Saturday, January 1, 2011

Umfurudzi Safari Area: Hippo Pools (Zimbabwe) A community Conservation Project

By Jane Flowers (Previously Published in the Cleft Stick Magazine)

In the evenings the bull hippo grunts out a feeble challenge as if he knows that there will be no challenger to his territory. The females in his pod number just two females, a mother and daughter. The daughter is pregnant. Soon there will be a fourth hippo in Hippo Pools Wilderness, Zimbabwe.

HIPPO POOLS WILDERNESS CAMP
Overlooking the pool where the last remaining hippos live is the Hippo Pools Wilderness Camp. Iain Jarvis runs the camp.  Sitting around the evening fire, he is keen to talk about the project.
           “This rustic camp plays an important role in eco-tourism for the area and in the awareness of the Umfurudzi Safari Area. Hippo Pools is one of the projects of the Wilderness Africa Trust” 

Iain is the founder member of the Wilderness Africa Trust and the Executive Director.  He is one of the men who has spent a lifetime dedicated to conservation and anti poaching.  Prior to the Hippo Pools project he was recognized for his efforts that led to the establishment of the Cecil Kop Nature Reserve near Mutare

Iain says that the Hippo Pools Wilderness camp was started in 1982. The project was a community effort.

“Our investment here with the Garura Community project has contributed very significantly to the area with vehicle track development and weir construction. We have a hiking trail network and our anti-poaching patrols have saved the lives of thousands of animals.”

Wilderness Africa Trust
The immediate aim of the Wilderness Africa Trust includes fostering a close working relationship with the adjacent communities.  It is hoped that sustainable projects can be of benefit to the local communities who will then not only understand the importance of preserving the Umfurudzi Safari Area and the Mazowe River, but will directly benefit from it.

“We train the people in conservation and eco-tourism and hope to use camps like Hippo Pools, to bring in visitors. The visitors will provide an income for these keen young people”, Iain explains, gesturing towards the pleasant young lad who earlier offered us a guided bird walk.
           
         “Education for the local people is our starting platform” says Iain, “but long term we would like to get educational school trips to the camp. We need to encourage conservation awareness amongst the young generation in Zimbabwe.”

Long term objectives will be harder to achieve and these include the provision of funds to build a perimeter fence. Restocking the Safari area with wildlife species that once abounded is another objective. Maintenance and re-building of the existing infrastructure is in desperate need of financing.

The Umfurudzi Safari Area
The Umfurudzi Safari Area was declared in 1974. The 75 000 hectares of wilderness are 160km northeast of Harare. Once, elephant and lion roamed here in great numbers, as did other important species such as black rhinoceros and roan antelope. The area is ideal habitat for sable, leopard, bushbuck and klipspringer.

Over the last thirty years, the animals have been disappearing. In some places, standing amongst the vast miombo forests where they merge with Mopane woodland, there is a feeling of desolation. Like the Empty Forest Syndrome of West Africa, no game tracks criss-cross the veld. It is desolate and silent. The only sound is the wind sighing in the trees. An old baobab bears the rubbing marks of the elephant that once rested there in the midday heat, but the elephant have long since gone, along with five other species. The black rhino, waterbuck, roan, lion and eland have vanished.

Near the Umfurudzi River and along the base of the magnificent mountain ranges where natural bamboo guards the strings of pools, there are signs of animals. Baboons and monkeys frequent the watercourses. Tracks in the sand tell of sable, impala and kudu. During the day these animals are seldom seen. Only the pre-dawn riser will have much chance of glimpsing them and then they are off, galloping in panic away from the intruder.

Threats to the Wilderness
Mining and quarrying pose the greatest threat to the Umfurudzi. The Natural Stone Export Company poses a threat as it quarries large quantities of black granite in the area. East of the Mazowe river damage to the environment by N.S.E.C is extensive.

The minerals rights to the area have been assigned to various small enterprises. Exploration work is done without any obvious attempt at environmental rehabilitation. Roads and trenching disfigure the area. To the South of the Umfurudzi River, the small mining activities are greater than the more northern areas.

The swath of trees cut down by the Zimbabwe Electrical Supply Authority to run power to the N.S.E.C has already destroyed over a million trees. Trees of great size, rarity and beauty, were chopped away and the power line will run through the Hippo Pools Wilderness area.  The flora in the area is unique. This area is where the Miombo woodland of the highlands meets the vegetation of the Zambezi valley. The miombo stands amongst the magnificent granite and dolerite features, whilst the Zambezi vegetation provides diversity along the rivers and alluvial areas.

Game Hunting Concessions are being talked about. Whether this will be a threat to the Hippo Pools project with its trails facilities is not known at this time. It is hoped that there will be some consulting with stakeholders like the Wilderness Africa Trust. Restocking and hunting activities will have spin-off benefits, but it is hoped that the activities for guests to the Hippo Pools will be allowed to continue.

Accommodation & Visitor Activities.
Generating money through visitors to the Hippo Pools wilderness camp is vital to the whole community project. The camp is a sad relic of what once must have been. An obvious lack of visitors and income has left the place a bit run down. The restaurant, sun deck and camp site are in disrepair.

The cottages have gas fridges and stoves and are very basic and rustic. Basic and rustic is wonderful, but run-down and unkempt is not a big draw-card.

The place has an air of neglect that seems to be crying out for a loving care-taker. Iain and his staff try as best as they can to make the visitor welcome. The cleaners clean, but what it really needs is a facelift, for no amount of scrubbing can renovate the rusted toilet bowl and the missing door latches.

At US$20 per person per night, the price is about right for what the self catering visitor gets in return. It is the potential that is just waiting for funds that leaves the visitor in wistful mindset, of what might have been, and what still could be.

The purist would be offended by the cows that graze the buffalo lawns, but there are few bulk grazers left. This is the nature of community involvement. Equally incongruous is the small eland herd that walks placidly past the locals fishing for their supper. It is a sign of success that the locals are fishing for their supper instead of poaching the eland that gaze at them with innocent curiosity.

The fishing is excellent. The cabins are right on the waters edge and the fisherman can see the tiger jumping from the shade of the trees that cool down the camp.

The sport fish include vundu and chessa as well as good sized tiger fish. Bream fishing for the pot is very good

For those who don’t fish, there are over 200 km of mapped paths and hiking trails within the camp's operational area. These are designed to suit all levels of fitness.

There are marked trails along the river and alluvial plains. More challenging trails lead into the rugged granite kopjes.With trees of interest clearly marked, and an abundance of good birding, the trails and walks are guaranteed to interest anyone with a love of nature.

Visitors can go on guided canoe trips, or can choose to hire the canoe and make their own way. Game drives are available or the visitor can self drive but remember to leave very early in the morning of you want to see much. The roads are well maintained but a pick-up or a 4x4 are preferable, especially in the rainy season.

The Hippo Pools Wilderness Camp is not a Mana Pools or a big five reserve, but it has the peace and quiet and charm of rural Africa. It is still a place where the night apes bounce on the roof and rattle around the kitchen at night.

Getting There
From Harare, the camp is about a three hour drive. The best route is via Shamva, off the Enterprise road. Beyond Shamva, after 25kms the tar ends about two kilometers from the abandoned Madziwa Mine. Turn right into the Madziwa Mine village. There are signs, but it is easy to get lost in the old mine compounds, so asking for the right track is a good idea. The old mine workers who live in the mine village are friendly and will direct you. The road goes past the bottom end of the old mine. It is tarred but very pot-holed.

After a journey of 18kms, the entrance gate to the Umfurudzi Safari area is reached. There will be a charge of US$5 to pay at the entrance gate. From there, bear left at a junction where the cement direction signs have fallen over. A drive of a further 15kms will bring you to Hippo Pools. If you arrive at the Wardens office, you have missed the left hand fork and will need to back-track.
Accommodation Enquiries
Enquiries & information - wildernessafrica@zol.co.zw
Executive Director, Iain Jarvis - wildernessafrica@zol.co.zw

20 Le Roux Drive, 
Hillside,

Box HG 261, 
Highlands

Harare 
Zimbabwe

Telephone: +263-4 747929

Cellphone: +263-11 888 942

Fax:           +263-4 747929


About the author:
Jane Flowers has a diploma in media studies from the Australian College of journalism. Jane and her husband Frank contract to mineral exploration companies in Africa, carrying out camp logistics and environmental reclamation. Jane and Frank are members of the Game Rangers Association, Africa.

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