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ALERT and well...


David Youldon

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Apologies for being lax in updating this blog, but things have been a bit hectic to say the least. Here are the highlights from September:

Temi & Tswana at only 11 months old are already killing waterbuck and impala.

The 2Ks of Kosey and Kanu have spent the last three months or so settling into life at our stage one in Victoria Falls, and opened their hunting account in dramatic style on the 14th September. A mid-morning walk along the river led the cubs to an encounter with a lone buffalo. One of the bull’s back legs had a snare wrapped around it, but it had managed to break free although was clearly still in some degree of discomfort. Despite their previous lack of interest in prey, the Ks then launched an assault on the buffalo that last for over 15 minutes. The last time Kosey had encountered prey in the form of baboons he had sought comfort from the handlers while Kanu chased the troop. So it was somewhat surprising that Kosey was first off the mark – and even more incredibly first to jump on its back! For the following quarter of an hour Kosey and Kanu kept up their assault on the buffalo. Out of sheer desperation, the bull jumped into a deep pool near the banks of the river; and guessing rightly, neither Kanu nor Kosey wanted to follow him in. Taking up their watch from the rocks either side of the pool, they waited for the buffalo for a further 20 minutes – but finally decided they had been comprehensively outsmarted on this occasion and left the buffalo to it.

Not for the first time, the 2KLs of Kela, Kwandi and Loma were giving the Livingstone buffalo population a hard time at the end of September. The herd had been in the walking area for a number of days and on previous meetings they had stood firm against the cubs’ advances. On meeting again on the morning walk of the 28th September, the buffalo once again formed a formidable wall as the cubs spread out to surround the herd. Kela led the attack and rushed the herd from the left side – and this time instead of charging back at the cubs, the herd fled. Kwandi and Loma were soon chasing too, and Kela picked out a calf which had become separated from its mother in the confusion. Bringing the calf down by herself, Kela didn’t have to wait long before her companions were on site to help her manage the frantic calf. For the next 15 minutes, all three took turns to try and suffocate the calf while the others held it down, but whether they were too exhausted from the effort of the chase or just don’t have the power to tackle buffalo as yet, none of them could deliver the final killing bite effectively. And all the while, the rest of the buffalo herd were slowly making their way back to the scene alerted by the calf’s desperate cries. The KLS were chased away by the huge bull in the herd, but the fight wasn’t over yet. For the next hour, the herd and the lions engaged in a game of back-and-forth, as the cubs desperately tried to find a gap in the fortress of buffalo while the calf struggled back up onto its feet and the bull constantly tried to keep the cubs at arm’s length. Despite several daring efforts to reclaim their meal, the KLs eventually had to give up the fight and watch as breakfast walked away.

Gweru lease agreement

As previously reported in ALERT updates, the Zimbabwean Authorities agreed a 1,000 acre piece of land adjacent to Antelope Park in Gweru to rebuild the release area that was originally sited at the Dollar Block reserve; building for which is ongoing. Having viewed the progress of the African Lion Rehabilitation & Release into the Wild Program in further detail, Antelope Park has been offered the option of a further 5,200 acres and we are happy to report that the agreement for this additional land has now been signed. For many years now the land has been under-utilised bringing little economic benefit to the local community. This additional land affords Antelope Park a number of exciting opportunities for development in addition to the release areas being built.

Firstly, the Park itself could be extended from its current size of 3,000 acres. Antelope Park is located just outside the city of Gweru in the centre of Zimbabwe; a region almost devoid of wildlife following the introduction of extensive agriculture and livestock farming many years ago. Such extension will conserve land for wildlife and in particular will enhance protection of the dwindling vulture populations of the region – six species of which, including the endangered Cape Vulture, are known to frequent the Park’s Vulture’s Restaurant.

Our oldest lions are nearing the end of their natural breeding life. It is our intention to release these lions as a pride into a protected area where they will have the opportunity to live out their days in a semi-natural environment with the opportunity to hunt and become self-sustaining. However given their time in captivity we may have to supplement feed them.

Such extension to the land available to the program could easily accommodate an area for retiring breeding lions.

The program now also has the opportunity to release an FIV positive pride of lions into stage two where we will be able to observe their progress in comparison to an FIV negative group in a separate release site. This could result in crucial knowledge about the effects of the virus on an infected lion’s survival with significant benefits to the management of the species continent-wide.

Antelope Park is one of the largest employers in the area and provides significant benefit to the local economy by direct employment and through secondary and support industries. The expansion of operations at Antelope Park, where the lion release program was developed, can only enhance social and economic development in an otherwise relatively impoverished city.

This is exciting news in the history of the release program, and everyone involved is looking forward to developing the enlarged land area over the coming months and years.

ALERT is proud to announce our support for The Tashinga Initiative (www.thetashingaintiative.org) a wildlife protection project in the Zambezi Valley of Zimbabwe, which is represented through The Tashinga Initiative Foundation (USA) and Conservation Zambezi (UK). ALERT will assist in providing vital funding for components
of The Tashinga Initiative and looks forward to working on collaborative projects with TTI.

Following a direct plea from Norman Monks, the Area Manager of Mana Pools National Park, ALERT has donated funds towards The Tashinga Initiative’s Ranger Training Course, which will take place in November 2009. ALERT is seeking funding to ensure further courses and other conservation work in the Park can be undertaken through The Tashinga Initiative’s project.

This year to date Mana Pools Rangers out on wildlife protection patrols have been in skirmishes with three armed poaching groups. Fortunately the Rangers suffered no injuries during these contacts. Under the Tashinga Initiative www.thetashingainitiative.org Rangers are trained in specialist bush skills related to wildlife protection. Rangers on patrol regularly come into contact with armed poachers and need appropriate training to deal with these critical situations. Poaching is mainly for elephant ivory and so the stakes are high and the poachers aggressive

The cost to train up to 25 rangers for a three week period is US$5 000 and the sooner we can get them trained, the more we can be assured of their safety and their effectiveness.

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