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Bird monitoring projects at Sinamatella, Zambezi and Matetsi Safari Area

The main objective is to assist two strongly supported, ‘citizen science’ projects by monitoring of bird population. The projects are: 1. Southern Africa Bird Atlas Project (2) (SABAP 2), organised by the Animal Demography Unit (ADU) at the University of Cape Town (UCT) and 2. The African Waterfowl Census, organised by Wetlands International through Birdlife Zimbabwe Over 400 bird species are regularly found in the Park. As the park is a protected area, no birds are exposed to danger. However, a number of species found in the park are in danger elsewhere and the Park is an important refuge for them.. The most severely endangered species found at Sinamatella are Lappet-face vulture, White-headed vulture, Grey-headed parrot, Hooded vulture, Bateleur, Ground hornbill and Martial eagle. Vulture are particularly in danger due to an increase of poisoning, indeed poachers want to stop vultures from revealing the presence of other poaching activity by leading rangers to carcases of poached animals. Around 2400 suspicious vulture deaths were reported in Southern Africa in 2013 which could be somewhere between 5 and 10% of the regional population and could lead to extinction. In this framework, Bhejane Trust is realistic and accepts that given Zimbabwe’s terrible economic problems there are unlikely to be any major steps taken in the near future. If changes are certainly taking place in the Park, Bhejane Trust sees its role as documenting these changes within the bird population rather than initiating any preventive measures. The main challenge to BT’s projects is a hugely reduced number of people with an interest in and knowledge of birds, compared to the 1980s and 1990s. They are ‘citizen science’ projects, relying on ordinary members of the public for the supply of data. In order to protect these animals as best as possible, the creation of field cards identifying all the bird species present in the park is needed as well as a deep data collection. In 2014, Bhejane Trust partnered with the park authority to begin a specific vulture monitoring project throughout Zimbabwe. Bhejane Trust’s activities within this project include locating vulture nests in Sinamatella and Matetsi. Data on vulture is collected by Birdlife Zimbabwe. The objective of SABAP is to have a minimum of six field cards for each ‘pentad’ (but there is no limit to this number) and for the waterfowl census it is to have continual counts over as long a period as possible of as many water-bodies as possible. Then, the data collected made available to anyone who may have an interest in those information. So far BT has submitted 169 cards from 39 pentads. There is no limit to the number the association could do but it has sixteen pentads with little or no coverage at Sinamatella and all at Matetsi have poor coverage so far. So far, a lot of atlassing is done as part of BT’s daily work, the data collected are then submitted for both projects for further analysis. The main reason for BT for wanting support from volunteers is that with the volunteers the association can cover areas that are not often visited. In all Bhejane Trust’s monitoring projects, volunteers are a very important catalyst, breaking the normal routine and getting Bhejane Trust to do the more difficult things that otherwise get postponed. For example the association only has three atlas cards for an area called Elephant Pan. Two of those were collected when they had volunteers with them. The other value of volunteers is simply that of extra eyes leading to better observation – the more observers, the more we see
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Number of Volunteers: between 2 and 6 people The volunteers will work in three different places: 1. Sinamatella sector of Hwange National Park and the adjoining Deka Safari Area. 2. Zambezi National Park 3. Matetsi Safari area Sinamatella and Deka are largely Mopane woodland and scrub with sandy ridges where the vegetation is scrub Combretum and Diospyros. There are some natural and artificial water points in the dry season, many natural pans and rivers in the rains. Both areas have good populations of large mammal species, particularly in the dry season. Zambezi and Matetsi have Zambezi Teak woodland on sandy ridges with scrub Combretum on exposed basalt rock and occasional grassy areas. Large mammals are present, especially in the dry season. Each volunteer mission will be different because of the ever-changing circumstances in the Parks but a typical two-week programme would be as follows. Day 1 Arrive at Sinamatella. Day 2. Training in bird recognition and the SABAP protocols. Day 3. Birding at Mandavu dam and in and around Sinamatella to familiarise the volunteers with local birds and begin a field card for Mandavu Pentad. Day 4. SABAP data collection in two different areas, one in the morning, one in the afternoon. Day 5. SABAP data collection in two different areas, one in the morning, one in the afternoon Day 6. Vulture nest monitoring Day 7. Water bird counts. Day 8. Water bird counts Day 9. Computerise data and submit to SABAP or Birdlife Zimbabwe Day 10. Move to Zambezi National Park or Matetsi Unit Seven. Day 11. SABAP data collection along the river section, one pentad in the morning, one in the afternoon. Also locating vulture nests Day 12. SABAP data collection, one pentad in the morning, one in the afternoon. Also locating vulture nests Day 13. Morning SABAP data collection in Chamabonda. Afternoon; data capture The mission does not normally stop at the intermediate weekend but it can end on the last Thursday evening/Friday morning so that the volunteers reach Victoria Falls late Friday morning and visit the Falls etc. The volunteers will be working between 6 and 7 hours per day in average. On a typical “SABAP” day, volunteers and BT would leave Sinamatella early in order to reach the intended pentad as the birds become active. Sometimes this would involve camping in a remote area so as to be ready to list birds at day-break. The volunteers would spend the morning trying to visit all habitats in the pentad by driving where roads are available or walking where they are not. For example they would try to visit any grassland patches, woodland, riverine vegetation, water-bodies and so on, spending time listing the species present in each. After lunch they would move to another pentad and repeat the process, aiming to finish in late afternoon and then either return to Sinamatella or pitch camp ready for the next day. In the rainy season a typical count would be from eighty to one hundred species per pentad and in the dry season around fifty species. For water bird counts the volunteers would be based at Sinamatella and would travel to the chosen water-body after breakfast. At each site they would attempt to identify and count all water bird species present – for example ducks, storks, herons, waders, plovers and many others. The count would be done from one or more points around the water-body (depending on its size) using binoculars and telescope. Vulture nest monitoring involves locating nests and observing them to discover if there are eggs or chicks present. At Sinamatella this might involve going to one of the known nest colonies and walking the area to locate nests. At Matetsi, most nests can be located from the vehicle. Counting of vultures at carcases can not be planned in advance but is something they would do if the opportunity arose. Vultures are not at their nests in January so could not be observed at that time.
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OUI
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Congé solidaire
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Bhejane Trust
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Bhejane Trust already works with Planète Urgence and has found the organisation’s volunteers serious and helpful. Observers are available locally but there are not enough of them
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At arrival at Victoria Falls volunteers are met by a driver from a specialist tourist-transfer company (which works for many years with Trevor) and driven to Victoria Falls by seven-seater minibus. The journey takes approx 30 minutes. From the airport to Hwange town takes approximately one and a half hours. From Hwange Town to Sinamatella the transport is by open 4 x 4 Land Cruiser and takes approximately one hour. From Victoria Falls, transport into the Zambezi National Park is by 4 x 4 open safari vehicle. Depending on the part of the Park the volunteers are going to, the journey takes between thirty minutes and one hour. Throughout the time spent in the park, transport is in 4x4 open-topped safari vehicles. The volunteers will be met by Trevor Lane, Stephen Long or Harrisson at the airport, depending on circumstances. Victoria Falls airport has a cell-phone network and it is easy for the driver to communicate with Stephen Long or Trevor Lane in case of difficulty. If Harrison collects the volunteers at the airport, Trevor or Stephen will certainly meet and greet them in Victoria Falls which is only 15km from the airport.
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Victoria Falls
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At Sinamatella, the volunteers will sleep in National Parks lodges in Sinamatella Camp. At Matetsi or ZNP, accommodation will vary but may be in tents or built accommodation at Matetsi Water Lodge. At Sinamatella Bhejane Trust has permanent access to a two-bedroomed house with two beds in each room, attached bathroom, toilet, kitchen and lounge. Where there are more than four volunteers, BT leases similar accommodation from National Parks. Electricity is available but subject to occasional cuts, especially in the rainy season. The internet access is via satellite and extremely expensive so it is requested to be used for important email only. At Sinamatella, breakfast and dinner are eaten at the lodge where volunteers are accommodated. Lunch is usually eaten in the field. If the volunteers are camping, breaksfast and dinner will be taken at the camping site. Lunch might be taken on the field. At Matetsi and ZNP, the same arrangement will apply
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Few materials are needed. Bhejane Trust supplies recording sheets and a spotting scope. Reference books are also available. All volunteers will need a pair of binoculars suitable for birding and a notebook, a sleeping bag and personal kit (clothes, toiletries, towel etc) In November and January, birding is excellent but mammal populations are low. The weather is often hot and dry but rainy periods of three or four days at a time are possible. Sometimes longer rainy periods occur. When it rains it can be cold. Good rainwear is an essential as the vehicles are open with minimal cover. In July the weather is dry but cold – very cold early in the morning and at night. Warm clothes are essential for these cold times but during the day temperatures are usually in the low 20s. Bird numbers are relatively low but it is expected to see around fifty species per pentad per five days.
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