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
Wilbur is definitely one of our favourite lions; an old gentleman who is completely relaxed around the research vehicle, he oozes character with his one blind eye. His story is particularly interesting – originating in Tuli (where he was known as “Matswane”), and ending up in The Bubye Valley Conservancy after an amazing trek.
This morning we sat with Wilbur at Malashani Pan, a particularly beautiful water hole that Wilbur and his two mates, Force and Smith (below right), are also quite fond of.
In 2014 we caught up with Fred van der Neut, who knew Wilbur while he ruled Tuli. Here is a short exerpt from Fred’s blog after he visited BVC to see his old friend:
“The perils that Matswane must have encountered on his journey from Botswana’s Tuli Game Reserve to the Bubye Conservancy must be book worthy. One need only look at Google Maps to gain some small insight into the journey he undertook; a trip of over 100 kilometers through villages and cattle country, across major tar roads and into areas were lion are shot on sight. Despite all of this he made it! How he survived is a tribute to his character.
According to Blondie the manager of the conservancy, Matswane settled along the outer-western border of the conservancy and reportedly became a notorious cattle killer. The Zimbabwe wildlife department eventually dispatched a professional hunter to eliminate him and his cattle killing ways. But something happened along the way – the now “notorious cattle killer” either got a hell-of-a-fright or threw caution into the wind and broke into the conservancy. He ran and broke through two significant fences meant to keep lions in the conservancy. No one ever anticipated a lion breaking in – let alone anything breaking the fence at all. Matswane did!
The Bubye Conservancy is a magnificent area – it reminds me of old Africa. The landscape and climate is not too dissimilar to the Tuli Game Reserve area without the sandstone koppies and rocky outcrops. Another noticeable difference is the dense vegetation and variety of game. I attribute this success to the very careful management by Blondie and his team. In rough numbers the area is about the same size as the Tuli Game Reserve (± 750,000 acres).“
Fred’s full article can be read on the Tuli Predator Project website.
Photos copyright: Lyndsay Nicolson
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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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