MATOBO CONSERVATION SOCIETY
NEWSLETTER 089 – NOVEMBER 2014
1 – SUMMER TIME
As always we seemed to swing in a day or two from winter to summer. Just when the last leaves have fallen, and the veldt looks grey and exceedingly dry, the sudden rise in temperatures sees the sap rising, and fresh foliage begins to break through. The first out were the Brachystegia in their multitude of colours, and the brilliant fresh green mahogany’s, followed by the Acacia (with A’ robusta being the first to flower), and then there is steady profusion of both foliage and flowers. It seems impossible that such abundance should spring forth as the temperatures continue to rise into October, and the dry winds still blow across the land. But nature has followed this same routine year in and year out, and the vegetation stands ready to receive the rains when they arrive in November. Insects begin to fill the night sky, cicada’s start their shrill cry in the forests, and a few brave frogs start their evening calls. The night jars start their calls, as our summer migrant’s return. It all continues to build until it reaches a crescendo with the first rains, when the evening air literally comes alive. But for now in October we have to endure the hot temperatures and the annoying Mopane Bees as we watch the north-western horizon for the first rains.
2 – MATOBO PARK NEWS
Your Society has been busy having new signage made, for both Parks and Museums, and these have been erected in the Park. The major signs are done, and the project is ongoing. We especially thank Paul who has erected the signs in the park. The new signs all follow a set design, featuring the logos of UNESCO, World Heritage, National Museums and Monuments, National Parks and the Matobo Conservation Society. We hope that they will contribute to a cleaner and more respected Park!
PPC Zimbabwe has donated old conveyor belts to the Park to be made into fire beaters. The Park is gearing up for the fire season, which if not controlled, will be severe due to all the growth in the grass and other vegetation following the good rains.
Work on the Game Park fence is ongoing with steady progress. The damage from the rains has been repaired, and the fence is “marching on”. Your Society has made a further donation to this worthy cause, as is recognised on the sponsors’ panel at the Sandy Spruit gate.
Unfortunately whilst initial repairs to the roads have been undertaken, this area remains a significant challenge for the Park. Nsvatuke and Bambata remain essentially closed to the average visitor.
There was an incident involving horses at Maleme. Parks attended to the matter in a professional manner, and the horses have been removed. However, visitors are frequently asked not to feed animals in the Park, but still do so. The result is always an accident! The same problem is now developing with monkeys and baboons at Maleme. So, please, don’t feed the animals!
3 – MUSEUM NOTES
The NMMZ has restored and re-erected the display panels at World’s View. This was made possible through various donations, and the 13 panels are both informative and professional.
4 – CALENDAR 2014
Herewith the proposed dates for the 2014 field trips –make a note in your diary!
- Sun 26th October Trees with meg Coates-Palgrave
- Sun 30th November Rhodes Stables
- 11th – 15th March Matopos Heritage MTB
As we approach the New Year let us have your suggestions and requests for outings in 2015.
5 – NEXT EVENT
Date 26th October 2014
Venue Trees with Meg Coates-Palgrave
Meet 8:00am to leave by 8:00am, Churchill Arms
Travel All vehicles, trucks preferred.
Details Provide own chairs, tables, meals and drinks. Don’t forget your hat!
We have been given the opportunity to have a field trip with Meg Coates-Palgrave, and so your committee has changed the date of our next outing from early November to 26th October. Those who wish leave earlier and so avoid the dust of the Old Gwanda Road can find their way to Camp Dwala on the Sunday morning. This is a great opportunity to learn more about our wonderful botanical heritage.
Last October we held a field trip that was devoted to trees and it proved rewarding. Now we will have the chance to walk and talk with the one of the region’s experts. On her last visit to the Matopos Meg was able to confirm some interesting finds, so we may yet discover something new on this outing.
For those who want to enjoy a full week-end out, accommodation is available at Camp Dwala on Saturday 25th with a society braai in the evening. There will be an afternoon walk on the Saturday, and an early walk on the Sunday, before the main body of folk arrive. Please contact the Chairman for accommodation details, which includes the option to camp.
6 – REPORT BACK
Around thirty members assembled at the Matopo Mission on Sunday 17th August to go in search of the Sabafu Hill Ruins. A further drive down the Old Gwanda road, and then an abrupt turn onto a small track. Members clambered out of their cars, and then set off to climb the nearby Sabafu Hill, with the ruins located about half way up. Some members stuck to the dwala, enjoying the fine views, others ploughed into the undergrowth to seek out any new walls and treasures! The real treasure came later, when sitting on the rock adjacent to the ruins, Paul Hubbard was able to share his insights about the site.
We then journeyed down to Gulubaghwe cave, and again Paul shared his knowledge. Thereafter, under the shade of the Mnondo (Julbanardia globiflora) forest we enjoyed our picnic lunch in superb weather.
After lunch a third walk was arranged for the fit, this time to visit the little known Cave of the Fish, also situated on Gulubaghwe hill. The paintings were rewarding, and provoked further debate.
And then it was time to wind our way home.
7 – NEW RHODES MATOBO COMMITTEE APPOINTED
The Parks and Wildlife Management Authority board of directors has constituted a new committee for the Rhodes Matobo region, mandated to ensure effective wildlife management in the protected areas of the Matopos and other surrounding areas.
The committee will be chaired by prominent businessman Mr Wilson Mutinhima. Other members include Zimbabwe Institute of Management and Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce Matabeleland region past President Mr Charles Chiponda, former Zanu-PF Bulawayo Province spokesman Mr Effort Nkomo and the wife of Zanu-PF Matabeleland South provincial chairman Mr Andrew Langa, Mrs Clara Langa.
A letter of appointment, signed by Parks and Wildlife Authority board chairman Mr Alvin Dumisani Ncube to one of the committee members said the new members were appointed following the reconstruction of the main board.
“I am pleased to inform you in terms of Section 11 of the 12th Schedule of the Parks and Wildlife Act, Cap 20:14, you have been appointed with immediate effect as Member of Rhodes Matobo Committee for the next four years. This comes pursuant to the recent reconstruction of the Parks and Wildlife Management Authority board of directors,” read a letter by Mr Ncube.
A spokesman of the board said their main aim was to protect wildlife in the Matopos National Park especially the rhinos. “We will continue to work towards protecting wildlife in our areas of jurisdiction,” said the spokesperson
8 – THE MATOPOS GAME PARK FENCE
The new fence that has been erected around the Game Park is now proceeding down the Kezi Road, with as little as 15km’s to go before being completed.
It is hoped that the project will not end there, but can then be directed to the remainder of the National Park. Admittedly this is a much bigger task, but fencing in some key valleys will produce fast and effective results.
9 – MATOPOS CLASSIC
The annual Matopos Classic MTB event was successfully held between 5th to 7th September. Riders were attracted from Natal, Harare and Francistown. The routes again proved to be challenging and scenic, but the highlight was the burst of fresh foliage on the Brachystegia tamarindoides. Whole hillsides became a painter’s pallet with colours ranging from deep ruby red through bronze, orange to lime and yellow, and a few fresh green trees in between. Even the most determined rider had to stop to feast on the outstanding painted scenery.
A cyclist lost a cell phone on the one day, but within a week it had been found by local children and handed in to the Police, and so recovered!
10 – MCS APPAREL
You are reminded that the Society has a stock of fleece sleeveless jackets, in olive green with orange MCS logo. They are ideal for the cool mornings and evenings. These are available at $20 each. We still have stocks of hats and caps (at $10 each). CD’s are also available.
11 – WORLD RHINO DAY
World Rhino Day was celebrated on 22 September. A special musical gala was arranged by Girls College at the Zimbabwe Academy of Music to celebrate the event, and a member of National Parks, Mr Samuel Nkomo started a “Walk for Rhino” from the Matopos to Victoria Falls to draw attention to the plight of the animals.
SOUTH AFRICAN RHINOS TO BE EVACUATED FROM KRUGER NATIONAL PARK
In recent years Kruger National Park has had to recruit more guards to protect rhinos against illegal poaching
Hundreds of rhinos are to be evacuated from South Africa’s Kruger National Park to save them from poachers.
The move, which is part of a plan to curb illegal hunts for rhino horn, was announced by the environment Minister. Park authorities said they could relocate up to 500 rhinos, which can each weigh more than a tonne.
South Africa is home to more than 80% of Africa’s rhinos. Illegal poaching has risen sharply from 13 in 2007 to 1,004 in 2013. Environment Minister Edna Molewa said the relocations from the Kruger National Park, coupled with the creation of “rhino strongholds”, could “allow the total rhino population size of South Africa to continue to grow.”
“South Africa, with its large rhino populations, has borne the brunt of rhino poaching. We remain confident that our efforts in implementing the integrated strategic approach will build on our successful track record of conserving rhino,” she said. The rhinos may be moved to other areas of lower poaching rates such as state-owned or private nature parks, areas within the Kruger Park closer to the Mozambique border, or even to neighbouring countries, according to the minister.
The new initiative will be supported by the South African government’s Security Cluster to work on tougher penalties for those caught hunting rhinos illegally. The famed Kruger National Park, which is of a similar size to Wales or Israel, is thought to be home to as few as 8,400 white rhinos. Park authorities said Kruger was the biggest target for poaching in the region, with more rhinos killed there each year than anywhere else in South Africa. Although international trade in rhino horn has been illegal since 1977, demand remains high in some Asian countries, where it is used both in traditional medicine and as a symbol of wealth.
12 – CAN DRONES HELP TACKLE AFRICA’S WILDLIFE POACHING?
By Matthew Wall Business reporter, BBC News 21 July 2014
An eye in the sky that can help catch wildlife poachers is the dream of many conservationists in Africa.
That dream is closer to becoming a reality thanks to rapid advances in Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), or drone, technology. Ol Pejeta Conservancy, a Kenyan 90,000-acre reserve specialising in protecting white and black rhinos, has teamed up with San Francisco-based tech company Airware, which specialises in drone autopilot systems. “With the blessing of the Kenya Wildlife Service we did 10 days of testing,” Robert Breare, Ol Pejeta’s chief commercial officer, told the BBC.
Rangers at the base could operate the drone via two laptops, one showing a map tracking the flight path, the other showing the UAV’s point of view through a high-definition camera. Thermal imaging cameras meant the drone could also fly at night, with the operators clearly differentiating the shapes of animals. They could even see how the elephants’ trunks changed temperature as they sucked up water from a trough. With a wingspan of less than a metre, the catapult-launched drone flew at an altitude of about 500 feet. “You hardly see or notice it,” he says. “We don’t want to startle the wildlife… or the tourists.”
Jonathan Downey, Airware’s chief executive, says: “At one point during testing a tractor severed the ethernet cable so we lost all communications with the aircraft. “It was able to work this out then fly back to base. When it didn’t receive any further instructions it landed by itself.” Mr Breare envisages drones complementing, rather than replacing, the sniffer dogs and teams of armed, GPS-tagged rangers connected by a digital radio system. But while this trial was deemed a success, both parties acknowledge that much more work needs to be done.
“The operating and autopilot systems worked flawlessly and were easy to operate,” says Mr Breare, “but finding an airframe that was robust enough for the environment proved difficult.”
Rangers need all the help they can get in the fight against poachers. Killing elephants for their tusks and rhinos for their horns has become an illicit multi-million dollar business, with demand particularly high in Asia.
And the trade is threatening Africa’s lucrative wildlife tourism industry. “South Africa’s Kruger National Park is ground zero for poachers,” says Crawford Allan, spokesman for the World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) crime technology project. “There are 12 gangs in there at any time. It’s almost like a war zone.” “With a kilo of rhino horn selling for around $60,000 (£35,000), a big specimen can fetch $250,000,” says Mr Breare. “Security is a very significant part of our operating budget and this has escalated over the last two years because of increases in the price of ivory and rhino horn. “We estimate we’ve had to spend an additional $2m to protect the rhino that we have,” he told the BBC.
‘No silver bullet’
But drones are not the whole answer, most experts agree. “They’re not a silver bullet,” says Mr Breare. “Trying to find the small shape of a poacher in a 90,000-acre park is still difficult, even with high-spec night time and thermal imaging.” Mr Downey also admits that developing an airframe that is both light and strong enough to withstand Africa’s rugged landscapes is still a challenge, especially when cost will be an issue for many game reserves. While the “brains” of the drone weigh just 100g, the batteries required to power it for long-duration surveillance missions are heavy, meaning the airframe has to be bigger, and therefore more costly.
Smaller, cheaper drones come with a typical battery life of 30-90 minutes, but large game reserves “really need drones that can fly for six to eight hours,” says Mr Breare. Airware’s Mr Downey estimates that drones for anti-poaching will ultimately cost $50,000-$70,000. Higher-specification long-range drones can cost upwards of $250,000. There is also further development needed around software that can automatically detect different animal species and count them, Mr Downey says.
On an African plain in the dead of night, poachers can remain invisible to rangers just 100m away.
So hand-launched drones with night vision can provide a very useful extra pair of eyes, says Scott “LB” Williams, founder and director of the Reserve Protection Agency (RPA), a not-for-profit technology consultancy.
But even when the poachers have been located, GPS-tracked rangers still have the dangerous task of arresting or seeing off the gangs who are often heavily armed and funded by organised crime syndicates.
About 1,000 rangers have been killed over the last 10 years trying to protect wildlife, the Game Rangers Association of Africa estimates. So the RPA has been experimenting with integrating a range of technologies on the Amakhala game reserve in South Africa’s Eastern Cape. “We’ve designed our own tracking tag incorporating RFID