Bush Talk: Conservation breakthroughs in the time of COVID

 In Newsletter

WHY ARE ELEPHANTS DYING?

Between March and May of this year, Botswana experienced a highly publicized mortality of more than 300 elephants un

der seemingly mysterious circumstances. Then, in August and September, approximately 35 more elephants were found dead – this time in Zimbabwe but preliminary investigations suggest that different pathological factors were at play. Neither country has since experienced any more mortality.

In both cases, malicious poisoning such as cyanide was unlikely because only elephants were impacted and the tusks were left intact. The Botswana Veterinary and Wildlife authorities asked Victoria Falls Wildlife Trust’s Wildlife Disease and Forensics Lab to analyze tissue samples from the Botswana elephants. At this time, the Botswana authorities have confirmed that cause of death for their elephants was a toxic aglal bloom in seasonal water pans.

We’ve sent some of our samples to labs in the United Kingdom, United States and South Africa for confirmation of our results. In the meantime, we are monitoring the area for new mortality by aircraft and a monitoring and management plan is in place with the Wildlife Authority. There have been no new cases in over a month.

These deaths were alarming because it came on suddenly and because of the significant amount of elephants that died. Most importantly, the Botswana-Zimbabwe elephant population is the largest remaining population of savanna elephants in Africa so it is important that we understand what is happening.

SUPPORTING ANTI-POACHING DURING COVID

Our Victoria Falls community has been hit extremely hard during the COVID-19 pandemic. Tourism generates the revenue that pays for game scouts, others charged with protecting our wildlife, and the equipment and rations to keep them going. These funds disappeared overnight when borders around the world closed creating devastating losses of jobs and income.

Zimbabwe is known for its incredibly high species diversity and, in an effort to ensure that elephant, rhino, lion and other iconic wildlife are protected during this pandemic, we were fortunate to secure emergency funding through the IUCN’s Save Our Species African Wildlife Initiative, co-funded by the European Union. This much-welcome support will help our community through January 2021 by:

  • providing Blackview Cybertracker devices and a computer to assist in anti-poaching efforts of rangers on patrol;
  • allocations of fuel to assist in management operations, anti-poaching, and fire control in Zambezi and Victoria Falls National Parks;
  • collaborating with Tactical Advantage Solution to provide training on SMART Cybertracker technology;
  • training first responding rangers on wildlife diseases, poisonings, and wildlife crime scene awareness, and;
  • supporting more than 90 rangers with food rations at home and while on patrol.

WILDLIFE RESCUE AND REHABILITATION

The kuland, seen here on the left, is the unusual cross of and eland and greater kudu.

Both are spiral-horned antelopes.

In late September I was on my morning trot around the town of Victoria Falls when I came across a young antelope that was in poor condition and not afraid of me, which is unusual for most antelope species. Its appearance was also curious: its face resembled a greater kudu but its body resembled an eland. We obtained permission from our wildlife authorities to take her to our High Care Rehabilitation Center and DNA analysis revealed that the maternal DNA was indeed eland. After a few weeks of nourishment and care, the “kuland” began to improve. As long as things continue like this, she will soon be released into Victoria Falls National Park.

Lappet-faced vultures have the longest wingspan of any vulture species in this region. Unlike other vulture species, they do not identify their prey (mainly carcasses) by smell, but more by sight. They are among the most endangered of vulture species in southern Africa.

A few months ago, Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority contacted us about an endangered lappet-faced vulture that was injured and could not fly. We brought the vulture to our High Care Rehabilitation Center where the wing was determined to be broken. We wrapped it to keep it immobile so it could heal and after a few weeks the bindings were removed. The vulture is regaining flexibility and strength in our aviary and, once his primary feathers regenerate, should soon be able to fly and be returned back to the wild. You can read more about our vulture research here.

SAVE THE DATE for the 2021

ZAMBEZI CYCLE CHALLENGE

July 9-11, 2021

"There are no stage races in Africa that can tick as many boxes as the Zambezi Cycle Challenge does. Set in a unique location which allows you to enjoy incredible natural trail riding, in a wildlife area, looking over one of the 7 wonders of the world (Victoria Falls) , this event will certainly become a must do for any MTB rider looking for adventure. Being able to bring the family with me for a long weekend in the Falls, ride my bike in the mornings while the wife and kids do an Elephant back safari and then do a sunset cruise with the family in the afternoon, makes this event a no-brainer." -- Andrew Johnson

Thank you for everything. Take good care and stay well.

Jessica Dawson
Executive Director

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