Thursday, 28 November 2013


Kinglsey and Rich - Birds are one of many of Rich's vital interests
What about Rich?” Jude asked me the other day, after she and Kaye had received a CD we sent them of some of his photographs.  Let’s hear more about him". Well, writing about my multi-faceted husband is no easy task. 
I met him when I was seventeen (a very good year) and he was eighteen –temporarily stationed at The Vumba National Park as a game ranger.  We were friends immediately, having so much in common, but it was clear to me that he couldn’t possibly be my intellectual equal.  After all, he had failed his school leaver’s exams no less than three times, whereas I was studying English and French at “A” levels.  “Be nice to Richard when you meet him,’ I admonished a sharp- tongued school friend, “because he’s not very bright.”
I have had some reason to retract that opinion.  In fact, if I were to expand on the multitudinous abilities of this volatile, impassioned, forthright and often quite impossible man, I’d be writing a book and not just a brief blog post.
Most of us can do one thing reasonably well, but not much more.  If you can write, you generally can’t do maths (ask me).  If you’re an artist, chances are you won’t know how fix a tractor or work a lathe.   And a poet wouldn’t have a clue about developing a thriving wildlife sanctuary from an exhausted piece of bush.
But Rich is all those things –  he turned our dream into reality on Stone Hills, and has explored every facet of it as a scientist, an artist, a photographer, a poet and a genius at fixing all things “bent and buggered”, including the many wild animals who come into our care.

He’s actually quite bright too.   To my drop-jawed astonishment, I met him on my first day at the University of Rhodesia in 1974 where, coincidentally, we had both begun our degrees as mature students – mine in law and his in biology (he finished up as top student of his year).

I’m a very lucky girl.


Here are some of his recent photographs – Rich entered the competition in the final volume of Handbook of Birds of the World – to find the best of the best as it were – and out of almost 12,000 entries, two of his photos were included in the 200 chosen.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013


Rich has always wanted to know more about the feeding preferences of our animals during the winter months, and particularly in the drought.   How have the hundreds of dassies survived on Dibe Hill, for example, when there isn’t an edible leaf left on the trees nor a scrap of grass for them to eat?
Certainly, the rock dassies (procavia) pick up the feed scattered around the kudu drums, but that wouldn’t be enough to sustain them.   And yet, some of the adults are as fat as they were in summer, leading me to suspect them of upping their protein intake with a bit of infant cannibalism. 
Having seen them savaging the poor kudu, and stealing bonemeal from the birds – nothing would surprise me about these  consummate survivors. Move over Jane Goodall and the murdering chimps!
Linda, Amy and Bookey (imitating a stork)
As it turned out, my dark imaginings were (unfortunately) put to rest by the arrival of Amy Scott – an ecologist from Melbourne – who recently volunteered with us for a couple of months.  She spent painstaking hours following giraffe and both species of dassies as they fed, making some very interesting observations, including the fact that, if they are really pushed, all will eat the leaves of poisonous evergreens with no apparent ill effects.
Amy loved fossicking around, as I do, and it was with her that I discovered the new brown hyaena den in the Nukutidza area in a little explored part of the sanctuary.
We managed to find a perch high up on a kopje about 250 m away from the den and saw quite a bit of activity in the late afternoons.
Sadly, Amy had to go back to work, but before she left, Linda Moyo arrived – a third year student from our University of Science and Technology – who will be with us for some months on attachment.   Linda studies wildlife management and has taken over the dassie and giraffe project.  She’s been helping out with feeding –  keeping daily records and also bumping along in the back of the tractor and hefting 50kg sacks – quite a feat for a city girl who can’t be more than 5 ft high!
Linda Moyo, well and truly in charge of teaching Morula students ecological lesson
She’s been a great hit with the Conservation Club children at Marula School too – and will be able to do some really valuable work with them while she’s here. 

I don’t imagine that there are many African girls following the same path – so perhaps we have a Zimbabwean Wangari Maathai in the making.  We certainly need one!

Friday, 1 November 2013


Sometimes October brings early rain – but not this year.  The veld is so dry that when a bolt of lighting struck around 300 metres from the house last week, it sparked off a grass fire.  Luckily, though, there was no wind that day and it was brought under control very quickly by some very skilled (and quick to action) visitors and sanctuary staff. We know there have been good rains to the South East of us in Maputo, South Africa... We can almost smell it, let us hope for a reprieve from this prolonged drought.

Here are our visiting fire fighters.   Damien Mander (of the International Anti-Poaching Foundation), his wife Maria and baby Leo, plus two other members of his team had just arrived for a night's stay when the fire started.   Together with Rich and our crew, they got stuck straight in - wielding blowers and beaters - and helped us to avert a catastrophe.
Thanks, guys!


Food is still arriving – another 30 tonnes last week, and the animals learned very quickly to wait for deliveries at the feeding stations all over the sanctuary (with the exception of our consistently uncooperative sable).

What still amazes us is that the money we raised, (plus the donations of feed from Centra and Mac Crawford), is just the right amount needed to buy food till the end of the month. We calculated according to what we 'thought' we'd need - an educated guess, really. And it is exactly right. 

Thanks again to all those who made this possible.  

Photos by Richard Peek (c)