2023 Annual Report

Bushlife Conservancy is a US-based 501(c)(3) organization working closely with Bushlife Support Unit (BSU), a Zimbabwean nonprofit trust. BSU cooperates with Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (Zimparks) to conserve Mana Pools National Park and the Lower Zambezi Valley. Our conservation family has grown since 2016 when we began protecting African wildlife for future generations, and we are proud of our accomplishments.

No elephants have been poached in Mana Pools since 2019!

Iconic Tusker Project

In collaboration with Zimparks vets and ecologists, we collared 10 iconic bulls with big tusks—the famous Boswell, Fred, Tusker, Impi, Bruce, Stompie, Grumpy, Harry, a new bull named Carlitos (a slight Cuban twist), and another newly collared bull named Columbas, named after the chief Zimparks veterinarian overseeing the collaring project. The collars protect the bulls from trophy hunting when they stray into nearby hunting areas. We also still have a collar on Benton, who has grown into quite a big bull. We collared him a few years ago as part of a research project with Zimparks ecologists to monitor movements of elephants in the hunting areas. He spends a lot of time in the hunting area adjacent to Mana and has not been harmed by hunters because he is collared.

In 2020, we fitted collars on 10 elephant cows (some tusked and some tuskless) in the hunting areas next to Mana, and we currently have 3 cows collared in Mana. The movements of the cows within the park and the adjacent hunting areas are compared as part of this research project. Tuskless cows are hunted, and this affects their movements. We continue to monitor the movements of these elephants.

Baby Elephants with Swollen Joints

Over the years, we have seen as many as 15-20 baby elephants hobbling on three legs due to a swollen and immovable joint on the fourth leg. This year, we darted 2 baby elephants, examined their bad leg, and took samples from the affected joint. We did not find anything conclusive, but it appears that the leg is frozen in place by a calcification of the joint. From a distance, it looks like soft tissue. Together with Zimparks vets and ecologists, we plan to investigate at least five more cases in 2024. We will collar the mums so we can relocate these animals and treat them, if possible.

Conservation Clubs

Bushlife was invited to be a conservation partner in the Utariri Programme, a large multi-year project addressing biodiversity, climate change, and livelihoods in the communities bordering Mana Pools. We are responsible for mitigating human-wildlife conflict, providing community conservation education, and facilitating the selection and training of community wildlife committees.

Community Liaison Officer Sophia Maseba, along with the Zimparks community liaison officer, were busy with the conservation clubs for children in the surrounding communities of the Zambezi Valley. They visited 24 schools at least twice during each semester. There are currently 20-30 children in each club. They covered a variety of conservation-related topics including human-wildlife conflict mitigation, seasonal elephant migrations, and vegetation (botany). Sophia and BSU Operations Manager Nkululeko “Freedom” Hlongwane hosted two big sports galas and a quiz day for the children who live along the wilderness boundaries. Lots of fun was had by all, and many prizes were given to the winning soccer and quiz teams.

Educating the next generation about wildlife, the environment, and conservation is one of Bushlife’s objectives. Working alongside Zimparks and local school authorities, we have watched the extent of environmental knowledge grow in schools across the boundary communities since we started the conservation clubs four years ago. The pictures we’ve received of the students’ wildlife art reflects their talent and passion for preserving the beautiful animals that share their backyards.

Human-Wildlife Conflict

Human-wildlife conflict management has become a significant part of our work. Throughout the year, there are wild animals moving out of the reserves into neighboring communities, including elephants, lions, leopards, hyenas, crocodiles, eland, and other antelopes. They either kill the livestock or trample and raid the crops people are growing. Freedom has taken the role of human-wildlife conflict officer; he covers a huge area of a couple hundred kilometers in the park’s southern boundary area in the Zambezi Valley. This year, working with Zimparks vet Dr. Columbas Chaitezvi, 4 lions were captured and relocated from the villages to the park. The pride had become completely dependent on killing livestock for survival and was a big problem. Elephant mitigation tactics using chili bricks and chili fences proved to be successful.

Deployment and Patrols

We have maintained a year-round presence with vehicles and scouts at the National Parks bases of Zavaru, Chitangazuva, Kanga, and Marongora. There is also work being done in the dry season at Mana East Base and Mazunga.

Chitangazuva Base on the Southern Boundary

We hired John the Builder—who helps in camp every year to prepare for the safari season—to complete the base at Chitangazuva. When John moves in with his team, things move quickly. We were pressed to maintain a steady flow of building materials to keep the work progressing, especially considering the remoteness of the base. We have a few finishing touches left to accomplish. Of course, there will always be maintenance jobs to ensure the facility provides adequate office space and housing for our rangers. The base can accommodate 14 rangers, including a senior ranger and his family, and it is ideally located on the southern boundary of Mana Pools.

Iconic Species Came Back along the Southern Boundary

In June, we found proof of activity from multiple iconic species after many years of absence. The 19 species that have been confirmed through visual sightings and spoor include elephant, kudu, leopard, hyena, baboon, Greysbuck, common duiker, buffalo, zebra, sable, tree squirrel, bushbuck, wild dog, eland, African civet, honey badger, slender mongoose, bush pig, and jackal.

New Anti-poaching Vehicles

We purchased three secondhand Toyota Land Cruisers to add to the anti-poaching fleet in 2023. We also procured an inexpensive pickup truck to replace the anti-poaching vehicle that was temporarily being used. Fewer breakdowns, better vehicle endurance, and smoother patrols for Freedom and our team can be credited to our loyal donors and the quality of these new cruisers.

Collaring Carnivores

The 3-year carnivore research project initiated in 2020 at the request of Zimparks concluded in 2023. BC provided funding to collar lions, leopards, and hyenas in Mana Pools. Among the objectives of the project were determining an accurate count of various species and studying the level of interspecies competition and the impact these species have on the population of painted dogs. The data will be published by the Mana Pools principal ecologist. In the photos below, the collar on Yang, the dominant lioness in the large Chitake pride, is being removed.

Wild Dog Activity

African wild dogs are one of the world’s most endangered mammals, and they are among the wildlife species Bushlife protects in Mana Pools. One pack frequents the Zambezi River flood plain area, and we keep close track of their activity. In July, alpha female Violet and her mate, Rufus, had puppies in the same den area as in 2022. They left the den in early August and cautiously proceeded toward the Zambezi River. Violet and her pack were filmed back in 2021, and this year the documentary aired on Netflix in a series called Predators. The pack currently stands at 8 adults and 2 growing pups.

Governmental Protection of Wildlife

Mana Pools National Park was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1984 because the area is recognized as having outstanding universal value. It is officially a part of the global human heritage that must be protected for future generations. This year, Zimbabwe and Zambia signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to establish the Lower Zambezi Mana Pools Transfrontier Conservation Area (LOZAMAP-TFCA). The MOU aims to create a regionally integrated approach that would protect the diverse range of wildlife and their habitats that cross national boundaries. This is good news for conservation because there will be significantly more cooperation in tracking poachers who try to escape by crossing the border.