logo

A man lies and dreams of green fields and rivers

- Pink Floyd


image

Travel

Nov 24, 2018

Zimbabwe Revisited: A Return to Hwange National Park, 30 Years Later

Sarah Kingdom retraces her steps, and returns to the first place that she experienced a safari with her parents, this time she takes her two teenage sons.

WRITTEN BY

Sarah Kingdom

Thirty odd years ago, as a gawky, gangly girl in my early teens, complete with orthodontic braces and a tomboy haircut, I had come from Australia, with my family, on my first African safari. This trip was the start of a love affair with the continent that would ultimately become my home. Now, years later, and with my own two teenage sons in tow, I had decided to retrace my steps with a Zimbabwean family expedition of my own.

Photo: Sarah Kingdom

over 100 species of mammals and nearly 400 species of bird

Starting off from the Victoria Falls we were bound for Hwange National Park, 100km away. At more than 1,460,000 hectares Hwange, named after a local Nhanzwa chief, is the largest park in Zimbabwe and has more animals and a greater variety of species (over 100 species of mammals and nearly 400 species of bird recorded) than any other park in the country. In the nineteenth century the land was the royal hunting reserve of Mzilikazi, the Southern African king who founded the Matabele Kingdom (Matabeleland), and later his successor Lobengula. It was set aside as a National Park in 1929.

Photo: Sarah Kingdom

Our ‘home’ in Hwange would be African Bush Camps’ Somalisa Expeditions, about an hour and a half’s drive from the park’s main gate and a short drive from ABC’s main Somalisa Camp. We had driven the 100km from Victoria Falls and were rushing slightly, as we were running a little late for lunch… holidays with teenager boys tend to be governed somewhat by keeping stomachs full. We headed from the main gate through the park. Passing a group of eight giraffe and a large herd of wildebeest, we reached the ‘Bohemian luxury’ that is Somalisa Expeditions’ camp. Alas we were indeed too late for lunch, but after a wash and some afternoon tea we were off on a game drive with our guide David.

One of our first viewings was a pair of lions snoozing after the rigors of mating. While we waited and watched, David filled us in on a little of the history of these lion’s pride. Many will remember the outrage, widespread social media coverage and petition calling for the end of big game hunting in Zimbabwe, that followed the 2015 controversial hunting death of Cecil, a lion who had lived in Hwange National Park for 13 years, and the subsequent killing of his son Xanda two years later. The female of the pair we were looking at, was a member of ‘Cecil’s Pride’ and the young male was a new male who had come in, with his elder brother, to fill the void left by Cecil’s death.

Read Next: Inside the Mind of a Lion Murderer

Sundowners were spent atop a large termite mound, with a clear view of the lions and a parade of elephants crossing the open plain. Driving back to the camp we stopped to admire the brilliant stars overhead. Considering my star knowledge is pretty much limited to the Southern Cross, Orion’s Belt and the Milky Way, and the two other passengers on our drive were from the Northern Hemisphere where all the constellations are the ‘other way up’ it was fortunate that David had a laser pointer to help him ‘highlight’ and explain the night sky above.

Photo: Sarah Kingdom

Although winter days in Hwange are warm with bright blue skies, the evenings can, and do, get extremely cold and overnight temperatures below freezing are not uncommon. The next morning from the comfort of our beds next door, we could hear our boys getting their ‘wake up knock’ before our game drive. Getting teenagers out of bed in the morning is not easy at the best of times, and we could hear the friendly knocking carry on for several minutes, before eventually a sleepy, muffled grunt was heard from one of the boys.

My lasting memory of game drives in Hwange, thirty odd years ago, was of being unbelievably cold. Being ‘Africa novices’, my parents had decided that Africa was ‘hot’ and, despite the fact that it was winter, had decided to leave all our warm clothes in a suitcase in Harare, while we ventured off on safari, with just a few shorts and t-shirts on hand. I had never felt so cold in my life. I still have vivid memories of shivering in the back of our open top safari vehicle at 6am, and not even my ‘teenage crush’ on our safari guide, Zack, could distract me from shivering. Fortunately, this time, I had come prepared with layers of warm clothing for the entire family. Luckily the whole safari business has also got a lot more sophisticated in the interim years, and we were furnished with fleece ponchos and hot water bottles as we boarded the vehicle making the experience a whole lot more enjoyable!

Photo: Sarah Kingdom

The highlight of the morning was coming across a lone hyena chewing on a month old elephant carcass. Skittish, but clearly hungry, she jumped at every sound and rustle in the undergrowth before eventually settling down. A side striped jackal appeared. Not quite brave enough to challenge the hyena, it settled down to watch, letting out the occasional high pitched call.

The air was alive with birdsong and we saw an abundance of birds on our drives. The most prominent were, without a doubt, the hornbills, and we saw them absolutely everywhere. The African Grey, Southern Yellow-billed and Bradfield’s hornbills all swooped, soared and chattered incessantly. Southern Ground Hornbills strode through the landscape with their trademark drum beating sound effect. Racquet Tailed and Lilac Breasted Rollers flitted from bush to bush. Teals ducked and bobbed in the waterholes while Egyptian Geese shouted from the banks. White-backed Vultures, Marshall Eagles and Bateleurs soared overhead.

Without a doubt our most special sighting in Hwange was as we were leaving Somalisa and driving out of the park. Having gone to sleep with the sound of wild dogs and we had woken to lion footprints throughout the camp, now, not long after setting off we rounded a corner and found three cheetahs relaxing in the middle of the dirt road. Switching off the engine, I groped for my camera, hardly daring to take my eyes off them. A female and two young males. I needn’t have panicked, they were not rushing anywhere. The female relaxed in the sand and the two youngsters gambolled and played, while we watched, entranced until they eventually tired of us and disappeared into bush.

We left the Somalisa and Hwange behind, but carried with us a whole new set of family memories.

You can find out more about African Bushcamps here.

Continue Reading

image

Travel

Dec 07, 2018

The Lilayi Elephant Nursery: The Story of One Orphan, and 11 Years of Conservation.

The Orphanage provides a sanctuary for defenceless calves, who are the victims of poaching, human conflict or, occasionally, natural abandonment. The catalyst was a single elephant called Chamilandu.

image

WRITTEN BY

Sarah Kingdom

2007, South Luangwa National Park, Zambia.

A one and a half-year-old elephant is left alone and helpless when her mother is shot dead by poachers. The orphan calf is taken to what is now the Game Rangers International, Kafue National Park Release Facility to be raised. Healthy, but understandably traumatised, Chamilandu, as she was named, struggled to come to terms with the loss of both her mother and extended family. Suffering nightmares that had her screaming aloud in her sleep, it took a great deal of love and attention from dedicated keepers to give her the reassurance she needed to adjust to her new life.

In the intervening years, Chamilandu has grown into the matriarch of the orphan herd. Mothering and comforting the younger orphan calves as one tragedy or another has brought them to the orphanage. She has recently started to demonstrate her desire to live independently in the bush; going on longer and longer forays alone, away from the release centre. Seen interacting and mating with a wild bull in the park, a positive sign that she is ready to create new ‘family/friendship’ bonds and is preparing herself for a life in the wild… the ultimate goal of her rescuers all those years ago.

Learning new skills

We first saw Chamilandu on a game drive in Kafue National Park, Zambia’s oldest and largest national park and one of Africa’s wildest. We were on our way to the Release Centre to see the orphan herd coming in for their lunch break after a morning in the bush. The group were close to the road and the keepers were tucked out of sight, allowing the small herd to graze freely, but still be under their protective surveillance. Chamilandu, wearing radio collar in preparation for her anticipated ‘move’, was in a playful mood. Getting closer and closer to us, shaking her head from side to side in a slightly comical fashion, as we slowly reversed the car. Eventually slipping past the herd we went ahead to await the groups’ arrival.

one elephant killed every 15 minutes!

Met at the Release Centre, we were first shown the ‘kitchen’ where bottles are filled with the correct ‘recipe’ for each youngster and then escorted to the main Elephant Boma from where we could see the orphans ambling ‘home’. ‘Home’, an enclosure of about 10 hectares, is located on the bend of a river and fenced to make it predator proof. Once the elephants got close to the boma, they picked up speed and were soon clamouring at the gate, to be let in for their bottles and piles of pellets that form their lunchtime feed.

Elephants in Africa are under serious threat, primarily due to large-scale poaching for ivory and also as a result of conflicts arising from elephant/human interactions. It is estimated that 25,000 elephants are being killed in Africa every year… this works out at approximately one elephant killed every 15 minutes!

Bonding time… forming new relationships

Having visited the older orphans in Kafue, I was keen to visit The Elephant Orphanage Project’s Lilayi Elephant Nursery, which is situated on a 650-hectare game farm on the outskirts of Lusaka. When under the age of three, young elephants are extremely vulnerable and dependent. Most will not survive without both their mother’s care and her nutrient-rich milk. The first port of call for any orphan rescued anywhere within Zambia, is the Lilayi Elephant Nursery, and it is here that these fragile babies are looked after twenty-four hours a day – a milk dependent orphan requires a bottle of its special formula every three hours! Trained keepers care for and watch over their charges constantly; taking them on daily ‘bush walks’, feeding them and staying close at hand to provide reassurance when the babies are in the stables at night. These keepers play a vital role in the emotional and social recovery of the young elephants, and become the ‘mother figures’ the babies desperately need. Elephants are tactile and highly sociable and the keepers become the orphans’ ‘new family’, maintaining physical contact with the babies, talking to them and showing them the same affection their wild elephant family would. As the orphans gain more confidence, human contact is gradually reduced and they are encouraged to turn to the other elephants for comfort, rather than the keepers. This is an important part of their rehabilitation.

The orphans need to be watched over at all times; they need to be covered, with blankets when cold, rainwear when wet and natural sunscreen (like a mud bath) when out the sun, for the first few months of a baby’s life. Baby elephants are difficult feeders and their minders need endless patience to encourage them to drink sufficient milk for growth. Like humans, baby elephants also need toys and stimulation, and so distractions and entertainment have to be built into their daily routine. An elephant will only thrive if happy.

A muddy orphan waits for rescue.

As soon as calves can be weaned from milk (approx 3 years old) they are moved from Lusaka to the Release Facility in Kafue National Park, where they join older orphaned elephants. Here they learn to live more independently and spend much of their time wandering freely through the bush. The Kafue Release Facility is adjacent to the ancient Ngoma Teak Forest where there is a 1,000 strong local elephant population, maximising chances for the orphans to integrate with other elephants and gradually move back into the wild.

12th June 2018 and the latest rescue baby joins the Elephant Orphanage Project, with one of their most rapid response rescues to date. In the early hours of the morning, an alert was raised that a six-month-old calf had been found abandoned in Livingstone. The baby was quickly rescued and transferred to the nearby ‘Elephant Café’, where it was stabilized, fed, watered and calmed by the presence of the other elephants (who are resident at the ‘Café’). Meanwhile, the team in Lusaka worked rapidly to fly a purpose-built crate down to Livingstone. The baby was then mildly sedated and crated, ready for her upcoming journey; a two-hour flight to Lusaka followed by an hour-long drive to the Elephant Nursery, where she was safely tucked up in bed by eight-thirty that night.

The little calf initially known as #43, in honour of being the forty-third elephant assisted by EOP, has now been renamed Lufutuko (Tuko for short), which means ‘survivor’ in Tonga, the local language. She is still very vulnerable and traumatised. Safely in the orphanage, she is getting to know her keepers and being regularly fed specialized milk formula. Like all the young elephants at the orphanage, she has a long and difficult road ahead to overcome the loss of her family, learn how to integrate and socialize with other elephants and ultimately grow into a healthy adult who will hopefully ultimately walk free.

Spending some time getting familiar with the bush.

It costs a lot to raise an orphan and give them a second chance at life… a lot more than you might think… from a rescue, to release and beyond, including post-release monitoring and research. Rescues alone can vary widely in cost depending on the area the calf is found. In some instances special vehicles, boats or even planes need to be hired, add to that scout and tracker fees, then vet fees, which can include quarantine, sedatives, blood tests and various medications and don’t forget the cost of ‘manpower’. An ‘average’ rescue can be in the region of US$2,500. And once an orphan is rescued costs continue to mount. With a staff of 27 at the Kafue Release Facility and another 17 at the Lilayi Elephant Nursery, wages are not an insignificant cost to be factored in. Feeding, veterinary, maintenance, communications… the list goes on. There are 18 orphans currently being cared for between the two facilities, each costing approximately $35,000 a year… the Elephant Orphanage Project has an operating budget in the region of $600,000 a year, which is an enormous struggle to secure.

 

The Elephant Orphanage Project was established in 2007, with critical and on-going funding from the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and the Olsen Animal Trust, with the mission of rescuing, rehabilitating and releasing orphaned elephants back into the wild. The Elephant Orphanage Project is part of a conservation initiative developed and operated by Game Rangers International, a Zambian, non-profit NGO.

You can visit the Lilayi Elephant Nursery, which is just a 35min drive from the centre of Lusaka any day of the year between 11.30 and 13.00. At 11.30 a staff member gives a short talk about the orphanage and you can visit the viewing deck which is an ideal vantage point for watching the elephants feed and play. Note that given the ultimate goal of releasing the elephants back to the wild, visitors are not permitted to touch the elephants. Cost: Adults K50, Children ages 12-18 K20, Children under 12 free. Every Monday entry is free.

If you want to venture a little further off the beaten track, then you can visit the Elephant Orphanage’s Kafue Release Facility in the southern part of Kafue National Park, 12km along the South Nkala Loop from Ngoma (location of the National Parks and Wildlife Headquarters). The closest places to stay when visiting the release centre is Konkamoya Lodge or HippoBay Campsite and Bushcamp [email protected]

For further information about Game Rangers International and the Elephant Orphanage, in particular, visit the Game Rangers International Website.

As with all conservation projects funds are always in short supply, any donations can be directed here.

Finally, you can also follow the project on the Facebook page.

 

loadContinue readingLess Reading

Recent Articles



Steph Davis: Dreaming of Flying

What drives Steph, to free solo a mountain with nothing but her hands and feet, before base jumping? “Bravery is not caused by the absence of fear."

Film Review: Ode to Muir. A Snowboarding Movie, and an Important Covert Education

Lost in amazing scenery, and one of outdoor's great personalities. Prepare to learn, even if you won’t realize it’s happening.

Mike Horn: His Devotion to the ‘Mountain of Mountains’, and the Loves of His Life

The "Explorer of the Decade" on his upcoming documentary "Beyond the Comfort Zone" that follows his attempt to summit K2 with his daughters following the loss of his wife.

Privacy Preference Center

Necessary

Advertising

Analytics

Other