It has been a busy but successful last few months for the BVC anti-poaching unit. A recent donation of Aimpoint scopes by Lennart Ljungfelt will revolutionize the unit’s effectiveness, giving each scout increased confidence in defending themselves against armed poachers. As we begin this new year, we would like to express our sincere gratitude to all those people who have and continue to support our conservation efforts!
The research team have recently completed the annual road strip counts to estimate the density of prey species across the conservancy. Prior to beginning the survey, we drove a practice transect to train our new spotters Godknows and Micho, who quickly understood their roles and proved to have eagle eyes! Oliver the driver, who has plenty of experience, lead the team ensuring that not even a steenbok was missed!
For several years we have posted updates on two of our main study animals, Winston and Wilbur, both of whom have very interesting and unique life stories. It is with sadness that we now update you on their deaths. Winston, who used to dominate the Mazunga area along with his partner Geronimo, could no longer defend his territory alone and was pushed out by a stronger male coalition and left to fend for himself. He subsequently moved north, encountering other territorial males where he was beaten up further. A tough ending for a once powerful and confident lion who once ruled over a pride of 30 lions! Wilbur, as many will know, originated in Tuli (where he was known as “Mastwane”) and ended up in BVC after a long and likely arduous journey through villages and farms, over major tar roads and finally through the conservancy’s double fence. He settled in the northern section of the conservancy where he has since successfully defended his territory and no doubt sired several offspring. As some may recall, Wilbur was blind in one eye which adds to our amazement at how he navigated and survived the incredibly dangerous journey between Tuli and BVC. Sadly, it was his blind eye that eventually contributed to his downfall – two months ago we noticed a large tumor developing in this eye which was clearly causing him major discomfort. His condition worsened, considerably limiting his ability to defend himself and his territory from three challenging males. This highlights the often torturous lives lived by older lions evicted from their territories.
The last few months have been particularly busy for the research team with the lion population survey having been carried out in July and several collars replaced on our key study individuals in August. We have also been fortunate enough to have been visited by some of our main supporters including Harris Junell and his daughter Bailey. Harris and Bailey joined us when we collared a new study lion in the Mazunga area (left) who Bailey later named as “Austin”. We thank you both for your continued support of our project.
Camera traps provide a valuable means of surveying wildlife populations and often capture images of elusive species and rarely seen interactions and behaviour. While processing the thousands of images collected from the recent lion population survey here at BVC, we came across several interesting pictures of other species. [top left: civet and jackal; bottom left: leopard and honey badger; bottom centre: brown hyena and honey badger; bottom right: brown hyena]
Sabi arrived in the middle of the night (as they usually do), at the end of April 2014. He was a casualty of a poached mother, killed on another Conservancy. He was so small when we removed him from the transport crate, that my son lifted him out under his arm, not what you would expect to happen with a rhino calf. We think he was a week to 10 days old, still had his umbilical cord! He settled down to his new life with us and readily took to his feeds, which were very regular at that age, 5 to 6 times a day. He was fed on skimmed milk powder with added glucose, and after about a month we started him on e.pap, similar to Pronutro, and he thrived on that diet. After a few months, he was introduced to game nuts, which once he became accustomed to them, were a firm favourite.
After we had had him a few days, we managed to get 2 young goats to keep him company, as we don’t encourage too much human contact, although at that age, it is difficult not to have quite a bit of contact with them. He and the goats got along famously, and all through the winter months, the 3 of them slept under an infra red light (for warmth) in their hay filled boma. Sabi grew very nicely, he was actually quite a little thug, and we put big tractor tyres in the boma that we could jump into when he got too rough. During the day he would go out into a paddock with ‘his’ goats, so that he could browse naturally, and in the evening, for security, we shut him in the boma, where he had various cut browse to feed on through the night.
From the photos, you will see how he thrived, from the tiny little chap he was on arrival, to the big 2 year old hulk when we released him a few weeks ago.
Squirt was about 6 weeks old when he came to us – he was born to a blind mother, who at the time was being held in a boma because of her condition. Obviously long term boma conditions are not ideal, especially from new born for the first few weeks. He started scouring, so the decision was made to remove him from his mother and try and hand raise him, because black rhino calves are generally very easy to manage. Squirt was a bit of a different story because of his diarrhoea and his condition worsened quite quickly. Fortunately, Penny English was playing surrogate mother at the time and she called in Dr. Chap Masterson, who was actually on the Conservancy for a few days with his family, and he managed to stabilise him. He still had his ups and downs, and Penny had a full time job to keep him going. Eventually they decided that it may be better if he came down with a view to ultimately join Sabi. Obviously because of the age and size difference, 7 months, they were kept separate for a couple of months until we thought Squirt could deal with the ‘thug’ Sabi..
Squirt was still not physically well and went through periods of refusing his feeds, very worrying ! It was decided that we would load him up and send him off to the vet in Bulawayo, which was undertaken by Natasha Anderson and Roy Lenton… it was a long day, but worth it, as they decided the cause of his ups and downs was stomach ulcers. Long story short, Squirt was put onto ulcer treatment for 2 months, no mean feat. Tendai, who was the rhino minder, had the unenviable task of crushing 20 tablets a day , putting it into a minute bit of glucose water, and fooling Squirt into thinking it was palatable…he managed to do this by feeding him a banana straight afterwards….it does not take too much to fool a rhino !!
After a couple of months we united Sabi and Squirt, they had had contact through a fence since Squirt’s arrival, and it went pretty smoothly – a bit of snorting and chasing around the boma, but nothing too serious. They then became very firm friends, and along with the goats, spent their days (and months) in the paddock and their nights in the boma. Many, many gallons of milk were mixed and fed to them over their duration here, more than I would ever like to calculate!! They grew very well, even Squirt after his bad start, and we decided that they should be ok to go back into the wild, they were by now 25 months and 18 months respectively. Their re-location was done in May and went very smoothly – judging by the camera trap pictures, they have settled very well in their new surroundings and are looking in great condition and very relaxed.
Article and photos: Katrina Leatham
Several months ago we reported on the successful purchase of Malinois pups to be used as sniffer-dogs in assisting our anti-poaching efforts. We are excited to announce that the Soul tracking dogs have completed training and are now ready to be deployed on rhino protection operations in BVC.
Well done to the team!
We will keep you informed of their progress in the conservancy.
Pictures: Barney O’Hara
In an excellent example of teamwork between the Zimbabwe Republic Police, the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, the Tikki Hywood Trust, and the Bubye Valley Conservancy, this pangolin was successfully released on the same day as it was found and confiscated whilst being smuggled across the border into South Africa, where it would have been killed for its scales. We are happy to report that this gentle and beautiful little creature was let go in an awesome (and secret) area where there is plenty of food and potential mates.
Pangolins are interesting little creatures. They are the only mammal in the world covered in scales, and they don’t have any teeth and cannot chew. The African pangolin’s tongue is as long as their body, and they use it to collect and consume about 200,000 termites and ants each day. Mothers carry their babies on their backs, and like other intelligent and sentient creatures (i.e. humans, elephants and dolphins), their teats are between their front limbs, rather than at the back. They are also one of the most hunted and smuggled animals on earth.
It is estimated that over 100,000 pangolins are poached from the wild each year and sent to Asian markets, where their meat is a delicacy, and their scales – which are made out of keratin, the exact same substance as rhino horn and human fingernails – are worth over US$ 500 per kilogram.
There are eight extant pangolin species, of which four occur in each of Africa and Asia. Six pangolin species are classified as ‘Endangered’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and the other two are ‘Critically Endangered’ (both of which occur in Asia). As Asian pangolins dwindle, Africa has become the new target for the illegal market.
Zimbabwe has just one pangolin species – the ground pangolin Manis temminckii – but we also have the world’s strongest penalty for the illegal possession of any pangolin, which is a US$ 5,000 fine and nine years in jail (Parks and Wildlife Act Chapter 20:14). Zimbabwe placed pangolins on its Specially Protected Wildlife List in 1975.
For more information about pangolins, other endangered species, and animals simply in need of help (and how you can), have a look at the Tikki Hywood Trust website.
Article and Photos: Byron du Preez
Easily taken for granted, to do anti-poaching and conservation research requires money. To do either properly requires a lot of money.
Fundraising is not an easy job. Especially from the field, where all good research and anti-poaching is done. Therefore, we are very grateful for the initiative of two our PH’s, Pete Fick and Martin Nel, for coming up with the brilliant idea to auction lion hunts at the 2016 conventions, and for the generosity of one our clients and friends, Jack Mayfield, for the generous donation of a beautiful Heym 88B .500 Nitro Express double worth about US$ 25,000 that will also be raffled.
The Bubye Valley Conservancy lion population is obviously self-sustainable and free-ranging, and the image top left is used just for illustration. The pictures of the rifle below, however, are of the actual rifle that will be auctioned. And as beautiful as it looks here, Jack assures me that it is far better in real life. Click on the images for a higher resolution picture.
We will post details of the raffles closer to the time, so please keep checking back. We will keep tickets to a minimum so that each one represents a greater probability of winning. Winning either a lion hunt or this rifle for a tiny fraction of what they are worth is obviously a fantasticy opportunity.
All funds raised from the rifle raffle will be put directly into rhino anti-poaching at the Bubye Valley Conservancy. All funds raised from the lion raffle in excess of the cost of a normal lion hunt will go directly to lion research at the Bubye Valley Conservancy.
Thanks again from all of us at the Bubye Valley Conservancy for the generous support of our friends who put conservation first.
Article: Byron du Preez
Photos: Byron du Preez and Jack Mayfield
Through the tireless supportive efforts of our very own Pete Fick and John Sharp, and the very generous donations of our clients and friends such as Jack Mayfield and Dr Jonathan Mauldin amongst others (see the Thanks page), we are delighted to announce that two Malinois pups, to be used as sniffer-dogs in assisting our anti-poaching efforts, have been bought and paid for, and we are now just gathering the relevant paperwork that will allow them to be flown from Belgium to Zimbabwe!
Construction of the kennels (pictured below) and housing for the dog handlers at the fast-reaction base station is nearly complete, and will be able to house 10 dogs, with the option for expansion and inclusion of another 10 dogs if need be.
Whilst these dogs were organised and paid for by the Bubye Valley Conservancy, we would not consider it a conservation success if we were only able to protect our rhino population whilst those around us continued to be targetted by the poaching gangs – therefore we have made these dogs available to both National Parks and private wildlife areas in the form of a fast-reaction unit that can get these dogs onto the ground and onto poacher spoor before said poachers have made good their escape.
These dogs could not be arriving at a better time, with rhino poaching in Zimbabwe at an all-time high. We will obviously keep everyone updated with the progress and success of this initiative, and again thank all that have had the foresight to get this vital operation off the ground for the sake of continued rhino survival in Zimbabwe.
Article: Byron du Preez
Photos: Stewart Campbell and Barney O’Hara
Now the official project mascot (see the logo at the bottom of the page), Winston is by far our favourite lion.
One of the most relaxed (confident!) lions that we regularly monitor, Winston ignores us to the point of rudeness. Looks can be deceiving though, and this old tab is a ferocious brawler – hanging onto the Matombosa Pride (30 lions at last count!) with the help of just his brother, Geronimo.
This makes Winston one of the most successful (or genetically ‘fit’) lions in the Bubye Valley Conservancy, having sired more cubs than any other lion we study. Just yesterday, Pauline’s sister revealed her new litter to us, and a fortnight ago Emily’s sister brought her new cubs out of hiding.
Having cubs is one thing, keeping them alive is a whole separate issue – but a task at which Winston excels. On Saturday evening we recollared one of Winston’s male offspring who, along with his 3 brothers left the pride at the end of 2014 in search of their own territory and females to mate with, and at the moment are 30 km as-the-crow-flies from their natal territory. We are very happy to report that Mickey (above right) and his brothers are all in excellent condition – hardly surprising though, given their genes!
Article and Photos: Byron du Preez
Apparently the world’s most famous lion, “Cecil” was killed last week on a plot bordering Hwange National Park. Cecil was one of the first lions that Dr Byron du Preez (front right) collared whilst working with Dr Andrew Loveridge (front left) before founding the Bubye Valley Conservation Research Project.
Wounded first with a bow, and then finally shot the next day, the iconic 13 year old lion was part of a long-term WildCRU lion research project in Hwange. Zimbabwe’s wildlife industry is almost entired based on sustainable trophy hunting – but it has to be said that, on the face of things, this cannot be considered to have been a hunt: there was no hunting permit, and no Parks’ scout accompanied the hunt – which sounds more like an incident of poaching to the experienced. In fact, if it was not for the collar, which must have been hidden by Cecil’s mane, this incident may have gone completely unnoticed.
The ‘Cecil Incident’ exposed the negative side of human nature when money is involved, but this must be put down as an isolated incident, and not representative of the Zimbabwean hunting industry which boasts one of the best reputations for professionalism and ethics in the world. There is widespread hope amongst the Zimbabwean professional hunters that this incident will now galvanise the industry in a movement towards self-regulation and answerability.
13 September 2015 – Update:
Theo Bronkhorst, the professional hunter responsible for illegally killing Cecil, has been caught trying to smuggle Zambian sable across the Limpopo River into South Africa. Every respectable profession has its unsavoury characters, and this second incident involving the same individual just goes to prove that it is just one bad apple spoiling the barrel of responsible hunting.
Article and Photos: Byron du Preez
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
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.
Article: Byron du Preez
Photos: Lyndsay Nicolson
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 great fun 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.
Article: Byron du Preez
Photos: Lyndsay Nicolson and Ryan Johnston
Professional Hunter Shaun Buffee won the Houston Safari Club Gold Medal for African Dangerous Game with a lion he hunted on BVC last year, showcasing the quality and value of the conservation management that we strive to achieve here. The responsible utilisation of wildlife provides the funds required for the protection of habitat and other animals that would otherwise disappear if the land was to be utilised differently, for example livestock ranching.
To see a list of all the winners, go to: http://www.houstonsafariclub.org/2015-convention-hunting-award-winners/.
Article and Photos: Byron du Preez
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today made a preliminary decision regarding the conservation status of lions, proposing to protect the lion under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. The director of USFWS, Dan Ashe, however stated that “Lions are not in trouble because of responsible sport hunting. In fact, evidence shows that scientifically sound conservation programs that include limited, well-managed sport hunting can and do contribute to the long-term survival of the species“, and goes on to say; “Under this special rule, we cannot and will not allow trophies into the United States from any nation whose lion conservation program fails to meet key criteria for transparency, scientific management and effectiveness. Permits would be granted if, and only if, the trophies were taken as part of a scientific management program that provides proven benefits to the overall lion population and local communities“. This means that now, more than ever, it is vital to support responsible hunting areas such as BVC, and contribute to the conservation research we conduct. For more information see: bubyevalleyconservancy.com/support-thanks/. It is important to note that this is only a preliminary decision, and will be revised in the New Year, after the official 90 day public comment period that ends on 27 January 2015.
Follow this link to see the original statement by Dan Ashe: http://www.fws.gov/director/dan-ashe/index.cfm/2014/10/27/The-African-Lion-Needs-Our-Help.
Article and Photos: Byron du Preez
We are very excited to unveil the new Lion Project research vehicle, very generously donated by Mr Harris Junell. This is a vital addition to the project fleet, which thus far just consisted of a single Land Rover, the project work-horse of the last 3 years.
Article and Photos: Byron du Preez
Byron du Preez (D.Phil., Oxford), who undertook his doctoral research on the impact of lions on leopard behavioural ecology here at The Bubye Valley Conservancy between 2010 and 2014, has returned to BVC to focus on lion conservation research. Byron takes over from Paul Trethowan. Paul conducted his own doctoral research on lions at BVC between 2012 and 2014, and now leaves for Oxford to write up his own thesis. We wish him the best of luck over in the UK, and look forward to his return.