Southern Africa Bush Tails

Newsletter – March 2011

As we get ready for the 2011 season the waters of the Zambezi are high, with exceptional rains in the region the headwaters of the river are high and Lake Kariba is filling at a rapid rate. The flood gates have been open for over a month, and at one stage there were 4 of the 6 gates opened, letting out a huge amount of water into the Lower Zambezi Valley. Many camps along the Zambezi have been submerged, especially those closer to the Mozambique border where the water is backed up by the Cahbora Bassa Dam. Vundu is on relatively high ground and also far from the downstream dams and gorges in the rivers path. We did loose a couple of trees and a bit of bank, but so far that is all, so we are lucky. The gates are due to open again in late February. For us in Mana, when the water is high the inland channels are flooded which opens up a new world of canoeing, thro ugh the albida and croton forests, sometimes a kilometer or 2 inland from the river. With all this rain the bush is really thick and the elephants are in camp daily feeding on the lush vegetation, which helps us by thinning the bush out a bit so we can see where we are going. The pan behind camp is full and growing a thick stand of 8″ tall grass which the hippos come out to feed on at night and will have it flattened by May.

Thanks to every one who make 2010 such a success for us at Bushlife, including Vundu, Little Vundu, Ruwesi Canoe Trails and Chitake Mobile Tented camp. We had great people and experienced fantastic wildlife encounters. Our old favorites have not let us down yet, the big elephant bulls which allow you to approach them catiously on foot , the wild dogs and their pups at the den site, the lions have exploded in numbers with new cubs in the prides and several sub – adults venturing out on their own. One of the great highlights was the darting of a wild dog for thee start of the first wild do g research project in the lower Zambezi Valley. I had the privilege of darting the alpha female and naming her, Tait after my 3 year old daughter. We fitted her with a gps collar so we can get an all year record of her movements. Peter Blinston was with me, he is the Managing Director of the Painted Dog Conservation project for the last 12 years, and the project is now 20 years on going, based out on Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe. I am hoping to be working closely with Painted Dog in the future and be t heir representative on the ground in Mana Pools, contributing to their project. I would also like to further my degree in the process and hopefully get my Masters sometime, through work on this project. With this in mind we are working with Africa Adventur e Company at including this kind of work into a safari experience, with extended stays at Little Vundu. This would include, finding dogs, gps recordings of sighting, age, sex, photograph and identify each dog. Still doing the activities we offer such as, c anoeing and walking etc.

We had the privilege of hosting Mark and Alison Nolting of the Africa Adventure Company, together with their sons Miles and Nicholas in July of the last season. We were together for a whole week, so were able to spend time in  Vundu Camp, Little Vundu and also Ruwesi Canoe Trail, mobile camping down the river.

We had a great time walking and sitting with the elephants, doing extended walks looking for the wild dog den where the pups were hidden, they were hiding about

2 hour walk from the nearest road, so we got our exercise. On another occasion we crept up to wild dogs on our bums, this pack had been in a fight with somebody as there were many injured dogs, so it took a bit of time and patience,but after what seemed like a long time we were rewarded as the dogs relaxed to our presence and we got to spend time with them. I think this was tough on Miles who is about 7′ tall and more used to sprinting down the basketball court and slam dunking rather than ‘stealth moding’ for hours up to dogs – but he survived. We also had a great time on the river canoeing between the camps, this is one of the highlights of Mana Pools and a truly unique wilderness experience.

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Despite having such a great year, we ended sadly by saying goodbye to Mark McAdam, who has been working with Bushlife for the past 12 years. He is now in Canada setting up a new life with his family in Calgary. His 2 daughters will have great opportunities for education and for sport as they are world quality bmx riders. Maybe one day we will see him back in Mana, canoeing the Zambezi.

This year our professional guides shall be myself, Doug MacDonald, Andrew Dalzel and Rich Taylor, Steve Chinoyi and Tichaona will be helping with the canoeing.

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Wildlife Research Project -April 2011