Category Archives: Gonarezhou National Park

Adventures in Gonarezhou

Hi Folks,

As you know I am briefly back from a few months of fieldwork in the stunning but wild Gonarezhou National Park.

We were doing the annual carnivore spoor survey as well as looking for wild dog tracks that might lead us to finding a pack, or better yet a den site.  Some of the roads were a little tricky to navigate… but we got through in the end:

We found ourselves in some beautiful places along the way – this is one of my favorite views in the park.  It also made a good lunch spot and a great place to track from!

We were fortunate enough to see quite a lot of wildlife in the park, including many, many elephant herds, zebras, giraffes, eland, jackals, ostrich, buffalo, impala, wildebeest, one leopard and  three porcupines!  And of course an abundance of incredible bird life.

I love porcupines, so it was a real treat to see them in the day;

We didn’t pick up as many lion tracks as we would have hoped, although we did hear them on a couple of nights, and it seems their population may not be picking up as much as we thought.  Hyenas we heard every night – that’s one species that certainly seems to be doing well in the park!  Especially from this campsite, where they were all around us from evening until morning.

And of course the wild dogs… we still have a way to go to fully understand what the park’s population is, but signs are encouraging.  We found tracks throughout the area we were working in, and plenty of signs of successfully breeding packs.  Hopefully over the next few months we will be able to establish whether these dogs are in fact linked with the population in Kruger National Park as well.

Back soon,

Rosemary

Wild dog pups in Gonarezhou

Hi folks,

Sorry for being quiet, I’ve been in Gonarezhou National Park for the past few weeks.  We’ve been doing a load of field work, including looking for wild dogs and dens, which is always a challenge in that huge area of wilderness.  But we’ve manged to find a couple of packs; one that had finished denning, and one that has just started.

The latter is in a very remote area right in the center of the park, and Rueben did an absolutely amazing tracking job to find them:

When we eventually found the den (to huge excitement I assure you!); the adults did what adults do – barked and ran away – but we were treated to a wonderful sight of the adorable pups curled up in the den entrance.  How cute is this…?!

If anyone wants to try and count them, let me know what you come up with.  “A bunch” is about as good as I get 🙂

 

We’ve put camera traps up to help us get a better idea of the number of adults in the pack, and to start getting a photographic identikit together.  We’ve got a while to sort out that pack though, fortunately.  By the looks of things the pups are only about 3 weeks old, so they will be denning for another 6 to 8 weeks.

More news from the park soon,

Cheers,

Rosemary

PS – Don’t forget to buy your copy of Underdogs  – the awesome wild dog book by Neil Aldridge. Click here to buy a copy and support our project at the same time!

Happy Readers Literacy Projects into Lowveld Schools

Hi folks,

I want to tell you about an exciting new project we are working on as part of our education and outreach project.

Happy Readers is a fantastic series of books that teach children to read in the English Language in Grades One and Two.  They are specifically designed for the child in Africa and use wild animals as characters, with settings, stories and words that will be familiar to rural and urban children. As they progress, they bring in conservation messages, and engage the children to think of animals as more than a food supply, but rather as friends and characters!

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Developed in Zimbabwe and approved by the Ministry of Education, these books, which form a recognized and effective literacy scheme, have been adopted in over 400 schools in Zimbabwe.  Unfortunately, very few of those schools are in the lowveld and none are in the schools surrounding the Save Valley Conservancy and Gonarezhou National Park where we are implementing our environmental education and outreach projects.  These schools seem largely forgotton…

Hopefully however, and with your support, that could all change.  The developers of the scheme kindly donated us a set of books for one school and we have purchased books for one more.  Given that we are working in 118 primary schools, this may seem insignificant, but we have to start somewhere!

Here is Max Adams from the Happy Readers scheme handing over the books to a small rural school in Gonarezhou.

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This is the Grade 1 class of the other school that was given the books

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We have also been doing a few literacy tests in primary schools in order to get an idea of the reading ability of the rural children and I must admit it’s been a little depressing.

Doing the literacy tests…

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The reading standard of the vast majority of kids is at least several years behind what they should be, and many kids, even in Grades 4 and 5 cannot read at all.  Can you imagine your life without being able to read??  We simply have to get this scheme running in the schools to give these children opportunities in life.

They are not stupid, and they are hard working, well behaved children, but they simply do not have the resources to learn to read.  Would you be prepared to make a donation to help us get these books into the schools?  The average cost of a full set of books for a Grade 1 class is US$800.  It’s less for smaller schools and more for bigger schools because the books must be at a ratio of no more than 4 children per book.

Please take just a minute to make a donation to help these children who have so little.  You can donate by clicking on the DONATE button on the right of this page, or by following this link and clicking donate.  Whatever you can afford will help.  Every single cent will be put into buying and distributing these books and no matter how much you give you will be giving children the biggest gift you can – the ability to read.

Please help us to give these children a chance in life – give them the gift of education.

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Thank you,

Rosemary

Gonarezhou Wild Dog killed in a snare

Hi Folks,

I’m sad to report that our only collared wild dog in Gonarezhou National Park was recently found dead in a snare.  We found the carcass last month, but she had been dead since the 7th July according to the information on her GPS collar.

carcass

This was an adult female known as Strops – part of the Mabalauta Pack in the southern part of Gonarezhou.  Just before she died, she went walkabout….  Far out of her usual home range – up through the whole park, across the huge Save River, into Mozambique then back down again (see the points on the map below).  At one stage she walked over 40km in 12 hours!  Although we never actually saw her in the months preceding her death, these sorts of long distance movements are typical of a single sex dispersing group of wild dogs which have split from their natal pack and are moving off to look for a mate.

mabalauta wild dog female movements to july 2011Strops was killed by a snare around her waist and must have starved to death in her trap.  The bite marks on the logs and trees around the carcass and the damage to the indestructible snare cable itself bear witness to the horrific struggle and suffering she must have gone through before she died.

carcass showing wire around spine

snare attached to tree

This happened only a few hundred meters from Gonarezhou’s eastern boundary with Mozambique. Unfortunately we find a lot of our problems come from Mozambique and they are difficult to address because of the need for international collaboration and cross-border law enforcement.  Nonetheless, we are trying to address the problems in collaboration with the official authorities and hope that we will be able to reduce the amount of illegal activities along this boundary area.

The Spectacular Gonarezhou National Park

Having just spent 10 days in Gonarezhou National Park, I feel it would be criminal to only report on our efforts to find wild dogs and lions.  Gonarezhou is a spectacular park – here are some photos of the park itself

Elephants at the base of the famous Chilojo Cliffs

eles at Chilojo cliffs

Chilojo cliffs plus elese

eles drinking in front of the cliffs

The Runde River and its floodplain habitat

Runde river

Junction

floodplains

and hippos….

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It’s well worth a visit if any of you find yourself in this part of the world!

Looking for lions and wild dogs in Gonarezhou National Park

Hi folks,

Apologies for being quiet on the blog recently without any explanation – it’s a pretty busy time here at the moment, and while we have lots of exciting things to report, I’m just not getting the time to do it.  Anyway, here I am at my desk, and the reason we’ve been quiet for so long is because we’ve been working in the beautiful and remote Gonarezhou National Park, where I am now running the Gonarezhou Predator Project.  We were hoping to find the den sites of the two main packs of wild dogs in the park, and possibly even collar them.  We also wanted to check up on our collared lions and download their collars, amongst other things.

Well, it turns out we were being a bit optimistic with the wild dogs.  Despite endless hours every day looking for tracks and following all signs of dogs, we failed to locate either pack.  It’s not the easiest terrain for tracking wild dogs, and roads are few and far between…

difficult terrain for finding wild dogs

We did however learn a lot more about the dogs and their behavior from the spoor, so although we never saw any wild dogs, it’s been a very informative 10 days.  Rueben has, as always, been a star, and worked tirelessly in all conditions trying to locate the dogs

Rueben

On several occasions our tracking brought us down to the edge of the Runde River – no shortage of signs of hippos and crocs:

Rueben following dog spoor

Crocodile tracks – of a monster croc!!

crocodile tracks!

We’ll try again with the dens and collaring in August.

We were much luckier with the lions, managing to pick up all three collared groups without too much effort, and downloaded the two GPS collars without incident.  The other group, with a VHF collar, we found near a road so we waited there till after dark in the hope we would see them, which indeed we did.  It seems our collared lioness is currently with one subadult male – the other seven members of the pride we saw the following day when downloading the GPS collar.

our collared lioness

subadult  male lion at night

So, we won with the lions but it’s definitely 1:nil to the wild dogs this time.  We’ll try again in a couple of weeks.

Back soon,

Rosemary

Lion Collaring in Gonarezhou – Part 2

Well, as I said in the last post, we were very lucky with our collaring exercise in Gonarezhou.  We darted three subadults the first night, with the help of Dr Chris Foggin (chief wildlife vet) who wanted to test the lions for Bovine TB, a disease which has recently been identified in the buffalo population in the area, and which can spread into lions.

We were very lucky – having arrived late in the area, we were out looking for a suitable baiting site when we happened to see a small group of lions!  The first time I have EVER seen lions in the park without calling them!  By the time we had moved off and made up darts, they had disappeaered but knowing they were nearby, we set up the bait and had 5 lions feeding on it in minutes!

Here you can see three of the lions at the bait -the one in front was the one darted – you can still see the dart in her.

Lions at the bait

The darting and collaring all went well – despite the very out-of-season rain which we had all night!  Brrrrr it was cold!

Rosemary working on a lioness in the rain!

Three nights later we called again, and, as I said in the last post, got a different 4 lions on the bait.  We darted a large adult lioness, and loaded her into the vehicle to work on her away from the bait site, so as not to disturb the other lions.

Rolling the lion over

Takiing blood from the lion

Once collared and measured, we reversed the drugs and closely watched the lioness as she recovered.  She was soon back to normal and joined the others at the bait, none the worse for wear.  You can see her back at the bait sporting her new collar in the photo below.

Our newly collared lioness back at the bait

So that was all pretty successful and the following day, having checked up on the collared animals and removed any signs of our work, we headed north to a different area of the park.  Due to various delays, including punctures and getting stuck in the riverbed (!), we were very late getting to our next site.  We were too late to do any preliminary investigation into where the lions were likely to be, so we decided to just set up opportunistically, try calling for an hour or two, and then give and up and try properly the following day.

But no – our luck held, and after an hour of calling we were stunned to hear the sound of lions arriving at the bait!  Crazy luck.  So having had our star gazing disturbed by the arrival of the lions (!), we put the spotlight on them and noted that the younger animal had quite a bad injury.  We darted the large one to collar her and the injured one too, to treat the injury.  Both darts hit well and both lions went down right at the bait – still trying to eat as they fell asleep!

Injured lioness

The injury had looked worse from a distance than it was – it was a largely superficial tear of skin, but we treated it with wound powder and spray and gave her a shot of antibiotics. (Note the tea-towel blind fold… we’d immobilized far more lions than I expected to even see, so we were down to scavenging for blindfolds!!)

So – a pretty successful week all in all, and the collars we fitted will help us enormously to keep track of the fortunes of these lions, and hopefully help us to figure out what is going on to keep the lion population so low.

Back soon,

Rosemary

Lion collaring in Gonarezhou – Part 1

Hi folks,

As most of you will know, we have been concerned for some time about the very low number of lions in Gonarezhou National Park.  We’ve been working in the park for three years now, gathering data on all the large carnivores there and last year we formally established a lion project, with the aim of  increasing the lion population in the park through mitigating the threats.

Part of the project involves monitoring the lions to look at litter sizes, cub survival, causes of adult mortality, group composition and fragmentation, as well as to allow us to react more effectively to incidences where lions come into conflict with humans.  In order to do this monitoring we need to get some collars on to the lions, so we can find them.

So we set off into the park for a week of trying to catch lions!  Here is the team packed and ready to go….

Packed to head off into the bush for the lion darting week

The collaring was a task I was not looking forward to – envisaging lots of long, cold, unproductive nights trying to call lions in without any luck.  As it turned out, we were extremely lucky and in the week we were in the park we managed to dart six lions and collar three of them (the other three were darted for veterinary disease testing or, in one case, treatment of an injury).

The first step each evening was to set up the bait and thorn-scrub screen and tie the bait tightly to the tree and/or stakes to prevent the lions running off with it.

Tying up the donkey bait

Next we set up our calling equipment – the noise of a dying buffalo calf is broadcast over speakers to attract the lions to the bait.

Setting up the call up equipment

And once everything is ready, we sit and wait…  These photos are taken on the second night of calling – in total we had four lions at the bait that night: two adult females, one adult male and one subadult male.  We use a spotlight with a red filter to avoid disturbing the animals.

Lions on the bait

Lions on the bait at night

Once we had identified a suitable individual for collaring I darted him/her and got on with the business of collaring and taking blood samples etc.

I’ll post pictures of that part of the exercise in the next post…

Cheers,

Rosemary

More from Heather and the lions

My time in Mabalauta was very exciting as I got to see my first Gonarezhou Lions. A lioness and her two 3yr old cubs, one male one female.

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The cubs where extremely curious and came to us! So thanks to them for some great pictures.

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I guess we got a little boring for them….

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Well they are never boring to us. Hopefully we will be able to put a collar on the adult pretty soon so we can monitor them.

Cheers for now

Heather

News from Heather

Hi Everyone

Heather here, its been  24 days on the job and what an experience already!  The tented camp in Chipinda Pools that I am living in is great. I will be honest it has taken some getting used to with all the noises, especially at night. The tree right there has hundreds of bats that make their presence known around 6.30pm and 5.30am. The hippos love the green grass outside and I hear them munching away, and then of course every now and then an Elephant crashing around in the back ground.

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I spent one week in Chipinda Pools and one in Mabalauta. Thanks to Gonarezhou National Parks i got to stay in one of the chalets, I recommend them, they are great too…

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That would be me waving in the shadow. Hello!

Till next time, cheers

Heather