Project Update June 2008
June saw Jealous and I making yet another trip to Starvation island to check on the welfare of the three remaining dogs. Edward Muchuchuti is still the main representative in the field, however it was time for us to make the trip, which for once went without any undue drama. With the support of the national parks base at Tashinga, we camped on the island for a few days, so that we could really assess the performance of the dogs as well as determine if Arrow was pregnant or not. Happily it was clear that the dogs were in good shape. The water level of the lake had risen since the last visit in May, however the dogs seemed to be coping and clearly managing to feed themselves. It was disappointing though to see that Arrow was not showing any sign of being pregnant. Early June is the "normal" denning time for dogs and so she should have looked very pregnant. It is possible that she did not come into season in March, due to the presence of the then alpha female Notch. Now, with Notch out of the equation, Arrow could come into season and have a late litter. Edward remained on the island and will report to me towards the end of the month on this.
Back in Hwange we have been very busy following up on an increased number of sightings. The pack sizes are small, generally the sightings are of only 3 dogs, however it's encouraging to see them filling the void left by the demise of the Umtchibi pack. One pack are certainly denned on the edge of Hwange NP and we will monitor their progress from a distance until the time is right to move in for a closer look. With this in mind we have been training up "new Jealous". Not that Jealous is going anywhere. It has become clear that he is having to cover so many different areas, it simply makes sense to have other guys trained who can work under his instruction and thus cover the areas that he can't.
With the election fever refusing to diminish, June has been a busy month for the Children's Bush Camp. Aware that schools would once gain close early, we pushed through as many classes as we could, so that the children we deal with would not miss their life time experience of attending our camp. The team, led by Wilton, worked over time but with great success and we achieved our goals again. We will now wait to resume the schedule of visits in July, before the schools close again for their annual winter break.
Anti poaching work has continued its relentless struggle against the persistent threat that refuses to go away. With the Zimbabwe economy in complete free fall, the official inflation rate is over 150,000%, while may say it has actually topped 1 million percent, the poaching menace will, at the very least remain, if not increase. Our APU Supervisor, Bonifacr Manda, is a professional and continues with his strategic deployment of our two units plus Martin Stiemers All for AP unit. Many arrests were made in June and lobbying of the Magistrates continues by many stakeholders in an effort to have the sentences for poaching increased.
We are well aware that simply arresting poachers is not good enough and that the issues driving the poaching need to be addressed. We certainly do our share of this, however the task is enormous. Other organisations are playing their part and we were delighted to play host to an old friend, Barty Pleydell-Bouverie and his colleagues who are undertaking a sponsored cycle ride (www.cycleoflife2008.com) from Namibia to Kenya. Despite the obvious issues prevailing in Zimbabwe, Barty felt that it was so important for his team to visit PDC and illustrate how effective a conservation project can be through our community based work in particular. Jealous and Manda acted as escorts, meeting up with the cyclists outside Bulawayo and bringing them safely through to PDC. We were honoured by the visit and enjoyed a few good days before seeing the team safely on their way.
July will almost certainly bring new challenges.