Estimated to be 40 years old this year, Inunwa is quite likely the oldest black rhino alive in Zimbabwe today.
In the early 1980s Inunwa was part of a group of 10 rhinos captured in the Rekomitje Bridge area of the Zambezi Valley. These animals became the founders of the Gourlays Ranch black rhino population north of Bulawayo. On capture she was estimated to have been born in 1975. At that time the Valley was believed to have a population of black rhinos numbering in the thousands. By the early 1990’s targeted rhino poaching had reduced the entire Zimbabwe black rhino population to as few as 340 individuals, with less than 50 surviving in the Zambezi Valley.
Post 2000 Gourlays Ranch was severely impacted by the land reform program and it became impossible to protect the rhinos in this area. In 2005 the Lowveld Rhino Trust undertook a capture operation to move all the Gourlays rhinos to the better protected Bubye Valley Conservancy. Inunwa and her nine month old calf were among the rhinos rescued in this operation.
Black rhinos in the wild are believed to have a lifespan of 30 to 40 years.
Article and photos: Natasha Anderson
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We bumped into these spotted hyaenas Crocuta crocuta just after sunrise whilst driving up the Mazunga River looking for lions. Apparently these hyaenas were doing the same, as it wasn’t long before we came upon Jenny and Matilda and their rabble of 14 on an eland cow they’d killed in the early hours of the morning. Seeing hyaenas in BVC, especially during the day, is a special treat as they do not occur at very high densities here – probably due to a combination of the cattle ranching legacy and the impact of intraguild competition by lions. Spotted hyaenas have a complex social structure, in which only the matriarch breeds, and added to the fact that they den means that a high density of an aggressive competitor, such as the lion, can effectively subdue their breeding potential. New data coming out of a Hwange National Park hyaena study indicates that once spotted hyaena density reaches a critical threshold they are able to form clans large enough to defend themselves from lions – and at this stage the presence of lions may even facilitate hyaena survival by providing opportunities for easy meals: either kleptoparasitised or scavenged.
Photo copyright: Lyndsay Nicolson
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Pride Male; at the aptly named ‘Shumba’ Pan
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
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!
a moving history…
If you would like to book with Mazunga Safaris, please contact Tracy Angelidakis, at: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Bubye Valley Conservancy and Mazunga Safaris are members of the Safari Operators Association of Zimbabwe (SOAZ)