The Matusadona Wildlife Survey - project update

20 July 2015

Nigel Kuhn, Project Manager of the Matusadona Wildlife Survey has kept a journal throughout the preparation and planning of this event. Extracts from his diary can be read below (most recent at the top).

To work with Nigel on this project or on our Anti-Poaching & Wildlife Management Programme, please get in touch!

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17th July

Early this morning as the birds began to sing, we were awoken by a loud trumpeting outside camp.  The sun began peeping over the horizon - the sky only begins to go that deep red colour at about 0600, signalling the start of the ‘golden hours’ for photography.

While the water was boiling for early morning brews, I started compiling a list of the game we had seen so far. By far the most interesting was a male Bushbuck in camp who appeared very relaxed with our presence before moving off into the surrounding thicket slowly.  There were Impala by the dozens on the periphery of the surrounding thicket, judging by the eye shine from our head torches at night and a couple of elephant who meandered slowly past, paying us no attention as they moved on their way.

We left camp and headed for our morning meeting with National Parks at Tashinga HQ area. We were met with the news that some lion had pulled down an elephant and we were asked if we could assist with the deployment of rangers to accompany the lion researcher.  We jumped at the chance to have an unexpected adventure into the bush, where we could encounter lion and possibly hyena.

The area we were headed to was just off the ‘Rhino Loop’ road.  The road is definitely an overlanders dream – challenging terrain where what one sacrifices in road accessibility, one makes up for in pure adventure!

Debussing and moving in behind an armed scout we set off for the elephant carcass, stopping every few minutes to check for a radio signal on the telemetry set before moving off again.  Heads swivelling on the lookout for telltale signs like flicking ears or tails, we moved up the pathways toward circling vultures.

After finding the carcass of a large female elephant we scouted the periphery before looking for a possible cause of death.  Her tusks were still set in, which ruled out poaching, plus there was an absence of wire and no obvious bullet wounds. Camera traps were set up so lion and other scavenger activity could be monitored before we set off again for the vehicle, still very much aware of the presence of lion in the area. We did one last check on the telemetry set before leaving which confirmed the presence of lion in the nearby.

That evening, we decided to take an extended evening game drive rather than sit around camp waiting for sunset, so we set off along the centre road onto the shoreline to have a look at some of the points where we were going to put counting teams.

We counted well over 30 elephant in one area, including a newborn baby and juveniles.  Most of the herd were cows, some with only one tusk and tattered ears, revealing the tough conditions of living in the wild.  There were a couple of bulls in attendance who kept their distance preferring to browse and graze in solitude away from the females and younger members of the herd.

  

A magnificent Buffalo herd of over 150 were grazing quite contentedly on the new rich shoreline grasslands.  Mothers keeping their young close as there is normally always lion shadowing them and waiting for an opportunity to mount an attack on their favourite prey species.

Impala dotted the landscape, young males practicing their techniques for the rutting season where the stronger ones will attempt to depose a dominant ram and take over his harem of females before the new breeding season.

The list of wildlife we have seen and photographed is growing and walking into the thick Mopane tomorrow we should see more diverse wildlife populations.

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16th July
We were woken at 0430 by the power coming back on.  The sun started peeking over the horizon, another spectacular Kariba sunrise was on the way and the day began in earnest.

We walked the perimeter of camp to get a better idea of the size and structure and look for spoor before heading to the office.  There had been an elephant in camp the night before who had destroyed one of the trees.

We unloaded the jeep at Matusadona on the way to meet up with Parks at Tashinga HQ. Having planned a meeting for the following day, we re-boarded the ferry for an anti-poaching and wildlife survey meeting.  Before leaving we bought 40 litres of diesel so that we don’t have an issue when leaving the park after three days of  patrols as there is minimal signal and it is also a road we have not travelled before.

We had a dinner of sadza, corned beef and baked beans.  Tom’s first taste of sadza and it seems one meal that he was not too fond of. Tom is my cousin who lives in Cyprus, and having been there and had some of the food they normally feast on I can totally sympathise with him.

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15th July
Transfer from Kariba Heights to Matusadona

We woke up at 0430 to begin our journey down from Kariba Heights for the ferry crossing to Tashinga camp in the Matusadona. We drank our coffees in silent contemplation while the wind buffeted the windows; a bad omen as that normally means the lake will be rough for the crossing.

The word ferry could be misleading to those reading this from the Western world, however to dispel any misconceptions I will describe the passage thus far from the middle of Lake Kariba, amongst a clutter of generators, cement and food supplies.

Loading the jeep onto the boat last, amongst a clutter of generators, cement, food supplies, children, asbestos sheets, fuel and a forklift truck, meant there was not a lot of room for maneuvering it into its travelling position.  The lake is also so far out that I actually had to drive into the lake before making contact with the loading ramps before grinding our way up the steep incline as if it was no more than a trifling speed hump in Harare. 

  

The one aspect of living in Zimbabwe is that there is still the excitement and activities that go on which are reminiscent of a frontier town.

I noticed a young man standing at the loading site with fishing rod in hand so after all the formalities and greeting the parks rangers, I made my over to him.  After greeting him and discussing what we were doing there he told me he is studying ecology at the University of Zimbabwe and is going on attachment with the Matusadona park ecologist Ashley. We will be working together in the park over the next few weeks and what an exciting time for him to be coming into the park.

After a nine-hour crossing to the mouth of the Ume River, the captain did some skillful manoeuvring only to find that the lake had dropped too low to be able to get into ‘harbour’ properly.  After 45 minutes of attempting different landing zones we disembarked with valuable belongings, leaving the wagon under guard and made our way to our lodgings for a nap and a braai.

It was magical to be back home in the bush… all the familiar sounds of the hippo’s porpoising, the myriad birdlife, soft gurgle of water hitting the shoreline, only meters from steaks sizzling on the braai.

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