Travels to the Hinterland

David Peddie
August 2013 / August 2017

Once again, I left Amakhala Game Reserve before dawn on a cold, but clear Monday morning, heading north on the road to Johannesburg, South Africa’s “City of Gold”. The compensation for suffering a pre-dawn departure came as the sun rose over the dramatic Karoo landscape, casting long shadows from isolated, flat-topped mountains and bathing the scattered springbuck and sheep, dotted amongst the scrub, in a golden glow - a sight more precious than any rare metal!

In stark contrast, driving into Johannesburg late that afternoon I was struck by the extensive shanty towns - scrap iron, wood and cardboard dwellings which are home to the many South Africans who are either unemployed or poverty stricken. The following day this was, again, put into stark contrast with the ostentatious opulence and materialism displayed in the Sandton shopping malls, where I had to go to find currency for the trip I was about to take to Zimbabwe. The whole question of human population growth, consumption patterns and the global economic model was brought into focus once more. It is difficult to conceive that these three factors can continue “as usual” without the exhaustion of key resources; social unrest and a collapse of the ecosystems that sustain Life.

There is work to do to bring about the changes in the way we live our lives and interact with the Planet. Changes that will ensure a long term future for humanity and all the other forms of Life that sustain us.

On Wednesday, another early morning departure saw me bid farewell to my cousins, with whom I was staying, drive clear of the urban jungle before the main rush hour and be on my way to the border through the dry bush veld of the northwest of South Africa. My destination on that day was Bulawayo, the capital city of Matabeleland in Zimbabwe. Bulawayo is a small city by modern standards and, although it still has the seething hordes of humanity and rather chaotic traffic, it retains more of an air of dignity and style than most other similar African cities. The white-walls and red-tile roofs of the imposing buildings from another era, and streets wide enough to turn a wagon with a full span of oxen, give Bulawayo a unique character. She is the city I used to come to with my parents when growing up in Hwange for shopping, sport and a bit of “culture” - not to mention the ice-creams at the Eskimo Hut - and will always be the one city that touches me, and fills me with nostalgia.

I was fortunate to stay at the old Bulawayo Club, an institution in the City, which is now managed by the Amalinda Collection owned by friends, Sharon and Phil Stead ( The Club was established in the early years of the 20th Century as a Gentleman’s Club - as was the norm of the time. Although it retains all the style and splendour of its heyday and provides a wonderful window into another time, it is now open to women members (What would the old boys have thought of that?) and is open to the public for accommodation, functions and general socialising. Rob Waters, the General Manager, and his staff provide a very welcoming and professional service and make the Bulawayo Club a must if you are ever staying in the city.

On Wednesday, Thursday was declared a public holiday in Zimbabwe! The inauguration of Robert Mugabe as President gave Zimbabweans an unexpected long weekend! I met Mike Bromwich, a long-time friend and also an ex-Warden of the Rhodesian and Zimbabwean National Parks, over coffee on Thursday morning before leaving Bulawayo for Hwange National Park. Mike is a man who dedicated his life to conservation in this country and did an extraordinary job of it.

Mike is in the final stages of producing a book on the men and women of the Rhodesian and Zimbabwean Department of National Parks and Wildlife Management. It is a factual account of the work and achievements of what was internationally recognised as one of the finest bands of wildlife conservation professionals ever assembled in Africa. Nicknamed the Daga Boys, this was a group of people who were competent and effective. They pioneered new concepts, performed tasks with limited resources and created a wildlife conservation system on both state and private land that was the envy of all. It is also a collection of personal stories - some amusing, some heroic, some tragic; but all compelling.

The title of the book is “National Parks and Wildlife Management - Rhodesia and Zimbabwe” and Mike is hoping that it will be published in early 2014. It  will be a most worthwhile read.

“Daga Boys”
Large, male buffalo bulls, covered in caked mud (daga); often alone or in small bachelor groups; have a tendency to be cantankerous, especially when in proximity of females in oestrus. Also refers to the “Club” of ex-members of the Rhodesia and Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Department - female ex-officers appreciatively acknowledged!

Hot August Days
(With apologies to Neil Diamond)
Late August in western Matabeleland is traditionally windy; cold at night; gloriously hot during the day and all under a pale blue, cloudless sky; a sky hazy with the smoke of winter bush fires. Dust devils dance across dry fields and parched grasslands, flinging countless fallen leaves swirling high, only for them to flutter back to earth as the whirling wind tosses them aside and continues on it’s erratic path.

The bush along the road from Bulawayo to Hwange National Park was grey; the last of the yellow and russet leaves falling in showers from the larger trees. It is that time of the year when water, or the lack of, brings stark drama to the lives of man and beast. The anxious wait for rain is just beginning, and the heat of spring and early summer starts to fray the tempers.

In the wilderness areas of north west Matabeleland, the stakes are high - food for herbivores is short and water becomes the focus of daily life. To the waterholes of Hwange comes a procession of animals jostling for a share. Elephants bully and dominate, frequently refusing to allow other species access to the precious liquid - often with fatal consequences. Lion and other predators along with their companions, the carrion-eaters, wait on the sidelines for easy pickings.

August. The beginning of an amazing, awe-inspiring and, sometimes, shocking time to be in the bush and amongst the harsh reality of life in primal form. Everyone should have late August in southern Africa’s great game reserves on their “Bucket List”.

Lodges and Conversations
Bulawayo was left behind after the "Dagga Boys" discussion with Mike Bromwich and a catchup with Sharon Stead, the dynamic owner of the Amalinda Collection ( With a cargo of fresh supplies for Sharon’s Ivory Lodge on the border of Hwange, the drive was pleasant and, fortunately, uneventful. However, the dry fields and grey remnants of teak forests (clear-felled of all "valuable" timber) reminded me of the just how tough the end of the dry season can be in this part of the world - and it is only just beginning.

Ivory Lodge is set on the edgeof a long vlei (open grassland between savanna woodland or forest that serves as a water drainage line). The bedrooms are on platforms with uninterrupted views over a large waterhole and are well appointed and comfortable. It is rather like having your own private hide from which to view the passing parade of impala, kudu, baboons and elephant.


After a pleasant welcome from the Lodge Manager, Charity, and Barman / Waiter, Babusi, I was introduced to the other Guests; three from Australia and a couple, originally from Germany. The latter couple are based in Harare and, over a pleasant and lively conversation over dinner, turned out to have an excellent grasp of the conservation and rural development issues facing Zimbabwe and the rest of southern Africa.

Poaching inevitably came up as a topic. It was satisfying to watch the transition in the three Australians - from an initial standpoint of suggesting that all ivory should be burnt, to an understanding of the need to apply sustainable utilisation of wildlife in rural communities living with wildlife, and the complexities of doing so. Such discussions, debates even, with interested and intelligent people around a dinner table or campfire in the bush are always stimulating and, I think, enhance the cause of wildlife conservation.

Going to bed with the call of a Scop’s owl coming from the tree behind my room; the cantankerous grumblings and squawkings of baboons roosting in the trees across the vlei, and the odd trumpet of an elephant in the distance made me, once again, realise just how fortunate I have been to live the life I have, and spend time in places like this.

Painted Dogs
Languishing in bed on a cool Hwange morning, watching the dawn break over a waterhole littered with chattering guineafowl, just reinforced the good feelings I went to sleep with. The night at Ivory Lodge proved to be a very pleasant return to the bush. After a steaming mug of aromatic coffee, I bid farewell to the Lodge, and drove the short distance to the Painted Dog Conservation Centre to meet Dr Greg Rasmussen. Greg has been dedicated to the research and conservation of African Wild Dogs for many years and has made a considerable contribution to the knowledge of, and conservation strategies for, the Dogs in Zimbabwe.

I found him preparing for a seven week field trip to the Lower Zambezi Valley, a part of the Parks and Wildlife Estate that includes the Mana Pools National Park - a World Natural Heritage Site. Satellite collars have recently been placed on Dogs in Zimbabwe and more are planned for this expedition. The results have already proved valuable and surprising. For instance, a collared Dog has been shown to have crossed the Zambezi River from Zimbabwe to Zambia. That is quite a swim in a crocodile infested river - and we all know just how much a crocodile appreciates a canine snack!

Another Dog travelled east from Mana Pools, into Mozambique along the shores of Lake Caborra Bassa. Unfortunately, this Dog ran into an area of fairly dense human habitation and was caught and killed in a poachers snare. It was rather pathetic to see the skull and bones - collected by Greg when retrieving the collar - all fitting into a small plastic box.

There are numerous threats to the survival of this species. Obviously, the shrinking of suitable areas over which to range is an issue, just as it is for others such as elephant and lion. The Dogs are also prone to road accidents and I was somewhat concerned to hear just how many instances there have been of Dogs killed by speeding vehicles on the roads into the National Park. Poaching, of course, has taken a substantial toll on Dogs throughout Zimbabwe. The photograph below was taken by Dr Rosemary Groom in the Save Valley Conservancy where snares have been a major problem. My apologies for the graphic detail, but it is the reality. 

Greg has now designed a collar that has a lightweight mechanism which catches and prevents a wire snare from cutting into the neck of a Dog. It also has a small transmitter inserted that will provide a location signal when flying overhead during surveys - not to be confused with the satellite collars, these collars are both a protection and a research tool.

Wild Dogs are an essential part of any naturally functioning southern African wildlife system, and their continued existence is a priority for conservation efforts in this part of the world. People like Greg and Rosemary need all the help they can get.

Dr Greg Rasmussen
Dr Rosemary Groom

NB  : Greg has now moved on and Painted Dog Conservation is managed by Peter Blinston (2017)

United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO)
A major jamboree is taking place in Victoria Falls this week. The UN has come to town for yet another “talk” show. Hosted jointly by Zimbabwe and Zambia, the General Assembly of the UNWTO has gathered to discuss and debate the future of tourism across the globe. Apparently some 170 countries are represented. Given the economic and environmental crises that the world faces, it might be prudent for some focus to be given to the expansion of local tourism as well as international - the supply of which may prove to be capricious in the not too distant future.

The scale of the Meeting and the showcasing importance that Zimbabwe and Zambia have attached to it, has required the establishment of large scale facilities and quite some investment into infrastructure. The new airport at Victoria Falls which Zimbabwe intended to have completed, did not quite make it!


Security is conspicuous, but not very efficient. It is difficult to get in the front of the Elephant Hills Hotel (the Zimbabwe conference venue), but I parked below the hotel at the golf course and wandered in past the swimming pools and through to the conference hall without a question. There are a lot of policemen and women with bright, new luminous yellow arm sleeves on almost every corner. So far, all have been polite and helpful - long may that attitude continue. Buses, mini-buses and smart 4x4s are continually scurrying around the town and adding to the air of excitement - as much because of their dodgy driving as anything else. 

I am not sure who is paying for all of this, but it must be costing someone quite a lot of money. Certainly both countries have spent a good deal on the preparations. Zimbabwe has not quite managed to put in place the developments it had intended to, but what has been done may make a difference. It may also stimulate the completion of that which did not get done in time.

At the end of the day, I hope that the Assembly produces some worthwhile and implementable resolutions. However, past UN conference results do not give much confidence. More importantly though, I hope it gives a boost to tourism and the economies of the two host countries.

Game Translocations - SVC to Zambezi National Park
In the past couple of weeks a substantial translocation of game from the Save Valley Conservancy in the South East Lowveld of Zimbabwe to the Zambezi National Park in North West Matabeleland has taken place. In all, 100 impala, 150 wildebeest, 10 giraffe, and 50 eland made the 1000km journey. Apparently the move was successful in that mortalities were kept within the normally accepted 2% of animals captured. All the animals were released into the Chamabonda Vlei area of the Park, south of the Zambezi River and Victoria Falls town.

After years without perennial water in that section of the Park, two old boreholes have been re-commissioned and a third is in the process. In a discussion with the new Area Manager this morning, he indicated that there is confidence that the pans thus created will meet the needs of both existing animals and new arrivals. He also informed me that, as a result of the restoration of water points, there were signs of migration back into the Park by animals which may have moved out at the start of the dry season.

There is a question to be asked though. The area has always been game rich. Alluvial soils and basalt vleis with riverine vegetation and mixed woodlands near the Zambezi, rising onto Kalahari sand based gusu forest and then, in the south, the Chamabonda Vlei and the basalt hills with mixed woodland, provide a diverse and relatively productive habitat for wildlife.

The question, then, is why was it necessary to import supplementary animals to augment local populations? Assuming, of course, that it was ecologically necessary - I have not been shown data to support that premise. The fact that the United Nations World Tourism Organisation Assembly was coming to town might just have had an influence. Demonstrating to the World that pro-active conservation measures are part of supporting the tourism industry in Zimbabwe could be no bad thing  ………  could it?

Accepting that there has been a decline of certain species populations, and thus an ecological basis for the import, there are possibly some answers. The first relates to a lack of surface water in the south, caused by both drought (Nature-made) and a lack of application in maintaining the boreholes (man-made). Without adequate water, animals would either migrate or die - both resulting in either declining populations in the Park and / or high densities along the Zambezi River in the north. The man-made issue is claimed to be caused by a lack of financial resources; which if they were found now, why were they not found earlier.

The second relates to the scourge of poaching. In the last 20 years it is well-known that the level of bushmeat poaching in the Park was extremely high. Again a lack of resources and, I would suggest, a lack of training and dedication on the part of those tasked with preventing poaching were to blame. The advent of the Victoria Falls Anti-Poaching Unit and an improvement in the quality of Park staff seems to have brought the problem under control, albeit that it is still a problem.

There is actually a third potential influence on game populations in Zambezi NP. It borders the Matetsi Safari Area, a protected area within the Parks and Wildlife Estate used for safari hunting concessions and controlled by National Parks. Unless the quota system is scientifically determined and rigidly implemented and controlled, an excessive “trophy” off-take could prove a significant negative factor on the wildlife populations of both Matetsi and the Zambezi National Park.

One now hopes that the renewed combination of ecological and security management within the Zambezi National Park will result in animal populations in balance with their environment - and no longer a need to import.

*  The Bhejane Trust has in recent years worked closely with Parks to re-establish management and renovate facilities in the Zambezi, Kazuma and Hwange National Parks (

On my way to see the Zambezi National Park Area Manager, I bumped into a bunch of Gatecrashers to the Victoria Falls Boat Club - three bull elephant feeding quietly off the trees on the Club lawns. I know that they are not Members, or at least have not paid the fees. So someone should have asked them to leave the premises. No one did!

Back to the Bush
Tomorrow I plan to leave Victoria Falls before dawn, so that I can enjoy the sun rising over the Matetsi River on my way to Robins Camp in Hwange National Park. Hwange is a special place; the place of my childhood and early life as a wildlife ecologist. Wandering through its wild places is both tranquil and exciting at the same time - when you are in the bush, the world and its issues are relegated to irrelevance.

The management of the Robins area and the state of its infrastructure was a disappointment the last time I passed through, but I have been told that there have been major improvements in every aspect of the area's management and conservation. I am excited at the prospect of enjoying, once again, what is a great wildlife area.

Rural Development and Wildlife
Ten kilometres south of the Victoria Falls Airport, on my to Robins Camp, I almost, literally, bumped into three elephant bulls crossing the main road. In the early dawn and with the growing light, they were moving quickly from the communal lands back into the “protected” area of the Fuller Forest. It seemed likely that they had spent the night foraging among the fields of villages, and not making many friends in the process.

Just a few minutes further on is the old Pause Farm, or as it became known, Matetsi River Ranch. Once a cattle and later a wildlife ranching, tourism and safari hunting operation, the property, and others around the area, have now been occupied by new settlers under Mugabe’s Land Reform Programme. In this particular location, some of the land close to the Matetsi River is relatively fertile. It got me thinking, again. Thinking of some of the possibilities for more sustainable and productive approaches to land use planning, and for the implementation of rural economic development models that are more encompassing in their scope and the opportunities they create. Communal areas adjacent to protected wildlife areas and in regions of generally poor soils and erratic and poor rainfall, are prime locations for creative development.

There is an approach and model which was proposed, by Clive Stockil and myself, a few years ago as a pilot project for the Mahenye Ward, bordering the east of Gonarezhou National Park in the south east lowveld of Zimbabwe. The programme, referred to as the Integrated Conservation and Community Development Programme, was to be implemented under the auspices of the Chipinge Rural District Council; the Leadwood Institute Trust and the National Parks and Wildlife Authority. However, the politics and economic situation at the time prevented it from becoming any more than a concept and a plan.

In brief, the programme encompasses ecological and socio-economic investigations (for baseline planning information); land-use planning; environmental education; vocational skills training; the consolidation of conservation agriculture (and aquaculture, where appropriate) and domestic livestock management adapted to mitigate conflict with wild predators. It also considers the consolidation of households into villages, around the agricultural sites, with a concentration of services such as roads, communications, education and health.

The focusing of food production and social services into relatively small areas creates the opportunity for wildlife to fill the areas otherwise used for unsustainable, dry-land, slash and burn style crop farming. This in turn leads to a reduction in human - wildlife conflict and the option for new enterprises on a community ownership level. Enterprises such as tourism and related services, wildlife harvesting and the processing of it’s products. The introduction of tourism, assuming its viability, will also provide a market, albeit limited, for agricultural products.

The whole of the land area bordering the wildlife protected areas of the Hwange - Matetsi - Victoria Falls Complex lends itself to an approach of this nature. I shall attempt to deal with the subject in a more detailed and constructive paper in due course. The practical difficulties should not be underestimated - especially with a rapidly growing human population to contend with.


The concept of sustainable rural development based on renewable natural resources, has immense relevance when looking at the growing damage caused by coal mining in the Hwange town area. It is especially important as an alternative to the threat of a proposed, huge coal and methane gas mine and power station in the Gwayi area on the border of Hwange National Park. The rural people of the communal lands of Zimbabwe deserve the opportunities and options of well designed rural development strategies, that are long-term in their vision and protect the environment on which those people depend.

Matetsi Safari Area
The Matetsi Safari Area, which I drove through on my way to Robins Camp, is part of the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Estate, and one of the most diverse and productive wildlife areas in the Estate. Most of it is used for safari hunting, but the Kazuma and the Zambezi National Parks are both fully protected havens within the general area. One of the Hunting Concession Units, bordering the Zambezi River and encompassing the 20 km long Westwood Vlei, was given over to the development of two game viewing lodges a few years ago. 

I know it was a long time ago, but I grew up in the area and was, along with Tony Ferrar and Nigel Morris, one of the first National Parks ecologists to be based in the Matetsi, 35 years ago. At the time, large herds of buffalo, sable, eland, waterbuck, impala and zebra were prevalent. Reedbuck, bushbuck, warthog, tsessebe, roan and kudu were also in large numbers. The intensive road strip counts which were conducted at the time, to provide the information on which the hunting quotas were set, gave confirmation to the earlier assessment of the area as prime wildlife habitat. This level of research, monitoring and management does not appear to have been retained. The translocation of animals into Zambezi National Park is one indication that there is a lack of scientific management and administrative control of the hunting concessions.

In my opinion, Matetsi particularly lends itself to multiple forms of wildlife management. Its proximity to Victoria Falls, Hwange National Park and the Botswana wildlife areas, all of which lie within the Kaza TFCA; as well as it’s wildlife and habitat diversity, are well suited to game viewing tourism. Safari hunting may have a role, if it is well managed and controlled; and ethically implemented. As said, current indications would suggest otherwise.

Robins, Rangers and Owls
A friendly and smartly turned-out Ranger met me at the entrance gate to the Robins* area of Hwange National Park. A gate that was about to have a facelift and some new thatching, but which had an approach road that almost bounced me out of my seat. It was a prelude to a visit that would be one of highs and lows; pleasure at management and infrastructure improvements and wonderful wildlife sightings, and despair at much which could, should, have been done, but was not.


*   Harold Robins was once the eccentric owner of the ranch which he bequeathed to the Nation as a wildlife area on his death in 1939. This despite the numerous and amusing clashes he had with Ted Davidson, the first Warden of the Wankie National Park, while Davidson was trying to establish the new Park. The ranch has been incorporated into the Park ever since. Legend (in truth, it seems that he was probably cremated in Bulawayo and his ashes buried at Robins) has it that H.G.R. insisted that his body be hung from a tree in a sack, so that his “juices” could flow into the land. That lasted for a few days before a hole was dug beneath the grisly, and very smelly sack, and it was dropped into the hole that is his grave!!

The reception staff at the Camp were a pleasure of smiles and attention, and I was soon on my way to the Little Deka Camp along a route which had always produced some interesting sightings in the past. I was not disappointed. At Mahahoma Seep, a permanent spring, I spotted a large male lion with an air of self-importance about him. Unfortunately, he was a way off and tucked behind a clump of shrubs and small trees. Then a feminine tawny head, with satisfied eyes, languidly raised itself out of the grass to glance disinterestedly in my direction. An obviously romantic interlude! I moved on, not wishing to pry.

Little Deka Camp is close to the Botswana border and quite isolated. The access road, as are many in this area of the Park, is not too bad, but really only suited to 4x4 vehicles. The Camp is of brick and thatch construction and, in the past, provided very comfortable accommodation for exclusive self-catering groups of up to twelve. It overlooks a vlei and pan in an area with a lot of wildlife. Regrettably it has not been maintained or used for some time and is in a state of some disrepair. It would not take much to renovate and, once again, become a sort-after location in the Park. 

Leaving Little Deka Camp and moving south along the Security Road which runs just inside the Botswana border, I followed what I though was a Parks patrol vehicle. I had followed it’s tracks from near Robins and seen it parked at the Camp as I approached. However, it had left to follow the same route as I intended, before I got there. After a while, and after passing two herds of elephant, a large herd of zebra and about 10 sable, I caught up to the slow-moving vehicle just as I was turning off to go to Tsamhole Pan. Something was not right and I stopped to look through my binoculars. I was taken aback to see a commercial safari hunting vehicle loaded with hunters, trackers and rifles, obviously hunting.

When I saw a similar vehicle at Robins later that afternoon while having a conversation with the Deputy Area Manager, I asked him who they were. I was told that they were hunters from Unit 3 (Matetsi Safari Area) who were given permission to follow a wounded animal into the Park. Nothing more was volunteered.

In the pre-dawn of the following morning, I was walking around the Camp looking for the various owls that were calling (Scops, Barn, Spotted Eagle and White-Faced), when the sound of vehicles moving along the main road leading out of the Park and past Robins again had me wondering. They were certainly not Parks vehicles - I asked the night guard and there had been no sign of any life in Camp to that point - and their tracks showed me later that they had gone off on a disused road north towards the Park border without coming into the Camp.

I have heard rumours that Parks have been allowing hunts in the Park under various permit guises, including under the absurd cloak of culling. Trophy hunters conducting the very technical task of culling, when thousands of animals would need to be shot to make a difference to the population? I do hope my observations have a logical explanation, because to allow trophy hunting in a National Park, and this countries premier one at that, is the start of a very slippery slope.

On a more promising note, although it was a little confusing given what I had just seen, I had met up with a patrol of Rangers taking a middle of the day break at Tsamhole Pan. They appeared to be well organised, in good spirits and were apparently on patrol for about a week. They had to that point found no poachers nor evidence of poaching.

Charge of the Heavy Brigade
On Tuesday afternoon after the concerns raised by hunting issues, I decided to indulge myself in the pleasures of what Hwange National Park is meant to be all about - for visitors anyway - and that is to embrace the wildness and the excitement of life in the bush. So I drifted slowly to Salt Pans, the scene of so many enjoyable memories as a child and as a National Parks ecologist.

Along the way I was searching the bush, as one does, but have to admit that I was somewhere among those memories, when I realised I was about to drive over three Coqui francolin. I am never sure whether these birds are short of grey matter; naive about roads and vehicles or have an evolutionary confidence in their camouflage. When they cross a road they do so at a pace that would make a snail look like Usain Bolt - and they give the appearance of as much arrogant confidence as he does. It is their home after all and we are the intruders! I stopped in time - the photo is my evidence!

After Salt Pans, which was quiet so early on a hot afternoon, I swung off at Piccadilly Circus towards the Big Toms waterhole and hide. I do not know who gave that junction of roads its name, but it has been thus for as long as my memory.

Although the Big Toms hide is dilapidated, but again easily renovated, the basic structure of the hide is sound; comforting when there are some 150 elephant all around you. However, their focus was on water not on the fellow clicking away in the platform. It is always incredible to be close to elephant and to watch them live their lives, unconcerned with human intrusion. Two very skittish roan then arrived, and made their way hesitantly through the herds to the water. Rare now, these antelope were once in herds of up to 30 in this area - perhaps they are staging a comeback from the poaching pressure it was suspected they came under. I also saw a herd of eight near Main Camp a day later.

After enjoying the spectacle for about an hour, I started to climb down the stairs, when out of the bush at the base of the hills to the east, the Heavy Brigade materialised, and began their imperious march to the water. Ten large elephant bulls strode through the scrub with total assurance. These boys would put most defenders to flight and gave new meaning to the Charge of the Heavy Brigade.

Once I had acknowledged their status, I left the Heavy Brigade to their pleasures at the waterhole and drove off to Little Toms Hide. Sadly, this is another excellent facility that is in disrepair, but again easily repairable. I only hope that the funds and the determination become available soon to bring back these facilities that give such amazing wildlife viewing opportunities.

With the evening approaching, I came around a bend into a vlei crossing and a spotted hyena stepped into the road ahead of me. No concern on his / her part - never sure, when they are alone - and it promptly lay down in the track to watch me! After a while I drove slowly towards it and, with some reluctance, it moved off the road into the grass and on its way to wherever it was going when we met.

Finally, to conclude a marvellous afternoon, around the next bend in the Little Toms Vlei close to Robins Camp, a herd of, probably 500 plus buffalo gave me a few inquisitive glances as they grazed their way into the sunset. What a sight. I did wonder during that night, when the lion were roaring close to the Camp, whether all that herd would see the sunrise.


What a privilege it was to still be able to experience a day like this. More was to come.

Another Day at the Office
I left Robins Camp before sunrise on Wednesday, as always with a tinge of sadness at not being able to stay longer, but also filled with anticipation of the day ahead. I planned to take a route favoured on family visits to the Park many years ago, and one on which I had had a very close encounter with three young male lion while conducting road strip game counts when a Parks ecologist. That story is included in a book of short stories I am trying to write and I do not intend embarrassing myself here!

The road via Crocodile Pools to Chingahobe Dam and on to Deteema Dam, proved to be much as I remembered it, but was, like many roads in the Robins area, only suited to 4x4 or at least a tough vehicle with high clearance. Croc Pools at sunrise was just perfect. Large flocks of guineafowl and coveys of spurfowl joined the dawn chorus and added to the perpetual grunting of the pod of hippo in the pool below the hide. The hide is a simple stone and thatch construction, but comfortable and with excellent views over the pool and surrounding bush - such a pity not to take a little time and very little money to repair it. 

As I drove out the sun was rising and I had the most beautiful view of a fish eagle, perched regally on the upper branches of a dead tree, silhouetted against the rising sun - making my day.


The bush was quiet for a while, but as I approached a low hill where the road was rocky and slow, a large, female elephant stepped out of a thicket not far in front of my vehicle. Quickly looking around, I realised that I was boxed in by her family. Should a Dagaboy admit to a little dash of adrenalin? However, apart from the odd trunk in the air, shaking head and flapping ears, no-one got too excited and, after they had had their fill of feed around me, we all went off on our own way.

Chingahobe Dam revealed three saddle billed stork, an adult with two immature birds, which was the first time I had seen a group with immatures. Although large game was sparse along the route, sightings of kudu, giraffe, impala and zebra were regular, until I reached Deteema, where there were large herds of impala - probably 400 visible from the hide.

Two, obviously committed, Hwange enthusiasts from South Africa were avidly identifying birds from the hide, but appeared particularly bleary eyed. As it turned out, they had camped at the nearby Deteema Picnic Site the night before. Unfortunately for them, so had a very large troupe of baboons. Roosting in the large trees in and around the camp, the baboons had obviously been having nightmares about nasty leopards and kept up a cacophony of grunts, shouts and squeals all night. Little sleep was had by the birders.

Next stop was Masuma Dam and hide - which is well maintained and a delightful spot to stop for a break on the drive from Robins to Main Camp. No matter how often you spend time in the bush with wildlife, there is always something to surprise you. Dagaboys - those mud-encrusted, buffalo loners - showed me another side of their behaviour, when forty five of them gather to drink and wallow in the dam. Having drunk their fill and cooled off, they departed slowly, with slightly ponderous dignity, as a group and disappeared into the mopane scrub. Perhaps it is the high density of lion in the area that had brought them together in a defensive coalition? 

Further down the road it brought a big smile to my face when I found workmen renovating the Platform at Guvalala. When I spent a night sleeping there in September 2012, it was something of a mess. How pleasant it will now be to stop over there, with flush loos and a shower to give a touch of comfort. 

My last stop en route to Main Camp, was Dom Pan. While quietly watching waterbuck and zebra wander in, a research vehicle from the French research group of Dr Herve Fritz pulled in next to me. Hugo Valls is a PhD student studying the movement patterns of a number of species in relation to water supply and distribution. Using satellite tracking collars and modern camera traps, the results should prove extremely interesting. 

After our discussion, I must admit to marvelling - with a little envy - at how modern technology has revolutionised wildlife research. My efforts at a similar study 30 years ago using binoculars, a pad and a pencil, while producing some valid results, appear almost quaint. My envy lies in how much fun the modern researcher must have in discovering so much, so quickly. Thank goodness, though, technology will never give us all the answers about the wilderness and wildlife. The mystery is what keeps life exciting.

I went to bed that night, listening the call of hyena around Main Camp, with a pleasant sense of well-being, knowing that there was a time when a day like today really was “just another day at the office”!

Curriculum Vitae                                                   Conservation    Community    Commerce    Culture                                      © David Peddie 2017