The 2am temperature reading tells us it’s just 10 degrees, down from 32 degrees earlier in the day. The full moon lights up the landscape just enough for us to count our waterholes visitors, although it takes patience and a good pair of binoculars to positively identify the leopard and porcupine. I say ‘we’ very loosely, Michelle is on the midnight to 4am shift. I am being quite useless wrapped up in blankets and snoozing in the back of the car.
I’m a regular Mana Pools game count participant and revel in the walking experience that is unique to the count. I’ve always shied away from the Wildlife and Environment Zimbabwe’s static counts. The staying awake through the night aspect of it and being stuck in a one place, a car, for 24 hours has always put me off. However having tried my first every count this year, I found I really enjoyed it.
Over 300 people teamed up for the count and were distributed at every water hole through out the park from Robins to Sinametella amd west towards Robins. Pat Cox had spent the previous week doing aerial surveys of the many natural and pumped waterholes. He’s volunteered his services for years now and has extensive knowledge and experience of the numerous water holes. This year there was evidently a lot more water, both in established and temporary pans than in previous years due to last years excellent rainy season. Ultimately, the organisers informed us, this could lead to fewer animals being counted.
Our briefing was on the lawn next to reception at Main camp at 5pm, Robins and Sinametella camps had similar pre-count briefings. Vehicle logistics, distances to pans, rules, regulations and recording techniques were all discussed. Some teams left at five am the following morning in order to reach their destination. Our pan was close to Main camp so we headed out after a leisurely breakfast.
The count lasts twenty four hours and starts at midday. All mammals and listed birds are counted in hourly intervals, gender and ages are recorded where relevant. Temperatures are noted every three hours. Some pans have large numbers of visitors, others less so. We met a very tired but exhilarated lady from Marondera and her team of eighty-plus year olds. They had been given Nyamanlovu pan to count, which she was eternally grateful for. Last year they overheated at a remote pan with no shade in the Sinametella area where they saw just one warthog twelve times. This year they slept up on the platform and were physically very comfortable. The pan was, as usual, inundated with game and her team were happily exhausted from counting amongst other game 420 elephant, lion, buffalo and giraffe. Other friends of ours who had a lovely pan north-west of Main camp were extremely happy to have seen over 120 elephants, but they saw very little else. When there’s numerous herds of elephant drinking and having mud baths there isn’t really a lot of space left for other thirsty creatures.
The 2014 count started on a Tuesday so we took advantage of the weekend before and after to spend time in the park. It was great to see the ‘Friends of Hwange’ solar panel pumps working down at Kennedy 2 and Umkawazaan pans. Another solar panel was being installed at Dom pan. They may not be hugely aesthetically pleasing and will undoubtedly interfere with the odd photo opportunity but they are a lot more environmentally friendly, quiter and much cheaper to maintain than the older diesel versions.
Over the days leading up to the count we spent many a happy hour re-familiarising ourselves with the Ngweshla area. We stopped to picnic, or have coffee at various camps en route where we chatted to the always friendly, informative and attentive camp staff. We were spoilt by the numerous elephant herds that graced us with their presence, saw more of the elegant kudu than we did impala and were in awe of a magnificent leopard taking a dusk stroll on the Dopi 4×4 track.
We left the park hoping to see the wild dog that we’d seen repeatedly crossing the road six days earlier on the drive in but sadly they’d moved on. Hwange had given us yet another great Zimbabwean wildlife experience and I left happy and content. We were after all heading to Chizarira for three days and a different kind of wilderness adventure .
Overview of Hwange 2014 game count by WEZ.
- 316 volunteers made up 95 teams in the 2014 Hwange game count.
- 41 pans were counted in main camp, 10 in Forestry, 23 in Robins and 21 in Sinametella.
- 42 mammal species were identified, down from 45 species over the last 5 years.
- Total number of animals recorded was 37,846, which included 22,414 elephant.
- This year elephant represented 59% of the total count up from 44% in 2012.
- 916 elephant in the presidential herd were recorded but due to huge number of pans in their home range this number is more likely to be around five to six thousand.
- Lion prides were recorded at six pans.
- One buffalo herd of 984 and one of 901 were recorded.
- Mandavu dam reached 44.9 degrees at 3pm and the Manga 3 dam went down to 5 degrees at midnight.