Vundu Camp, Mana Pools, Newsletter
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.