We are intending in the future to send out regular Rifa Newsletters. We will let you know about any interesting happenings so that you can share the excitement of Rifa throughout the year, rather than merely during the one week that you might be fortunate enough to spend here! Also, as you are probably aware, Rifa is desperately in need of financial support. We will update you about our fund raising priorities.
September has seen some windy days, heralding in the hot season and the temperatures are creeping ever upwards. Of course, now is our 'Spring time' and the trees of the flood plain have responded with a wealth of blossom and fresh green leaf. The knob thorns were miraculously transformed from tatty and faded old ladies, into young girls billowing with creamy, bridal exuberance! The sausage trees have been decked with candelabras of maroon flower goblets and with new leaves of grasshopper green. The bats feed at the flowers by night and in the morning there is a carpet of fallen blooms. The baboons are in the trees early in the day, feasting on flower buds and fresh leaf salad. The kudu, bushbuck and impala gather below, breakfasting on the succulent flowers and the baboons' left overs. Recently it is the turn of the wild mangoes, now thick with egg-yolk orange flower heads to the delight of the Long-tailed (Meves's) Starlings and the Black-eyed (Dark-capped) Bulbuls.
The inland pans are now dry so the game is concentrated near the Zambezi. We are seeing plentiful impala which often demonstrate to the students how to excel in the high jump! Numerous families of warthog are excavating the couch grass - making off with radio-aerial tails raised when disturbed. Groups of kudu are frequently visible out in front of the camp, stretching up their necks to feed on the lower leaves of the natal mahogany trees and thus creating a neat, level browse line. The kudu population includes several young bulls with magnificent spiralling horns and powerful thick necks to support the weight. Some students have been fortunate enough to glimpse a group of six eland that sometimes feed near Barbel Channel. These animals are extremely shy and trot off into cover at the first sign of humans. Some nights we have heard grunting and rustling sounds from the flood plain and at first light have found a herd of buffalo in front of the camp, having a last nibble of green leaf and vetiveria grass before they retreat into the thick bush for the rest of the day. Recently Freedom counted over 360 in the herd!
Despite ongoing problems with our water pumps, we have tried to keep the water hole wet. With the arrival of the warm weather the elephant bulls have been making a bee line for this muddy wallow in the afternoons. Some abandon all pretence at dignity, and lie down on their sides, gleefully rubbing the mud into all the itchy places. They emerge, looking as if they were made out of melted chocolate.
The great news is that we appear to have a family of leopard resident near camp. A female and two sub-adults were seen early in the month. John Osborne has donated an agricultural flood light. This illuminates the flood plain in front of the camp with a gentle yellow glow, giving a surprising amount of visibility without disturbing the game with a harsh glare. Students from Belvedere Technical Teachers' College had gone to the edge of the terrace one evening to look down at a hippo that was engaged in some lawn mowing activity just below. They were rewarded with a view of two leopard!
Students walked to the Chipandure River cliffs as usual but this month they were treated to the spectacle of the Southern Carmine Bee-eaters, circling and gliding above their nesting colony like gleaming mobile jewels. The first Paradise Flycatchers have arrived, the males already complete with their breeding finery of long russet tails. A pair of African Skimmers is breeding on the sand spit beyond the 'Sunset' island. Recently they were seen dive-bombing a Saddle-billed Stork who had come too close. We hope they will have success in raising a brood.
We would like to be able to set up a research project to study the Long tailed (Meves’s) Starlings! These have been very active this month. In the mornings they have been flying in a constant direction over the flood plain - we presume on their way to feed either on the islands in the Zambezi or in Zambia? On the morning of 24th September, during a period of forty-five minutes, Dave counted 1218 starlings!
As usual, students enjoyed watching the sunset over the Zambezi including the 'five minute silence' during which everybody has an opportunity to concentrate on the beauty of the colours and the bird calls. The sun this month has been setting as a huge crimson orb, its intensity filtered by the haze from all the veld fires.
During September Chisipite Senior School and Belvedere Technical Teachers' College came to Rifa. Chisipite had a varied programme, including mapping, measuring the temperature of the Hot Springs, research and presentations on trees, and hunting, stalking and target shooting. Belvedere Technical Teachers' College students participated in discussions on some vital conservation issues, such as solutions to the conflict between people and wildlife, the roles of hunting and the National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority.
There is no better way to describe the students' varied reactions other than through some quotes from their entries in our 'Rifa Experience' Journal:
"The beach party on the last day made the centipedes worth it..."
"Lion and buffalo scarcely seen
The walking makes us rather lean
We learnt a lot and remembered each fact
From leopard's spoor to porcupine scat
Hunting and stalking, away we went
We shot at cans that left a dent..."
"I loved watching the elephants out of my dorm window..."
"Through Zimbabwe we have travelled to many places without any knowledge of our surroundings - but during our Rifa experience, we learnt to appreciate the diversity of our Zimbabwe and for that we will be eternally grateful..."
"Away from the stressed town of Harare and the polluted air I found a peaceful place..."
"For 17 years I've been looking for the meaning of life and after taking a break from the madness of the modern world to embrace nature I think my search has come to an end..."
"This group believes in the College's motto of 'Spreading the Light'. Thus our report shall benefit not only those around today but even the future generation..."
Rifa used to be adequately financed through the payments made by the attending schools and the subscriptions from the members of the Zimbabwe Hunters' Association. This is no longer enough and we have serious problems. There are three areas where funds are needed: running costs; maintenance and camp equipment; and educational equipment and sponsorship.
Our grateful thanks to Ariel, Westridge, Bryden and Springvale who have donated to the camp in the course of the year. The camp is starting to look extremely “rustic” and in need of maintenance.
Of particular concern at the moment are the 40 mattresses in the dorms which urgently need replacing. The same applies to Cemwash. The whole camp needs a good splash of paint to smarten the whole place up. If anyone has a good source for these please let the office know.
We are in the process of looking for regular funding. However, until that is achieved, we are living very much a hand to mouth existence.
Our contact details are;
for Zimbabwe Hunters Association
P. O Box HG 548, Highlands, Harare
16 Walter Hill Avenue, Eastlea, Harare
Phone 04 704977 / 8 or 707306Cell: 0772 329434
THE RIFA TEAM