First note is: I still need to add one more post from the trip, relating to the orphanage in Gweru. But I want to add a retrospective bit to it, so I need access to photos I have taken 9 months ago. But as I want to post a new note now, using that I have a bit of time on my hands, I will make a summary here.
I got back home after 3 days of travelling: left Gweru by bus, talked most of the way with some random nice guy I met on the bus, and got to Harare past 22:00, after 5 hour journey. Scary, it was dark as hell and I hate not being the driver in such circumstances. I slept at a very small lodge, slash someone’s house, read half a wonderful book about elephants and at 9 am the next day was driven to the airport, where I had a couple of coffees, bought two nice small paintings and got onto my first plane without any disturbances. The lights on Harare failed to work, though, so they kept us in the plane for over an hour before they allowed us to take off. Anyway, it was a nice, short journey, less than 2 hours, to Johannesburg.
After some shopping in Johannesburg, I got onto my second flight, to Frankfurt, on a brand new Lufthansa Airbus A380, I love them. I sat with a guy from France, who, surprise, surprise, spoke NO English, and a nice lady with a 4month old baby in a cot. I slept most of the time, anyway.
After this long flight, we landed, I drugged myself on some more coffees and got onto my last flight to Gdansk. Wonderful airport approach, just over the Old City, which was picturesque and I could see all of the Tricity, perfect thing! Greeted by my Mom and my dog, I finished the last trip.
2,500 km, 21 days
Biggest highlights: Ngamo pride, Hwange elephants, Matopos National Park, living next to a waterhole in Victoria Falls
Biggest disappointment: Great Zimbabwe (no difference from the last time)
I solemnly promise there will be more posts coming relating to the trip, that is:
All right, so what do you do at Antelope Park after all the hard work, wallowing in cow intestines, and shovelling shit? Obviously, it is time for some fun time!
My personal highlight is horses! And this involves a lot, apart from game rides, lunar rides, bit of racing and polocrosse (the best sport on earth!)
Yet another highlight is absolutely the people and all the parties, but I am not going to publish any photos without everyones consent (though some hilarious haircut ideas SHOULD be published – do not drink unconscious with girls around!)
And now my favourite sleeping buddy – Charlie! (I had to put his photo somewhere, so here it is!)
Obviously, there is many more fun activities, like elephant rides, elephant training, etc, but the above are my personal highlights (and also I’m half falling asleep today). As a little treat at the end, my personal favourite photo from this trip that you can feel free to download and wallpaper it – it is also currently one of my desktop pictures. Thumbnail below is not of very good quality, but a better quality version can be found below, just open it separately. I’m computer handicapped and can’t do it properly.
Making use of finally proper internet connection I have at home, another post on the loveliest animals in the world (lions, obviously). This time the post will refer mostly to Ngamo Realease Site but first – what the hell is this about?
Reason 1: lions are in extreme decline.
Historically, the modern lion was distributed throughout the Mediterranean, the Near & Middle East as far as India, and all of Africa. They were eliminated from their last European strongholds in Greece by 100 A.D. but survived until the 12th century in Palestine and the 20th century in Syria, Iran and Iraq. The last reliable sighting of lion in Iran was in 1941.
The Asiatic lion subspecies now only exists as a population of around 400 in and around the Gir Forest of north western India.
In Africa, lions were extinct in Tunisia in 1891 and in Algeria in 1893. The last “Barbary lion” of northern Africa was shot in 1920 although they may have survived in the High Atlas Mountains until the 1940s. The last wild “Cape lion” of South Africa was shot in 1850.
Reduced numbers of lions are still present north of South Africa and Namibia and south of the equator. North of the equator they are found in a narrow belt south of the Sahara desert on the western side and extending further south to link with the southern hemisphere population on the eastern side of the continent.
Myers (1975) wrote, “Since 1950, [lion] numbers may well have been cut in half, perhaps to as low as 200,000 in all or even less”. Later, Myers (1984) wrote, “In light of evidence from all the main countries of its range, the lion has been undergoing decline in both range and numbers, often an accelerating decline, during the past two decades”. In the early 1990s, IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group members made educated “guesstimates” of 30,000 to 100,000 for the African lion population.
All taken from Lion Alert website, have a look for more info: http://www.lionalert.org/page/view/page/historical-status-of-lions
Reason 2: all current, ongoing rehabilitation projects do not meet the high demand for more lions in the wild. Estimates are now appealing – up to roughly 36,000 individuals. Lion that once roamed all over Africa, and many parts of Asia, is now limited to a few National Parks, etc. Kenya admitted that with current decrease levels they will have no lions in 20 years. And you know what – Lion King was based in Kenya. What the hell happened?
Relocation of existing lions is not enough – there is simply not enough animals in the wild to do this. And taking half a successful pride and sending them somewhere else results in having two medium-successful prides. This is not a mean!
Reason 3: it is all our fault. Destroying natural habitat, lion-human conflict, poaching, hunting… all these. In some places it is easier to buy a lion claw souvenir than stupid sun-screen! And out of 10 human-lion conflicts, 9 are fatal for the lions. We’re dangerous, and apparently unstoppable.
All looks very gloomy for the lion, doesn’t it? But fortunately, there are still people that want to change it. And that’s where ALERT comes in place.
The African Lion and Environmental Research Trust (ALERT) is dedicated to the facilitation and promotion of sound conservation and management plans for the African lion (Panthera leo). By means of a responsible development approach we aim to realize the species’ potential to provide substantial social, cultural, ecological and economic benefits.
Sounds mysterious, but the plan is: produce wild lions.
This is not easy – wild lion is defined by ‘hunting for itself’, ‘being taught to hunt by its power’, ‘living in a sustainable pride’ ‘having natural human avoidance’, etc. So breeding cubs and letting them go is not a valid method. It will result in having more dead lions, as they will not be afraid of humans and won’t fend for themselves. And this is where action comes in place. ALERT, that is.
ALERT has developed a 4 stage rehabilitation plan.
STAGE 1: breed lions, take them from their mothers, and expose them. If they would stay with their mothers in the enclosures, they would grow up afraid of the world. Humans thus replace the pride for the cubs, taking them for walks and giving them every mean to mature and learn about the world. These lions start to hunt naturally – their instincts are thousands of times stronger than ours (you can never tame a lion). By the age of 18 months, they are too big to walk them. So they are exposed to the night – their natural hunting environment. They follow a vehicle until they see game – and chase begins. If successful – wonderful. During all their lives they are carefully monitored – the aim is to have their CVs available for further stages.
STAGE 2: All cub data is being looked at, and a ‘perfect pride’ is formed – strong, good-father male with perfect genes, some hunter females, some mother females, dominant female to keep everything going… And the pride, after some bonding period, is released into a 5000 acre area, where they have to hunt for themselves and where there is no human contact. Currently, stage 2 lions of Ngamo Release site are happily caring after 5 cubs – cubs which when they will grow up, will be fully wild lions.
STAGE 3: Basically same as stage 2, but bigger, 10000 acre area plus the presence of competitive species. In stage 3 all the human-bred lions will die natural death. Their offspring will form a pride (plus additions from other release sites, to avoid inbreeding)
STAGE 4: Hakuna Matata – and release into the wild.
And many critics it has, ALERT is successful. I have seen it, and here is my proof.
As I’m terribly late with all the posts, my first statement is that I’m back home, have slept 14 hours straight after travelling for over two days and have uploaded all the photos I was supposed to. Yet, I’m coming to describe my last two weeks of the trip, which ran a lot too fast.
I arrived at Antelope Park on Saturday to start my volunteering experience. It was my second time there, and immediately I felt I was where I should be.
This Saturday, apart from some induction sessions, was continued in the city, where after a bit of shopping we went to the Mkoba Boys Orphanage which changed tremendously. It was repainted, some renovations took place, and with constant help of Antelope Park I saw those young boys now having a chance – they were breeding chickens for sale, and a vegetable garden was just being built. (do you build a garden? started, anyway). It was lovely to see.
My day was highlighted by a walk with lions that I haven’t seen for 9 months, Lewa and Laili. I could post hundreds of photos of them, but here’s a sample.
After a series of inductions, the work began split evenly between lion-related and not, out of which some things are pleasant, some are not. I will give a few words on the usual activities in a second, but first I must say I’ve seen Paza and Penya after 9 months and they’re huge and much more mature and are doing very well!
So, these are my babies for the time being.
Most frequent activities in the park:
1. Water/BPG – cleaning enclosures and bringing water for the fully grown lions
2. Lion feeding, which is highlighted by visits to the butchery, wallowing knee-deep in all the awful (intestines, lungs, etc, non fit for human consumption):
which is fun, apparently, or has to be, otherwise you’d be sick, so there’s lots of jokes and ‘look at this tiny little foot! careful, it’s a baby!’ involved.
All the unpleasant things are mixed nicely with pure-fun activities, such as horse rides, even at night, elephant rides, walks with lions, etc. The next post will involve such highlights. I need to go and unpack, for the time being.
After arriving in Gweru’s Antelope Park we slept the night and next day after breakfast started our journey to Great Zimbabwe, UNESCO heritage site from which the name Zimbabwe (meaning house of stone) originated.
We unfortunately overlooked the spot on the map and drove a few kilometres too far, finding a very picturesque lake on the way, photo below.
After leaving Hwange we drove to Matobo National Park, Matopos in short, a definitely not valued enough spot of Zimbabwe, which made it all better for me, as there were not very many tourists, just a school bus of kids.
Firstly, we stopped at James Cecil Rhodes’ grave, from which a beautiful view is spreading. The colours on the rocks are awesome – it is algae and other flora that makes it so colourful.
Around the spot, there were many interesting lizards. I’ll give them (all reptiles, probably) a separate spot, as I am lacking any book on the subject for the time being, and the one in volunteer lounge here is missing.
The Matopos is generally most well-known as a UNESCO heritage site, because of the cave rock paintings dating something around 40 000 years ago. It was surprising to see no protection apart from some barbed wire around the place, but I believe it’s all financial issues Zimbabwe is going through. With no money for nothing they won’t be protecting some rock paintings, will they? And Matopos is not commercial enough for protection.
Anyway, with some off-road (very off-road!) driving involved – I will be updating videos at a later time, the internet connection is too weak in here, we managed to drive around the park for a couple of hours. In the evening, we reached Antelope Park, finally.
Just for the sake of it, some more photos from Matopos national park: