A Legacy of Conservation
The Bubye Valley Conservancy is one of the most amazing conservation successes of recent times. Up until the ’90s this former cattle ranching area had systematically eradicated wildlife for competing with, transmitting disease to, and preying on the livestock. However, BVC is now dedicated to conservation; and since its formation only 20 years ago, currently boasts one of the world’s largest black rhino populations, Zimbabwe’s largest lion population, and a flourishing elephant population.
The 3,740 km2 conservancy (larger than the King Ranch in Texas) is situated in the lowveld region of southern Zimbabwe. This is one of the hottest and driest areas of Zimbabwe, with summer temperatures regularly exceeding 40 degrees C. Mean annual rainfall recorded over the last 45 years is just 347 mm, and the area is therefore not suitable for agriculture. Although the annual rainfall is low, BVC represents a high nutrient ecosystem that supports large numbers of medium sized herbivores, particularly blue wildebeest and zebra, and as a result, high densities of predators can potentially be sustained.
The Bubye Valley Conservancy; the wildlife at Mpalewa
BVC was privileged to host the Falcon College Natural History Society at Ngali Camp over the weekend. BVC PH Pete Fick and the school teachers led the group in activities such as guided walks, game viewing, and bird watching, including setting a carcass bait and camera-traps to attract and record vultures and mammalian predators.
On Saturday afternoon, after being subjected to a talk about conservation research, we took the boys out to track two of the lion research project’s favourite lions, Winston and Geronimo. While Geronimo did his normal trick of moving into thicker bush as soon as he saw us, Winston as always was very relaxed and allowed us to sit with him and discuss the research in greater detail, as he posed for photos.
After leaving the lions in peace, we did some falconry with a couple of melanistic gabar goshawks that the boys had brought with them. Despite being young birds, they were already very adept hunters, and the one managed to grab a francolin after only a short sprint.
It was a great pleasure taking such an enthusiastic and well mannered group of youngsters out into the bush, and on top of that, they even made a very generous donation to the lion research which they did not need to do, but which was very gratefully received.
Photos copyright: Lyndsay Nicolson and Ryan Johnston
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This stunning photo was taken at Matombosa Pan at sunset, and just after it had been taken we were lucky enough to see two male cheetah walk out and cross the road in front of us.
Copyright: Lyndsay Nicolson
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Pride Male; at the aptly named ‘Shumba’ Pan
Since lions Panthera leo were re-introduced to BVC in 1999 the population has grown rapidly. Today BVC is home to approximately 20% of Zimbabwe’s lions. This is not just the largest continuous population of lion in Zimbabwe but also the densest. Due to the importance of this population for the species’ conservation, and the unique management challenges associated with a large fenced population of lion, a long-term conservation research project was established 2009.
The BVC lion research project Cruiser – kindly donated by Harris Junell
Seventeen lions were initially introduced to BVC in 1999. Ten years later, in 2009, when carnivore population surveys were initiated, the lion abundance was estimated to be at around 280 individuals. It has continued to grow. Today there are estimated to be in excess of 400 lions on BVC, which is the largest population in the country.
Black rhinos Diceros bicornis were first introduced to BVC in 2002, and the population growth rate was accelerated by continual translocations from other areas that were unable to protect their rhino populations as poaching escalated during the mid 2000’s. In the face of the renewed rhino-poaching onslaught in Zimbabwe, only the big privately owned conservancies are able to maintain positive rhino population growth rates.
Sabi; Mazunga’s bully-boy!
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