As we landed at Bulawayo airport, my feelings were mixed. I had not been home since the so called 'coup' and I was intrigued to see how Zimbabwe was handling this strange feeling. How HeeHoo and I had wished that we had been in Bulawayo for that glorious 24 hours when euphoria took over the city, when black and white joined arms in absolutely ecstasy, when all we had wished for had come to pass. How we had wanted to sing and dance with all our countrymen, rejoicing in that moment we had all been waiting for.
The airport was the same, nothing changes in Bulawayo! The immigration chaps were friendly, the baggage handlers were willing, the customs officers were searching a few hapless folk but we were not stopped but sent happily on our way.
The city was green and verdant due to the lovely rains, the potholes were monumental, the maize plots along the roadside were tasseling and happy and that pervading air of genteel shabbiness was still very obvious.
Something that struck us straight away was the absence of the taxi combis, instead they had been replaced by tiny little cars like the Fitz and the March and the Fit!! Amazingly there seemed to be as many passengers jammed into these tiny cars, as they had always managed to jam into a large combi!!
HeeHoo had always made mention of the fact that in the USA one seldom sees a pedestrian on the road, so we were happy to see the seething multitude of our countrymen, making their way on foot all over the city.
My first shopping excursion was to Ascot and I could not believe how many little shops had manifested from a previously almost defunct shopping mall. I needed some prawns for a function and Pick and Pay was bursting with very first world looking packets of prawns, calamari and mussels. The grocery shops looked amazing, one could buy almost everything on one's shopping list. A 'packer' greeted me cordially and asked me affably 'Good morning, how can I make you smile' Which immediately made me giggle and then he took over my loaded shopping cart and made life very easy for me!
Questioning my pals on Zimbabwe, there was a universal feeling of enlightenment. What was most obvious was the lack of fear!! One no longer had to talk in hushed voices about the leaders, knowing that any thing said in jest or otherwise could end up with a court appearance!!
The absence of the police roadblocks was a tremendous boost to one's personal security oddly enough, and the fact that we were no longer harassed and intimidated every few kilometres, brought about a sense of well being and stability!!
The lack of money was still very obvious, cash was at a premium, and queues were still strangling the city. But generally there was a feeling of joy de vivre and people were generally happy, well nourished and well dressed.
As HeeHoo and I sat on the veranda in the encompassing evening, with the Heuglins calling their melodious goodnights, the bats starting to squawk and the cicadas beginning to trill, it was a magic moment. The evening was perfect, still moist with the day's thunderstorm, the grass was wet under bare feet, the giant fig tree in our garden was laden with creatures seeking night safety in the watery moonlight. The endless berries landed with their familiar rattle, from the giant tree, onto the roof of the deck.
One could forget that the road outside our garden was pitted with potholes, that the vendors were wearily packing up their little 'shops' on the side of the road, having sold maybe a handful of cigarettes and a packet or two of maputi, tomorrow is another day and the most endearing trait of every Matabele, is that 'tomorrow will be better.'
FRIENDS OF HWANGE TRUST
Painted Dog Rescue
Early last week a snared painted dog was spotted by some guides from the Kashawe Wilderness Camp in Sinamatella. The dog was a member of an un-collared pack of 18 dogs that had been moving around that area. Because painted dogs are notoriously difficult to track down and find, a team from Painted Dog Conservation (PDC) was immediately dispatched to keep a sharp eye out for the pack with a view to immobilizing the unfortunate animal in order to remove the snare.
The dogs were found shortly thereafter on an overcast day with light drizzling rain that not only made darting conditions difficult but also meant the dogs had taken shelter under bushes and Mopane scrub which made them hard to see and even more challenging targets to dart. It took some time to scrutinize each of the 18 well-hidden dogs before the team were able to identify the snared animal and it took even longer for the PDC driver to navigate the Land Rover between the rocks, mopane stumps and broken vegetation to get into a suitable position to dart the dog. Despite their best efforts, the team simply couldn't do it. Each time they narrowed the distance and tried to get into darting range, the affected dog got up and moved off to a new position. Time was running out. There is usually a cut-off time after which an attempt to dart an animal will be abandoned for fear of losing it in the fading light. That cut-off time was rapidly approaching. As a last resort, a decision was made to dart any dog that presented a good target so that a tracking collar could be fitted that would make it much easier to find this large pack and afford another opportunity to rescue the snared dog.
Lady Luck was on sides, and within minutes the alpha male dog from the pack stood up at a distance of 20m and presented a fleeting but clear target through the lush vegetation. The dog was immobilized, collared and a short while later back up on its feet. It casually walked off into the bush.
Two days later the VHF signal from the recently collared alpha male led the team directly to the pack of dogs. It didn't take long to identify and immobilize the snared animal, and it quickly became apparent that this was a particularly bad snare wound. A short 8-inch length of snare wire protruded from the left side of the dog's neck and a 2-inch piece protruded out of the right side of his neck plus what looked like part of a twisted knot of the high tensile wire snare protruded from the trachea area. The rest was tangled and buried beneath skin and scar tissue within the dog's neck. It was quite a daunting sight but there was no time to lose. Paul de Montille of D.A.R.T carefully tried to feel how the snare was positioned beneath the dog's skin and figure out how he could extract it without damaging the animal's trachea. He worked out that the stiff cupro-steel wire had somehow become looped under the skin. With some painstaking re-positioning of the snare, and a few careful snips with the bolt-cutters he was able to cut the snare into three separate pieces and extract them through each of the small holes where they had been protruding. The wounds were cleansed and dressed before the anti-dote was administered.
This animal rescue was a rather a stressful operation, but removing the horrible device and relieving the Painted Dog of such intense pain and discomfort was immensely satisfying. Not only was the snare removed, but the collar fitted to the alpha male will make it much easier for the PDC team to keep a close watch on these wonderfully special and highly endangered animals
Grateful thanks must go to the following:
Hwange Conservation Society UK who donated all the essential darting equipment and precision range finder that made it possible to accurately dart these dogs under such challenging conditions.
D.A.R.T for darting the animal and removing the snare.
Friends of Hwange Trust who provided the immobilizing drugs and surgical cleansing medication.
The Painted Dog Conservation team for their hard work in finding, monitoring and observing these endangered animals throughout the Park.
The National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority of Zimbabwe, particularly the Sinamatella Park Rangers who provided
invaluable assistance in the field.