BY SUE WATT
It was a long and arduous journey that finally brought Thuza and Kusasa home.
Two weeks ago, we had driven 500 miles through the night right across Zimbabwe, from Malilangwe in the southeast to Hwange in the northwest.
As our convoy approached its final destination, crowds lined the route, school children in pristine uniforms waved their flags, and local VIPs waited in safari Land Cruisers in the midday heat, all excited and eager to see their new neighbours.
Eventually, the two boys walked out of their crates and into their boma within the pioneering Imvelo Ngamo Wildlife Sanctuary, oblivious to the historic steps they were taking.
Not only were they the first white rhinos in the Hwange area for nearly 20 years, but they were the first in the entire country to live on communal land, with scouts from local villages trained to British military standards as their protectors.
Breaking new ground
Something of an unsung hero in conservation, Zimbabwe has the fourth highest rhino population in Africa, with more than 1,000 in national parks or private reserves.
But this small sanctuary measuring one mile square is breaking new ground as the pilot project of the Community Rhino Conservation Initiative (CRCI).
The CRCI is the dream child of Mark Butcher (known as Butch), MD of local operator Imvelo Safari Lodges and a former ranger in Hwange National Park.
“In the eighties, white rhinos were part of the scenery on the sand country of southern Hwange,” he said.
“The northern area still has a few black rhinos.
“But my heart has always been in the south and the grassy open plains, always involving white rhino.
“We lost them all because of poaching and Hwange has never been the same since.”
Benefits for all in one fell swoop
Butch’s plan is to gradually form a patchwork of mini-sanctuaries on current cattle-grazing pastures in the Tsholotsho communal lands around Hwange.
These would eventually become one conservancy with a viable breeding population of 30 to 50 rhinos roaming around 100 to 200 square miles along the southern border of the park.
The plan isn’t set in stone: it depends entirely on what local people want, but the benefits would be huge.
Crucially, the conservancy would act as a fenced buffer zone to benefit farmers who endure crop-raiding elephants and lions killing their livestock.
In one fell swoop, it will decrease human wildlife conflict, draw more visitors to Hwange to see the famous Big Five, and support local people through sanctuary entrance fees and employment.
Worth up to US$60,000 per kilo, rhino horn is erroneously believed to heal ailments ranging from cancers to hangovers, fuelling the illegal wildlife trade to Vietnam and China.
Having such vulnerable animals on communal land with the communities as custodians was initially deemed too high-risk, making it hard to raise donor funding.
An estimated $250,000 (just over £203,000) was needed for the sanctuary HQ and training camp with electric fencing, solar power, salaries for the 30 scouts of the new Cobras Community Wildlife Protection Unit, their unforms, rations, and top-of-the-range field equipment.
Butch took on a philanthropic soft loan to get the ball rolling, hoping donors would be more forthcoming in the future.
“This should have been a one-year project, but it took five years to move two rhinos from A to B,” he told me.
“Along with delays, there were naysayers and doubters, and countless bureaucratic obstacles.
“Imagine trying to import military firearms into Zimbabwe, the hoops we had to jump through…”
Butch emphasises the role of others in this complex initiative. Without stakeholders and local people onside, the project would never get off the ground.
He credits Njabulo Zondo, Imvelo’s director of community relations, and Sambulo Moyo, its communities projects officer, for “doing the donkey work” in liaising with government departments and communities.
A legacy for the people
Villages in the Tsholotsho area – particularly Ngamo, which lies closest to the park boundary – had already benefited from tourism at Imvelo’s four camps for several years, enjoying improved schools, access to boreholes and healthcare.
But asking them to invest in rhino conservation by giving up prime grazing land was new to everyone.
Baba Mlevu, the influential 89-year-old headman of Mlevu Ward, helped persuade local farmers.
“When I was small, I always used to see rhinos in Hwange,” he told me.
“And I want to see them again before I die. I want this to be my legacy for my people.”
The new rhinos will inevitably be prime targets for poachers, but Imvelo guide Vusa Ncube believes they will be protected in an area where 95 percent of locals support the project.
“The communities won’t let anyone take these rhinos from them,” he said, resolutely.
“And with all the security in place, it would be seriously difficult for poachers.”
That was the deal-breaker for the team at Malilangwe, from where the two bulls were translocated.
They wouldn’t move their precious animals without knowing they would be safe.
“These bulls will be guarded like the president,” Butch told me as we watched CRCI’s Cobra scouts, all from local villages, on a training drill for a breach of the boma fence.
A piercing siren rang out as the team ran from their barracks, firearms in hand, magazines clicking hurriedly into place.
In just over one minute, their job was done, having checked inside the boma and all around its perimeter fence.
Their four years of rigorous training has clearly paid off under the leadership of Daniel Terblanche, ex-British Army with tours of Afghanistan and Iraq under his belt.
His second in command, Cedric Moyo, who had formerly trained at Malilangwe, comes from nearby Ziga village.
The rhinos will be protected by 24/7 close-quarters guarding.
“Within 100 metres of our rhinos, there will be six scouts at any point, night and day, rain, snow, whatever.
“Wherever they move, we will move,” Daniel explained. “We’ve been conducting a series of drills to iron out any issues using donkeys and pretending they are rhinos.
“Every night, I’ve tried to enter the boma to simulate poachers coming in. I couldn’t get within 80 metres of my target.”
The scouts themselves have a real sense of ownership towards the rhinos, and a rock-solid commitment to their protection.
“It’s fantastic that they’re finally here,” Wisdom Mdlongwa told me.
“These rhinos are for the whole community, and the Cobras will protect them.”
Bokani Mpofu was even more emphatic: “I would kill any poacher who tries to take my rhinos,” he said.
In January, Butch received the invitation he had been striving for: to present his ambitious plans for CRCI to the National Rhino Committee coordinated by Zimbabwe’s Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZimParks).
It was the final hurdle in this marathon conservation challenge, and with the full support of Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve, he was granted permission for the rhino movement permits.
Two special rhinos
Much of Zimbabwe’s success in rhino conservation is down to Malilangwe and its non-profit Malilangwe Trust, supported among others by the UK conservation organisation Tusk, the US-based African Community Conservation Foundation, and the high-end ecotourism company Singita.
The reserve welcomed its first translocated rhinos in the late 1990s.
Thanks to its ideal habitat, excellent security practices and extensive monitoring, Malilangwe has grown its population to the extent that it can now translocate rhinos to other appropriate destinations.
Having been captured by the dedicated rhino team two weeks earlier, Kusasa and Thuza, aged seven and eight respectively, were kept in a holding boma awaiting their translocation to Ngamo.
They had been carefully selected by ecologist Sarah Clegg, who records meticulous data on all individuals in the reserve.
She knew these two had been friends for years, and better still, were unrelated, an important factor for future breeding when females join the project.
“Being together will help them adjust to their new home,” she told me. “It’s rare for unrelated bulls to spend so much time together. They’re very special.”
With the rhinos sedated and loaded into crates on a 20-tonne truck, we finally set off in the convoy of Malilangwe’s experts, with ZimParks and police personnel.
There were multiple stops en route, with vets checking the rhinos’ temperatures, drugs, and positions in the crates.
Secretly, emotions and fears among the crew ran high but were kept in check by their calmness and professionalism.
“Every translocation is a potential catastrophe,” Sarah said.
Near a small town called Lupane two hours from Ngamo, the Cobras were waiting to take over security of their rhinos, with the flags of Zimbabwe, Tsholotsho and their own Cobras insignia flying high from their trucks.
Guest visits to the sanctuary
Cars full of VIPs including Baba Mlevu joined the convoy as it progressed through Tsholotsho’s villages.
On reaching the sanctuary, the crates were lowered to ground level, and the rhinos eventually released.
Thuza, appropriately meaning “to charge” in Ndebele, rushed into the boma, relieved to be out of his crate, while Kusasa, meaning “tomorrow”, walked in quietly.
Every day since, the two bulls have stayed together and have been settling in well, closely watched by vets and scouts.
Soon, guests will be able to visit the sanctuary, spending time with the rhinos and Cobras.
Vusa is excited about that.
“Now I can take people from all over the world to see these beautiful animals on my own land, on the plains where I grew up herding cattle.
“That’s special,” he told me. “Our rhinos will change these villages forever.”
How to do it
The Luxury Safari Company (01666 880 111; theluxurysafaricompany.com) is offering a tailor-made trip from £5,221 per person, with one night at the Ilala Lodge in Victoria Falls and four nights at Imvelo Safaris Camelthorn Lodge all-inclusive, plus return rail car transfers on the Elephant Express, the new Rhino Sanctuary experience, and all safari activities.
Also included are two nights at Victoria Falls River Lodge and return flights with British Airways to Victoria Falls via Johannesburg. – The Telegraph
The well-heeled mini state that is bucking the trend in Zimbabwe
BY DOUGLAS ROGERS
One writer returns to the country of his birth to discover how a ‘Wonder of the World’ is transforming tourism in troubled times.
It was 4pm in Zambezi National Park, a few miles from the majestic Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, and the watering hole was quiet. A fireball sun dipped over the borderlands to the west. From our timber-built hide, my son Whitaker, aged 12, panned his binoculars across the landscape and saw a cloud of dust on the horizon. “There’s something coming,” he said.
Steve Taylor, our Zimbabwe-born guide, took a look. “Good spot, Whitaker,” he said. “Buffalo. Hundreds of them!” He checked his watch. “They’ll be here in 45 minutes. Anyone fancy a sundowner?”
Sure enough, exactly 45 minutes later, 300 Cape buffalo stood drinking at the pan and, like a post-work stampede for happy hour, other animals began to appear – antelope, warthog, a dozen elephants, a lone giraffe. Somewhere nearby, hyenas howled.
“Ten years ago, you wouldn’t have seen game like this here,” said Taylor, founder and owner of Askari Safari, who splits his time between the United States and a new home in Victoria Falls. “The area was in trouble, and there were few animals because of poaching and mismanagement. Now, all that is changing.”
The reason is the establishment, in 2011, of the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (Kaza), or Five Nations Peace Park. Kaza is the joining together of 36 national parks and three World Heritage Sites on the borders of five countries – Angola, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe – making it the largest transboundary wildlife system in the world. The size of France, and home to half of Africa’s elephants, Kaza has shown how cross-border cooperation on wildlife management, anti-poaching and community conservation can transform animal populations
Tourism is making a comeback, too, and Victoria Falls – Zimbabwe’s spray- drenched colonial river town, a Wonder of the World within Kaza – is booming. Helicopters buzz the cataracts, white-water rafters and luxury river boats ply the Zambezi and people like Taylor, who left Zimbabwe in the bad old days, are buying property there or moving back permanently.
This was my first post-Covid trip to the country of my birth, from my home in the United States. Part of the reason was to attend a memorial service for my late father in eastern Zimbabwe, where I grew up, but it was also a chance to spend a week’s holiday with my extended family in the Falls, on the opposite side of the country.
I love coming “home”, but Zim is a mess. Inflation is rampant, prices are exorbitant, roads and other infrastructure are crumbling. The exception is Victoria Falls, which might as well be another country. My first glimpse of it was at the impressive airport built by the Chinese in 2015. International flights arrive from seven countries and the energy and excitement at arrivals far exceeds what you feel when landing in Harare, the capital. “We have a saying here: ‘Turn left for Victoria Falls, turn right for Zimbabwe’,” said our transfer driver as he turned left out of the airport on to a smooth, newly built road towards the regenerated town.We had booked a thatched four-bedroom Airbnb named Acacia, in a leafy suburb, and that afternoon did what every self-respecting visitor to the Falls does: have high tea at the Victoria Falls Hotel. I confess, I was braced for disappointment. Built in 1904, the grandest of southern Africa’s grandes dames offers spectacular views of the steel railway bridge across the Zambezi Gorge, but my last visit there 15 years ago had been a complete disaster. With political turmoil and hyper-inflation at their height, there was no electricity, my room was full of cobwebs and I paid my bill with a backpack full of Zimbabwean dollars.
This time around, much to my surprise, the hotel was undergoing a multi-million-dollar renovation – and it looked immaculate. We were swiftly ushered to the Stanley Terrace, fronting lush green lawns where cucumber sandwiches, scones and a dozen types of cake were being delivered in style on three-tiered silver platters.
Far from rejecting its colonial past, the hotel honours it with an entire hallway of framed photographs of British Royalty. All around us, well-heeled Americans and Europeans were enjoying their afternoon teas and quaffing their pink gins.
But it isn’t just tourists who are coming back to this trend-bucking corner of Zim. An estimated five million Zimbabweans have fled the country since 2000, and most of them continue to live abroad. Of those returning, many choose to settle in the Falls. To get a glimpse of this local scene, Stephen Taylor suggested I visit Loretta’s Coffee Caravan, just around the corner from our Airbnb.Five years ago, the cafe’s owner “TK” Musungwa was running a driving school in Stockport, England, his family having fled Zimbabwe for Manchester in the early 2000s. On a visit to Harare, he met his now wife Loretta – a barista – and on a trip to the Falls, they discovered that they couldn’t find a decent cup of coffee anywhere. TK said farewell to England and Loretta’s Coffee Caravan was born, serving a chocolate-rich blend of Zimbabwean, Rwandan and Tanzanian beans as well as fruit smoothies.
“Vic Falls feels like an island far removed from the madness of Zim,” TK told me, “a small town where people can reinvent themselves. England is an easier place [to live], but this is the home I love.”
I certainly loved Loretta’s – a bustling coffee shop with tables set under a mahogany tree, frequented not by commuters seeking their caffeine fix but by khaki-clad game guides, armed park rangers, dashing river rafters and real-estate agents cashing in on the property boom.
On our third day, we hit the rapids. The Zambezi below the Falls arguably offers the greatest white-water rafting in the world, so I booked a trip with local outfit Shockwave.Its river outings are not for the faint-hearted. First comes an hour-long trek into the boiling belly of the gorge with the unsettling knowledge that an even steeper climb (up) awaits you down river. Tackling Grade 5 rapids with names such as Jaws of Death and Washing Machine is both terrifying and exhilarating. We were lucky to have as our guide Pilani Moyo, the owner of Shockwave and the first black Zimbabwean to own a rafting business on the Zambezi. He spends the off-season guiding on the greatest rivers in the world and has a home in Colorado, in the United States.
More sedate by far was the four-hour dinner cruise we took on the lush upper reaches of the river, a mile or two upstream from the Falls. I recall taking a “booze cruise” here years ago – on a rusty junk of a vessel filled with rowdy passengers drinking warm beer. This was very different. Our boat, Pure Africa’s Zambezi Explorer, was a sumptuous three-deck vessel with designer sofas, hand-woven Ndebele-patterned chairs and a staff of mixologists, waiters and chefs in addition to the boat captain.Dinner was served at sunset as we cruised past long-tusked elephants grazing on the riverbanks, with hippos snorting in the shallows and a fiery sun setting over towering palm trees upriver. To our immediate right was Zambia, with Botswana, Namibia and Angola beyond. My all-American children were wide-eyed with wonder, and I thought of all the fellow Zimbabweans I had met who had opted to return home. As I write this, I am looking at properties online and thinking seriously about following them. Something must come up.
Douglas Rogers was a guest of Askari Safari (askarisafari.com), which offers a five-night Victoria Falls tour taking in Zambezi National Park from £4,000pp. It includes a guided visit to the Falls, three adrenaline activities, a river cruise plus all breakfasts and dinners, but not flights. In 2025, he and Askari’s owner, Steve Taylor, will lead Storyteller 2025 – a two-week literary safari with talks by game guides, writers and artists.
Five reasons to visit Victoria Falls
- Wildlife wonders
The Falls themselves are wild – but the resurgent animal population is another reason to visit. The region comprises two national parks and is on the edge of the great Hwange game reserve. For the best viewing close to town, take a guided or self-drive trip to Chamabonda Vlei, a narrow plain dotted with watering holes within Zambezi National Park. While you are in town, book a visit to the Victoria Falls Wildlife Trust (vicfallswildlifetrust.org), a non-profit organisation that rescues animals wounded by poachers.
- Luxurious lodgings
The refurbished Victoria Falls Hotel offers the ultimate in Edwardian era refinement (victoriafallshotel.com; doubles from £420 per night). Ilala, with its gardens and thatched roofs, has a timeless, classic safari lodge feel (ilalalodge.com; doubles from £380). Newly opened Drift Inn is a budget nine-room B&B offering great breakfasts, artisanal coffee, a swimming pool and a yoga, massage and reflexology studio (driftinnvicfalls.com; doubles from £75).
- Glorious food
Chef, restaurateur and cookbook author Sarah Lilford serves up Zimbabwe’s most exciting culinary offering at Dusty Road (dustyroad.africa). The daughter of white farmers who lost their land in the early 2000s, she set up her restaurant in working-class Chinotimba township offering authentic Zim dishes – beef stew, chicken in peanut butter, grilled bream – cooked on wood fires. Enjoy them on the veranda or under trees in the backyard. Don’t miss the dried mopani worm snack or the vodka cocktail made with baobab powder. In town, the Three Monkeys (3monkeyszw.com) serves a great tomahawk steak. Next morning, order a flat white at Loretta’s Coffee and Smoothie Caravan on Reynard Road.
4. Thrills and spills
Victoria Falls is Africa’s adventure sports capital. Shockwave (shockwavevictoriafalls.com) offers exhilarating white-water rafting trips, while Wild Horizons (wildhorizons.co.za) operates the heart-in-mouth gorge swing and zip-line right in front of its uber-stylish Lookout Café (thelookoutcafe.com). Shearwater (shearwaterbungee.com) pioneered bungee jumping off the Vic Falls bridge. For more leisurely river adventures, Pure Africa (pure.africa/experiences) offers elegant sunrise, sunset and dinner cruises on the Zambezi in a fleet of luxury vessels.
- Art and history
Renowned artist and conservationist Larry Norton has a gallery at the Victoria Falls Hotel (larrynorton.co.za), showcasing his giant, hyper-realistic wildlife paintings. The hotel’s open-air Stone Dynamics Gallery (stonedynamicsgallery.com) displays and sells the work of some of Zimbabwe’s leading sculptors, including Dominic Benhura. Meanwhile, historian Chris Worden from Footsteps of Livingstone (footstepsoflivingstone.com) gives a mesmerising one-hour talk on the life of David Livingstone that could almost be a one-man play in London’s West End. The Telegraph
African Sun Hotels donates US$21K to a conservation organisation in Victoria Falls
BY NOKUTHABA DLAMINI
The African Sun Hotels group has donated US$21 000 to The Victoria Falls Anti- Poaching Unit, a non-profit wildlife organisation to cover salaries and medical aid for game scouts.
During the handover ceremony held in Victoria Falls today, African Sun Hotels’ head Marketing, Public Relations and Innovation Charleen Mtezo said this is part of their Corporate Social Responsibility in order to fulfill and meaningfully impact the communities in which they operate, as well as contribute towards the achievement of the United Nations agenda 2030 for strategic development goals.
“The town of Victoria Falls is located in one of the most beautiful environments,” she said.
“However, the beauty of the location comes with some heavy burden of human and wildlife conflict. The Victoria Falls Anti Poaching Unit tries to ease some of the burdens by protecting the wildlife and habitat from poachers, as well as rescuing and rehabilitating injured animals.
Additionally, they train ex- poachers in new skills so they find alternative avenues of revenue creation to give them a sustainable income without doing harm to flora and fauna. It is against this background that the African Sun Limited, we saw fit for us to assist the Victoria Falls Anti Poaching Unit, so that they are able to carry out the challenging tasks at hand.”
She said the donation of will cover salaries, medical aid for scouts for a period of 12 months.
“l wish to invite other corporations to join us safeguard our precious environment and transform the lives of our communities. Lastly, I applaud those who are already on the ground doing the same.”
Wild Is Life Trust, ZEN rescues a newly-born abandoned calf in Kazuma
BY NOKUTHABA DLAMINI
Wild Is Life Trust organisation have rescued a newly-born elephant calf near Victoria Falls which was abandoned by its mother and family herd.
In a statement, the organisation, working in collaboration with Zimbabwe Elephant Nursery on a mission to rescue, rehabilitate and rewild orphaned elephants said the calf has been taken to their facility in Harare after fruitless efforts to unite it with its mother.
The calf has been named Kazuma as it was rescued from Kazuma National Park.
“Last week we received a call from Zimparks to say an elephant calf had been abandoned by his herd and stuck in a water trough in Kazuma National Park. Zim Parks had valiantly tried to reunite this calf, but sadly, no mother was found,” Wild Is Life Trust said.
“We immediately sent a team led by Jos Danckwerts, Paradzai Mutize and Tom Ranjisi and they brought him to Panda Masuie near Victoria Falls where the medical team and Roxy Danckwerts assessed the calf…
“It was ascertained that Kazuma was under a week old despite his 169kgs which is a record weight for a neonate! He has very pink ears and wrinkled skin and long hair all over his body as he is so young. His umbilicus was infected and he had a few scrapes from trying to get out of his watery prison – but all was treated immediately.”
The next day, the two organisations jumped into action to collect the calf, alongside some medical practitioners and following the rescue, they reported that Kazuma has been adapting well,with the love from other orphaned elephants.
” Kazuma has been settling in beautifully so far… Kadiki fell in love with him at first sight and has taken him under his ear along with Elliot.
” Yesterday he was introduced to Beatrix, Elliot, Limpopo, Splat, and Skellum and it was absolutely wonderful to see them all fuss around little Kazuma who is about the same size as Elliot.
We have a way to go with this little bull, but with round-the-clock care, we are feeling positive he will go from strength to strength. Kazuma needs lots of milk, love from his Carers and ellies alike at this time – and that we vow to give him.”
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