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Wild Horizons Newsletter 2009

END OF 2009

As the end of 2009 races upon us, we look back on our year at Wild Horizons and feel proud of all that we have achieved throughout a year that has been filled with “living on the edge” as I call life in Zimbabwe.

We began with sorrow at the loss of a member of our Team. Gavin is sorely missed but would be proud of how everyone has stepped in to assist in filling this empty space.  We have faced difficulties in finding supplies and goods to keep operations going, the stress of survival for our staff and their families and a country which seemed on the brink of, well more like halfway down, a precipice with no return. But being Zimbabweans we “made a plan” and here we are near the end of the year and hopefully we have made it through the worst. The economy seems to have stabilized and food is back on the shelves, tourism has returned and we are going forward with great plans for the future.

THE WILD HORIZONS WILDLIFE SANTUARY

It is 17 months since we moved our elephants to the new Sanctuary outside Victoria Falls and opened the beautiful Wallow from which we operate our elephant activities. Craig has made a fantastic job of building our new entertainment area and it has become a much appreciated part of our operation being it elephant back rides, interactions, a peaceful private lunch or dinner venue overlooking the Masuie river or merely a special venue to get together  for friends and celebrations. We have hosted birthday guests, a snacks and movie evening in the auditorium, several dinner functions, one being for Kingsley Holgate on his travels through Africa, weddings and the latest we hosted Victoria Falls Primary school for their Leaver’s Ball.

Zenzo returned to us from South Africa to join Wellington in managing and taking care of the well being of our elephant. They have rebuilt the stables for our herd. On pondering the fact that stables were consistently being bashed down at night, the main culprit being Tendai, they decided to try something new and cut back the height of the stables which hindered the elephants being able to lean over into the next stable  - hey presto…. No more stable bashing! We have very posh new saddles for all the elephants – they are far more comfortable for the elephant and riders and ensure further safety when going up or down gentle hills and make it easier for handling cameras and binoculars whilst on these rides with picturesque views of the gorges.

Stewy was away in Scotland for 3 months having an extensive holiday and tests for his health – happily all is fine and the Curio shop and Bar are back under his command..

We have another new baby, born to Emily and although Izibulo showed a little jealousy at the beginning to a new sister, they have settled well and she is the pride and joy of the herd at the moment. We have called her Noledi, which means STAR. She has joined the herd on rides and loves to walk beside Jake for some reason. Lulu, our youngest orphan is doing well and feeding on the luscious new grass in addition to her 16 litres of skimmed milk, vitamins and pronutro. She is as fat as a little tub and spends most of her time with pregnant Miz Ellie and Coco. Hopefully she will attach herself permanently to Coco once Miz Ellie’s baby comes along. It will be Miz Ellie’s first baby so we hope all goes well in May when this new arrival is expected.

Our very first orphan from 2000, Rastas, is now 9 years old and growing fast. It is hard to imagine that he once spent much of his time trying to lie on my lap being cuddled!

Damiano, the bull we released into the wild in July 2008, is followed daily on satellite as he wears a collar donated to us by Elephant without Borders. His travels are amazing and he has wandered almost 100 kms north to Kazungula, back south to Deka River which must be 60 km from what used to be home and seems to have settled well into life in the wild. It is fascinating to follow his journeys and very satisfying. We have another bull, Jack, who is the oldest in our herd and we feel is ready for release. Hopefully we can get a collar for him, team him up with Damiano being in the right area, and release him within the next few months during the rainy season whilst we know he will have good feeding grounds on his release. Perhaps he and Damiano will stay together, perhaps not, but this will be their choice and then their lives are their own – of course we will follow up and endeavour to keep them safe but ultimately to release these wonderful animals back into the wild, is the dream of Wild Horizons. Discussions of releasing Rastas with these bulls have been on the table but we feel he is still too young to be separated from the herds but his turn too will come !  

Wild Horizons have been working in conjunction with Charles Brightman and his Vic Falls Anti Poaching team. We have had Damien, who is an Australian volunteer here, helping out with the training of scouts as he has worked in security and the army in Iran. It has boosted the morale of all the game scouts and VAPU staff and we have helped National Parks in anti poaching patrols in Zambezi Park and wherever needed. The snaring and poaching around Victoria Falls would be uncontrollable without the work of  the above.

A Pan was built at the Wallow for our herds and was welcomed by buffalo, warthog , waterbuck and the two bushbuck that had been rescued from snares by Roger and Jessica, who run the WH Wildlife Trust, and are now happily ensconced on the property. On several occasions we have had to wait for the buffalo to finish wallowing in the mud before we could continue with our elephant rides as they were in no rush to leave the cool muddy waters, even when spectators were around. It has become a “wait your turns” situation so another Pan will be excavated around the corner where the new Lodge is being built.

After a seething hot October, not only in temperature but in tempers, the first rains have brought on the “flush” when all seems to turn green overnight. The lilies have bloomed throughout the bush, the bright red fireballs pop up under every tree and our Zimbabwean flower, the Flame lily appears in different shades of red, yellow and deep purple. Where the fires have burnt through and left mere sticks, nature pops up another gem and on top of that the little minute red velvet spider mites scuttle along all over the bush – it is truly  Christmas time with red being the bright dashing colour throughout the forest of green. The “chongololos” (millipedes) are abundant this year, perhaps after such good rains last year and look like miniature trains chugging along. Driving along the roads becomes a daredevil feat trying to avoid them but we do try.

The spectacle of the mopani trees coming into leaf was breath taking. For a few days the new leaves unfurl as red, burgundy, burnt amber,  slowly turn to orange to auburn to yellow and bright crisp green – in a  matter of days the picture ones sees looks similar to the autumnal forests shown overseas. The air is so clear and crisp after the first showers and colours are verdant.  The rain clouds looming across the skies makes for spectacular sunsets – anyone spending time indoors on days like this should “take a break” and feast on what is going on with the change of the season out of town. In town – oh dear…….. The cuckoos are back, and I have heard of many a household man stalking the gardens at night to chase away the persistent “piet my vrou “ or red chested cuckoo. The Paradise flycatchers with their courting outfits, flit from tree to tree building nests with their long tails hanging out of the teak trees, followed by the grey headed bush shrikes who steal their little ones. Look around – it is all happening in the gardens as well as in the bush.

In the Sanctuary, the warthogs are surrounded by baby piglets – all getting the taste for the cubes left behind by the elephant after feeding. The impala are about to drop young and we await the birth of our buffalo herds as well.

Craig is busy building the new Elephant Camp on the ridge above the Wallow. This will sleep 18 people. Since the closing of our Camp several years ago, we have been inundated with requests for a reopening so work is well on its way to a new and very sumptuous lodge. Carol, Rae and our new Manager of Elephant Camp, Jonathan Elway have just spent a week in the big city, Johanesburg, sourcing the interiors for furnishing and have presented such a great collection that the entire team were in agreement -   Some task to please so many, so well done to all. Each tented room will have its own “cuddle puddle” pool as well as a larger pool in the entertainment area. The view out across the plains onto the gorge is wide and open giving the feeling of “wow, what a place to spend some time”. The central dining area is exceptionally elegant but that’s all you are going to hear now……watch this space for midway 2010.

WILD HORIZONS WILDLIFE TRUST

The  above Trust was a dream of Gavin’s, established last year, and the Trustees including Larry Norton, Leon Varley, Paul Connoly, Bruno De Leo, Craig White, Dave Cooper, Simon Rowlands  and myself, set out this year to accomplish his aim of leaving something behind on this earth that mattered. We are pleased to say, it has happened.  Roger and Jessica Parry are Managers of the Trust and have worked tirelessly all year rescuing snared animals, both in the Vic Falls area, Hwange and Kariba (courtesy of Wilderness Safaris to whom we give thanks for the flights).  Not only have they saved animals in danger of suffering excruciating and painful deaths, but have been an integral part of assisting in the release of the Sondelani Elephant who were captured and finally released back into the wild in November this year. We need to thank Elephant without Borders for all their assistance, ZNSPCA for their dedication and National parks for their approach and decisions to ensure release in a very difficult situation – I salute Zimbabwe for the first ever release of captured wild elephant and we can be so proud that hopefully this will line the path in Africa for no further captures from the wild for commercial operations. On the last sighting of these elephant, by Roger and National Parks on the 23rd November, they were difficult to spot as the bush has turned so dense within the short time they have been released, but 6 of the 9 were seen together with other elephant, including 3 wild bulls. To know they are relating with wild elephant and were skittish and trumpeting on picking up the smell of humans is a discovery to be documented  – really going back to the bush, as they should. It gives one shivers to think of these animals, not long ago being split from their families, chained and traumatized for months and now once ago roaming the wild.

The Trust has been involved with CNRS, a research group from Lyons University in France, who has hired Roger to assist with the darting and collaring of 48 animals since June. This action takes place in Hwange National Park in the Main Camp area and is an exercise to establish the relationship in an area between predators and prey and predators and predators. Also to be monitored is the vegetation, water, human habitation etc over a two year period and so far elephant, buffalo, hyaena, kudu, impala and lion have been collared. The interns that we have had over this year have experienced wildlife interaction beyond their expectations, including the darting and snare removal on a rhino from Sinamatella and the same on an elephant near Imbabala within their first 3 days in Zimbabwe.

With a donation from Simon to get Gavin’s vision of a wildlife vetinerary clinic up and running, we applied to National Parks and have received permission to establish the first wildlifevetinerary clinic in Matabeleland. We have had a great response and support from vets around the country.

·           . DNA mapping for elephant is an exciting development – a concept started by Dr Sam Wasser from the USA who has been “DNA mapping” elephant populations in Africafor some time now. Through DNA sampling of illegal Ivory that has been ceased by authorities (anywhere in the world), he can pin- point where that Ivory originated from to specific elephant populations. This adds a new dimension to anti poaching and can assist with prosecution of large ivory dealers and poachers worldwide. Wild Horizons Wildlife Trust is now in contact with Sam Wasser and we have already taken DNA samples of 5 poached elephant from the Vic Falls area. We have also been routinely taking samples from all animals darted for snare removal and collaring which will add to the DNA data base being developed.

·         The Wild Horizons Wildlife Trust has darted and rescued a total of 22 animals for Snare Removal during 2009. These have included 8 elephant, 4 buffalo, 2 impala, 4 warthog, 1 kudu, 1 bush buck, 1 lion and 1 sable.

·         Animals rescued and released into WHWT include – 1 bush buck and 8 warthog

·         54 Animals were darted for research collaring include 13 elephant, 13 buffalo, 5 hyena, 13 zebra, 6 impala and 4 kudu.  

 

Once all are back from a long awaited, and well deserved Christmas break, the work will begin in earnest in January and what  project this will be. It will enhance the work of prevetinerary students and give Roger a greater chance at saving many of the badly snared animals to which he attends. An autopsy room will assist in discovering why some animals die when we perhaps could have saved them and with the assistance of vets around the country we can help those that seriously need, and seldom receive, attention – the wildlife that make our country so special.

Environment  Africa has initiated with the WHW Trust an interaction with elephant and conservation lectures, for all the surrounding schools in the Vic Falls area. This has been ongoing for two school terms now and every Friday we have a school from different areas, both urban and rural for a lunch and a few hours spent learning about the interaction between humans and wildlife.. This has been extremely successful and will continue next year.

A donkey awareness campaign is also on the agenda and I have already assisted with almost 40 harnesses bought from ZNSPCA which are often seen being changed outside 395 Reynard road at which time we doctor the donkeys as well. Roger and interns have also gone into the rural areas to change harnesses and medicate injuries. When anyone in Vic fallsbuys manure for their gardens from these locals, please help the donkeys by at least giving water as most of them walk for hours and many, many kilometers through the burning sun and return home, unfed or watered. It is a small price to pay for such harmless and over worked animals.

The Trust was asked to assist in helping save the Musango Bull which was spotted in the Kariba area. Roger contacted  Elephant without Borders once more and with another donation of a radio collar (these are approximately US 10 000 per piece) him and Jess set off for Musango where the elephant was darted, collared and hopefully is now safe from hunting, if not poaching.

A baby elephant was also saved in Kariba when WH Trust removed a snare from around her mouth. An interesting experience as the mother as well as the baby had to be darted and drugged as working on a baby with an upset and extremely aggressive mum around is problematic, to say the least. This youngster has been sighted since and is recovering from her snare injuries.

Jenine, a White family member, arrived for a few months stay, to gain some experience working with wildlife for her vetinerary studies. She has become a necessity in our lives leaping into snare removals, mixing up orphan elephant bottles, running the Wallow bar and curio shop as relief work for Stewy  and helping out with catering when we are in dire straits with staff shortages. On a normal day,  Jenine has  removed stitches from a dog, changed harnesses on, and medicated, four donkeys, assisted with lunches for rafting and helped prepare and waitress for an evening dinner held at the Elephant Wallow. All in a day’s work when you join us for an experience with a difference.

RAFTING / CANOEING / HIGHWIRE / WINE ROUTES

The catering for the above Wild Horizons operations was brought in-house from July and a lot of adjustments have been made to staff, equipment  and sleep in the last few months. After a few chaotic weeks, personal visitors named us Shay’s Boot Camp Kitchen, when we were surprised by the sudden influx of tourism over the July and August periods and work far surpassed expectations. Carol has got the orders and buying routine down to a tee after we took a few big gasps between us, at the beginning We have finally settled to a steady ordering, cutting, chopping, cooking routine. Our cooks, Debra, Sipiwe, Tatani, Liver, Zoe and newly trained Innocent, who were only home trained and used to dealings with small Elephant Wallow numbers plus the odd group wedding or dinner, were thrown in at the very deep end ! Within days they had mastered snack trays for up to 100 on our sundowner cruise, around 30 to 40 rafting lunches daily, early morning breakfast rolls for canoe trips and plated lunches served at the Look Out. The daily elephant rides, overnight canoeing safaris and wine route snacks were all dealt with as well under great duress. I am very proud of their prowess and thank them for throwing themselves into this wholeheartedly without a murmur of complaint or mutiny. You have done me proud and I can go away calm and confident that all is in safe hands.

The Lookout and rafting

The LOOKOUT, run by Brown, is an adrenaline junkie’s heaven. Crazy daredevils will book a full day at the high wire venue and spend the entire day pumping adrenaline through their veins! One psyched up super hero leapt into space using the gorge swing 7 times before he’d had enough – but then went on to try the flying fox, the “foofie slide” and even abseiling. Oh what a day ! Nature offers the most spectacular scenery, being right on the edge of the gorge a few hundred metres from the Falls themselves, and it is hypnotic to lean on the wall and gaze down at the deep swirling waves of the Zambezi below.  After this massive volume of water has come crashing over the Falls, it must now heave it’s tonnage through narrow walls in a tight squeeze – makes for very rough and angry waters – upon which we now place a raft!, Luckily this comes with toughened river guides and all those “ water rats “ who will attempt to tussle the Grade 9 Rapids. Rapid number 5, known as Stairway to Heaven, is the world’s biggest commercial drop and is very challenging at the moment with the low water levels. Rapid number 18, Oblivion, is at it’s best (if this is what you like of course) and 3 out of 5 rapids flip daily – seems this is the intention of most intrepid rafters – to have a “swim” in these frothing waters. Riding the Zambezi rapids or river boarding has become one of Africa’s greatest adventures and a must for the young and the old. It seems it is not to be missed for a once in a lifetime wild moment.

The Zambezi river levels were so high this year, it was a talking point of the village and a great excuse for a quick visit daily, to see how high the river had risen. For many residents it was the highest ever seen and it was exciting to follow the raging river up through the Park and lunch on the banks where a few months prior we had been able to walk across to the islands. For this reason the low water rafting started much later, 12th August, but there were no easy going high water trips this year, with all the power of the Zambezi unleashed into the gorges – pondering the rainy season to come is a ritual as there no longer seem to be any definites in the climate or the weather. Last year we had very little rain in November but a very good rainy season in all – already we have had 133 ml this November and many were predicting a drought !

Canoeing

Above the Falls, of a more gentle nature our late afternoon wine routes offer a more romantic side to the Zambezi. Sunset, and a proposal in a canoe drifting above the Falls was the perfect choice of a Groom-to–be. Who can resist a little romance? A bottled of chilled champagne was added to the snack trays  and the fiance said “yes” . What a fairytale proposal.

Clive has been constructive in keeping the canoeing, rafting and all boats in good order. Fanwell is the management guide responsible for the safety and enjoyment of the canoeists. After the floods receded new channels have opened up and the canoe trips go out most days, be it a.m. drifts, half day canoe or full day. Folk with more time to spare take on the overnight camping trips which are memorable with tenting on the banks of the river after days spent battling the rapids or drifting down the channels. With the bush turning so green, the Guides say it makes for getting close up to game drinking on the banks. All the migrant birds are returning and open billed storks, all the weavers and skimmers are seen close up from canoe. A Secretary bird was spotted near Chundu which is not a common sight.

Skinner spent 4 months away in Norway rafting and has returned to head the rafting back with Wild Horizons.

Wild Horizons’ boat, LULU has been a resounding success. Apart from the daily sundowner cruises we have catered for private breakfast and lunch trips which are a peaceful way to spend a few hours drifting on the Zambezi with close up sightings of elephant on the islands and of course the proverbial hippos and fish eagle are always around. The boat is large and spacious and the original 30 seaters are saved for private groups who want privacy from other guests.

NEW NEWS

A new venture of bringing people close to the local trade in Zimbabwe has meant lunches in the township which is served traditionally in local homes in Chinotimba. A feast including bowls of sadza and relish served with traditional peanut butter and pumpkin leaves, mopani worms, okra, beef stew and a delicious chicken casserole for those with not such adventurous taste buds. Home owners join the feast explaining the preparation of the meal and this makes for lively conversation with a cultural twist that is often missed on a normal tourist visit.

The Vic Falls marathon in conjunction with Wild Horizons, Frontiers SA and Saf Par Zim was held in August and entrants came from all over. The run begins at the Kingdom Hotel and follows the road across the bridge to Zambia and back, around the Big Tree with glimpses of the river all the way along and then down the road to the Zambezi National Parks entrance. From here begins the infamous uphill through the grounds of Vic falls Safari Lodge, up through the residential stands where many a gate was thronged with locals egging the weary athletes on and encouraging them to keep going; out of town along the Kazungula road ending up at the Vic falls Primary school. It was a good day for most runners in extremely hot conditions even though the race began early morning.  Well done to all involved, it was a fantastic weekend for all participants and the perfect place to run a marathon.

IMBABALA 

Imbabala is back in the hands of the Wild Horizons team. Karen Poole is our new Manageress and is doing a fine job in running the lodge and hosting the clients that seemed to have increased in numbers since the middle of the year. Abraham and Darmish, our long standing guides are still with us and have been joined by Stan who moved from the Wallow toImbabala. The wildlife has been consistent with the huge concentrations of elephant still appearing on the flood plain throughout the dry season and lion sightings have been constant. Whereas the waterbuck used to cover the lawn in years gone by, there is now a herd of about 40 impala who make their way up into camp at every sunset and spend the night on the lawn. They have just in the last few days of November calved down and these leaping little sprigs of impala can be seen dashing about like fireworks, but never too far from Mum. A leopard has been sighted on night drives and a few exciting hours have been spent by the guides pulling out  buffalo stuck in the mud, which happens every year when the water recedes from the floodplains. If these buffalo are not rescued. they face an awful fate as spotted hyaena (11 seen on one carcass) and lion take advantage of trapped prey served up on a plate of mud. Elephant also get trapped by the thick muddy patches so are rescued when possible – happily most survive but sadly the stress for some is too high. Sporadic giraffe sightings are seen on camp drives but almost always seen on the journey in from Vic Falls as they have a favourite open area about 6 kms before camp where up to 16 have been counted together.

A 15 lb tiger fish was recently caught to the excitement of all and fishing, as always, is more about times spent on the river than actually catching fish ……..well, for some !

Ron and Tish, with the now grey-haired Craig have spent months of stress and anguish building a home and have finally moved in.  Tish is still supplying the entire Wild Horizonscatering  with her supreme vegetables. >From courgettes of different colours to fat, juicy strawberries, to 60cm long green beans, our meals are always different to the norm. With red and white radishes, lettuce of 4 colours and varieties, mini carrots and golden nasturtium flowers garnishing our platters, half the job is already done. As we all know – if it looks good – EAT IT ! Ron is still in charge of maintenance and pops his head in for visits with the guests who are often on returning trips and request a visit with the monarch !  71 and still refusing to retire, beware, he may still be there long after we have all gone.

            The birding is awesome as ever and it is actually unbelievable what is seen from the banks of the river. In an hour and a half I had spotted 45 birds without even leaving a spot. These included the shiny plum coloured starlings, broadbill rollers, white rumped babblers, paradise flycatchers, 3 different bee eaters, melba finch, black cuckoo shrike, squacco herons, thick billed weavers and many more. A large group of African Skimmers set up nesting scoops in the new sandbanks that had appeared after the floods and the elusive African Finfoot is not so elusive any more – he is regularly seen ducking amongst the roots of the riverine foliage. There is a veritable feast of birds and it continues when the sun sets and the barred owls, plovers and dikkops start their nightly vigil. By the way, don’t even imagine sleeping in ………..the dawn chorus is deafening. Before sunrise the heuglins robin, francolins, flycatchers and coucals are in full vocal practice. It is a birders dream and the seasonal changes with migrants returning makes this time of year, the rainy season, even better – making the most of these opportunity needs to become a priority in one’s life.

 A pack of wild dog, 9 adults and 4 pups have been on the run and scattered much of the game for a while but they are always so curious and give one close up views of their mixed markings, huge ears and fluffy white tail tips. A breeding herd of sable have ventured on to the floodplain for a drink and 9 majestic kudu bulls are regularly sighted around camp. A lioness with 3 sub adults were sighted midday on a buffalo carcass, and a big male lion alone. They track the paths of the 300 strong buffalo herd that emerged often from the treelinebefore the rains set in. Bush babies, kori bustards, long toed plovers, genet cats, crocs – variety, at Imbabala, is the spice of life.

As the rains have settled in and the prolific game viewing season draws to a close, the birds and flora and fauna take over and wildlife settles into a few relaxing months of good water, food and new births. Christmas is ahead and all in tourism take a deep breath and settle into the busy festive season.

MAIN OFFICE, RESERVATIONS AND OTHERS

Life has been hectic from the top and the Directors have had a struggle trying to keep everything afloat during this world recession. Bruno and Dave have worked tirelessly to avoid retrenchments of staff and have managed to keep all employed when others have not been so lucky. Bruno and Rae will start the New Year as a newly married couple and we wish them well. Gary has become Director of Botswana and Zambia operations.  The Chobe day trips are always a success including the boat cruise and game drives along the Chobe river. . Zambia, run by Ash is constantly busy with buses running between all three countries and the busy airports; shuttles to and from lodges with activites in between keep our transport and reservations staff busy. Two new Quantum buses were added to their fleet and transfers between Zambia and Botswana give people an unexpected experience – crossing theZambezi by ferry in the spot where it is the only place in the world where four countries meet – just upriver from Imbabala. The Wild Horizons boat is back on the river on the Zambian side after changes were made whilst out.

Shane has upped our business with his marketing strategy and without doubt his most dedicated and reliable back up from South Africa, Wilma, we could not do without.

Wilma, willingly and always with a smile in her voice, helps out with anything involving Wild Horizons, the Trust and even personal dramas. Shane is diligent in his marketing and along with Wilma has set the sights of WH high. Our website is updated regularly by her – log on for WH and Trust news.

Ben still controls our vehicle fleet and happily anticipates 2 new large buses and 4 smaller to arrive in the New Year.

Wild Horizons would like to take this opportunity of wishing you all the very best for the year ahead – welcome 2010 and take a chance and visit this part of the world. Enjoy Christmas, spend time with family and friends and make the most of enjoying each day as it dawns.

All the best in the New Year and thanks to all who have supported us throughout these past years. We look forward to a fruitful year and good luck to all.

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