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AUGUST 2023 NEWSLETTER

African wildlife trivia:
Painted dog pups are born every year, usually between March and June: How many pups are in a typical litter
?

See the answer at the end of the newsletter.

Celebrating our successZero elephants poached in
Mana Pools since 2019!

July 2023 photo of Tusker by Ellyn Olander

Highlights of this month's newsletter: 

  • Update from BC President Nick Murray
  • Field report from “Freedom” Hlongwane, BSU Operations Manager
  • Collaring Update from Volunteer Lauren Dangelmayr
  • Tusker Ranger Fund
  • World Painted Dog Day is August 26

Update from BC President Nick Murray

Violet and the puppies left the den around the 1st of August. They headed to the flood plain and were hiding for a couple of weeks because the pups were still very young and needed protection from exposure to lions and hyenas. Now they are hunting near the Zambezi River and recently were spotted killing a baboon and an impala. When they were last seen, there were still 7 pups and an adult dog had also joined the pack, increasing their numbers to 9.

Wandile, a current member of the pack and the only surviving pup from Violet’s first litter in 2019
Photo by Mitch Riley

I recently saw a few 6-month-old elephant calves limping on 3 legs with a swollen joint on one of their front legs. The oldest calf we have seen in Mana Pools with this condition is about 4 years old. I plan to bring in a portable X-ray machine around the end of August and am working to obtain a permit to dart and X-ray some of the afflicted animals. 

Freedom and two BSU drivers were busy this month addressing human-wildlife conflict along the southern boundary, where lions have killed several cows and goats in the past two months. A team of Zimparks rangers and BSU staff have been setting up cages with bait and trying to track the lions. It was challenging because members of the community impacted by this chased the lions away. As a result, the lions moved to another community. Last week, Zimparks Chief Veterinarian Columbas Chatezvi and I went to assist. The team captured, translocated, and released 3 lions into the Chewore North area of Zimparks Estate. 

Left to right: a livestock pen damaged by intruding lions; Freedom and Wildlife Officer Lovison Ncube with a lion in transit; the team loads cages into trucks at Kombe village on the southern boundary for the journey to North Chewore

From the FieldBSU Operations Manager
Nkululeko “Freedom” Hlongwane

 

Anti-poaching Report

This month, patrols were conducted in the Dandawa general area. Fortunately, no illegal activities or animal carcasses were found.

The current dry season, as well as an increase in temperatures, has impacted vegetation in the Zambezi Valley. Tsetse flies are very active and hungry for blood meals.

BSU continues to support other NGOs that cover habitat in the Zambezi Valley. The two bases pictured below are located in the Marongora area of Nyakasanga and Rifa, protected areas that lie west of Mana Pools.

The following are updates and words from some of our BSU drivers.

BSU driver Felix sent the two photos below and reported that the Southern Boundary team responded to a sighting of 18 elephants by villagers in the communities of Kombe and Chitake where they grow vegetables and access water in wells. Thankfully, no damage was done, but the proximity of the animals to the villages is a concern.

Here are a couple pictures from our driver Edwin who is based at ZAVARU (Zambezi Valley Reaction Unit).

This report and photos are from Charles, our driver who has been stationed at Chitangazuva, the southern boundary area where we just finished building our ranger station. “We patrolled in the Mhara and Magarden regions of the Mazunga area. On our journey, we spotted a big male elephant drinking at the spring in Mhara, which is currently full of water and life. We also saw a herd of 4 elephants and calves and another big bull elephant.” Editor’s note: This area was heavily poached and nearly bereft of animals when we established our tented base there almost 3 years ago.

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Collaring Update from Volunteer Lauren Dangelmayr
 

BC Fundraising Committee Chair Lauren Dangelmayr was in Mana Pools earlier this month. She was present for the placement of collars on Bruce, Grumpy, and Fred.

The team poses quickly with Fred, after placing his collar and before the recovery antibody takes effect. 
Lauren is third from right.

Lauren shares the following report:

Exciting things are happening in Mana. Through the generous efforts of our volunteers and donors, BC was able to secure and obtain approval for 10 new elephant collars. Collars typically last 3 or 4 years, and we try to replace them before they fall off. Collars were replaced on the following 8 iconic bull elephants because they had either stopped working or were at the end of their useful lives: Tusker, Boswell, Bruce, Grumpy, Fred, Harry, Impy, and Stompy. Collars were placed for the first time on Carlitos and Columbas. Collars facilitate research and deter illegal poaching. They also help protect these gentle giants when they enter hunting areas adjacent to Mana Pools because ethical sport hunters decline to shoot collared elephants. Nick uses GPS tracking data transmitted from the collars to warn guides in neighbouring hunting locations when an iconic bull moves into that area. The information is also monitored for migration patterns and research purposes.

The following Zimparks and Zimbabwe government officials were on site in August, assisting Nick and the BSU team with the very important work of collaring iconic bull elephants:

- Columbas Chaitezvi, Zimbabwe National Parks Chief Veterinarian
- Patmore Ngorina, Mana Pools Chief Ecologist 
- Augustine Malunga, Sr. Ranger Scientific Services for the Lower Zambezi Valley 

It was a bit of a drive, but we located Bruce without too much trouble, and the morning weather stayed cool and calm. Once Bruce was darted, the team was able to strategically position the new collar before he went down quite gracefully. While the team worked on collar replacement, the head vet was able to inspect a wound and administer antibiotics.

Left: Bruce reacts to the sensation of a dart striking his rump (notice the red dot).
Right: Bruce returns to eating his snack while the drugs in the dart take effect.

As with all the elephants, an exam was conducted, and the team was quick to take measurements as part of the documentation and research project. Each member of the team played their part well—it was like watching a dance, with the utmost care and respect being taken for the majestic animal. Once down, the first objective is to ensure the trunk is straight with an open airway, and someone’s sole responsibility is to count his breaths per minute, reporting to the head vet a count update every minute.

Left: The team monitors Bruce’s breathing and takes a tusk measurement while the collar is placed. 
Right: Close-up of Bruce’s ear folded over Nick’s hat, covering his eye

You may notice that the ear is usually folded against the elephant’s face. His eye is sometimes also covered with a hat, then the hat is covered with his ear to help minimize any potential disruption. I also learned that the drug dose of the dart is only 1.5ml for each elephant. This dosage is extraordinarily potent. Once the antibody is administered, the elephant is back up in about 3 minutes, completely unaware of the time and care taken to collar him. Nick and Columbas, both certified to administer the drugs, take regular classes to maintain their certifications.

Left: Nick (left) and others on the team begin moving Bruce’s collar into place as the drugs take effect.
Right: Bruce begins to lie down, and the team continues to position the collar.

The next day we found Grumpy in a beautiful shaded clearing near the Zambezi River. Grumpy’s collar fell off nearly a year ago. So, while this was a replacement, it was long overdue. Contrary to his name, he was a perfect gentleman. Once darted, he continued to finish his snack and then sat down for us. This allowed the team to drape the new collar in place, and then we helped him lie flat by giving him a little push so he could rest on his side while the team worked. When he was back on his feet, he didn’t even seem to notice the new accessory and went right back to his snack.

Left: Tools and equipment needed for collaring include a chainsaw to make the first trim of the collar, thick blue rope used to guide the elephant to a safe place on the ground, a drill to secure the bolts in the proper holes of the collar, a hacksaw for finishing the collar trim, and paper for recording statistics and measurements. 
Right: The team poses quickly with Bruce as the veterinarian fills a syringe with revival antidote drugs.

On my last day of experiencing collaring firsthand, the objective was Fred. Named after Fred Astaire, he not only stands on his back legs to reach the best branches, but he is also known to take steps while on his hind legs if he’s miscalculated his position. Fred’s old collar was still working, and he was located on the far side of the park, a 2- to 3-hour drive from Vundu Camp. We spotted him in a beautiful calm grove of acacia very near the mighty Zambezi. He had two teenage bulls with him, and there was a family unit nearby. The team waited for the family unit to move on. The mother was very protective of her new baby (approximately 6 months old), and we didn’t want to cause them any stress. When Fred was darted, he thought one of the younger bulls had poked him with his tusk. After a bit of “schooling,” he began to head to the river. The team worked to put themselves between Fred and the river, because his safety was the highest priority. Once he was down, we went swiftly to work. It was a little warmer, and we didn’t have the luxury of shade like the previous two days, so another job was added. Water was splashed over him throughout the process to keep him cool, while continuing to monitor his temperature. Normally, elephants are able to regulate their temperature by flapping their ears to cool down and applying water and mudbaths on their own. Once back up, Fred continued down the path to the river, and the young bulls rejoined him, following close behind.

Editor’s note: We will share Lauren’s photos from collaring Grumpy and Fred in upcoming newsletters. Many thanks to Lauren for giving us the opportunity to experience these events through her words and lens!

Tusker Ranger Fund

Currently we have 63 TRF donors, and our goal is 100. When we reach 100 TRF members, their donations will cover the costs of monthly anti-poaching patrols. Additional gifts and grants can then be utilized to expand our other vital conservation efforts such as human-wildlife conflict and community education, as well as other crises that may erupt in the field. If you are interested in becoming a 2023 TRF donor, we would be most grateful for your gift of $100 per month or $1,200 annually. If you can make this generous commitment, please donate on our website at Bushlife Conservancy

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World Painted Dog Day is August 26

Photo by Jean-Marie Girardot

Zimbabwe has one of the highest populations of painted dogs in Africa. Unfortunately, they are one of the most endangered animals in Mana Pools National Park. Nick has dedicated years of study and effort to protect these animals, considered a treasure in Mana. With big ears like a cartoon mouse, painted dogs have extremely sensitive hearing. However, some in Mana are accustomed to the presence of visitors, who are able to watch the dogs within Park guidelines without disturbing. These animals are some of the most successful hunters in Africa with up to 80% of their hunts ending in a kill. This success rate is almost all due to their incredible bond and teamwork as pack hunters. According to a study published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences in 2017, they use sneezes to vote on whether to move off and begin hunting.

African wildlife trivia answer: A typical litter of painted dogs is 8-12. However, a litter may contain up to 16 pups!

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Nick Murray, President    Beth Brock, Treasurer   Ed Callen, Secretary

Board Members:  Alison Nolting, Mara Perkins, Charles Hanemann 
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