Nov 27

Rain in Hwange


Hwange Mid-November 2015



Mopane Trees in new leaf
Image Nicki Dell

We arrived to sweltering, sticky heat, and a hot, stifling wind. Clouds built up throughout the day with the magnificent promise of rain in sunsets streaked with glorious colour. But morning revealed clear, blue, cruelly cloudless skies. Huge numbers of elephants arrived in waves to suck up precious water in the pans, many of which contained pools of dark, undrinkable, liquid mud. There was fierce competition round the pipe yielding fresh, cool water from deep underground. Animals stood round listlessly, heads drooping, lacking the energy to move off and forage.



Image Nicki Dell

The water holes in the Main Camp area seemed to be holding up – just – thanks to efforts from Gary, Patrick and the Parks game water staff to keep all pumps possible working flat out and some pans still contained small pools of drinkable water. The variety and number of animals sighted was amazing – elephants by the thousand; graceful herds of impala; plump, belligerant zebra; pink-eared kudu; stately sable, roan and waterbuck; warthogs with litters of mini piglets; inquisitive giraffe; lions of all sexes and sizes; long-limbed cheetah; spotted hyaena; a herd of buffalo 2000 strong at Mandavu – and the list goes on. We were surprised that the water holes with solar units performed relatively well in a season that’s been particularly harsh and dry, and it’s clear that installation of more solar units is the way forward in the coming months ahead. Elephants destroyed the pipes of the windmill at Shapi, a catastrophe for small animals in that region, and one angel from HLR stopped there and poured some water into a bowl for some very thirsty vervet monkeys desperate for a drink. Shumba Pan was uplifting; the 2 solar units there are clearly coping well. But Masuma, which FOH does not manage, was worst of all. The pump was down due to broken pipes, the pan contained nothing but murky, thick sludge and the trough was empty. We watched with heavy hearts as a troop of baboons desperately licked at the damp concrete, and several kudu turned this way and that perplexedly, unable to understand why there was no water. A small herd of elephant screamed their anguish, and we, who are hardened to the toughness of this place, could take no more and drove away.



Image Dave Dell

That evening at Sinamatella we watched the clouds build into a dark mass, stark and beautiful with shafts of sunlight piercing through to the ground. Lightning flashed in the distance, and we woke in the small hours to the sound of thrumming, drumming, pelting rain. Again the following night at Mandavu Dam, we lay in our beds and listened to the fierce gusts of wind  tearing at our tents followed by a torrential, lashing downpour. The heavy rain was widespread from Sinamatella to Detema Dam and Robins, and on down to Masuma and Shumba. There was not an elephant to be seen – they simply took off overnight and vanished.



Tiny, new, red Mopane shoots
Image Nicki Dell

Tiny red shoots burst forth on the Mopane bringing promise of recovery and new life. In the Main Camp area, some elephant herds remain; painfully thin, they are too weak to start on the long journey west and south, and need to build up strength before heading off to pastures green. A devastating and widespread fire from Mbiza and Broken Rifle though to Kennedy 2 had destroyed much needed vegetation, but shoots of green grass have already pushed through the blackened earth, and clumps of tender leaves and shoots are magically unfurling on bare branches.


There have been casualties. Sad dried up piles of skin and bones are scattered round many of the pans. Predators, sleekly fat and thriving have feasted on free bounty, and vultures too have done their job of cleaning up the carnage. But the vast majority of animals have hung on and made it through the drought.



A tortoise feasting on new leaves
Image Nicki Dell

Although we are still pumping water into the pans, we are cautiously optimistic that the worst is over for this year. The water in Guvalala is still very low, and Dom and Nyamandhlovu need a good downpour. But there are puddles all over Ngweshla, good water in the pans at Kennedy 1 and 2, Makwa has pools of standing water all around and more rain is forecast in the coming weeks ahead. And before leaving the park, we spied a tiny, perfect, newborn impala fawn – a wonderful symbol of hope and re-birth.


To Gary and his men, we salute you. Your passion and commitment are boundless.


To all our many wonderful supporters, without you we would surely have a different tale to tell today. Our heartfelt thanks and gratitude go out to you all.


Image Dave Dell

Nov 25

Cecil’s Pride in Hwange National Park on November 20th 2015 – Video

We recently spent a wonderful afternoon with Cecil’s pride. All six cubs are alive and well, learning fast, and being provided for by their mums. Here is a short video clip taken on November 20th, 2015 in Hwange National Park.

Nov 06

Cyanide – the facts

DQ4C0132pcCyanide is a rapidly acting, potentially deadly chemical. It exists in various forms such as hydrogen cyanide (HCN) which is a colourless gas, or as crystals such as sodium cyanide (NaCN) or potassium cyanide (KCN). Cyanide is sometimes described as having a “bitter almond” smell when mixed with liquid, although not everyone can detect this odour.

Cyanide is readily absorbed by inhalation, ingestion or skin contact. The cyanide compound used to poison elephants is sodium cyanide, a powder that is relatively easy to obtain as it is used extensively in the mining industry. It is transported as dry pellets. Read the rest of this entry »

Oct 30

Elephant Poaching Update

Elephant 036

Majestic Elephant Bull. Image Dave Dell

There have been disturbing reports stating that disgruntled rangers in Hwange National Park are responsible for the poisoning and mutilation of elephants. While we cannot definitively disprove this, there are a number of allegations that don’t correlate to facts we know to be true. There are also some statements that make little sense and some that we know to be outright fabrication. We can confirm the following:


As regards 11 elephants poisoned in the Main Camp area of the Park, certain parks staff that were implicated have been apprehended, and investigations are ongoing. Further, as regards ivory that was intercepted at Harare International Airport, 3 Parks staff members have been arrested pending further investigation.


As regards poaching incidents in the Sinamatella region of the Park involving the poisoning and subsequent mutilation of elephants, we know the following:


None of the staff at Sinamatella have been implicated in either of the two poaching incidents known to have occurred in that region. In both cases, poachers were disturbed by parks patrols (rangers) and fled. Because the poachers were interrupted, they did not manage to recover all the ivory, most of which was left behind at the scene. In the first instance, the tracks of the poachers led towards the boundary of the Park. Similarly in the second instance, the tracks of 3 men led to the communal areas bordering the Park.


There is a big follow up operation as regards the source of the cyanide used, the middle man involved and where the cyanide ended up. The outcome of this will hopefully provide valuable information as to exactly who is involved in the poisoning of Hwanges elephants.


The poaching of elephants has been moving progressively south through Africa for decades. Corruption in Zimbabwe is rife, and abject poverty widespread. The monetary rewards of poaching are enticing. So the task we have ahead to save our precious wildlife is daunting and extremely urgent. Friends of Hwange Trust will continue to work towards the conservation of all the animals in Hwange in whatever ways we can.

Oct 27

News from Hwange – end Oct 2015

Makwa Pan

Makwa Pan

Gary loves elephants, and has a special place in his heart for them – which is just as well as much of the work he does centers around the great, grey pachyderms. He refers to them as “Our Friends” and at times when they test him severely as “Long Nosed Pigs!” This is an update from Gary received today – 27 October 2015:


“We’ve been fully busy these last two weeks repairing pipes and making sure everything that can produce water is pumping.


Manga 3 has been looked after by African Bushcamps, but has been giving trouble recently, so we went to investigate. Unfortunately we found the pan bone dry and the borehole pipe properly blocked up. We think the camp concerned fitted an engine too small to pump enough water to push out the sand and mud, so there was build up in the pipes to the point of seizing the unit at the bottom. We could not budge it until we put one of our big spanners on the pipe and turned it at the top. We fitted a larger game water engine and left it pumping well.


Nyamandhlovu Pan

Nyamandlhlovu Pan – shallow with mud islands

Our Friends destroyed the pipe at Nyamandhlovu Pan and were pulling it up and back towards the road. We replaced it with polypipe and backfilled the big gully they had created with our tractor and the blade.


Dopi Pan

Kudu Bulls at Dopi Pan

Similarly at Dopi Pan, Our Friends dug up the pipe and started pulling it up towards the engine. We shut this down and replaced the pipe all the way back to the block at the pan. After we re-started the engine, a troop of baboons, eight kudu and a roan antelope bolted for the water – they had stood around patiently waiting the whole time we were working. It wasn’t long before a group of 20 ellies pitched up and charged at the kudu and baboons to chase them off, but they were having none of it. They stood firm and made the elephants wait until they had drunk their fill.


Caterpiller pan has had no problems with pipes or pumping, and a huge number of animals are drinking there. 9 lions killed a young ellie and fed on it for about 4 days. They treed the resident troop of baboons by lying in the semi shade of the tree in which the apes were roosting. When the lions moved off in the evening there was a mad scramble by the very thirsty baboons to get to the water and drink. We have had numerous reports of baby ellies caught in the trough at Caterpillar, and have seen a couple of calves trapped at Dom as well. Most times the parents manage to get them out using their trunks and feet, but in true elephant fashion non-too gently. We need to address this problem once it rains and the pressure is off.



The pipes at Jambile were pulled up at the pump, but fortunately it was switched off by the camp attendant before Our Friends wrecked it totally. We effected repairs and put railway sleepers around the engine and pipes to protect them. They also ripped off the pipe at the top of the borehole at Manga 1. We refitted and cut pipes and threads to put it back together, sorted out leaks and started the engine.



Right now we are at the most crucial stage of the season where it is absolutely imperative we keep it all together and pump everything possible. Repairs are quick and aimed at getting things working fast. Most pans are very low and full of mud, and the only drinkable water is that being pumped from underground.



The current state of the pans in our area is as follows:


Caterpiller Dopi Jambile and Manga 1: None of these have any water in the pans, but there is water in the troughs.

Nyamandhlovu and Dom: levels are very low and the water is muddy.

Guvalala is low with little drinkable water in the pan.

Shumba has muddy water in the pan and is pumping well.

Shapi has no water in the pan, but there is water in the trough.

Mabuya mabema has a small amount of water where the solar pumps it out, the rest is mud.

Tshebe tshebe has good water in the pan but it’s muddy

Livingi is reduced to a little puddle.

Makwa is still low but has water in the pan

Sinanga is very low but also has a little water in the pan

Kennedy 1 is looking good for this time of year. It went down when The Hide were unable to pump their pan due to power outage, but has recovered to a degree as the underground water is shallow and very prolific.

Kennedy 2 has water and mud in the pan

Ngweshla still has water in the pan.

Kaoshe is a natural pan and has not dried since we scooped it some years ago but is just mud now.


I spoke to Mr B, the water manager for the Wilderness Concession, and all their pans are also way down.


Hopefully we will get some respite for these animals in the next few weeks There is lots of competition for water round the pans, and some serious elephant boxing taking place. Bits of broken tusks are to be found all over. But the ellies are doing ok and only a few vulnerable ones have succumbed in the extreme heat so far.”


Guvalala Pan

Guvalala Pan is low with little drinkable water in the pan

Thanks for news on the ground Gary – let’s hope for some rain relief very soon.


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