Some mission critical parts to conservation were protecting the animals, creating healthy habitats, educating people about animals, and caring for animals in need. We were involved in all of these components.
The umbrella species for IMIRE was the rhinoceros. It was IMIRE’s commitment to rhino conservation that kept the land from being repossessed and redistributed during land reform, and it is the rhino conservation efforts that keep the habitat in tact for the hundreds of other species that call IMIRE home. They have both White (near threatened according to the IUCN Red List)and Black Rhinos (critically endangered according to the IUCN Red List) in the game park. Interestingly, when the Dutch were categorizing rhinos, they noticed one rhino had a wide mouth and the other had a hooked mouth. However, when the British came, they heard the Dutch pronounce “wide” as “white” and called the wide lipped rhino, white rhinos. The other they assumed to be called the opposite, the black rhino. As poachers target rhinos for the horns and IMIRE’s very existence is predicated on rhino conservation, rangers patrol the park regularly with weapons. Part of our work every day was to follow the rangers on their patrol, sometimes walking and sometimes by jeep, to locate the rhinos in the park and ensure that they were ok. On other days we patrolled the fence line looking for cut fences, weak poles, or other problems.
IMIRE has not been immune from poaching. In 2007, poachers broke in and killed the entire breading stock of rhinos. Recovery is slow, but there are rhinos once again in IMIRE and they are giving birth to babies.
Learning about animals
A local woman in Harare gave a batch of baby chameleons to IMIRE to raise. The mother was killed by a car. When we arrived, the chameleons were in a box, and the staff and students were in the process of building an enclosure before nightfall. Over the next few days, everyone helped the chameleons hunt by putting a baby on their finger and leading them to insects around the room so they could eat. Later, after they had a proper enclosure Kylie loved catching grasshoppers for them. It was a great opportunity to learn about chameleons, their value to the ecosystem, and to demystify the traditional and magical beliefs about this animal.
African Honey Bees
Outside of the park, locals cut down trees for fuel. Unfortunately, many of these trees provided homes for bees. IMIRE developed a solution to the problem. Allow community members to keep their bees in the park. The park beekeeper, Gift, then spreads hives throughout the park. They have to wait for bees to colonize the wooden structures. He then helps the local community harvest their honey for sale. We went out with Gift to check if hives have been colonized. If not colonized, we helped move them to a more suitable location.
A serval cub was orphaned so IMIRE took her in. After keeping her in an enclosure for a short time they released her. She hunted every evening eating various insects and birds. She is currently seven months old. She often came back to visit and for some loving, before wandering off again. Servals are hard to see in the wild as they are night time predators. We were so lucky to see and interact with one. Vera and Sam think that as she gets closer to maturity, she will disappear from the camp to rear her cubs. Time will tell if she returns. But for the week we were there, she graced us with her presence every day!
Zimbabwe has a large population of elephants with shrinking habitat. The African Savannah Elephant has been listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. All the elephants at IMIRE were orphaned. One was found stuck in the mud at a national park. Another was orphaned after elephants were culled in another national park. Due to their size and requirements it was no small task to take them in. If they escape into the community they ravage farmland while grazing and invoke the ire of community members. Poachers will also target elephants so they are chaperoned all day long and stabled at night. This meant a lot of work, care, and money. Handlers groom and give enriching activities to elephants every day, then walked with them all day while they foraged. Some of our duties included grooming and handling as well as mucking the stalls and walking with the elephants while they forged.
Providing a healthy environment for animals to grow and flourish as wild as possible was exhausting. We only did a small part of the work that the amazing people at IMIRE do every day. Other aspects of conservation were active research to better understand these amazing animals.
The Travers frequently wrangles with officials to keep the doors open at IMIRE for animals. They also constantly work in the international community for donations as conservation work is labor intensive and requires massive funding.
However, by far the most aggravating and stressful part of the entire endeavor was fearing that at any moment poachers will break in and kill some of these marvelous creatures.