Of Elephants and Water, Wild Dogs and Birding….

Of Elephants and Water, Wild Dogs and Birding….

May 20th, 2016
We have just spent four intense days at Tsavene… our beautiful but neglected Senuko bush house.

Robyn's photos of our Tsavene house

Robyn’s photos of our Tsavene house and Eland Pan

Waves and waves of buffalo coming to our muddy Tsavene waterhole, and then departing for our Senuko Dam, or nearby Eland pan, desperate for water that we could not supply due to our current economic situation, have stared accusingly at us…

Lin Barrie - buffalo on handmade paper

Lin Barrie – buffalo on handmade paper

The first night brings the crunching of bones and a midnight scuffle, with an early  morning discovery of blood, footprints and drag marks….a young leopard has killed something and pulled it away from the house! Hyena tracks and civet tracks and midden all close by…

Robyn, staying with us, reports peering from her bed and through the upstairs window not the tree branches in the early hours, and feeling like she was looking at a leopard peering back at her. She was!
Kudu, baboons, warthogs and impala mill around the waterhole all day…wishful thinking, although at least there is mud for two huge male warthogs males to relish and roll in….

Teenage male warthogs patrol the sidelines, shoved and vociferously chased by their fierce mums, who now have the younger babies from late last year to engross their energies…

Shame, poor teenagers…a tough time ahead for them, learning to   fend for themselves with less and less water and browse as the dry season progresses…and very vulnerable to predators.

The impala Rams are fiercely rutting, clashing twisted horns, and the bunched females chatting eagerly to each other in anticipation of greeting the victorious males who win their favour !
Dog denning season is nigh and everywhere I drive or walk, I am in anticipation of seeing wild dogs or hearing of a den from the wild dog scouts…

We spend a gorgeous sunset at our Dam ….

Senuko Dam at sunset

Senuko Dam at sunset

robyn in africa

robyn in africa

 

Last night at Tsavene, we decide on an evening sundowner at Eland Pan, after hacking our way through roads blocked by numerous mopping trees felled by elephants…(we should have realized while we were hacking at the logs, that this was a serious warning of Elephants Galore to come!)

The lowering sun and bright nearly full moon, brings us the joy of quietly watching seven Zebra cautiously approach and drink, striped reflections wavering prettily on the water. Distinctive grunts herald the arrival of a herd of 20 or more wildebeests who are slow to accept our still presence but then relax. Five males cavort around the pan, kicking their heels up and chasing each other before drinking thirstily with the females and rubbing their heads on the mud, two or three of them even deciding we are acceptable and enough a part of the scenery for them to start rolling in the damp sand…

Giraffes watch, aloof, from the surrounding fringe of trees.
We smell, then hear the arrival of an elephant…
She materialises suddenly from the bush opposite us and within minutes her herd is following, babies mums and aunties roll majestically in, scattering the wildebeests, and we are awed and taken aback at the endless groups that silently emerge into our view…

Towering over us even from afar as we sit on our matchstick chairs behind the puny log at the opposite edge of the shallow water! Within minutes the world is all elephants, splashing slurping nudging and rumbling as they suck at the water. Their progress around and through the pan towards us is accompanied by the arrival of yet more…and more. We are not prepared for the sheer volumes of grey giants that keep arriving in the dusk to tower in front of us, as we realize we need to be very fast and polite and move out of their way, bow our heads to them…!
Our chairs need to be left in the dust as we silently and rapidly retreat from the gentle tsunami of elephants and cocoon ourselves in the car to watch for a chance to retrieve our chairs without worrying the enveloping beasts too much!
A majestic and HUGE bull arrives. Breathtaking.
A younger bull stands behind a tree close to us, staring, but not too stressed then moves away, giving Glenn and I a chance to slip back and collect our abandoned jackets and chairs.. What a joy to be in the space of such giants and to feel that immense sense of family and communication between them … Our own sense of family is then deepened by the pressing need to preserve ourselves and take immediate evasive action as elephants, unthreatening but in our faces never the less, begin to surround us with their sheer numbers. We rapidly drive away in the cars, giving them the space they need.
Arriving home to Tsavene we set up our fire and sit under the cloudy but brightly moonlit sky to reminisce our elephant experience, when an excited call from our nearby staff quarters gets us dashing for the car to roll down the hill- wild dogs! The staff have heard them twittering and tearing at a kill in the grass surrounding their house! We slowly approach and discover that we have disturbed a feeding pick- they have left a large Impala ram gutted and glistening, at our feet as we tiptoe through the grass. We retreat to give them space to come back, but maybe they won’t…
Back up the hill, eating our own dinner around the fire, we soon hear the staff shout, “they’re back” and we decide to leave them to their meal in peace.
The early hours of the morning after a night of elephant and wild dog dreams, brings the tremendous roar of a male lion very close to our house, answered once by a fellow lion and then gone. Faded into the bright moonlit night.
Dawn shows us the site of the wild dog kill… Nothing left, all gone and the few remains dragged away by a hyena. Is there a pregnant alpha female with this as yet unseen pack? I am tantalized, imagining her puppy-tight belly as she fills herself with life-giving red meat. I so hope they den close by – they are an integral part of our bush life, my muses for painting and dreaming, most loved and welcome co-inhabitants of our wilderness world.

Onto Kyle Recreational Park, where we join Birdlife Zimbabwe for an intense AGM, fine simple food on the fire and fabulous (CHILLY) views…

Girls on a rock...

Girls on a rock…Kelli, Robyn and Lin

with lots of birding…skeins of whiteface ducks overfly us …White faced ducks as a full moon struggles through the cold clouds…

a full african moon, oil on canvas, by Lin Barrie

a full african moon, oil on canvas, by Lin Barrie

Multitudinous tracks and scats of the white rhino are seen, a good nucleus of these special creatures is cared for by the Kyle rangers and helped by SAVE Australia…

white rhino sketch by Lin Barrie

white rhino sketch by Lin Barrie

 

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Of Giant Snails and Tradition; Fire and Totems….

Of Giant Snails and Tradition; Fire and Totems….

In the Southeast lowveld of Zimbabwe, on the Save River, The Chauke Clan totem is the African Giant Snail….

Seen here is a snail shell at Chilo Gorge Safari Lodge on the Save River…

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I never tire of sketching these wild and wonderful mollusks and their shells….

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In the verbal history of the Changana Chauke Clan, living in the lowveld of Zimbabwe in the village of Chief Mahenye, there is a fascinating story told by the elders of how the Giant African snail came to be their totem.

Victor Chauke at Chilo Gorge Safari Lodge has shared his Father’s story with me…as has Clive Stockil….

Back in those far-off days of hunter/gatherer existence, the Chauke family inhabited the Gonarezhou and Save Valley River area. Their Uncles, the Hlungwani family, had the knowledge and use of fire. The Chauke clan did not. Fire was supposed to be their totem- and yet they were deprived of it. By luck and daring, a Chauke clan member managed to collect some fire embers from the rival clan by using an empty giant snail shell as a receptacle for the glowing treasure.

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The Chauke clan celebrated the fact that they had fire in their clan. They could now keep warm and cook their meat, and most importantly they could fire and harden the full-bellied clay pots that the women crafted to carry life-giving water, and cook relish.

Xangana pots, fired and beautifully hardy…..

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Multiple uses of the fabulous fire-hardened pots included brewing of sorghum beer and collection of palm sap for palm wine!

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So- the Chauke family  adopted the Giant snail as their totem –

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…..a creature which “withstood” the fire and also a creature which,  even after a strong bush fire has passed, will eventually creep out of its underground hiding place to emerge victorious over the fire…!!

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Since it is their totem, the Chauke family are not allowed to eat a snail and it is believed that if you eat your totem you will loose your teeth!

So, to this day the Chauke clan do not eat the snail and they use the fire as their slogan when they say ” (iyachisa) mulilo….” in their meetings and gatherings.

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My art reflects the history of the snail shell, fire and pottery, in conjunction with Xangana tradition….watch this space!!!!

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Deeper, and deeper, into Africa!

The HAC Caravan lifts effortlessly and we wing our way over the neat cluster of high rise buildings that puncture Harare’s CBD, surrounded in the south by sprawling fast growing hi-density suburbia- row upon row of little box houses standing in the baking sun- I hope the trees that were razed to accommodate them are soon replaced by home -owners with some vision of a greener shadier place for their children to play…

Flying low over patchwork green and tan centre pivots, I am inspired by the graphic circles – some functioning and some mere relics of intensive rich agriculture…..a few abstract paintings may result…..

Seemingly within minutes, riding higher and hardly noticing the turbulence of the puffy white clouds that we plunge through, we drop over the tumultuous Mavuradona Mountains and into an airstrip in Mana Pools, well kept, with impala waiting to greet us at the end of the runway! A safari vehicle is on hand to whisk some of our passengers to their safari camp and then we are on our way again, two masterful young pilots at the helm giving confidence as we wing our way over mopani scrubland and jutting baobabs. Up and out of the Mana flood plain and towards the Matusadona Hills. First sight of the giant inland Lake Kariba, winking at me on the horizon, is always a thrill. Memories and adrenaline on spotting that awesome body of water from a distance- evoking childhood train rides from Harare to the south coast of Durban and our first excited vision of blue ocean and white rollers.

A quick stop on Kariba airstrip to collect eggs and green vegetables and we take off again. Two stately baobabs, still in leaf from the late rains I guess, and lovingly preserved on the open airstrip, bid us Bon Voyage – underneath one of them two ground hornbills strut, unconcerned by our noisy passing…

fascinating birds to sketch

fascinating birds to sketch

They intrigue and inspire me, whether on the ground or in magnificent white-tipped flight…

Southern ground hornbill

Southern ground hornbill -painting by Lin Barrie, acrylic on canvas,

Flying up the Kariba Lake, we pass Spurwing Island, Fothergill Island and the Sengwe Gorge. I am always enthralled by the vastness of this ‘inland sea’. Mopani-clad mountains flank the sea’s grassy shores, populated by elephants galore, and shallow waters where nurseries of baby fish, herons and crocodiles abound, in turn lead to deep mysterious water, home to Nyami Nyami the river God,

Nyami Nyami

Nyami Nyami

and home to the magnificent fighting tiger fish which set angler’s hearts racing…

gorgeous and fierce tigerfish...

gorgeous and fierce tigerfish…

Bumi Hills Safari Lodge is set high on a hill and we circle around the magnificent view, above Starvation Island and past numerous elephants pottering on the foreshore, waterbuck and impala in deeper grass, to land on the well kept airstrip. Greeted by safari guides and vehicles, and with grateful farewell to our pilots Simon and Adam, we are whisked up to the lodge- I have visited many moons ago but am entranced anew by the warm welcome, the cool facecloth, the gorgeous entrance, and most especially the view forever over the infinity pool to the vast blue-grey lake spread below…

infinity....

infinity….

Tropical gardens and ambience are present in spades. Someone remarks that this could be Mexico!

bright hibiscus at Bumi

bright hibiscus at Bumi

I get a feeling of some of the Florida gardens and poolsides I have seen in boutique hotels in Miami- this being a gentler, more subtle version complete with coconut palm and butterflies on the edge of infinity……

the edge of infinity...

the edge of infinity…

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But this is not Florida, these are African butterflies, dozens of species in one view, plus African vervet monkeys peering from leafy growth, baboons lurking with intent, and inquisitive tree squirrels..

…this is Deeper Africa!

I never tire of sketching baboons...such characters...

I never tire of sketching baboons…such characters…

And the view past the palm tree is of quintessential Africa: herds of elephants on the edge of the lake water…

Elephant sketch by Lin Barrie

Elephant sketch by Lin Barrie

 

Entrancing as the view is and comfortable as the rooms are (each with individually spectacular views), after an anti-poaching debrief by Mark Brightman and his team from Bumi Hills Anti Poaching Unit (BHAPU), we can’t wait to board two boats back down at the waters edge to explore the inlets and submerged trees. Our crew includes Will Smith and Shelley Cox, part of a “Deeper Africa”  initiative called Zimbabwe: Conservation and Culture safari…They have already visited Somalisa Camp in Hwange National Park.

We are accompanied by a journey of journalists and publicists from USA – all part of a tourism initiative to market “Deeper Africa” to American guests who want to get more interest and value out of their African travel- emphasizing community conservation.

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As we leave the harbour a mother hippo and her tiny baby rise to blow and stare at us as we float past, seemingly unthreatened by a nearby crocodile, a LARGE one, who may or may not be watching us as well…..

a joy for me to be on the waters of Kariba again...

a joy for me to be on the waters of Kariba again…

Butterflies again, now a steady stream of golden and black beauties, African monarchs, flutters low over the calm water and all going one way.

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But to where I wonder…I know the Monarchs migrate vast distances in Northern and Central America, but here in Africa I think any migrations are more localized… And apparently there are some usurpers among them, the diadems, who robe themselves in the same vibrant colours to kid would-be predators that they too are poisonous!

Clive Stockil ,winner of the Prince William Award for a Lifetime Achievement in Conservation, takes time to answer penetrating conservation and community questions from the team;

Clive shares his thoughts on conservation...

Clive shares his thoughts on conservation…

Sundown brings cool glasses of wine…

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Fish catching is fun for all-some of us concentrate more on a good glass of wine than actually fishing….Cheers!

Will Smith, with Shelley Cox approaching over the lilac sunset waters…..Will Smith, with Shelley Cox approaching over the lilac sunset waters.....

reflections...

reflections…

My fish is the first of the day- a tiny bream smaller than the worm on my hook that it was trying to swallow! I am happy to see it easily swim away after I detach the hook.

Shelley totally upstages me and catches a large bream..

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After that squeakers galore are hauled in and cautiously released, respect being given to their fierce spines! Or is it always the same enterprising squeaker, returning again and again to the delicious worms offered?!

fisherman in the sunset..

fisherman in the sunset..

 

Goliath heron and a great white patrol the reeds nearby and a fish eagle perches in stately silhouette as the setting sun turns the water first lilac, then gold. As if by signal, as the sun expends its last glow, the surface of gold is suddenly punctuated by hundreds, thousands of tiny rises, kapenta fish leaping gently to break the surface and immediately packs of hunting dragon flies swarm above them. Are they all feeding on tiny gnats or other little things that we can not see?

The boat ride back to shore is in deep cool dusk, the Southern cross and my favourite star Sirius, the Dog Star, bright above us.

Morning brings a sweet sunrise view from my room balcony,

sweet sunrise

sweet sunrise

accompanied by a cup of fresh made filter coffee. Elephants are always visual on this shore in some form or another-a joy and a worry- endangered globally as they are. We need to responsibly protect and nurture these last great pockets of wild- living elephants.

The team dash off after breakfast to view three lions close by and then to walk with the Bumi Hills Anti Poaching Unit, to understand better how that crew of dedicated guys operate.

This is one of the male lions they found, interacting with a female and challenged by another male…..

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I have a tension headache three days old, perhaps a come down after the intense efforts of my recent spray painting job on the aeroplane. So I opt for a neck and back massage, lying prone and listening to the ground hornbills in the distance as Rutendo eases the aches out of my muscles. Bliss.

After that of course I need to retire to my room and shower, and test the view from the bed in daylight…

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Wow! stunning- as I lie on my bed I can see elephants gathering on the foreshore and bathing in the lake. This is truly elephant paradise. Three young bulls spend at least an hour wallowing – I hear the splashing from my high balcony!

Then I jump up and run to the edge of the balcony to get a better look as a high pitched trumpeting announces the arrival of a cow herd. I know that pitch- likely they have a very new calf… And sure enough from the cover of the mopani trees breaks a party of elephants led by a tiny baby running fast! He is hotly pursued by a half grown sibling and his mum, with a dozen others trailing behind!

I realize he is making for two lone elephants who stand a way off towards the waters edge… And his mum seems intent on halting him! Which she soon does- she and the half grown catch up to him and wheel in front of him, blocking his path with their bodies and trunks as he skids to a halt. At the same time the two loners rapidly approach and an elaborate greeting takes place, all circling the little one in their midst and much touching of trunks…is this the first time since his recent birth that he has been introduced to them – or was he running so fast because he knew them from a previous meeting?

the tiny baby is visible in this group....

the tiny baby is visible in this group….to the right of the tight clump of elephants!

It soon becomes obvious that the protective circle will not be allowing him be allowing him near the water edge-they all stay well back and keep him playing in their midst.

I spend the whole morning watching and pondering elephants.

Elephants, elephants, elephants….

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It seems to me that elephants are the really strong thread through the Deeper Africa community conservation theme that we are exploring…of course we are looking at whole ecosystems: wild dogs and baobabs, communities and culture, food and tradition, but in the eventual analysis it is all about SPACE for every link in the chain to exist, and no single animal or plant in that chain needs SPACE more than the iconic elephant.

It is indeed the ‘elephant in the room…!’

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BHAPU224158_181633288553163_3680696_n and VFAPU

are tirelessly protecting elephants…in Victoria Falls/Hwange and Kariba…victoria-falls-anti-poaching-unit-01.jpg

Somalisa Camp in Hwange National Park is known for up close and personal viewing of elephants…

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Gonarezhou National Park, encompassing the magnificent Chilojo Cliffs,  is truly “The Sacred Totem, or Amulet, of the Elephants” as suggested in its native name. Here elephants, giants in themselves, are dwarfed by the towering Chilojo Cliffs as they cross the Runde River…..

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Anthony Kaschula of Gonarezhou Bushcamps gives guests in depth tracking and understanding of these gentle giants in Gonarezhou National Park, Gallery | Gonarezhou Bush Camps.jpg

and Frankfurt Zoological Society provides invaluable support systems to the park management…such as tracker dogs,scout training and field work..

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Chilo Gorge Safari Lodge sits high over the Save River on the edge of Gonarezhou National Park, on the edge of serenity…

Adenium multiflorum blooming at Chilo, Save River in background...

with surreal and fantastic views of elephants from the high decks….as in this photograph by Steph Walton at Chilo…

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This area, part of the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area (GLTFCA), belongs to Chief Mahenye, with a rich cultural history. His Changana Community have historically  been hunter/gatherers, efficient conservationists in their own right and protectors of a vibrant culture of music, dance. beadwork and hut painting.

Here is my large oil painting of a Changana man dancing…

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Changana people use the natural pigments found in the soil, and tree ash, to create stunning hut paintings…gltfca-hunter-hut-painting-lo-res

a traditional fish trap…

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this is the gorgeous beadwork on their dancing skirts…

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Chief Mahenye’s people live daily with elephants, and practice true community conservation..

Gonarezhou…and all our National Parks, are places of endless elephant footprints, elephant history, and hopefully a bright elephant future….!

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A Wild Dog takes to the air!

A Wild Dog takes to the air!

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Months ago I was tickled to receive a request from Dora and Vaughan in Zambia for artwork, to transform their Britten Norman Islander into a flying wild dog!

Of course I said Yes!  What else would I say…

imageI did rough artwork, which looked doggy enough!

front view

This project ticks all my boxes:

*It is public and interactive art, (loving street art and graffiti as I do…)

*It is art that will stimulate discussion and promote tourism and conservation awareness in Southern Africa

*It is art that will indirectly but meaningfully support community development in a Zambian Game Management Area

*It is art in celebration of my favorite animal, the African Wild Dog!

The Islander will fly between Kantunta Lodge, a unique and beautiful spot on the great Kafue river, and Livingstone.

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katuntaKafue Wild Dogs….

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So, a few months later, here we are on the runway at Executive Air, Charles Prince Airport, in Harare…..towing the unsuspecting Islander to her painting hanger…

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Javinos, the master spray painter at Executive Air, has matched a beautiful semi-metallic gold for the first coat of  the Britten Norman Islander..

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We complete the first masking, using thin masking tape, torn brown paper and torn strips of wide masking tape, allowing for the wonderful semi-metallic golden coat colour, and saving for the striking white markings that so many of our Zimbabwean and Zambian dogs have…

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Javinos and I have been high on a scaffold masking the tail, and I have been on my back on a mechanic’s trolley underneath the plane masking the tummy area. Quite a task. (I want her tummy to look as good from underneath as her sides do…)

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Javi does all the bigger areas I have marked-the tail being a special challenge…eventually wrapping the plane totally in brown paper, like a little boy’s dream present! Hard work for the team!

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Javinos starts spraying smoothly from tail to nose tip…two coats of deep dramatic gold on each side of our wild dog plane.

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I can’t wait to eventually unwrap her, but we have to let her first colour dry for more than 24 hours to be sure the base colour is well set for the next masking session by Javi and I …Patience is a virtue…Hunter, the Hanger Cat, hangs out on a tractor seat and waits with us….

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At last, I am able to mask for the black areas…This next masking is a two day marathon…

I have to do lots of CAREFUL planning of the black patches in our dogs coat, thinking about the lie of the fur- (and fondly remembering the gorgeous silky feel of a real wild dogs coat when I helped Clive and Graham remove a wire snare from the neck of our female dog ‘Snare”.….)

I lay torn masking tape strip by strip to get the effects I want (hopefully), and the plane looks like a huge golden parcel – no detail to be seen under the gold spray and the masking!

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The tail masking is very involved…

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Then comes the jet black spray coat. Javi works on high, and Rob Demblon and I plan the flying flag of the dog’s tail!

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Black spray painting done…

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The masking comes off…a long and careful process,

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So exciting, as the dramatic black and white doggy shapes emerge out of the gold…

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We have done a softer gold colour on dogs head and neck – looks perfect!

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the tail looks magnificent!

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I have allowed nice large eyes for our wild dog since she is a girl…!

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Choosing a gorgeous deep red background for the eyes, I want them real, but DRAMATIC!…

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revealing the eye, very pleasing…

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Thrilling….

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and I am happy with the nose as well….

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What a great effort by Javinos, spray painter par excellence!DSC_0024 lo res

Our wild dog exits the spray painting hanger, ready for her next adventure…

 

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She’s off to the main hanger for her final fittings….

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The plane is owned by four lodges: Kaingu, Kantunta, Konkamoya and Mukambi.

Check out SafariTalk for more on the lodges…

The main flying routes will be Lusaka – Chunga, and Livingstone – Ngoma/Chunga. But it will be available for other routes (Lufupa for J&M Safaris) and Busanga for the plains camps. On demand it will also be available for other routes on a charter basis.

The owners of “Wild Dog” are involved in the Kafue Conservation Hub , which seeks to develop the Kafue National Park through a sustainable development strategy that incorporates social and economic development with environmental sustainability. The greater Kafue National Park is one of Africa’s last remaining great wildlife wildernesses. So she is going to have many many adventures……

Kafue Conservation Hub

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Tracker Dogs in Gonarezhou, protecting our elephants…

Chilo Gorge Safari Lodge has a wonderful variety of elephant sightings to offer guests…
From the Lodge and room balconies we often see these gorgeous animals crossing the great Save River….often with tiny babies helped along through deep water by Mum’s or Auntie’s trunk…

One of my sketches, elephants seen on the Save river bank….

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In Gonarezhou National Park (GNP), Zimbabwe, elephant poaching needs to be carefully monitored and managed, since we have seen increased losses of elephants to poachers throughout Zimbabwe.

We want to see the sun keep rising on our elephants, here on the great rivers of Gonarezhou…

Stunning light in this photo by Steph Walton…on the sands of the Save River…….

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Frankfurt Zoological Society has decided to deploy tracker dogs in the field, to track down poachers and help combat elephant poaching.
Edward Hlatshwayo, Promise Kanuka, and Daison Hlelelwa successfully completed a challenging training course, and are now the first three professional dog handlers specialized to track down poachers in Zimbabwe. All three originate from communities adjacent to Gonarezhou. They have formed a great team with dogs Roxy and Samy.
https://fzs.org/en/news/anti-poaching-dogs-introduced-gonarezhou-nationalpark/

Daison Hlelelwa (with Samy) and Edward Hlatshwayo (with Roxy)

Daison Hlelelwa (with Samy) and Edward Hlatshwayo (with Roxy)

 

Excerpts from the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area newsletter:

“Gonarezhou’s elephant population is doing well, management is tackling the potential threat of poaching head on. The budding ranger corps is growing and growing; rising stronger every day to the challenge of protecting Zimbabwe’s iconic wildlife.

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Already, over half of neighbouring Mozambique’s elephant population has been lost in the past five year. Furthermore, the 2014 Pan-African elephant survey revealed a 40% and 70% reduction in elephant numbers in the Mana Pools and Sebungwe Areas of Zimbabwe. Yet, the Gonarezhou National Park (GNP) has shown a 130% rise in elephant numbers during the same period.

Unfortunately, poachers seem to be turning their gaze to this protected area. In 2015 more poached elephants were encountered than ever before, though management cautions that this rise can be partly attributed to increased patrols by more rangers, who are better skilled than ever.

The potential threat is not being taken lightly. Patrol strategies are constantly being adapted and the Mozambique Border Unit was deployed in December 2014, operating from two permanent bases close to the border. The following year saw the implementation of a deployment system which allows for the entire western boundary to be patrolled on a daily basis by dedicated Fence Units on foot and on bicycle. They are now also able to operate from ranger pickets that have been constructed over the last two years. A Quick-Reaction Unit has also been formed, and was assigned a dedicated vehicle. They are now able to support the units on the park boundaries.

Much effort has also been spent on ranger recruitment and training. Out of 200 prospective applicants, 22 students from five communities surrounding the park completed a training course at the dedicated training camp established in the centre of the park in 2015. They are reported to be of the best calibre yet, which was proven when they arrested eight poachers and recovered 15 pieces of ivory as well as snares, skins and dried meat while on patrol exercises during the course. The total number of cadets employed now stands at 62.

Further strength is being lent to the cadets by a newly established canine unit. With support from the Save the Elephants’ Crisis Fund (and training by Invictus K9), two canines from proven blood-lines were hand-picked from a specialist breeder in Europe and shipped to Gonarezhou in July 2015. They will primarily be used to track poacher spoor in the field. The elongated shape of Gonarezhou means that virtually at all times one is within 20 to 30 km from one of the boundaries at all times, making it easy for poachers to exit before the rangers can reach them.

The conditions in Gonarezhou –with regards to terrain, distances and temperatures are all very challenging, and the next few months will tell whether the canine unit will be able to impact significantly on law enforcement success in the park. In order to maximise that probability, two months of follow-up and advanced training will be conducted in 2016.

The routine support of the Gonarezhou Conservation Project (GCP) to law enforcement patrols continued throughout 2015, with timely supply of fuel and rations for patrol deployments, vehicle maintenance and aerial support and surveillance.

With the support of the International Rhino Foundation, a third repeater station and antenna was purchased, and a mast has been constructed. This will consolidate park-wide digital radio communication.

Elephants cross the Runde river below Chilojo Cliffs……

elephants crossing the Runde river -lo res

extra reading on various conservation initiatives using tracker dogs:

Panthera -using dogs to save cats!

Richard Bonham article on tracker dogs and Big Life:

https://biglife.org/on-the-ground/dogs-save-elephants-big-life-s-tracker-dogs

Lewa Conservancy and tracker Dogs
http://www.lewa.org/wildlife-conservation/security/

various FZS stories from Gonarezhou:
https://fzs.org/en/projects-2/current-projects/gonarezhou-conservation-project/news-stories/

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An amazing mollusk: the Giant African Land Snail, revered totem of the Chauke Clan…

I love sketching the shells of these snails, so sculptural….

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Achatina fulica is a species of land snail in the family Achatinidae, known commonly as the  giant African land snail.

snail

Wikipedia says:

Outside of its native range this snail thrives in many types of habitat in areas with mild climates. It feeds voraciously and is a vector for plant pathogens, causing severe damage to agricultural crops and native plants. It competes with native snail taxa, is a nuisance pest of urban areas, and spreads human disease. This snail is listed as one of the top 100 invasive species in the world!!! Native to East Africa, it has been widely introduced to other parts of the world through the pet trade, as a food resource, and by accidental introduction.

Achatina fulica shell

Achatina fulica shell

 

I have a very different view of this beauty, an artist’s and naturalist’s view, seen here photographed by me at Chilo Gorge Safari Lodge, in its home range- in the lowveld of Zimbabwe, where it fits so aptly into its environment…

this fabulous creature has a persian carpet mantle……

gorgeous texture

gorgeous texture

a quizzically stunning face….

Stunning face...

Stunning face…

a glowing multi-hued shell…..

gorgeous snail by Andre Botha

gorgeous snail -Photograph by Andre Botha

and a rich history in the folklore and current clan beliefs of the Chauke Changana clan in our area. (Check out my next blog for THAT lovely story!)

Meanwhile, thinking sex (why not!), here is my awesome photo of two snails mating , taken on the footpath at Chilo on a rainy day….

mating snails, photo by Lin Barrie

mating snails, photo by Lin Barrie

 

This species is a simultaneous hermaphrodite; each individual has both testes and ovaries and is capable of producing both sperm and ova. (Instances of self-fertilization are rare, occurring only in small populations). They have intriguing mating behaviour, including petting their heads and front parts against each other. Cute! Courtship can last up to half an hour, and the actual transfer of gametes can last for two hours.

I watched these two for over an hour, and after mating these two just crawled away…

after the courtship..

after the courtship..

 

Transferred sperm can be stored within the body for up to two years. The number of eggs per clutch averages around 200. A snail may lay five to six clutches per year with a hatching viability of about 90%.

hatching snails...

hatching snails…

Juvenile snails are tiny, easy and tasty prey for any bigger animals…

tiny achatina......

tiny achatina……

 

If they are lucky, dult size is reached in about six months, after which growth slows, but does not cease until death. Life expectancy is commonly five or six years in captivity, but the snails can live for up to ten years.

adult snail and baby

adult snail and baby

The giant African snail is capable of aestivating for up to three years in times of extreme drought, sealing itself into its shell by secretion of a calcerous compound that dries on contact with the air.

They are active at night and spend the day buried underground.

Is snail slime the next big thing in skincare? ….please don’t tell me that collagen-enhancing mucus is set to be a super-ingredient in mainstream cosmetics……they say the mucus is extracted and the snails live to tell the tale, but I hear it involves salt…hmmmmm.

And the latest facial massage in Russia is delivered by giant snails…

facial snail trail....

facial snail trail….

And of course, as much as Achinata likes to consume precious crops…

strawberry eater

it is also considered deliciously edible by various people…

devilled snail...

devilled snail…

Except by the local Xangana people, amongst whom the snail is honoured.

The Chauke Clan rever the Giant snail as their clan “totem”….never to be harmed.

 

Posted in adventure travel, Africa, African child, African flora, African Safari, african wildlife, art, art exhibition, baobab, beauty, bio diversity, bush camps, Chilo Gorge, Chilo Gorge Safari Lodge, conservation, conservation education, cooking, culture, eco-tourism, edible plant, fire, flowers, food, food culture, gardens, gardens and flowers, gonarezhou national park, great limpopo transfrontier conservation Area, Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Park, landscape, Lin Barrie Art, Machangana culture, molluscs, mozambique, photography, Rivers, Save River, Save Valley Conservancy, slow food, wetlands, wilderness, wildlife trade, zimbabwe, Zimbabwe Parks | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Cleome by any other name would taste as sweet…..good ‘slow’ food at Chilo Gorge!

Beautiful Cleome Gynandra is growing fast in our Gonarezhou area with the recent rain.

Cleome gynandra

Cleome gynandra

Thomas Mutombeni, head guide at Chilo Gorge, says:

“it is a food plant, the leaves of which the Shangaans cook and eat like spinach. Shangaans call it bangala while the Shona refer to it as nyevhe. Common names include Shona cabbage, African cabbage, spiderwisp, and cat’s whisker.!”

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The leaves are taken off the plant individually, leaving the whole plant to continue growing…This is a “weed” of cultivation, growing in sandy areas on abandoned village sites within the Gonarezhou National Park, in disturbed places, along road sides ….

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All the women of the village, and our staff from Chilo Gorge Lodge, are rushing to harvest it.

harvesting..

harvesting..

Collecting with great delight, everyone looking forward to tasty  relish with their next meal…

Happy chilo staff

Happy chilo staff

freshly harvested leaves

freshly harvested leaves

Thomas and I had some cooked with a touch of peanut butter, for our dinner, Yum! and then tried it cooked straight, oil and salt, pungent and delicious. The chefs then got creative and produced a plateful cooked with garlic!

Now much of it will be blanched and dried, to supply tasty food to numerous families throughout the next few months…

even the leaf stalks are tasty...

even the leaf stalks are tasty…

Very rich in vitamins, it is a great health food.

Postscript: the gorgeous Cleome species we see around us are perhaps not edible…don’t try any till you check with a botanist such as Bart Wursten..on his Flora of Zimbabwe website…

Species of Cleome grow in the rocky areas of Chilo gardens…exquisite flowers…

Here is Cleome macrophylla……..

gorgeous Cleome macrophylla, photograph by Bart Wursten

gorgeous Cleome macrophylla, photograph by Bart Wursten

A Cleome by any other name might NOT taste as sweet…….!?

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