A holiday trip around the country with a visiting relative took us to places that allowed me to get a more enhanced experience of the country’s wildlife.
By Chipo Masara
From Chipangali, a wildlife shelter in Bulawayo, to Hwange National Park — the largest wildlife reserve in the country — en route to Victoria Falls, thereafter crossing over to Kanyemba — a wildlife area to the furthest north that borders Zimbabwe and Zambia as well as Mozambique — the trip left me with mixed feelings.
Chipangali presented a much-needed close up as one could take as much time as they needed to just glare in wonder at the amazing creatures, study their mannerisms or take beautiful pictures and videos to cherish for a lifetime.
Although I have always preferred the scenario where wild animals are not enclosed but are rather left to freely roam in their natural habitats, I have to say that I am starting to see things differently. The homes that house the different animals at Chipangali are designed to resemble the animals’ natural environments and going around, it was easy to tell that the animals were quite comfortable. Getting up-close and personal with the majestic lions — and there happens to be quite a number of them at Chipangali — left me awestruck. I was however very thankful for the very long and firm fence that ensured a safe distance between us as some of them seemed more interested in eating me than the chunks of meat thrown at them during feeding time. All in all, I felt that the animals were better off in an enclosed and protected area like Chipangali than out in the wild where they would be in certain danger from the rampaging poachers, and hunters.
At Hwange National Park, the ranger warned us even before we entered the wildlife area that we would not spot any rhinoceros as there were none left in the area. Poachers have wiped them all out. I had many questions for the ranger, like how safe the elephants in the area were as they would clearly now be the poachers’ focal point since rhinos have been cleared out. Although he seemed reluctant to reveal too much, I was able to gather that poachers were still very much a threat in the area and there was no assurance they would not strike again — as they did when they killed what is suspected to be over 300 elephants through cyanide poisoning in recent years. In defence, the ranger mentioned how Hwange National Park was too large an area with rangers too few to “possibly cover the whole area at once”, which he said explained why there had been instances of poachers going as far as setting up camp in the area, undetected , as they carried out their illegal business.
Lions at Hwange National Park proved to be such a rare sight that a group of tourists that we were watching elephants with suddenly bolted out in the direction someone had reported to have spotted two lions. We followed in hot pursuit, but it proved to be a wasted effort as there were no lions to be seen at the park that day.
After close to three hours of driving around Hwange National Park, we had seen elephants, giraffes, wildebeests, zebras, hyenas, wild dogs, baboons and countless birds. While it was an exhilarating experience, I have to say I had expected more. Because we visited during the dry season — which is considered the best time for game viewing in the park as wildlife is supposed to be easier to spot because vegetation is thinner and animals gather around predictable water resources — I had looked forward to especially seeing the Big Five.
But it was the trip to Kanyemba that proved to be even more disappointing. I could not help noticing how, along the long and winding rough gravel road to the area, I did not spot even a single big wild animal. I got comfort in convincing myself that I was sure going to get a view of elephants and other wild animals when we arrived and visited the Zambezi River. To my disappointment, all we saw was elephant dung here and there, a sign of the gentle giants’ presence, and that was to be all we would see of them, or any wild animal. A safari lodge worker who accompanied us said the area now had more buffalo than elephants. There were many cases of people being trampled to death by wounded buffalos that would have somehow escaped death from the marauding poachers. The local said the wildlife in the area, especially the elephants, were in constant danger from poachers, most of who illegally crossed into the area from either Zambia or Mozambique. This particular visit to Kanyemba proved different from other visits I have had in the past when the area was still teeming with wildlife.
Overall, the drive around the different wildlife areas left me convinced that going to the areas I went to and being able to capture the memories as I did is something I will cherish even more in the not so distant future. It is likely most of the animals will soon be completely wiped out by poachers.
Unless sterner measures are put in place to stop the poachers, we may in the future need to visit places like Chipangali to catch even just a glimpse of any wild animal.
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