Hwange is on the road leading to Bulawayo from Victoria Falls. Our destination was the Tree Lodge at Sikumi Concession, bordering the Hwange National Park (HNP), 180 km from Victoria Falls. We arrived at the Tree Lodge for lunch. The lodge has 13 separate tree houses, high up on mangwe trees. The floodlit water hole adjacent to the outdoor restaurant of the lodge, kept us busy with our cameras during the day and in to the night, with a variety of wild animals visiting the pond to quench their thirst, particularly the Hwange Elephants.
According to available statistics, Hwange is the home to the second largest population of elephants in the world. The aerial census done in 2001 over 66,600 square km, indicates a population of 88,100 Elephants in Zimbabwe, of which Hwange and the nearby land counted 49,300 of them.
Our first safari from the Tree Lodge began at 4 pm that day in two 4X4 vehicles allocated by the lodge. The trip lasted three hours during which we had a good dose of Elephants in and around water holes where they drink as well as lie to cool their bodies. It was fascinating to watch their behavior in the water, especially the young ones. When drinking, they suck up to eight liters of water in to the trunk before they blow it into the mouth.
At the time of booking the Tree Lodge, information gathered from the internet indicated that predators such as Lion, Leopard and Wild Dog were sighted in the Sikumi Concession. But the driver cum guide from the lodge said that was rare to see these animals inside the concession. Hence we decided to go to Hwange National Park the following morning, where the entrance to the park was about a 30 minute drive from the Sikumi Tree Lodge.
Accordingly, we were at the entrance office of the HNP by 5.45 am. The park is open from 6 am to 6 pm for visitors. Lodging facilities are also available for tourists at the park entrance, managed by the state. I was encouraged by the comments made by visitors in the guest book at the park office where there were reports of Lion, Cheetah and Wild Dog sightings inside HNP within the last few days.
At all national parks around the world, there is a park entrance fee for visitors as well as a levy for the vehicles entering the park. The income is usually utilized for the upkeep of the park. After making the necessary payments at the entrance office, we entered the park at 7 am in our two jeeps.
The main road inside the park is tarred, similar to the Kruger NP in South Africa, while the rest are gravel roads. Most of the land has patches of savannah covered mainly with Mopani tress, a favorite food of the Hwange Elephants. On this drive, we came across three Roan Antelopes crossing the road. They are quite uncommon in most parks in Africa. The skin of the antelope is of a brown color referred to as roan and hence the name of the animal. There are apparently 71 species of antelope residing on the African continent. The next day, we came upon the Sable, another majestic and rare species of African antelope. We had no sightings of big cats or wild dogs in any of our ventures in to the Sikumi Concession or the HNP. But we saw plenty of Elephants and on one occasion saw more than 200 of these pachyderms together in a water body.
After 2 nights at the Tree Lodge, we decided to move to the Hwange Safari Lodge for the next 2 nights to be closer to the HNP entrance. On our way back to the Hwange Safari Lodge, we stopped at the Painted Dog Research Project located at the edge of the HNP. This project had been set up in 1989 and managed via funds received from various donors and institutions that are concerned about the future survival of the African Wild Dog. We were informed that up to now they had released over 90 Wild Dogs to the HNP once the dogs are matured and able to fend for themselves in the wild. Although we did not see any Wild Dogs inside the park, we were able to observe three adult wild dogs at the research centre. I noticed that there was a solar power installation of 4 KW at the project, but they didn’t have batteries to store the power generated due to lack of funds. I decided to fund the procurement of the batteries for the project to help the cause. I understand that less than 3,000 African Wild Dogs remain on our planet today and are classified as critically endangered.
We departed from Hwange on the 9th May to return home via Livingstone and then Lusaka in Zambia. In the final analysis, by visiting wild life parks in Zambia and Zimbabwe, I was able to capture images of animals and birds not seen before in other parts of Africa.