It was time for us to visit the UNESCO world heritage site that is Victoria Falls – the smoke that thunders. This was a site that was not to disappoint. It was a time of year where the river levels are at it’s highest, so the force and power of the water was clear to be seen. We had been doing game drives up the Zambezi river for weeks and the river is huge, and flowing fast, in fact the white water rafting had been not running for over a month. So when we came and stood at the point where all this water had to fall 100 metres down you can only imagine the power this creates!
As water falls into this immense gorge the whole scenery transforms and makes you feel like you’re in some sort of fantasy world. Steep walls covered in vivid green moss, with water trickling over it to the bottom where the falls hit rocks and send clouds of spray in bursts of little explosions! As it travels up in the air it meets sun rays and produces the most beautiful rainbows – a truly spectacular view! As you wander further down river the spray becomes so overwhelming you can’t see anything and you are absolutely soaking wet through and through, even our ponchos we were wearing stood no chance!
One of the other initiatives we have been involved in is identifying the elephants in the Zambezi National Park. It has come about because elephants are being shot on the Zambia side of the Zambezi river, as they are destroying the farmers crops. The other side of the river here on the Zimbabwean side, the ellies are an asset and can roam free in the Zambezi National Park, for tourists to shoot photos rather than bullets. Although if any person from the Zambia side comes to poach an elephant it is legal for the park rangers to shoot on sight. In fact is was only last week where two poachers were shot dead where we had been on game drive the previous day.
So by gathering a database of elephants both sides of the border we need to prove that these elephant are in fact swimming the river and frequenting both countries. The key to identifying an elephant is by the individual marking on their ears, these are in essence their fingerprints. They pick up notches and holes through their lifetime, and this with other characteristics, for example a missing tusk or tail we can form a unique ID for these elephants. To date we ID’ed 40 elephants, all with photos to go alongside the data.
One random afternoon in the lodge a cool discovery was made whilst someone was looking through a photo album on Facebook. It turns out that the previous day we had ID’ed the elephant below on the left, and another volunteer had photographed the same elephant in Zambia a week earlier. This was the perfect proof we were after, if you compare the two photos below you will see the same ear patterns and even the same vein structure within the skin of the ear upon closer inspection!
As the school holidays had ended it was time for the research team to start teaching again in Chamabondo Primary School in Victoria Falls. During the lesson we prepared, kids learned about geography of their country, differences between various tribes, provinces and languages; tried to locate Zimbabwe National Parks on the map as well as understand their importance for the ecosystem, country and their people. They also found out about indigenous wildlife in Zimbabwe, named The Big Five and animals featuring on national emblem and flag, and talked about their characteristics, behaviour and importance to protect them.
Children welcomed us with a great enthusiasm. They listened with curiosity, answered questions politely and were very eager to do well and impress. So the hour long lesson, in the shade of the big tree, passed very quickly, leaving everybody in good spirits and little minds just that little bit more enriched.
Hyena collaring effort continues
It was time for another week attempting to collar another hyena. So it was time to put sleep at bay. The week started with great expectations and high spirits as we started by setting the cage where we’d had all activity on the camera traps. But after an unsuccessful night, although fresh tracks of leopard, lion and hyena were next to the cage, the decision was made to move the cage. This was based on seven hyena we had seen hanging around the tarmac road that runs through the middle of the Zambezi National Park.
As the cage was not working for us, we ran another plan to work alongside the cage, by trying to dart a hyena from the vehicle during the last few ours of daylight in the afternoon. We set the meat out and placed a speaker up a tree next to it, and sat and wait. It wasn’t long before before we heard rustling in the bushes, but it wasn’t what we were after. A huge male lion had come to see what all the noise and smell was about! As we sat in our vehicle we had the noise of an injured buffalo blaring out on our speakers and smelling of meat he became very interested in our vehicle and proceed to stalk us slowly in the long grass to within a few metres. An exciting moment, but as the male lion was joined by another male, female and two cubs we quickly realised there was no room at this party for the hyena, so we packed up and had to rethink another plan.
In the meantime the wily hyenas were hanging around our cage, but were too cautious (or wise) to enter, so with time not on our side the decision was made to attempt to dart a hyena from the vehicle at night. A tactic which comes with some risks, for the hyena that is, as we could easily lose it if it decided to run off into the thicket. So we found a very open area, and set the bait. Sure enough the hyenas turned up, but they continued to run rings around us, to the point where one fell asleep by the meat, but just outside the range of the dart gun! We tried this for another night with the same unsuccessful result.
We now moved the cage to it’s third spot deeper in the park. We had no shortage of hyenas here, as they were all around us every time we were checking the cage.
With mornings starting at 5:30am and days ending at midnight, it was now day eight, our last day. I wish at this point I could finish this piece with a successful end, but alas it was not to be. It was definitely our closest night yet, where we were given a clear shot at the hyena. The dart was shot but just missed, and with only one tracker dart in our arsenal it was game over.
The elusive Sable
The sable antelope has a compact and robust build, characterised by a thick neck and tough skin. Its general colouration is rich chestnut to black. This stunning antelope rivals even the greater kudu as the most handsome of all antelope, with its powerful, robust build, vertical mane and fantastically long, curved horns, which arch majestically backwards! They are however very shy and this is the closest I’ve got to be able to even take a photo with any sort of detail.
More vulture shots
The beautiful grasslands
Lion cubs make challenging but rewarding models