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by John and Jenny Brebner

Wednesday 22 September/Thursday 23 September

Having spent a couple of luxurious nights in cool comfort at Lokathula Lodges at Victoria Falls, we headed off to our twenty first game count in Hwange, anticipating a more successful and interesting count than our twentieth last year! The weather certainly was very different and before very long, the heat started seeping in along with the dust. Along the road towards Sinamatella, we were shocked to see so much open cast coal mining going on – just yet another devastatingly, ghastly blot on our landscape. It was also a shame to see the main restaurant area at Sinamatella so run down and unloved. What a gorgeous view from there and such a pity that all that has not been resuscitated.

Our first night was spent camping at Mandavu and we were ably assisted by June, who got a roaring braai fire going and the camp had plenty of water for drinking and showering. There is still a great stretch of water in the dam and we were certainly kept entertained by all the bird life, several pods of hippos, the cruising or basking crocs and many animals coming down to drink on the far side. We were lucky enough to see five lionesses drinking although they were quite a long way off. The following morning, we went on a short drive to check on the new solar pump that has been erected at Baobab Pan. This has been donated and put up by the team of SAVE Hwange Trust and the Pietersen family and its wonderful to have another possible pan functional again after so many years of being dry. The trough has been repaired and although there was only a trickle of water coming out of the borehole, there are plans afoot to install a bigger pump to increase the flow. Hopefully with good rains, this will assist in getting the pan filled up. Our one major concern, however, is the lack of protection for the solar panel structure and if nothing is done to secure it soon, the animals will most certainly destroy it which would be a very great pity, and a total waste of such a generous donation as well as time, money and effort spent on getting it installed. Grateful thanks must go to all concerned for this donation.

It was then off down to Masuma where we were doing the count. We were delighted to see that, after many years, road work had been done to repair an abominable bit of road between Mandavu and Masuma and repaired so well we could hardly see where the problem had previously been. Well done to whoever is responsible! During the night a hot and persistent wind had come up blowing great gusts of dust everywhere, so we shook out plenty of dust from the tents and got camp set up again before settling down to begin the count. The Masuma picnic site was, as always, a delight and we were so grateful to have a “comfortable” spot to count in with all the heat and dust, and particularly as one of our party had picked up a tummy bug which required frequent visits to the little house! The resident hippos were first on the list and counting was very busy overnight with plenty of elephant and two large herds of buffalo coming down along with other game. Our very early morning stint, between 3am and 6am was fairly quiet but we were amazed at the number of plains game we counted during the morning session. Our experiences from previous game counts usually yield very few animals in the morning. We had a steady stream of impala and kudu as well as a few waterbuck, a couple of warthog and even a small herd of zebra with two young foals afoot. Birding was quite good too with plenty of vultures, particularly whiteheaded and hooded, floating down with landing gear extended for a drink or a bath.

Once the official count period was over, many of the counters from pans further afield popped in on their way back to Sinamatella for the night and regaled us with many and varied stories of their particular experiences and it sounds as if the count, this year, has been very successful. Several counters had some hairy tales to tell involving lion being close to vehicles so the debriefing should be interesting. One party had a chair stolen by a pride of lion! We spent the Thursday night trying to catch up with some sleep before packing up early on Friday morning and driving down to Main Camp through the park. We were again fortunate to come across three male lions near Shumba, doing what lions do best – sleeping – very close to the edge of the road. One was lying in the long tawny grass and so camouflaged that if he hadn’t popped his head up every now and then, we probably wouldn’t have seen him. Shumba was in good condition and the pan full of water. Dwarfgoose pan is beginning to dry up but counting had been done there so it will be interesting to see the results and amazing that it still has so much water at this time of the year. We were rather disappointed that the Shapi trough was rather empty so no water was flowing into the pan but judging by the dung and tracks around the pan, a large herd of buffalo had obviously just been in. With the wind still blowing gustily, the windmill was doing its stuff and we could visually see the level of the water coming up in the short time we were there. Guvelala was not holding a great deal of water although the pump attendants there assured us the engine was going. Nyamandhlovu looked good and Dom also has good water although the new trough has obviously not been put into use yet.

The park, generally, is beginning to dry out and starting to take on its dry season “lunar landscape” look but there is still quite a lot of grass and the trees are starting come into leaf. We can only hope that the rains aren’t too far off. Incidentally, on our way up to the Falls before the count, we had popped into the Wild Dog Conservation project and would recommend it to anyone who has not yet been in there. They have done a marvellous job and the interpretive centre is ably staffed by cheerful, enthusiastic and competent young people.

Just a quick note for those of you who may be interested – some of the money raised from the 2009 “Pumping Legs for Water” ride in the park, went towards purchasing a decent vehicle for Gary. This year some of the funds are being used to replace the pump and bearing assembly at Kennedy One. This seems most appropriate as this is where our intrepid cyclists stopped for their drinks break.

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