Sunday, 3 March 2013

The Southern Cross - Matopos National Park

9th - 10th September - Matopos National Park

Today we left Antelope Park for Bulwayo where we will be spending the day with Ian Harmer in the Matopos National Park tracking rhinos. He is rated one of the top wildlife guides in the world. He is also known as ”RHINO MAN”.
Arriving in Bulawayo was somewhat interesting. As it has been 4 years since I was last in Zimbabwe and since our trip did not pass through the capital Harare, it was interesting to see what Bulawayo was like and if it was how I remembered. It was how I remembered it but the sad thing it was not in a good way. Nothing had been developed or changed in the 10 years since I was last in Bulawayo. In fact the place had deteriorated somewhat. Dave had never been to Bulawayo and he too was asking if the town was still living in the 50s or something.
We arrived at our camp at 8am, and we met with Ian Harmer and his wife.  We had two 4x4 vehicles waiting for us and as soon as our tents were up and ready we left for our the day with Ian in Matopos National Park. To describe Matopos is a mass of granite hills formed by river erosion and weathered into fantastic shapes and deep valleys. The hills are associated with folklore and tradition, some being venerated as dwelling places of the spirits of departed Ndebele chiefs. The hills contain gigantic caves with bushman paintings. The game park has been restocked with white and black rhinos. It has been designated as an Intensive Protection Zone for the two species.  Ian Harmer showed us some exensive survival knowledge of the bush from bushman tea, to snake apples down to finding a type of shrub ( can’t remember the name) that once mixed with water forms a soapy substance that leaves your skin feeling super soft as well as acting as an insect repellent.  We started tracking rhinos and after 4 hours we came across nothing. The sad reality was 4 years ago there were a total of 80 black and white rhino in the park, now there is only 17 left due to the poaching.  To put some perspective on the area Matopos is about 3100 km², of which 424 km² is National Park. Trying to find 17 rhino in that radius on foot will mean you are lucky to see a rhino. Its sad as nearly everyone that visted Matopos 5-10 years ago were guranteed to see rhino. The rhino poaching became particularly bad in the 1990s where the rhino population fell below the 500 mark. There was alot of investment for breeding and reintroduction to the wild/conservation parks for the rhino that by the late 1990s the rhino polutation was back up to approximately 3500, reguarded as an acceptable level. However over the last 3 years the rhino population has decreased to nearly 500! Some interesting facts about the rhino horn :
- It fetches about US$50,000 per kg.
- The rhino horn is like a finger nail, it grows back after 10 years. The cutting of the rhino horn, done properly instead of butchering the animal does not harm the rhino.
If properly managed Rhinos could have their horns removed properly and if the selling of the horns were legalised on the market, the money from the horns will be able to ensure the survival of the species. Instead the selling of the horn is not legalised.
None the less we enjoyed our time in Matopos. Ian showed us the bushman paintings and talked about the time he spent with the bushman learning their ways and respecting the culture they have. He talked to us in bushmen click language which he learnt from the bushmen. We of course were impressed but did not understand a thing!
We finished the day by visiting a traditional Matabele villiage where we met the chief who was all dressed up in warrior skins as well as equipped with the skin shield. We were given a tour of the village and a traditional dance. Some of the Kiwi boys with us decided to do the Haka as a thank you for showing their village to us.

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