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Three days into my stay at Ngamo and I still haven't seen any cats. I've heard them during the night and a couple of the guides reported seeing fresh tracks but no actual sightings yet. Perhaps it was down to the cold wind blowing across the Ngamo plains but we were lacking a bit of urgency this morning; still dawdling over breakfast when we should have been out and about. Sibs had left with his clients an hour earlier, but here we were still enjoying the warmth of Camelthorn's dining room and excellent coffee. That all changed when Butch burst into the room. “Come on, Come on, Sibs has found some lions on a kill. Don't worry about your bags (we were moving to a different lodge today) I'll get them loaded and catch you up.” We didn't need much persuading and were all on our feet and out of the door within about 30 seconds. Poor Helen had only just sat down and barely had time to grab a sausage from her plate as she joined the exodus. Vusa, who was waiting outside with the engine running, told us it would take about 20 minutes to get to where Sibs had seen the lions. It actually took us 25 minutes because we had to stop at the gate and sign in. With a cold wind scouring the plains, the sun struggling to break through the clouds and Vusa driving a bit faster than normal game drive speed, it was a chilly ride. As always seems to happen, when I am in a hurry to get somewhere there is game everywhere. Intent on getting to the lions we passed herds of wildebeest and eland without slowing down. A few hundred metres ahead we saw a small group of zebras staring intently at something. Almost simultaneously I spotted two lionesses lying out in the open; but it was not the lionesses that held the zebras attention. They were far more interested in the two male lions lying just by the tree line; with the remains of a wildebeest carcass. Vusa edged closer and turned off the engine. No sooner had he done so than the smaller/younger of the two males got up and walked in amongst the trees and flopped down. The remaining male was not doing much, just lying beside the kill. If things stayed like this it was not going to be a particularly exciting sighting. Just as we were about to resign ourselves to watching lions doing nothing something attracted the attention of the remaining male. It was one of the females coming to feed on the carcass. The male lion was clearly unhappy about this and started growling ominously. No sooner had the female stuck her head into the carcass than the male got up and tried to pull the carcass towards him. The volume of the growling from both lions had risen when the male suddenly lunged at the lioness. Surprisingly she did not back off and we watched them wrestling over the carcass. This attracted the attention of the other male who came back to watch. This was no play fight, they were really going at each other. The lioness seemed to be holding her ground when the second male joined the fray, attacking her from behind. This drew in the second female who tried to help her sister. It didn't last long. The arrival of he second lioness spurred the two males to greater aggression and it was only moments before both females retreated, chastened and unhappy. For the male lions to be completely unwilling to share the kill was unusual, particularly as they were no longer feeding and it would almost certainly have been the lionesses that had made the kill. Having asserted their superiority, and with the lionesses licking their wounds (literally) the younger of the males lay down and fixed his unblinking gaze upon us. One or two people in the vehicle found this quite unnerving – it was only a few days earlier that a guide in Hwange had been charged and killed by a lion. To further assert his ownership of the carcass, the other male decided that now would be a good time to drag it off into the trees. It had been a pretty intense few minutes. What had seemed like ages had lasted just 13 minutes – according to the time stamps on my photographs. As we drove away there was a good deal of sympathy expressed for the lionesses. To give you an idea of how close we were, I was using a 70-200mm lens and most shots were taken between 70-90mm It was a pretty gloomy morning with no direct sunlight and ISO was around 1000. F8 and 1/640s
Soukous posted a topic in ArticlesCommunity led Conservation – the only way forward You only have to spend a few minutes in his company to see that Mark Butcher (Butch) is a man on a mission. That mission, in broad terms, is to ensure the survival of Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park and its wildlife. Butch knows he cannot do it alone; to have any chance of success he needs to get the local communities that border the park to buy in to the idea that their own future and the park's future are inextricably intertwined. The reason is simple: if the people living on the park's periphery are supportive and willing to work with the park, they can provide a valuable and vital barrier between the park and the surrounding countryside. If, as is too often the case, they see the park and its wildlife as the enemy, they can provide a very easy route in and out of the park for poachers. The reality of this was demonstrated only too vividly by the recent poaching of Cecil, one of Hwange's best known lions who was enticed out of the park into an adjacent unprotected area and then killed. There is no overnight success, Butch knows that the road ahead is a long one but the groundwork has been laid. Butch's company, Imvelo Safari Lodges, currently has 3 lodges in Hwange NP and 2 are built on community land close the park's eastern Ngamo gate. To get the consent from the community leadership meant overcoming the villagers' natural antipathy to the wildlife that regularly took their livestock and the park authorities that protected it. Indeed whilst we were in Ngamo village Johnson, the headman, told us that two of his donkeys had been killed by lions just days earlier. A significant measure of the progress that Butch has achieved was hearing from the headman that despite lamenting the loss of his donkeys to lions no-one from the village was sent out to track down and kill the lions responsible as would have been the case in days gone by. Johnson understands that the benefits that tourism can bring his community far outweigh the occasional loss of livestock and as we sat and chatted to Johnson the high regard in which he holds Butch was very evident. The land around Ngamo village is not great farmland and, like the park itself, has no permanent water. In a country where unemployment is very high, the lodges provide both employment and training. Employment means a far more reliable source of money to buy food and other essentials, than could be gained from farming. There is no doubt in Johnson's mind that tourism represents the way forward for his community. One of his own sons, Vusa, is now working as a trainee guide with Imvelo and is a terrific role model for other youngsters in the village. Improving the quality of life Imvelo's commitment to Ngamo is about much more than simply providing employment. Pumps have been installed to provide a clean water supply; vital for the health of any community. A new pump at Ngamo school Imvelo's annual 'Mobile Dentist Safari' welcomes a team of dentists from Europe who give their time to provide dental care for the communities; performing in excess of 1500 procedures in the space of a week; many of them on people who have never seen a dentist before in their lives. Mobile dentistry Education, Education, Education But the cornerstone of Imvelo's community work is providing education for the village's children. Education that will set them on the path for a better future. Using their own money, augmented by philanthropic donations, they have overseen the construction of primary schools in Ngamo and other communities. Decrepit buildings have been replaced by custom built classrooms and purpose built accommodation for teachers. Classrooms, old and new teacher accommodation, old a new The enthusiasm shown by the children for attending school – many of them walking several miles each day - is testament to the value of this project. Schoolchildren at Ngamo Ngamo classroom It doesn't end there. Faced with the issue of where to educate the children after they finish primary school, work on a secondary school for Ngamo is nearing completion. A natural barrier Butch's vision is to have a string of lodges along the park boundary with lodge staff drawn from the local communities. In return the villagers play their part in protecting the park's wildlife by acting as a barrier against infiltration by poachers. If this model can be replicated all around the park's boundary it will be a huge step towards safeguarding the future of this iconic Zimbabwean park. Mark 'Butch' Butcher Butch’s wildlife career started in 1979, when he became a ranger for the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Management. He completed a BSc in Zoology and Botany at Rhodes University, before moving on to work for Zimbabwe’s Forestry Commission. As Provincial Wildlife Officer, Butch was responsible for all the wildlife that roamed within 1.8-million acres of indigenous forest. Whilst undertaking this enormous task, he quickly discovered how essential the local people’s support was to the wellbeing of the estate. Butch began to develop programs that would both engage the people and benefit the natural ecosystems. He finally left the Commission to develop these initiatives from the other side of the fence. Butch’s lifelong passion for Hwange – it’s elephants, wildlife and communities – formed the cornerstone for Imvelo Safari Lodges to grow into what it is today. See it for yourself All guests staying at either Bomani Tented Lodge or Camelthorn Lodge for 2 nights or more have the opportunity to visit Ngamo community and school during their stay. Trust me, it is not like other village visits.
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