MATOBO CONSERVATION SOCIETY

NEWSLETTER 87

MAY 2014

PO Box FM 648, Famona, Bulawayo

Chairman – Gavin.Stephens@ppc.co.zw

Secretary – Gaynor Lightfoot@minerva.co.zw                                                                       www.matobo.org

1 – AUTUMN

Summer has come and gone, the nights are drawing in, and the evening temperatures dropping. The Mukwa, Kirkia and paper barks have lost their leaves; the other deciduous trees are turning yellow. The grass – and there is plenty of tall thick grass this year – has turned golden, and the ladies are out cutting their thatching grass for the next year. Streams are still flowing, and wetlands are still just that – wet, but the bigger rivers are slowing down and some valleys are drying out. The migratory birds have all but left us now, but still the resident birds provide a delightful dawn chorus.

 

2 – MATOBO PARK NEWS

We welcome Sharon Musakwa to the post of Area Manager, Matobo. She comes into office with a bang as much has happened at the Park in recent months.

The rains were welcome for us all, but have left a trail of damage and destruction across the Park. Much of this is due to the poor maintenance over the past 15 years – the infrastructure can endure so much and no more!

At Toghwana the concrete spill way has collapsed, sending a wall of water down-stream causing damage to the valley and vegetation. It is not known how long until the wall can be repaired.

Access roads to Toghwana were in a poor state before the rains – they are all but impassable now, (we recommend that the road through Mtsheleli is used) whilst the Inange cave walk has been swallowed up by the vegetation!

The road between Maleme and Whitewaters was washed out, but Parks have done a lot of repair work to get this road open again. However, the Nsvatuke Loop road has been rendered impassable, whilst the road to Nsvatuke Cave has been badly washed out making it all but impossible to visit the cave. (It is recommended that visitors park on the Nsvatuke Loop Road and walk up to the cave from that point. A clear path exists)

The scenic road between the Circular Drive and the Maleme Road is restricted to 4×4, but accessible for normal vehicles from the Circular Drive to Matobo Hills lodge.

Roads in the Game Park were also damaged, and it is not possible to visit Bambata Cave other than in a 4×4.

A few small sections of the new Game Fence were damaged, but easily repaired.

 

3 – CALENDAR 2014

Herewith the proposed dates for the 2014 field trips –make a note in your diary!

  • Sun 18th May                Manyanyedzi
  • Sat 8th June                   World Environment day clean-up (proposed Maleme Rest Camp)
  • Sun 24th August                        Sabafu Hill Ruins
  • Sun 2nd November        TBA
  • Sun 30th November       AGM

Other dates

  • 5th – 7th September       Matopos Classic MTB

 

4 – www.MATOBO.ORG

The Matobo conservation Society also has a facebook page. So go to https://www.facebook.com/pages/Matobo-Conservation-Society/234544749928841 and see what’s happening – and share your contributions! Let us have any pictures that you may have from past outings, or of interest.

 

5 – MCS APPAREL

As winter settles in, you are reminded that the Society has a stock of fleece sleeveless jackets, in olive green with orange MCS logo. These are available at $20 each. We still have stocks of hats and caps (at $10 each). CD’s are also available.

 

6 – NEXT EVENT

Date                                         18 May 2014

Venue                                       Manyenyedzi

Meet                                        8:15am to leave by 8:30am, Ascot Parking

Travel                                      All vehicles, trucks preferred.

Details                                     Provide own chairs, tables, meals and drinks. Don’t forget your hat!

Following popular demand, we will be returning to the eastern Matopos to visit The Cave of the Turning Stork.

We will be driving beyond the Indaba Site, and south of Zhilo School. The Society last visited this area over ten years ago. We will picnic under the magnificent Brachystegia tamarindoides and walk to the cave on Manyenyedzi hill. The cave is just below the summit of the hill, so we will carry on to the top to enjoy the magnificent views of the eastern hills, Kangali, Gobambeza, Mtshabezi dam, and Mtshabezi Gorge. For the not so adventurous there is a lovely valley in which to walk near the picnic sites. Moira Fitzpatrick, from the Natural History Museum, will join us and speak about spiders.

 

7 – REPORT BACK

On Sunday 16 February 2014 a convoy of vehicles ventured south along the Beitbridge road and turned off at Mawabeni to go to Diana’s Pool. The first obstacle (apart from the poor roads) was the flooded MM River, but we all crossed safely. Then we came across a second river crossing (Mavondo river) where the bridge approaches had been washed away. There was a muddy track around the bridge – and after an inspection, all the cars got across – some with a little help. Then onto Diana’s Pool – which was flowing well. After tea, the members went for a walk upstream, criss-crossing the river, and getting wet in the process! It was a lovely walk, before returning for lunch. Mr Dave Grant spoke after lunch about the lesser k known stories around the 1896 Great Indaba, and the naming and history of Diana’s Pool. It was a fascinating insight, greatly appreciated. Thereafter the members proceeded to visit the orbicular granite (see separate article below) and found that the recent floods had exposed some new rocks which were enjoyed. Later the convoy returned home, some via the Indaba Site, and others directly home. A superb outing that made the most of the sunshine and lovely rain.

 

8 – ORBICULAR GRANITE

Orbicular granite (also known as orbicular rock or orbiculite) is an uncommon plutonic rock type which is usually granitic in composition. These rocks have a unique appearance due to orbiculesconcentrically layered, spheroidal structures, probably formed through nucleation around a grain in a cooling magma chamber. The process is not understood by geologists. Almost one third of known orbicular rock occurrences are from Finland. The occurrences are usually very small. There are two orbicular sites in the Matobo Hills, (one of which at Diana’s Pool is a National Monument) and only two in the whole of South Africa, and at least one in Australia, New Zealand, Antarctica, Sweden and Chile. Approximately 14 sites exist world-wide. The last study carried out at Diana’s Pool took place in 1972, when a piece was removed and taken to the Natural History Museum for further study and display.

 

9 – MATOPOS HERITAGE MTB

The annual Matobo Hills World Heritage Mountain Bike Challenge was successfully staged in mid-March, with a record entry field – and many turned away! Lots of hard work had to be done to re-route the event and relocate water points as roads had been made impassable by the heavy rains. But this added to the flavour of the event, which is now being described as the best single track event in Africa! Much appreciation is extended to those members of the Society who assisted with the successful outcome of the event – our largest fundraiser. We also appreciate the assistance and support of the Matobo National Park Area Manager and staff.

This year repairs and new lighting work was carried out at Maleme Rest Camp for National Parks as part of our contribution to the Park from this event.

 

10 – IRONWILL

The Zimbabwe Ironwill was hosted for the second time in the Matopos from 2 – 6 April. This was the biggest turnout in the past ten years with about 75 competitors taking part. The participants enjoyed four days of cycling, hiking, orienteering, water sports and camping, mostly centred on the South Eastern Matopos.

 

11– MATOPOS 33 MILER

The Matopos 33 Miler was run on Sunday 13th April, and whilst the numbers of participants was much the same as last year, it was felt that it was better organised. PPC Zimbabwe sponsored the event again in 2014, and the event looks set to become a recognised entry event for the Comrades Marathon. Appreciation is expressed to those members who assisted with registration.

Your Chairman had the pleasure of seeing a leopard when out marking the course, and some of the athletes saw rhino on the day of the race!

 

10 – NATIONAL MUSEUMS

The current home of the Natural History Museum in Bulawayo turned 60 in March. A special celebration was held to celebrate the event, and your Society was able to man a stand to represent the Society. Thanks to our committee members who put on the display and attended the fun day on our behalf.

 

12 – NEWS ON DEFORESTATION

Mugabe warns against deforestation by followers

New Zimbabwe, Monday April 21, 2014

 

Harare-PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe has threatened to ban tobacco production if the indiscriminate cutting down of trees by Zimbabwe’s poorly resourced indigenous farmers continues.

In his Independence Day speech, Mugabe said tobacco growers were causing desertification by cutting down trees for their treatment of the golden leaf.

“Our people are growing tobacco and want to make money out of it but on the down side we have seen massive deforestation leading to desertification in some areas. We are saying to them, ‘use coal or we will stop tobacco production’,” he said.

Zimbabwe has in the past decade seen an increase in the number of tobacco growers, thanks to government’s land reform programme.

But the poorly resourced black farmers, who are former workers of the previous white land owners, have turned to forests in their bid to treat the highly rewarding produce, causing an environmental disaster in the process.

In most instances, the new farmers indiscriminately destroy forests and woodlots without replenishing them during tobacco curing.

But Mugabe, who has often displayed compassion for black land beneficiaries, said his government would rather not have tobacco growers than remain with deserts.

“We would rather have no tobacco than have deserts and no trees,” he said, “To this end, government continues promoting tree planting that has seen some 9.8 million trees being panted during the current rainy season, a project driven significantly by the Tobacco Wood Energy Programme.”

Mugabe’s chaotic land reform exercise is blamed for the decimation of what was once a thriving agricultural sector.

At its peak, Zimbabwe was regarded as the breadbasket of Africa. Tobacco was one of the country’s biggest foreign currency earners, alongside gold and tourism while Zimbabwe was only second to Brazil in terms of tobacco growing and export with Europe and China being the major consumers.

 

13 – NEWS FROM OUR PARKS

Zimparks operating on $8 mln deficit annually
HARARE – The Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (Zimparks) operates on an $8 mln budget deficit annually, compromising its ability to protect and manage the country’s wildlife heritage, an official said this morning.
Last year Zimparks encountered an ecological disaster at Hwange National Park where more than 100 elephants and other species succumbed to poacher-induced cyanide poisoning upon which government instituted a Wildlife Ecological Trust (WET) to raise $10 mln to fight poaching at Hwange National Park.
Addressing a press conference WET chair Phibion Gwatidzo said the national parks authority cannot operate efficiently without fiscal support.
“We are aware that Zimparks has an operating budget deficit of $8 mln a year and we want to work with them to close that gap. Going forward we want to lobby government to fund Zimparks, we are convinced the parks cannot operate efficiently without some form of fiscal support especially for funds directed for research and anti-poaching activities,” he said. Gwatidzo said WET’s strategy is to provide sustainable financial assistance on conversation, and strengthen wildlife areas. They are currently focusing on Hwange National Park but the intention is to cover the whole country. “Our target is to raise in the region of $50 mln and we think it is possible because there is a lot of money out there directed towards wildlife or biodiversity,” he said.

 

On fundraising initiatives for the Hwange National Park, Gwatidzo said WET had raised $1.74 mln from various stakeholders and this had been channelled towards different activities including patrol vehicles, communication systems borehole rehabilitation and for the welfare of rangers.

“For communication we have managed to secure a base station from Econet which is being put in that area. We also repaired radios for rangers with a value of $250 000 and its work in progress. Once the communication system is up and running we are confident, we will be focusing on rangers and water and move to other areas that require assistance countrywide.”

Environment, Water and Climate minister Saviour Kasukuwere said significant change has been witnessed in Hwange National Park but on the other hand poachers are devising ways of illegally gaining entry into the protected areas. “Recently there was a report that close to 30 poachers in two groups had gained illegal entry into Hwange and Zambezi National Parks. “Let me take this opportunity to implore parks rangers and officers to shun corruption and to decisively deal with it as it has potential to divide the Authority apart and to scare conservation partners away,” he said. Kasukuwere also raised concern over possible manipulation of the justice system saying some poacher’s fingered in the Hwange disaster left the courts free men.

 

14 – TRIAL OF MATOBO RHINO POACHERS RESUMES

Thulani Ndlovu Sunday News Reporter, Sunday, 23 March 2014
THE trial of three Zambians and a Zimbabwean charged with the killing of a Black Rhino valued at $120 000 at Matopo National Park in October 2012 resumed at the regional magistrates’ court in Bulawayo.

It is the State’s case that the three accused from Lusaka, Kamake Kaliye of house number 90/96 Kanyama, Kapumba Evans Kambungo of house number 2957 L/M Kabanana in Westsite and Service and Peter Kangube of house number MV260 in Makeni, confessed to the killing of a rhino after they were intercepted at the Kezi-Bulawayo road block. The fourth accused, Mpendulo Ncube of house number 30096/1 in Entumbane, Bulawayo, was charged as an accomplice to the offence for guiding the Zambians around the Matopo terrain. The police were acting on a tip-off from the public.

In court the four accused vehemently denied the police’s accusations. They told the court that they were tortured and assaulted before they were forced to sign admission of guilt documents. During cross examination by the accused’s legal representative, Mr Sifelilizwe Mnguni of R Ndlovu and Company, the first accused gave a graphic and chilling testimony of how police allegedly assaulted him.

“The police undressed us and took us behind Matopo cells where there is a deep hole. They put us head first and they then proceeded to assault us using a black baton stick in the buttocks and at the back. The scars are still visible,” Kaliye said. He alleged that from Matopo Police Station they were taken to Figtree Police Station where they were severely assaulted and tortured again. “One night while in the custody of the police we were transferred from Matopo Police Station to Figtree Police Station, where my penis was subjected to electric shock until I collapsed,” he claimed. He also told the court that he was illiterate and not conversant in English, Ndebele or Shona and he had never gone to school, until recently when he started Grade 1 lessons at Khami Prison.

His lawyer, Mr Mnguni, asked him how he was able to sign documents and communicate with the detectives. He said he signed the documents without understanding them. “The police communicated with me by assaulting me, and when it came to signing documents no one explained to me what was contained in the documents. I was told to sign my name the same way as it is written on my passport. “I signed out of fear not on my own free volition,” he said. The State strongly denied accusations of ill-treating the accused and testifying in court, an Assistant Inspector Manyangadze said the first and second accused led the police to Matopo National Park where the accused persons had hidden an AK 47 rifle, one AK magazine loaded with 13 rounds, 82 AK loose live rifle ammunition, one axe and two knives. The cache will be produced in court as evidence.
The police allege that, when the accused were further questioned about the purpose of the cache, they confessed that they had killed a black rhino inside the national park.

“On the same day, the first and second accused led us to the direction where they had shot and killed a black rhino. On arrival we found the carcass of a rhino in a decomposing state,” testified Asst Insp Manyangadze.

The trial was adjourned to April 14, 2014.
Three weeks ago, a Zambian poacher escaped death by a whisker in Hwange National Park after rangers caught him packing elephant tusks worth $15 000.

He was in the company of 11 Zambians who are on the run for various poaching offences.
Zimbabwe is home to the world’s fourth largest black rhino population after South Africa, Namibia and Kenya. According to Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife website, only 450 black rhinos remain in the country’s national parks and private game reserves.

The renewed poaching activity has been driven primarily by Asian markets where the rhino horn is not only used as a “blood purifier” to treat the symptoms of over-indulging in alcoholic beverages and rich foods, but is also rumoured to be a cure for life threatening diseases such as cancer.

In addition, many Asians purchase rhino horns for gifts and as a symbol of status.
The use of powdered rhino horn to reduce fevers remains a traditional remedy in countries like China.

 

 

15 – LARGE CARNVORES IN DECLINE

More than three quarters of large carnivores now in decline, BBC, 10 January 2014

Three quarters of the world’s big carnivores – including lions, wolves and bears – are in decline, says a new study. A majority now occupy less than half their former ranges according to data published in the journal, Science. The loss of this habitat and prey and persecution by humans has created global hotspots of decline.

The researchers say the loss of these species could be extremely damaging for ecosystems the world over. The authors say that in the developed world, most carnivorous animals have already succumbed to extinction. When they looked at 31 big meat eaters, they found that they were under increasing pressure in the Amazon, South East Asia, southern and East Africa.

“Globally, we are losing our large carnivores,” said lead author Prof William Ripple from Oregon State University. “Their ranges are collapsing. Many of these animals are at risk of extinction, either locally or globally. Human tolerance of these species is a major issue for conservation”.

The researchers say their work highlights the important ecological role of many of these carnivores. When they looked at wolves and cougars in Yellowstone National Park in the US, they found that having fewer of these big predators resulted in an increase in animals that browse such as elk and deer. While this might seem like good news, the researchers found that the rise of these browsers is bad for vegetation and disrupts the lives of birds and small mammals, leading to a cascade of damaging impacts. Similar effects were seen all over the world.

The rise of olive baboons in Africa has been linked to the decline of lions and leopards. But the baboons now pose a bigger threat to farm crops and livestock than elephants.

Paying the price

The scientists say that much of the problem comes from an old fashioned notion that predators are harmful and just a threat to other wildlife. The authors say there needs to be a rapid recognition of the complex roles these carnivores play and how much they are worth in economic terms. And when people try to replicate the services provided by these animals, they aren’t as effective. “Human tolerance of these species is a major issue for conservation,” Prof Ripple said. “We say these animals have an intrinsic right to exist, but they are also providing economic and ecological services that people value.”

Among the services of value that have been documented in other studies are carbon sequestration, biodiversity and disease control. When large carnivores are re-introduced, such as with wolves in Yellowstone, the ecosystems tend to respond rapidly. “I am impressed with how resilient the Yellowstone ecosystem is. It isn’t happening quickly everywhere, but in some places, ecosystem restoration has started,” Prof Ripple explained.

The authors argue that there needs to be an international initiative to conserve these larger carnivorous species in a peaceful co-existence with humans. They believe that the Large Carnivore Initiative for Europe, a group affiliated with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), could be a role model for saving these species in the future.

 

 

16 – RESEARCH FEEDBACK

Jaws and claws in the Matobo Hills: Dambari Wildlife Trust’s Small Carnivore Survey

Nicky Pegg, Senior Researcher, Dambari Wildlife Trust

 

There is surprisingly little detailed information published about small mammalian carnivores in Zimbabwe. Reay Smithers did an extensive study outside Harare some decades ago, and Netty Purchase, through the Zambezi Society, carried out a questionnaire survey in the Zambezi Basin (published in 2007). Frequently overlooked but critical in the ecosystem, small carnivores were flagged as a priority group at a “conservation across boundaries” workshop hosted by Dambari Wildlife Trust (DWT) in 2011. I secured funding to carry out a survey across the Matobo Hills from the International Foundation for Science and the project commenced in February this year. The focus is on smaller carnivores (caracal and smaller), but we are collecting data for all species.

 

The first stop was the Natural History Museum in Bulawayo to obtain historical data on presence and distribution of carnivores. The Museum holds records for collected specimens and visual sightings, but I was unprepared for the paucity of data from the Matobo area (just 119 records for 20 species). Rather than being discouraged, we took this as an indication that a formal survey will greatly improve our knowledge of the Hills.

 

The aims of the project are not simply to create a species inventory; we are also (i) investigating the distribution of species across the West-East rainfall gradient, (ii) determining if there’re detectable differences in species presence and abundance in different land uses and (iii) assessing levels of conflict with residents of the Hills. If enough data are obtained, we can also begin to look at habitat associations as a way to identify conservation needs. I am keen to get as much information as possible from as many sources as possible, so please consider filling in and returning the attached sheet with information concerning sightings of carnivore species in the Hills, particularly covering the past 5 years. We are also gathering formal data from people (via structured interviews) and using camera traps to obtain independently verifiable data.

 

Theophilus Mudzindiko, an attachment student from Chinhoyi University of Technology, carried out close to 80 interviews along a 65 km East-West transect and we’re just under half-way through the camera trap component of the project. Species reported by interviewees or detected by cameras are shown in Table 1.

 

Unsurprisingly, those species most likely to impact on people’s livelihoods were reported most often during interviews: jackals (both species), genets (primarily the rusty-spotted), African wild cat, slender mongoose, striped polecat and the larger species – leopard and spotted hyaena. Civet and serval were only reported in wildlife areas and commercial farmland and the nocturnal white-tailed and Selous’ mongooses were reported by fewer than five people. Caracal was reported for the National Park and wildlife areas, commercial cattle farms, resettlement areas and just to the East of the National Park in the communal lands. Three respondents reported painted hunting dogs in the eastern section of the hills. These are probably dispersing packs, but it is encouraging to know that the Hills provide a movement corridor for this species.

 

Spotted hyaenas seem to be on the increase, or are at least extending their range eastwards. Paul Hubbard emailed me in February to say that they had heard spotted hyaenas calling near Amalinda Camp for the first time. A quarter of people interviewed reported spotted hyaenas, and several reported livestock losses. Interestingly, the rhino monitoring programme (using camera traps) in the National Park has been operational since 2011, and in June 2013 we obtained the first photographs of spotted hyaenas at two sites in the Park. Whether they’re there to stay remains to be seen.

 

Table 1: Species recorded as being present in the northern Matobo Hills (from Biodiversity Foundation for Africa, unpublished data and F. Cotterill, pers. comm.) and those detected during this survey. Scientific names are those used in the IUCN Redlist, 2013.

Family and common names Scientific name Museum records (BFA unpublished data / Cotterill, pers. comm.) Interviews (this survey) Camera traps

(this survey)

Canidae        
Painted hunting dog Lycaon pictus    
Side-striped jackal Canis adustus
Black-backed jackal Canis mesomelas
Mustelidae        
Clawless otter Aonyx capensis
Honey badger Mellivora capensis
Striped polecat Ictonyx striatus  
Viverridae        
Civet Civettictis civetta
Small-spotted genet Genetta genetta  
Rusty-spotted genet Genetta maculata
Herpestidae        
Selous’s mongoose Paracynictis selousi
Slender mongoose Herpestes sanguineus
Meller’s mongoose Rhynchogale melleri  
White-tailed mongoose Ichneumia albicauda
Water mongoose Atilax paludinosus    
Banded mongoose Mungos mungo
Dwarf mongoose Helogale parvula  
Protelidae        
Aardwolf Proteles cristatus  
Hyaenidae        
Brown hyaena Hyaena brunnea
Spotted hyaena Crocuta crocuta    
Felidae        
Cheetah Acinonyx jubatus  
Leopard Panthera pardus
Caracal Caracal caracal  
Serval Leptailurus serval
African wild cat Felis sylvestris cafra  
TOTALS   20 22 16

 

It is encouraging to note that all species known to have occurred in the Matobo Hills historically are still present. By the end of the project, I hope to be able to provide an indication of relative abundance, which can be used as a baseline for future monitoring.

 

I will update information about this project on Dambari Wildlife Trust’s Facebook page as the project develops, and a full report will be available at the end of the pilot phase (early to mid-2014). In the meantime, I would appreciate any information concerning carnivores in the Matobo Hills region – either via the attached info sheet which can be emailed or more informally via email.

 

And finally, a big thank you to those (too numerous to list here) who’ve already participated in the project or allowed us access to their properties for interviews / camera trap deployment.

 

 

Dambari Wildlife Trust

Small Carnivore Survey of the Matobo Hills

Information / sighting sheet

 

If you have any details of carnivores in the Matobo Hills area, particularly within the past 5 years, please email them to me (antelope@dambari.com). The following information would be of great assistance – please provide as much detail as you can. I’ve filled in one row as an example.

 

 

 

 

Species Record type

(Visual, heard, spoor, other sign)

When seen

(Date or Month and year)

Locality

(GPS or map grid reference or description)

Habitat

(e.g. woodland / riverine / vlei / dam / grassland, etc)

Time seen

(actual time or dawn, morning, midday, afternoon, dusk, night)

Number seen Age and sex (if known) Comments
Slender mongoose Visual 19 June 2013 GPS (dec deg): 20.502429 °S

28.282558 °E

Dense woodland 2 pm 1 Adult Ran across road.
                 
                 
                 
                 

 

17 – RAINFALL

At the end of the season, the total rainfall recorded in the Matopos was as follows –

Western Matopos 799mm, Central Matopos 822mm and Eastern Matopos 877mm.

 

18 – CONDOLENCES

Long standing Matobo Conservation Society member JOY KETS passed away on Sunday 23rd March.  Her memorial service was held on Thursday 27th March at 3:30pm at the Hillside Methodist Church

 

Joy will be remembered for her passion for conservation and immense knowledge of trees, birds and wildlife.  Her quiet contribution to wildlife education was huge, and she leaves behind many past pupils who have benefited

 

19 –WORLD ENVIRONMENT DAY

Date                                         8th June 2014

Venue                                       Maleme Rest camp

Meet                                        8:15am to leave by 8:30am, Cresta Churchill Arms

Travel                                      All vehicles.

Details                                     Provide own chairs, tables, meals and drinks. Don’t forget your hat!

This is always our least supported event of the year – and we can appreciate that it is not appealing doing some manual labour. But, this is what we are about – making a difference to our Matopos environment. So if you can’t manage the work, bring a labourer or gardener along! We aim to do a clean-up at Maleme Rest Camp, and eradicate the various exotic cacti that have become entrenched there. So come along and support the cause!