees of the flood plain come out in full leaf and flower with the promise of a good pod crop to keep the game going through the later dry season.
Thanks to kind fuel donations, National Parks have now started to grade the roads and we are happy to report roads in the Vundu concession are near perfect. At Vundu we’ve been busy doing some maintenance around the camp and we’re now happy to be 100% up and running.
We have some familiar friendly faces back in camp for 2016 in the form of Henry (Senior Guide) and Gaddy (Vundu Camp Manager), and alongside them, two new faces, husband and wife team Alex and Marie. Everyone at Vundu work together to ensure guests are welcomed and taken care of throughout their stay with us.
Alex, of French and Italian heritage, was born and raised in Zimbabwe and, whilst he had the opportunity to travel and live in many different countries around the world, the call of the bush has always brought him back to Africa, where his heart belongs. Alex first qualified as a safari guide in South Africa, where he had the immense privilege of working with the elephant whisperer, the late Lawrence Anthony, and his now famous herd of elephants. After guiding for a few years between Namibia, Botswana and South Africa, Alex made his way back home and qualified as a learner guide here in Zimbabwe. Whilst working towards his full Zimbabwean Guides License, Alex is thrilled to be working as a learner guide at Vundu Camp in his favourite place on earth – the very unique Mana Pools National Park.
Marie, working alongside Gaddy as Camp Manager, spent her first 20 years thousands of miles away from the African bush, in Paris. She studied business and graduated in 2012 with a masters degree. Curious to discover what the world had to offer, she packed her bag and backpacked around Australia where she fell in love with travel, wide open spaces and nature. It was whilst travelling in Namibia that she met and fell in love with Alex and together they moved to Zimbabwe where they have enjoyed being based in the bush full time, managing safari camps.
With Vundu Camp in full operation, our next step will be setting up our fly camp ‘Little Vundu’ which has enjoyed a bit of an upgrade with brand new 6mx5m canvas tents, as you know all of our tents are ensuite with bucket shower and flush toilets. Some more updated pictures of Little Vundu will follow in our June newsletter.
Our first guests of the season, guided by Henry and Nick, have enjoyed some good game drives and nature walks during their stay here. Despite the fact
that the bush is still thick, we’ve had nice sightings of leopard, lions, and wild dogs over the past few weeks. Close encounters with elephants
happen regularly as well as guests enjoying the company of the resident hippo in camp. For many of our guests, the highlight of their stay has
been canoeing on the Zambezi, a truly memorable experience.
Away from camp, Nick, Desiree and Kim attended the annual Indaba travel show in Durban at the beginning of May. It was great to see many familiar faces and to meet quite a few new ones too. Since returning to the office Kim has enjoyed a busy few weeks rolling out our new specials for 2016.
Looking ahead Vundu Camp welcomes a team from Painted Dog Conservation to end off the month of May, and we are ready and excited for what will be a busy June.
March 2016 update
Parks have been very active, apart from daily patrols. Rangers have been reacting to shots fired in several areas and the Black Mambas have been very
busy with various ongoing operations. The gathering of information is a continual process.
The wild dogs have been busy too. Black tip the alpha female in the Nyakasanga Pack is mating with Jiani. This pack is currently 14 strong. Wicket, Jemma and Tait junior from the Nyamatusi Pack are all in season and are being mated with by Twiza, Twilight and Tim. The Nyamatusi is a new pack formed by dogs from the Vundu and the Nyakasanga pack which dispersed from their home packs, this pack is 13 strong. The Vundu Pack seems to have disappeared as there were only four dogs left after this dispersal. So the prospect of pups is looking good. We have seen the Chiruwe Pack only once as they tend to live in the central part of the park where there are no roads. We have had reports of the Chikwenya pack.
The BBC film crew will be with us until the end of March. They have had a helicopter in the park for about 10 days filming the dogs from the air. The dogs pay no attention to the chopper and continue with their activities and they have been able to film some very interesting stuff. At one stage the Nyakasanga and Nyamatusi packs were only 150m apart on the ground but they did not meet, both packs went off chasing impala which took them in separate directions, it would have been amazing to get that meeting from the air. We filmed them hunting baboons and impala from the air also harassing zebra, buffalo and even a hippo still out grazing in the marshy floodplain.
We also did about 10 days with the aerial camera mounted to a vehicle, which gives a whole different perspective of being able to move with the dogs and film at the same time, as mostly these cameras are quite large and need to be static tripod mounted to shoot.
Most areas are fairly inaccessible at this time of year with lots of rain falling in late February and March which seems to have become a pattern over
the last few years. As can be expected the bush is full of young from most of the other animals, lots of baby elephant. The pans are all full and
I expect we will have more rain in April to keep them topped up.
We start with our first safari clients in April and look forward to giving you some more up dates.
February 2016 update
February has been a busy month. So far during the off season for safaris we have done 16,500km on anti-poaching efforts, transporting 600 National Park Rangers on deployments with about 2500 ranger days of food provided. There have been several contacts between Park Rangers and poachers in the area and tusks have been recovered, it is a dangerous situation as the poachers shoot at the Rangers. We have reports of approximately 10 carcasses of poached elephant which shows that the pressure being put on the poachers by Rangers is having an effect.
On the under cover work with the Black Mambas things have also been active. There have been operations going on in many different places around the Zambezi Valley. This month three pangolin have been recovered alive and put back in the wild in National Parks Estate. The men doing this side also put themselves at risk; a short while ago a policeman was stabbed in an operation arresting some illegal ivory dealers. Thousands of kilometers need to be covered setting these ops into motion and maintaining until the arrests are made. We have put out flyers in certain areas in collaboration with National Parks Investigations Department and we are getting lots of calls. I am learning that intelligence gathering is the most effective way in combating the fight against poaching. We are trying to raise funds to keep this going for at least the rainy season but really it needs a long-term programme.
The BBC film crew is back, having started on 28 February and we have had some luck with the dogs. We have seen the Nyamatusi Pack, which formed in December last year with seven males from the Nyakasanga pack and seven females from the Vundu pack. I am yet to determine the alpha pair but there are two dominant females: Jemma and Tait Junior. The Nyakasanga Pack is now 14 dogs. Jiani has taken over the position of alpha male. We have seen him totally dominating Hornet who was the alpha male for the past three years. Black Tip the alpha female and Jiani are mating so hope to have pups by late May /June with this pack. Just this morning there was an amazing interaction between the dogs, lions and hyena. Great stuff to capture on film.
We have had several heavy showers so the bush is nice and green and the grass is now established, not very tall but at least it's there. I think we will get up to our average seasonal rainfall despite the rains arriving late again.
The leopards are much more active during the day at this time of year and we have seen several in day time in just a few days. They are taking advantage of the thick ground cover which is absent for the rest of the year. We have also seen a couple of prides of lion of five with two large black maned lions mating with the females.
The well known elephant bull Boswell who stands on his back legs is doing well, as are Impi and Jed and several other of the Mana Bulls.
I look forward to giving you an update of the shoot with the BBC soon.
January 2016 Vundu Camp – Romara Anti-Poaching Unit
Thank you to all of you who have taken time out of your day and contributed to our anti-poaching efforts. It literally would not happen without your donations! You are the ones paying for our antipoaching efforts for the protection of our elephant in the Zambezi Valley, it always amazes me that it is people who live thousands of miles away who are helping so much. I would like to thank The Africa Adventure Company for their help in contacting past guests and for all of their support, The Tashinga Initiative and Global World Conservation for all the help in getting tax deductable funds from donors in the USA to us in the Zambezi Valley, William and Beth and The Painted Dog Conservation both here in Zimbabwe and the Netherlands.
Starting on the 1st November 2015 our efforts are being channelled into transporting and feeding the Rangers who work for National Parks while on patrol and deploying them to areas where they patrol on foot. Each patrol is on average eight days. Each patrol has four men in it. We have deployed and uplifted 248 rangers to date on anti-poaching missions. We are operating on a very limited road system which is in a pretty rough state, and it takes its toll on the vehicles. We have travelled 5500km (2800 miles) in Mana Pools, the park itself is 2200sq.km (1400sq.miles). We have designated a land rover to the operation and have today added another which is undergoing a quick service and it will be in the valley next week.
In November the Rangers had a contact with poachers, shots were exchanged. Two poachers were wounded. The poachers ran off but left behind seven sets of elephant tusks. This group of Rangers will receive US$1000 as an incentive. It’s not a lot of money, but equivalent to their monthly salary, which they do not always get in a timely fashion. This week a concerted effort has been made by our National Parks Rangers and our RAPU vehicle in tracking down 11 poachers in the area west of Mana Pools in the Nyakasanga. In an ambush at midnight on Monday the poachers discarded their load of 22 tusks of elephant ivory and disappeared in the thick bush. Rangers have been after them now for days.
Bushlife Safaris - Vundu Camp has also been working on the start of the Ranger Anti-poaching Base at Nyakasikana in the middle of the valley. There is 50T of sand being transported to the site together with 50T of stone for the foundations of the buildings. The sand and stone is coming from 300km away and takes about eight hours to get it there. It will take us 14 trips on those roads in and out to get the materials in. A very good friend of mine, Dave England, has been instrumental in providing the transport of these bulky materials. Alaska Dolomite has offered us a really good price on the stone, and another friend, Steve Swanepoel, has a team of men collecting the sand and loading it for us all free of charge. It is great to see Zimbabweans pulling together for a great cause. We still need 300 bags of cement to get started.
This last weekend three poachers were arrested and more ivory recovered. There are just so many holes to try to close up, but we have to keep on trying. Please spread the word that we need funds to keep the pressure on to keep the poachers out and build our Park Rangers a good base to operate out of. We are making a difference and the Area Manager tells me levels have decreased. We have saved the lives of some elephant.
Regards Nick Murray
We are thrilled to introduce two new faces in the management team at Vundu Camp for the 2015 season. No strangers to the bush, both Gadyy and Aimee's passion for wildlife and the pure enjoyment of being submersed in the thick of it, has already ensured a smooth introduction to camp life. Working alongside Nick, Desiree and our fabulous team, they will be on hand to oversee the smooth running of camp and to make sure our guests are taken care of during their stay with us.
Gadreck Nyamhondoro: Gadreck (Gaddy) was born in the small town of Karoi in Zimbabwe before moving to Harare for schooling.
Soon after leaving school he moved to Kariba where he started his guiding career with Spurwing Island Safari Lodge and qualified as a learner guide in 1997. Gadreck has gained valuable management experience working in safari camps within Zimbabwe and he is also qualified to conduct walking safaris and game drives.
Aimee van der Merwe: Born in 1991 in Harare, Zimbabwe, Aimee grew up in a small farming community in Tengwe and discovered her love and passion for nature at a young age.
She has been keen on fishing since she was a little girl and has fished Lake Kariba, the Zambezi River and various dams and rivers within South Africa. Aimee received a certificate in Photography in 2013 from Oakfields College in Pretoria, South Africa and is currently working on a personal photographic portfolio.
Whilst managing the camp she is excited to be working towards pursuing her Professional Guides License.
To all our 2015 guests, we look forward to welcoming you to Mana Pools over the next few months and helping you create memories to treasure.
Despite the rains commencing very late last year, with the first decent rain falling on Christmas Day, Mother Nature seems to be more than making up for it and in the last six weeks we have had a lot of rain. As a result the grass has grown very well where the concentration of animals in the dry season have left droppings to fertilize the new growth.
Game has concentrated once again on the Mana flood plain and in particular the elephant. There are several hundred elephant feeding on the belly high grasslands, rarely reaching up to feed on a tree. Many have come in from the surrounding areas, I don't recognize them and their behavior is very different from our regular residents. There is an abundance of newly born calves, and many bulls. It is the breeding and calving season for elephant and this year they have congregated in Mana.
The Mucheni pride of lions are doing well, the two new big males in the area are breeding with the females, so there is a promise of cubs to come. The Nyamatusi pride has also been spotted and are a group of 17 in total.
We are not often in the park at this time of year, so it is great to be here, as it is looking exceptionally beautiful. The reason we have started early is because we have a BBC film crew in camp. They have chosen Mana as the place to film a Wild Dog documentary, which is exciting news as they researched possibilities for the documentary across the whole of Africa and have chosen to stay with us. Expectations are high but this is an incredible opportunity for both us at Vundu Camp but most importantly Mana Pools National Park and Zimbabwe wildlife as a whole. They will be with us for five months this year and then again in 2016. The documentary is one part of a five part series, which will include tigers in India, lions in the Mara, penguins in the Antarctic and chimps in the Congo, and is following on from the Planet Earth series.
Talking of the Wild Dog, we have seen the Vundu, Nyakasanga and Long Pool packs already this year. The grass is long along the flood plain with limited visibility for the dogs and access for them is hard as there are many running channels which the dogs do not like to cross, as the crocs come out of the Zambezi into these rain filled channels. The dogs are hunting in the mopane away from the river where there aren't roads, so finding them is tough going. Despite the thick bush and limited access with the amount of rain we have had, but we have managed to film some good stuff so far.
The Vundu pack is now 11 dogs in total, the smallest it’s been in 20 years that I know of. Last year the pack was at 22 individuals, 10 dogs dispersed and the remaining 12 dogs denned and had seven pups. The loss of the alpha male in July last year was a huge blow to the pack, and the remaining dogs were young 1-2 years old with one 5 year old, this would have left them vulnerable to lions and hyenas. Of the seven pups four have survived which is an average survival rate. This year Tait has accepted a new alpha male into the pack, Ox. He is asserting his dominance and leads the hunts for the pack. He is distinguishable by his size and an all black tail. (see sunset photo above)
Janet is the alpha female of the Long Pool pack. She lost her mate last year early in the breeding season and subsequently did not have pups, her pack seemed to have fallen apart. Janet is Taits daughter from her 2009 litter. Three of the pups from the Vundu pack went missing in November last year and were presumed dead. They are however, with their big sister Janet in the Long Pool pack. She appears to have adopted them from Tait, at 4 months of age, which is quite unusual. Most of the dogs that dispersed from the Vundu pack back in April have also joined Janet, there are now nine in her pack. They have moved into the area previously occupied by the Chikwenya pack.
The Nyakasanga pack is 26 strong. Black tip (Taits daughter) and Amos, the alphas, have raised 10 puppies from last years litter, having started with 15 pups. These guys are doing very well and the pack is very stable. Five males dispersed from the pack in July last year, again not sure where they have gone to yet.
We had a report of 40 dogs, which we have seen today. It is the Nyakasanga Pack with possibly what I called the Little Vundu Pack. The Little Vundu pack split from the Nyakasanga pack a few years ago, and they seem to be back and occasionally hunting together. 40 dogs in one group is quite a sight.
The BBC crew will be here now in February, May, August, October and November/December staying at Vundu Camp. As you would expect the crew is very experienced, Nick (producer) and Warrick (camera man) have a combined 40 years of wildlife documentary filming and they are looking to produce something exceptional.
It is a very exciting time.