I don’t know what it is about Zimbabwe, but every time I go back I simply don’t want to leave. Animal Works’ first expedition to Zimbabwe a few weeks ago proved that it wasn’t just me who could be charmed by this magical part of Africa, as 10 Aussies from all walks of life bonded with each other and the locals, while experiencing some of the best wildlife the continent has to offer.
Okay, so first of all, within hours of getting off the plane at Humani in the Save Valley Conservancy and being given a superb welcome song and dance by the adorable children of Humani School, it so happened that our guides, Limon and Gareth, knew where there was an African wild dog den… and it was close by. We decided to go take a look in the off chance that we might get to see one of Africa’s rarest predators – parking the vehicles at a non-intrusive distance as there would probably have been small pups in the den at this time of year. Wow, were we in for a treat on day one.
In all my years in Africa I’ve never been able to just sit and watch African wild dogs relaxed at a den like I did that day. There were several dogs there – one with a radio collar who is part of Rosemary Groom’s research & conservation project in the Save Valley Conservancy – while the rest were probably out hunting, and they largely ignored our presence. African wild dogs are endangered and there are only between 3000 and 5000 left in the wild, which made this sighting all the more special. The Save Valley Conservancy – and Humani especially – is a place where there is a vital population for the species’ survival. I don’t think I’ve ever heard so many clicking and whirring of cameras at one animal sighting. Most people on their first trip to Africa are desperate to tick off the Big Five – lion, elephant, rhino, buffalo and leopard – but Animal Works’ expeditioners on this first trip really seemed to appreciate just how special an African wild dog sighting was.
Another highlight was getting up close and personal with one of Humani’s resident white rhino bulls on foot. Most of you would know that the funds raised from Animal Works’ two Imagine Africa dinners earlier this year is going to support the anti-poaching efforts in Save Valley Conservancy, in particular against the rhino poachers. So it was very special to be able to get up close on foot to a white rhino bull, who was so relaxed he actually lay down at one point! Nice as it was to see that, it also brought home the reality of how easy it must be to kill these majestic creatures. It’s the black rhino that is in real trouble in this part of the world due to the extreme poaching. Black rhinos are critically endangered, with a population of only about 5000, but with the demand for rhino horn escalating in Asia, the white rhino may be in trouble soon too.
If you get a chance to read the late Lawrence Anthony’s latest book “The Last Rhino” (author of the best selling “The Elephant Whisperer’) you’ll get a great insight into just how tough the fight is on the ground to save Africa’s rhinos. I certainly got the sense from talking to the anti-poaching and management teams in the conservancy that they have one hell of a battle on their hands and all the support that Animal Works and others are giving them is absolutely essential if we are to stop the total extinction of Save Valley Conservancy’s remaining rhinos.
The other magical thing about Humani as always is the people. On this expedition, the Aussie group, together with Michael Jeh from Barefoot in Africa, kindly brought out the remaining donated second hand laptops for the school. The school doesn’t have electricity, so we had to work out how to handle that when we got there. I’m now in the process with help from the team at Humani of using some of the funds raised by the expedition group to put a solar charging system in at the school so the laptops can be charged daily. A couple of the girls who are computer experts, Dish and Chantal, gave the teachers some training in the use of the computers, which was enriching on both sides.
The Aussies also got their hands dirty over the weekend by painting the Humani School sign, so the kids got a real surprise on Monday morning when they arrived to see a bright blue new sign with fluoro yellow writing at the entrance! New glass for broken windows at the school was also provided from the expedition funds. At the official hand over, our guide Limon reminded the kids that tourists like this group come out to see the animals like rhinos, which is why it’s so important that they conserve their natural heritage.
Finally, always one of the highlights of a trip to Humani is visiting Karen Paolillo at the Turgwe Hippo Trust. The hippos didn’t let the group down by appearing to put on a show for them at incredibly close range on land during broad daylight, safe in the knowledge that Karen knows the pod intimately and would not put them at any risk. The group handed over a $500 donation to the Turgwe Hippo Trust from Animal Works which was raised by the expedition itself.
After Humani, the expeditioners went on to Wilderness Safaris’ Davisons’ Camp in Hwange National Park where I’m told it was lions, elephants, lions, elephants, and more lions and elephants! For me it was off to Indonesia with my family to meet some Komodo dragons, leatherback turtles and experience my first rather terrifying earth quake (in a little known island called Flores). I’ve now moved to Singapore, the land of high rises and millionaires, where my little family is in the process of settling in to a very different world… More on that in another blog!
Thanks to everyone who made Animal Works’ first expedition to Zimbabwe such a success – just to mention a few: Roger and Anne, Adrienne, Limon and Gareth, Lucia, Fungai and the Turgwe Camp staff, and all the gang at Humani, Fungai and the lovely teachers and kids at Humani Primary School, Michael Jeh the group’s tour leader from Barefoot in Africa, The Classic Safari Company for processing our guests so brilliantly, Karen Paolillo at the Turgwe Hippo Trust and our ‘guinea pigs’ from Australia who were such fabulous company and real troupers on the ground – Anissa, Sid and Dish, Helen & Margi, Trent and Tracey, Chantal, Vanessa and Kerry. One thing’s for sure – the Africa bug has struck again…