Hands-on Rhino, Elephant and Wildlife Conservation

Zimbabwe

Train an elephant to track poachers; feel the rough skin of a black rhino, one of the planet’s most endangered species; follow white rhino spoor through the African bush; horse ride across stunning vleis and witness herds of wildebeest galloping alongside giraffes; contribute to anti-poaching efforts to keep Africa’s precious wildlife safe and thriving.

The Imire Black Rhino and Wildlife Conservation is a world-renowned safe haven for African wildlife; Imire is “the meeting place” of conservation legends and the animals that have benefited from their passionate care.

The mission of Imire, to protect, nurture and grow the environment, animals and surrounding communities for the future, was pioneered by Norman Travers in the late 1970s and continues through the dedication of his family today. From hand-raising black rhino in their home to working tirelessly to promote health, education and development in their community, the Travers and their work inspire every person that sets foot on Imire’s stunning landscape.

In the battle for conservation, where funds and resources are more than scarce, student volunteers can experience first-hand the positive impact their hard work and enthusiasm has on the wildlife and the surrounding community.

Quick Facts

Location: Zimbabwe

Suggested duration: 7-14 days

Student limit: Up to 20 students

Background

Imire Game Park was established in the 1950s as a maize, tobacco and cattle farm. During the 1970s, game was introduced back onto the land and, like Noah’s Ark, the animals came in two by two, and by 1980 the park was home to large herds of plains game - waterbuck, impala, nyala, zebra and the rare sable antelope.

Pioneering elephant studies

In 1980 an orphaned baby elephant from a sanctuary in Harare was offered to the park as it was now too large for their premises. This female elephant, Nzou, was placed with a herd of buffalo, this being the largest herd animal in the park (there were no other elephants at the time). An unknown nuance of elephant behaviour was unwittingly discovered - that they could take on the identity of a species other than their own. Today, despite the best efforts of the park to introduce her to the other four elephants, Nzou continues to live with the buffalo, where she has established herself as the undeniable matriarch of the herd.

Rhino conservation

During the 1980s, a decade which saw some of Zimbabwe’s worst rhino poaching, most of the remaining black rhino in the country were moved out of National Parks into the relative safety of private conservation areas, called Intensive Protection Zones. Imire was chosen as one of these IPZs and, in 1985, were given the custodianship of seven orphaned baby black rhinos. Since then, 15 black rhino have been born at Imire, with 11 released back into the Matusadona National Park in the north of Zimbabwe. The government’s release programme was stopped due to excessive poaching and the black rhino again faces extinction.

Volunteers and students get involved in rhino monitoring and data collection to learn more about these incredible animals, as well as enabling successful management planning.

In addition to the larger mammals - rhino, elephant, buffalo and lion, Imire is also home to spotted hyena, jackal, baboons, vervet monkeys, aardvarks, zebra, giraffe, mongoose and a huge variety of birds, reptiles, snakes and frogs.

Itinerary

SAMPLE 14-DAY ITINERARY

Day 1
Welcome to Zimbabwe! Your leaders will greet you upon arrival at Harare International Airport before boarding a bus bound for the Imire Rhino and Wildlife Conservation in Hwedza. Upon arrival, settle into the camp at the heart of the conservancy, that will be your home for the next two weeks. You will have a trip introduction and camp orientation.

Take in your first African sunset overlooking Chinyika Dam and enjoy the magnificent views and the sounds and smells of the evening, as the day turns into night. Return to the bushcamp for a hot meal and a well-deserved night's sleep.

Day 2-13
Your days at Imire are focused on using leadership and teamwork to contribute to initiatives within the game park and the local community. You will be fully immersed in both the wildlife and the Shona culture as you work with elephants and rhinos, support game park staff and join in with excited primary school children.

Highlights include:

  • Rhino Conservation

Be a part of the renowned Imire Black Rhino Breeding Programme. Learn about these critically endangered animals from experienced handlers who dedicate their lives to their protection. You will have the chance to feed and walk alongside these magnificent creatures, and interact with them as they roam the game park.

  • Elephant Handling

Teach co-operative elephant handling to not only keep their minds active, but also help them learn how to identify and track poachers – vital to our anti-poaching efforts. You will also have the chance to contribute to elephant research projects as well feed and interact with them, very close at hand!

  • Game Park Management

Help maintain fences, roads, fireguards and park equipment in order to keep the conservancy working smoothly. Learn what it takes to keep wildlife healthy and thriving by feeding nutritional supplements to anteoples, plains game and lion. You may even me involved in tree planting or removal of alien speices, cleaning and maintenance of animal beds, or game counts by foot, vehicle, and on horseback!

  • Survival and bush skills

Learn the basics of animal tracking - identify the tracks and signs of different animals and use telemetry to track collared white rhino. Students will also learn bush survival skills - how to find water, make rope from bark and even make a toothbrush and fishing rod. Students will also learn to navigate using natural signs, a compass and the stars.  

  • Community Service

The heart of Imire is the community. You will have the chance to work alongside students from the Numwa Secondary School in their conservation garden before engaging in a friendly competition on the football field. During your stay, you will also contribute to the Happy Readers English literacy initiative at the primary school. This programme is easily implemented by any volunteer and greatly improves the reading and writing skills of our young students.

  • Cultural Immersion

The Shona culture is rich with stories, songs, food and dance. At Imire, you will have the chance to learn about it all from Mai Matsika, who will share with you all she has grown up with in her culture while teaching you how to cook and enjoy a traditional Shona meal. You will also visit the Makwe Caves – a local historical site where bushman paintings are still vibrantly visible on the rock faces. Here, Becknoff, the son of our local chief, will tell stories of his ancestors and the kings who are buried in the caves.

Day 14
Say goodbye and thank you to the unforgettable guides, animals, and communities who have taught you over the past week. If you have time, add-on a trip to Victoria Falls as a breath taking reward for the hard work and passion you have put into your time in the bush before heading home!

Details

How do I get to the project?

Included in the programme price is a return transfer from Harare - either from Harare International Airport or from another destination within the city.

What does the cost include?

- Programme fee - financing which goes back into the programme your are involved with; this includes funding for equipment, supplies, vehicles and foodstuffs
- Transfers to and from Harare on the scheduled date and time
- Full board and lodging for the duration of the programme including laundry once a week
- Practical instruction on wildlife and plant identification as well as spoors, tracking and animal behaviour
- All programme-related transport and equipment required to do your work
- 24 hour support and guidance from the programme staff

The programme cost excludes:

- Transport by air or bus to Harare
- Visas
- Any expenses prior to your programme start date
- Any personal items such as fizzy drinks, snacks, additional food or souvenirs
- Personal medical and travel insurance, which must cover the entire duration of the programme and should include cover for repatriation, air evacuation and any activities you may undertake or plan to undertake
- Telephone calls

What will the weather be like?

During the Zimbabwe summer (September - April) temperatures at Imire average 27-29°c. Students should bring light clothing in neutral colours (not white), a wide-brimmed hat or cap, sunglasses, a minimum 1 litre water bottle, plenty of high factor sunscreen (and after-sun!), strong mosquito spray and closed shoes. A light waterproof jacket is also essential for sudden downpours. Average lows are around 15-20°c.

During winter (May - mid-August) daytime temperatures average 24-27°c with no rainfall at all. Temperatures during the night and in the mornings and evenings can get down to 7-10°c (and it has been known to frost!) so students are advised to bring lots of layers including warm pyjamas, thick socks, fleeces and a warm hat, with a wide-brimmed hat or cap and loose light clothing for daytime.

Accommodation

There is a variety of accommodation available for students who stay at Imire, depending on the group budget, the programme duration and the time of year. 

Most students will stay at the bush camp, located in the heart of the game park, next to the largest of Imire's 17 dams - close for fishing and canoeing! The camp is fully self-sufficient, with a mixture of stone rondavels (round stone room with thatched roof) and safari tents, each shared between 4 students. There is hot and cold running water for showers, an ablution block with separate male and female toilets, a kitchen and a dining area. There is also a fire pit and a classroom and the camp has solar lighting in the communal areas. By mid-2017 Imire will have a new tented camp which will also be an option for student groups.

Three meals a day are provided, plus tea, coffee and juices. Students will need to bring a sleeping bag, but all other linen and bedding is provided.

Destination

Volunteering in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe is the true home of Conservation Travel Africa as our founders were all born and still live there. Zimbabwe is often in the international news for the wrong reasons but the reality is quite different and tourism is beginning to grow again in one of Africa’s most beautiful and unspoilt countries.

The country offers something for every traveller - from the absolute wilderness of Gonarezhou and Mana Pools to the ruins of Great Zimbabwe and the hustle and bustle of Africa’s adventure capital,  Victoria Falls. Zimbabwe is rich in colour and the people have retained their resolve, sense of humour and friendliness.

No trip to Zimbabwe would be complete without a visit to Victoria Falls. Mosi-au-Tunya (“the smoke that thunders) is accepted to have the largest sheet of falling water in the world (1,708m wide and 108m high) and is located on the far western tip of Zimbabwe on the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia. Victoria Falls is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. As well as the Falls being a definite must-see for visitors, Victoria Falls town is a also lively centre for adventure. For white water rafting the best time to visit is when the waters in the Zambezi are low (August - December) - these rapids have often been referred to as the best one-day white water rafting in the world.

Hwange National Park: at 14,000 square kilometers, Hwange is a wildlife enthusiast’s dream. With some of the most unspoilt wild areas in Zimbabwe, an abundance of elephants as well as leopard, lion, rhino, buffalo and over 100 bird species, a trip to Hwange must be on everyones To Do list.

Mana Pools National Park: Mana Pools is synonymous with the Zambezi River, elephants, lions, wilderness and remote beauty. It is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site based on its wild-ness and beauty together with its wide range of large mammals and birdlife. The name “mana” means “four” in Shona, relating to the four large pools inland from the Zambezi River, the remnants of four ancient ox-bow lakes. Spread over 2,196 square km, the Park is part of a region of 10,500 square km, from the Kariba Dam to the Mozambique border, which has no physical boundaries and animals are able to move freely throughout the area. It is the only National Park where visitors are allowed to walk unaccompanied by a guide.

Lake Kariba: the world’s third largest man-made lake offers spectacular elephant and buffalo sit-ings on its shores as well as being home to the ferocious tiger fish! Take the 24-hour ferry from Milibizi on the southern tip to Kariba town in the north and witness the beauty of remotest Zimbabwe.

Great Zimbabwe: a ruined stone city in south Zimbabwe, which was the capital of the Kingdom of Zimbabwe during the country’s late Iron Age, in around the 11th Century. One of its most prominent features are its 5m high stone walls, constructed entirely without mortar and the ruins are some of the oldest, largest and most impressive stone structures in Southern Africa. The city was built over a period of 300 years and it is believed that over 18,000 people lived there at its peak before being eventually abandoned and falling into ruins.

Nyanga: Zimbabwe’s Eastern Highlands is home to rolling green hills, majestic waterfalls and the country’s highest peak, Mount Inyangani. A tranquil retreat from the heat of the Lowveld, Nyanga is a haven for bird-lovers and hikers and is also home to rivers ideal for tubing and canoeing.

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