I have finally arrived at ALERT in Zimbabwe after a 14 hour journey from CCF to Harare and then a 4 hour bus ride from Harare to Gweru. It may have been quicker to drive than fly as I ended up having to fly into Joburg and then out again, and was very worried about losing my luggage along the way as I know how bad Joburg is for that type of thing! Fortunately my bag was there at the luggage area when I came through. However, I did have to get through Customs first, which involved standing and waiting in a queue, only to be told I had to go to another one, and another one, then back to the second one and the first one again! Eventually got given my visa (after a monsterous $70 charge – the most expensive visa you can get in Zim because I’m British!) and was met at the exit by a volunteer from ALERT who took me to the town house to stay for the night before my early departure on the bus the next day. The house was very nice and I slept better than I have the entire time I was in Namibia! Fortunately however I didn’t know until the morning that only the week before the house had been broken into by thieves and a number of things stolen! TIA (This Is Africa) after all…
There were two other volunteers also waiting to get the bus to ALERT from the town house, both American and here on their honeymoon - what a great trip to take for it! Although being that this is their first time to Africa, I’m not sure I would have chosen Zim as my first destination…! The journey surprised me as compared with my bus trip from Windhoek to Otjiwarongo where we saw abundant game, the only animals I could spot on the journey from Harare to Gweru were vervet monkeys and a lilac breasted roller. All around Antelope Park there are very little game species here and I’ve not even seen any mongoose, baboons, rodents, ground squirrels or jackals like I did in just a day at CCF. I get the impression that this land has been utilised a lot more extensively than in Namibia, not least because the population in Namibia is so low – only 2 million on the entire country, with a lot living in Windhoek.
Zimbabwe does seem to be a nice place though and they have the most amazing deep red sunsets – made to look far nicer when the sun sets over the lake here at Antelope Park, as herons fly over, guinea fowl wander the lawns and lions roar in the distance. Antelope Park is far larger than I expected and caters well for tourists – its main financing body. The grounds are beautiful and remind me a lot of the camps at Kruger with mini waterfalls, rustic cabins, thatched lodges, pruned and well-watered gardens and a real “bush” feel to it. I am currently staying in a standard room, normally let out to guests, but as there are no available rooms in the staff quarters I am quite happy here! Last night one of the eight resident domestic cats came to sleep in my room – she’s a beautiful grey tabby and I’m sure the tabby part of her comes from her mother breeding with an African wildcat as she has the markings very similar to a wildcat.
We dine in outdoor areas covered with thatched roofs overlooking the lake and it is a lovely site, especially at dawn when mist rises from the lake and I enjoy my early-morning strong coffee before heading out for the first research session that starts at 6:15 am. Currently the chef is having a few teething problems working out what exactly vegan food is and how to cater for me – I didn’t have one item with protein in for 3 days straight and was starting to get a bit dizzy, shaky and faint, but fortunately I guess maybe they heard me talk about it because at lunch, after already eating a full meal, they plonked a whole bowl full of beans in front of me! That really helped with my energy levels and made me feel much better than I have been for the last few days. I have one portion of museli I brought from the UK with me complete with dried fruit, nuts and seeds, which I think I’ll eat tomorrow to boost my protein levels. I never thought it would be so much of a problem here, but apparently vegetables are quite hard to come by and are expensive. I have given them a big long list of things I can and can’t eat whilst here, and after explaining extensively what vegan means (for example that I can’t eat chicken but can eat bread!) I think they are starting to get it. However, last night they served me up pizza with cheese on and fortunately I checked it before eating it! I think my best bet is to dose myself up on peanut butter in the morning to get me through the day! I do find it very surprising that there are not more conservationists that aren’t at least vegetarian, especially how damaging to the environment and biodiversity eating meat can be.
The research sessions are going fine and I am slowly picking up the methods. We go out for 2 hours in the morning, two hours midday and two hours in the late afternoon. We observe the lions and note down behaviour such as territorial, scent marking, reproductive, cub suckling, group dynamics, activity budgets, grooming, social behaviour, reactions to non-wild elements and a number of other factors – quite a lot to be aware of and record!! It doesn’t help that I have no idea which lioness is which yet, so I can’t record a lot of data without the current researcher assisting me with IDing them. I really hope I get to learn soon as the current researcher leaves in 2.5 weeks, so after that I’m on my own!
Today we had fun watching the 8 month old cub playing with a zebra mane – she is very jovial and likes to play with lots of objects she finds, be that rocks, birds or other members of the pride (sometimes to the annoyance of them!). Apparently two females are pregnant and due within the next few weeks, so that will be exciting. However it seems that the cub survival rate here is low so I am trying not to get my hopes up!
Anyway I am being called for dinner (the kitchen staff play African drums for a few minutes to call us to dinner) so I better go. Here’s hoping there will be more protein for me this evening! Will write more when I get a chance.