The signs of wildlife are returning...


The signs of wildlife are returning...

The rains are falling across Zimbabwe and the bush is bursting with life. The first rains of the season fell in October transforming the parched brown wilderness to emerald green and dampening the searing heat.

January 16, 2021

With the abundance of water, the wildlife has scattered far and wide, which along with the denser vegetation, has made it harder to spot, but despite this, staff based at Phundundu wildlife area have had some surprising sightings in the past couple of months.

This has been aided by the setting up of six camera traps on the reserve in November by ranger, Sergeant Kerri DuPreez, with a further six to be installed in coming months.

The camera traps, which will allow data to be collected on the movement of wildlife, have so far photographed three different leopard, a species rarely seen.

Two leopards captured on a camera trap in Phundundu wildlife area
Two leopards captured on a camera trap in Phundundu wildlife area
“I wasn’t expecting to find so many leopard – leopard was a surprise … It’s very tricky to see them but on the camera traps in the last two months we’ve got at least three individuals,” Kerri says.

Last month four lion – two adult females with two cubs – were sighted. It is believed they were just passing through the area.

One of the two lionesses with two cubs passing through the wildlife area
One of the two lionesses with two cubs passing through the wildlife area  Photo: Kerri DuPreez

“We don’t have any resident lions but just in the last two weeks one female has been lurking around and we’ve been hearing her every night for a couple of nights and then she disappears and then we hear her again,” Kerri says.

“Hyenas, we are hearing them again … a lot of them are coming from the Charara South area and Mana Pools National Park, and they are passing through here and having a look to see what’s going on on our side.”

The Phundundu and Nyaodza wildlife areas, which lie side by side in the Zambezi Valley in northern Zimbabwe, covering a vast area of 45,000 hectares (111,200 acres), were previously used for trophy hunting and were later heavily poached.

“It is nice to see leopard and lion especially with so many people around here. It’s good to know what we are doing is helping the wildlife to feel a bit more safe and at home so they are all coming back.”

“The International Anti-Poaching Foundation has been here for three years now and it’s definitely created a safe zone for the animals to the point where they took their chances moving through in the beginning but eventually realised they were not going to be shot or snared.”

“So they get a lot more comfortable and used to being in the area as opposed to before where they would either avoid it altogether or be very wary moving through,” she says.

The all-female Akashinga ranger teams, who have been patrolling the region since 2017 have played a crucial role in helping to achieve an 80 per cent downturn in elephant poaching, while a four-fold increase in wildlife encounters have been recorded over this period in the reserves under IAPF management

The Akashinga rangers on patrol in Phundundu wildlife area this week
The Akashinga rangers on patrol in Phundundu wildlife area this week

The camera traps will be used to conduct wildlife surveys, which will include game counts, and identifying individual leopards, lions and elephants to establish a clearer picture of what animals are in the area.

As more wildlife returns to the area, this additional data on specific animals will be good to have so in the future if there is an interest in pursuing a few more conservation projects on the conservancy then there would be a database to work from, she says.

The camera traps will also provide a better insight into how the wildlife on the reserve is doing, as it is capturing a lot of animals that are either rarely seen normally or are nocturnal, only coming out at night.

The camera traps have been a real eye opener, on a drive through the reserve now staff are not seeing a lot of wildlife – a few duiker, steenbok, reed buck, baboons and monkeys here and there, while seeing buffalo is exciting, and elephants, even more so.

Individual wildlife identification kits are now being created, so for leopards, the spot patterns are used, while whisker patterns are used to identify different lions, and when it comes to elephants, it’s all in the ears and the tusks, she says.

Elephants enjoying a night time drink
Elephants enjoying a night time drink
“Once we manage to create identity kits and get to know the animals in the area a bit better then it can alert us when something has gone wrong or when one is missing, so help us to keep a better track of them.”

Leopards, for example, are territorial, so if we don’t see one after a while then we might have some good suspicion that something has happened, so it’s about getting to know them better and to know their habits, she says.

After the rainy season ends in April, more wildlife will return to Phundundu where there are a number of pumped waterholes, ensuring a year-round supply of the lifegiving resource.

In the dry season elephants are seen almost daily, and there are two zebra herds, which are expected to return along with some foals as soon as the water supply starts to disappear.

Most remarkably, with these rains comes the miracle of new life, with many species, such as impala, warthog, kudu, zebra, sable, waterbuck and buffalo giving birth to their young during the wet season, between November and April.

A herd of kudu
A herd of kudu revelling in the abundance of food and water  Photo: Kerri DuPreez

Impala often hold on to their offspring until the first rains come, and then they give birth when food and water is plentiful.

Now that you’ve met some of the wildlife that is here because of you, we would like to say a big thank you to the donors who have made such a positive difference and make a plea to future donors to dig deep to keep this happening.