Vundu Camp, Mana Pools
July/August 2018 Update from Vundu Camp and Bushlife
1 – We had a lovely visit this July from Mark and Alison Nolting and their family. See pictures from their trip here: Mark and Alison Nolting’s Zimbabwe Family Reunion.
2 – Client report
Ian Flores (from AAC) and his father also paid us a visit. One of the highlights from Ian’s trip was a leopard killing an impala right outside his tent. We then got to watch her feeding for three nights in a row with three groups of guests.
3 – Wildlife sightings
We have been seeing a fair amount of lion lately, as a huge male has been mating with two prides in the Vundu area as well as the pride in Ruckomechi area. Just recently, three lions killed a buffalo 1 km from camp and we have had some amazing viewing of them interacting with 20 hyenas.
Our resident elephants still impress our guests. Tusker has been his normal friendly self and most of our guests have had a chance to meet him. We had a great experience with Stickler – AAC – canoeing with Boswell as he crossed the river , also Grumpy lived up to his name by giving us a good mock charge after having been peacefully feeding for 15 minutes.
Simeon guided a photographer for 10 days, and in that time had 5 leopard sightings as well as lions and elephant. The Cassidy family came for their 3rd trip and this time brought their grandson – they had some great game sightings and some really good fishing at Ilala. Among their catch was a 35lb Vundu, 12 lb. Tigerfish and even enough Bream for dinner. They also had two lion sightings from the canoes.
The Wild dogs have been seen hunting several times away from the den, but most of our dog sightings have been at the den. The Nyakasanga pack has 7 pups and they are very playful as seen in the video below.
4 – BBC Dynasties series – premiers in early 2019 on BBC America
Something we are all very excited about is Sir David Attenborough’s narration and BBC filming of the Painted Wolves (African wild dogs) in Mana Pools as part of the upcoming Dynasties series. Des and I had the honor of hosting him and the incredible BBC crew in Vundu Camp. The series is expected to come out later this year in the UK, and early 2019 in the US. See this link to Sir David Attenborough presents Dynasties series.
April 2018 Update from Vundu Camp and Bushlife
BUSHLIFE SUPPORT UNIT
There was little to report earlier in the rainy season, as much-needed vehicle repairs and flooded roads kept our patrols to a minimum.
ALL OF OUR ANTI-POACHING PATROLS ARE BACK IN ACTION!
Our Anti-Poaching patrol vehicles really take a beating, especially on muddy, rutted roads during the rainy months. Due to some much-needed repairs, they were mostly out of commission through the past two months, though we did keep at least one vehicle in operation at all times. Fortunately, though it was rumored that poachers had been seen entering the Park, there were no reports of elephant carcasses found during this time. Even more fortunately, we are now back in operation at full strength. But it is a constant effort, requiring a consistent source of funds, to keep 4 patrol vehicles operating continuously in Mana Pools, and that is the minimum number of vehicles we feel is necessary to adequately monitor the Park. We are grateful to have received a commitment for funding part of our food and fuel costs through cooperative arrangements with Zambezi Society and African Bush Camps — but it still costs us a minimum of $8,000 per month for EACH patrol. Please DONATE GENEROUSLY to support these critically important and effective patrols!
The poachers obviously see our Investigation Team as a serious threat too. For the second time in a little over a year, our Team vehicle was deliberately run off the road. Fortunately, our driver was not seriously injured, but after attempting repairs, we concluded the vehicle was not economical to fix. Thankfully, our wonderful donors really came through during our holiday fund-raising campaigns! Through you, we were able to purchase a replacement vehicle. That vehicle was placed in operation several weeks ago, and since then we’ve seen some terrific results.
These results were only made possible through the bravery and dedication of our Investigation Team — and the loyal support of you, our donors and friends! YOU ARE MAKING THE DIFFERENCE FOR THESE ENDANGERED ANIMALS. It costs us about $2150/month to keep our investigation team going. Please DONATE to support this important work.
OUR COLLARING PROGRAM ENTERS PHASE II
Our initial program to place RADIO COLLARS on iconic bull elephants has also been a big success. We have been able to collar 4 iconic bull elephants, which has enabled the Parks Ecologist to download extensive data on the movements of these animals. Parks has now given us authority to collar 9 more elephants, and at with their direction, we are planning to collar 5 this spring/summer. We therefore urgently need funds to purchase the necessary collars, and satellite feeds, in order to monitor and protect them. The cost of collars and satellite tracking is approximately $5,000 per collar. PLEASE CONSIDER DONATING TO PROTECT MORE ICONIC BULLS!
UPCOMING EVENT! For those of you living in or near the San Francisco Bay Area, we would love to meet you at the Africa Adventure Company’s Safari Soiree on April 21, 2018. The event will take place at Waterbar Restaurant — a spectacular location overlooking SF Bay and the Bay Bridge — from 6:00-9:00 pm. Please join us there to learn more about Bushlife Conservancy and the work we’re doing to protect Zimbabwe’s elephants!
DOUBLE YOUR DONATION! ASK FOR AN EMPLOYER MATCHING GRANT.
Many companies will match charitable gifts by employees and their spouses, retirees, and board members. Most will match dollar for dollar, and some will even double or triple your gift! Take advantage of this opportunity. Talk to your employer about their company match program and make your donation go even further.
December 2017 Update from Bushlife
Thank you to all the guests who traveled to Mana Pools this year. For those who have expressed a strong interest in helping the anti-poaching efforts in the Zambezi Valley, your support can make a difference.
The fund raising focus in 2017 is for the anti-poaching unit and the collaring of iconic elephants. Please visit the website, www.bushlifeconservancy.org to learn more about the great conservation work being done with funds raised so far!*
With temperatures reaching 40 degrees Celsius we are experiencing warm and sunny weather. The wildlife viewing this month has been fantastic with some incredible and unique sightings which we can’t wait to share with you. With the rainy season looming ahead, we have set our closing date for the middle of November this year.
At last, we had some good fishing where we had guests catch the first tigers of the season in the middle of September. The water has been cold but is finally warming up so we expect the fishing to pick up now.
We have seen the wild dogs nearly every day in the past month and a few times have even had them running through Camp. We have had close encounters on our walking safaris with lionesses as well as bumping into a mating pair of lions on a few occasions. The buffalo herds have been seen frequently which is always an exciting experience whilst on a walking safari. We recently had an unusual sighting at Vundu where a group of approximately 20 hyenas, made a kill right outside camp! This caused a lot of excitement with our guests who were heading to bed and the evening quickly became very entertaining with all the noise and commotion from the hyenas.
Nyakasanga Wild Dog Pack Update
As the pups continue to grow, the pack can now go out to hunt, make a kill and then call out to the pups who then join them. Pictured here are the Nyakasanga puppies enjoying a frenzied feast with a baboon that the pack hunted in the park.
From the 11 wild dog puppies that were born this season, only eight have survived. We are keeping a close eye on them and hoping that the remaining puppies will make it through to adulthood.
Pictured here is Eddie enjoying some “Elephant Popcorn”
We have now managed to collar four of our iconic elephant bulls. Boswell, Grumpy, Fred and most recently, Tusker, who lives in the Little Vundu area. Our aim is to collar at least nine more elephant bulls in Mana Pools National Park and we will keep you updated on the progress.
A big thank you goes to Bushlife Conservancy who have been working tirelessly on spreading the word and for all the donations that have come in to help fund our anti-poaching efforts. It was wonderful to have Elissa Warantz to stay last month and we are so grateful for the passion and commitment she has put into Bushlife Conservancy.
We are also extremely grateful to Andy and Carrie Skillen, who have each generously donated a collar. Thank you for protecting our elephants!
Carmine Bee Eaters
Our favoutite species of bee-eater, the Carmine bee-eater, began arriving in September in Mana Pools in their hundreds. The Zambezi River is a perfect breeding ground for them where the steep sandy banks are ideal for the birds to dig tunnels and build their nests. The tunnels can be up to two meters deep and it has been fascinating to watch both the males and females actively digging.
They are a sight not to be missed this month!
September 2017 Update from Bushlife
Repeat client, June Tu, has the experience of a lifetime during her recent trip to Mana Pools, Zimbabwe. Read about her adventure…
What an adventure! Our first afternoon we got to witness and be a part of the collaring of Tusker. It was very exciting as it took a while of digging to get the collar on.
Then the morning of the 29th we got to join in again in the collaring of Fred, yet again a very exciting and moving experience.
At the same time we were visiting Mana Pools the AWARE wildlife vets had 2 donors from Germany, Martin owns the largest specialized veterinary practice in Europe with over 60 specialized vets.
In the afternoon we went to the dog den and saw the pups and adults.
While we were with our guide in the morning the warden got a call that there was an elephant poached near Kanga Camp and he went off on the operation. This put a delay on the third collaring as he needs to be in attendance.
While at lunch on the 30th we got a message that there was an injured elephant two hours up stream, about 20km outside the park. Nick followed the vets to this area and we got to tag along and got to observe them treating a young bull elephant about 10 years old who had been shot in the legs. Yet again an overwhelming experience. On the way back to camp we saw 8 lions and a leopard.
Another early morning wakeup call today the 31st because the warden is back in the Park after a successful follow up and 2 tusks and a poacher apprehended due to info from BSU information gathering team.
An awesome experience again with collaring “Grumpy” the elephant this morning, and then we headed out on a short walk this afternoon.
It was a very much a team experience with National Parks the 2 Zim vets, the German Vets and us!
August 2017 Update from Bushlife
With blue skies and warmer temperatures, it looks like the winter months are finally coming to an end. After the few misty mornings we experienced in July, we are glad to be leaving the cold behind us.
Since our last update, we have had a fantastic few weeks with some of the incredible wildlife sightings, where our guests have experienced the best of what Mana Pools National Park has to offer.
Our First Trip Through the Channel
The Danglemayers were guests of ours that enjoyed a full four-day canoe safari which was our first of the season. They covered the length of the park in the trip and canoed an extra day through the channel, to Chikwenya Island. The Danglemayers are true adventurers and were excited to experience real Africa, canoeing through our very own “Garden of Eden.”
A typical morning began with Barbara and James Beller, who embarked on a walking safari with Nick, and came across a pride of lions and a wild dog.
Repeat guests, Gail and Ron, enjoyed three nights at our newly upgraded Little Vundu camp where they were guided by Alex. Gail and Ron had a truly unbelievable game drive, where only a few hundred meters from camp, a pride of lions appeared, who they watched for a while and then continued to the nearest waterhole where they saw a magnificent leopard and a playful breeding herd of elephants.
Gail and Ron spent the rest of the afternoon travelling to and from the lions to the leopard and elephants, not wanting to miss a second. This is what makes Little Vundu so special, with its great location, you don’t need to go far!
A pair of cheetah have been seen on several occasions walking between camp and the route we take to the wild dog den. As there are only an estimated 15 cheetahs left in Mana Pools, this is a lucky sighting.
Elephants, Elephants, Elephants…
As we celebrated World Elephant Day on the 12th August, it seems only right to share a full update on our iconic elephants bulls.
Boswell has been seen on the western edge of the National Park, adjacent to the hunting area, and the goods news is that he has his collar on so we know that he is safe.
Fred has been seen several times standing on his back legs, but many of the bulls are in musth and hanging back in the thick bush away from the Zambezi River, attempting to court females. Musth arrived later this year due to the late rains so the breeding season was extended and we are seeing lots of new baby elephant in the herds.
Stompie is back and is as cheeky as ever, even chasing us from our lunch table where we had set up al fresco style on the Zambezi River bank.
Lastly, Harry has made his way to the floodplain and was seen to have mastered the art of standing on his back legs, joining Fred and Boswell in this unique skill.
July 2017 Update from Bushlife
Cool sightings in wintry Mana
As we are in the middle of winter, we have had to brace extremely cold nights in Mana Pools and sharing stories around the campfire each evening provides a warm and welcoming escape from the cold. We have had some fantastic wildlife experiences in the last few weeks from leopard sightings in broad daylight to seeing lions make their way through camp, a few meters away. Little Vundu has received a lot of love and will be opening mid-July to its first guests which is very exciting! We had a really rare sighting at Vundu Camp a few days ago where we spotted a puff adder. We captured it, after snapping a few pictures and then released it far, far away from camp.
Wildlife Update – The Dogs are Spotted!
The wild dogs have been seen around our side of the National Park in the first few weeks of July with some of our guests even being lucky enough to watch them hunting a group of impalas. Peter Blinston from Painted Dog Conservation spent a week in Mana Pools to monitor the collared dogs’ activity. After many hours of searching, he successfully found both the packs in tip-top condition and with all their collars still working… good dogs indeed! Nick had the privilege of seeing the puppies for the first time last week, where there were 11 in total, that looked happy and healthy. Last year out of the 11 puppies, nine survived which is an incredible success rate in the wild.
Lions lions lions! We have seen them everywhere from camp, to walking safaris and even a few mating pairs camp for the past three days now. During the night, it sounds like a real concert with the lions calling and answering each other from all different parts of the park and the occasional leopard being heard in the background and the constant crying from the monkeys.
Boswell, our iconic Mana Pools bull elephant who was recently collared at the begining of April, was seen at Little Vundu. It is the first sighting since the successful collaring took place and we were happy to see that he is looking very strong and healthy.
June 2017 Update from Bushlife
New guests, new staff and a new kitchen!
The new season really has started off so well, and we have so much news to share this month. We have had an abundance of wildlife sightings lately, have been working very hard on our camp refurbishment and are delighted to have a new team member onboard our Bushlife team.
Firstly, Des and Lara had an extremely successful trip to Indaba in May and would like to say thanks to everyone who popped by the stand. Our 2018 rates are now out so if you have not received yours yet please do get in touch with Kim.
As you might have seen on Facebook, we had the pleasure of hosting David Pocock (Australian rugby player) and his partner Emma twice in May. David was born in Zimbabwe and is a passionate conservationist and can identify every bird call in the bush. He is an ambassador for Wildark and we recommend following him on his Instagram to keep updated on all his wonderful work here. On David’s second trip, he saw a female leopard stalk a male impala on the side of the road which she then caught and he has it all on film which he has promised to send through to us soon.
Wildlife Update – Amazing Video
Our sighting for the month was when a magnificent pride of the lions decided to kill a buffalo calf right in camp, during dinner of course, whilst everybody was tucking into their delicious apple Tarte Tatin. Watch the video here and be sure to turn up the volume for the full effect – it was quite something!
We have seen lots and lots of lions in all areas these past few weeks, from mating to feeding and even once spotted a lion walking right through camp in the middle of the day. The lions really are everywhere! We had an incredible leopard sighting in May too, where a female leopard was seen with her two cubs by Nick and his guests, who included David Pocock, in the Ruckomechi River bed.
On the wild dog front, they have been a bit more discreet than usual, with the Nyakasanga pack only being spotted toward the end of May. We have had some brilliant canoe safaris since the season opened and pictured here this video are third time visitors, Ed and Patsy, with the famous Impi crossing the Zambezi River right in front of them..watch it over here.
Camp News & Food
We have been working on refurbishing the main central area of Vundu Camp where we have created a comfortable new lounge with upgraded couches and re-done all the lighting as well as adding in a new tea and coffee station. We are in the process of building a new kitchen too which is very exciting and already the food coming out of it has been outstanding, with our chef Eliah who is loving trying out new recipes for our guests which have been going down a treat.
Bushlife Conservancy making an impact
The anti-poaching efforts this year so far have had a huge impact on the elephant population of Mana Pools National Park, so much so that not one a single elephant has been reported shot during the rainy season! Incredible as during the same period last year, elephant carcasses were found daily. Remember, we can all make a difference. If you want to learn more or make a donation, visit their website.
Welcome back to the team Aimee
Born and raised on a farm in Zimbabwe, Aimee discovered her passion for nature and wildlife at a young age. Aimee thoroughly enjoys the wilderness and has a taste for adventure, especially when it comes to Mana Pools. Having spent a year as Hostess at Vundu Camp, many of you will remember Aimee and we are thrilled to let you know that she is now back and will be working alongside Desiree, based in Harare.
April 2017 Update from Bushlife
The Camp is Open…
We hope you all had a wonderful Easter weekend with your family. We have been having a busy few months getting ready for the NEW 2017 season and been kept even busier trying to work around all the rain we have been having in Mana Pools. The bush is looking lush and green and the Zambezi River is flowing powerfully, being the fullest we have seen in it since 1995.
We look forward to welcoming you all to Bushlife Safaris now that we are up and running this season. We have a great special running for new bookings in August 2017 – these will all be at low season rates, so please get in with us about availability.
New Bushlife Conservancy Website Up
After many hours of administrative work by Elissa Warantz and Beth Brock, we are delighted to let you know that Bushlife Conservancy is now up and running. It is a section 501(c)(3) registered charity in the United States (tax-exempt status pending), that is dedicated to the protection and conservation of wildlife and habitats in Zimbabwe. Bushlife Conservancy accomplishes this mission primarily by funding the work of Bushlife Support Unit Trust, a Zimbabwean nonprofit that we set up about 18 months ago. Please take a moment to take a look at the new website and their Facebook page – we would be so grateful if you could share it with your friends, family and clients.
Bushlife Support Unit Trust Update
The Bushlife Support Unit Trust has had an extremely successful 6 weeks working on the anti-poaching and elephant monitoring program in Mana Pools. Nick and Aware Trust Zimbabwe helped an injured bull Tusker – watch the video here. The elephant collaring project, funded by Bushlife Conservancy, also got underway this month. The original plan was to work on the process of collaring an iconic bull elephant called Impi but as we could not get him in the right place at the right time, we turned our attention to another well-known and much loved elephant bull, Boswell.
Boswell was formerly the only collared elephant in Mana Pools National Park but as the collar was put on several years ago, it unfortunately was no longer working so the National Park authorities were very keen to get him re-collared which we accomplished. With the combined work from BSUT, BC and private donations, we managed to raise enough money for four collars so we have three more elephants to go.
Pictured below you can see how incredible the collaring process actually is. Boswell, once darted, had to have his old collar removed which took four strong men to lift his head up, and then they had to replace it with the new collar. Timing is crucial and once the vet had administered the drug for Boswell to wake him, he wandered off quite happily, unaware of the collar. Please watch the video on Facebook too.
The fund raising focus in 2017 is for the anti-poaching unit and the collaring of iconic elephants. Please visit the website, www.bushlifeconservancy.org to learn more about the great conservation work being done with funds raised so far!*
March 2017 Update from Bushlife
Nearly time for a new season…
As the end of March looms and the rainy season is nearly over, we begin our preparations to move into the Zambezi Valley again for our annual foray. So far, this year, we have been working tirelessly on re-thatching and maintaining Vundu Camp. We have replaced a lot of the soft furnishings and have also added a new game vehicle to our fleet, giving us five in total. We have upgraded and bought spacious tents for our mobile camps, Ruwesi Canoe Trails and Chitake, so be ready for a fresh new look on your next canoe and walking safari.
We were fortunate to have received early payments for the 2017 safari season from Africa Adventure Company, which allowed us to go ahead with a lot of the pre-season work. We look forward to welcoming you all to a newly refurbished Vundu Camp.
Collaring Elephant Bulls
With the National Park still being very wet with all the rain, the elephants have been enjoying spending time on the flood plain where the lush green grass is being devoured daily. One of the projects we are currently working on with Bushlife Support Unit is the identification and collaring of some of the iconic bull elephants which are well-known in Mana Pools. The Parks ecologist will be using data collected from this collaring project to work towards a Ph.D. You can keep updated on the progress by following the BSU Facebook page here.
To end off on a high note, we will be attending Africa’s largest travel trade show, Indaba, on the 16th – 18th May this year. We would love to see you all there so please contact us to make an appointment or pop by our stand, M04, in the ICC where Des will be representing us. We have an exciting addition to our stand this year – Bushlife Support Unit (BSU) will be in attendance as well. Please come and meet Lara England who can update you on all our anti-poaching and conservation work in Mana Pools.
We have officially registered BSU as a trust in Zimbabwe through a non-profit company, Bushlife Conservancy, 501(C)3, based in the U.S.A. BC has been set up to raise the necessary funds to run and manage the Mana Pools National Park conservation efforts. BC will be led by a passionate and inspiring team, Elissa, Beth, Mara and Alison, who will keep you all updated on their Facebook page here.
December 2016 Update from Bushlife
And that’s a wrap…
As our season comes to an end we can reflect on the year’s experiences in the bush. The Bulls that are still occupying the floodplain grace us with their majestic presence such as our old friends Stompie, Impi, Boswell, Gnarly Tusker Fred, Grumpy and Holy Joe who survived a shot in the head by poachers and their askaris, Dennis the Menace, Mini Mudzi, Mario Buck and a dozen others.
In August I was invited to attend a meeting in Harare to discuss the collaring of iconic individuals to try give them extra protection. I am currently working on a plan with the ecologist to get a permit to do this. A collar costs $3000 for the collar and 2 years satellite subs. Margot Ragget has raised $6,000 for collars. I feel if we are to make it a worthwhile project we need to start with 5 collars so that is another $9,000. As always, any help would be deeply appreciated – please contact Lara for further information. Candidates will be Boswell – as his collar needs replacing, Impi, Tusker, Gnarly or Grumpy.
We have completed 250 days of filming the wild dogs with the BBC for a landmark production coming out in 2018. We have certainly learned a lot about what it takes to make a major feature documentary and also about the dogs which we have been observing. At this stage the working title is dynasties this may change. Our section will be the “painted wolves” which is the direct translation of the Latin name “Lycaon pictus”. We had a great team of people with their many talents staying with us at Vundu and I’m certiain that the end result is going to be excellent! The Painted Wolves will be one hour of a 5-hour series which will include tigers, chimpanzees, penguins and lions.
We rebuilt Little Vundu this year. It is an amazing spot in Mana Pools. We moved the tents onto the area between the channel and the river on the dinning room side. The tents are are large and airy with ensuite running water for the bathrooms. We ran a few trips and everyone loved it.
Thank you for all the support this year – we hope you have a wonderful festive season, and look forward to working together again next year.
Nick and Des
Do you know your spots from dots?
We were fortunate to have captured this sighting on video during daylight hours – do you know what animal it is? We posted a few clues on Facebook… it is part of the civet family, it is a carnivore and it is mainly a nocturnal creature, being active in the night! Read on to the bottom of the newsletter to find out if you know your spots from your dots…
The rains finally arrived at the middle of November, with the bush coming to life once again around us. The mopane trees have started to shoot and have provided the bush with a burst of colour with their bright green leaves. With our first proper thunderstorm, this season, it brought about a flurry of activity with squirrels, mongooses and birds all coming together in a frenzy to drink from the newly created puddles left by the rain. We are patiently waiting for the female impalas to have their babies and this should happen any day now so follow us on Facebook for further updates.
The Mana Pools National Park rangers had to call in a vet to treat a badly wounded lion that had been seen at Nyamepi over the last few weeks in November. He was old and weak, suffering from two big wounds on each side of his hips. A vet arrived to dart him and treat the wound and was then summoned to the western side of the park to treat a snared elephant, whose wound was slightly more serious and luckily was treated in the nick of time and both lion and elephant are healing well.
At Vundu Camp this month we had some interesting visitors passing through, a pride of four lionesses and two sub-adult male lions, that decided they liked it so much, they would stay for a week and keep us company. We watched them catch a lone warthog seen drinking in the pan right behind the camp as well as a buffalo which they fed on it for a few days before they were chased off by another male lion.
Do you know your spots from dots?
Well done to Michael Searing who correctly spotted that it was a genet. The small, catlike common genet is nocturnal, secretive, and shy. The fox-size common or small-spotted genet has black marks on its face that give it the appearance of wearing a mask. The spots on the back of a genet’s coat are arranged in parallel lines and become elongated as they approach the tail, which has distinct black rings.
November 2016 Update from Bushlife
Hello from Mana Pools!
October was a busy month for us at Bushlife Safaris and with November now upon us, we have six weeks left to go until the rainy season fully kicks in and takes over, forcing us to close up the camps and prepare for another year. We have experienced one of our hottest months this year in October with an average temperature of 36 degrees Celsius and a high of 48! Yikes! The good news is that the heat brings the wildlife even closer to camp with animals congregating around the river and water pans for their daily thirst-quencher.
Out of the bush and on the office side of things, our senior consultant Kim has recently relocated to New Zealand with her family. Kim will continue to work for Bushlife Safaris and will be responsible for all booking requests.
Just this weekend we watched a lioness hunting a kudu at the pan located behind Vundu Camp. The lioness had passed through the camp the previous night with her male counterpart, where guests in camp were fortunate to have an up-close encounter with the pair. And the lion sightings didn’t stop there with a mating pair seen whilst out on an afternoon game drive – hopefully we will be having some new cubs in the next few months!!
Pictured here is Nick and an American guest, Jessica from ‘The Africa Adventure Company’ who had a fantastic up-close and personal encounter with a beautiful bull elephant, Holy Joe, having an early morning snack!
We also have some great news to share with you all! We had a full camp of photo journalists in October with seven of these journalists from the BBC. The BBC are finishing up on filming a documentary on wild dogs which will be released in early 2018 so watch this space for updates and a few teaser clips to come.
The BBC crew had a team that included night cameramen, ground cameramen, overhead drones and even a helicopter, capturing the amazing and unique daily activity of the two wild dog packs in our area, Nyakasanga and Vundu. We have been fortunate enough to have had front row seats to these intelligent predators in action during their visit. You can find out more on the Nyakasanga pack here on our latest blog.
Bushlife Support Unit
We have certainly had a busy last few months in Mana Pools at the BSU – here is a brief snapshot of our achievements from October:
- Apprehended five poachers as well as a rifle
- Replaced a National Parks Officer’s personal car after it was damaged when it came into contact with armed poachers
- Worked hand in hand with the #TheZambeziSociety in facilitating the donor’s funds to purchase 3 anti-poaching vehicles.
- Installed, at cost, satellite tracking in the new anti-poaching vehicles with #ezytrackZimbabwe
- Registered with Pack for a Purpose, a non-profit organization, to support our local community and the anti-poaching in Mana Pools National Park http://www.bushlifesafaris.com/community/
Created a new Facebook Page where we can keep you updated on all the progress from Bushlife Support unit.
September 2016 Update from recent client Ann Swinford
You were right about Zimbabwe- I should have done this years ago!
Nick Murray and Little Vundu: On the plane to Little Vundu we met Nick’s wife, Desiree, and children, Tate and Jed. Nick and Desiree are the real deal. They are fighting for conservation every day in Zim. We were lucky that it was school break and the kids were in camp. It was like hanging out with favorite friends and their kids. Little Vundu is right on the river. Tent One is at the end under an Albida tree where elies and hippos come by at night. The music of the bush is a wonderful lullaby.
Because the Albida trees were dropping pods, the elies would come straight up into camp. During our tea one afternoon an elie walked up to within 10 feet of us at our table an ate all the pods on the ground. Being so close to a wild calm elie was very special. During walking safaris Nick carefully guided us to within feet of an individual feeding elies and within 50 feet of a feeding herd. Both experiences were exhilarating. We felt safe with Nick’s leadership.
The canoeing safari worked out perfectly. Nick’s approach to possibly aggressive wildlife is careful and if you follow his subtle cues, passing hippos works like clockwork. The canoeing was not difficult. We canoed for about 6 hours with a stop for a full cooked English breakfast and a walk. We had elies cross in front of us; hippos pop up around us and a croc jump into the water 3 feet in front of our canoe. It felt a bit like I was driving in moderate snow on an icy road for 6 hours. You know you can do it and that you’ll be fine, but it can make you a bit nervous. I am glad I did it since it is really the best way to see the river. I am especially glad I did it with an expert like Nick.
The BBC uses Vundu camp as its base for filming a documentary on wild dogs. The BBC is there because Nick is an expert on wild dog and works with the Painted Dog Conservation Unit. Nick knows the dogs and their histories. He has 6 years of data on the dogs, which he will be writing into a master’s thesis. He has excellent relationships with people in the parks and they are all happy to see him and help him out.
Nick is the real deal; he is an excellent knowledgeable guide and really cares about Zim and is putting himself on the line every day to make Mana a better place and to save the animals there with his anti-poaching team.
The last night, Big Vundu was completely open so we decided to stay there. It is very lovely, less rustic.
I would recommend that anyone spend time with Nick without hesitation. He is a gem.
Ann Swinford – September 05 2016
June 2016 Update from Bushlife
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.