A Travellerspoint blog

Other incidental incidents

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View Zimbabwe (Lion Breeding and Rehabilitation Project) - 19 Jan to 15 Feb 2009 on hilarywh's travel map.

Feeding
Ishmael a lion handler received a very deep gash to his hand from a lion claw during feeding one day. I was helping him to lob a large leg of cow over the enclosure fence while balanced on the back of the trailer when Echo and Etosha leapt up to meet us, catching Ishmael's hand in the frenzy. The handlers were very worried about the accident and feared they may lose their job or be involved in a lion 'attack' enquiry. It turned out we should have put the lions in the management pen and walked the meat into their enclosure, not throwing it over the top! As expected, the wound became infected and our first aid kits were put to good use. Ishmael has now returned to work and it has healed nicely.

Hunting
The retired walking lions are regularly taken out on night encounters to encourage them to hunt. They follow the truck full of volunteers and handlers while someone uses a powerful light to spot game for them in the dark. A chase usually ensues, truck after lion, lion after game, and sometimes a kill is made. Unfortunately on that night we came across horses that had clearly got out of their night boma. The handlers leapt off the truck in an instant to distract the lions and attempt to move them back to their enclosure. A very dangerous race through the bush in the dark began with 3 handlers and 3 fully grown hungry lions. One horse suffered massive tears to it's rump in the process. But all ended well, the horse is healing, the handlers were unscathed and the lions ended up in their enclosure. Another night encounter is planned for tonight but this time the horses will be out of harms way!

Riding
While riding Checha the male elephant and only recently safe enough to be used for riding, he decided to do the opposite of what he was being told by reversing backwards into an Acacia bush - with me on top!!! My head, back and arms were scratched from the 2 inch thorns but fortunately he stopped before it got too messy!

Swimming
On one elephant swim, the 2 elephants got very close while playing around in the water. As the handlers attempted to prevent themselves and the volunteers ending up squashed in an elephant sandwich, 2 people got cut by the elephant prodder.

Other than that, no major incidents reported....yet!

Posted by hilarywh 02:39 Archived in Zimbabwe Tagged volunteer Comments (0)

Deadly Critters

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View Zimbabwe (Lion Breeding and Rehabilitation Project) - 19 Jan to 15 Feb 2009 on hilarywh's travel map.

Snakes and Scorpions
The wildlife at Antelope Park is not all about lions, horses and elephants. There are so many deadly critters lurking in the long grass that we are given a 2 hour snake and scorpion induction to prepare us for our inevitable encounters. We are told how to identify the 4 varieties of snake from the harmless Herald snake to poisonous Adders, constricting Pythons and the deadly neuro-toxic Black Mamba. There is no anti-venom in Zimbabwe so if we are unfortunate enough to be bitten, we need to be able to identify or even catch the snake (!) so the correct treatment can be determined.

On the afternoon lion walk, straight after the snake induction, the walkers come across a 3 meter Black Mamba. Fortunately it was extremely bloated from very recently swallowed prey but it was however big and dangerous enough to stay a very safe distance. Fortunately it had been spotted by the resident snake expert before it was too late!

The following day after lunch I am watching the daily game of football between staff, handlers, volunteers and guests when we hear a single gun shot from the camp nearby. Mr Deysel, the camp manager and clearly a good shot, has taken the head clean off an 8 foot Black Mamba as it lurked in the branches of a tree right above his head in the restaurant!

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We have a close encounter with a small snake while slashing grass in a lion enclosure. Already injured by the slasher blade we decide to finish it off convinced that it is another Mamba as the local guys had hastily retreated in fear. It turns out it as probably a harmless red lipped Herald snake which explains why it showed no signs of aggression towards us.

Last night we were called to reception to see a 4ft Night Adder retreating over the door step. It was carefully caught and relocated safely away from the camp. Unlike the Mamba, it is not territorial and if deposited far enough away it wont return.

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Just yesterday 5 of us were cub-sitting 4 hunting lions (Masai, Lozi, Longile and Luangwa) all sitting in a circle beside the enclosure about to play cards. Fanuel quietly and calmly suggested we might like to stand up but as he said it we all spotted the snake leaping towards us in the grass. We did the one thing we had been told not to do - we panicked! Lesley landed in Fanuel's lap, Taka pulled Sarah off her feat out of the way as Elijah and I fell backwards. The snake accelerated and leapt right through the middle of us at high speed!

The lions became very excited by the commotion and Masai spent the remainder of the session giving us the 'I really want to eat you look' which was very disconcerting. It took some time for our heart rates to return to normal before we felt safe enough to sit back down and resume our game of cards!

But that's quite enough of snake encounters. On another lion walk we stumbled across a very feisty brown scorpion. None of us could remember which was the deadly variety - the small pinschers, large tail or the large pinschers, small tail combination. And even if we could we weren't quite sure which looked bigger anyway. What was apparent though was that the aggressive little thing was definately prepared to take us all on as we stood towering over it warily pointing at it with our sticks and no doubt unnecessarily aggravating it.

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I saw no snakes or scorpions in my first 2 weeks but now they are almost daily occurrences. I preferred it when I was blissfully unaware of their presence - ignorance is definately bliss.

Having said all of that, there have so far been no snake bites, no scorpion stings or lion attacks yet during my stay.
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Posted by hilarywh 02:02 Archived in Zimbabwe Tagged volunteer Comments (0)

Anti Poaching

Boundary Patrol & Snare Sweeps

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View Zimbabwe (Lion Breeding and Rehabilitation Project) - 19 Jan to 15 Feb 2009 on hilarywh's travel map.

Anti-Poaching
Some of our duties as a volunteer is to help patrol the park and maintain a presence around the perimeter fence to reduce poaching. This involves being dropped off in the bush either along the boundary or within the park itself to search for snares, mend holes in the fences and generally keep watch.

The game in the park is worth a lot of money to the project and to poachers. Although a small impala could only feed one lion, it would probably feed a local family for weeks. The game is used to help feed the lions when meat is scarce, it is used to help the walking and hunting lions develop valuable survival skills and it is also used for guest game drives to generate vital revenue. There are currently a lot of young animals including Impala, Zebra, Kudu, Wildebeast and Giraffe but there isn't an abundance of game here and buying more is expensive in terms of game capture costs and relocation permits. Game is becoming more and more scarce in Zimbabwe and therefore more and more valuable.

There is an anti-poaching team employed full time to protect the game at Antelope Park but, for a small fee, it is believed that they may be involved in tipping off poachers as to their daily whereabouts. Volunteers and lion handlers are therefore involved in anti-poaching tasks to add an additional 'surprise' element.

Boundary Patrol
We are dropped off the other side of the park, split into 2 teams each walking the perimeter fence in opposite directions back to camp. We are armed with an axe, a radio, pliers and some spare wire. The wire is to help mend any holes in the fence but I'm still not quite sure what the axe is used for!

This is usually done on foot but can also be conducted on elephant or horse back. Volunteers are scheduled to do this twice a week although this is likely to increase due to some recent poaching activity.

A couple of days ago while I was on Boundary Patrol, Everest stopped us dead in our tracks as we nearly stepped on a Night Adder laying across our path. It was flat and well camouflaged except for the frog that was half swallowed in it's dislocated jaws. It was a small snake but highly venomous and as we stepped back reaching for our cameras it quickly regurgitated it's dinner, hissed at us and retreated into the long grass. Amazingly, the frog hopped away alive but on just three legs!

Snare Sweeps
Again for snare sweeping we are dropped off in thick bush within the park, spreading out into a line scouring the ground, trees and bushes for snares as we walk. At times I lost sight of the people either side of me which gave me the willies as it would be easy to get disorientated and lose direction. I heard a squeal from Leslie as she disturbed a rabbit, a yell from Brighton as he spooked an impala and a call for help from Ingrid when she noticed a party of ticks crawling up her trousers. Then Ishmael tripped over a tortoise and I realised I'd stopped looking for snares a long time ago and my eyes were purely searching for snakes and other deadly bush creatures instead.

During the week one group unfortunately found one of the few Giraffe, only a few weeks old, chopped up into moveable pieces and crudely hidden beneath a pile of branches. The hind legs were already missing and lacerations to the neck indicated it had been caught in a snare. An armed team were immediately dispatched to lay in wait for the poachers to return but sadly they didn't reappear. The Giraffe meat couldn't be put to use feeding the lions as it was already over 24 hours old.

I have conflicting feelings as I love animals and understand the importance of preserving the game here, but it's hard to condemn the people who did this as people in Zimbabwe are starving. If I had a family to provide for I'd probably risk my life doing the same.

Posted by hilarywh 03:43 Archived in Zimbabwe Tagged volunteer Comments (0)

Horse Duties

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View Zimbabwe (Lion Breeding and Rehabilitation Project) - 19 Jan to 15 Feb 2009 on hilarywh's travel map.

Stable Duties
In my first week I spent a day at the stables grooming and preparing the horses, cleaning tack, tidying the tack room and saddling up those horses earmarked for riding that day. The horses here are more like ponies, very docile but harrassed by the horse flies and eaten by the massive tick population. Most of the saddles are 'McLennan' saddles in that they have the middle bit missing are look a bit like an elongated leather polo mint...ish.

I was slightly apprehensive about my first ride so when Orbit literally introduced me to each and every horse by name and gave me a brief overview of their temperament I tried to decipher their 'look' and made a mental note of who not to ride. My first challenge would be getting my leg up high enough into the stirrup to get mounted. My next challenge would be actually staying on as I haven't ridden since cattle mustering in Australia 10 years ago! I was also a bit concerned how I would fair bouncing around in the saddle since my last back op although being semi-bionic could have it's advantages.

Riding
After half an hour in the confines of the ring proving that I could walk, trot and canter without falling off, I was ready to venture out in the bush. My horse had a very very very boney spine and with the McLennan saddle I am glad I'm female. During the ride we got up very close and personal with the game, practically becoming part of the Zebra herd and getting almost close enough to touch a Giraffe. I can't believe how easily deceived animals can be when people are on horseback!

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I have been on 5 rides during my time here, a different horse each time and loved every minute of it. Not really what you'd call volunteer work but being out in the park provides an anti-poaching presence and I'm not complaining.

Lunar Riding
In my final week, as it was a full moon and a very clear night displaying the most incredible night sky, all the volunteers and horse handlers went for a Lunar horse ride in the dark under the Milky Way. I'd forgotten how amazing the sky is in the Southern Hemisphere. It was fantastic cantering in the dark through the long grass, illuminated by fireflies, listening to the roaring lions just a short distance away.

Horse Swimming
During our horse rides we get very hot and there is nothing better than cooling of in the dam. After removing a sweaty saddle I scrabbled on bareback but my horse took a lot more encouragement than I expected. Kicking with bare feet, sitting on a very boney spine and trying to grip on with no saddle proved challenging as he danced around in water up to my knees. The water finally went over his back but no actual 'swimming' took place.

Posted by hilarywh 05:31 Archived in Zimbabwe Tagged volunteer Comments (0)

Elephant Duties

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View Zimbabwe (Lion Breeding and Rehabilitation Project) - 19 Jan to 15 Feb 2009 on hilarywh's travel map.

Elephant Training
There are 4 resident elephants at Antelope Park, 3 female and one single minded adolescent male.

Every morning the elephants, aged between 18 and 22, are put through their paces. I arrive at the training area at the late hour of 7am where the elephants are tethered by a small chain round one of their back legs. The handlers give a variety of commands including, turning left, turning right, sitting down, laying down, picking things up, lift their trunks, balance on 2 left legs, right legs, opposite legs... They are rewarded with handfuls of maize kernels.

After the handlers have done their bit, it is my turn but the end elephant's trunk is constantly frisking me for food. We manage most of the exercises with me ending up sitting on her neck. It's a long way down!

Elephant Herding
For the next couple of hours we walk them outside the Park gates while they feed and generally destroy everything in their path. These elephants were once wild but were orphaned many years ago during the droughts. They were trained at Antelope Park and while walking with them through the open bush I can see why the training is essential. They are very well behaved and generally respond to everything the handlers ask, albeit sometimes in their own time. Controlling 4 fully grown elephants isn't easy and I sure as hell am not going to argue with one!

As we walk through the waist high spear grass I am told stories of snakes that are seen almost daily. I worryingly hope I will get the chance to see one from a safe distance and little do I know that I will have more than enough encounters during my time here.

Elephant Swimming
On arrival at the Dam over the other side of the Park, I climb aboard the biggest and oldest female with the help of a specially constructed platform. The elephant is called Ami and it is the same one I attempted to train in the hope that we may have bonded enough this morning for her to be gentle with me.

I am sitting on her shoulders and as we walk towards the water, my buttocks are pummelled with every careful step. I wrap my arms firmly around the Hasslear's (handler) waist and as she speeds up at the sight of the water I use my knees to grip with every ounce of strength.

Once the water reaches my knees Ami unexpectedly decides to throw herself sideways into the water and all of us are completely submerged for a few long frightening seconds. We come up briefly for air and I consume another mouthful of the water when we suddenly lurch to the right for another dunking. This time I managed to keep my head just above the water which is a good thing as she decides to stay submerged at an angle for a very long time, just her trunk peering out of the water like a submarine viewer. I wonder if I am just too heavy on 3 cooked meals a day and perhaps I've drowned her under my weight!

Several roller coaster dunkings later she shakes violently from side to side, flaps her ears heavily over my trembling legs and walks slowly out of the water. I've swum with horses, a variety of marine animals including sharks, manta rays and whale sharks but that was something else and I loved it!

I push all thoughts of cholera and bilharzia from my mind and make a mental note to do that as often as possible while I am here.

Posted by hilarywh 03:27 Archived in Zimbabwe Tagged volunteer Comments (0)

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