By Damien Mander
G’day from Zimbabwe, This is our first blog and not a bad week to start things off. I have just returned from Chizarira National Park in north-western Zimbabwe. One of the largest in the country, it has been decimated by poaching over the past 2 decades and wildlife is hard to come by these days. Led by Leon Varley, a guide in Chiz for the past 25 years, we travelled there with Donatella Knecht De Massy and Francisco Gordillo, two Directors from our Monaco chapter. Donatella has been busy over the past 6 months bringing together a group of people who are dedicated to conservation. Francisco is a Jedi Knight in all things media related and is helping us tell the world what needs to be done and how they can volunteer their help.
The trip into the park was amazing. We climbed the holy mountain Tundazi, which is the highest point in the region. Local Batonka people believe this is the stepping stone upon which God will return to Earth. From the top we could see the entire length of the Chizarira mountain range which forms the northern boundary and gives Chizarira its local meaning – The Great Barrier. Insects in Zimbabwe are a little different to Monaco(creating mild, yet frequent hysteria) and we are very grateful to Donatella for the lifetime supply of insect repellent that was left behind after her visit.
So, where is all this going? 5 months ago we were approached by the Zimbabwe Government to explore the possibility of resurrecting Chizarira. With 7 different ecological zones and formerly home to the highest concentration of black rhino in the world, this is one special place that needs saving. Upon returning from this trip I had a signed authority in my inbox from National Parks head office to commence the feasibility study and pave the way forward for a long term resurrection project in partnership with Parks and the Wilderness Foundation.
We are now making plans to get back to Chiz as soon as possible to commence the three month feasibility study of the park. This will help us understand the problems being faced and allow us to match solutions to each of these challenges. Unlike other projects I have been involved with in my few years in Africa we will not be starting at the centre of the problem. To save Chiz we must start outside the park, which are the communities and then work our way in. Only when the communities are working will Chiz be saved. It is a very exciting time and we have a fantastic team behind us that will make this happen.
I will sign off by saying Happy Birthday to my beautiful fiancée Maria who will join me in Africa next month, after a painful 2 years of living away from each other. Cheers everyone.