Mutinondo Newsletter 2014

Posted on Sun December 28, 2014 in Newsletters.

This has been a short, sweet year punctured with heart ache. "Short" because we spent 3 months of it traveling; "sweet" due to very few problems and issues, great fun trips -and the beginning of a honey project; "heart ache" because of the loss of four of our very special animals.

January brought the AETFAT botanical conference in Stellenbosch, thanks to Mike Bingham who encouraged Lari to attend. An incredible experience for Lari, Mike (Merrett) had to stay at Mutinondo because Julian was away on health matters only returning in March having had job interviews whilst recovering from various ailments.

Lari's grey mare (+-9years old) Ceswa developed an extremely painful back leg in January which recovered after a dose of cortizone and phenylbutizone. In March Lari noticed she was having trouble going backwards whilst doing Pat Parelli with her. She started coughing straight after this, within days the cough developed into a high fever and gasping dry cough. Drs. Chitu and Pauline suspected pneumonia, penstrep had no effect, others suggested horse sickness. She died a week later. Blood, lung and heart samples were given to Vetlab which forwarded blood to Deltamune in SA, results came back negative for Horse sickness, positive for Kleibsiella pneumoniae only susceptible to Amikacin antibiotic. Ceswa was an exceptionally comfortable and sensitive little horse ridden bareback with a head collar and a superstar at Pat Parelli. 

Julian decided in February she would like to go back teaching. When her interviews were successful it left us until mid July to spoil ourselves with a couple more trips. We visited UK in April/May, enjoyed Easter in Pembrokeshire with Ali's family followed by time with Mike's cousin and sister before Lari spent 10 days at Kew attending the Tropical plant ID course followed by 2 weeks of Malindi bliss along the Kenyan coast with Dave and Liz. 

June took us to a two week long family holiday west of the Kruger in SA. Great to have more time with Charlie, Ali, Sam and Fred and to see Vicky's lovely shop the Nut Tree in Casterbridge - White River. Fortunately Vicky was able to leave the shop in trusted hands and join us for a week at the Kruger Park Lodge together with Jill, (Mike's ex.) Jill was embarking on learning to live with her newly fitted prosthesis having had her lower leg amputated after an accident just before Christmas 2013. With 2 days to go of family holidays Lari ruptured her Achilles tendon playing tennis with Ali which left 2 out of 3 Mrs Merretts hobbling around on luminous green crutches - and nobody came round to ask Mr. Merrett a few questions!

With school holidays looming in SA it was easier for us to postpone Lari's rupture repair op than to change the dates for our Kruger booking. A very cosy safari experience which couldn't have been better timed. Our tiny little hire car, not much bigger than a golf cart, squeezed its way between elies three times its size, tour guide/driver/cook/carer Mike in front and Madam Lari with foot on pillows in the back. To avoid the southern hoards we stuck to the north, a very beautiful area especially around Punda Maria. South Africa and SES lived up to its good medical reputation, Dr. Van der Merwe fixed and reinforced Lari's Achilles with a neo tendon (malegan in a box) and SES duly footed all the bills. A BRAHMS (Botanical Research and Herbarium Management) course at the Burrows' Buffleskloof Reserve was the perfect distraction from "the foot" after the op, a hundred thanks to Barbara, fellow students and John for accommodating it so well.

Mid July put us back into harness, Lari mostly stuck at her desk entering plant data into BRAHMS with the big black bionic boot pitched next to the laptop being completely spoiled by staff, clients and Mike. With the prospect of a possible permanent future at Mutinondo we shuffled many responsibilities to Christopher and Humphrey who continue to do a great job running the day to day aspects making our lives very easy. Before leaving Lusaka on our way back from SA we splashed out on DSTV, VSAT and solar deep freezes! It's been great to watch sport after so many years of rationed reports on the Beeb. Limited WiFi is now available at Mutinondo for those who have to check emails whilst on holiday. You are allowed an uncomfortable chair in the sun for an hour at midday! Otherwise we still appreciate a phone free camp, calls should be kept minimal and to the step outside the office or campers rock. Phones used in the bar and dining room make wonderful firework displays when popped into the fire, the more expensive the phone the better the array of colours! Please feel free to complain about staff and visitors using phones within hearing distance.

Some perfectly timed and long overdue quality time for Lari with sister Jan at a yoga retreat at Kapishya Hotsprings happened in mid July. Thanks to yoga teacher Lar Fisher's gentle encouragement it was also a huge help in assisting Lari's mobility and recovery together with the amazing Hotspings topped with Mel's magic meals. 

Three World Challenge groups walked from Mutinondo to the Chifungwe gate this year. In September four boisterous chaps bounded into camp after a 10 day hike via the Munyamadzi River from Luawata. A couple of emails had made us aware of their plan and to book a campsite for their arrival but we knew very little else. Great to know it can be done with such little fuss but not for lesser bush savvy folk. The following day they caught the bus back to Lusaka. In November another group hiked from Mutinondo to Chifungwe gate where they met up with pre-arranged scouts to escort them along the Mupamadzi. This was a little more complex with over 45 emails in the planning. Despite an email and meeting with Peter Ndala of ZAWA Mpika in August about this planned trip, on the day they set off from Mutinondo he started phoning and messaging us at Mutinondo threatening to "SEND OFFICERS TO DEAL WITH THEM FOR CONTRAVENING THE LAW.". After several emails to find out what law they were being accused of contravening we received a message "SEE ME AT THE OFFICE IF YOU WANT A CONCLUSIVE RESPONSE FROM ME. EMAIL IS NOT AN OFFICIAL PLATFORM". Fortunately scouts weren't sent or didn't find the group but it was a worrying time.
During Mike's meeting with Peter Ndala in August Peter brought up ZAWA's concerns about the road being built from Mpika to Mfuwe. Firstly there has been no EIA (environmental impact assessment) and secondly part of the contract has been given to a Chinese company. Why is a completely new road being put into the valley when so much has already been spent on the Nabwalya road? What will happen to the Ntunta ZAWA scout post and the Mutinondo bridge? He asked if the group could gather information on flora and fauna and to report any flora or fauna needing special note and protection. 

Whilst trying to find which law the hikers had contravened Mike found:  
32. (1) Any person who has reasonable grounds to believe that any proposed or existing government plans or activity of the Government or any other organisation or person may have an adverse effect on any wildlife species or community in a National Park, Game management Area or open area, such person may request the Authority through the Director-General that a wildlife impact assessment be conducted. 
(2) Whenever the Authority receives such a request, it may within thirty days of receipt thereof require the Government, organisation or person to conduct the assessment in accordance with the procedures specified by the Environmental Council under the Environmental Protection and Pollution Control Act taking to account: 
(a) existing or anticipated impacts upon wildlife, including an account of the species, communities and habitats affected and the extent to which they are or may be threatened; and 
(b) any endangered or endemic species which are or may be affected."

Mike has written to the DG (ZAWA Director-General" <[email protected]) and hopefully others could also raise concerns about the implications of this road. 

On a much more positive note about ZAWA we have appreciated the diligent anti poaching activity from Kalonje and Mpika scouts under the good guidance of Modesto Sinfukwe and Julius Chinkumba this year. Together with Mutinondo staff and or village scouts they have collected 11 guns and caught 8 suspects. Much of the poaching is done by employees from the new surrounding farms in the area. Some of the new farm owners along our road are late or meagre in paying their staff causing their staff to live off the land. Lion have been reported to have eaten 8 cattle and a donkey from these farms, a lion was reported to have been wounded with a shot gun by a ZAWA scout. Further reports suggest that employees of the farms have blamed some of their cattle theft on the lion.

A meeting between ZAWA, Ministry of Agriculture, Chiefs and stakeholders in June discussed the possibility of making a conservation corridor between Mutinondo and Lavushi Manda turning the areas surrounding Mutinondo Wilderness into a GMA. This would be a dream come true for us!

Wildlife sitings seem to be on the increase, frequent reports and good views of warthog grazing with the horses, a herd of 17 roan almost resident during the dry months and sable have been reported by staff. A group on a sundowner with Mike in October saw 9 reedbuck, 4 bushbuck, 17 roan, 2 warthog ...(but no partridge in a pear tree...). Additions to our bird list include a Dark-backed Weaver (aka Forest Weaver), Variable Indigo (2013), African Thrush (race "stormsi") and Miombo Pied Barbet (seen on our access road) = total now 322! 

A huge thanks to the Africa Drylands team at Kew who have been ploughing through the Mutinondo samples and to everyone else who have also helped to confirm or determine the plant species within the Mutinondo area (Darbyshire, I.; Osborne, J.; Vollesen, K.,; Browning, J.; Xanthos, M.; Paton, A.J.; Smith, P.P.; Goyder, D.J.; Cribb, P.J.; Bingham, M.; Coates Palgrave, M.; Ashton, P.; Cheek, M.; Pasquet,R.S.; Bone, R.; Burrows, J; Byng, J.; Mellenthis, J.; Cohen, C.; Congdon, C.; Hyde, M.; - and to all the help from the Flora Zambesiaca and Flora of Tropical East Africa). To date 869 plant species have been determined or confirmed at Mutinondo (up from 558 this time last year!!!).

This year Eske De Crop and Jorinde from Gent University spent 2 weeks at Mutinondo studying mushrooms, Jens Kipping studied dragonflies and Hatoshi Takano of the NHM returned to study mostly dung beetles and moths. Mutinondo is proving a good place for research - it is easily accessible, relatively safe, offering unspoilt/uninhabited miombo with accommodation (at special research rates) without park entrance and research fees. 

Developments at Mutinondo include signs along the hiking tracks - thanks to Julian, Constantin and our staff who all did a brilliant job whilst we were away enjoying ourselves on holiday - the much needed signs have turned out really well - painted arrows, names and distances on flat rocks supported by cement and boulders. At the beginning of the year w decided to embark on a honey project. 149 bee hives were been bought, assembled and hung in trees in February, to date 47 are occupied. In early December only 23 were harvested producing a rather disappointing 126 kg. In addition as part of the project about 2000 hives have also been distributed to Chief Mpumba and surrounding farmers and villagers by John Enrite and his son. Building wise Kankonde camp now has 2 showers and 2 long drops to cater for the larger groups going there.

Thankfully the forex fiasco (aka "Surprise" Instruments 33 and 55) which caused plenty of problems to visitors and operators was eventually revoked. We cringe at some of our tourists' tales of ATM "malfunctions" and extortion and intimidation by police and immigration officers. We encourage travelers to report these incidents to as many authorities as possible. This year brought our first experience of accusations of extortion from a rather angry American guest. He booked for his family to stay at Mutinondo on his way to Kapishya Hot springs then had to come alone because his children had become ill. Before he left he asked Julian to book for his return trip but didn't turn up. Consequent emails between Julian and Mark agreed that he would make a deposit for the cancellation including 2 beers left unpaid on his previous visit. On our return whilst reconciling bank statements with invoices we noticed this hadn't been paid. We contacted him and were consequently accused of trying to get him to pay twice AND to pay for beers when he didn't drink alcohol, concluding: "You understand, of course, that scams and threats like you have made have consequences in both directions. We do still have strong connections to two expat communities in Lusaka as well as to locals (including one of your Lusaka neighbors)." Strangely enough he did actually pay the cancellation fee but not for the beers...?????? Once again, the one difficult client makes us appreciate all the other lovely people who visit Mutinondo more than ever!! THANK YOU!!!!!

In October Karla our adorable female rug-rat-rotveiller seemed to be suffering with abdominal pain, Mike took her to vet Lisa in Lusaka. She was diagnosed with a swollen spleen, traces of tick borne disease but nothing conclusive, she later developed a ring-shaped wound with a Bont Tick attached on her rump. Exactly as Dr. Tink at Shiwa predicted the core of the wound fell out and she recovered. A month later Missy, our very special little brown dog, got a high temp and became very wobbly which took Mike back to Lisa in Lusaka. Having found ticks on Missey she suggested we changed to a different dip. The following morning Lari dipped Karla and Chuck at Mutinondo with a different chemical. In the afternoon she took them for a run/bike ride up the drive, lost them for most of the ride but regrouped just before getting back. Karla was slow going out and slow coming back again, she stopped and rolled in the driveway, looked as though she was rubbing her eyes, Lari washed her eyes thinking it was either the dip or snake spit irritating them. Karla got fed up with this and gapped it to underneath the desk. Ten minutes later the guards called Lari because Karla had stumbled out of the office where she soon died despite a dose of atropine, presumably as a result of a snakebite. Poor Missy had to be put down due to renal failure a week later. As if that wasn't enough heartache, the day after we got to Lusaka on our way to New Zealand in December, our little black and tan dog in the Lusaka house was in shock with severe abdominal pain, back to Lisa we went where poor little Gypsey had to be put down due to a burst tumour on her spleen. Just an unbelievably sad end to the year.

Thanks to LAWS and its lovely little hounds longing to be loved we start the year with Rex and Rox together with headboy Chuck while Quentin and Betcha have replaced Gypsey in Lusaka with Andy and Blondie.

A happy animal story is that in June Zambuka (20yrs) was diagnosed with cancer growths up his nose and was starving to death because he couldn't swallow, six months later he looks like a young thoroughbred - though still with lumps and snuffles after Bell's body talk from Kenya and 8 phenergan twice a day. Phenergan has also worked wonders with our 28 year old grey mare who has melanomas from top to toe. It's worth a read!

Julian and Diwell returned to assist the Mutinondo team for the festive season, enabling us to abandon ship AGAIN to spend a splendid month with our dozen NZ rellies enjoying all the magic things NZ offers. We thoroughly enjoyed Tiritiri Martangi Island which has been completely replanted with native forest and restocked with many of NZ's endangered birds after being farmed for many years. Then we saw the New Year in the perfect setting of Lari's favourite place outside Africa – the Coromandel Peninsula with Tony, Di and their lovely friends and family.

When we left Zambia it felt like the rainy season - but without any rain, Mutinondo rivers were the driest they had been since 1995 after 2 years of low annual rainfall. Rains started slowly with only 29mm up until the 21st December when we had 93mm and hey presto our solar water pump control box got struck again and had to be replaced.

Here's hoping for good rains, clean, peaceful elections and a more responsible government and the end of Political Fighting!.

Happy new year to everyone!

Much love and very best wishes

Lari and Mike