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Hwange Game Count, 2012


tonypark
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Greetings all, after many months of absence (while busy writing). Mrs P and I recently returned to South Africa from the Hwange Game Count in Zimbabwe.

 

I've posted about the game count before, but for those who haven't heard of it, this is southern Africa's longest running (since 1972) continuous game census. It's co-ordinated by Wildlife and Environment Zimbabwe (WEZ - formerly the wildlife society of Zimbabwe) and is quite unique in that the counting is done by volunteers - ordinary people like you and me.

 

Teams gather at the park's three main camps, Main Camp, Sinamatella and Robins, and are then dispatched to cover pans, pools in riverbeds, hides and any other pumped or natural water sources in the park. Counting takes place from midday on the day of the last full moon of the dry season (the last weekend in September this year) and continues to midday the following day.

 

When we arrived in Hwange this year the first thing we noticed was how dry the park was. South Africa had early rains this year, but Hwange had experienced none. With the usual problems of diesel pumps breaking (many of Hwange's waterholes are man-made and fed by ageing pumps), this meant the available water points were few and far between.

 

Elephants were feeling the stress of the lack of water and we encountered the carcasses of very old or very young elephants at several waterholes. This is not nice to see, but unfortunately it is part and parcel of life and death in this park, which has an elephant population estimated at between 30,000 and 50,000.

 

From a game viewing perspective, this was classic late dry season - animals clustering around the last remaining water and plenty of interaction and action.

 

A by-product of the deaths of elephants from natural causes was an inevitable gathering of predators; we saw lion on six out of the seven days we were in the park, with most waterholes featuring a resident pride. Other friends saw leopard and a cheetah chasing an impala at Salt Pans. We had numerous hyena sightings.

 

Mrs P and I and some friends from Scotland counted at Deka Vlei this year. Deka is one of Hwange's hidden gems. It's a wide open vlei a kilometre or more long, punctuated with three natural springs. In times of near drought, like this year, the game migrates towards these reliable if meagre springs. A fire had been through the vlei the week before but already the subterranean water had started pushing up fresh green grass.

 

We arrived to a mini-Serengeti view of hundreds of zebra and other plains game grazing and queuing for water. In our 24 hours we saw a total of 14 species including impala, waterbuck, tsessebee, roan, sable, eland and, of course, elephant (about 150 during the night). Our total count was 484 animals in 24 hours.

 

We heard lion calling but didn't see them, although other friends counting at the abandoned Deka Camp saw a pride of 14 walking past them!

 

As always it was a memorable experience and the highlight of our game-viewing year.

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Excellent overview and sounds much more productive than the year it rained and you saw virtually nothing (if my memory serves me correctly). 484 animals, not bad at all.

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If any Safaritalkers want to join you next week, how do they go about it Tony?

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If any Safaritalkers want to join you next week, how do they go about it Tony?

 

Perhaps 'next week' would be just a little hard to arrange! :D

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All right, so I had not yet had coffee this morning... you know what I meant :P

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Hi Tony,nice report,pity about all the dead elephant.I have stayed at the old Deka camp a few times and have always had good sightings down at the 3 pools below the camp.Not so one Dec ,too much water around then.

 

Getting back to your game count,what was the consensus about the game numbers in general through out the whole park,would like to compare this with previous counts .

Edited by A&M
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We arrived to a mini-Serengeti view of hundreds of zebra and other plains game grazing and queuing for water. In our 24 hours we saw a total of 14 species including impala, waterbuck, tsessebee, roan, sable, eland and, of course, elephant (about 150 during the night). Our total count was 484 animals in 24 hours.

 

 

I did not know that tsessebes have survived in Hwange. Where are they to be found?

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I would echo A&M - if these counts have been conducted for so many years, what are the trends in wildlife numbers and how are these numbers used in the Hwange Park management? Who is compiling these informal surveys into statistics?

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We arrived to a mini-Serengeti view of hundreds of zebra and other plains game grazing and queuing for water. In our 24 hours we saw a total of 14 species including impala, waterbuck, tsessebee, roan, sable, eland and, of course, elephant (about 150 during the night). Our total count was 484 animals in 24 hours.

 

 

I did not know that tsessebes have survived in Hwange. Where are they to be found?

 

I have seen them at Deka about 2years ago and again two months ago along hunters road,so looks like they are still around.

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Tony

Any photos?

Edited by ZaminOz
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Lots of questions: GW, if people are interested in more info, maybe best to email me via my website, www.tonypark.net

 

Yes, there are Tsessebee in Hwange and I've seen them only in this north-west area of the park, at Deka, and at Reedbuck Vlei which is about seven kilometres east of Deka, back towards Robins Camp.

 

Lion Aid et al the count is taken quite seriously and rather than being informal the results are compilied by a professional statistician into a voluminous report every year.

 

Too early to say much about this year's figures, but previous years figures have shown that despite all the trauma in zim with the economic problems, poaching etc, the wildlife in Hwange has remained quite stable. The most notable trend, however, is the increase in elephants. Last year was the highest recorded number of elephants since the count began in 1972 and I would expect that trend to continue this year. Other species have declined and this may be due to the impact of so many elephants in the park. From recollection giraffe numbers are dropping and this could be attributed to vegetation damage by elephants, I'm sure.

 

The counts are not compared year by year on raw numbers. Rather, the statistician compares 'like' years, taking into account rainfall (more water in the park means fewer animals are counted as they are dispersed; dry years produce higher numbers on the count as animals congregate at waterholes and are therefore easier to count) and the number of teams counting etc.

 

It really does make for interesting reading and if anyone is interested in having a look at the last report drop me a line.

 

Personally, I believe the main value of the count is keeping tabs on endangered species, and for researchers who want to keep track of particular species and trends.

 

Counters have to record sexes of animals, behaviour, unusual observations (e.g. snares and other injuries) so it's not simply a matter of one elephant, two elephant, three elephant, more.

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Tony

Any photos?

As soon as I can get to somewhere with a better internet connection Zam!

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  • 2 weeks later...

I was at Little Makalolo in Hwange in that period. Sunday 30 October 2012 was the night of the full moon and the so-called Mid-Autumn festival where some do the whole moon-cake and lanterns thing. I believe this is the night of the largest full-moon of the year according to the Chinese lunar calendar as well. I found this coincidence just a little intriguing.

 

We did approach some of them at one or two of the water holes and had a chat. I recall one very enthusiastic volunteer who brought over his record books and we had a flip through while he had a good close look at our cameras. Sort of like he fondled our equipment and we fondled his :-)

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I was at Little Makalolo in Hwange in that period. Sunday 30 October 2012 was the night of the full moon and the so-called Mid-Autumn festival where some do the whole moon-cake and lanterns thing. I believe this is the night of the largest full-moon of the year according to the Chinese lunar calendar as well. I found this coincidence just a little intriguing.

 

We did approach some of them at one or two of the water holes and had a chat. I recall one very enthusiastic volunteer who brought over his record books and we had a flip through while he had a good close look at our cameras. Sort of like he fondled our equipment and we fondled his :-)

 

Hi John, that is a classic quote!

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Tony, can you provide a link to the results for this years Hwange Game count?

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Wilddog I should be getting the report in the next month or two and will try and post it somewhere accessible. To the best of my knowledge WEZ does not post it, but rather emails the report (it's big) to everyone who takes part. At worst I'll post the summary here.

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Any/many Wild Dog sightings Tony??

Irish Elk, dogs had been sighted around the Kennedy-Jambile area before the count (we stayed at Jambile and had a fantastic time before the census) but we didn't see any dogs up around Robins. Friends of ours did watch a cheetah chasing an impala at Salt Pans.

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Tony, can you put together a trip for next year with yourself for interested Safaritalkers?

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