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ALERT Update November

David Youldon


For those of you who may interested in joining our program at Victoria Falls, you will find that we have just added a number of new conservation priorities in partnership with the Zimbabwe Parks & Wildlife Management Authority. Read on for more details.

We also bring you an update this month on our conservation and community programs that operate from our base in Hwange National Park. This program offers those joining us incredible wildlife experiences and makes a huge difference to this hard-hit Park.

Andrew Conolly recently attended a conference in Johannesburg discussing the trans-frontier parks being put in place in southern Africa. He was approached by a number of people showing interest in repopulating these areas with lions from the ALERT program. Also, we were recently contacted by a reserve in southern Ethiopia who is also very interested in restocking the area with lion. We will be following up on these potential stage four release sites over the next month.

The biggest news however is that as I write this ten lions are being off-loaded in Livingstone as the first part of our expansion of the program to Zambia. We will be bringing you a special update on that very soon with details of how you can join the program there as we establish stages 1 to 3 alongside our conservation and community projects.

Stage One Update

Batoka and Bhubesi arrived at Antelope Park at the end of July. Now at seven-months old, they’re on the move again. Having come to us at four-months old, they settled in suprising quickly, even catching a monitor lizard during that time. So it was with some sadness for Antelope Park staff that they were taken to Victoria Falls to continue walking in the Zambezi National Park. The cubs again showed their adaptable nature when they went on their first walk in their new home - climbing trees and stalking some guniea fowl.

The move coincided with the return of 18-month old Echo and Etosha, fresh from their first kill last month. Echo was delighted to see some familiar faces, eagarly greeting everyone several times. Etosha, took a bit of time to settle, but it wasn’t long before they looked as though they had never been away. However the experience they gained in the Falls was evident as four days later on a morning walk they both received a serious kicking from a stallion zebra after they tried jumping on its back. Then on the 22nd October, Etosha made his second kill; a monitor lizard which had tried to make its escape from under a rock and past the lions. Etosha easily grabbed and killed it – however, as with his first kill in Victoria Falls, Echo then stole it from his brother and marched back to their enclosure proudly displaying it for everyone, including Etosha, to see.

That makes it kill number two for Etosha, and steal number two for Echo!

Miombo update

The Conservation and Community project based at Miombo Safari Lodge on the outskirts of Hwange National Park has been hard at work on behalf of the ALERT Communities Trust (ACT) and the Conservation Centre for Wild Africa (CCWA). Over the last four months the project’s staff and voluntourists have been working on a number of ongoing and new initiatives aimed at conserving the local wildlife and assisting communities bordering the National Park.

Human-elephant conflict

Elephants are magnificent animals, but they can cause magnificent problems too; raiding farm crops and causing extensive damage as they move through populated areas. Over the years, a number of methods have been developed to deter elephants from entering community areas, which Miombo is now employing with the hope of passing onto local farmers so they can protect their land.

It’s strange to think that a bee could ward off an elephant, but the buzzing they emit while in flight and at rest in large numbers is deafening to elephants, who can hear at lower frequencies than humans. Thirteen beehives have been constructed and, with the advice of community leaders, are to be placed in areas bordering local farms where elephants are known to travel. The hives’ benefit is two-fold: the farmers have an active deterrent against elephants and they also have sole use of the honey produced by the bees, which can then be sold on for a profit.

The second method is the growth of chilli plants, which elephants hate, and the re-planting of sisal: a thorny plant which makes a tricky barrier for elephants. Sisal is removed from communal areas, where it is viewed as a pest, and planted along farm borders. The chilli can then be used in various methods, from planting in conjunction with the sisal or being crushed up and mixed with dung and set into a brick which can then be lit when an approaching herd is spotted, the smoke which the brick then produces irritates the elephants forcing them away from the area.

Small carnivore research

The occurrence of small carnivores is as vital to maintaining the balance within ecosystems as is the ongoing presence of the lion.

At various times of the day, the Miombo team conducts spoor transects in the local area to identify the presence, or lack of, small carnivores in various locations. The intention is to extend this work within Hwange National Park itself, so as to produce comparative data on the relationship between small carnivores and people in varying levels of occupied areas.

The results produced by this study are being analysed by CIRAD, a French organisation where PhD level students will have access to such data to complete their studies.

In a further alliance with CIRAD, the Miombo team conducted a 24-hour game count at Ngweshla Pan in Hwange in October.

Hwange National Park

For many of the voluntourists at Miombo the work undertaken in the National Park is undoubtedly the highlight of their placement, and the National Park’s staff often call on our project managers for assistance; whether it be providing transport for the anti-poaching units or helping the rhino team to monitor the Park’s population.

In addition to official Park’s work, the project also carries out regular road and water point game counts in their free time, providing Hwange’s research team with valuable information about the location and movement of its wild inhabitants.

The Dete Annex

A 3,000-acre plot of land adjacent to the National Park, the Annex, is the heart of the Miombo project and much of the program’s work is conducted here.

There is currently little data on the exact game populations in the Annex. Regular visits to the area sees the voluntourists conducting spoor, dung and sighting transects – the result of which is that several species have now been identified as calling the Annex home, as well as a host of other animals known to move in and out of the area on a daily basis for water.

The program also carries out a great deal of maintenance work at the Annex, such as fire guards and road clearing. But after the recent discovery of eight snared buffalo, anti-poaching efforts will take higher priority over the coming months.

Miombo is the only anti-poaching unit operating in the Annex.

Wildlife & Environment of Zimbabwe (WEZ)

Every year during the dry season, WEZ holds a 24-hour game count in Hwange National Park with people coming from all over Africa, and even further a-field, to assist in identifying game species and populations at the water points at the Park’s three camps; Main Camp, Cinamatella and Robins.

This was the first year Miombo has taken part in the count, and the team was tasked with monitoring Scott’s Pan in the Makalolo concession. Twenty four hours is a long time to stay awake – but they were treated to sighting of rhino, over 500 elephants, one of which was in poor health and died in the night which in turn saw wild lions come to feed on the carcass.

Red Cross Community Centre

Miombo assists the Red Cross’ efforts at a local centre by helping with the distribution of food, cleaning and providing much-needed firewood which voluntourists collect themselves and the Red Cross in turn uses for cooking the huge amounts of food needed.

The priority over the coming months is to assist in the construction of a sheltered kitchen area for food preparation at the local Red Cross centre before the rainy season arrives

Victoria Falls Lion Rehabilitation & Conservation Project

As introduced in our last newsletter, we are adding a number of new elements to our Victoria Falls project following a productive meeting with the Zimbabwean Parks & Wildlife Management Authority warden and ecologist responsible for both the Zambezi and Victoria Falls National Parks.

Voluntourists joining the program will spend time not only with the lions at our stage one program located at Masuwe within the ZNP, but will also assist Park Rangers and our CCWA researcher in the joint partnership to undertake a number of conservation programs and research studies.

These will include:

• Assisting in the re-establishment of a waterhole and renovation of a tourist observation tower;

• Conducting road transect surveys within the ZNP to determine game populations and movement patterns, particularly in relation to changes brought about by the provision of a new water source within the Park;

• Conducting a survey of the sable population within the ZNP. This is a specific species focus to look at population size and structure, and establish how the species is currently utilizing the Park;

• Collecting baseline data in advance of a full study on the wild lion population within the ZNP. This preliminary data will include records of spoor and surveys of sightings from staff, visitors and local communities;

• Establishing the levels of human / wildlife conflict within the Park, working towards implementing appropriate mitigation measures;

• Cataloguing the rich diversity of wildlife within the Victoria Falls National Park so that a more accurate record is kept of the range and extent of different species;

• Removal of non-indigenous plants to ensure the ongoing health of the eco-system.

• In conjunction with the Parks Authority outreach team we will be extending our already successful conservation education program.

For more details of how to join the program, operated with our partner African Impact please visit their web site www.africanimpact.com

The Victoria Falls project is a partnership between a number of organizations, co-operating with each other to ensure that the effectiveness of each element is maximized, that expertise can be shared and resources pooled. A number of other programs are under discussion, including working with other partners that we believe will bring long-lasting benefits to the wildlife and people within this area.

Partners: ALERT, CCWA, ACT, African Impact, The Happy Africa Foundation, Lion Encounter (Zimbabwe), Environment Africa, Zimbabwe Ministry for Environment & Tourism, Zimbabwe Parks & Wildlife Management Authority, Victoria Falls Anti-Poaching Unit and of course the people of Victoria Falls and surrounding villages.

Conservation Education program

As any of our supporters know, ALERT believes that only through the involvement of those communities bordering conservation areas does the lion and other wildlife have a chance of survival – hence the ALERT Communities Trust (ACT)

Therefore, in conjunction with African Impact’s new INTERACT program, ACT is assisting with a new Conservation Education program, after a successful pilot scheme was conducted at the Chamabonda School in Victoria Falls with Grade Six (aged 11) pupils.

Over the second term of 2008, the voluntourists at our stage one lion walk site in Victoria Falls have assisted in teaching over 180 Grade Six students in conservation alongside sustainable use and protection of biodiversity topics. With only four teachers assigned to the 180 pupils the help offered by the program was most welcome. Teachers have even suggested that class attendance has improved since the lessons began.

As well as theoretical lessons, all the Grade Six-ers have had the opportunity to pay a field visit to the Lion Encounter program to learn about the importance of the future of the African lion and its role in the ecosystem.

Conservation Education has four main objectives:

• to increase students’ awareness of their environment and assist them in developing sound judgement in the management of natural resources;
• involve pupils in activities to increase their understanding of environmental issues;
• encourage pupils to develop the ability to view situations from an environmental point of view, and to undertake simple investigations and interpret the results;
• emphasise to pupils the use of the environment as a source of learning and as an element to conserve, manage and sustain.

Lessons have included “Getting to know an Animal”, such as elephants. The children learn how they raise their young and find food; how they communicate; the uses for their teeth, trunks and tusks; and also their importance as ‘ecological engineers’. Other lessons have included teaching the Food Pyramid to students. This explains carnivores’, herbivores’ and plants’ importance in the food chain and the effects of disturbing the balance of this chain.

In addition to helping to develop and implement this new syllabus, the voluntourists ‘adopted’ the Grade Six building which comprises of six classrooms. Dubbed the ‘Interact’ block, the building was given a new coat of paint which saw pupils, their parents and the community at large taking up paint brushes alongside the vols.

The Interact program gives travellers and visitors to an area the chance to make a difference to the community by lending their time on a short-term basis – even if it’s just a few free hours in an afternoon.

The hope for the Interact project is that visitors to the Victoria Falls area will volunteer to assist in further regeneration of the school – including the completion of another classroom block which will allow the Grade Seven students to take their exams under a solid roof!

You can learn more about the Interact program at www.africanimpact.com/interact


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