Mutinondo Newsletter 2004
Everything has been early this year, the rains ended early, the dry season flowers followed suit, we're sure the birds nested earlier than usual and now the rains are already in full force with 426mm to date (23.12) which has brought us a magnificent array of mushrooms. We are in the midst the magic season of change where we can almost hear things squeaking as they grow as the rain replenishes what was a worrying low water table. Our nearly stagnant river went from nearly 0 to flood in 10 days, the termites are feeding the nation (instead of eating it) as the flying ants rise, previously burnt expanses are flourishing again and the range of wild flowers emerging seem to be on fast forward.
Once again we've enjoyed our regular customers and school groups returning and Mutinondo has also continued to introduce us to a string of fascinating visitors and natural history snippets. This year seems to have been very bird and hiking orientated. Bulbul our adopted Black-eyed Bulbul continued coming home for banana, pronutro, defrosted flying ants, shoulder sitting and general office entertainment until we started seeing two bulbuls in the office and then less and less of our little friend until they disappeared in October. We hope he/she is enjoying family life and that no eagle has enjoyed him/her instead. In April we released the Groundhornbill, Berend, from Chimfunshi who decided early on that a group of his own type across the river were better company than us (much to Bulbul's relief).
Thanks to Warwick Tarboton and Johanne Grobelaars' article in SA Birds and Birding April/May issue and Colin Valentine's write up on the SAbirding website (and undoubtedly Zimbabwe's demise) we had South African and Namibian birders venture north of the Zambezi and onto us to enjoy our miombo woodland birds. This is a great clientele which we would like to encourage and they, plus our local birders, have also added several species to our bird list (305 to date). A Booted Eagle got caught in Tim Osborn's net when it came down for an ensnared bulbul (not ours) whilst Tim was doing some ringing. Joerg says its already on his Mutinondo list but also found a Great spotted Cookoo later this year which wasn't on either list! During the Valentine's two visits this year they added a Corn Crake, Lesser Moorhen, Buffy Pipit, Little Greenbul and Laura's Warbler. Fortunately the Long-toed flufftail stayed hunkered down well enough to guarantee the return of the Valentines!
Hiking has been a good focus this year with some serious kilometres covered. We had a group of teenagers from World Challenge who walked about 60km east from here to the Mutinondo waterfalls on the escarpment, down into the valley and across to the Mupamadzi River to be collected by Derek Shenton's truck and taken to Mfuwe for a well deserved rest. Johno from South Africa hiked to the waterfalls and back in a couple of days to see it with the prospects of bringing hiking groups up here. We then had a visitor from Germany who walked south from our camp into the valley via the Mupamadzi gorge, through Mukulubwe village along the Mupamadzi, into the National Park, back tracking until crossing over the corridor to the Mutinondo River, up the escarpment near the waterfalls and back to camp. When Gerald sends us his report on this 19 day hike we will post it on our website. Julian a friend from Lusaka stayed a month in Mutinondo hiking and exploring new day walks from camp and has left sheets of inspiring suggested treks for future visitors. She and Lari walked from our Kamulepa Farm down the Musumfushi River which proved to be an idyllic 10 hour, 25km meander down an endless dambo (wetland) via the iron age workings on Nyandela dambo.
Our horse herd went from six to five to nine. Having been very lucky with our horses for the past seven years we were all very sad to loose Sunny Boy to old age in September. The new food ration based on village grown grain and worked out by Peter De Vet in Lusaka has worked wonders on their condition and it's great not to have to cart bran around the country side. With an increase in the number of people coming here to ride we realised that we didn't have enough horses and we also needed some big quiet horses to take inexperienced men (especially since Sunny was getting too old to do this). Thanks to Alison MacKendrick we got three gentle giants and a naughty young mare. The plan was to only get two more horses but one thing led to another and Mike concluded if we were going to build two new stables we may as well build four!
Apart from a new block of stables for the horses we didn't do much development at Mutinondo this year. We tried to get things tidied up and working before getting into building more chalets (or our house). Our water pump and all the piping, solar heaters at each chalets were installed which has saved us from all the previous water carting and fire lighting and it is wonderful to have running water in camp. The airstrip had plenty of work done on it and now needs manicuring and a date with the DCA. On the scientific side the Mutinondo Charaxis which was found by Colin Congdon and Ivan Bampton a few years ago has been classified as a new species and now needs to be described. The Double-collared Miombo Sunbird which was suspected to be something different has been DNA tested and nothing unusual has been found about it. The Miombo Woodland book by Paul Smith and Quentin Allen is very nearly out and we look forward to seeing it. Larry Barham is returning to do DNA tests on the Bisa tribe to see if there was any intermarriage between the Twa and Bisa.
Chintu Mukulu, the community project funded by WWF under the consultancy of Mano reminds me of a rich and talented lady sitting out a five year long pregnancy in an expensive private hospital. The reports are good so we trust it's not a phantom expectancy! A trust has been formed and things are happening slowly on the ground in the meantime. A visiting doctor from Mporokoso introduced us to Mporokoso Popular Theatre Group and Bwafwano Bwafwano Training for Tansformation. Mutinondo has since sponsored the group twice and the ladies from T for T are have completed three training sessions out of the required five so far. We are hoping that this is a concrete contribution towards the development of the area as it is meant to strengthen individual's determination to do things for themselves instead of waiting for donors and governments to provide. Dr. Van Andel says the change he saw brought about by these talented local people was irreversible in Mporokoso.
Our shop in Mpika is now officially shut having found a K13.5m deficit after stock taking this year and failing to get the manager to sell some of his properties and repay us. The manager then got caught with stolen copper in Kapiri and drank rat poison which was a shock to us but we are still trying to confirm this. The soya bean farmers had a good crop this year after we had a bad season in 2002/3 (after losing most of our loans to briefcase business men and poor germination). We collected over 200 tons of soya, this was made even better in monetary terms because the price was great and the farmers received 50% more per kilo. Even the nearby villages increased their meagre bean production this year to nearly double the previous year. We had given up with the local community with farming as all our attempts of input loans have failed in the past so it was very encouraging to see so many beans for sale this year. National Geographic was here briefly and recorded some of the bean buying in the village for an article about Zambia next year but unfortunately its all in black and white which loses all the magnificent array of chitenge colours which celebrate market days.
On New Year's day this year Mike Fisher found wonderful rock art on Hirax Hill. It's now already the end of December and Quentin is visiting so we've been hiking in the rain, looking for rock art and collecting mushrooms which has become a bit of an annual ritual. We went along the north east facing slope of the "Caterpillar" to the base of magnificent pink cathedral like rocks and were thrilled to discover it adorned with more schematic rock art and we collected a basket full of various amanites along the way. We had lunch under the gigantic overhang whilst it poured with rain and looked out over miles and miles of very wet miombo and wondered how different or similar the view was 2000 years or so ago? Who's to complain that this year has gone too quickly!
Very best wishes to you all for a happy and healthy 2005.