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IMIRE SAFARI RANCH, ZIMBABWE (south central africa)

VOLUNTEER WORK WITH BLACK RHINOCEROS

On June 29, 2010 I arrived in Zimbabwe, and was picked up at the airport and driven to Imire Safari Ranch, 105 km east of Harare to work as a volunteer for several weeks. Not until I was back in Canada did I begin to understand the intriguing history of this unique Ranch and the stories of the remarkable people and creatures which unfold here.
The founder of Imire, Norman Travers, moved from England to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) after serving with the British Army in World War 11. He worked in farming and in 1950 bought Imire and began farming Tobacco, maize and cattle. In 1972 he wanted to try to restore some of the wildlife which had been hunted to make way for cattle and cropping. He pioneered the integration of cattle ranching and commercial farming with wildlife management. Presently the ranch consists of 10,000 acres of conservancy and 1,000 acres for farming. Imire was one of the first farms to offer homes to young orphan elephants and Norman instigated research to improve handling and teaching elephants ("Eli's"). In 1980 he took an young orphaned baby elephant "Nzou" from a wildlife sanctuary in Harare. He trained her using affection and horse cubes as rewards and she was soon taking tourists for rides on her back. Later he took Nzou and a bull elephant to breed in a large paddock which was alongside a herd of African Buffalo. The bull died and Nzou adopted the Buffalo and became their matriarch. Nzou protects the Buffalo and avoids contact with other elephants. Nzou is remarkable in many ways: she heard the cries of a familiar guide as he was being attacked by one of the male Buffalo and protected the guide until he could reach safety and then she returned and killed the bull by crushing him under her knees. She has killed 13 bulls who tried to separate the females from the herd and the Ranch now removes males, who are maturing, in order to protect them. Nzou has also been known to rescue a baby calf that was trapped in the mud and to bury a calf that had died.
In 1975 thousands of Black Rhinoceros ("Rhinos") roamed the Zambezi Valley in Zimbabwe and by 1980 three thousand black Rhino had survived the liberation war of Zimbabwe. In 1984 the Valley was declared a World Heritage Site, but then a poaching onslaught for Rhino horn ensued and by 1987 black Rhino became extinct in the Zambezi Valley. In the late 1980's the Department of National Parks and Wildlife removed the remaining 120 black Rhino out of the National Parks and into intensive Protection Zones of Conservancies.
In 1987 Norman Travers became the custodian of seven orphaned baby black Rhino aged between 4-6 months; 3 males (Noddy, Fumbi, Sprinter) and 4 females (Cuckoo, D.J., Mvu, Amber). All 7 calves were reared on a bottle for at least 8 years to maintain human contact and all were raised together. The females bred successfully and 14 births have taken place on Imire. Nine Rhino were returned to the Matusadona National Park in Zimbabwe and one to Botswana and the females have bred successfully within the Park.
On November 7, 2007 three black Rhino and an unborn were shot and murdered at Imire and a generation of black Rhino were lost in this brutal poaching incident. There was a very young calf left unharmed but traumatized by his mother's murder and his name is Tatenda (means "Thank you".
Tatenda was taken into the home of Jude and John Travers and cared for and bottle fed for several years. The Animal Planet Documentary "There's a Rhino in My House" is about Tatenda and several other unique in house baby orphans (a hyena and a warthog) that were raised in the Travers's home.
During my short visit to Imire, June 29 - July 16, 2010 I came to know and care about the people and the animals that I met. When I first arrived there were 2 other volunteers, Jeff and Susan, who left several days later to go to Victoria Falls. Other volunteers arrived: Pam and her daughter Katie, Ilka, and Emma and we bonded together under the guidance of Bright, our teacher, adviser, and supervisor. Bright would work out a schedule of volunteer tasks with Ash (our Volunteer Program Manager). We would be ready to leave the lodge by 06:30 hrs am daily (except for Sundays and Saturday afternoons). Volunteer tasks included: mucking out Eli and Rhino hay beds, cutting and collecting wood, gardening, game counts, snare sweeps (poachers would hide snares and steal game), filling potholes, collecting and distributing bales of hay, pellets and long grasses, applying anti-tick grease to pellet drums, teaching and sports at the Numwa school, recording plants eaten by the Rhino while browsing, repairing Bomas (night pen enclosures for Rhino), filling potholes, and doing any chore that was required (eg firefighting or burning to prevent bush fires). After several hours of work we would return to the lodge for a filling breakfast which may include eggs, beans, toast, & porridge... and would then return back to work and later to the lodge for lunch and then back again to work and would return to the lodge before sunset around 5:30 pm. June and July are winter in Zimbabwe and it was cold, sometimes with morning frost.
Along with mucking out the Rhino and Elephant beds we were also able to spend time with them, observing the Rhinos when they were let out to browse every morning at daylight. Tatenda was 3 years old and just recently transferred to the boma from the Traver's home. He was paired with Shanu, a 4 1/2 yr old female (Shanu means 5 as she was the fifth birth at Imire). We also spent some time getting to know the Eli's: Makavhuzi ("Mac" a 39 yr. old male), Toto (29 yr old male), Mundebvu (19 yr old female and mother to Kutanga), and Kutanga (a male born April 30, 2009 and fathered by Mac). Kutanga was not a planned pregnancy as the Ranch is unable to support breeding elephants due to the lack of land and vegetation required by larger groups of elephantsand the Eli's are treated with hormones to prevent mating. Kutanga has provided much joy and entertainment for all who come in contact with him. The Ranch has also recently acquired two white Rhino from the wild, Matopas and Ntombe, in order to start a white Rhino breeding program. Two other black Rhino, Gomo and KamChaCha, have already started mating and there is much hope for a pregnancy soon. The Ranch also has two rescued hyena and two lions who are kept in enclosures and fed.
The lodge had an open jeep for use and even this jeep had a special character of its own. It was missing a passenger side door and the brakes didn't work but somehow as long as they were able to roll it and jump start it it gave us transport. In case you end up hearing a rumor about me driving a jeep into a tree...let me be perfectly clear that I was told to drive it to the very large tree in question, (after talking Ash into letting me drive it), and I was in first gear and there was a slight uphill incline and we were going incredibly slow and the slightly shocked volunteers will attest that the bump, when we hit the tree, was almost negligible. The tree was not visibly damaged and only the front roll bar on the jeep was pushed in just enough that I could no longer fit my leg behind it while riding on the hood. Against my advice Ash did confess to Jude Travers of the incident, but anyways, I know they are planning to get a new used jeep, with brakes.
The day before I has to leave Imire, for Safari in Kenya and Tanzania (and after to Zanzibar), I had the privilege of accompanying the Eli's on their daily browsing, after the guides and I mucked out their beds. I was fortunate to witness Mac playing strenuously and joyously with a large tire that he found by a watering hole. The video that I took will be posted to my YouTube site "BHANTUBABY" once I finish editing it.
The evening before I left, the volunteers and I were relaxing in the lodge living room sipping wine and reading. I suddenly felt incredibly thirsty and normally would get a cold coke but for the first time I went to the fridge for a drink of cold water. There was still some water left in the jug but I decided to fill it as there are frequent long power outages and it is nice to cold water. The sink and stove area were around the corner and as I looked out the window above the sink I could see flames licking up towards the trees at the back of the house. Since I had never been at the sink at night I wasn't sure if this was a staff fire for cooking or...I returned to the living room and the volunteers immediately rallied and began to get water from the pool and kitchen as the fire was quickly growing and the old and partially newly thatched roof could also catch on fire. I ran to get Ash who was nearby in a small house. It turned out that one of the staff had thrown some old coals onto a small pile of hay and they relighted and started the fire. We were fortunate to catch this as all the staff had retired to their homes and only the volunteers were at the lodge. I hope to one day return to again see Mac and his family and to share in the daily life of this amazing Ranch and what they give back to their community. Love Suzanne

Norman Travers, born on October 10, 1921, died of a heart attack on March 18, 2010 and was buried on his farm, Imire, in eastern Zimbabwe. Prior to his burial Makavhuzi and Toto ambled past 250 mourners and up to his coffin and smelled it intently and then later stood together above his burial ground. In the following week they returned three times to his grave-site.

References: The Times and The Sunday Times May 8, 2010 (Times Newspapers England No. 894646) and ImireSafariRanch.com Website and the staff and guides. Thanks to Jude Travers for consent to video.

Posted by BHANTU 13:32 Archived in Zimbabwe Tagged safari ranch blog imire

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Fascinating. Well written. Well photographed.

by berryrasp

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