Mutinondo Newsletter 2008

Posted on Sun December 28, 2008 in Newsletters.

Four days into the new year brought wonderful news from Dr. Lizanne Roxburgh who told us that while going through her records a bulbul with a ring which she caught during a visit in October 2007 WAS BULBUL!!!! He had left home with his “new friend” in August 2004. After being raised by our nephews from a fledgling it was fantastic news as well as being an interesting story for science (a 3 part series in the ZOS magazine starting from September 08). January also brought a modest beginning to Salamo student scholarships thanks to a request from the headmaster. We were pleased to sponsor 10 orphans which also helped to prevent the classes beyond grade 7 from closing through lack of pupils. (May this little project survive the petty village jealousies it seems to have attracted.)

20th February was the darkest day at Mutinondo. An armed gang walked into camp at dinner time, tied our 8 foreign visitors and Mike up, repeatedly threatened to kill them, let a shot off which grazed and deeply shocked our employee David Chomba, robbed everyone and then drove Mike and all but one of the guests into the bush, tying everyone to a tree before the 4 thieves drove off in a Mutinondo vehicle (after complaining it was too old!). The gang leader is most probably the driver who brought a group of birdwatchers here in January 2006, we gave his name, operating cell number and bus licence number to the police. The combined complete lack of police response, horrible experience and huge loss has been counterbalanced several hundred fold by the magnificent support, help and encouragement from so many very very special people. Thank you all so much for reminding us why and how much we love being at Mutinondo. We embrace you all together with the great relief that no one was injured and that Lari’s late return that night from the Copperbelt meant she just missed them driving out.

Our Nissan Patrol had to have another engine fitted after the fly wheel nut came loose last year. Lari spent a chunk of February in the Kitwe waiting for it to be fitted during which she spent many contented days in the Kitwe herbarium photographing appropriate samples to help with the Mutinondo plant identification. Nissie has served us wonderfully hauling loads of supplies to camp for the past 8 years. After many consequent break downs Eugene Meinjties seems to have revived the old girl by fixing and fitting the original engine. A sign of the times, our staff are retiring, our horses are aging and our cars are needing more and more maintenance - like their owners! We are looking for another manual Nissan Patrol, please tell us if you know of a good second hand one for sale.

In mid March Quentin bounced into camp with his usual refreshing and inspiring enthusiasm before he and his team sloshed off on their first leg of a 6 weeks waterfall marathon dubbed “2008 - over the edge”. They returned for a couple of luxurious nights out of the rain AND on mattresses!!! Then Lari joined Quentin, Ilse, Timmie and Co to explore the Mupamadzi waterfalls south of Mutinondo. April fools night was spent camping next to both cars seriously stuck in the mud - snapped winch cable and all. Bush bashing by 4x4 in the Northern Province in early April is definitely only for waders and "cataractophiles" (Quentin and Ilse's name for waterfall addicts). After scrambling around the magnificent Mupmadzi, Lari and Willie decided it was the perfect opportunity to walk home. The clamber up the escarpment brought the end of her Timberland boots, the flooded rivers were a problem to cross, red ants, bees and rain visited their tentless "camp" but the walk was absolutely wonderful. They wandered into camp a few days later, spent a day preparing their bikes and then set off again to meet cataractos at Lusiwasi power station. Mike got away from camp in time to join Lari at the nearby unsung gem of a place, Kaumba Mountain Safaris, for a few days of blissful birding, hiking and gazing across the hazy Luangwa Valley whilst (by now a much leaner) Quents continued his waterfall mission.

A trip in search of plants in the Luangwa Valley brought Paul Smith (from Kew) to Zambia in May, - unfortunately not to Mutinondo. He brought us the corrected version of our plant photos sent to Kew in 2006 and thanks to his encouragement we have started collecting. With great help from Paul and his colleagues from Kew, Mike Bingham, the Kitwe Herbarium, Ivan and Colin (the butterfly collectors who know all their caterpillars' food plants) and an ever increasing plant library 538 species have been identified at Mutinondo. There are still hundreds of plant photos and samples in “work in progress”and plenty more plants waiting for us out there too!

Lari’s Mum died on June 1st so after the funeral Mike held the Mutinondo fort whilst Lari spent most of the month with her sister Jan on the Copperbelt. Sadly Mum’s last few months were not happy ones, may she rest in well deserved peace and be happily reunited with Dad (who died 11 months earlier). A four day lull in greatly needed heart warming news from Mike and Mutinondo resulted in a report that 3 lion had chewed the hose pipe at the stables before chasing our ever adventurous horse Spirit down the road. (He was the horse that went walk about to the escarpment for 11 days last year). You can imagine the relief in camp when a very sweaty and muddy Spirit returned the following day, the staff tracking him estimated that he ran in a large loop covering at least 50km touching Kankonde Camp. We repeatedly asked ZAWA for permission to arrange for the lions to be darted and relocated to the valley but they said they could not understand the problem as "most lodges want such beasts". Eventually an assessment team was sent to take a look. Then, after 2 of our neighbour’s cattle were eaten in September, ZAWA authorised SLCP to capture the lion.

So we were left with lingering lions for our busiest months when we definitely didn’t need any more sideshows. The lodge and campsite were full for most of the time including 175 youngsters in 11 different school groups from the UK who stayed here before they walked with our guides and village porters to Chifungwe gate in South Luangwa.

A first for us was a bird watching guide course which we organised and sponsored. It was conducted over 36 very full days for 11 participants by 2 Belgians who gave their time and expertise free.

Another first was a part time volunteer who asked if she could help us out in exchange for reduced rates. We gave her a 70% discount and a lot of silver jewelry for her help during her 59 days stay. Polly thanked us for the discount and jewelry and asked if she could transfer the funds from the UK. She later emailed to say she had to pay in instalments and complained that she had actually expected to only pay the equivalent of 10%. Then, instead of paying a penny, she sent us a bill: £625 X 20 days “consultancy” less 70% discount = £3750!) Kasanka’s practice of charging volunteers up front is highly recommended.

The birding guide teachers saw several birds not on our list but these are still in the process of being verified, otherwise as proof that we have not been out bird watching enough this year the only new addition is the Banded Martin which Mike saw way back in January bringing our bird list total to 320.

A visitor from Tanzania kindly took Mike for his first-ever flight over our area in September and guess what were the only animals they saw? 2 lion in Kabasano dambo 4km from camp!! A few days later while having a quiet Mosi sundowner Mike watched most likely the same 2 lion in the same dambo. In October Rachel Mc Rob and her team arrived from South Luangwa with what looked like the making of a mega braii and disco. Despite inviting the lion with trails of hippo offal, blood curdling renditions of squealing pigs and a very smelly hippo leg nothing came to the bait. Seems they followed a herd of Roan instead.

Many thanks to Rachel, Paula White and team together with Jeremy Pope’s generosity in offering to fund the relocation flights. Sorry our lion had other plans. The lion disappeared until December when they have been heard calling in the mornings - does this mean they have claimed this as their territory?

It is very encouraging that there now appears to be enough game to attract what ended up to be 5 or 6 lion. One concern is that maybe there isn’t enough food for them and that they will start topping up their diet with people and domestic animals. We warn our visitors when lion are in the area and really appreciated how responsible and realistic they are when trying to assess the risk. Hopefully the quality of their holiday isn’t affected. We have reluctantly had to consider introducing an indemnity form and would appreciate your comments and suggestions on this.

The lion prints were often found following a herd of about 16 roan which were around Big Chipundu for most of the dry season. Our scouts continue to do a pretty good job discouraging illegal hunting in our area. They have reported good sized herds of eland and sable and an eland, which had died of gunshot wounds, was found by the Myala traditional leaders whilst they were doing their ceremony in the area in November. The scouts continue to do their brave work, this year they captured 12 muzzle loading guns from poachers and carried out additional patrols with the SLCS scouts from Mfuwe.

The airstrip is featuring a little more at Mutinondo. We had 3 charters and 2 private planes come in excluding the times Ed brought his boys here to ride. Klaus and Lizanne brought their microlight here in November, a perfect plan for all - they were to ring birds, fly their microlight and keep an eye on Mutinondo whilst we went to Zanzibar for a very relaxing 2 weeks with Mike’s sister Angie and her husband Chris. One of the first things Diwell told us when he collected us off the train 3 weeks later was that Klaus had taken him, Kennedy, Christopher and Joseph for a flight each (and they didn’t see any lion). It was a very happy home coming, (especially after being on the train for 60hrs!) reassuring that things go on as normal when we are not here ….and....... at last our scruffy outside kitchen has been transformed!

Last year our wonderful chef Bonnie retired followed this year by Binwell and our great carpenter Dickson. Many of our staff have been with us for over 10 years, 3 resigned this year after seeing how much money is received for terminal benefits. We boosted and rejuvenated our staff in October with 7 new employees on trial and training - our training manual is complete and our senior members of staff are using it to train the newcomers. We really hope they all settle well into the Mutinondo way of doing things and become important and dependable members of our operation (sadly one very promising new recruit has already slipped down the "not telling the truth chute").

Family and friends gathered at the end of the year, Lari’s sister Jan and her family came on the 26th with a friend and 3 motorbikes! The boys went off the following day and managed to get to the Mupamadzi river and back to Mutinondo on their bikes, spending 2 nights on the way - Auntie as usual is very impressed - it was difficult enough to push a double-barrel Eagle bike up the escarpment!

Lari left Mike holding camp AGAIN to join Jan and Mike Fisher for a blissful wander down the river to many magic spots ending up at a waterfall we hadn't seen before. We hiked, swam, camped and feasted on wild mushrooms and masuku along the way and the Fishers backpacks were like walking with a couple of bottomless Christmas stockings........ returning on the 30th in time to join the Quarmbies, Quentin, Julie and the Robinsons, Kim and her boys with Frank and Inge from Kasanka for New Year.

The 30th brought some interesting action: Frank and Inge had the most wonderful view and photo of a leopard at midday carrying a large baboon near Charlie’s rock, Paddy, Jay and Tom photographed a spider killing a herald snake and James called Mike and some guests to have a look at an Olive Grass Snake devouring a small Rainbow Skink.

Lets hope 2009 is a rich year full of equanimity, good people, family, friends and happiness which will give us all enough spirit to flourish despite the surprises and challenges it will no doubt have in store for us.

Lots of love and very best wishes

Lari and Mike