Conservation at grass roots level.

Gajogo-Manica Province-Mozambique. GPS:17S 19873–33E, 56.893

Moz 17

While Mozambique is not a country that we actively promote at Safari Odyssey,I was very interested to visit a game farm used for hunting in the middle of nowhere for a very specific reason.

Now the immediate question is “how come a conservationist and animal lover is visiting a farm built for hunting?” A good friends’ son, who is a professional hunter was employed – yes in part to take overseas hunters to hunt, but his main job function was to set up an Anti-Poaching team. A big part of this was and still is to assist in preserving the game farm. Why this unconventional set up? Well, truth is the farm was and still is losing game to illegal poaching faster than the hunters could and can hunt.

We arrived in Tete, after a two hour flight from Johannesburg,in the middle of a scorching temperature of 38 degrees Celsius. Sitting on the back of the vehicle, I had a lovely view of the mighty Zambezi River as well as the daily business of the locals, with businesses set up right on the road. From furniture manufacturers, making and showcasing beds, lounge suites and the odd dining table, to general dealers, pubs and men waiting to take clients on their motor bikes or tuk-tuk’s to their next destination.

2010 Mocambique and Malawi

The road down to the farm is not of the best with some horrific potholes and trucks bringing their cargo up into Africa from South Africa. The four and a half hour trip gives one time to appreciate the African beauty, the amazing sun set, as well as reflect on the poverty that is unfortunately also very prevalent. It is amazing to experience how the people in the vast rural settings are still living very much how they did 50 to 100 years ago, still in mud huts with no running water or electricity. Wood and cheap building materials providing much needed shelter to generations of families.

In the evenings one can only know one is passing a local village by the fires that are lit to cook up their local food of ‘pap’ (maize meal) and maybe for the lucky few some meat, usually goat. A few villages have got solar panels, however most of them are not for lighting homes and shelters, but to charge their cell phones, which has revolutionized Africa.

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The bush farm ‘Gajogo’ which totals 22 000 hectares , is part of 4 concessions forming a magnificent game farm that covers a large part of the Manica Province.

Deciding to build the main lodging on a beautiful baobab hill with stunning, advantageous views over the plateau below certainly did help at the onset.What make this lodge more unique is the fact that it had been build entirely by hand.

One has to remember that the closest hardware store is a four and half hour drive away. So if you run out of screws, nails, cement or worst, your hammer or pick breaks, your work is over. That is until you have driven a round trip on nine hours to get replacements. Here, even the camp beds are made by hand.

With regards to vegetables, Lorraine Hofmeyer (ex Barrie) wife of farm manager Wayne, has planted a vegetable garden that is totally self-sufficient. From beetroots, cabbage, carrots, tomatoes and sweet potatoes to the most potent chillies for their own firecracker chilli sauce is grown for the guest and workers to enjoy.

Now for the part that really made me come to see how a hunting farm is actively involved in conservation.

How does a young man of 23, manage to patrol and stamp his authority on the farms with workers, the community and (ex)poachers, who represents a large part of his anti-poaching team of 30?

Each week squads of men are deployed throughout the farm to patrol for any illegal activity in the area. While we all think of game as the only illegal activity in the bush, the illegal logging and chopping down of trees is a massive problem in this area. Truck are seen on a daily basis on the main roads and even on non-existing roads, caring logs of Leadwood and Mopani trees. The remains of these trees are scattered all over and the impact with them being logged very evident,even to a layman.

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leadwood tree-Combretum Imberbe.
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Blade and tree trunk confiscated from illegal loggers.

Any illegal activity is reported to Wesley, who with the local police, have the poachers and loggers arrested if apprehended. The anti-poaching team is extremely vigilant when it comes to the poachers preferred method of jaw traps for poaching, which are placed in strategic places. A typical example include game paths under trees that drop feed for the antelope or baboons. On our round, when collecting a squad of anti-poachers, they were rewarded for a total of 8 jaw traps.

Sadly two of them had already closed, one on a baboon and another on a Kudu. Both had to be put down.

Some of the poachers are not just interested in putting down traps but are very creative in making their own rifles and bullets. While it might look basic, they work and are lethal to game and humans. These desperate measure are taken not only by the poachers for the pot, but due to the high unemployment levels and poverty, the game is poached for money, a means for the locals to survive.

The area of Manica, while known for its beautiful hills, lovely bush and great game it is less known for being a butterfly haven, the collection by Wesley and Lorraine climbing to well over 30. The season for these beautiful insects is mid summer, so sadly was missed.

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Collection of butterfly.

Another great initiative project initiated by the four concessions was the introduction of 200 buffalo. After long negotiations ,the buffalo were relocated to Gajogo and placed into a small pen for them to acclimatise. After 4 weeks the buffalo was moved into a bigger area and then released onto the farm. Besides being able to be up close to these beautiful beasts, Dave and myself found out the true reason for the invite to the farm. Each day the animals had to be fed, and the grass had to be cut, then taken to the pen. Yes – our job. The one lesson we did learn is that these animals know how to eat really well – and fast. We were told on numerous occasions to go and collect more grass cuttings as the feed we had dropped off for them was not enough.

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While I am most definitely against hunting, it was of great interest to see a different side of a game farm. The effort in trying to conserve the bush and the game. In many arguments there can be a balance between conservation and hunting if done correctly with the right regulations and policing. However I think that is where the real problem lies. Sadly however with mans greed and social issues that are experienced in many parts of our planet, time is showing us that conservation is losing the battle.

Please let us know your thoughts and opinion with regards to conservation versus hunting.

Moz 19

Moz 9
Collecting feed for the buffalo.
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Beds been made roadside.
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Pile of jaw traps found

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