Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Matusadona Game count

After a week in the bush, your legs are scratched, your beard looks rough, you smell like a cave man and you really enjoy the absence of tsetse flies when you shower. 

Following the dino trip to Mana Angwa I received a phone call out of the blue asking if  
  1. I had a big 4*4 and 
  2. I was interested in doing a game count in Matusadona the next WE. 
Yes! A landie actually makes you popular in these tropics, and people are ready to bet that the landie driver is actually not an unpleasant individual trying to compensate with a square diesel engine. Or maybe they know what to expect but also know that it will be ok to deal with it. 
The negociation with my wife was (not so) tough, not really a negociation as well. I am sure that she did not mind at all staying with the kids, and welcoming 4 friends at home when I was away. She says that it was easy, at the end, to fit all the 8 people in our honda fit. Now that I know that, I will feel less remorse next time.

So, I joined a group of four all of whom turned out to be really interesting and cool people. The Matusadona Game count was organized by the Zambezi Society. 

A game count really consist of walking for some days (4 in our case) in a national park, with a ranger, recording tracks, sights and signs of animals and human activity. The animals are counted in order to estimate the population and species of mamals (and birds,...) in the area, and the human activity to estimate the poaching and interaction between wildlife and humans in the park. 
We camped in the park, walked in the area that was allocated to us and recorded whatever we could see, climbing hills, checking water spots, following animal tracks, and trying to be usefull to the parks and Zambezi Society. 
I hope we did a good job. 
Our walks and observations unfortunatly revealed that if we saw many tracks of animals, buffalo, elephants, porcupines, hyenas, kudus, steinbuck, klipspringers, roan antelopes, sables, zebras, genet cat, etc, the tracks were mainly made of droppings, scats, dungs, poo, shit and middens, along with foot prints, and bones for we have not seen many animals alive. 
We walked, climbed, observed, searched for hours from high viewpoints for signs of meat-fur-and-flesh-moving things but could not see much. In four days we saw a family of elies (about 13 of them, with youngsters and teens), 4 klipspringers, one steinbuck, a couple of wardhogs and squirrels, 2 lions and a shrew. We heard a baboon, and a hyena. Not much. 

On the other hand, the entire area we walked in burned on our second day, we found three skeletons of elephants, whose skulls had been cut so the tusks could be removed and saw for ourselves that the animals were fearing humans: we got charged by the elies, enough to confirm the great training and professionnal reactions of the ranger. 
The area we had to survey is bordering the communal land that is rented to the camp fire project for hunters. The proximity with humans is generally synonymous to low numbers of animals, which we knew from the start. On our second day we spotted a fire starting behind a hill a few km away, so decided to go check it. The ranger knew that they were poachers, as they use that burn tactic to hide their tracks or to see better animals, when hunting with dogs. Reaching the hill top we saw that the fire was not alone, that fires were being lit as far as we could see, in a line, between us and the camp. such fires are made to clear an area, but are also made to move animals in one direction. 
The fire did come very close to the camp and Lucy, who stayed on the campside for the day, packed up the entire camp in the cars and drove them to the river bed, saving the day for us. 
(c) Lucy Broderick, 2014
On our hill top, watching the smokes and hearing the cracks of the wood burning I really felt that such a fire was not really made to help local poachers, but maybe designed to push the game towards the hunting concession. That feeling came back a couple of days later, when, on the main road we came across a hunting party. So on one hand we try to monitor the population of animals, one of the use of it is also to identify the quotas allocated for hunters, and on the other hand we saw something that seemed organized to clean the national park wildlife, push the game to the hunting grounds, and at the end we struggle to see much animals. Human-animal interaction. Humans, one point. For sure, in a country facing economical difficulties, hunters bring big money, poaching as well and there seems to be little alternatives. 
Anyway, the week was very enriching and great, we clicked well in the group. 
It is always amazing to walk in the bush, pay attention to small things, trying to help and make a difference, meeting new people and just doing something new. 
It was also something I set as a goal for 2014: Multiply opportunities to walk in the bush and getting involved in environmental societies. Check. 
Now I need to find some jobs. 

(c) Lucy Broderick, 2014

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