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A Happy New Year from ALERT


David Youldon

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ALERT January Update

The full version of our newsletter is now available on this site under the newsletter section or by downloading it from our web page at www.lionalert.org. The full version of the newsletter contains the following features, but scroll down to read some of the highlights here…

• A look back at a challenging year…

• The unstoppable hunting machine that is Etosha trumps all his past efforts with an incredible kill…

• CCWA introduces the Friends of Victoria Falls National Park…

• Professor Peter Mundy joins ALERT as our scientific officer…

• Eight-and-a half month-old Bhubesi is proving to be no slouch in the hunting department either…

• Dr Keith Dutlow returns to continue disease testing on Antelope Park’s lions…

• A proud return for the girls from Dollar Block…

• The battle of the boys: a feline Blind Date…

• Lion fact file: the call of the wild looks at the complex communication systems of lions…

• CCWA is proud to announce a partnership with Savannah Cheetah Foundation…

• CCWA is proud to announce a partnership with Imire Safari Ranch…

• The last roar introduces a range of new and improved ALERT publications…

Newsflash: Luangwa makes his second kill taking a young impala. Swahili makes her first with a monitor lizard.

ALERT Chief Operating Officer David Youldon takes a look back at a challenging year…

In our first newsletter of 2008 I made the following statement… “I hope that like us, you have many plans for the year ahead and the desire to overcome all the challenges that may present themselves in order to meet those goals”. Well 2008 turned out to be an extremely challenging year in Zimbabwe as I am sure everyone in the world who has watched the news or looked at a newspaper at any point will have seen, and yet we enter 2009 stronger than ever. We have a host of new conservation initiatives in place; we have expanded our operations into Zambia; and we have built upon the promise of 2007. All of this has only been possible thanks to the unwavering desire of everyone that works on our programs to strive towards achieving our aims, to conserve a wild Africa for future generations. But before we look at what is ahead of us in 2009, let’s take a moment to look more closely at, and reflect upon some of the stories of the past year.

January saw the launch of our very popular Sponsor a Lion program. Appealing particularly to guests on our lion walks and to past voluntourists who have been fortunate enough to come into direct contact with the cubs, the program raises important funding towards the costs of securing and operating a release area. All of the money raised by the program this year went to stock our Dollar Block release site with a selection of game, which the pride very much enjoyed.

Also in this month I travelled to the UK to host our first ever event outside of Africa. With our UK patron, Sir Ranulph Fiennes, giving a lecture on his many achievements, and a host of support from people like artists Guy Hammond and Paul Bussell donating their work towards a charity auction and from celebrities such as Hollywood actor Ralph Fiennes, the event was a huge success, attracting a large number of past voluntourists and many people looking to find out about the program, including the BBC’s World Affairs Editor, John Simpson.

In February young Nandi made her first kill, taking a southern yellow billed-hornbill. Many of our cubs start their hunting career by taking birds.

We also announced that on 1st April 2008 Ashanti, Kenge and Phyre would be joined in stage two by three further females; Athena, Nala & Narnia. The six-strong pride proved themselves extremely capable hunters, but I’ll come back to this later.

On Sunday 10th February the UK’s Sunday Times newspaper printed an article entitled “African Lion Encounters: A Bloody Con”. The article claimed that 59 lions had been sold by Antelope Park to big-game hunters and the canned hunting industry in South Africa. Further, claims of gross mistreatment of our animals were suggested and inaccurate comments about our release program were made in order to tarnish the good work of the Lion Rehabilitation & Release into the Wild Program. Our supporters rallied around us from far and wide to refute the article and we lodged a formal complaint with the Press Complaints Commission. Following an investigation during which we provided the Commission with substantial evidence that the claims made in the article were false, the paper was ordered to withdraw it and print a full retraction and apology.

I would like to thank, both personally, and on behalf of the Trust, all those who were steadfast in their support of our aims, objectives, methods and ethics during this difficult time.

In March Amghela made her first kill taking a much larger bird… an ostrich, but our research was showing that although females were achieving a 51% hunting success rate on Night Encounters, they were being solidly beaten by the boys who were achieving a 54% success rate.

By the end of the year though the girls had clawed themselves back, and indeed slightly passed the all male groups’ hunting success.

Those of us out after dark on the 24th of the month were treated to one of the most impressive Night Encounters ever witnessed at Antelope Park. A herd of wildebeest were spotted and the four brothers of Lokothula, Langa, Landela and Ltalo instantly went into stalking mode. Landela took advantage of a road with long grass between him and the herd to conceal a full charge from 150 metres that intercepted the herd as it ran away from the other brothers who made a more direct and visible charge on a broad front.

As the herd cut towards the road Landela was lying in wait easily taking a sub-adult. Ltalo came within inches of taking down an adult before settling for sharing the young wildebeest with his three brothers.

These four males have proven to be superlative hunters and we all look forward to their successful release into the next stage of the program.

ALERT seeks funding and support from individuals and organizations, either through direct contact or through an approved agency, and is committed to the highest ethical standards in the way it solicits funds, keeps a record of donations and engages with donors or potential donors. Our Ethical Fundraising Policy was published this month to foster respectful and productive fundraising with our communities. If you would like to receive a copy of this important document please email us at info@lionalert.org.

April was an extremely busy and productive month. Msasa made her first kill - a banded mongoose; preliminary results from a number of ongoing research studies looking at the hunting behaviour of our stage one lions compared to wild lions was published in our monthly newsletter showing that our lions are not only doing well, but in many cases surpassing the hunting success rates of wild prides; and the ALERT information pack was rewritten.

With so many questions being fired at us it made sense to try and collect as much information about the program into one place. The image to the left shows you latest version of the information pack, ready for 2009. We will continue to keep it updated and available for download from our web page at www.lionalert.org.

The image on the cover of course is the stage two release pride at Dollar Block; Ashanti, Athena, Kenge, Nala, Narnia and Phyre enjoying each other’s company following their release just before 11am on Sunday 13th April 2008. Early morning on day four, we found the pride about 300 metres from the southern boundary in mixed mopane and acacia woodland. They had killed a wildebeest; the first of many.

ALERT welcomed an independent researcher who was on secondment from the Zimbabwean Parks & Wildlife Management Authority and studying with the University of Zimbabwe. This study (in prep.) will give an independent review of our release protocols as well as looking at the role of captive lion breeding in lion conservation within Zimbabwe and the extent to which these lions withdraw from their human imprinting. The final aim of the study was to assist the Zimbabwean authorities create appropriate legislation within the country regarding captive lion breeding and the use of these animals; regulations that do not currently exist.

In May we started to feel the effects of the economic challenges facing us. But we were not deterred – we simply put our heads down and focussed on making sure that each of our programs was functioning effectively and looked at ways to make them more efficient in preparation for harder times ahead. The main focus was on the continuing story of the released pride at Dollar Block. The six-strong pride were making regular kills, every two or three days, and the group was bonding well, although we were seeing some split between the two sub-groups; those that had been released in 2007 and the three that joined them in 2008. But as time went on this apparent split became marginal. During our first release we saw the pride often split into different groups to explore their new territory before rejoining, and it appeared that the same was happening the second time around. Athena, Nala and Narnia would often go off together, but always returned to Ashanti and co., who spent most of their free time lounging around by
a waterhole having had many more months to explore. Week after week the group spent more and more time together until the pride was together at least 90% of the time and fully self-sustaining.

On the 30th of May 2008 the Environmental Council of Zambia (ECZ) made their decision regarding the proposed ALERT program in the Dambwa Forest just outside Livingstone:

“The ECZ has since reviewed the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and based on the information provided by yourselves and from written and verbal statements by interested and affected parties and our site verification inspection findings, we have approved your project proposal.”

It has taken four years to work through the necessary legal processes to confirm the go-ahead to build a stage two and our first stage three release area within the Forest. This is a huge testament to the dedication of the ALERT team as we take each day as it comes, to be patient and follow due process, no matter how slow it can sometimes be.

In June we published the results from another independent study by a researcher from the Zimbabwe National University of Science and Technology. The study examined the activity patterns of three groups of captive lion cubs. Two groups (Antelope Park and Lion Encounter at Masuwe Lodge) are raised by humans as cub only prides and undergo behavioural enrichment, including daily walks, to prepare them for release into a wild area. The third group (Chipangali Wildlife Orphanage) consists of mother reared cubs with no behavioural enrichment. The results showed that the cubs within the ALERT program were displaying significantly more hunting instincts (including in play behaviour) compared to the mother reared cubs. Our cubs are also more active and alert. The study noted that the raising of cubs in the manner used within the ALERT program as a conservation technique receives a lot of criticism because there is no assurance that these cubs will develop normally. However, it concluded that the social upbringing being done at Antelope Park and Lion Encounter is aiding the cubs to develop characteristic hunting instincts; important behaviour in preparation for release.

Seventeen-month old Lozi and 18-month old Mana spotted some warthog disappearing down a burrow. Getting closer to investigate, the cubs got a shock when three warthog,
a mother and two sub-adults, shot out of the den.

Without any hesitation, Lozi sprang after one of the younger animals, catching and killing it and initially refusing to share any of it with Mana.

This was Lozi’s first kill. His brother, Luangwa, made his first kill, a mongoose, soon after, but both were topped by the third male in the litter, Lungile, who managed to bag himself
a buffalo! Their sister, Lina, not to be left out, got herself on the back of an elephant, although of course it was far too big for her to bring down.

During August I met with David Barron, President of the ICCF, an organization that educates US policy makers on funding priorities for sound natural resource management. The meeting was highly productive and a road map was agreed for ALERT to develop its US fundraising capabilities. I also met with the Savannah Cheetah Foundation in Parys in South Africa. There are many crossovers between their program and what we at ALERT are trying to achieve. ALERT believes that we can be more effective by developing cooperative partnerships and has now formally established a forum for this. You can read more about our new partner later in this newsletter and we hope to announce a number of others in the near future.

Ben Deary, project manager for Antelope Park, was sponsored in August by CCWA to join a wildlife monitoring expedition in Zimbabwe’s Matusadona National Park run by the Zambezi Society. The expedition lasted for five days and took the team through some rugged terrain, with the group carrying all their food, clothes and camping equipment along the way. Numerous water points were found and catalogued along with sightings of elephants, hyenas and a honey badger en-route - but unfortunately there was no sign of the black rhino they were hoping to see. At the end of the trip all the data collected was sent back to Harare for analysis by the Zambezi Society in order to determine areas of the park with good water supply and also any possible black rhino territories. This information will be used to coordinate anti-poaching patrols, as poaching in the park is a major problem.

Also this month we launched our Facilitated Research Program permitting students from around the world to come and conduct studies on various elements of our programs. Our first arrival was an MPhil student from Exeter University who had elected to expand on the work we had already started looking at character traits in lions as a predictor of the role that an individual will take within a pride. The study will take some years to complete, but the results will have far reaching benefits to our program and our understanding of the social complexities within a lion pride.

By September the challenges within Zimbabwe were acute. This demanded an even greater resolve to continue our work. This month we started a huge undertaking; to disease test every single lion within the program. Our consultant vets came to Antelope Park at the end of the month to commence the testing, dealing with the first 33 lions. Testing continued in December with a final round due to be completed in late January or early February.

Our consultant vets are also founders of the AWARE trust. CCWA assisted in funding their joining vital conservation work on Zimbabwe’s hard‐hit rhino population in Matopos National Park.

We also confirmed new release areas adjacent to Antelope Park. These new areas are large enough to build several release sites and work on this will commence in 2009. In partnership with the Zambian Wildlife Authority (ZAWA) we agreed a partnership to expand the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park, bringing greater protection to this habitat.

In October we brought you news on our work so far this year in Hwange National Park and surrounding areas. This included elephant-human conflict mitigation, small carnivore research, our work with the Red Cross at a local community centre as well as our annual assistance in the 24-hour game counts held in the area. We are hoping that we will see significant expansion in our work in this Park during 2009.

Through discussion with our partners; the Zimbabwe Parks & Wildlife Management Authority, Environment Africa and the Victoria Falls Home Based Care Group, we initiated a number of new programs within the Zambezi and Victoria Falls National Parks. These include the eradication of invasive alien plant species (see a special section in this newsletter on how you can become involved in this work), a study on the predator populations within the ZNP and research on habitat selection by sable antelope.

We also formalized our conservation education program for the Victoria Falls area following a period of pilot schemes that were operated throughout 2008. As we head into 2009 we hope to expand the program to more areas.

At the end of October Sir Ranulph Fiennes, patron of ALERT UK, and his family returned to Antelope Park to see how we have been getting on since they were last with us for the first release at Dollar Block in 2007. Ran was particularly excited to see Echo and Etosha again, following an attempt to film an interview during his last visit that was gate-crashed by a particularly playful Echo.

“I am extremely proud to represent ALERT, not just because of its forward thinking work to help save the African lion, but because they are looking at the wider issues in conservation on the African continent; looking at the whole eco-system within which the lion lives; trying to find ways to develop management plans that will work in the long term and involving and empowering local communities every step of the way.

I am also refreshed by ALERT’s willingness to work alongside other organizations in partnership, to share ideas and draw different people together to try and find the best solutions to face Africa’s challenges” Sir Ranulph Fiennes.

We continue to be grateful for the support that Ran and his wife, Louise, show to the program.

In December operations commenced at our new stage one location in Livingstone. Walking along the Zambezi River whilst around you young cubs play and practice hunting the local waterbuck and buffalo population is an absolute pleasure. The voluntourist program is also about to become operational and we are talking with ZAWA and the local community about a number of conservation and community development schemes that we hope to implement over the coming year including a partnership to extend and provide more protection for the Mosi-oa Tunya National Park.

It has been a very bumpy year, but also an incredibly successful one. ALERT has acquitted itself well in making significant progress on all its priorities and we can only continue to grow in the following year. ALERT is particularly grateful for the secure partnerships it has with our commercial partners and in particular African Encounter. Without these partnerships and relying on donations alone ALERT would have struggled severely to achieve what it has, but thanks to the way that our relationships with other organizations have been structured, ALERT is able to rely on our partners during these difficult times.

And so we look forward to 2009. As each month passes the work that ALERT is doing is becoming better appreciated within the conservation, academic and funding communities. Our focus for 2009 is to build on the foundations put in place during 2008 and we hope to achieve the following by the end of 2009:

• to complete the infrastructure for at least two stage two release areas and start work on a third;
• to commence building on our first stage three release area and confirm the land for a second;
• to confirm the location of our first stage four release area following an impact study to ensure the site is appropriate;
• to establish a greater presence within Victoria Falls and engage local communities in local conservation issues to a greater extent;
• to expand our operations within Hwange National Park;
• to develop our new Livingstone project to the benefit of local communities through employment, empowerment schemes and education;
• and to finally go live with our new website which is now in production.

There are many other developments which I have passed over from 2008 due to space in this letter, and many more projects we hope to develop in 2009, but I leave you with our grateful thanks to all of you who have continued to support our programs over the past year. All of us at ALERT look forward to an even more successful 2009, in partnership.

Saving a Rainforest…

Located in the far west of Zimbabwe is a unique eco-system of only 23km2 comprising a riverine jungle with ilala palms, ferns, figs, liana vines and mahogany known as the Victoria Falls National Park; a world heritage site, the Park is home to a relic of a rainforest that closely resembles that of a true equatorial rainforest; the vegetation being supported by the seasonal spray of water from the Falls themselves.

But these perfect conditions have also supported the growth of invasive alien plant species (IAPS) over at least the last 30 years, the most prevalent of which is lantana camara; the “wicked weed”. IAPS are invading the Park and replacing native vegetation that will eventually result in the local extinction of these species.

Our hope is to completely eradicate IAPS in the Victoria Falls National Park area whilst providing local employment and enhancing tourist facilities to better educate visitors to the Park about this unique site to encourage their support.

How Can You Help?

CCWA has formed a partnership to enhance direct management intervention to undertake mechanical control of the weeds, implement a biological monitoring program and enhance the Park’s education centre. We invite you to become a “Friend of Victoria Falls NP” and help support this vital work. Download the information pack on this site under the newsletter section or download it at www.lionalert.org

Professor Peter Mundy joins ALERT as our scientific officer…

Until now ALERT has relied on many expert individuals, such as Dr. Pieter Kat and Dr. Don Heath, to assist us with regards the scientific aspects of our program on an unpaid consultancy basis. We thank them for their support and advice so far and are extremely happy to be continuing to work with them as our programs progress. However, we also felt it was time to appoint a permanent scientific officer to work with our consultants and oversee the development and implementation of our various research efforts, both on lions within the Lion Rehabilitation & Release into the Wild Program as well as for our other conservation initiatives.

We are therefore proud to announce that Professor Peter Mundy of Zimbabwe’s National University of Science & Technology (NUST) has agreed to accept this post.

Peter attained his PhD from the University of Zimbabwe having previously studied at King’s College London. He was scientific officer for the Endangered Wildlife Trust in Zimbabwe from 1983 to 2003 and in South Africa from 1983 to 1984. He worked as Principal Ecologist (Ornithology) with the Zimbabwean Department of National Parks and Wildlife Management from 1984 to 2003, joining the National University of Science and Technology in June of 2003 where he is acting chairman of the faculty of Forest Resources and Wildlife Management.

His many publications include five books as the author or co-author such as 'The Vultures of Africa' (1992) and 'Francois Levaillant and the Birds of Africa' (2004). He is an assistant editor of the 'Vulture News' and 'Honeyguide' journals, and an editor of the 'Zimbabwe Journal of Science and Technology'. He is also winner of the 1994 Rutherford Conservation Award and co-founder of the Biodiversity Foundation for Africa.

In addition to his work on our existing programs Professor Mundy will also be providing assistance to students that choose to join us on our Facilitated Research Program which provides opportunities for students in relevant fields to join any of our programs to conduct their own studies and provide independent reviews of our projects.

We are honoured that Professor Mundy has accepted this position and we believe that he, alongside Dr. Kat, Dr. Heath, our research technicians in the field and our research partners will bring significant benefit to our programs and to the future of Africa.

Dr Keith Dutlow returns to continue disease testing on Antelope Park’s lions…

Back in September 33 lions at Antelope Park were given vaccine updates and tested for FIV by our consultant vets. A random sample was also tested for tuberculosis. Early in December, Dr Keith Dutlow returned to lead testing on the remainder of the Park’s lions – mainly the walking cubs and Night Encounter lions.

As before, the program’s voluntourists assisted in moniotoring the lions’ breathing while they were unconscious and helped to keep the medical records updated and in order.

The extensive operation which took place over five days also gave ALERT the chance to extend one of our research programs. Spoor measurements have been taken from the walking cubs on
a monthly basis since June with the intention that the data collected will be used to bring greater accuracy in aging wild lions, even in unseen populations, through their spoor alone. This will be of particular use to us as our study on wild lion populations within the Zambezi National Park kicks off this month.

With the walking cubs retiring at around 18-months of age, taking measuerments from the older lions had not been possible, until now.

As the lions had to be sedated while blood samples were taken, this afforded ALERT’s research technicians the opportunity to measure pad lengths and widths from a range of ages. In addition, measurements were also taken on the lions’ upper and lower canines, their claws, total body length, tail length and their shoulder height.

The visit also coincided with the return of the stage two Dollar Block pride to Antelope Park, meaning that they too could be re-tested and vaccinated, having last been done so prior to their release.

The final round of tests on the lions at Antelope Park will be completed later this month or early next.

CCWA is proud to announce a partnership with Savannah Cheetah Foundation…

“The Savannah Cheetah Foundation, based in Parys in South Africa’s Free State, has been working with, and breeding, cheetahs since 2001. We have bred 17 cheetahs since then with a 100% success rate. We initially started breeding cheetahs to provide them to other reserves, zoos and breeding programmes to prevent them being taken from the wild; for every four cheetahs taken from the wild and placed into captivity, three will die of stress related illnesses. By breeding cheetahs that are happy and healthy in captivity we can prevent damaging the wild populations.

We have since appreciated that this is not enough to save the cheetah, and we have decided to start a reintroduction project. It is not possible to release hand raised animals back into the wild as they will come into conflict with humans so we have therefore come up with a phased programme which will see hand raised cheetahs taught to hunt using a lure machine and small live prey. They will then be placed into a large controlled environment where they can further refine their hunting technique, and once they are self sufficient they can start mating with other cheetahs. The females will then raise cubs in a semi-wild environment with no contact from humans. These cubs, once old enough, will be removed and can be used to bring in new bloodlines to existing cheetah populations in parks and reserves across their traditional territories, or can start a new cheetah population where one has previously died out. These second generation cheetahs will have no contact with humans and will have been raised completely by their mother, thus avoiding them coming into conflict with humans.

Another important part of the work we do at the Savannah Cheetah Foundation is educating people, particularly local farmers, about the cheetah and the necessity of keeping them in the eco-system. We also work closely with other cheetah breeding programs in Southern Africa to share knowledge and research so that we can do everything possible to help this beautiful species.

When we discovered that ALERT was operating a project for lions with a similar methodology we contacted them to see if there was a way in which our two organizations could assist each other. We are proud to form a partnership with ALERT’s CCWA division and look forward to a long and fruitful working relationship.”

It is likely that some of our proposed stage three release areas will be suitable for the release of both lion and cheetah, as well as
a number of other species, which brings obvious cost savings to both organizations and reduces the need to fence multiple areas. Other benefits to our organizations will also be expressed as we pool our knowledge and expertise.

CCWA is proud to announce a partnership with Imire Safari Ranch…

In 1972 Norman Travers, the owner of Imire Safari Ranch, 105km east of Harare in Zimbabwe, decided to try and restore some of the wildlife of Zimbabwe which had been exterminated. Norman pioneered the introduction of wildlife onto commercial farms and has been highly recognised for his enormous contribution towards the conservation of Zimbabwe’s wild areas.

During the late 1980’s, at the peak of the rhino-poaching era in Southern Africa, the Department of National Parks and Wildlife decided to remove the remaining 120 black rhino out of the danger zones of the National Parks and into the Intensive Protection Zones of Conservancies. Imire Safari Ranch offered their expertise and became guardians of seven orphaned rhino between the ages of 4 and 6 months. Initially all efforts were centred around stabilizing the calves condition, introducing them to the correct milk formula, and generally adapting them to their new environment. The black rhino have since bred successfully ….the total births on Imire are thirteen.

All in all Imire Safari Ranch have handled a total of 32 black rhino since the project began in 1987 and have returned 10 back to the Matusadona National Park in Zimbabwe where the females have bred successfully.

In 2007 Imire received a devastating blow when on the 7th of November, four armed poachers dressed in camouflage uniform, assaulted and tied up the rhino guards and opened fire on the 3 adult rhino present at the ranch in their pens. All 3 were killed - Sprinter, a male, DJ, a female who had recently given birth to a calf and tragically, Amber a pregnant female who was due to give birth in a week. Amber's unborn calf also died.

The 3 rhino had been dehorned 6 weeks previously in an effort to make them less attractive to poachers but nevertheless, the poachers tried to hack out the inch of new horn growth from one of the rhinos before being frightened off by the sound of a car approaching. Imire Safari Ranch were left with 4 orphaned rhinos calves including DJ's young calf, Tatenda.

In August 2008 it was announced that the perpetrators of this crime as well as other rhino killings at other locations, had been caught, prosecuted and sentenced to 28 years imprisonment.

Through our sister organization, African Impact, we have been supporting the black rhino program for some years now by sourcing voluntourists that bring much needed finance as well as hands-on assistance to this project. We hope to build on this co-operation over the coming years, to meet the challenges facing Africa’s wildlife as a vital partnership.

The LAST ROAR: ALERT publications…

ALERT has produced a range of publications to provide our current and potential donors with all the information you could need in order to offer your support and get the most out of your involvement with our programs. They are available either by downloading them from our web page at www.lionalert.org or from the newsletter section of this web site, or by email, by contacting us as info@lionalert.org.

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